|Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Cheek To Cheek
The mutual affection and respect that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong had for each other was always
obvious. The two immortal giants recorded three full-length albums together during 1956-57 (Ella And Louis,
Ella And Louis Again, and Porgy And Bess) that are full of charm, joy, swing and delightful surprises.
Cheek To Cheek is a four-CD set that includes everything that exists of Ella and Louis together. They first met
up in the recording studio on three occasions for the Decca label in 1946, 1950 and 1951, recording eight
selections. While the emphasis was on pop tunes, they swung the tunes, interacted with each other, and
uplifted the material. Best are “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” “Can Anyone Explain” and “Would You Like To
Take A Walk.”
In 1956 for Ella And Louis, producer Norman Granz had the pair joined by pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist
Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Buddy Rich for 11 superior songs, most of which were not in
Armstrong’s normal repertoire with his All-Stars. Satch was having trouble with his playing chops during this
period so his trumpet solos are brief and the emphasis is on the singing. “Can’t We Be Friends,” “They Can’t
Take That Away From Me,” “A Foggy Day” and “Cheek To Cheek” are particularly memorable.
A year later the same group (with Louie Bellson on drums instead of Rich) regrouped for Ella And Louis
Again. 19 performances resulted including “Don’t Be That Way,” “They All Laughed,” “Let’s Do It,” “Let’s Call
the Whole Thing Off” and “A Fine Romance.” On an exuberant ”Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Armstrong takes a
hot trumpet solo and the ad-libbing between the two at the fast tempo almost gets out of control.
The Porgy and Bess project features Ella and Louis singing all of the vocal parts from the famous Gershwin
folk opera with accompaniment by an orchestra arranged by Russ Garcia. It all works well, particularly the
versions of “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” and “It Ain’t
The fourth disc has a variety of joint appearances. Ella and Louis are heard on a radio show taking turns with
Bing Crosby on “The Memphis Blues” in 1951. The day before they recorded Ella and Louis, they appeared at
a Hollywood Bowl concert, performing mostly separate sets. They came together for a remake of “You Won’t
Be Satisfied” and “Undecided.” In addition, included are all of the existing alternate takes (including some
false starts and breakdowns) from the Decca sessions, Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy and Bess, most of
which feature Armstrong without Ella (including many attempts at “Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess”).
This perfectly-conceived reissue package, which has fine liner notes from Ricky Riccardi, is essential, a gem,
and available from www.vervelabelgroup.com and on Amazon.
(Global Soul Records)
Sally Night is a very skilled and appealing jazz singer who was raised in England but has been based in New
York in recent times. On So Cosmopolitan, her fourth release as a leader, she shows that she is a talented
For this project, which at the moment is only available digitally, Ms. Night is joined by the 34-piece HGM Jazz
Orchestra from Zagreb, Croatia along with the Rucner Quartet (comprised of vibes, harmonica, harp and
bandoneon). While she performs ten originals co-written with Kresimir Herceg and the recording took place
in Croatia, the music and the arrangements sound very much like they are performed by an American big
band circa 1961. Sally Night’s singing is top-notch, sometimes fetching (as on the last part of “Fascinating
Star”), and timeless.
None of the songs are familiar of course but there are a few possible future standards included such as her
love letter to the Big Apple (“New York Whistle”), the bossa-nova “I Loved You So Much” (which recalls
Susannah McCorkle in the understated feeling that Ms. Night displays), the optimistic “I Do Still Hope,” and
the swinging “The Most Wonderful Feeling.” There are some fine solos scattered throughout the date, mostly
uncredited (such as the trumpeter on “Fascinating Star” and the excellent pianist) and including Bertl Meyer
So Cosmopolitan, which is available from www.amazon.com and iTunes, is arguably Sally Night’s finest
recording to date. She is a talented vocalist and songwriter who is well worth discovering.
Texting And Driving
(Toy Car Records)
Veteran drummer Dave Tull has in recent years emerged as a talented and witty lyricist and a skilled
songwriter, and an enjoyable vocalist, whether singing his lyrics or scatting up a storm. Since jazz has a
shortage of major lyricists and male vocalists, he is filling a couple of important gaps while creating fun music.
While at this point Dave Tull’s best known song is “I Just Want To Get Paid,” there are 15 new tunes on his
recent Texting And Driving and most are memorable. Tull, who is joined by some of L.A.’s top straight ahead
jazz musicians for this project including pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Kevin Axt and
quite a few horn players (most notably trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and tenor-saxophonist Doug Webb),
sounds exuberant throughout the boppish set. To name a few of the many highlights, “The Texting Song” is
both humorous and a warning against texting while driving. “Henrietta” is a joyful love song. The funny
“Please Tell Me Your Name” is about reminiscing with someone whose name one cannot recall; the punch line
works quite well. “I’m Forever In A Fog” is about being so struck by someone that one wanders around lost
while “Watch Your Kid” is filled with true-to-life comments about an out-of-control child unchecked by his
parents. “The Date” has Tull and guest vocalist Cheryl Bentyne giving two sides of a successful date,
“Clapping On One And Three” is about a common and unfortunate occurrence, while “I’m So Confused”
sounds like a classic ballad.
Texting And Driving not only gives jazz fans new material that Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson would have
enjoyed, but is one of the finest jazz vocal albums of the year. It is highly recommended and available from
Mark Wade Trio
Mark Wade has been a top bassist in New York for the past couple of decades. Following on the success of his
2015 debut album as a leader Event Horizon, he has released Moving Day. This trio project teams him with
pianist Tim Harrison and drummer Scott Neumann.
Even with the excellent bass playing, it is for Wade’s composing that Moving Day will probably be best
remembered. He wrote all but two of the songs and modernized and altered “Autumn Leaves” (adding a
“Maiden Voyage” riff) and “Another Night In Tunisia” (adjusting its rhythm in spots). On his own originals,
the music tends to be episodic, evolves as it progresses, is full of subtle creativity, and features close
interplay by the trio. A few of the more memorable pieces include “Moving Day” which captures the many
contradictory feelings one has when moving, the hyper and complex but rhythmically accessible “Wide
Open,” the somber “Midnight In The Cathedral,” and “The Quarter” which has New Orleans parade rhythms.
The melodic and lyrical playing of pianist Harrison and the quiet (felt as much as heard) drumming of
Neumann serve Wade’s music well. Moving Day is the type of softly inventive jazz that grows in interest with
each listen. It is available from www.markwademusicny.com.
Old Fashioned Gal
Kat Edmonson has a voice that one could imagine hearing on pop/jazz recordings of the late 1920s, she
composes originals that could have been from the 1930s, and uses arrangements (many of which she co-
wrote) that sound like they date from the 1950s. It is an intriguing combination that works very well
throughout her fourth CD, Old Fashioned Gal.
Ms. Edmonson’s 11 new songs have lyrics that include surprising twists (“I’d Be A Fool”), romance (“Canoe”),
nostalgia and wit (“Old Fashioned Girl”). One hears her being alone in Paris (“Please Consider Me”), joyful
“(“How’s About It Baby?”), and frustrated but not defeated (“Not My Time”). It is easy to imagine a few of the
tunes catching on in the future.
The supporting cast changes a bit on each song with trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso doing his best 1950s Louis
Armstrong on three songs, guitarist Matt Munisteri proving to be a consistent asset, the vocal group Duchess
guesting as background singers on “I’d Be A Fool” and “If,” and Matt Ray (who provides some of the
arrangements) playing keyboards including two vocal-piano duets with Ms. Edmonson.
Old Fashioned Gal is a delightful recording that is well worth checking out, particularly by those who enjoy
vintage jazz and hearing fresh new originals. It is available from www.katedmonson.com.
Dave Liebman & John Stowell
Petite Fleur: The Music Of Sidney Bechet
Soprano, tenor and flutist Dave Liebman has recorded many albums during the past 50 years, ranging from
Coltranish explorations and free form interplay to special standards projects. Whether playing
unaccompanied solos or with a big band, Liebman can always be relied upon to create inventive
improvisations. Still, Petite Fleur is rather unexpected.
While Liebman has been one of the major soprano-saxophonists of the past few decades, it was not inevitable
that he would record a tribute album to the first great soprano-saxophonist, Sidney Bechet. However on this
set of duets with guitarist John Stowell, although Liebman does not try to copy Bechet’s very individual
sound, he plays creatively within Bechet’s style.
The duo performs nine Bechet compositions and “Summertime”; Bechet had a minor hit with the latter song
in 1938. There are three versions of “Petite Fleur” including individual solos by Liebman (who makes a rare
appearance on piano) and Stowell, plus such songs as “Premier Bal,” a joyfully swinging “What A Dream,”
“Creole Blues” and the now-famous “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” which was used throughout the soundtrack of
Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris.
Stowell gives Liebman a solid chordal base and takes high-quality swing solos throughout the project.
Liebman modifies his approach a great deal to fit the songs and keeps his playing mostly pretty melodic.
Petite Fleur, which would make for a great blindfold test, is a surprise and a very effective tribute to the great
Bechet. It is recommended and available from www.originarts.com.
One of the top European jazz musicians since the 1960s, flugelhornist Franco Ambrosetti recently celebrated
his 75th birthday with a new recording. A bop-based improviser who at various times displays the influences
of Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, Ambrosetti has recorded a series of rewarding albums
through the years, many for the Enja label.
On Cheers, Ambrosetti is joined on various selections by quite an all-star cast that includes four pianists
(including Kenny Barron and Uri Caine), bassist Buster Williams, drummers Jack DeJohnette and Terri Lyne
Carrington (they play together on “Drums Corrida” and separately elsewhere), guitarist John Scofield,
trumpeter Randy Brecker, altoist Greg Osby, and the leader’s son the fine soprano-saxophonist Gianluca
Ambrosetti. The musicians perform five standards (only one of which Ambrosetti had recorded previously),
a song apiece by Joey Calderazzo and George Gruntz, and two boppish originals by the leader.
The CD actually begins a bit weakly with a version of “Autumn Leaves” that has Ambrosetti playing muted
and sounding very much his age. However things pick up with the second number and the flugelhornist does
not falter again. In fact, he sounds pretty youthful throughout the remainder of the spirited set, interacting
happily with his illustrious sidemen on such songs as “I’m Glad There Is You,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” and
“Someday My Prince Will Come.”
All American jazz fans should be familiar with the talents of Franco Ambrosetti. Cheers (available from www.
amazon.com) is a fine place to start.
Pianist George Kahn has been a longtime fixture on the Southern California jazz scene, playing his brand of
soulful straight ahead jazz in a variety of contexts. For years he had wanted to record a trio album and
Straight Ahead is the realization of that goal.
Teamed up with bassist Lyman Medeiros and drummer Alex Acuna, Kahn is heard throughout in top form.
While much of the music could be considered soul jazz that grooves, there are also swinging numbers and a
solid amount of variety. The biggest surprises are Kahn’s transformation of such songs as Adele’s “Rumour
Has It” (which in this version recalls Horace Silver’s “Tokyo Blues” in spots) and Prince’s “Thieves In the
Temple” into funky jazz. The set also includes plenty of Kahn’s melodic originals which pay tribute to such
inspirations as Wynton Kelly, Roger Kellaway, Joe Sample, Dave Brubeck, Red Garland, Count Basie and Bill
Evans. While Kahn does not directly copy any of the other pianists, one can feel their influence in these
performances. The connections are most obvious in the hard-swinging and witty ‘Roger Killowatt,” “Get
Naked” (which has bits of Les McCann and Vince Guaraldi in addition to Joe Sample), the 5/4 (for Brubeck)
“Dreamin,” and the happily swinging “Red’s Riff” (for Garland and Basie). Another highlight is a fresh version
of “Work Song.”
Medeiros and Acuna take concise solos throughout the set and clearly inspire the pianist. Straight Ahead,
which is available from www.georgekahntrio.com, features George Kahn at his best.
Purveyor Of Balladry
Tenor-saxophonist Nino Tempo, who played with Maynard Ferguson way back in 1955 and is still
occasionally active, has always had a tone that is reminiscent of Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. Tempo spent much
of his career as a session and studio musician (in addition to being an actor) and had a pop hit in 1963 with his
sister April Stevens on “Deep Purple.” He did not even record his first jazz album as a leader until 1990 and
his jazz talents have long been largely a buried treasure.
Purveyor Of Balladry begins with a beautiful but previously unissued version of “Darn That Dream” that
Tempo performed at the memorial service for Nesuhi Ertegun in 1999. Ahmed Ertegun (Nesuhi’s brother)
was in the audience and was so impressed by Tempo’s solo that he signed him to a contract with Atlantic
Records that eventually resulted in three albums. This single CD contains nine of the 11 selections from the
second record (1993’s Nino) and three from 1990’s Tenor Saxophone. The third Tempo Atlantic album, 1995’
s Live At Cicada, is a live quintet date with trumpeter Conte Candoli that is not represented on this reissue but
will hopefully be reissued someday.
The majority of the selections on this CD are ballads that put the focus on Tempo’s tone, but some of the
performances are taken at a slightly faster pace. “This Masquerade” from the earlier album, is different in
that the vocal by Rachelle Cappelli has been taken out so it is a feature for the tenor. Other highlights include
“Brazil,” “You Are So Beautiful,” “’Round Midnight” and a medium-tempo “Stella By Starlight.” Some of the
other songs are pop tunes of the era but Tempo’s warm tone and his ability to embrace the melodies make
them quite worthwhile.
While it is a pity that Nino Tempo has not recorded many jazz albums during his career, this fine collection
(available from www.omnivorereccordings.com) is a nice one to have around.
Mike Clark & Delbert Bump
Retro Report looks back at the 1960s funky jazz scene, an era when organ-guitar-sax-drums groups were
common. Drummer Mike Clark and organist Delbert Bump are featuring co-leading a similar quartet which
also features guitarist Elias Lucero and Vince Denham on tenor and soprano (with tenor-saxophonist Rob
Dixon guesting on “Honky Tonk”).
The result is a set of infectious music that is always danceable while emphasizing creative and bluesy solos
along with heated ensembles propelled by the dominant organ. Starting with a very funky rendition of
“Topsy” that gives one a fresh rendition of the song (much different than even Cozy Cole’s hit version), the
set includes among its highlights the relatively straight-ahead “Deep In The Inner City,” a particularly
catchy” Hi Heel Sneakers,” the jazz waltz ‘Alice In Wonderland,” Miles Davis’ “No Blues” (an exciting medium-
tempo blues with an ironic title) and “Well You Needn’t.”
Delbert Bump, while strongly influenced by Jimmy Smith, also has touches of Wild Bill Davis’ extroverted
style in his playing along with a strong individual voice of his own. Elias Lucero’s fluent guitar is well featured,
Mike Clark keeps the music grooving and driving, and Vince Denham has a few welcome spots to be
This enjoyable brand of accessible funky jazz is available from www.ropeadope.com.
Scenes From An Italian: The Billy Joel Project
While Billy Joel never seriously tried to be a jazz singer or pianist, at least two of his songs (“Just The Way
You Are” which originally featured Phil Woods taking the saxophone solo and “New York State Of Mind”)
have become jazz standards. Joel has stuck throughout his career to adult rock but Lou Lanza on this
enjoyable CD shows that many of Joel’s songs can be easily transformed into straight ahead jazz.
Lanza, who has a strong and appealing voice along with a naturally swinging style, is joined by Tony Gairo on
saxophones, clarinet and flute, keyboardist Paul Sottile, guitarist Mike Lorenz, bassist Matt Parrish and
drummer Matt Scarano. The music includes such songs as an episodic “The Stranger,” “Modern Woman”
(which uses the famous “Killer Joe” riff throughout the performance), a surprising uptempo “Just The Way
You Are," the rhythmically tricky but hard-swinging “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “Zanzibar,” and “Scenes From An
Italian Restaurant” (which includes a bit of gypsy swing). Throughout the intriguing program, there are many
solos by Gairo, Sottile and Lorenz, strong support supplied by Parris and Scarano, and consistently first-class
singing by Lanza.
It would be very interesting to hear what Billy Joel thought of Scenes From An Italian. Somehow I think he
would enjoy it, and maybe even be inspired to give jazz a spin sometime. This fine project is available from
Steve Gadd Band
One of the most recorded drummers of all time, Steve Gadd has the ability to play with just about anyone. His
endless resume includes Steely Dan (Aja), Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Chuck Mangione, Chick Corea (briefly
with Return To Forever), Al DiMeola, Stuff, Steps Ahead, Jim Hall, and Grover Washington Jr, When he was
just 11, he sat in successfully with Dizzy Gillespie.
Gadd, who is now 73, has only recorded as a leader on an occasional basis throughout his busy career. His
recent BFM Jazz release is his 12th as a leader in 50 years. It finds him happily accompanying his quintet and
setting grooves while only taking an occasional drum break. Gadd’s group consists of keyboardist Kevin Hays
(who takes a vocal on “Spring Song”), guitarist Michael Landau, bassist Jimmy Johnson, and Walt Fowler on
trumpet and flugelhorn. His son Duke Gadd plays percussion on three numbers and acoustic guitar on one
The music, all originals from the band members except for one song apiece by Allan Holdsworth and Larry
Goldings, is laidback, melodic, grooving and ensemble-oriented. At times it reminds one of an instrumental
version of Steely Dan in that, even when the chord changes are a bit complex, the music is danceable and
accessible. While there are some strong individual moments, the focus is on the sound of the full group. The
results are soothing, work well as background music, and are pleasing. This set is available from www.bfmjazz.