New West Guitar Group – Send One Your Love
Perry Smith, John Storie and Jeff Stein, guitars; Gretchen Parlato, Tierney Sutton, Sara Gazarek, Becca Stevens and Peter Eldridge, vocals.
In celebration of a decade on the jazz scene, New West Guitar Group (NWGG) has gone into the studio with credible material and some of the commercially successful jazz vocalists who currently appear on the airwaves. Since I am a huge Stevie Wonder fan, believing him to be one of the foremost, important composers of our century, I was happily impressed to see that the title of this CD, and the first cut on it, is one of Stevie’s original songs. Here is a creative project this is like a breath of fresh air, providing a musical production that is instrumentally sparse and based on guitar mastery and vocal profundity. The unique arrangement on the ‘Wonder’ title tune by both the guitar master, Jeff Stein and vocalist, Gretchen Parlato, is imaginative and rewarding. It sucked me in like a whirlpool, insisting I submerge myself in what was to follow. Tierney Sutton and Parlato both shine on this recording. Sutton is a consummate jazz vocalist who can sing anything and has a lovely soprano tone with the ears and talent to scat at the drop of a chord. Parlato has the style and sound that keeps her distinctively recognizable, with her breathy approach and modernistic arrangements. Both of these women can take any song and turn it into a jazz tune, which most of today’s so-called jazz vocalists can not do. Sara Gazarek sounds sweet on “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” Many can sing a song or play an instrument, but how many can stamp a performance with their own uniqueness? That’s why we admire Ella, Sarah, Betty Carter, Carmen McCrae, Billie, Nancy Wilson and Morgana King. That’s why we love Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Billy Eckstein, Ernie Andrews, Ol’ Blue Eyes, King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson. But special thanks to Smith, Storie and Stein for bringing us a well produced album of diversity and charm. Their strong arrangements are amply exemplified by Smith’s take on “Like Someone in Love,” utilizing his slow, sexy, cut-tempo to enhance a song usually performed just the opposite. Parlocha exhibits her whispery, alto range on this tune. I absolutely love the guitar solo that creatively stretches way outside the melody with Parlocha humming breathy string parts in the background. Nice arrangements. Good ideas. This CD is full of them. “My Ship”is a nice surprise with Eldrige scatting at the top and neither his vocals or guitar leaving a clue to what the song will be. Eldrige glides easily along with the guitar waves that rock and arpeggio their way beneath his pleasant vocals. Once again Smith adds unusual and innovative jazzy chords that strum the rhythm, while supporting the vocals. Once again, his sassy creativity struts like a male peacock; colorful and artistically rich.
Brad Allen Williams – Lamar
Distribution via Allegro Music/Nail Through Sojourn Records
Brad Allen Williams, electric guitars and electric sitar; Pat Bianchi, Hammond organ; Tyshawn Sorey, drums.
The artist brags that this is a 100% analog recording of three friends enjoying music together in the same space at the same time. There is always something warm about the old taped sessions that I came up using and there’s also something nostalgic and jazz-genuine about a guitar mated with a Hammond organ. “Steppin’ Out” by J. Jackson is a reflection of its title. The group steps out swinging hard. The only problem is, throughout this recording they mixed the drums way low. That bothered me right off the bat. The percussive undertow is what drives the trio and when they bury those drums, they throw dirt on the fire. Otherwise, Favorite songs are Williams’ original composition, the bluesy, “201 Poplar” and the old standard “Stairway to the Stars”.
Charlie Dennard – 5 O’Clock Charlie
Charlie Dennard, Hammond B3 organ/Rhodes; Todd Duke, guiar; Doug Belote & Geoff Clapp, drums.
Obviously, these New Orleans musicians have gotten together to fuel a party based in funk, Rhythm and blues. Dennard has penned or co-penned most of these ebullient songs. The tempos and production reflect the bands of the 1980’s with their driving, funky rhythms and repetitious hooks. All we need is Kool and the Gang or the Zapp Band dancing and singing out front in their bell-bottom pants to make this picture complete. It’s another guitar and organ match-up, but not necessarily in a jazzy way. This is a funk trio and I bet they perform constantly all over town. I thought the cover artwork and layout by Scott Williams was eye-catching and creative, with a big, bold Model-T-looking Ford, exhibiting a keyboard on the front grate and a guitar wrapped around the front wheel like a fender. The CD mix is good. I don’t know why they have their title tune stuck in the middle of this album because, for me, it’s one of the strongest songs on this disc and the closest thing to straight ahead jazz. It would have been a good opener. I also enjoyed “Blues by Five” and their take on the M.A.S.H. Theme, “Suicide is Painless” featuring Todd Duke prominently on guitar and Dennard pulling at Jimmy Smith influences from the past.
Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo – Swing Zing!
Frank Vignola, Thorell FV model/AER amps and LaBella strings; Vinny Raniolo, Collings Flat Top,AER Amp and La Bella Strings; Bucky Pizzarelli,1947 D’Angelico guitar; Gene Bertoncini, nylon string guitar; Julian Lage, lead guitar on “Sleepytime Gal”; Olli Soikkeli, gypsy guitar; Audra Mariel, vocals; Gary Mazzaroppi, bass.
“Swing Zing!” is a surprise package of excellence. Although a sparse production, these amazing guitarists never lose the ‘Swing’ or the ‘zing’. The repertoire is well chosen, beginning with “Cheek to Cheek” which sets the swinging tone of the CD and exhibits impressive technical astuteness. The two featured guitarists have been performing together for the past five years. You can clearly appreciate their musical camaraderie. Vignola has been the guitarist of choice for some of the top artists in the music business including Ringo Starr, Madonna, Donald Fagen, Wynton Marsalis, The Boston Pops and the New York Pops. Legendary Les Paul crowned Vignola as one of his “Five Most Admired Guitarists”on the Wall Street Journal List. That’s quite impressive. Raniolo is younger, but at age twenty-six he’s already performed in some of the world’s top auditoriums. He’s dedicated his career to being a professional touring musician, a working studio cat, educator and arranger with teaching positions at Bowling Green University, Kent State University, Asiago Music Conservatory, and others. Even when they slow to a shuffle on “September Song” the swing is still prominent. They give an energetic Latin take on “Cry Me A River.” An ear-cathcing, authentic gypsy guitar arrangement with double time energy on “Joseph Joseph” features Finnish virtuoso guitarist, Olli Saikkeli. “All the Things You Are” is performed as a sexy ballad with gentle strumming and vocals by Audra Mariel. The legendary John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli adds talent and history to this production by his presence alone, while playing his 1947 D’Angelico instrument. He has gifted the music world with two extraordinary sons, jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli and his brother Martin, who plays stand-up bass. Speaking of bass, Jazz critic, Leonard Feather, once wrote about Gary Mazorelli, saying “…He is one of the bass players who leaves you wondering how such a talented artist can remain virtually unknown.” All in all, this is a priceless album of innovation, technique mastery and warmth, as comfortable as a pair of your favorite furry slippers. Slide it on your CD player to see what I mean.
John Tropea – Gotcha Rhythm Right Here
John Tropea, guitar; Chris Palmaro, Hammond B3/piano ,bass and drums; Hanan Rubinstein,Guest guitarist; Leon Pendarvis, piano; Cliff Almond, Shawn Pelton & Clint de Ganon, Keith Karlock, drums; Lee Finklestein, drums. Hanan Rubinstein, guest guitarist; Eric Udel, Neil Jason, Zev Katz & Will Lee, bass; Bob Millikan, trumpet; Lou Marini & Bill Harris, alto sax; Dave Mann & Bob Malach, tenor sax; Dave Riekenberg & Roger Rosenberg, bari sax; Larry Farrell, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax; Glenn Drews, Don Harris & Lew Soloff, trumpet/flugelhorn; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; Roger Squitero, percussion; Lew Marini, flute; Randy Brecker, trumpet solo on” NYC Direct;” Steve Gadd, drums on “Hip to the Hips”& Duke Gadd, percussion; James “D-Train” Williams, vocals; Tommy McDonnell, percussion; Rallybop, vocals.
As you can see above, this CD is made up of many studio sessions that use a multitude of players, featuring tight arrangements strung together like polished pearls. Here is a CD pulsating with riveting rhythms and quick fingered guitar rhythms. It’s an entertaining blend of funk, tight band arrangements and an interesting combination of both straight ahead and smooth jazz; soulful, danceable and exciting. The drummer, Shawn Pelton, on Cut 2 is incredible. The clustered horn parts pump the arrangements up and support the funk throughout. Tropea is totally in control on guitar and in-concert with his co-producer/arranger and orchestrator, Chris Palmaro. This is Tropea’s eleventh CD featuring his continuing collaborative effort with Palmaro. They make a formidable team. You’ve got to appreciate their original music, all tunes penned by Tropea and Palmaro with some co-writing by S. Pelton. “Side by Two” swung and shuffled so hard I wanted to testify! Hanan Rubinstein shines as a guest guitarist on this cut and Palmaro makes the organ talk. High energy acts like the late, great James Brown would have loved these tracks and shouted at us, “Get On Up”!
Bruce Forman Trio – The Book of Forman – Formanism Volume II
Bruce Forman, guitar; Alex Frank, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums.
Bruce Forman is not only an exceptional guitarist, as I listen to his latest CD, I realize he’s a very fine composer. From the very first cut, “Hate Mail (Letters of Love)” with it’s double entendre insinuation, this trio is off and ‘swinging’. Bassist Alex Frank and Forman sing the same unison, riff-line, with Smitty on drums, holding the rhythm solidly beneath them. When Foreman ventures off on his own solo journey, Frank walks his bass line like an armed patrol. I enjoy the energy of this trio, propelled by Smitty’s powerful percussive mastery. The drums are particularly prominent on “The Epic Cure” composition. The melody is catchy, but it’s the drums that shine and seem to impel each inspired solo by Forman and Frank. Once they turn the drummer loose, he pulls out all stops, until the tune appropriately ushers in a hefty bass solo. This may be my favorite arrangement on this entire CD. It’s so stuffed with infectious energy, I play the tune twice. I also love the arrangement on the Lerner/Loewe tune, “On the Street Where You Live.” Forman has a way of laying-back-in-the-cut and making everything sound nonchalant and easy, but he obviously has big time chops and is a master on his instrument. Frank is stellar when he breaks out his bow and bows a high-speed solo on, “The Song Is You.” This is a formidable and innovative album of magical, musical moments.
Dheepa Chari – Patchwork
Dheepa Chari, vocals; Lars Potteiger, piano/Rhodes/mellotron/celeste; Dan Asher, upright & Elec. Bass; Mike DiRubbo, soprano & alto saxophone; Danill Davyduff, violin; Vin Scialla, drums/percussion.
The cover of this CD reads like a Vogue fashion magazine as Dheepa Chari stares out at us with beautiful, dark eyes. She’s a gorgeous girl. “Love for Sale” is interestingly arranged and challenges the vocalist to hold her tone and pitch. In spite of unusual chording and creative timing, she succeeds. However, here is my question. Do I believe Chari? The lyrics are explicit and meaningful, but for me she doesn’t deliver as a storyteller. The same challenge remains on the Fats Waller composition, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Clearly Chari is pitch perfect and a strong singer who attacks these arrangements like any proficient musician would. But the role of a vocalist is more than just being an instrument. The vocalist’s challenge is also to make an audience believe the storyline. This production is solid and reminds me very much of the European producers who brought us the very talented Fay Claassen. The difference is, I believe every word Claassen sings and her stories touch my heart. This CD left me puzzled about both the direction of this singer (pop or jazz?) and her sincerity and ability to honestly sell the song.
Mark Winkler – Jazz and Other Four Letter Words
Café Pacific Records
Mark Winkler, singer/songwriter; Cheryl Bentyne, featured guest vocalist; Jamieson Trotter, piano/background vocals; Rich Eames, piano; John Clayton, bass; Dan Lutz, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Mike Shapiro, drums/background vocals; Larry Koonse & Pat Kelley, guitars; Kirsten Edkins, tenor saxophone; Walt Fowler, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Horn arrangements by Jacob Mann.
Los Angeles native, Mark Winkler, is a prolific songwriter. Right off the bat, he strikes a home run with his composition, “My Idea of a Good Time,” co-written by Greg Gordon Smith. It’s a great jazz song, melodically and lyrically. I also enjoy the Jamieson Trotter arrangement. He’s responsible for many of the arrangements on this CD. The Gershwin tune, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” showcases the fact that this songwriter can make a song lyrically believable. That’s 80% of a vocalist’s artistic challenge Winkler’s voice is cabaret smooth and pleasant on this song. On the composition, “Your Cat Plays Piano,” Winkler’s tongue in cheek humor slides to the surface with an Al Jarreau sounding melody and a crazy, Frishberg-type lyric. John Clayton, on bass, is featured beneath a Winkler spoken monologue and Bob Sheppard plays a staccato sax solo, like cat paws running across the black keys of the baby grand. Trotter follows suit on piano. Once again, nice arrangement. “I Chose the Moon” is beautifully written. It reminds me of a song Cheryl Barnes or Nancy Wilson could sing and elevate to the status this tune deserves. I prefer Winkler on the ballads he’s chosen to sing on this CD. “I Never Went Away” is also beautifully performed. What a great tune! Kudos to Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, the song’s composer. Like Michael Franks, Dave Frishberg and Paul Simon, I believe that Winkler’s strongest talent is reflected in his songwriting skills and his sincerity of singing. He makes the stories palpable and is not afraid of putting uncontrived emotion into the boiling pot of musical expression.