Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Politics continue to be a drag, and the greedy heads of streaming services are keeping new television shows and films from being written and produced, but one area we can count on for some joy, some truth, some soul, is music. Here are brief notes on some new jazz releases you might be interested in.

Bowmanville: “Bowmanville” – This group’s music has an exciting and interesting sound, combining Chicago blues and European jazz elements. The band’s self-titled debut album opens with an original composition written by violinist Ethan Adelsman, “Annie & Me.” There is a kind of mean blues vibe as it starts, featuring some cool work by Graham Nelson on harmonica, then quickly turns to more of a jazz sound, led by Adelsman’s violin, getting loose and light. What’s interesting is that the violin is present during the bluesier section, and the harmonica is likewise present during the jazz section, those instruments keeping the two worlds in close contact. This track also features a seriously cool bass lead by Ethan Philion. That’s followed by another original number, “Metal Bird,” this one composed by guitarist Mason Jiller. And it features some absolutely delicious guitar work, as well as some wonderful stuff on violin. And I’m digging Noah Plotkin’s work on drums. This music is seriously good. The first cover on this disc is “Georgia On My Mind” (here listed simply as “Georgia”). It’s also the first song to feature the vocal work of Graham Nelson, and he gives a powerful performance. This rendition also features a strong groove, with Oliver Horton delivering some good work on bass. That’s followed by “Don’t Force It,” written by Ethan Adelsman. This is another interesting number, particularly in the way the guitar, violin and harmonica interact over that good groove. Then “Boiano Campobasso,” also composed by Adelsman, is a delight. It’s a catchy, fun number, the violin and harmonica working together at moments. And then check out that lead on harmonica. Oliver Horton delivers a fantastic lead on bass in the track’s second half. The band then starts to swing on “Fly Me To The Moon,” another track that features Graham Nelson’s vocal work. “Helen’s Theme” is a short and sweet original tune written by Ethan Adelsman. That’s followed by a cool rendition of “Saint James Infirmary,” with Graham Nelson delivering a striking vocal performance. And his harmonica lead is like an extension of his vocal delivery. This track also features some wonderful work on both guitar and violin. The band then puts its own great spin on “Caravan,” and the track ends up being one of the disc’s highlights. Seriously, this is fantastic rendition, featuring some excellent work on drums and some stunningly beautiful violin work. Tremendous contributions by each of the musicians make this track something special. That’s followed by “La Vie En Rose,” which begins with that beautiful theme, and then starts to take off from there, swinging and grooving. The album then concludes with “Weapons Of Mass Distraction,” an original composition by Graham Nelson. This blues number is fun, and features the album’s only set of original lyrics. This album is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2023.

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: “30: Live At Dizzy’s” – The Diva Jazz Orchestra celebrated thirty years as a band with this special live performance. The band kicks things off with “Something’s Coming,” which was the song they used as the title track for their first album back in the mid-1990s. In the disc’s liner notes, they mention that it’s been one of their favorites since the band’s first rehearsal, and it shows in the great, energetic rendition they deliver on this release. In particular, it features fantastic leads by Erica von Kleist on alto saxophone and Kellin Hanas on trumpet. I also love Sherrie Maricle’s work on drums. The tempo then changes for “In A Mellow Tone,” with some lovely work by Jami Dauber on trumpet, Jen Krupa on trombone, and Noriko Ueda on bass. This quickly becomes a very cool number, with some playful exchanges, and is one of my personal favorites. Vocalist Sue Giles joins the band for “Here’s To Life,” a song that affects me more strongly as I get older. In the second half she begins belting out the lyrics, with a spirit that seems a part of the life force itself. Things take a differently dramatic turn with “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” with some exciting work by Leslie Havens on bass trombone. This is a wild piece, with some great work by Tomoko Ohno on piano and by Sherrie Maricle on drums. And check out that bass solo by Noriko Ueda. This is a phenomenal rendition, and includes a powerful drum solo. Sue Giles again joins the group on vocals for “Every Day I Have The Blues,” delivering a spoken word part early on, before then diving into the blues. This is a fun rendition, featuring some delightful backing vocal work and a nice lead by Scheila Gonzales on alto saxophone. They then take “I Feel Pretty” and make it swing, pumping the song full of energy. Things are really hopping and moving on “Three Sisters And A Cousin,” a piece that Stanley Kay wrote for the band. This track is another favorite of mine, and it features a whole lot of great stuff from the saxophone players. They pack a lot of joy into just a few minutes. The band follows that with “A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald,” a medley of songs that Ella performed, with Sue Giles on vocals. My favorite section of this medley is “Oh, Lady Be Good,” which moves at a good pace and features some scat. Then the band’s rendition of “Inka Dinka Doo” features some wonderful work by Tomoko Ohno on piano. They wrap things up with “Airmail Special,” which flies and grooves, and features excellent work by Sherrie Maricle on drums. This album was released on August 25, 2023.

Masumi Ormandy: “Beyond The Sea” – Vocalist Masumi Ormandy released her first album at the age of 77, and now seven years later, is following it with her second album, Beyond The Sea, on which she delivers mostly standards. Backing her is the trio of Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on upright bass, and Tim Horner on drums, along with several guests. The album opens with its title track, a sweet and cheerful rendition, with a touch of magic. When she sings, “I know beyond a doubt/My heart will lead me there soon/We’ll meet beyond the shore/We’ll kiss just as before,” she leaves no doubt in our minds that she means it, that she believes it. It is a touching rendition, and it features a really nice lead by Tim Ries on soprano saxophone. This track also features the work of Sara Caswell on violin and Jody Redhage Ferber on cello, and they certainly contribute to that sense of magic. She switches gears with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” which has a delicious New Orleans flavor right from the start. Danny Bacher is on soprano saxophone, Bria Skonberg is on trumpet, and John Allred is on trombone. Danny Bacher also joins Masumi Ormandy on vocals, this song delivered as a duet, with some playful banter toward the track’s conclusion. This is a fun rendition. Strings play a part in Masumi Ormandy’s version of “Smile,” which has its own style. Paul Meyers is on guitar, and Mino Cinelu joins the group on percussion. It seems that she is saying that not only should we smile, but we should dance, and that will make everything okay. And again, I believe her. Those opening lines of “Here’s To Life,” “No complaints and no regrets/I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets,” carry even more weight and meaning when delivered by someone in her eighties. Masumi Ormandy delivers a moving and striking vocal performance, and she is supported again by the strings. She then swings on “Sentimental Journey,” which features the horns. Her version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” is another of the disc’s highlights. In addition to a cheerful and wonderful vocal performance, this track features some good work on piano. And Houston Person joins the group on tenor saxophone for this one. Masumi Ormandy chooses a couple of Japanese songs as well, the first being “Kawa No Nagare Yō Ni,” written by Akira Mitake and Yasushi Akimoto, with English lyrics by Steve Sacks. She sings in both languages. Tim Ries again delivers some pretty work on soprano saxophone. The second is “Ringo No Uta,” which closes the disc. On this track, she is joined by Roseanna Vitro on vocals, and by Anders Bostrom on flute. This one is also sung in both Japanese and English, and is another highlight. This album was released on September 1, 2023.

Debbie Spring: “Tocamos” – Debbie Spring is a jazz viola player (playing a five-string viola) and composer. Her new album features mostly original material. Joining her are Hal Roland on piano and keyboards, Rusty Heck on bass, Ettienne Fuentes Jr. on drums, and David Schanzer on percussion, along with guests on various tracks. She opens the album with “Mockingbird,” which includes the recorded sound of a mockingbird from her garden at the beginning, her viola joining the bird’s song. That sound fades out as the other musicians join her. This track features a good lead on keyboard, but it is during Debbie Spring’s viola lead in the second half that this piece is at its most engaging. The track concludes with the bird’s song. That is followed by the album’s only cover, Sting’s “Fragile,” which was originally included on his 1987 album …Nothing Like The Sun. Hal Roland provides the vocals on this rendition, the line “Nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could” standing out in these strange times. Scott Marischen joins the group on harp, adding some beautiful work. Debbie Spring’s work on viola is moving and encouraging, and the final moments of this track are gorgeous. Then “Summer” feels like a gentle dance as it begins, like a dance a lone figure might engage in with nature itself. It builds from there, the viola gaining power before the piano takes over. The piano lead develops in a similar fashion, and then the two instruments respond to each other, and the dance becomes a more traditional one. And the track contains some nice work on drums before the end. Eddy “Oriente” Balzola provides the vocals on the album’s title track, delivering a spoken word section at the beginning: “While ignorance and fear pull us apart and music makes us one.” Julio Matta joins the group on percussion on this track, and rhythm plays a prominent role, bringing us together in the dance. This track also features some excellent work on piano. The sound turns gentler with “Bossa Minha” a sweet and pleasant number that features Phill Fest on guitar. Another dance begins with “Tango Y Mas,” with Howard Levy playing harmonica. Debbie Spring’s viola work on this track is fantastic, powerful enough to draw us all in. And once she has us, the song shifts, relaxing just a bit, as the keyboard and viola work together. This is another of the disc’s highlights. Rhythm plays a significant role in “Senegal,” and I love that bass line. There is a short drum solo toward the end. The album wraps up with another version of the title track, this time with the lyrics delivered in Spanish. This album was released on July 17, 2023.

Three Story Sandbox: “Artful Dodgers” – First off, I love the band’s name. The trio of Janice Borla on vocals, Scott Robinson on saxophone and flute, and Jack Mouse on drums and percussion released their first album in 2016. On this new release, they are joined by Mark Feldman on violin. Interestingly, the tracks feature various combinations of the four musicians, with only a few featuring all of them. The album opens with “Twin Rivers,” which features just Scott Robinson on sax and Jack Mouse on drums. At first, each is on his own, Scott Robinson beginning the piece, and there being a slight pause before Jack Mouse responds. Soon they are playing together, but there is still the sense of the two being separate in some way, though heading in the same direction, with the same goals, like strangers who become companions on their travels. That’s followed by “Kalahari Crossing,” which begins with Mark Feldman on violin, his work having a strange urgency. Then as Janice Borla and Jack Mouse come in, there is more of a steady presence, in some contrast to the violin. But soon they are communicating, playing together, and the piece builds from there. We are then treated to “Slip ‘N’ Slide,” a perfect song title from a band called Three Story Sandbox. Do you guys remember Slip ‘N’ Slide? It was never long enough, of course, but it was fun. Here the title has an additional meaning, as Scott Robinson plays a slide saxophone on this track. This is an instrument I don’t hear very often. On this track he joined only by Mark Feldman on violin. With that title, you might expect a fast-paced number, but this track has a more contemplative and curious vibe as it begins. The slide saxophone has a rather pretty sound, leaning toward a magical realm, and the two instruments engage in a strange dance. And speaking of dances, the next track, “Brush Dance,” features the combination of vocals and drums, and has its own sense of play (and yes, Jack Mouse is using brushes). “Kamakura” is the first track to feature all four musicians, and this one transports us to Japan, seeming to also take us to another time. It’s an interesting and beautiful piece. Scott Robinson plays bamboo flute on this track. That’s followed by “Second Line Strut,” and with that title, you can be sure it’s going to be fun and feature a strong rhythm. This one features everyone except Janice Borla. Then “Tears For Ukraine” features all four. It begins in a dark and lonesome place, though Janice Borla’s vocal work also conveys compassion and hope within the smoke and devastation. The atmosphere of this track is striking. The final piece to feature all four musicians is “Artful Dodgers,” the album’s title track. It eases in on drums, and soon begins to build to become a rather wild number. “Slapshot” is another playful title, indicating one of the instruments used on the track, a slaperoo, played by Jack Mouse. He is joined by Scott Robinson on tenor saxophone, and the two are clearly enjoying themselves. The album’s final track also has a playful title in that same spirit, this one referring to both instruments. It’s called “Fiddle Sticks.” This album was released on August 18, 2023.

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