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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
               February 2018
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Lisa B.
I Get A Kick – Cole Porter Reimagined
(Jazzed Media
)
     
Lisa B. is a fine jazz singer with a strong voice and a wide range who hits high notes particularly well. She has also
been a poet for as long as she has sung, having a parallel career that includes having a book of her work published and
contributing to top literary journals.
      
On her sixth CD as a leader, Lisa B. performs ten Cole Porter songs composed during 1929-54. Porter’s music and
lyrics have been performed and recorded a countless number of times through the years, so on some of these
selections, Lisa B. tries something different than usual. She utilizes new arrangements that sometimes include
additional lyrics that she wrote along with spoken word passages. She does her best to update and modernize the
classic songs without making them unrecognizable or losing their essence.
      
On this project, Lisa B. is joined by either James Gardiner, Ben Flint, or Frank Martin on keyboards, Fred Randolph,
Troy Lampkins or Gardiner on bass, Jeff Marrs, Alan Hall or Paul van Wageningen on drums and, for two songs
apiece, percussionist John Santos and Michael Zilber on soprano and tenor.
      
Among the songs that Lisa B. transforms a bit are “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (which has her joined by just bass and
drums), a bossa nova version of “Easy To Love,” the obscure “I Happen To Like New York” (on which she adds some
storytelling about her grandparents emigrating to NYC in 1923), “What Is This Thing Called Love” (featuring her
speaking poetically about what is love), a funky “All Of You” and “a rendition of “Night And Day” with electronic
backing. Some of the highpoints are the more straightforward interpretations that feature her voice very well
including a duet with the bassist on “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and a slow version of “In The Still Of The Night”
which has her joined by the wailing soprano by Zilber.
      
All in all, this is a rewarding and intriguing effort, available from www.jazzedmedia.com.


Vinny Golia Wind Quartet
Live At The Century City Playhouse
(Dark Tree)
      
During 1976-81, Lee Kaplan booked an important Sunday night series at the Century City Playhouse that featured
avant-garde jazz. On May 13, 1979, Vinny Golia, who had started his Nine Winds label two years earlier and was
already becoming an important force in the Los Angeles music scene, organized a wind quartet specifically for the
event. He called two of the great free jazz veterans who were based in L.A., clarinetist John Carter and cornetist
Bobby Bradford, along with the always-adventurous trombonist Glenn Ferris.
      
The previously unreleased music, five lengthy performances, is now available on this CD from Dark Tree (www.
darktree-records.com) which includes excellent liner notes by Mark Weber. With Golia featured on flutes, piccolo,
baritone sax and bass clarinet, there is plenty of color displayed in the interplay between the horn players. The
music, all Golia originals, has arranged passages that contrast with plenty of stretches of free improvisation by the
four horns. While there are some unaccompanied solos, most of the music finds all of the musicians creating music
together, based very loosely on the themes. Rather than random notes and an excess of intense passion (as was
sometimes true in the mid-1960s free jams held on the East Coast), there are plenty of thoughtful moments and a
regular use of space in these improvisations which sometimes hints at modern classical music. It could be considered
West Coast cool jazz of the avant-garde.
      
This is intriguing music that rewards repeated listenings and still sounds contemporary today despite the passing of
39 years.


Howard Alden
Solo Guitar
(K2B2)
      
Howard Alden, one of the top jazz guitarists of all time, has recorded in many different settings throughout his career.
Although his CDs include a variety of duet albums including with bassist Jack Lesberg, guitarists George Van Eps and
Bucky Pizzarelli, pianist Dick Hyman, and the reeds of Ken Peplowski, he has only recorded two sets of unaccompanied
solos. There was 2002’s My Shining Hour and, on one day in 2013, he recorded Solo Guitar.
       
To be technically accurate, Solo Guitar contains two numbers in which Buell Neidlinger on cello makes the group a
duo, joining in on Duke Ellington’s “Dancers In Love” and “Black Beauty,” taking the lead on the latter. But otherwise
this CD is all Alden on his seven-string guitar.
      
When one thinks of unaccompanied solo guitar, ballads come immediately to mind. However Solo Guitar begins with
an uptempo version of “Nagasaki.” While this set has its share of slower tempos (including “Just A Gigolo,” “Single
Petal Of A Rose,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and Django Reinhardt’s beautiful “Tears”) there are also many
rapid workouts that show just how brilliant a guitarist Alden can be. He romps through “Diabinho Maluca” (which at
that speed sounds impossible to play), swings hard on “The Song Is You,” and comes up with fresh ideas on “My
Shining Hour.”
      
All 14 performances on Solo Guitar, many of which are exquisite, are well worth hearing, featuring the brilliant
Howard Alden in top form. It is hard to believe that the entire program was put together in a few hours and that
nearly all of the renditions are first takes. Solo Guitar is available from www.k2b2.com.


Simon Lasky Group
About The Moment
(33 Jazz)
      
Keyboardist-composer Simon Lasky made his recording debut with his sextet on Story Inside a couple of years ago.
About The Moment finds him changing some of the personnel but keeping the same sound which is touched by fusion
and Pat Metheny while being quite original.
      
For the new project, the leader is joined by a core quartet with guitarist Luca Boscagin, bassist Pete Billington, and
drummer Sophie Alloway. On three songs apiece either Kuljit Bhamra is added on tabla or percussionist Fergus
Gerrand. In addition, Phillip Achille guests on four numbers on harmonica.
      
Lasky wrote all ten compositions which are episodic, melodic, often cinematic, have a strong forward momentum,
and are consistently unpredictable. His music constantly evolves rather than being merely a set of chord changes,
and the emphasis is on ensembles rather than solos. Lasky and guitarist Boscagin have their moments in the lead but
most of the time the focus is on the compositions rather than the individual improvising. The music manages to fit
the moods suggested by such song titles as “Dancing In The Rain,” “Mountain Spirit,” “Close To Ecstasy” and “New
Day” yet, because each piece leads logically to the other, the CD sounds very much like a suite.
      
The intriguing music of About The Moment (available from www.simonlaskygroup.com) is well worth a close listen.


Frank Caruso
Chosen
(Etchings)
      
A top veteran modern jazz pianist from Chicago, Frank Caruso had led three albums of his own since 1985. Chosen is
his fourth.
      
This outing with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Bob Rummage is Caruso’s first full-length recording in a trio
format. While the shadow of McCoy Tyner is felt during a fine version of the opener, John Coltrane’s “Ascent,” Caruso
adapts his flexible style to the material and displays many sides of his musical personality. He is quite original on
Chick Corea’s “Matrix,” follows Gomez’s bowed bass with inventive bop-oriented ideas on John Lewis’ “Django,” plays
a thoughtful “thinking-aloud” solo on Dave Frishberg’s “You Are There,” and swings hard on “Without A Song” while
not sounding like any of his historic predecessors. Even with the presence of Gomez and the close interplay in which
he engages with his sidemen (Rummage’s subtle drumming is felt as much as heard), Caruso avoids sounding like Bill
Evans and instead displays his own fresh chord voicings. Also included on this fine disc are “Again And Again,”
“Waltz For Gomez,” a medium-tempo “Dearly Beloved,” a tasteful rendition of “The Folks Who Live On the Hill” and
the joyful closer “Grande Amor.”
      
Chosen is an excellent showcase for the pianist and his trio, and a very good opportunity to become acquainted with
the musical talents of Frank Caruso. For more information, send an E-mail to carusopiano@yahoo.com.


Hiromi & Edmar Castaneda
Live In Montreal
(Telarc)
      
The remarkable piano virtuoso Hiromi is heard at her best when she is playing unaccompanied solos although in
recent times she has been leading a fusion trio. Live In Montreal is quite a bit different for it teams Hiromi with the
impressive harpist Edmar Castaneda in a set of duets.
      
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Castaneda began playing the harp when he was 13, inspired by his father who was also a
harpist. Based in New York since the mid-1990s, Castaneda has performed with top-notch musicians since then
including Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D’Rivera, John Patitucci, Janis Siegel and John Scofield. He has the ability to
make his instrument sound like a guitar or a bass and he plays with plenty of fluency.
      
It takes a lot of courage to perform duets with Hiromi for, when the pianist cuts loose, she has no competition. While
there are some moments like that on this set (including during “For Jaco” and “Libertango”), Hiromi often shows a lot
of restraint, letting Castaneda be an equal partner. Together they perform originals (including the pianist’s warm
ballad “Moonlight Sunshine” and her four-part “The Elements”), Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” and the hottest
number, John Williams’ “Cantina Band.” The latter threatens to break up into hard swinging during Hiromi’s solo
and is quite light-hearted.
      
The interplay between Hiromi and Castaneda, particularly on the hotter pieces, makes Live In Montreal a unique
document of their brief musical partnership. It is available from www.concordmusicgroup.com.
                                                      Scott Yanow

Mike Stern
Trip
(Heads Up)
      
A versatile guitarist who has been a major musical force during the past 40 years, Stern worked with Billy Cobham
(1979-81), Miles Davis (1981-83) and Jaco Pastorius (1983-84) before he began heading his own records. Stern also
was part of Michael Brecker’s group during 1986-88) but has mostly been an influential leader since that time. His
style has always been open to rock and funk influences but at heart he has consistently been a post-bop jazz
improviser throughout his career
      
In the summer of 2016, Stern had a serious fall, breaking both of his arms. The worst injury was to his right hand
which left him unable to hold a guitar pick. Luckily Stern came up with a method of gluing the pick to his hand that
allowed him to adjust to the problem and return to playing last year.
      
Trip, his first recording since the accident, finds Stern performing at his former level and making a complete
comeback. With an all-star cast that includes such sidemen as keyboardist Jim Beard, four different bassists
including Victor Wooten, several drummers including Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, Dave Weckl and Will
Calhoun, and appearances by tenor-saxophonists Bob Franceschini and Bill Evans, and trumpeters Randy Brecker
and Wallace Roney, it is fair to say that Stern is in very good company.
      
In addition to the high quality musicianship, one of the main strengths to this set is the excellent material (all Stern
originals) which covers a wide variety of ground. The titles all have to do with how his life evolved after the accident.
The dramatic “Trip” is rockish, “Blueprint” is a ballad with a menacing strut, and “Half Crazy” gives Stern and
Evans a chance to stretch out over relatively straight ahead rhythm changes. “”Screws” is a bit funky, “Gone” is
wistful, and “Whatchacallit” features rhythmic but complex lines, while “Emilia” (one of two pieces on which Mike’s
wife Leni Stern plays the ghoni, a West African string instrument) has a wordless vocal by Gio Moretti.  The
optimistic and catchy “Hope For That” has a stirring solo by Stern that leads to the celebratory “I Believe You,” the
joyfully cooking “Scotch Tape and Glue” and the closing “B Train” which is based on “Take The ‘A’ Train.”
      
The spirited music consistently keeps one guessing throughout Trip which finds Mike Stern back at the peak of his
powers. It is highly recommended and available form www.concordmusicgroup.com.


Heather Keizur & Steve Christofferson
Moon River
(Self-released)
      
Singer-pianist duo albums are always a bit challenging because, with only two artists, there is nowhere to hide. The
vocalist has to have the type of voice that one would love to listen to for a full program and they have to be able to
convey a wide range of emotions. The pianist needs to be both supportive and stimulating, giving the singer a strong
foundation while also challenging the vocalist to stretch and take subtle chances. And in a ballad-oriented set such as
Moon River where the tempos are uniformly slow, every sound, whisper, and moment of silence counts.
      
It is apparent, while listening to singer Heather Keizur and pianist Steve Christofferson on “You Are There,” the
opening selection of this CD, that both of the artists have all of the necessary qualities along with a familiarity with
each other’s styles. Keizur, who has a beautiful voice, grew up in Canada and sings in both English and French. She
moved to Portland, Oregon in 2008 and Moon River is her third CD since then. Christofferson, who is heard on an
acoustic-sounding electric piano and (for atmosphere) a little bit of melodica, lives in Washington State, has
performed for years with singer Nancy King, and has worked with Karrin Allyson and Kurt Elling in addition to
leading his own groups. He has collaborated with Ms. Keizur on many occasions over the past nine years although this
is their first duo recording.
      
Moon River consists of nine songs including four haunting numbers in French, “Always On My Mind,” “The Summer
Knows,” Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue,” the title cut, and the Dave Frishberg/Johnny Mandel song “You Are There.”
The performances are taken at very slow dreamy tempos, as if the duo was thinking aloud. To a certain extent they
are since Christofferson’s melodic parts are purely improvised. His quiet but significant contributions add a great deal
to the music, clearly inspiring the singer who floats above his accompaniment.
      
As for Heather Keizur, she certainly has a great voice, one filled with restrained emotions, power, and a wistfulness
that draws listeners into her music. “Moon River” has rarely received such a warm treatment and that can be said
for the other heartfelt interpretations heard throughout this exquisite set. The CD, available from www.
heatherkeizur, is easily recommended.


Craig Hlady Quartet
Twisted
(TPR Records)

Craig Hlady is a skilled and versatile jazz guitarist who sounds equally at home in several styles. He has spent much
of his career as a sideman, a record producer, and as a faculty member at Berklee, but he has also led his own groups
in the Boston area.

On Twisted, Hlady performs nine of his originals in a quartet/quintet with pianist Dave Ramsay, bassist Oscar
Stagnaro, drummer Alan Hall and, on two of the numbers, percussionist Ricardo Monzon. While the songs sometime
utilize complex chord changes, Hlady easily sails over the music. His playing, which occasionally displays touches of
Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton and electric blues guitarists, is mostly quite original and his ideas are expressed in his
own voice  Ramsay is also a strong soloist while Stagnaro, Hall and Monzon keep the post-bop music grooving behind
the lead voices.

After a tricky melody on the opening “It’s A Pedal Still,” Hlady takes a solo that starts quietly but soon becomes quite
fiery. “Happy Blue Year” (a medium-tempo jazz waltz) and the straight ahead “Baby Blues” are the most straight
ahead performances, inspiring some colorful improvisations. “Twisted,” which is as eccentric as its title (and has no
relationship to the Annie Ross classic), has a quirky melody with a rockish section along with a heated piano solo. In
contrast to the more passionate pieces, “Steppin’ Out” sets an easy-listening groove and is quite soothing.

“When Fred Fled” is an inventive swinger while “Top Cat” is more relaxing but filled with subtle creativity. Hlady’s
guitar on the latter at one point has a country twang and elsewhere hints more at Gabor Szabo. “One Sunday
Morning” effectively alternates vamps and swing sections and includes some surprises along the way as the rhythm
keeps on changing. The closer, “Four Way Strut,” is the freest and most electric performance, featuring Hlady and his
sidemen at their most explorative.

Twisted holds one’s interest throughout and contains plenty of variety in moods and grooves. It is an impressive effort
from Craig Hlady that is available from www.craighlady.com.


Various Artists
Groovin’ High – Jam Session At The Hopbine 1965
(Acrobat)
      
Even fans who have a general interest in the history of British jazz will not have heard of most of the talents featured
in this jam session from 1965. Altoist Ray Warleigh, tenor-saxophonist Red Price, trombonist Chris Pyne, pianist
Johnny Burch, bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Alan “Buzz” Green never became household names, but all
prove on this previously unreleased set to be quite talented.
      
The well-recorded program features the full sextet on lengthy versions of “All The Things You Are” and “Alexander’s
Ragtime Band” (both of which are over 20 minutes long), the group without the trombonist plays “Billie’s Bounce,”
and there is a showcase for tenor-saxophonist Price who is the only horn on “Groovin’ High.” Most impressive is that
none of the horn players sound like copies of their American counterparts even if Pyne sometimes hints at J.J.
Johnson. Price, a veteran swing-to-bop tenor, displays his mastery in the extreme upper register during the last part
of his solo on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and often steals the show. The latter tune is a surprising choice for a bop-
oriented jam session but proves to work quite well, performed as a soul jazz/hard bop song. The rhythm section is solid
with pianist Burch (particularly rewarding during his chordal improvisations) and bassist Mathewson getting their
share of solo space.
      
It might have been 1965 but there are no hints of free jazz on these four spirited bop-oriented jams. Groovin’ High,
which is available from www.mvdshop.com, is easily recommended to bebop fans and those who love to discover
overlooked but genuine talents from jazz’s past.


Richard Sorce
Samba Para a Vida
(EverJazz)
      
An excellent pianist, Richard Sorce is also a talented arranger-composer who performs a set of his new Brazilian jazz
compositions on Samba Para a Vida.
      
For this project, Sorce uses similar personnel as on his previous CD Closer Than Before. Once again, Sorce features
concise solos throughout the program by altoist Mark Friedman, trumpeter Fred Maxwell, trombonist Brian
Bonvissuto, and guitarist Rob Reich that fit the music well; Friedman is particularly impressive. A major difference
from Closer Than Before (which had three vocals from Kerry Linder) is that Iara Negrete is featured singing in
Portuguese on seven of the selections. Her vocalizing is quite jazz-oriented, she handles the occasional wordless lines
(most impressive on “Cante (Sing)”) effortlessly, and she has a clear and appealing voice that serves the music well.
      
Sorce, whose piano is well featured on the tasteful “Forever Again” and the closing easy-listening piece “No One Else
But You,” has made a major contribution to Brazilian music, writing 15 new songs for this CD that are upbeat and
joyous. They are a logical outgrowth of the 1960s bossa-nova tradition, extending its legacy. This fine set is
recommended and available from www.richardsorce.com.


Goh
Honey Beast
(Sharp Three Music)
      
Goh Kurosawa, who is often known simply as Goh, is a versatile guitarist who can range from melodic jazz to fusion,
World Music to even heavy metal. A very likable and accessible musician, Goh frequently performs in the Los
Angeles area when he is not touring Japan.
      
Honey Beast in an EP that features Goh on six of his originals. He plays unaccompanied throughout whether it is the
easy-listening “Embracing Dark Beautiful,” the rockish “Slow Burn,” or the funky “My Family My Friends.” Of the
other pieces, “Keep It Simple,” which uses a light electronic rhythm, is a jazz-oriented piece that builds up effectively,
“Hitori” is episodic and a bit unpredictable, and the closing “Sing,” which has a light country feel, is singable and
wistful.
      
The only fault to this EP is its extreme brevity at less than 20 minutes. However Honey Beast, which is available
from www.composelife.com, serves as a fine introduction to the varied and enjoyable musical worlds of Goh.
                                                    

Hazelrigg Brothers
Songs We Like
(Self-Released)
      
It has been done before, by the Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau among others, but it is still an intriguing concept. On their
debut recording, the Hazelrigg Brothers (pianist George and bassist Geoff) along with drummer John O’Reilly Jr.
have taken seven rock songs plus two classical melodies and turned them into swinging piano trio jazz.
      
While they have modernized some of the chord changes, the essence of the rock and classical themes are very much
present and recognizable. Whether performed originally by Jethro Tull (“Living In The Past), Jimi Hendrix (“If 6
Was 9”), Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan or Sting, the rock tunes (which are augmented by a melody apiece from Bela
Bartok and Johann Fischer) are given fresh and surprising treatments.
      
The Hazelrigg Brothers have achieved the perfect balance between paying respect to the original tunes and coming
up with fresh statements of their own, somehow bringing passion to the rock melodies despite the lack of a guitar or
any electronics. The tunes prove to be more flexible than one might expect, making Songs We Like a delight,
particularly for those who are familiar with the original recordings.
      
Songs We Like is available from www.hazelriggbrothers.com.