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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                 April 2018
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Wild Bill Davison
Rare Wild Bill
(Sounds Of Yester Year)
      
Wild Bill Davison was one of the most exciting of all Dixieland-oriented brassmen. The cornetist, who had a
very expressive and easily recognizable sound, ranged from sarcastic to sentimental in his playing and always
sounded enthusiastic. He became famous through his association with Eddie Condon and in his own freelance
career starting in the early 1940s. However Davison (1906-89) was already in his mid-thirties by then. He
made some obscure recordings in the 1920s but, after being involved in a car accident in 1932 that cost the
life of clarinetist Frankie Teschemacher (Davison was not at fault; a taxi cab ran a red light and hit his car), he
spent the rest of the decade in self-imposed exile in Milwaukee. Davison re-emerged in 1943 and was a major
part of the trad jazz scene during his last 45 years.
      
Rare Wild Bill is a very valuable two-CD set that contains quite a few performances that even the most
fanatical Davison collectors will not own. In the 1920s, Wild Bill recorded just seven numbers with the Chubb-
Steinberg Orchestra and three with Benny Meroff’s orchestra. Three of the Chubb-Steinberg sides (from
1925) are on this set and they feature Davison as an adequate but not particularly memorable player. The
three Meroff numbers from 1928 are a big surprise for Davison clearly sounds influenced by Bix
Beiderbecke, an inspiration that would not be felt in his later work. The program next jumps to 1940 for a
couple of rare performances (“On A Blues Kick” and a medium-tempo “I Surrender Dear”) with a quintet that
includes Boyce Brown. Also included are two numbers from 1946 that have Wild Bill in a group backing the
country singer Denver Darling.
      
The remainder of this twofer is taken from acetates and tapes; all of it previously unreleased. While a few of
the sessions are a bit cloudy sound-wise, all of the music is listenable and some of it is on a higher level.
Davison is heard on a few Milwaukee sessions from 1941 with local musicians, with Eddie Condon’s all-star
groups in 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1953, backing singer Connie Parsons in 1958, and on his own unissued sets
from 1948, 1955 and 1960. Among the sidemen are such notables as trombonists Brad Gowans, George
Brunies, and Cutty Cutshall, and clarinetists Tony Parenti, Garvin Bushell, Pee Wee Russell, Peanuts Hucko,
Edmond Hall and Matty Matlock. The most unusual performances have Davison in 1955 jamming along with
four swinging piano rolls!
      
Rare Wild Bill is a must for all Wild Bill Davison collectors for he is heard in typically rambunctious form
throughout the mostly hard-charging performances. It is available from www.cityhallrecords.com.
                                        

Adi Braun
Moderne Frau
(Self-Released)

The German cabaret scene of the 1920s was unique. Inhibitions and restrictions of the past were set aside in
freewheeling stage performances that broke new boundaries in self-expression, morality and music.
Sandwiched between World War I. and the rise of the Nazis in 1933, it was a period that, at least onstage, was
full of wild performances and rare outbursts of freedom.
      
Adi Braun, a superior jazz singer from Canada, pays tribute to that doomed era with a colorful set of music
that includes lyrics by (among others) Bertolt Brecht, Oscar Hammerstein, Ogden Nash, Maxwell Anderson
and (on three songs) herself. Ranging (as she says in the liner notes) from murder ballads to prostitute songs,
the music celebrates the “modern woman” of the era. “Speak Low,” “Mack The Knife,” “I’m A Stranger Here
Myself” and Maxwell Anderson’s “It Never Was You” are included along with lesser-known tunes and Braun’s
“Moderne Frau.” There is also a tribute to Josephine Baker (“Josephine”) that has the rhythm section (led by
pianist Tom King) joined by three horns.
      
Throughout Moderne Frau, Adi Braun sounds very much at home expressing herself in a wide variety of
emotions, from joy to “let’s make the best of it” sorrow. It makes for an intriguing and memorable set of
rarely-heard music and is available form www.adibraun.com.
                                                  

Charlie Apicella & Iron City
One Night Only
(Carlo Music)
      
Iron City is a regularly working quartet comprised of guitarist Charlie Apicella, tenor-saxophonist Gene
Ghee, organist Radam Schwartz and drummer Alan Korzin. One Night Only is their tribute to the late great
organist Jack McDuff. Ghee played regularly with McDuff in the 1970s and Schwartz sometimes joined him in
special two-organ jams.
      
The soul jazz and hard bop music on One Night Only is very much in the 1960s/70s tradition. Gene Ghee’s
tenor playing is sometimes boppish like Sonny Stitt or more soulful in the style of Stanley Turrentine. Radam
Schwartz has a dominant and hard-swinging sound on organ while Charlie Apicella at various times recalls
Grant Green and early George Benson in addition to sounding like himself.
      
The wide-ranging repertoire on the spirited set includes some blues (including an unusual transformation of
Chick Corea’s “Spain” into “Spain Blues”), a funky New Orleans jam on “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,”
Tommy Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap” and a Bob Marley song. On Hank Mobley’s “Lookin’ East,” the great
altoist Sonny Fortune sits in for Ghee.
     
Fans of swinging organ groups will find much to enjoy on One Night Only which is easily recommended and
available from www.ironcity.nyc.
                                                 

Samo Salamon & Howard Levy
Peaks Of Light
(Samo Records)
      
Guitar-harmonica duets have been common in the blues world since the beginning, but in jazz they are a real
rarity. For one thing, there are very few fluent jazz harmonica players, and generally when they record, it is
with a larger group than a duet.
      
Samo Salamon, a very talented guitarist from Slovenia who took important lessons from John Scofield, has
led over 20 albums since 2000. Among his many musical associations since then have been Scofield, Paul
McCandless, Mark Turner, John Hollenbeck, Tim Berne, Donny McCaslin and Dave Binney. Howard Levy
came to fame as a member of Bela Fleck’s Flecktones and has since had a strong solo career as one of the few
great jazz harmonica players.
      
For their duet set, they perform nine Salamon originals, one by Levy, and “Our Time” which they co-wrote.
The music is intimate with Salamon often heard on acoustic guitar, and features the two musicians operating
very much as equals. They play a good-natured blues (“Chaplin Walks”), moody explorations, post-bop
originals, adventurous pieces, and more melodic material with the three-part “Harmonica Suite” being one of
the highpoints. Salamon operates as a one-man rhythm section in addition to sharing the solo space, and Levy
really excels in this setting which contains some of his finest playing.
      
Peaks Of Light, which grows in interest with each listen, is available from www.samosalamon.com.
                                                           

Don Menza Quartet
Sonny Daze
(Alessa)
      
50 years ago, tenor-saxophonist Don Menza took a famous solo on Buddy Rich’s “Channel One Suite” that is
still well known. In his productive career since then, he has uplifted a countless number of sessions both as a
saxophonist and an arranger without gaining all that much fame except among his fellow musicians.

The two-CD set Sonny Daze features Menza two years ago at the age of 80, leading a group in Austria that also
includes pianist Oliver Kent, bassist Johannes Strasser and drummer Bernd Reiter. The trio forms a solid and
high-quality rhythm section and Kent takes many excellent piano solos. Most importantly, Sonny Daze shows
that, if anything, Menza has continued to grow in power, creativity and drive with age.

The ten selections (all but the brief “Last Call” are over ten minutes apiece) feature tenor solos that are
lengthy, colorful, often full of wit, and a bit dazzling. Menza’s huge tone recalls Sonny Rollins in spots, and not
just on the humorous but stirring tribute “Sonny Daze.” He also displays touches of Ben Webster along with
his own musical personality. From the opening “Quasimodo” (Charlie Parker’s medium-tempo take on
“Embraceable You”) through a surprisingly effective “Begin The Beguine,” “Golden Earrings,” “Charade” and
Kenny Barron’s “Voyage.” Menza never runs out of ideas or energy. He gives one the impression that his
improvisations could be twice as long without a loss in quality or hard-driving swing.

Suffice it to say that Sonny Daze, one of Don Menza’s best all-around showcases, is highly recommended.
Available from www.sounddesign-austria.at, this will certainly be on my lists as one of the top jazz albums of
2018.
                                                     

Magnus Karlsson & Lasse Bohlin
The Carl Kress Jazz Guitar Duets from the 30s & 40s
(Self-Released)
      
Carl Kress (1907-65) was a brilliant guitarist who emphasized sophisticated chord voicings both in his
accompaniments and his solos. A contemporary of Eddie Lang in the 1920s, Kress spent much of his life as a
studio musician. He enjoyed playing duets with his fellow guitarists and along the way recorded duets with
Lang, Dick McDonough, Tony Mottola and, in his last years, George Barnes.
      
Swedish guitarist Lasse Bohlin discovered Carl Kress’ music in 1980. During the next 30 years, in addition to
collecting as many of Kress’ recordings as possible, he transcribed many of his solos and duets. The Carl
Kress Jazz Guitar Duets is the result, a set of 15 guitar duets with Magnus Karlsson. While Bohlin generally
plays Kress’ parts, Karlsson is usually in the lead and the one playing the single-note lines.
      
No real improvisation takes place and instead this CD is filled with recreations of some of Kress’ duets with
Lang (“Pickin’ My Way” which is worthy of a big band arrangement), McDonough (including “Stage Fright,”
“Chasing A Buck” and “Chicken A La Swing”) and Mottola. The two guitarists really learned the material well
and they play brilliantly throughout, sounding as if they were making it up as they go along even though
every note had been written down.
      
While I wish that a few of these performances had been opened up a little so the guitarists could have added
short solos of their own, the results are impeccable and quite enjoyable. It is not often that one gets to hear
such pieces as “Peg Leg Shuffle,” “Sutton Mutton” and “Blonde On The Loose!” Guitarists and swing
collectors in particular will enjoy this well-conceived set which is available from
www.lassebohlinmagnuskarlsson.com.
                                                    

Louis Rosen
Act One
(Di-Tone Records
)
    
Louis Rosen is certainly a multi-talented individual. A singer-guitarist and an author, Rosen is perhaps most
significant as a composer and lyricist of songs for the theater and stage. Among those who he learned directly
from were Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. Among his works is his Dream Suite, a cycle of 14 songs
that utilize the poems of Langston Hughes.
      
Act One is Rosen’s adaptation of some of the songs that he wrote for the theatre, recast as instrumental works
performed by one or two pianists. “The Act One Suite,” which includes six pieces from his 2014 Broadway
production of Act One, is the strongest from the jazz standpoint. The work, which is set during the years 1925-
30, purposely has pianist Kimberly Grigsby playing in a variety of 1920s piano styles. One can certainly hear
bits of George Gershwin’s style along with stride piano and blues. Other pieces feature pianists Ted Sperling,
Joseph Thalken, Peter Lurie, Barbara Keller, and Melissa Shiflett with the music taken from six productions
including Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Romeo and Juliet, and Galileo. The music explores many moods
and is often melodic while bridging the gap between classical music, the blues and jazz.

This enjoyable set is available from www.louisrosen.com.


Leslie Pintchik
You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl!
(Pintch Hard)
      
Pianist Leslie Pintchik heard one person yelling what would become the title for her seventh CD as a leader to
another person on the streets of Manhattan. Another song on her CD is named after a familiar refrain: “Your
Call Will Be Answered By Our Next Available Representative In The Order In Which It Was Received, Please
Stay On The Line, Your Call Is Important To Us!”
      
Titles aside, Ms. Pintchik playing and music are fairly conventional but pleasing. Joined by her husband
bassist Scott Hardy (doubling on guitar), drummer Michael Sarin and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi along
with several guests, she proves to be a strong bop-based pianist who also loves Brazilian music and light funk.
Performing six of her originals plus “I’m Glad There Is You” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” the pianist
takes consistently inventive solos that swing yet are a bit unpredictable. Two songs include both trumpeter
Ron Horton and altoist Steve Wilson while two others have Shoko Nagai’s accordion adding color and variety.
      
This modern hard bop set is easy to enjoy and makes the case that Leslie Pintchik deserves to be much better
known. It is available from www.pintchhard.com.
                                                    

Jon Mayer Trio
Live At The Athenaeum
(BluePort)
      
Pianist Jon Mayer has been such a consistent musical force for so long that it is easy to take him for granted.
It seems as if no matter what the setting, particularly when he is at the head of his trio, Mayer’s playing can be
counted on to swing, show inventiveness within the bop tradition, and be filled with subtle surprises.
      
Live At The Athenaeum features the pianist, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Roy McCurdy digging into
seven standards plus Bill Cunliffe’s “Lakeside” and Mayer’s “Shari’s Bolero.” While it is not unusual for one to
hear versions of such songs as “All The Things You Are,” “Young And Foolish” and “For All We Know,” these
renditions are given a freshness of their own. The melodies and chord changes are intact yet Jon Mayer adds
new twists and turns to the music along with his own chord voicings. Among the other highlights are Gigi
Gryce’s rarely-played “Minority” and a medium-tempo version of “The Touch Of Your Lips.”
      
With Oles and McCurdy supplying stimulating support and occasional short solos, Jon Mayer is heard in top
form throughout his enjoyable set. Live At The Athenaeum is recommended and available from www.
jonmayer.com.
                                                

Yuko Mabuchi
Yuko Mabuchi Trio
(Yarlung)
      
A young pianist who was born and raised in Japan and recently moved to the Los Angeles area, Yuko Mabuchi
had extensive training in classical music. However she loved the music of Herbie Hancock and Oscar
Peterson and listened to all types of music while growing up, choosing to play jazz instead of classical. Her
recent CD for the Yarlung label (www.yarlungrecords.com) has her accompanied by bassist Del Atkins and
drummer Bobby Breton and is her finest recording so far.
      
The wide-ranging but swinging set features the pianist stretching out on “What Is This Thing Called Love,”
“On Green Dolphin Street,” “St. Thomas” and a medley of “All The Things You Are,” “Take The ‘A’ Train”
and Satin Doll.” In addition, the pianist performs the classical-oriented “Valse Noire,” the funky “Seriously”
her tender “Sona’s Song,” and a “Japanese Medley” comprised of three songs.
      
Yuko Mabuchi occasionally lets loose with stunning runs, showing that she has very impressive technique.
Much of the time though she holds back, showing a lot of restraint while making every note count. Despite
her youth and obvious enthusiasm, she is already a very mature improviser who is developing a winning style
of her own. While one looks forward to her future growth, her trio album shows that Yuko Mabuchi is long on
her way towards becoming a significant jazz pianist.
                                                     

Azar Lawrence
Elementals
(High Note)

      
Always a powerful and passionate tenor and soprano saxophonist, Azar Lawrence has had a fascinating and
episodic career. He started at the top, playing with McCoy Tyner in 1973 (recording Enlightment) when he
was just 20. The following year he worked with Miles Davis (recording Dark Magus), Woody Shaw and Tyner
in addition to making his first album as a leader. More albums followed along with a 1975 stint with Elvin
Jones. In 1976 he recorded with Beaver Harris’ 360 Degrees Music Experience and the following year cut a
record with Freddie Hubbard. But then, at the age of just 23, Lawrence adopted a much lower profile in the
jazz world. He worked with Earth, Wind and Fire, did studio work, and seemed to disappear altogether before
re-emerging again in 2006 with his first jazz album in decades.
      
Fortunately Azar Lawrence has proven to still be in prime form and he has been much busier in the jazz world
during the past decade. On Elementals he is joined by pianist Benito Gonzales (who has many fine solos),
bassist Jeff Littleton, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, percussionist Munyungo Jackson and a few guests for
six of his originals, three by Gonzales and the standard “It’s Easy To Remember.”
      
Long inspired by John Coltrane (both in his tone and intense playing), Lawrence sounds pretty individual on
most of this set. Among the highlights are the Afro-Cuban feel of “La Bossa,” “Eye Of The Needle” (a modal
piece in 6/4), the cooking “Elementals,” a mystical and electronic ”Solar Winds’ (which recalls his period with
Miles Davis), and a beautifully tasteful rendition of “It’s Easy To Remember.”
      
Elementals, which is available from www.jazzdepot.com, is a fine all-round effort by Azar Lawrence, and a
reminder of how vital a saxophonist he is in the current scene.
                                                         

Duck Baker
Shades Of Blue
(Fulica)
      
To say that guitarist Duck Baker is eclectic would be an understatement. In his career he has ranged from
country blues to free improvisations, early jazz, swing and folk music to the avant-garde and even Scottish
and Irish music, always sounding like himself. Baker has been prolific in his recording career and also works
as a jazz journalist.
      
Shades Of Blue is a compilation of blues and jazz-oriented performances dating from 2000-2015 that team
Duck Baker with a wide variety of musical partners. Michael Moore is featured on alto during “Families Be So
Mean” and clarinet on John Coltrane’s “Mr. Syms.”  Violinist Carla Kihlstadt and clarinetist Ben Goldberg join
Baker for Herbie Nichols’ “The Happenings” and the unpredictable “Cross Keys.” The late great trombonist
Roswell Rudd duets with Baker on “Lady Sings The Blues” while Hawaiian steel guitarist Ken Emerson joins in
on a light-hearted “Rusty Jones” and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues.” In addition, clarinetist Alex Ward and either
Joe Williamson or John Edwards on bass perform three Baker originals.
      
The music is spirited, melodic and bluesy while also being explorative and not always strictly blues. On most
of the selections, Duck Baker contributes a quiet and soothing guitar while interacting in creative ways with
the other musicians.
      
Shades Of Blue, one of the most accessible of Duck Baker’s many recordings, is an excellent way of becoming
introduced to the guitarist’s music. It is available from www.duckbaker.com.
                                                       

Alfredo Rodriguez
The Little Dream
(Mack Avenue)
      
Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez continues to grow with each recording. Already a top-notch pianist in 2006 when
he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, he was discovered by producer Quincy Jones at the time. Born
and raised in Cuba, Rodriguez gained political asylum in the U.S. in 2009. He has since toured the world,
appearing at many jazz festivals and clubs. The Little Dream is his fourth recording as a leader for the Mack
Avenue label (www.mackavenue.com).
     
On this CD, Rodriguez mostly performs his originals, often in an impressionistic style. While the music is
filled with inventive improvisations and is often picturesque (particularly “Dawn,” “Silver Rain” and “World
Of Colors”), the Cuban influence is downplayed except on a few numbers such as “Dance Like A Child” and
the Chick Corea-inspired “Vamos Todos A Cantar.” Joined by Munir Hossn on electric bass and guitar and
drummer-percussionist Michael Olivea, Rodriguez occasionally plays electric piano and adds his wordless
vocals to the ensembles. However the main emphasis is on his virtuosic yet restrained piano playing and his
ability to improvise in an individual style over vamps and unusual chord structures. He even makes “Besame
Mucho” (which has been recorded so many times in recent years) sound fresh.
      
The Little Dream is the latest step forward for Alfredo Rodriguez, a fine pianist who, in addition to his
recordings, is always well worth seeing in concert.
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