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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                   December 2016
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Mike Neer
Steelonious
(Self-Released)
     I
It has long been true that jazz can be played on any instrument, from the bagpipes (Rufus Harley) to the melodica,
the contrabass sax (Anthony Braxton) to a comb with tissue paper (Red McKenzie). Steel guitarists in jazz are rare but
there have been a few (most notably Buddy Emmons) and the number has multiplied in recent times. Steelonious
features steel guitarist Mike Neer playing a dozen Thelonious Monk songs with a quartet comprised of Matt King on
piano and organ, bassist Andrew Hall, and drummer Diego Voglion. Vibraphonist Tom Beckham guests on two
numbers.
     
So how does Steelonious sound? It is to Neer’s credit that most of the performances do not make one think of country
music. Neer has impressive technique, improvises on a high level, and definitely knows this material quite well.
Whether it is “Epistrophy,” “In Walked Bud,” “Ugly Beauty” or “Straight No Chaser,” the performances are concise
(clocking in between 2:58-4:44) and feature plenty of steel guitar and fine solos from King on his keyboards. The
concept works well and, by the third song, the steel guitar sound (which in Neer’s hands is not that far from a
conventional guitar) seems like a natural part of the music.
     
Steelonious is easily recommended and available from www.steelonious.com.


Red Callender
The Complete RCA Victor Sessions 1951-1952
(Fresh Sound)
     
I will always think of Red Callender as the only musician to ever turn down job offers from both the Louis Armstrong
All-Stars and Duke Ellington’s Orchestra; his studio work was too lucrative! A superior bassist based in Los Angeles
who also helped to introduce the tuba to modern jazz as a solo instrument, he appeared on a countless number of
sessions through the years, always uplifting the music.

Even collectors who have most of Callender’s recordings probably do not own the 30 performances on this recent
Fresh Sound (www.freshsoundrecords.com) reissue. .Callender, as Fresh Sound’s Jordi Pujol relates in his extensive
and very informative liner notes, was very active in jazz starting in the mid-1930s and made his recording debut
with Louis Armstrong in 1937. By 1951 he had worked with virtually every major name in jazz. After leading dates
for a variety of small Los Angeles-based labels, he signed a contract with RCA Victor and recorded 30 concise
performances at the head of sextets and a quartet. While Callender does not solo during these pieces, he drives the
ensembles.

Subtitled “The Rhythm and Blues Years,” the performances generally fall between swing and early r&b, The
selections include blues at several tempos, ballads, and jump pieces with occasional vocals taken by Mauri Lynn and
Linda Hayes. Tenor-saxophonist Maxwell Davis, who was very busy during the era although he is largely forgotten
today, is often the main soloist. While not as adventurous as bebop, these recordings are quite fun, infectious,
rhythmic, and have their creative moments.
     
Jazz collectors will want this colorful and perfectly-realized reissue.
                                                 

Bria Skolberg
Bria
(Okeh)
     
Bria Skolberg is a fairly new name in jazz outside of New York where she has been a part of the local trad jazz scene
during the past few years. An excellent swing trumpeter and a pleasing singer, Ms. Skolberg was one of the stars at
this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival.
     
Bria, her debut recording as a leader (available from okeh-records.com), is unfortunately a disappointment despite
some bright moments. Rather than focusing on her exciting trumpet playing, most of the performances concentrate
on her singing. While likable enough, there is little in her performances of such songs as “From This Moment On,”
“You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” or “Midnight Sun” that stands out from past recordings. Best of her vocal
pieces is a cha-cha version of “Don’t Be That Way” and “Wear And Tear,” a catchy original that could become a
standard someday, but there are too many throwaway pieces.
     
A few performances in the later part of the set  let Ms. Skolberg stretch out a bit on trumpet and show why she is
potentially significant, particularly Sidney Bechet’s “Egyptian Fantasy” and the closing “Down In The Deep.” There
are also some good moments from Evan Arntzen on clarinet and tenor, pianist Aaron Diehl and vibraphonist Stefan
Harris, with bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Ali Jackson lending solid support.
     
Hopefully next time, Bria Skolberg and her record label will feature her playing the hot jazz that has given her a
strong reputation. Otherwise her potential as a latter day trumpeter influenced by Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge
and Charlie Shavers will be wasted.
                                               

Seamus Blake and Chris Creek
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off
(Criss Cross)
     
It is often a bit of a revelation to hear improvisers best known for their playing in very adventurous post bop and free
settings performing straight ahead jazz. They often stretch the music and create fresh and new variations.
     
Tenor-saxophonists Seamus Blake and Chris Cheek are jazz giants of the past decade. Seamus Blake (45) won the
Thelonious Monk saxophonist competition in 2002, has worked with John Scofield, Bill Stewart, Kevin Hays, David
Kikoski, the Mingus Big Band and Alex Sipiagin, and has appeared on over 70 CDs plus 16 albums of his own. Chris
Creek (48), who is on over 60 CDs and has led at least nine sets, worked with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band and
Guillermo Klein’s Los Guachos. The two tenors performed together in Blake’s Bloomdaddies and co-led Reeds Ramble
for the Criss Cross label in 2014.
     
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off can be thought of as a continuation of Reeds Ramble, teaming the tenors with pianist
Ethan Iverson, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert. The title cut is taken slow at first before giving
the co-leaders a chance to interact and harmonize with each other. Of the other standards, “Limehouse Blues” is
played fast with plenty of sparks flying. Jobim’s “Surfboard” is stripped of its bossa-nova rhythms and modernized a
little while Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings” is given a warm and sentimental ballad treatment. In addition,
there is a boogaloo piece taken from a Chet Atkins session (“A Little Evil”) and originals by Blake, Cheek (“Lunar”
which is a distant relative of “Solar”) and Guillermo Klein.
     
While the two tenors “battle” each other in spots, the overall effect is complementary rather than competitive. With
Iverson adding inventive accompaniment and worthy solos, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (available from www.
statesidemusic.com) serves as a bridge between 20th and 21st century jazz, performed by some of today’s best.
                                            

Allen Toussaint
American Tunes
(Nonesuch)
     
Allen Toussaint, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 77, is most significant as a New Orleans r&b songwriter and a
record producer. A fine pianist and singer who was inspired by the rhythms of New Orleans, he recorded relatively
little jazz throughout his life, making American Tunes, his last recording, a happy surprise.
     
On this CD, Toussaint performs such numbers as Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag,” “I’m Confessin’,” “Waltz For Debby,”
Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and “Rosetta,” mostly as piano solos. While a few numbers add other musicians
including guitarist Bill Frisell and tenor-saxophonist Charles Lloyd, Toussaint is the main star throughout. He sings
Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and welcomes guest vocalist Rhiannon Giddens to “Rocks In My Bed” and “Come
Sunday.”
    
But mostly this is a spirited instrumental date that puts the spotlight on Toussaint’s piano playing. He shows that he
had a full understanding of stride and swing piano while always giving the music the infectious feel of New Orleans.
While it is a pity that he did not record more albums like this throughout his career (2009’s jazz-inspired The Bright
Mississippi is watered-down in comparison), American Tunes (available from www.nonesuch.com) serves as a
satisfying final act to his productive career.
                                              

Joe Bushkin Quartet
Live At The Embers 1952
(Dot Time)
     
Joe Bushkin was a swing pianist from the 1930s who had some success as a songwriter; “Oh Look At Me Now” was his
greatest hit. In the 1950s he often recorded easy-listening records of his melodic piano, mood music albums that
served as pleasing background music. However Bushkin (who was active on and off until his 2004 death) could play
solid swing whenever the demand was there.
     
In the early 1950s, Bushkin often led a quartet at the Ember’s in New York. Fortunately the previously unreleased
music on this CD (available from www.dottimerecords.com) was documented. Bushkin is joined by trumpeter Buck
Clayton, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Jo Jones for a set of swing tunes including a pair of four-song medleys.
Clayton’s presence adds a lot of fire to the music for the trumpeter was right in his prime. Such numbers as “After
You’ve Gone,” “You’re Just In Love” and “Honeysuckle Rose” are given extended workouts, showing listeners why
Buskin’s group was a big hit at the Embers.
     
It is a treat to have this valuable and formerly unheard music available.
                                                  

Various Artists
Jazz Loves Disney
(Verve)
     
Disney movies have yielded many classic songs through the years. Jazz Loves Disney has 13 tunes performed by 12
different artists. There are quite a few memorable performances, particularly during the first half of this CD.
     
Jamie Cullum begins the program with an exuberant and infectious version of “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat.”
Melody Gardot sounds joyful on Peggy Lee’s “He’s A Tramp.” Stacey Kent is excellent on “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” a song
that is difficult to get out of one’s head after hearing it. Gregory Porter contributes a beautiful rendition of “When You
Wish Upon A Star” that shows off his impressive voice. While “Why Don’t You Do Right” barely qualifies for this
record (it was revived for Who Framed Roger Rabbit), China Moses comes up with a sensual rendition. Also quite
impressive are Raphael Gualazzi’s enthusiastic “I Wanna Be Like You,” Hugh Coltman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,”
and a fun vocal duet by Gardot and Gualazzi on “The Bare Necessities.”
    
Rob Mousey leads the orchestra on many of the selections and he features the late great trumpeter Lew Soloff on
flugelhorn during the CD’s only instrumental, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.” Less interesting are pop singer’
s Anne Sila’s “Let It Go,” “Laika’s “Once Upon A Dream,” Nikki Yanofsky’s version of “When You Wish Upon A Star” in
French (whose idea was that?), and an unnecessary second version of “I Wanna Be Like You” by the Hot Sardines
(although it does have a couple of hot ensemble choruses).
     
Overall, Jazz Loves Disney has more than its share of winning performances and is highly recommended. It is
available from www.vervelabelgroup.com.
                                              

Lars Gullin
The Liquid Moves Of Lars Gullin
(Sonorama)
     
The Sonorama label from Germany (www.sonorama.de) has been putting out previously unreleased recordings by a
variety of top European and American jazz artists during the past few years. One of the greatest baritone-
saxophonists in jazz history, Lars Gullin was unique in that he was from Sweden and apparently never visited the
United States. Despite that, he did well in Downbeat’s polls of the 1950s and ‘60s and was often sought after by
visiting American jazz artists.
     
The Liquid Moves Of Lars Gullin has nine “new” performances by Gullin from 1959-63; only one selection had been
out before.  Dexter Gordon guests on tenor during two numbers and other notables include guitarist Rune Gustafsson,
altoist Flavio Ambrosetti, Barney Wilen on tenor and pianist George Gruntz. Featured with a quartet and in medium-
size groups, Gullin displays his light tone, boppish ideas and solid swing throughout these often-extended
performances. A version of “Ablution” (Lennie Tristano’s line on “All The Things You Are”) is over 11 minutes long.
The final three numbers have excellent vocals by Else Oxbol plus more fine Gullin solos including on a memorable
version of “The Things We Did Last Summer.”
    
The Liquid Moves Of Lars Gullin is a valuable addition to the discography of the very talented baritonist. Be sure to
check out Sonorama’s catalog for more gems.
                                               

Tubby Hayes
Live At The Hopbine 1968, Vol. 1
(Gearbox)
     
Gearbox from England is a vinyl jazz label that has thus far released 25 beautifully packaged and recorded sets
including albums by Dexter Gordon, Yusef Lateef and Mark Murphy plus a variety of British musicians. Of the latter,
Tubby Hayes ranked at the top. A hard-driving tenor-saxophonist with a sound and style a little reminiscent of Sal
Nistico (who he preceded), Hayes had a brief life (1935-73) due to a weak heart. Fortunately he was well recorded
during much of his 20 year career.
     
Live At The Hopbine 1968, Vol. 1 helps to fill a gap in Hayes’ career, documenting his quartet of the era which
otherwise had gone unrecorded. Taken from a radio broadcast, Hayes, guitarist Louis Stewart (who was just
beginning his career), bassist Kenny Baldock and drummer Spike Wells stretch out on four pieces. Hayes contributed
two of the pieces: “The Syndicate” and “The Inner Splurge.” The latter has some moments that hint at freer areas of
jazz although as usual Hayes takes a high-powered solo. On “The Gentle Rain,” he displays the influence of Stan Getz”
and he cooks on Jimmy Heath’s blues “Gingerbread Boy.” It is a bit unusual to hear the tenor-saxophonist in a
pianoless setting but Stewart provides plenty of excitement, both as a fluent soloist and in his accompaniment and
interplay with Hayes.
     
The music is very well recorded and well worth hearing. The Syndicate, available from www.gearboxrecords.com, is
highly recommended.
                                                   

Jacob Duncan
The Busker
(Calvin Cycle Collective)
     
A busker is someone who performs on the streets. Altoist Jacob Duncan knows what that life is like. Although based in
Louisville, Kentucky, after graduating from the University of North Texas, he went to Lisbon with his alto and $500.
Duncan worked as a street musician throughout Europe for a long period and enjoyed the experience. Since that time,
he spent some time working in New York, traveled the world performing on a cruise ship, and resettled in Louisville.
     
The Busker teams Jacob Duncan with guitarist Craig Wagner and bassist John Goldsby. The nine originals, which
could be played on the streets by the trio, utilize folk melodies while containing melodic improvisations and close
interplay. The music has a soundtrack quality about it, as if it was musically portraying the life of a busker in a
documentary. The titles, which include “Backyard Self Portrait,” “Kentucky Child,” “Down By Monk’s Pond” and
“Hamburg 1998,” fit right into the subtle music’s mostly laidback and thoughtful mood.
     
The Busker, which includes a few pieces that are more assertive and intense, rewards repeated listenings and makes
one want to see the nonexistent film! It is recommended and available from www.jacobduncan.com.
                                                  
     
Alyssa Allgood
Out Of The Blue
(Jeru Jazz)

Sari Kessler
Do Right
(Self-Released)

Kendra Shank & Geoffrey Keezer
Half Moon – Live In New York
(Ride Symbol)
     
Alyssa Allgood, a Chicago-based jazz singer, has released a very impressive CD, her first full-length recording, Out Of
The Blue. Allgood has an attractive voice, a wide range and a full understanding of the bebop tradition. She writes
excellent lyrics (which are heard on four of the ten numbers), scats very well (better than most) and always swings.
Out Of The Blue finds her leading a quintet that also features organist Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, tenor-
saxophonist Chris Madsen and drummer Matt Plaskota. All ten selections are well worth hearing, whether it is
vocalized versions of Hank Mobley’s “Dig Dis” (renamed “Watch Me Walk Away”), John Coltrane’s “Moment’s
Notice,” Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” or Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” (renamed “Only A Memory”). Just as Karrin
Allyson did a few years ago, Ms. Allgood often takes jazz instrumentals (many from the 1960s Blue Note era) and
makes them vocal pieces without sacrificing the wide intervals and adventure. It is great to hear her take Joe
Henderson’s rarely-covered “If” (an underrated classic) and bring it back to life in a different way. With fine solos and
support from her sideman, Alyssa Allgood has created one of the finest jazz vocal albums of the year. It is available
from www.alyssaallgood.com.

Sari Kessler, who is based in New York, made an unusual career change, giving up being a psychologist in favor of
becoming a jazz singer. Whether that ever works out financially, it certainly has on an artistic level. Do Right
features her singing 11 standards and her own “My Empty Bed Blues.” The inventive arrangements of James Shipp
(who plays percussion on four numbers) and Randy Porter (responsible for two charts) make the songs sound fresh,
and the musicians (a quartet with pianist John Di Martino and guitarist Ron Affif that is joined on three songs apiece
by tenor-saxophonist Houston Person and trumpeter Nadje Noordhus) are top-notch. In addition the repertoire, which
includes “After You’ve Gone,” Duke Ellington’s “The Gal From Joe’s“(drastically slowed down to a ballad), “Sunny”
and “The Frim Fram Sauce” among the highlights, is excellent. But the real reason to acquire this CD is for Sara
Kessler’s singing. Her voice is clear with superior diction, she is always in-tune, she swings at every tempo, and she
has a very appealing sound. Do Right (available from www.sarakessler.com) is a success on all levels.
     
Kendra Shank is a youthful veteran residing in New York who can always be relied upon to sing intelligent lyrics
(including some of her own) in a heartfelt, adventurous and very musical manner. Half Moon – Live In New York is a
set of duets by Ms. Shank and pianist Geoffrey Keezer that was recorded live on Jan. 3, 2015. The wide-ranging
repertoire includes inventive versions of “Alone Together,” Dave Frishberg’s You Are There” and “A Weaver Of
Dreams” plus the title cut (a free improvisation), Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music Is The Magic” and Lincoln’s words to
Thad Jones’ “When Love Was You And Me.” The singer is very much an improviser and Keezer never feels obligated to
always state the chords, beat or melody, so this is an adventurous set of music that will keep one guessing. Since
Kendra Shank has a soothing and inviting voice, and sings melodically and with subtlety, her music is always
accessible no matter how free the performance, even during the wild sections of “Life’s Mosaic” (based on Cedar
Walton’s “Mosaic”). While he pushes her at times (they clearly inspire each other), Geoff Keezer is very
complementary during this stimulating duo set, which is available from www.ridesymbol.com.