Hotwax – September 2015

September 1, 2015

Eye_to_Eye_Cover_Image400x400Steve Torok: Eye To Eye (Key of Z Music)

  • Steve Torok – tenor & alto sax
  • Llew Matthews – Dan Siegel,       keyboards
  • Reggie Hamilton – acoustic &       electric bass
  • Carmen Grillo – electric guitar
  • Allen Hinds – acoustic guitar
  • Rayford Griffin – drums
  • Yvette Cason – vocals
  • Nelson Guzman – congas
  • Lenny Castro – percussion
  • Lori C. Turok – rain stick
  • Dan Fornero – Harry Kim,       Brandon Shaw, trumpet
  • Jacques Voyemant – trombone

Saxophonist Steve Torok keeps busy – when he’s not music professor-ing at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California he’s arranged for Fred Wesley, Ernie Watts, and klezmer violinist Yale Strom, and also played with performers diverse as Cybil Shepard (sings when not acting), Usher, Pete Escovedo, and blues legend Taj Mahal. For his debut disc as a leader, Torok brings assorted strands of his experience for a groove-jazz tapestry.

Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” is an old-school funk strut, taking the tasty soul-jazz riffs of Silver’s song into James Brown territory with big band swing (Woody Herman, Quincy Jones, Basie, Ellington) overtones. This track burns, thanks to the hearty, occasionally agitated tenor (some scorching free flurries here) of Turok and Harry Kim’s swaggering trumpet. Driven by a soft funk underpinning, the Nat “King” Cole chestnut “Nature Boy” finds Torok embracing his inner Sonny Rollins (shiny, steely tone), with major nods of Coleman Hawkins (breathy tenderness) and David Sanborn (earthy wail). Dan Siegel (also co-producer) has a nice, lyrically punchy solo on the acoustic 88s. The Michael Jackson obscurity “Ben” (from the film of the same name) finds Turok in ballad mode again, exquisitely yearning without getting sappy, the sparse, gently percolating accompaniment glistening like lights reflected on a river’s surface after dark.

“Star Wars Main Theme” gets transmuted into an earnestly swinging big band mambo – one can almost hear Desi Arnaz shouting “ba-ba-lou!” Torok’s solo surges, thrusts and parries as if he were in a light-sabre duel, Lenny Castro’s timbales cracking like firecrackers. Continuing the intergalactic motif, “The Imperial March” has a similar vibe to “Sadie,” bridging big band dynamics with potent funk rhythms. Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” is one of two vocal tunes herein by Yvette Cason, her triumphant warble a judicious mix of Aretha Franklin soulfulness and Sarah Vaughan scatting.

Eye To Eye is a set of easygoing jazz of considerable substance, loaded with persuasive rhythms and compelling solos. (Mark Keresman)

nsujazztet2NSU Jazz’tet : Out Front (Self Released)

  • Tommy Poole – director
  • Joe Barger – tenor saxophone
  • Austin Stunkard – trumpet,       flugelhorn
  • Tommy Poole – alto saxophone,       soprano saxophone
  • Nick Meena – guitar
  • Hiroki Ohsawa – piano
  • Matt Butler – bass
  • Katy Peacock – drums

When you think of jazz education hotbeds, Tahlequah, Oklahoma doesn’t readily spring to mind.  But the jazz program at Northeastern State University, an institution that sits at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, is doing its best to change that. The NSU Jazz Studies program is intent on giving students real world experiences, often throwing them into contact with the best of the best and putting them to the test in the recording studio. This program released six CDs between 2005 and 2012, each of which paired a high profile guest artist with a student big band. Often, the programs focused on arrangements of that guest’s work, as with On Cue-The Music Of Seamus Blake (Self Produced, 2012) and Global Citizen-The Music of Robin Eubanks (Self Produced, 2008); on occasion, as on Appointment In Milano (Self Produced, 2006), the compositional sources were more diverse, with students, faculty, and celebrated guest–on that release, saxophonist Bobby Watson–all contributing material.       

Out Front maintains the high standards set on previous outings, but it departs from the aforementioned format: there’s no big name guest, it’s the first NSU release to really focus on student compositions, and it’s the first one to feature a small(er) ensemble–a septet. With the exception of a Billy Strayhorn classic (“Chelsea Bridge”) and three numbers from director Tommy Poole–the intricately-arranged opener (“Out Front”), the touching album closer (“Simple Song”) and a charged number that sits at the midpoint of the program (“Calle Fortaleza”)–all of the material was penned from within the ranks. Pianist Hiroki Ohsawa contributes a Brazilian-inflected winner (“Forastero”) and a refined-turned-energetic number (“3 2 Waltz”), bassist Matt Butler adds a tuneful swinger (“Back In Tahlee”) and a slowly wafting beauty (“Maybe Next Time”), tenor saxophonist Joe Barger furnishes the band with a bluesy composition (“Reflections”) and a slow and hip piece (“Killer Who?), and trumpeter Austin Stunkard throws in a dose of funk (“Blues For Roddy”). All of the musicians acquit themselves well, playing with skill and taste throughout. This album, as with the six that came before it, is a testament to the fine work that’s taking place at Northeastern State University and a reminder that jazz education is alive and well in the state of Oklahoma. (Dan Bilawsky)

moseMose Allison: The Mose Allison Collection 1956-62 (Acrobat)

  • Mose Allison – piano, vocals, trumpet
  • Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz – tenor saxophone
  • Bob Brookmeyer – valve  trombone
  • Bill Crow, Addison Farmer,others – bass 
  • Paul Motian, Gus Johnson, others – drums

Born 1927, Mose Allison has a career most performers could easily envy – while he established himself on the New York scene in the mid-1950s as a jazz pianist, he rose to international fame as a blues singer and songwriter.

This four-disc Collection 1956-62 draws upon recordings Allison made in groups led by Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Bob Brookmeyer, as well as his earliest albums as a leader for the Prestige and Atlantic labels. Allison’s rep began here as a mercurial jazz pianist, inspired by the boogie woogie pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, proto-bebop titans Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and the early jazz-blues synthesis of pre-pop-success Nat “King” Cole. His original songs combined the raw straightforwardness of blues giants Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson and the urbanity of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Vocally, he phrases like a bebop player might plus the suave mellowness of Cole. Two words of warming for fans of Allison’s originals and vocals: Many of the selections on Collection are instrumental – back then the record companies were hesitant to let him include many songs with vocals on his albums, and stylistically much of Collection is bebop (albeit very blues-oriented).

Highlights include “Autumn Song”– stately and pensive, almost in the manner of twentieth century European classical music. Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, not so coincidentally, was an inspiration for Allison’s Back Country Suite album. Allison helms a rollicking trio version of the Charlie Parker standard “Groovin’ High” and he cooks in the quintet led by sax wizards Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, who, despite their being considered avatars of the Cool School do a blistering version of “Just You, Just Me.” “The Minstrels” is a witty, cheery bebop wherein Allison blazes in a manner suggesting a cross between the fiery facilities of Bud Powell and the whimsical percussiveness of Dave Brubeck. The beginnings of Allison the worldly-wise, laconic, somewhat satirical songster can be discerned in “If You Live” and his versions of Percy Mayfield’s “Life Is Suicide” and Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son.”

For fans of Mose Allison that want to hear him from the dawn of his career – and fans of the earthier side of post-bop piano–Collection 1956-62 is ESSENTIAL. (Mark Keresman) 

wesWes Montgomery : In The Beginning (Resonance  Records)

  • Wes Montgomery – guitar
  • Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson – tenor   saxophone
  • Gene Morris – tenor saxophone
  • Jack Coker – piano
  • Richie Crabtree – piano
  • Douglas Duke – piano
  • Buddy Montgomery – piano, vibes
  • Melvin Rhyne – piano
  • John Dale – bass
  • Roy Johnson – bass
  • Monk Montgomery – bass
  • Flip Stewart – bass
  • Sonny Johnson – drums
  • Paul Parker – drums
  • Earl “Fox” Walker – drums
  • Debbie Andrews – vocals
  • Sonny Parker – vocals

“Seek, and ye shall find”: so saith the good book, and so doeth the good people at Resonance Records. In the past five years, label head George Klabin, producer Zev Feldman, and the rest of the Resonance crew have helped to unearth one incredible musical document after another – fiery 1980 Freddie Hubbard performances from Keystone Korner, strong yet supernal ‘60s Charles Lloyd shows recorded in New York, and a passionately raw and intense 1966 John Coltrane gig among them. 

The exhumation and release of any one of those albums would rightly be considered the crowning achievement for any other imprint, but not for this one. And why, you ask? Because Resonance Records has delivered something even more valuable: the most significant Wes Montgomery-related finds in decades. All of those other historically-important documents manage to capture incredible moments and fill gaps, but the Montgomery material – Echoes Of Indiana Avenue (Resonance Records, 2012) and this exhaustively-researched collection – does all of that while also essentially extending the documented timeline of this jazz great.

In The Beginning – a beautifully-packaged, 26-track collection – takes listeners back in time to witness Montgomery’s musical achievements before his well-documented decade of glory. Eighteen of these tracks are mid-to-late ‘50s live recordings, seventeen of which were acquired directly from the Montgomery family; five numbers – four of which have never been heard before – come from a Quincy Jones-produced session for Columbia Records in 1955; and three performances were taken from extremely rare 78s made in 1949, featuring Montgomery as a sideman with saxophonist Gene Morris. And while all of this may simply be seen as inconsequential and nascent Montgomery by the jazz cynics, it’s not. You can hear the shape of Wes to come in these recordings. No, he hadn’t fully matured yet, but the taste, tone, and technical elements are all in place or coming into view on these incredible recordings. 

There are glimpses at pure fun and excitement here (“Brazil,” “Caravan”), priceless episodes of beauty that find Montgomery shifting from unobtrusive accompanist to in-the-spotlight soloist (“What Is There To Say?”), and music that finds the guitarist expertly supporting and framing Duke Ellington alum Debbie Andrews’ vocals (“I Should Care”). Those sounds, along with serious-turned-jaunty thoughts (“Django”), get-the-joint-jumping blues (“Going Down To Big Mary’s”), and unadulterated swing (“Four”), all comfortably shared space at the Turf Club in Indianapolis in 1956. The first thirteen tracks in this collection were recorded then and there, and the large majority highlight Montgomery’s rapport with his closest musical associates at the time – his brothers, pianist-vibraphonist Buddy and bassist Monk, saxophonist Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson, and drummer Sonny Johnson. The rest of the material was recorded in various places and spaces: There’s a jam session number – notable for the fact that it finds Wes on bass – that was recorded at the home of Ervena Montgomery (“Ralph’s New Blues”); three quartet numbers from Indianapolis’ Turf Club in November of 1958; the aforementioned Columbia sessions, captured for posterity at that label’s New York recording facility; and the Morris cuts, recorded in Fresno, California for Spire Records. 

In bringing all of this material to light, cleaning it up, putting it together in a single collection, and properly documenting everything in a 55-page booklet that contains essays and insights from Feldman, Jones, jazz historian Ashley Kahn, journalist Bill Milkowski, Buddy Montgomery, and other insiders and knowledgeable figures, Resonance Records has a done a great service for the jazz community. If this one doesn’t top the “Historical” category in those year-end polls, there’s something wrong. (Dan Bilawsky)

milesMiles Davis: Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 (Sony Legacy)

Playing fast and loose with the “Newport” name, this invaluable four-disc set, documents the four times that Miles Davis performed at the official Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, as well as a smattering of Davis appearances at European and New York festivals presented under the Newport moniker. If the packaging is questionable, the music is uniformly stunning, erasing any possible quibbles.

The trumpeter’s Newport debut in 1955 (presented in its three song entirety) has taken on legendary stature amid a legendary career. As part of an ad hoc sextet with pianist Thelonious Monk and the saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims, Davis plays with customary economy and grace. His feature, “Round Midnight,” – a near duet between Miles and Monk – startles with its incomparable blend of naked expressivity and fragile force; unsurprisingly, Columbia Records snatched up the trumpeter tout suite.

Davis’s next Newport appearance comes three years later, exposing the box set’s only major drawback: the iconic Davis quintet that included the tenor titan John Coltrane, the pianist Red Garland and the drummer Philly Joe Jones is nowhere in sight. (The alternately frenetic and reflective 1958 set, featuring Coltrane, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and pianist Bill Evans, is, along with the 1969 on-the-cusp-of-fusion quartet set with pianist Chick Corea and a conspicuously missing Wayne Shorter, one of two previously released performances.)

Another significant gap follows–the transitional quintets with the pianist Wynton Kelly and the saxophonists Hank Mobley and George Coleman go unheard–but with his 1966 appearance Davis introduces his historic quintet with pianist Herbier Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and tenor saxophonist Shorter to Newport. A pattern also starts to emerge. In each of these live performances, Davis tends to become much more assertive than on his studio recordings, playing faster with near agitated force. As exciting as Davis’s playing generally is on both the quintet’s 1966 and 1967 Newport sets, his true magic as an improviser, obsessed with the use of space and judiciously unexpected melodic, harmonic and tonal ploys, is best heard on such ballads as “Stella by Starlight,” and “Round Midnight.” Still, the band’s telepathic rhythmic turnabouts, as well as Hancock and Shorter’s marvelously unpredictable improvisations on such charging performances as “Footprints” and “Gingerbread Boy” are a marvel to behold.

The aforementioned 1969 set (Davis’s last Newport, Rhode Island festival concert) points in electrifying directions–both literally and figuratively– that a spectacular 1971 performance from Switzerland delivers on. The Davis ensemble is now plugged in: Michael Henderson holds down the groove on electric bass while Keith Jarrett mans the electric piano and organ. With Gary Bartz on alto and soprano sax and the alert and vital Ndugu Leon Chancler on drums (along with two additional percussionists) the mood is deeply funky. Davis, driving his horn though a wah-wah, responds with spare and pointed passages that sound perfectly apt and thoroughly personal. The same can be said for Jarrett’s playing; although he swore off electric instruments soon after this tour, he sounds perfectly comfortable–make that, inspired–on his keyboards.

A gripping 1973 Berlin performance ups the ante with the addition of the guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, and Davis now doubling on organ. Here, the air is dense with ominous tones; sonic manipulation from Davis and Cosey and opaque rhythmic thickets conjure up a uniquely Davisian, early Seventies environment that simultaneously embraces and repels a listener. If this is the sound of Miles’s pandering to the pop crowd, his commercial compass was gloriously out of line.

A single performance from a 1975 New York show, a churning “Mtume,” finds the Davis band with the obscure tenor saxophonist Sam Morrison. A mere teaser, the piece still proves that the Newport name could still get Davis’s juices flowing.

(Steve Futterman) 

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