New Artists Take A Musical Look At Jazz Through The Ages

(Mar 23, 2015, 7:22 PM PDT)

“I can’t imagine a more hip jazz pianist than Monk. Has there ever been a hipper composer in the history of jazz?”

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Barbara Levy Daniels – “Love, Lost And Found”
Independent Label

Barbara Levy Daniels, vocals; John Dimartino, piano; Warren Vaché, cornet; Paul Meyers, guitar; Boris Kozlov, bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi, drums.

Daniels has a smooth vocal delivery as she sings thirteen unforgettable standards that were written and/or made popular in the late 1920’s, 1930’s to 1940’s. The idea of celebrating these excellent compositions of post World War II era through the Great Depression years, is bound to stir up memories and nostalgia. This album is well produced by vocalist/producer/ educator, Nancy Kelly and the musicians are flawless. However, the challenge for today’s jazz singer is to assert a certain originality and unique style that will grab the listener’s ear. That being said, if you like lounge music and the compositions of Rogers & Hart, Hoagy Charmichael and the like, you will be thoroughly entertained by Barbara Levy Daniels and her easy listening style.

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Alex Conde – “Descarga For Monk”
Zohomusic.com

Alex Conde, piano; Jeff Chambers, bass; Jon Arkin, drums; John Santos, percussion; Amparo Conde and Carmen Carrasco, palmas & compass (hand claps & footstomps).

Conde brings his rich Spanish heritage and cultural roots to re-interpret the compositions of Thelonius Monk by infusing the music with percussive sparkle, traditional flamenco flavors, rhumba reverence and dramatic latin arrangements. All the compositions on this CD are Thelonious Monk compositions with the exception of the fifth tune where Monk collaborated with Cootie Williams and Bernie Hanighen. Conde explained his obsession with the great jazz composer:

“I can’t imagine a more hip jazz pianist than Monk. Has there ever been a hipper composer in the history of jazz? While his colleagues were playing at such a speed in the era of bebop, thousands of notes, he came along with such a unique tone, a cluster approach. Bang! Keeping a hot, alive swing feel was his goal. How can anybody resist or not feel attracted to such energy? I couldn’t keep myself away from his infectious style and compositions.”

John Santos, a percussion master, adds excitement and excellence to this project. Conde is competently supported by his musicians, all based in Northern California and highly respected. His mother and sister added the palmas, compass and hand claps. I found this project to be unique, fresh, exploratory and deliberate in expressing Conde’s own sensitivity and piano excellence to celebrate one of his heroes. I was totally captivated by this artist’s musical interpretations and talent.

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Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet (RAAQ) – “Intents And Purposes”
Enja Records

Rez Abbasi, steel string, fretless & baritone acoustic guitars; Bill Ware, vibraphone; Stephan Crump, acoustic bass; Eric McPherson, drums.

This guitarist has chosen the material of Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Larry Coryell, Tony Williams, John McLaughlin and Pat Martino to showcase his talents as a leader. Rez Abbasi attempts to celebrate the jazz fusion classics of the seventies in an acoustic kind of way. In the 1970s, there was an era of electronic devices that began to color music in a much different and aggressive way. In the seventies, synthesizers became king combining funk drums with studio effects. On-stage electronic gizmos changed the sound of jazz and bebop, incorporating rock with rhythm and blues as an under-tow. However, when Abbasi’s music sails onto the airwaves, it’s a lot sweeter, lacking the drive of the 70’s. He has found his own acoustic voice to interpret these popular, electronic compositions by young jazz composers. It’s an interesting concept.

Abbasi admits, “I discovered jazz in 1983 via Charlie Parker. My formative years were spent studying and absorbing the music of the 40s, 50s and 60s. …This album is in no way a historic perspective of the 70s Jazz/Rock scene. The compositions I chose were simply based on my aesthetic and a vetting process that, in its own way, became an exercise in liberation. … Because of my lack of prior experience with 70s jazz, there’s been very little nostalgia involved with this project, allowing for a clarity that may not have been possible otherwise.”

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Matt Lavelle & John Pietaro – “Harmolodic Monk”
Unseen Rain Records

Matt Lavelle, cornet/flugelhorn/alto clarinet; John Pietaro, vibraphone/bodrahn/ congas/percussion.

Here is another artistic endeavor to celebrate Thelonius Monk’s historic compositions. Right off the bat, Lavelle’s horn grabs my attention, singing “Epistrophe” with Pietaro using percussion techniques and vibraphone to support Lavelle’s solo journey. I enjoyed the simplicity of sound that allowed Monks melodies to shine. For just two people to decide to provide an entire album of Monk’s music for our listening pleasure, I assume they must be improvisational wizards. Here is an artistic work of passion. Some of the songs are eight and nine minutes long. It takes talent, inspiration and tenacity for two people to fill up nearly ten minutes playing a single song. Lavelle takes time to talk to himself with his various horns on a single tune, laying down the cornet to pick up alto clarinet or flugelhorn. Pietaro, an adept percussionist, paints the tunes with various shades of instrumentation on vibraphone, bells, using whistle sounds, congas and various other percussive layers. This is an album of personal expression and passionate improvisation.

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Steve Cromity – “All My Tomorrows”
Cromcake Records

Steve Cromity, vocals; Eric Lemon, bass; Darrell Green, drums; Marcus Persiani, piano; Patience Higgins, tenor & soprano saxophones; Eric Wyatt, tenor sax; Kenyetta Beasley, trumpet.

In mid July of last year (2014) Steve Cromity assembled a tight group of New York jazz musicians at Brooklyn’s Acoustic Sound Recording studio to record his second CD. Cromity’s vocals recall the ‘Rat-pack’ days with a smooth, sexy voice that mirrors the phrasing of Sinatra, the inflections of Sammy Davis Jr., and the technical smoothness of Tony Bennett. He interprets the music of Sammy Cahn, James Van Heusen, Johnny Mandel, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Oscar Brown Junior and other great composers with believability and vocal finesse. His rich baritone voice caresses the lyrics with a silver tongue and a golden tone, making old standards come alive with fresh, new meaning.

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Joanne Tatham – “Out Of My Dreams”
Café Pacific Records

Joanne Tatham, vocals & background vocals; Tamir Hendelman, arranger/pianist & Jamieson Trotter (pianist); John Clayton & Lyman Medeiros, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Mike Shapiro, drums, percussion & background singing; Marcel Camargo, guitar & background vocals; Bob Sheppard, saxophone.

Her voice is bell-like from the first note of McCoy Tyner & Sammy Cahn’s “You Taught My Heart to Sing” to her soft scat intro into Harry Nilsson’s “Without Him”. The L.A. musical ensemble is solid as concrete and creates a super stage to showcase Tatham’s vocal abilities. The artist’s range is well supported with obvious professional technique and vocal tenacity. But is this jazz? It sounds more like musical theater. The arrangements are interesting and creative and the players are certainly proficient, world class jazz musicians, but when the musicians ‘swing’ and the singer doesn’t, for me it sadly distracts from what jazz really is. Tatham has talent and redeems her jazz credo when she scats briefly on “Devil May Care” and also on “Cool” by Bernstein & Sondheim. Her interpretation of Jobim’s “Vivo Sonhando” is delightfully dramatic.

When I read the liner notes, I understood better that her background is deeply rooted in the New York stage and musical comedy scene. That explains what I was hearing and sensing while listening to this CD. Mark Winkler is a fine singer/composer in his own right and has well-produced this CD. Together, the artist and producer have chosen a number of wonderful and challenging compositions by an assortment of great and diverse composers like Herbie Hancock, Dave Frishberg, Jon Lucien, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Tatham has her own way of interpreting the music of several major composers. She certainly got a big laugh out of me when she interpreted Frishberg’s “Too Long in L.A.” Her voice is an instrument all its own, controlled with clarity, emotion and purpose; tackling big notes and intervals with precision and beautiful control, but it’s more in the cabaret vein. It’s a pleasant, well produced CD, but it’s not jazz.

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