|Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red
The Uptown label (www.uptownrecords.net), under the direction of Robert E. Sunenblick, has released many very
valuable collections of previously unheard jazz performances. Baltimore 1966, a set of music originally presented by
the Left Bank Jazz Society, features trumpeter Blue Mitchell, altoist Sonny Red, pianist John Hicks, bassist Gene
Taylor and drummer Joe Chambers, a quintet that otherwise probably never worked together elsewhere.
The six lengthy performances (only one song clocks in at less than 10:11) are particularly valuable since they
contain some of altoist Red’s finest playing. Always a bit underrated and overlooked, Sonny Red made some excellent
recordings in his career but tended to be overlooked in favor of more advanced players including Ornette Coleman,
Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean. On such numbers as “If I Should Lose You,” Jimmy Heath’s blues “All Members” and
“I Can’t Get Started,” Red competes with the much more famous Blue Mitchell for solo honors, playing with intensity
and solid ideas.
Mitchell, who contributed the joyful boogaloo “Fungii Mama,” is also in prime form on this hard bop set. Pianist John
Hicks, heard near the beginning of his career, makes the best use of his spots while Gene Taylor and Joe Chambers are
swinging in support.
Since the recording quality is excellent, Baltimore 1966 is highly recommended to straight ahead jazz collectors.
In All The Ways
Dan Haedicke is a talented guitarist whose melodic brand of jazz is well featured on his debut recording as a leader, In
All The Ways. Born and raised in Washington D.C., Haedicke moved to New York to attend the New School for Jazz
and Contemporary Music .He started the Kwality Records label in 2007 and has since worked with artists in a
variety of idioms. In 2014 Haedicke formed the DH4, a jazz group that also includes trumpeter Indofunk Satish,
bassist Everett Boyd and drummer Doron Lev. On this CD, the quartet is augmented by keyboardist Robert Knowles,
Sean Schulich on flute, altoist Lakecia Benjamin (who is on one song), and singers Sun Singleton and Tondrae Kemp.
Haedicke’s seven originals contain hummable melodies and feature fine solos by Haedicke, Satish, Knowles and
Schulich. The interplay between guitar and flute sometimes recall the classic CTI recordings of George Benson and
Hubert Laws. The opener, “Aquamarino,” has a Latin jazz feel with good spots for guitar and flute. “Dajo” is based on a
happy melodic groove while “In All The Ways” features catchy light funk rhythms and fine singing from Tondrae
Kemp. “If The Stars” is a modern bossa nova with Sun Singleton’s voice being used as part of the ensemble. The funky
strut “October” has Haedicke’s most rewarding guitar solo of the set. “Nola Shout” is a 6/4 romp inspired by New
Orleans that includes some wailing blues/rock playing by the guitarist. The CD closes with the rockish “Fenix” which
has Haedicke sounding a little like Carlos Santana, ending the CD on an exciting level.
In All The Ways, which is both accessible and creative within the idiom, is available from www.kwalityrecords.com.
Harmonie Ensemble/New York
Here’s To Maya Angelou
The Harmonie Ensemble/New York under the direction of Steven Richman on their George Gershwin CD is a 68-piece
orchestra with 34 strings. While Gershwin wrote many songs that have been adopted by jazz musicians, this CD
concentrates on his more classical-oriented works. His brief “Overture To ‘Of Thee I Sing’” is heard in its debut
recording. It was only previously documented on a radio broadcast.
Pianist Lincoln Mayorga is featured on the other three pieces. The three-part “Concerto In F” and “An American In
Paris” were edited and altered a bit after Gershwin’s death. These new versions return to the original score. “Concerto
In F” is performed as emotionally as the original 1928 recording while “An American In Paris” is played faster than
usual but at the tempo that Gershwin himself preferred. Also featured on this CD is the first ever recording of Roy
Bargy’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “Three Preludes.” Normally performed as a piano solo, it is a joy to hear these
melodies interpreted by an orchestra. All in all, this is a set (available from www.harmoniamundi.com) that all
lovers of Gershwin’s music will want to have.
Langston Hughes (1902-67) was a notable African-American poet and novelist who always loved jazz. He recorded an
album in 1959 of his poetry with music by Charles Mingus and wrote lyrics for one of Randy Weston’s projects.
Composer Louis Rosen chose Langston Hughes for his first subject in his Black Loom Trilogy. Dream Suite has singers
Alton Fitzgerald White and Capathia Jenkins accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalken performing Hughes’ words and
Rosen’s music. Among the poems that Rosen set to music are “Harlem Night Song,” “Song For Billie Holiday,” “Juke
Box Love Song,” “Blues At Dawn” and “Dream Suite.” Since White and Jenkins are Broadway vocalists rather than
jazz singers, they do not improvise and they stick closely to Langston Hughes’ words. They both have powerful voices
with Jenkins also displaying the influence of opera in places. Rosen’s music is often a bit jazz-oriented and it fits the
poetry quite well. While I would have loved to have heard his music and the poetry performed by more jazz-oriented
singers, the results shed light on some of Langston Hughes’ more enduring works. This intriguing CD is available
The renowned poet Maya Angelou (1928-2014) who led a remarkable life also enjoyed jazz, and she knew Billie
Holiday and Abbey Lincoln personally. Ilse Huizinga, one of the top jazz singers in the Netherlands, and her husband
pianist Erik Van Der Luijt collaborated on a project to put a dozen of Ms. Angelou’s poems in a jazz setting. Van Der
Luijt wrote all of the music on the CD, treating Maya Angelou’s poems as jazz lyrics. With Ilse Huizinga singing
beautifully and Van Der Luijt’s trio (with bassist Erik Robaard and drummer Joost Kesselar) swinging and taking
solos, this is a particularly successful “jazz and poetry” set, one that often sounds playful and celebratory. Both the
power of Maya Angelou’s words and the jazz talents of Ms. Huizinga and the musicians come through well on this
worthy project. Here’s To Maya Angelou is available from www.challengerecords.com.
Laurence Hobgood Trio
Honor Thy Fathers
Brad Mehldau Trio
Blues And Ballads
Joey Alexander is certainly a phenomenon. He taught himself to play jazz piano when he was six, he impressed
Herbie Hancock with his playing when he was eight, and he performed at a Jazz At Lincoln Center gala at ten. His
debut recording, My Favorite Things, was released when he was 11. Countdown, his second CD, features him at 13
performing three originals, Wynton Marsalis’ “For Wee Folks” and five jazz standards in a trio with drummer Ulysses
Owens Jr. and either Larry Grenadier or Dan Chmielinski on bass.
The best way to evaluate Alexander’s abilities is to forget about his age and pretend that he is 30. Without the
novelty of his extreme youth, his playing on Countdown is still brilliant. Alexander has a dazzling technique but also
self-restraint and subtlety. He digs into such songs as “Maiden Voyage” (which has a guest appearance by Chris
Potter on soprano), Thelonious Monk’s “Criss Cross” and John Coltrane’s “Countdown” ( a relative of “Giant Steps”)
and comes up with consistently fresh ideas. He sounds relaxed even at the fastest tempos and, while playing in the
modern mainstream of jazz, he already displays a fresh voice of his own. Just imagine how Joey Alexander will sound
when he is older and starting high school! Countdown is easily recommended and available from www.motema.com.
Laurence Hobgood is best known for his 20-year association with singer Kurt Elling which ended two years ago.
However he has led solo albums of his own on an occasional basis since 2000, and more regularly in recent times. On
Honor Thy Fathers, a trio outing with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Kendrick Scott, Hobgood performs five
originals and three standards that pay tribute to some of his heroes: his father, Nat King Cole (on Straighten Up And
Fly Right”), classical composer Salvatore Martirano, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Stevie Wonder, Charlie Haden and
Wayne Shorter. Hobgood’s harmonically sophisticated voicings are modern and personal, and he always swings. The
pianist’s close interaction with his sidemen along with their rapid reactions leads to the trio speaking with one voice
and improvising together, filling the set with subtle surprises. Honor Thy Fathers is available from www.
Brad Mehldau has recorded many albums with his trios since 1993. Blues And Ballads is one of his most delightful for
he caresses the melodies of a variety of mostly vintage songs, gives them swing and even an occasional light stride.
Mehldau comes up with fresh variations while keeping the themes nearby. Joined by bassist Larry Grenadier and
drummer Jeff Ballard, Mehldau uplifts such songs as “Since I Fell For You,” Charlie Parker’s boppish blues “Cheryl,”
and a memorable rendition of “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You” plus a pair of Paul McCartney tunes
including the recent “My Valentine.” This relaxed set is one of Brad Mehldau’s most accessible and it is quite easy to
enjoy and savor. Blues And Ballads is available from www.nonesuch.com.
The Call Of The Wild And Peaceful Heart
Rez Abbasi & Junction
Behind The Vibration
Formed in 2010 by trumpeter David Weiss, the Cookers reunites five of the jazz greats who came to prominence in the
late 1960s: trumpeter Eddie Henderson, tenor-saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee
and drummer Billy Hart. Each of those musicians was a major part of the post-bop scene of the time, performing
music that stretched beyond hard bop and was touched by the intensity and passion of the avant-garde and the black
power & civil rights movements. With the rise of fusion in the 1970s and the Young Lions in the following decade,
those great players were overshadowed and overlooked at times but they have continued making passionate music up
to the present time.
The current version of the Cookers, a four-horn septet, also includes David Weiss and altoist Donald Harrison (who
succeeded Craig Handy). The Call Of The Wild and Peaceful Heart features the ensemble performing three originals
by Harper, two apiece from Cables and Hart, and one song by McBee. Whether it is the passionate ballads that are
often quite spiritual or the medium-tempo pieces, there is a consistent high-intensity to the performances. Billy
Harper often takes solo honors but each of the horns and pianist Cables make inventive statements while McBee and
Hart keep the music from ever getting too safe or comfortable. This is a consistently exciting band and, more than 45
years later, the veterans are still at the peak of their powers. Each of the Cookers’ five CDs is highly recommended
and, due to the excellent compositions, this may be their finest hour on record so far. The Call of The Wild and
Peaceful Heart is available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.
At 58, altoist Jim Snidero is 15 years younger than Billy Harper but the music he performs on MD66 is similar in
intensity and passion as that of the Cookers. His quintet with the great trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, pianist Andy
Laverne, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Rudy Royston looks towards the mid-1960s Miles Davis Quintet for
inspiration without directly copying the group. The opening selection on their CD, “MD66,” pays direct tribute to
Davis’ 1966 group. However that performance is more of an homage to Davis’ restlessness and desire to stretch his
music than to the actual style itself. Throughout this stimulating set, Snidero and Sipiagin play powerful solos that
are quite fearless while the rhythm section rarely lets up. Even the ballads have a brooding undercurrent of barely
concealed emotions. The spirit of this group (which performs six originals by Snidero and one from Laverne and “Blue
In Green”) makes this a real keeper. MD66 is available from www.jazzdepot.com.
Guitarist Rez Abbasi and the musicians of Junction are open to plenty of outside musical inspirations but their
playing has the same consistent intensity as the Cookers and Jim Snidero. While influenced by his Pakistani heritage,
Indian music, fusion and Pat Metheny, Abbasi is also a highly individual post bop improviser with his own sound.
Junction, which also includes tenor-saxophonist Mark Shim, keyboardist Ben Stivers and drummer Kenny
Grohowski, performs eight of the guitarist’s originals on Behind The Vibration. While one hears bits of fusion and soul
jazz at times, the music is really beyond categorization as anything but modern open-minded jazz. The performances
are often episodic, with arranged sections separating some of the improvisations. While a groove is generally utilized,
the rhythms and solos are far from predictable. The musicianship is top-notch, Abbasi and Shim contribute many
heated solos, and Stivers and Grohowski work together to give the constantly changing rhythms a strong forward
momentum. Behind The Vibration, available from www.reztone.com, grows in interest with each listen.
Joe Mancuso/Dave Black
Just The Two Of Us
Singer Joe Mancuso and guitarist Dave Black often perform as a duo in the St. Louis area. Mancuso has a very
appealing voice, always sings in-tune, is an expert at perfectly placing his notes for maximum effect, and swings up a
storm. He improvises without losing sight of the melody or the lyrics. Dave Black is the perfect accompanist for him
for the guitarist provides basslines on the medium-tempo tunes and sophisticated chords. Very much an orchestra by
himself, Black is also a fine soloist who makes the absence of a bass and drums practically unnoticeable.
Just The Two Of Us features the duo performing such songs as a medium-tempo “Summertime,” “All Or Nothing At
All,” “Moondance,” “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” “Witchcraft” and of course “Just The Two Of Us.” There are no
throwaway tracks and the musicians’ enthusiasm and obvious affection for the material make this a highly
Just The Two Of Us is available from www.mancusojazz.com.
Adam Benjamin & Jason Harnell
Adam Benjamin (best-known for playing keyboards with Kneebody) and drummer Jason Harnell, who has long been
an important force in the jazz scene of Los Angeles, have combined their talents to form Go Shlomo! The piano-drums
duo (augmented occasionally by electric keyboards and percussion) is consistently adventurous and spontaneous yet
tight. Certainly the 13 concise performances on their self-titled CD will keep listeners guessing.
The opener, Benjamin’s “Sheraton Dance,” is based on an insistent rhythmic figure that the duo often plays together.
“Fat ‘N Sassy” has its witty and catchy moments. Benjamin sometimes hints at earlier jazz and blues ideas while
keeping the music both funky and unpredictable. “Rhythm Cycle” is partly built off a two-note figure. Sections where
piano and drums play the rhythm in unison alternate with their free interplay. “Herb Alpert School Of Music” is a
humorous performance on which Benjamin and Harnell have fun taking apart Alpert’s “Spanish Flea” with eccentric
explorations and unusual sounds, including those made by a dragged chair and a slide whistle. “What Thing” is an
11/4 disguised version of “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone” is given an ominous
pattern on the piano that is enhanced by some spacey electronics. “Autumn In New York” becomes a picturesque out-
of-tempo and brooding piece with Benjamin’s chordal piano being emphasized.
The one-chord vamp “Trance,” which is in 27/4 time, is inspired by Harnell’s study of Indian music. Benjamin’s
“Yes” has some eccentric spoken word by Harnell “Forgotten But Not Gone” received its humorous name when both
musicians forgot the name of the melody that is the basis for this performance (“Humoresque”). “High Flyer” is a free
improvisation during which one can hear a bit of the inspiration of Lennie Tristano. Harnell’s haunting and tender
“Lullaby” is arguably the most memorable of the new melodies. The CD concludes with the free improv “Spank”
which is in 7/4 time and uses a repeated and rumbling bass note throughout.
On Go Shlomo! Adam Benjamin and Jason Harnell have constructed a thought-provoking and unpredictable
program of music that certainly sounds unlike anyone else. This colorful set is available from www.jasonharnell.com.
Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson
Dream In The Blue
(Steel Bird Music)
During the past decade, Sara Gazarek has been one of Los Angeles’ top jazz vocalists. The richness of her voice and her
ability to improvise fairly freely without losing the essence of the song are major qualities. Gazarek and her frequent
musical partner pianist Josh Nelson (they have worked together since 2002) are able to consistently transform
standards into something new.
Dream In the Blue is their first duet album, a mixture of standards and originals. The medley of “Blackbird” and “Bye
Bye Blackbird” works well and “O Pato” swings hard even if Karrin Allyson really owns that song. Among the other
highpoints are a delightful version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” (with Gazarek’s exuberant vocal hinting at
Ella and Nelson playing some light stride piano), a swinging “No Room At All” and a darker-than-usual
interpretation of “Mood Indigo.” Of the newer material, the pianist’s “All Again” is most memorable as is the heart
wrenching singing on “I Don’t Love You Anymore.” The program does get a bit ballad-heavy near its end and would
have benefitted from another medium-tempo standard.
The easily recommended Dream In The Blue is available from www.saragazarek.com.
Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes
The Tour, Volume One
Woody Shaw (1944-89) was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time. While his tone was similar to Freddie
Hubbard’s, his ideas were a bit more advanced and influenced as much by John Coltrane as by any other trumpeter.
In 1976 when he was still just 31, Shaw co-founded a new group with drummer Louis Hayes that also featured tenor-
saxophonist Junior Cook, pianist Ronnie Mathews and bassist Stafford James. Volume One is a previously unreleased
Stuttgart concert from Mar. 22.
The six lengthy performances are filled with intense power and most are taken at torrid tempos. The repertoire
includes Shaw’s “The Moontrane” (which has the trumpeter bursting at the seams after an extended piano solo), a
rapid version of Larry Young’s “Obsequious,” Walter Booker’s “Book’s Bossa,” Mathews’ blazing “Ichi-Ban,” the
slightly calmer “Sun Bath,” and an explosive rendition of “Invitation.” Shaw takes many exciting solos as does Cook
and Mathews. Stafford James’ bass is up in the mix and quite exhilarating as he drives the soloists at the fast tempos.
Hayes keeps the tempos from ever slowing down or losing their momentum.
All in all, this is a classic set of passionate jazz. It is highly recommended and available from www.jazzdepot.com.