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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                      May 2017
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The Microscopic Septet
Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me
(Cuneiform)
      
The Microscopic Septet was formed in 1980 by soprano-saxophonist Phillip Johnston. For the next 12 years, the
Micros performed their brand of “Surrealistic Swing” as part of New York’s Downtown Scene. While its members were
all familiar with and influenced by early jazz, their music (unpredictable versions of standards and the compositions
of Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester) was also open to later styles, often being an avant-garde take on swing. The
band broke up in 1992 but 25 years later came back together and have been active ever since.
      
Their new release (available from www.cuneiformrecords.com) is a blues-oriented set although not all of the songs
are technically blues. The septet (which also includes altoist Don Davis, tenor-saxophonist Mike Hashim, baritonist
Dave Sewelson, bassist Dave Hofstra and drummer Richard Dworkin) is witty, adventurous and utterly
unpredictable in exploring the material. The 13 selections (all originals except “I’ve Got A Right To Cry” and an
unusual version of “Silent Night”) give the musicians a jumping-off point and a plot for their riffing. Of the soloists,
Johnston’s soprano is particularly powerful while the enthusiastic baritonist Sewelson always sounds ready to take
the music outside. The ensembles are quite colorful (sometimes recalling Charles Mingus) and the musicians use their
knowledge of early jazz and blues in consistently surprising ways.
      
Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me (which is a blues phrase turned backwards) features the Microscopic Septet
in top form and is well worth a few close listens.
                                                      

Randy Kaye Quintet
Brooklyn 1967, May 24th
(Philology)

Randy Kaye, who passed away in 2008, was a talented and versatile jazz drummer who in his career worked with
Tony Scott, Sheila Jordan, clarinetist Perry Robinson and for many years with Jimmy Giuffre. In 1967, he organized
a rehearsal to perform and tape six of his compositions. In addition to tenor-saxophonist Joel Peskin (who doubled on
bass clarinet), pianist Peter Lemer, and bassist Steven Tintweiss, he invited a young and very promising Italian
trumpeter, Enrico Rava.
      
The music, released on this double-CD for the first time, was discovered by Randy Kaye’s son Justin Kaye after his
father’s death. The younger Kaye, who has put together Tao Beats: The Randy Kaye Documentary, is dedicated to
preserving his father’s musical legacy. This twofer is a valuable addition to his relatively small discography.
      
Randy Kaye’s music is influenced and inspired by Albert Ayler and the later period of John Coltrane. The first
performance on each CD (“Apricot Lady” and “Laughter”) is particularly intense.  Peskin contributes often-ferocious
solos and Rava explores a wide variety of moods in a more extroverted style than would later be associated with him.
“Laughter” has some wild and demented chuckling from the musicians and builds its improvisations out of their
rhythmic laughing. “Pretty Sweet” and “To Angel With Love” have their tender moments while “Tears For A Year
Gone By” is particularly episodic. The music is often dominated by free improvisations but the musicians listened
closely to each other and the results are always coherent if sometimes very passionate.
      
Randy Kaye plays with subtlety throughout, often being content to quietly accompany the other musicians and
listen to how his compositions develop. The surprisingly well-recorded music, which is easily recommended to
listeners with open ears, stays colorful and fascinating throughout. It is available from justingkaye@gmail.com.
                                                  

Stephane Wrembel
The Django Experiment 1
(Water Is Life Records)

Stephane Wrembel
The Django Experiment 2
(Water Is Life Records)
      
Stephane Wrembel is an important force in the Gypsy Jazz movement. His guitar playing is superb and he has
mastered the Django Reinhardt style without sounding like a duplicate. Born in France and currently based in New
Jersey, Wrembel is best-known for contributing his piece “Bistro Fada” to Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight In Paris.
Wrembel, who has also written some music for two other Allen movies, has recorded on an occasional basis since 2001.
      
Stephane Wrembel recorded the two volumes of The Django Experiment with his regular group, a quartet also
including rhythm guitarist Thor Jensen, bassist Arti Folman Cohen and drummer Nick Anderson. Nick Driscoll on
clarinet and soprano makes a few guest appearances. The musicians perform Django Reinhardt compositions, six of
Wrembel’s originals, and a handful of pieces by others in a similar swing genre.
      
“The Django Experiment” received its name to signify Wrembel’s goal of stretching the vintage swing music a bit. He
is not content to merely recreate recordings or formats, instead performing creatively in the style and infusing it
with some fresh ideas. On a few pieces in this series, the music is surprisingly modern while keeping the Gypsy Jazz
instrumentation
      
The Django Experiment I includes such Reinhardt numbers as “Nuages” (Django’s most famous original), his
charming waltz “Gin-Gin,” “Dinette” (which uses the chord changes of “Dinah” and has Driscoll featured on
clarinet), “Djangology” and “Minor Swing.” Quite intriguing is “Troublant Bolero” which, despite being composed by
Reinhardt 70 years ago, has the feel of a Gabor Szabo drone piece from the late 1960s. Of Wrembel’s originals, most
memorable are the exciting waltz “Windmills” and the attractive melody of “Jacques Prevert.” There are occasional
bass and drum solos but the focus throughout is mostly on the leader, who plays brilliantly.
      
The Django Experiment II is more eclectic and often quite modern. It opens with Driscoll’s adventurous soprano
playing over a one-chord vamp with assertive drums before it becomes “Douce Ambiance.” Perhaps this would have
been what it might have sounded like if John Coltrane met Django. Other modern pieces include Wremble’s moody
ballad “Boston,” “Nanoc” (Django in the 1970s?) and the group’s interpretation of “Heavy Artillery” on which
Driscoll’s dissonant clarinet is a bit jarring. However there is also plenty of swing on the set including “Viper’s
Dream,” a driving version of the Bamboula Ferret waltz “Valse de Bamboule,” Django’s boppish “Double Scotch,” and
“Minor Blues” which has some furious guitar during its double-time section. Another highlight is a conventional but
wonderful treatment of Django Reinhardt’s most haunting melody, “Tears.”
      
Both volumes of The Django Experiment are very much a success. It is available from www.stephanewrembel.com.
                                                 

The Grand St. Stompers
Do The New York
(Self-Released)
      
Virtually every style of jazz is alive and prospering somewhere. During the past decade, New York has been the
center of classic jazz with many young musicians are exploring music of the 1920s and ‘30s with energy, creativity
and a love for those precious recordings.

The Grand St. Stompers performs regularly in the Big Apple. Its leader, trumpeter-cornetist Gordon Au, has worked
with many modern jazz artists (including Brian Blade, Rich Perry and Melissa Aldana) but has also become very
busy on the trad jazz scene. For Do The New York, he arranged 13 selections including six of his originals for the
septet. Featured along with Au on concise solos and hot ensembles are clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, soprano-
saxophonist Matt Koza, trombonist Matt Musselman, Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, bassist Rob Adkins and
drummer Kevin Dorn. Tamar Korn has two solo vocals (her voice is fetching), Molly Ryan is in the spotlight on
“When I Take My Sugar To Tea,” and they sing together on two songs.
      
The music of the Grand St. Stompers spans a fairly large range within classic jazz. To name a few examples, “Do The
New York” features Tamar Korn sounding like a flapper singer from the 1920s proclaiming a new dance step. The
band obliges with sounds of New York traffic jams, something one could imagine the Cliquot Club Eskimos doing.
“Ridgewood Stomp” has the group sounding like an alternate version of Luis Russell’s band in 1929. The warm
“Ballad Of Bus 38” is a charming piece that could have been played by Pete Kelley’s Big Seven or perhaps Jack
Teagarden in 1946 while “Saratoga Serenade” hints at “Lullaby In Ragtime” from the 1959 Five Pennies movie. The
melodic and swinging “Nadine” could become a standard if enough other musicians hear it.
      
Even when the Grand St. Stompers perform revivals of early tunes, they sound different than expected. “She’s A
Great Great Girl” (made famous by Roger Wolfe Kahn) and “Muskrat Ramble” (which alternates between Latin and
straight ahead rhythms) are given fresh life while “Blue Skies” is recast as a delightful vocal duet by Tamar Korn and
Molly Ryan.
      
Although I wish that there were a few more freewheeling ensembles (many are tightly arranged), the soloists are
uniformly excellent, the group has a very appealing sound, and the musicians show individuality within the vintage
styles. Do The New York, which is filled with fresh and infectious music, is available from www.grandststompers.com.
                                                     

Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre
The Art Of Latin Jazz
(Origin)
      
Oscar Hernandez is probably best known as the leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and for his work performing
modern salsa. However, as the performances on The Art Of Latin Jazz show, he is also a very talented Afro-Cuban jazz
pianist.
      
Hernandez performs ten of his compositions in a group also featuring Justo Almario on tenor and flute, bassist Jorge
Perez, drummer Jimmy Branly, Christian Moraga on congas and percussion, and occasionally guest trumpeter
Gilbert Castellanos. From the start of the opening title cut, the music is first-class Latin jazz that pays respect to the
tradition while looking forward. Among the highlights are the attractive “One Day Soon,” a playful “Danzon Para Las
Seis” (which has a vocal from Jeremy Bosch), the swinging augmented blues “Right On,” the catchy “ESPN Blues,”
and the melodic “Entre Amigos.” Justo Almario takes fine solos throughout the set, the rhythm section is tight, and
Castellanos is a welcome addition whenever he appears, adding fire.
      
As for Oscar Hernandez, his piano solos and compositions put him at the top of his field. The Art Of Latin Jazz
(available from www.originarts.com) makes for a highly enjoyable listen.
                                                 

Rick Hirsch’s Big Ol’ Band
Pocono Git-Down
(Self-Released)

      
Throughout the United States, there are a countless number of regional big bands comprised of local musicians who
often play at a world class level. Arranger-composer Rick Hirsch put together a successful Kickstarter campaign to
record his 18-piece orchestra which is based in central Pennsylvania. He contributed seven of the nine compositions
heard on Pocono Git-Down and also arranged jazz transformations of a song apiece by Eric Clapton and Michael
Jackson.
      
Although using the standard big band instrumentation, there is plenty of variety and some surprises heard on Hirsch’
s CD. “Giddyup” gets the musical voyage started with a bit of funky jazz. “Pocono Git-Down” has the band visiting
New Orleans (or hosting their own local Mardi Gras) and getting a bit rambunctious with spirited statements from
trombonist Jay Vonada and trumpeter Eddie Severn. “Tonight, We Tango” is a complete change of pace with Alex
Meixner guesting on accordion and Hirsch taking a tenor solo on his original tango. After a thoughtful feature for
pianist Steve Rudolph (Clapton’s “A Wonderful Thought”), “The Old Chief’s Lookout” has trombonists Jim McFalls and
Jay Vonada battling it out and Greg Johnson adding a sophisticated statement on soprano. Hirsch’s tenor is in the
spotlight on the picturesque “Metroliner,” Tim Powell contributes some blazing soprano-sax to “The Witching Hour”
and the exuberant Latin piece “Mambo Over The Mountain” gives drummer Kevin Lowe and percussionist Bob Velez
chances to be featured. The fine program closes with “The Way You Make Me Feel” which certainly does not sound like
a Michael Jackson piece!
      
Fans of modern big bands and those who just like some exciting jazz will certainly enjoy Pocono Git-Down which is
available from www.bigoldband.com.
                                                      

Chris Bennett/Bill Marx
Something Wonderful
(Self-Released)
      
Chris Bennett, an always-delightful singer with a warm voice and a cheerful style, performs a set of ballads on
Something Wonderful. She is accompanied by veteran pianist Bill Marx, a very sympathetic player who is very
much a one-man orchestra.
      
Ms. Bennett and Marx have worked together regularly in Palm Springs and decided that it was long overdue for them
to record a duet album. They interpret nine standards at slow tempos yet the music is dreamy rather than sleepy and
it never loses one’s attention. Among the tunes that are explored are “I’m Glad There Is You” “My One And Only
Love,” “The Summer Knows” and “We’ll Be Together Again.”

Chris Bennett does justice to the melodies and lyrics while Bill Marx adds subtle touches that bring out the best in
both the singer and the songs. The result is a very tasteful set that is easily recommended to those who love the Great
American Songbook and superior ballad singing. Something Wonderful is available from www.chrisbennett.com.
                                       

Audrey Bernstein
Alright, Okay, You Win
(L.B. Records)
      
Audrey Bernstein is a jazz singer who loves to swing. She has a strong and attractive voice, scats quite well, and can
shout over ensembles or interpret lyrics with tenderness. Alright, Okay, You Win is her second jazz CD.
      
For this project, Ms. Bernstein is joined by pianist Tom Cleary, guitarist Joe Capps, bassist John Rivers, drummer
Geza Carr, saxophonist Michael Zsoldos and the great trumpeter Ray Vega. With the exception of the Melody Gardot
ballad “Our Love Is Easy” and a catchy and swinging original by Ms. Bernstein and Capps (“Oh The Money”), the set
is comprised of standards.
      
Highpoints include a spirited “Too Close For Comfort,” the excellent scatting on “Come Loves,” an uptempo “’Deed I
Do,” a warmly expressive version of “Detour Ahead,” and “Alright, Okay, You Win” which is given a big band sound.
“You Made Me Love You” has a joyful revival while “I Want A Sunday Kind Of Love” is taken as a duet with guitarist
Capps.
      
The music is fun and Audrey Bernstein and her musicians sound like they were having a great time. Alright, Okay,
You Win is easily recommended and available from www.audreybernsteinjazz.com.
                                                   

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer
Two Of A Kind
(Omnivore)
      
The unlikely combination of Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer works very well on this reissue from 1960. Darin was
one of the top singers of his time and, while his career went through several periods, it was his swinging years (which
resulted in major hits in “Mack The Knife” and “Beyond The Sea”) that is best remembered. Johnny Mercer, an
adequate but personable vocalist, was one of the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, a poet whose hip words graced
dozens of standards and hits.
      
With support from the Billy May Orchestra, Darin and Mercer engage in lots of close verbal interplay throughout this
session. They constantly ad-lib, comment on each other’s singing, and are full of joyful spirits. It is fair to say that
neither one takes themselves too seriously. The arrangements by May often have the flavor of Dixieland or vintage
swing and, while some of the songs are novelties, every performance is well worth hearing. Be sure to check out the
fine scat-singing on “Indiana” which may be the only time that Darin scatted on record.

The recent reissue of Two Of A Kind adds seven previously unreleased performances, (five alternate takes and two
“new” selections: “Cecilia” and “Lily Of Laguna”) to the original 13-song program. The ad-libs are different than on
the more familiar versions, showing that Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer were very talented improvisers in
addition to their other talents.

Two Of A Kind is available from www.omnivorerecordings.com.
                                              

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Loafer’s Hollow
(Hot Cup)
      
Originally a quartet and now a septet, Mostly Other People Do The Killing is comprised of brilliant players who bring
a large dose of humor to avant-garde jazz. Each of the musicians know a great deal about other styles and genres of
music, and one can hear references (often satirical) throughout their performances and recordings.
      
Loafer’s Hollow has the band exploring swing, early country and 1920s jazz, sort of. The group (comprised of bassist-
leader Moppa Elliott, Jon Irabagon on tenor and sopranino, trumpeter and slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, bass
trombonist Dave Taylor, Brandon Seabrook on banjo and electronics, pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Kevin
Shea) perform eight pieces by Elliott. The music is episodic in the extreme, with the narrative and plot constantly
changing. The riffing and tonal distortions of the horns, along with the use of the banjo and some stride piano on
“Kilgore,” hint at early jazz, but the performances are completely unpredictable and take many wild twists and turns.
      
While there are moments where I wish that the musicians had stuck to playing 1920s jazz instead of veering off into
crazy free form sections, it is fair to say that there are no dull moments on Loafer’s Hollow. If one has a strong sense of
humor and no pre-conceptions, Loafer’s Hollow makes for an entertaining and stimulating listen. It is available from
www.hotcuprecords.com.
                                             

Debbie Denke
It’s All About YOU!
(Self-Released)
      
This is an unusual CD that was conceived by pianist Debbie Denke as a party game. Ms. Denke asked her friends, fans
and fellow musicians for songs that had the word “You” in its title. She compiled a list of 800 “You” songs and settled
on the 16 for this CD. Ms. Denke ultimately put together a “name that tune” contest for parties with clues about each
of the songs.
      
Included on this set are her concise solo piano versions of the tunes. The highlights include a wistful interpretation of
“I Remember You,” an uptempo “There Will Never Be Another You” that sounds inspired by Teddy Wilson, “I Loves
You Porgy,” (taken slow and with emotion),  a version of “I Get A Kick Out Of You” that during its second half swings
wittily like Erroll Garner, and a hard-swinging “I Thought About You.” The songs keep the melodies close by and
swing but also include subtle creativity. The closing performance, “It Had To Be You,” features the pianist taking her
only vocal of the date while accompanied by bassist Robert Kim Collins and drummer Bones Howe.
      
Debbie Denke, who is based in Santa Barbara, has put together a fine CD that works well as both the theme for a jazz
party or for close listening. It is available from www.debbiedenkemusic.com.
                                               

Med Flory
Go West Young Med!
(Fresh Sound)
      
Med Flory (1926-2014) will always be best known as the leader of Supersax, the ensemble of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s
that expertly played harmonized versions of Charlie Parker solos as the basis for songs. However Flory had a long
career before that success. He spent 1950-55 freelancing in New York, including having associations with Woody
Herman, Claude Thornhill and Ray Anthony. Flory moved permanently to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s.
      
Go West Young Med has all of the sessions that Flory led during that decade. He plays alto and tenor, contributing two
of the four arrangements for a lesser-known big band session from 1954. The bulk of this CD has Flory heading his
Jazz Wave Orchestra on 15 songs from 1956-57. The saxophonist, who sings the good-humored if silly “I Love You,
That’s All,” wrote four of the arrangements with the other being penned by Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman,
Lennie Niehaus, Bob Enevoldsen, Bill Hood and Sy Johnson. Al Porcino is heard on most of the selections on lead
trumpet, trumpeter Conte Candoli is on some of the numbers, and other key sidemen include altoist Charlie Kennedy,
tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Russ Freeman and drummer Mel Lewis. The music, which falls between
swing and West Coast jazz, is often hard-driving and stirring.
      
Go West Young Med concludes with two eccentric pieces performed by Flory’s Sax Maniacs in 1959. The group,
comprised of six saxophonists and a rhythm section, hints ever so slightly at Supersax.
      
Go West Young Med is available from Jordi Pujol’s admirable Fresh Sound label (www.freshsoundrecords.com).