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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                December 2017
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Shorty Rogers
Early Skylark and Tampa EPs
(V.S.O.P.)

The V.S.O.P. label has long specialized in reissuing obscure sessions from the 1950s. Early Skylark and Tampa Eps
collects together three unrelated dates from 1951-52 that were originally released as EPs (extended play records
which were 10-inch Lps) by the Skylark label. Although Shorty Rogers gets top billing, he is actually only on one of
the three sessions.

“Big Boy Parts 1 and 2” (which is programmed as the fifth of the nine selections) is a humorous satire on early
rhythm & blues played by the earliest recorded version of the Lighthouse All-Stars. While the musicians (which
include trumpeter Shorty Rogers, trombonist Milt Bernhart and Jimmy Giuffre who steals the show with his honking
tenor) would be closely associated with the cool-toned West Coast jazz, this performance features them in more riotous
form, creating a surprise hit. Also included from the group is “M.B.B.” (“More Big Boy”) which is the same music with
different editing and the inclusion of some phony applause from the nonexistent audience, and a three-song medley
by singer Vivien Garry. The latter has a little bit of satirical Dixieland from the group but is comprised mostly of
features for the vocalist.

The bulk of this CD has two lengthy performances (“Cool Canary Blues” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”) in a jam session
format by a group led by violinist Paul Nero that features some very good Maynard Ferguson trumpet playing, tenor-
saxophonist Bob Cooper and clarinetist Abe Most. The final four numbers, which are much more concise, also feature
Most although this time in a more swing-oriented group that also stars trumpeter Charlie Shavers.
      
While the performances are not essential, there are enough bright moments to make this set (available from www.
magnebit.com/vsoprecords/index.htm) recommended to 1950s jazz collectors. Everyone should hear “Big Boy.”
                                                 

Stephan Oberhoff
Applauding The Sunset
(Self-Released)
      
Stephan Oberhoff is a multi-talented individual who plays keyboards and guitar, sings, arranges, composes, produces
records, and is a recording engineer. In his career he has written popular advertising jingles and collaborated with
many songwriters including Brenda Russell, Melissa Manchester and Quincy Jones. Oberhoff is also a superior jazz
improviser and has worked in local clubs.
      
Applauding The Sunset is a Brazilian-oriented project in which Oberhoff performs originals plus three other songs
including two by Ivan Lins. His haunting voice is often used wordlessly (although he also sings in Portuguese) as part
of an ensemble that includes his keyboards and occasional guitar along with Robert Kyle on flute and soprano, Katisse
Buckingham on flute, a string section, two other singers (mostly in the background), and a pair of percussionists.
      
The music at various times evokes Weather Report, classical music, traditional Brazilian songs and an electronic
soundscape, all mixed together with Stephan Oberhoff’s original ideas and a set of rich melodies. The result is an
atmospheric program that is well worth experiencing. It is available from www.stephanoberhoff.com.
                                                    

Hilary Gardner/Ehud Asherie
The Late Set
(Anzic)
      
Part of the New York jazz scene since 2003, Hilary Gardner is 1/3 of the vocal trio Duchess and had previously
released her debut recording The Great City. On The Late Set, she performs duets with pianist Ehud Asherie who has
also been a fixture in New York.

The Late Set has music that fits its title with the duo featured on mostly lesser-known vintage standards, the type of
music that they often performed at Mezzrow’s. Asherie’s swing and stride-based playing fits in perfectly with the
warm singing of the vocalist. Most of the songs are taken as ballads although there are hotter moments including the
second half of “After You’ve Gone” and “Everything I’ve Got.” Other highlights include welcome revivals of “Shadow
Waltz,” “A Ship Without A Sail,” “I Used To Be Color Blind” and “Seems Like Old Times.” While Ms. Gardner generally
sticks to the melody and lyrics, her phrasing swings at each tempo. Asherie is a superior accompanist and his melodic
solos give the music a solid forward momentum.

The Late Set is an easy album to enjoy. It is available from www.anzicrecords.com.
                                             
      
Jason Stein Quartet
Lucille
(Delmark)
     
One of the few fulltime bass clarinetists in jazz, Jason Stein is carving a new legacy for the instrument, apart from
that set in the past by Harry Carney, Eric Dolphy and Bennie Maupin. On Lucille, Stein teams up with contrabass
clarinetist Keefe Jackson (who doubles on tenor), bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Tom Rainey.
      
The repertoire includes pieces by Lennie Tristano (“Wow” and “April”), Warne Marsh (“Marshmallow”), Charlie
Parker (“Dexterity”), and Thelonious Monk (“Little Rootie Tootie”), a Bob Hurst tribute to tenor-saxophonist Charlie
Rouse (“Roused About”) and three Stein originals. While the music often swings in a free bop fashion, there are also
freer explorations and moments of unpredictability. The interplay between bass and contrabass clarinets is
intriguing and fascinating with Jackson sometimes stealing the show. While Abrams and Rainey are mostly in
supportive roles, they keep the music stimulating throughout.
      
The music looks forward while retaining ties to the past. The unusual instrumentation, mood and tempo variations,
and the high-quality solo and ensemble playing make Jason Stein’s Lucille an excellent acquisition, easily
recommended, and available from www.delmark.com.
                                                      

Howlin’ Wolf
The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs 1951-62
(Acrobat)
        
Howlin’ Wolf was one of the giants of the blues, a vocalist who growled as much as he sang, often spitting out
menacing sounds while doing justice to the lyrics that he interpreted. Born as Chester Arthur Burnett in 1910, it took
him some time to launch his solo career, not making his first recordings until he was already 40 in 1951. However as
part of the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s and ‘60s, Wolf was an influential and powerful force, putting on
memorable shows and making a series of important recordings that, along with those of Muddy Waters, defined the
music of the era.
      
This remarkable three-CD set (available from MVD Distribution at www.mvdb2b.com), has all of the singles that
Howlin’ Wolf recorded during his first 12 years on records, virtually everything other than live performances and
full-length albums. In addition to the 64 singles, there are 16 additional numbers that are included which were
recorded at the same sessions but did not make their debut on singles
      
Howlin’ Wolf is heard on his early and often-primitive Memphis recordings of 1951-53 with guitarist Willie Johnson
and James Cotton on harmonica in the supporting cast, and in Chicago during 1954-62 with such notables as
guitarist Hubert Sumlin, pianist Otis Spann, and bassist Willie Dixon (who wrote many of the later pieces) among
others. While several of the numbers (especially “Smokestack Lightning,” “Spoonful,” and “Wang Dang Doodle”)
became famous as his signature songs, virtually all of the performances are memorable in their own way, including
the most obscure pieces.
      
Rather than the sidemen or even the songs, the main star throughout is the unique Howlin’ Wolf, who never coasted,
sounded like anyone else, or sang without passion. All blues collectors should own this valuable and historic set.
                                                 
      
Randy Porter
Plays Cole Porter
(Heavywood Music)
      
Veteran pianist Randy Porter is a fine modern straight ahead pianist who in his career has worked with Freddie
Hubbard, Benny Golson, Charles McPherson, the New York Voices, Rebecca Kilgore and David Friesen among others.
On his tribute album to Cole Porter, he teams up with bassist John Wiitala, drummer Todd Strait and, on six of the
nine selections, the great singer Nancy King.
      
The set features eight Cole Porter songs plus the pianist’s ballad “Inside Your Mind.” Nancy King brings her own
warmth and individual phrasing to such songs as “I Concentrate On You,” “Just One Of Those Things” and “All Of
You,” sounding very much in her musical prime. Porter takes “I Love You,” “Why Can’t You Behave” and “Get Out Of
Town” as instrumentals. His solos are swinging, boppish and full of subtle creativity while keeping the melodies in
mind. Wiitala and Strait are excellent in support of the lead voices.
      
Further analysis is not needed. Randy Porter’s Plays Cole Porter, which is available from www.randyporter.com, is a
high-quality set of creative jazz that is easy to enjoy.
                                                

Bob Lark-Phil Woods Quintet
Thick As Thieves
(Jazzed Media)
      
Bob Lark, a Professor of Jazz Studies at Chicago’s DePaul University, is both an influential educator and a very good
bop-based trumpeter. A good friend of the late great altoist Phil Woods, Lark recorded with Woods on several occasions
including with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble and with the combo that they co-led.
      
Thick As Thieves features the Bob Lark-Phil Woods Quintet which is essentially Woods’ 2009 Quintet (which also
includes pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin) with Lark in place of Brian Lynch.
The performance from May 17, 2009 was originally going to feature originals but Woods at the last minute decided to
mostly play standards with the emphasis on spontaneity and playing by ear rather than utilizing arrangements.
While Lark, who sticks throughout to flugelhorn, was not initially pleased by the change in plans, the results are
quite colorful and joyful.
      
The full quintet performs lengthy versions of “Yardbird Suite,” “I Love You,” “All The Things You Are,” “Billie’s
Bounce” and Lark’s “First Steps.”  Lark is featured on briefer renditions of “Rhythm-A-Ning” and his own “Winter’s
Touch.” The flugelhornist is a strong and colorful soloist who has his own sound within the bebop tradition, not
copying any of his predecessors. McNeely plays consistently inventive improvisations while Gilmore and Goodwin are
as tight and swinging as one would expect.
      
As for Phil Woods, it is a pleasure getting to hear some “new” solos from the classic altoist. He and Lark play off each
other very well and with occasional wit, making Thick As Thieves (available from www.jazzedmedia.com) well worth
picking up.
                                              

Vijay Iyer Sextet
Far From Over
(ECM)
      
Pianist-composer Vijay Iyer is considered by many to be one of the most significant jazz musicians active today. Far
From Over features Iyer as, not only the leader and pianist in his sextet but, perhaps most importantly, as the
arranger.
      
The music, comprised of ten Iyer originals, falls between post-bop and the avant-garde. Iyer’s pieces generally utilize
catchy if very complex rhythms, original chord changes, and tricky melody lines. The solos from the individual
players (cornetist Graham Haynes, altoist Steve Lehman, tenor-saxophonist Mark Shim, bassist Stephan Crump and
drummer Tyshawn Sorey in addition to Iyer) are concise and colorful. They are an outgrowth of the ensembles which
find the group being both tight (well-rehearsed) and loose (spontaneous). While there are excellent solos from the
horn players (Haynes’ playing is particularly rewarding on “Poles” and the funky “Into Action”), the rhythm section
gives the music its foundation and direction.
      
The music covers a variety of moods. “Poles” begins quietly, utilizes a repeated figure by the ensemble, and becomes
quite intense. The shifting time signatures on “Far From Over” sound almost impossible to improvise over yet Haynes
and Iyer (on Fender Rhodes) make their statements sound natural. Nope” has its funky moments, the brief “End Of
The Tunnel” will remind some of Bitches Brew era Miles Davis, and the uptempo “Down To The Wire” is a modal piece
with raging tenor and piano playing reminiscent in spots of McCoy Tyner. “For Amiri Baraka” is a ballad for the trio,
“Wake” is a spacey atmospheric piece, and “Good On The Ground” has the sextet playing over a one-chord vamp and
utilizing a melody and groove that could have come from Ornette Coleman. Far From Over concludes with
“Threnody” which begins as an out-of-tempo melancholy ballad for the trio before gradually becoming a triumphant
piece with altoist Lehman in the lead.
      
After hearing this stimulating set, one can certainly imagine Vijay Iyer adapting some of his pieces for a big band.
The thought-provoking CD is available from www.ecmrecords.com and Amazon.
                                                   

Corina Bartra
Takunde
(Blue Spiral)
      
Throughout her career, singer and composer Corina Bartra has been innovative in blending together Peruvian
rhythms (along with some from Cuba and Brazil) and her singing (mostly in Spanish) with modern post bop jazz and
original melodies. While her previous CD Tribute To Chabuca Granda was an instrumental set of her music, her
vocals are in the spotlight on Takunde.
      
For this project, Ms. Bartra is joined by pianist Steve Sandberg, guitarist Seth Johnson, bassist Victor Murillo,
drummer Vince Cherico, Perico Diaz on cajon, and Jay Rodriguez on various saxophones. Rodriguez is a major asset
throughout, offering stirring solos that keep the music inventive and unpredictable.
       
Corina Bartra contributes consistently powerful singing along with some scatting and wordless vocalizing on a wide-
ranging but consistently rhythmic set. Included along with her originals are unusual versions of “Bridge Over
Troubled Water,” Jobim’s “Samba de Aviao,” Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” and a traditional Afro-Peruvian
song. Among the other highlights are the joyful “El Tamalito” (which has some fine soprano playing by Rodriguez),
the modern jazz of “Ecstasy Green,”  “Purple Heart Sky” (a ballad waltz), and the leader’s assertive singing on the
closing “Paseo de Aguas.”
      
Takunde serves as a fine introduction to the unique music and singing of Corina Bartra. It is available from www.
bluespiralrecords.com.
                                                      

Rez Abbasi
Unfiltered Universe
(Whirlwind)
      
The adventurous guitarist Rez Abbasi formed his group Invocation in 2008. Since then he has recorded CDs that have
explored a mixture of modern jazz with Hindustani (Things To Come) and Qawwall (Suno Suno) music. Unfiltered
Universe has Abbasi and his band delving into aspects of the music of Southern Indian (Canatic).
The references to Canatic music are mostly quite subtle, in the phrasing and some of the themes, so one does not have
to be familiar with the idiom to enjoy Unfiltered Universe. Abbasi’s sextet includes altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa,
pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, drummer Dan Weiss and cellist Elizabeth Mikhael. They have in-
common virtuosity and original styles. Certainly Abbasi, Mahanthappa and Iyer sound unlike anyone else. While
Abbasi’s music on this CD is clearly jazz and the music (which sometimes hints at fusion) is tonal, it does not owe a
close allegiance to any previous style.
      
Invocation performs seven of Abbasi’s stimulating originals on Unfiltered Universe. While the melodies are not by
themselves memorable, they set moods and patterns that the musicians dig into and stretch. Ranging from
“Propensity” and the brief guitar solo “Thoughts” to the piano-guitar tradeoff on “Thin-King,” the episodic “Turn Of
Events” and the closing and ironically titled “Dance Number,” this is dynamic music that grows in interest with
each listen.

Unfiltered Universe is available from www.whirlwindrecordings.com and www.reztone.com.
                                                  

Bill Charlap Trio
Uptown, Downtown
(Impulse!)
    
The Bill Charlap Trio, comprised of the pianist-leader, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington,
first recorded together in 1997. 20 years later, there is no loss of enthusiasm or subtle creativity in their latest
recording, Uptown, Downtown.
      
Charlap could be considered a modern swing pianist. His playing, while open to developments as recent as Bill Evans
and early Herbie Hancock, is melodic, swinging and tied to the jazz tradition. His sophisticated chordings are
particularly effective on medium-tempo tunes and he clearly enjoys embracing melodies that he loves.
      
Uptown, Downtown features the Charlap Trio performing five standards, the Stephen Sondheim title tune plus lesser
known songs by Gerry Mulligan (a former employer of Charlap), Jim Hall, and Gigi Gryce. Among the highlights are
a tender and wistful version of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” on which Charlap interprets the song as if
he were singing it, an uptempo “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” a sophisticated rendering of “There’s A
Small Hotel” and a cooking rendition of Gryce’s “Satellite.” Throughout the program, the two Washingtons act like
Charlap’s third and fourth hands, supporting the pianist and both echoing and adding to his ideas.
      
Lovers of the classic piano trio will enjoy Uptown, Downtown which is available from www.universalmusic.com and
Amazon.
                                          

Humphrey Lyttelton
Dusting Off The Archives
(Lake)
      
As a trumpeter and bandleader, Humphrey Lyttelton occupies a major place in the history of British jazz. His band
with clarinetist Wally Fawkes was one of the very best in trad jazz during the first half of the 1950s, recording a long
series of exciting selections for the Parlophone label that was inspired by 1920s jazz. Lyttelton never attempted to
copy any of his predecessors even when bringing back vintage songs, and he added greatly to the legacy of the music.
After 1956 when Fawkes departed, Lyttelton shifted his music to mainstream swing (which angered many in
England’s trad world) although he occasionally went back to his roots throughout his long career.
      
Dusting Off The Archives is a particularly valuable CD from the Lake label for it includes 25 very rare selections from
1948-55, many of which had never been released before. The program consists of alternate takes, private recordings,
numbers from broadcasts, and completely unissued studio sets. Most significantly, the performances and the
recording quality are on the same level as Lyttelton’s released recordings.
      
In addition to Lyttelton and Fawkes, such notables as pianist George Webb, trombonist Keith Christie, clarinetist Ian
Christie and altoist Bruce Turner make contributions. Particularly fun are several selections in which Lyttelton
switches to clarinet (with Fawkes sometimes on bass clarinet); the two reed players interact with each other and the
results are quite exciting.
      
Highlights include “Snake Rag,” “Wild Man Blues,” “Chicago Buzz, “Randolph Turpin Stomp,” a fresh rendition of
“Singing The Blues,” and a version of Lyttelton’s lone hit “Bad Penny Blues” that was performed four years before the
famous studio version. In reality, there are no throwaways among the 25 performances many of which rank with the
top hot jazz recordings of the time. Dusting Off The Archives, which is highly recommended to anyone interested in
pre-swing jazz, is just one of literally hundreds of worthy British trad jazz CDs available from Lake (www.fellside.
com).
                                              

Lowell Fulson
Classic Cuts 1946-1953
(JSP)
      
Lowell Fulson (1921-99) was a superior blues singer and guitarist for decades. A major figure in West Coast Blues
after World War II, his cool but passionate voice was appealing and easy to understand. Fulson’s guitar playing was
inspired at times by T-Bone Walker but he also spontaneously added or dropped extra bars to many of his choruses like
a country blues performer. Fulson’s conversational phrasing was easily recognizable and he was an inspiration to
quite a few later performers including B.B. King and Chuck Berry.
      
The four CD set Classic Cuts 1946-1953 contain 113 selections, virtually Fulson’s total output during his first eight
years on record. The earliest performances are particularly intriguing as pianist Eldridge McCarty and bassist Big
Dad expertly follow Fulson’s thoughts while he changes chords in irregular fashion. McCarty’s swing and boogie-
woogie playing are a joy throughout those sessions. Fulson’s guitar phrasing was a bit awkward at first but he soon
learned how to use space more effectively. His singing was first-class from the start.
      
On this very generous package (each CD has over 78 minutes of music), Fulson is also heard with occasional drums
and the Lester Young-inspired tenor of Que Martyn (on two cuts), in a bassless trio with piano and drums, on two
songs with a combo led by pianist Jay McShann, a few dozen titles with a solid quartet/quintet that includes pianist
Lloyd Glenn and often altoist Earl Brown and with a rollicking ensemble during the final few numbers. Also included
are 12 selections in which Fulson is solely accompanied by the rhythm guitar of his brother Martin Fulson.

Along with the bluesman’s hits, “Blue Shadows,” ”Every Day I Have The Blues” (he gave Memphis Slim’s “Nobody
Loves Me” that title), and “Lonesome Christmas Parts 1 & 2,” there are many lesser-known but rewarding
performances including on this admirable reissue. The music ranges from lowdown and laidback blues to swinging
romps, from jump to early r&b. There is a lot to consume but it is well worth it. Classic Cuts (available from MVD
Distributors at www.mvdb2b.com) is a must for every blues collection.