Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

This terrible year is almost over, and democracy is once again on the horizon, so we are allowing ourselves to be hopeful. Yet, the pandemic is worse than ever, and some imbeciles are still not taking it seriously, making the end of the year dangerous. Fortunately, as many people are preparing for a lonely New Year’s Eve, musicians continue to deliver music to help us through this time. Here are some notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

The Jeff Benedict Big Big Band: “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”
– The album’s title shows the playful nature of this band, and the disc contains some fun original material as well as covers of some popular and beloved songs. The disc opens with an original number titled “Moonscape,” a piece with a groovy bass line at its center, and with some exciting work from the horn section, building to a powerful conclusion. The band then digs into a good rendition of Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” which features a great lead by Jeff Hellmer on piano, followed by some excellent work by Jeff Benedict on alto saxophone. “The Fotomat Song (Someday My Prints Will Come)” is a play on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” written by Frank Churchill for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. This new big band arrangement is by Jeff Benedict, and it features a good lead by Paul McKee on trombone. Of course, people in their twenties have absolutely no idea what it’s like to drop off a roll of film and wait to see how the photos come out, and the joke may be lost on them. But no matter, as the pleasure of the music shouldn’t be lost on anyone. The album’s title track, “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful,” is an original piece by Jeff Benedict, and is a vibrant and dramatic number that moves at a good clip and features an excellent lead on saxophone. One of my personal favorites is “Armadillo Research,” another original number with a playful title, this one with a cool and catchy groove. Another highlight for me is the totally wonderful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek,” which features a delightful introduction and a whole lot of joyful playing. Then the rhythm of “The Mighty Dollar” might get you dancing and shaking, and the album concludes with a funky and seriously fun number certain to get you moving. This album is scheduled to be released on January 15, 2021.

Alexander McCabe: “I’d Prefer”
– Saxophone player and composer Alexander McCabe’s excellent new album contains mostly original material, but with a timeless vibe. It opens with “You Really Don’t Care,” an original composition that has the vibe of a classic song, in large part because of Anne McCabe’s wonderful vocal performance. “I’ll move on, I’ll live without you/Because I really don’t care.” The work on saxophone here has a sweet and easygoing feel, and this track also features a cheerful lead by on piano. That is followed by “A Christmas Song,” a pleasant and pretty song with lyrics by Grace Casale. “As chestnuts roast, just hold me close/I wish you a merry Christmas.” “I’d Prefer,” the disc’s title track, is a rather playful number about longtime friends who might be on the edge of dating. Or, rather, one is worried that the other wants things to go in that direction. “I’d prefer if you didn’t ask me,” Anne McCabe sings, and her performance has a friendly quality. Most of the tracks feature Anne McCabe’s voice, but there are also two instrumental tracks – the lively “Miss Maritza” and the groovy and loose “Out Front Blues,” the latter featuring a cool bass solo. The album’s sole cover is Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” The musicians on this album include Alexander McCabe on alto saxophone, George Coleman on tenor saxophone, Anne McCabe on vocals, Paul Odeh on piano, Chris Haney on bass, and Jeff Brown on drums. This album was released on November 20, 2020.

Larry Newcomb Quartet: “Love, Dad”
– The new disc from guitarist and composer Larry Newcomb, Love, Dad, features mostly original material. The quartet is made up of Larry’s son Jake Newcomb on bass (giving the album’s title more significance), Thomas Royal on piano and Dave Marsh on drums. Though this disc showcases Newcomb’s compositions, it opens with one of its four covers, “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” written by Nacio Herb Brown in the early 1940s. This track gently swings, and features some expressive and merry guitar work, as well as some great touches on drums and a cool lead on bass. It’s a wonderful start to a seriously good album, and is followed by “Essential Messengers,” an original composition with a bossa nova vibe. “Cliffhanger Blues,” another original piece, is catchy right from the start. This one swings, while including a good dose of the blues on guitar, and features some fantastic work on piano. Plus, there is some groovy stuff on both bass and drums, helping to make this track one of my personal favorites. The title track, “Love, Dad,” has a sweet and affectionate vibe, fitting for its subject. And I love the late-night feel of “Hearts In Suspension.” As for the album’s other covers, Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,” as you might guess, features some excellent work on bass. This track has a deliciously cool vibe, and includes a wonderful lead on piano. “Secret Agent Man” might be the most surprising choice of covers, and this quartet delivers a seriously enjoyable rendition, with Larry Newcomb clearly having a good time with it. The final cover, Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is For You,” which was featured in the film The Saddest Music In The World, concludes the disc. Larry Newcomb Quartet delivers an excellent, cheerful rendition. This album is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2021.

Henry Robinett Quartet: “Jazz Standards Volume 2: Then Again”
– Though this is a new release, the music on it was recorded twenty years ago, as was the first volume in this series. The album opens with a fantastic rendition of “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” featuring some totally delicious and fluid guitar-playing. Then that lead on piano takes off from where the guitar lead ended, keeping everything moving at a good pace. The music on this disc is full of life, and it’s kind of crazy that it took two decades for it to be released. Check out the way the musicians converse and work together on “I Thought About You,” a track that seems to just get better and better as it goes, that section in the second half a joy to listen to. And after the piano lead in “Milestones,” I am surprised when I don’t hear applause. This recording has all the passion and excitement of a live album. I also dig the unusual drum solo toward the end of that track. There is so much impressive work here from all four musicians, and yet it all seems to flow so easily and naturally. Check out “How Am I To Know,” its movement seeming to proceed of its own volition. And check out that lead on bass in “I Love You.” The quartet is made up of Henry Robinett on guitar, Joe Gilman on piano, Chris Symer on bass, and Michael Stephans on drums. This album is scheduled to be released on January 8, 2021.

Chris Rottmayer: “Sunday At Pilars”
– Pianist and composer Chris Rottmayer’s new album, Sunday At Pilars, is a studio recording, but was inspired by his band’s monthly gigs at Pilars Martini in Winter Garden, Florida. The album features mostly covers, but also a few originals. It opens with a rendition of Tal Farlow’s “Meteor,” and it is saxophone player Jack Wilkins who immediately shines on this track, delivering an excellent lead. Chris Rottmayer takes over approximately halfway through, and his playing has a light and exciting flair.  The rhythm section of Walt Hubbard on drums and Charlie Silva on bass keep things moving forward. That’s followed by “Weaver Of Dreams,” which has a more romantic style, putting me in a good and relaxed mood, something I desire more and more in these troubling times. Things do get livelier as the track goes on, but the mood remains good. Chris Rottmayer’s playing on “Skylark” is beautiful, just the perfect thing to listen to as we settle into a dark winter. Pour some Kahlua into your hot cocoa and enjoy this one. He also offers a pretty rendition of Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart.” And his version of “Nostalgia In Times Square” is a lot of fun, and I love that work on drums. As for the original material, all three tracks are near the end of the album. The first is titled “Trocadero,” which has an easygoing and familiar vibe, and includes a nice lead on bass. That’s followed by “Waltz For Julia,” a wonderful, romantic piece, which also features some excellent work on bass. The disc concludes with the final original composition, a short piece titled “Break Blues For Pilar,” a fun and groovy little jam that will likely raise your spirits. This album was released on CD on November 13, 2020, though it was available digitally last year.

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