“On the Turntable” — May, 2019 edition

May 4th, 2019

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Portland is alive with the promise of spring.  My early morning walks in the local park and within my northeast neighborhood are a respite from the ongoing madness of our world (and the “stress” of the NBA Playoffs!), have been mostly sun-blessed, and are always hopeful and inspirational – especially when stellar new jazz recordings make their way into my ear buds (and eventually into my living room).  Life is indeed good…

Here is what stood out for me during my April strolls.

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(Songs from this playlist are available on Spotify and other music streaming services, and of course at your local music store)

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Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (Okeh)

Let’s kick this playlist off with a heavyweight. The revered ensemble – led by the technical brilliance of its leader – is made up of the classic jazz ensemble of saxophone (Marsalis), piano (Joey Calderazzo), bass (Eric Revis), and drums (Jason Faulkner), and offers up a tasty array of seven compositions (five original) ranging from the muscular and brash (“Dance of the Evil Toys”) to the tender and poignant (“Conversation Among the Ruins”) to the Monk-like (Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz”) to the joyful (“The Windup”). Marsalis is, again, clear and bright and often strikingly intense, but Calderazzo’s playing is what makes this session particularly notable. His work on “Conversation” and “The Windup” — and his interplay with Marsalis — are the album’s scene-stealers.

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Joe Martin:  Étoilée (Sunnyside)

This is a sneaky-good recording, filled with clever and enduring compositions and tantalizing performances, led by the bass of New York-based Martin, who over the years has worked with a wide array of top-tier talent, including Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau, Rudy Royston and Mark Turner, whose tenor play on this album is (predictably) breathtaking. Though finely supported by Turner and the pianist Kevin Hays and the drummer Nasheet Waits, Martin’s play sets the recording’s tone throughout – witness the introduction to “Malida” (the album’s best piece) and the effortless, comfortable pace he lays down.  In addition to “Malida,” “Two Birds” is an impeccable conversational ballad between Martin and his band mates, while the ensemble’s virtuosity glows on “Safe.”

 

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Scott Robinson: Tenormore (Arbors)

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There is so much terrific music to recommend on Scott Robinson’s exciting new album, “Tenormore.”   Robinson’s voice is familiar as a standout multi-instrumentalist and key member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose baritone play within that ensemble is sensational — he frequently contributes its most memorable moments.

On “Tenormore,” Robinson devotes the entire album to the tenor, and while I miss the sound of his baritone and clarinet, this is a wonderfully diverse album, whose highlights are two bright hard bop tunes, “Tenor Eleven” and “Tenor Twelve,” the sentimental standard “Put on a Happy Face,” (see if you don’t hear Ben Webster in this one), and “The Good Life,” a relaxed, serene tune (most famously recorded by Tony Bennett in 1962) that drips an appropriate amount of sentimentality.  Another reason to like this record is the fine play of those supporting him, in particular the pianist Helen Sung.

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Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder (Self Release)

This is an outstanding album to recommend — the group’s third, and first since their 2016 Juno Award winning Forest Grove.  Led by Au, an innovative and splendid alto player/composer/arranger who calls Toronto home, this is an impressive ensemble.

Au’s play can be understated and refined, but often notable.  “Future Self” is a favorite – Au’s alto is noir-ish and steamy, with a terrific piano interlude by Todd Pentney (who frequently stands out throughout the recording).  The drummer Fabio Ragnelli especially makes himself known on “The Rest is Up to You” – tasty accompaniment (great cymbal work) behind Au’s seemingly effortless play.  The interplay between Au and Pentney on “Looking Up” will get you listening to it more than once (great drumming, again, by Ragnelli), and “Morning” is an exquisite and innovative ballad.  These four songs are linked below for you to check out, but man, do yourself a favor and unpack the entire album.  It’s that good.

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Warren Vache: Songs our Fathers Taught Us (Arbors)

 

 

My dad would have loved this album.

Coming of age during the Depression years, his world was filled with the trumpets of Louis Armstrong and Harry James and Bunny Berigan.  He fell in love with the instrument, enough so that he learned to play it himself, leading a big band in Sacramento as a young man and eventually playing professionally (albeit on a “second income” basis) for the rest of his life. He loved sharing his interest in trumpet players; he had a 1930’s friendship with Roy Eldridge, was open minded about Dizzy’s bebop, followed with interest the changes in Miles’ career, and of course loved Wynton, who we often listened to and marveled together during my visits with him.  He didn’t buy many CD’s late in his life — he bought Wynton’s.

He would have loved Vache’s warm, pure tone, and I can hear him rave about his vibrato on “Warm Valley,” his muted runs on “My Melancholy Baby,” the sheer romantic longing of “Love Locked Out,” and his nod to Dizzy on “Birk’s Works.”

Vache has been an accomplished trumpeter since the 1970’s, when he played in Benny Goodman’s orchestra, and has since recorded 20 CD’s as a leader, and with the likes of George Shearing, Woody Herman, Scott Hamilton, Rosemary Clooney, Gerry Mulligan, and Bill Charlap.

So…yeah…my dad would have loved this record – and I am betting you will also.

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“On the Turntable” — June, 2019

“On the Turntable” – May, 2019

“On the Turntable” – April, 2019

“On the Turntable” — March, 2019

“On the Turntable” — February, 2019

“On the Turntable” — January, 2019

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