New Sounds For The New Year

(Feb 20, 2015, 7:30 AM PDT)

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Jerry Kalaf – “Welcome to Earth” – Music for Trio & Sextet
Palm Mountain Records

Doug Walter,alto & soprano saxophone; Barry Coates, guitar; Jeff Colella, piano; Rich Ruttenberg, piano; Leonard Thompson, piano; Gabe Davis, bass; Ryan McGillicuddy, bass; Domenic Genova, bass; Scott Breadman, percussion; Jerry Kalaf, drums/ arrangements/composer/producer.

Jerry Kalaf is one of those drummers who beautifully colors the songs he plays with technically astute percussive accents and sturdy, unbreakable timing. I love the mix on this recording. The drums are not buried, but sit boldly in place, pushing each and every tune to its maximum potential and providing formidable support for Kalaf’s all-star group of musicians. I could listen to this well-conceived artistry all day and never grow bored. Not only is Kalaf an exceptional drummer, he has showcased his composition skills by penning eight out of eight songs.

Kalaf states, “My approach to composing can be termed absolute rather than programmatic. In other words, I usually don’t draw from sources outside the music. I don’t have a specific subject matter or imagery in mind; rather, I’m concerned with melody, harmony and rhythm. I often think of the names only after the piece is written.”

Doug Walter’s tone and some of Kalaf’s compositions put me in the mind of the great Stan Getz, especially on “Ambiguity” and “Siyaya Samba.”

Known more for his motion picture and recording orchestra appearances, as well as local ‘live’ band gigs, on this recording, you will enjoy a taste of Kalaf’s expertise as an arranger/ composer/ producer and, thanks to a crystal clear mix, his excellence on drums. Here is a wonderful example of Los Angeles musicianship and Southern California’s often unheralded and abundant quality talent.

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Chris Biesterfeldt – “Phineas”
Independent Label

Chris Biesterfeldt, guitar, Matthew Rybicki, bass, Jared Schonig, drums

On his new recording, Guitarist Chris Biesterfeldt tributes the iconic jazz pianist, Phineas Newborn Jr. Biesterfeldt’s amazing dexterity and mastery on guitar brings Newborn’s musical contributions to life with fresh breath. The premiere cut, “Harlem Blues” is a Phineas composition that had me singing along, inserting melodic lyrics like ‘Little Liza Jane’, ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and ‘Do Lord, oh Do Lord, Do Remember me’. I never realized that Newborn’s original composition sounded so much like these long-ago classic tunes, one dating back to work song days during slavery. Biesterfeldt’s rich, acoustic guitar talent is out front and walking at a brisk pace on this song. Amply supported by Matthew Rybicki on bass and Jaren Schonig on drums, this is a stellar celebration of the work and legacy of Phineas Newborn Jr., but more importantly it establishes Biesterfeldt and his musicians as a formidable jazz trio on the scene. In addition to his guitar skills, Biesterfeldt is equally gifted and proficient on mandolin. His debut CD, “Urban Mandolin,” received significant accolades and positive reviews. I think this CD will continue with that trend.

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Garry Dial & Dick Oatts – “That Music Always Round Me”
BCM+D Records

What do you get when you put Walt Whitman, New York Studio vocalists, a Temple University Concert Choir and jazz together? The result is an unusually creative recording composed and produced by reed player Dick Oatts and his musical partner, pianist Garry Dial.

Their challenge was to compose music for vocalists that incorporated Walt Whitman’s lyrical poetry. Feeling that Whitman and jazz both represented originality, beauty and the resilience of American culture, this project became a sweet, treat for Dial and Oatts to sink their musical teeth into. Since jazz is an American art form, just as Whitman is an American literary icon, the two seemed well-matched. I found this experiment entertaining and memorable. The compositions are complex, and well-performed by the Temple University Concert Choir with arrangements by Richard DeRosa. The Temple University Vocal Jazz Collective and New York Studio vocalists add pizzazz to the mix. With Paul Rardin conducting the voices, the harmonics of the jazz choral groups are tightly mixed and feature serious solos by Dial and Oatts, who put the J in jazz. This is a double set CD, showcasing a blend of easy listening with straight ahead horn solos and delightful arrangements. I enjoyed the first CD more than the second in the double set release. The second leant towards a more Broadway Production with arrangements that became a little too operatic and over-the-top for my taste. On the whole, Dial and Oatts offer a pleasant listening experience and a tremendous showcase for the Temple University Concert Choir and Vocal Jazz Collective.

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Curtis Nowosad – “Dialectics”
Cellar Live Record Company

Curtis Nowosad, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor & soprano saxophones; Derrick Gardner, trumpet; Steve Kirby, acoustic bass; Will Bonness, piano

This drummer has a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude with his music. He comes full force and uncompromisingly strong, pushing his excellent band mates with fiery, percussive excellence. Nowosad bursts onto the scene with Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Speak No Evil.” I was wondering how to pronounce his last name until I read Nowosad’s publishing company name: “Know-a-sad.” Got it!

This percussive dynamo is also a composer and his original compositions represent ‘straight ahead,’ beautyl and forcefulness. The title of cut number 3 and the title of this album is “Dialectics.” That word,(translated by Webster’s Dictionary), means the art of discussing the truth of opinions. This artist compares his jazz expression to a group of individuals musically inquiring into the metaphysical contradictions and their possible solutions or perhaps just experiencing an ongoing conversation between instruments. Either way, this is a CD full of strength, creativity and un-tethered energy. Every single cut on this production was a tribute to Nowosad’s profundity as a drummer/composer. It’s also a tribute to the collective communication of band members, who each show superb mastery of their instrument. “Casual Test” is one of my favorite cuts on this production, although I have to say, there is not one tune on this compact disc that I found objectionable. I’m putting this CD in my car and riding with it, because it moves and inspires me.

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Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet W/Richie Cole – “Vocal Madness”
House Cat Records

Ginny Carr, (alto vocal); Robert McBride, (tenor vocal); Holly Shockey,(soprano vocal); Andre Enceneat, (bass vocal); Frank Russo, (drums); Max Murray, (bass); Alan Blackman,(piano); Steve Herberman, (guitar); Richie Cole, (alto sax); Chris Walker, (trumpet); Chris Vadala, (alto sax); Leigh Pilzer,(tenor sax); Jen Krupa,(trombone)

This recording is an entertaining tribute to Manhattan Transfer, presenting a compact package of innovative vocal arrangements, buoyed by a tight musical ensemble. I’ve been wondering where the bebop voices had gone and Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet is the current answer to this missing musical link. No surprise, in the linear notes they celebrate Tim Hauser, founder of the Manhattan Transfer, for inspiring them.

In the 1970’s, Richie Cole toured extensively with Eddie Jefferson, one of my favorite bebop composer and singer who interpreted jazz horn solos by adding lyrics and his own unique vocal style. So Cole adds zest and authenticity to this project, bringing along his historic participation in the development of early bebop singing and passing on that legacy to this project. Not to mention, he played on Manhattan Transfer’s Grammy-winning albums ‘Vocalese,’ ‘Mecca for Moderns’ and ‘Extensions’.

Ginny Carr stands out as an arranger/composer on several of these original songs and Richie Cole shines in the prolific composing department as well.

These four vocalists sound like a small choir: rich, lush and harmonically innovative.

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