Friday, November 27, 2020

Hilliard Greene Spirituals

Hilliard Greene
Unseen Rain

Bassist Hilliard Greene served as Jimmy Scott's musical director for twenty years. He has associations with Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen (as a member of Pullen's trio), Steve Swell, Barry Altschul, Dave Douglas, Charles Gayle, and others. Currently a teacher as well as player, this is at least his second album of solo bass recordings.

Despite the title, this is not a recording explicitly of spirituals. It does display Greene's technique as well as his ability to sustain solo performances. This ability is whether he is playing Arco (bowed) or pizzicato (plucked). His personality is displayed on the opening "Blues For Will" as he states the melody. It is followed by a medley of bebop themes that he fluidly segues in "Bop Trilogy." One of the more intriguing selections is "Charlie Wade," which starts with some floating playing before transitioning into "Wade in the Water."

Several tracks have Greene singing or chanting as he repeats the phrase "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" while he furiously repeats a bass riff. His melancholic Arco playing sets forth a somber mood before he shifts to playing pizzicato on "Freedom." After some dazzling plucking, he softly sings, "Freedom, and on my way home" against his atmospheric bowed bass. A medley of "Let My People Go" with "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" begins with his arco playing of the bass' lower register evoking a deep bass vocalist. His bowed bass similarly brings an interesting flavor to "Swing Low." In contrast, there is some spirited plucking for "Things My Favorite," a fascinating solo bass reworking of "My Favorite Things.

The album concludes with Greene's dynamic walking bass on a tribute to the pioneering string bassist "Wellman Braud." While one might wish to sample a few selections at a time rather than listen to this album in one sitting, Greene's firm, precise playing, and improvisations on this album are quite impressive. It is a most unusual and intriguing recording full of striking performances.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a video of him performing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Simone Kopmajer Christmas

Simone Kopmajer
Lucky Mojo Records

Austrian-born vocalist Simone Kopmajer impressed this listener with her 2019 engaging and charming recording, "Spotlight On Jazz." Her latest release focuses on the Christmas season and includes some seasonal favorites and some favorites from her homeland. Backing her on this project are pianist John di Martino, bassist Bob Kozlow, drummer Reinhardt Winkler, saxophonist and clarinetist Aaron Heick, and tenor saxophonist Terry Myers. Also present on several tracks are keyboardist Geri Schuller (who also plays Jews harp), bassist Beat Wiesinger, trumpeter Dominik Fuss, saxophonist Florian Fuss, bassoonist Georg Stepanek, dulcimer player Lukas Ganster, and diatonic accordionist Heinz Steinbauer.

Reviewing "Spotlight On Jazz," I was much impressed by "the clarity of her singing, her musicality, the purity of her sound, her phrasing and her diction." These same qualities are evident in this program of holiday music that spans jazz and folk traditions. Her singing also receives top-flight backing by the groups led by Mr. di Martino and the Austrian musicians starting from her playful, flirty rendition of "Santa Baby" and concluding with a bilingual "Silent Night/ Stille Nacht."

In addition to her exquisite singing, there is plenty of pleasures from the backing musicians. Mr. di Martino provides an elegant piano solo on "Santa Baby," along with a marvelous horn arrangement. Then there is a swinging "Jingle Bells," with some superb scatting and interplay with Heick's alto sax. Then there are Austrian hymns such "Leise Rieselt Der Schnee," with the Schick Singers adding their lovely harmony along with Heick's bluesy alto sax. Viktor Garnot joins in the understated duet vocal of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with choice piano from di Martino and velvety clarinet by Heick.

Among the Christmas favorites included, Ms. Kopmajer composed a delightful original "The Most Wonderful Time," with Anna Catherina adding harmony. Other holiday favorites include "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, "Feliz Navidad," "White Christmas," and the Austrian Carole "Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa." Allen Harris adds his warmth to an engaging treatment of Mel Torme classic, "The Christmas Song." None of these performances are copies of more familiar renditions,

Three Austrian tunes (including "Silent Night/ Stille Nacht") close out this album of Christmas music magic. The delight of her singing, the varied program (including the fresh arrangements), and first-rate backing, result in an exceptional recording. Simone Kopmajer"s "Christmas" is a recording that will bring listeners considerable holiday cheer.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Baby, It's Cold Outside," from this album.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Laura Tate Live From El Paso

Laura Tate
Live From El Paso
811 Gold Records LLC

A career as an actor and singer, performing on stage and television, and directing music videos and documentaries, Laura Tate has this new album recorded in her present hometown of El Paso. Tate recruited a fine band for this live recording, that was a benefit concert. The band's foundation was pianist Jeff Paris on piano, Doug Hamblin on guitar, Terry Wilson on bass, and Tony Braunagel on drums. Also present is a horn section of Lee Thornburg on trombone, Darrell Leonard on trumpet, and Joe Sublett on saxophone. Teresa James adds backing vocals.

One shouldn't be surprised by Tate's singing. Her smooth, fluid phrasing, clean intonation, and ability to shade and build a performance's intensity are notable. There is a quality to these performances, including the striking backing she receives. Her songs transverse a range of material opening with Mel Harker's "No Place to Hide," that strikes these ears as a sophisticated performance that would have been at home on a 1960s pop recording of a Brill Building song. Then there is her updating of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town."

Starting wistfully, the tempo kicks it up a notch into a swinging rocker that showcases her deft singing. Darrell Leonard's searing trumpet and Doug Hamblin's biting guitar complements her sultry Peggy Lee sounding vocal on "I Need a Man." Allen Toussaint's "Hittin' on Nothin" has a groove reminiscent of Don Covay's "See Saw." With Jeff Paris emulating Toussaint's Crescent City piano, Tate solidly interprets the Irma Thomas recording with strong solo breaks by Sublett and Hamblin. There is a touch of vinegar to her vocal on the reflective "Still Got the Blues," followed by the swamp-soul flavor of "Nobody Gets Hurt." Also standing out is her dreamy vocal on "Cowboy Jazz," and the buoyant jump blues, "Big Top Hat."

The sweet soul of "If That Ain't Love" is the final track on this splendid recording covering a range of musical modes. Tate, as indicated, is a top-flight singer who is splendidly supported on this excellent recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here she sings "Still Got the Blues."

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hazar Reincarnated

Immersive Audio Network

Las Hazar, known simply by his last name, will undoubtedly awaken many ears with his superb acoustic guitar as represented on this CD/Blu-ray Disc release. On a musical program ranging from bebop to Brazilian music to Gypsy swing, he displays not simply impressive technical fluency but a melodic and improvisatory sense that, at times, is astonishing. He is joined on one selection by Al DiMeola. Others heard on this release include pianist Mike Roelofs, bass clarinetist Piotr Torunski, and percussionist Mehmet Katay.

The clarity of his tone, phrasing, and inventiveness is immediately evident on the opening "Made For Wesley," where he quietly builds his solo throwing in dazzling single note runs over the airy backing. Chick Corea's "Spain is a superb duet with DiMeola, who also plays the cajon on this track. There is more astonishing guitar on Dorado Schmitt's "Bossa Dorado." What is impressive is that no matter how fast Hazar plays, the melody remains the roots of his improvisation. At the same time, his ability to add to the beauty of a piece is shown on the rendition of "Black Orpheus," which is also a showcase for Roelofs' romantic lyricism. Some of these same qualities are also evident in the performance of "Summertime."

After a scintillating performance of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," this album closes with a superb solo rendering of the traditional "Le Vieux Tzigane." It caps a recording of a remarkable, virtuosic guitarist whose technique, if often startling, never betrays the music's melodic foundation. As observed, this release comes with a Blu-ray Disc of the performances. Not having a Blu-ray player I was not able to evaluate that portion of this package.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the performance of "Bossa Dorado."

Monday, November 23, 2020

José Rizo's Mongorama Mariposas Cantan

José Rizo's Mongorama
Mariposas Cantan
Saungu Records

Popular Los Angeles DeeJay José Rizo founded Mongorama in 2011, a nonet inspired by the great conga master Mongo Santamaria's early 1960s band. This album is the group's third album under the musical direction of flutist Danilo Lozano. The personnel on this recording are Justo Almario (tenor sax, flute); Danilo Lozano (flute, musical director); Ramon Banda (timbales); Dayren Santamaria (violin); Joey De Leon (congas); James Zavaleta (lead vocals); Joe Rotondi (piano); Alfredo Ortiz (guiro, bongo, bell, chekere, vocals); George Ortiz (timbales); and Ross Schodek (bass). Darynn Dean, Yoshigei Rizo, and Alexis De La Rocha are guest vocalists. Francisco Torres plays trombone on one selection, wrote nine of the arrangements, and co-wrote five compositions with Rizo. This album includes the final recordings of Ramon Banda, who is considered one of the greatest of timbales players.

"Mariposas Cantan" is an exhilarating recording for Latin Jazz fans. I point to "Mongorama," a Santamaria composition that provided this group its name. Besides the spirited ensemble playing, there is a section where the percussionists are featured playing over a piano vamp. On his solo, Banda scorches the groove on timbales. There is so much to enjoy from all the players. I was especially impressed by Dayren Santamaria's violin playing, whether as part of the horn ensembles or taking his terrific, soaring solos such as on the opening track, Cal Tjader's "Mambo Minduro." Almario's tenor sax impresses throughout, including his solo on the Rizo/Torres original "Mariposas Cantan" with James Zavaleta's vocal.

Danilo Lozano is featured on flute on "Helen of Jazz." He is also one of the soloists on his ebullient original "Fiesta de Charangueros." Alfredo Ortiz takes the lead on this spicy number that also spotlights violinist Santamaria, pianist Joe Rotondi, and George Ortiz on timbales. Other notable selections include a relaxed "Watermelon Man," harking back to Mongo Santamaria's classic hit recording of the Herbie Hancock composition. Joe Rotondi on piano and Joey De Leon on congas take first-rate solos. It is Justin Almara's tenor sax solo that especially shines here.

There is plenty of tropical heat on "Descarga Ramon Banda," which is Ruiz and Torres' celebration of their 'musical brother," with Rotondi exquisite on his solo. At the same time, Francisco Torres plays some fiery trombone, and Zavaleta leads the impassioned vocals. "East L.A. Meets Napa" honors an annual event that features "the amazing wines made by the hard-working Mexican-American winemakers." The exhilarating ensemble supports the exuberant singing and Lozano's floating flute. It closes this superlative recording. One should check one's pulse if one isn't at least tapping one's feet, listening to this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy a publicist. Here is Mongorama performing with special guest Hubert Laws.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Chris Smither More From the Levee

Chris Smither
More From the Levee
Signature Sounds

This new recording from the noted singer-songwriter Chris Smither brings forth ten new tracks that produced the 2014 release "Still on the Levee." As I wrote reviewing that earlier recording," Smither is a singer-songwriter whose performances and songs have a Dylanesque flavor as well as deep blues roots in his direct finger style guitar playing. As Charlie Hunter, his former co-manager observes, Smither's guitar style is 1/3 Mississippi John Hurt, 1/3 Lightnin' Hopkins and 1/3 himself." His swirling guitar playing and feet stomping is combined with Billy Conway's drums and percussion on this album. Guests, including Dana Colley on baritone sax and the late Allen Toussaint on piano, are heard on selected tracks.

Smither's gravelly vocals have a restrained world-weary quality that adds to the appeal as he sings his colorful lyrics that have such haunting lines such as "Help me get these pieces together, Make it so the seams don't seem to show, …" from "Confirmation." Another example is "Turn off that radio, It's like I am talking to myself." from "Drive You Home Again." Colley's low volume baritone lends to the sober background on this track. Jimmy Fitting on harmonica, Goody on piano, and Anita Subanin on background vocals join the melancholy feel of "I Am the Ride." With its street busker tempo, "What I Do" comes off as somewhat cheerful with its invocation of second lines and beads and rice. Allen Toussaint's piano adds a light, sophisticated feel to the part talking blues, "Let It Go."

With Smither's way with words, his enervated sounding vocals, and the deft, but restrained, accompaniment, the ten new Smither tracks on this album further showcase this remarkable singer-songwriter.

I received my review copy from a publicist. For an example of his music (but not on this recording) here is Chris Smither's rendition of "Sitting on Top of the World."

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rachel Caswell We're All In The Dance

Rachel Caswell
We're All In The Dance
Turtle Ridge Records
With so many recordings issued, it is easy to miss one. As an example, there is this two-year-old album from Rachel Caswell. It is a marvelous recording with a delectable choice of songs as well as top-flight playing behind her. Guitarist Dave Stryker also produced this and wrote the arrangements (although Caswell collaborated on the arrangements for two tunes). Others in the studio band are Fabian Almazan on piano and fender Rhodes, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. Her Grammy® nominated sister, Sarah Caswell, adds violin to three of the ten songs.

From her first entrance on Sting's "Fragile," she impresses with the exquisite qualities of her silky-voiced singing, intonation, phrasing, vocal dynamics, and articulation of the lyrics. Stryker's guitar, Sarah Caswell's violin, and Caswell's fluid horn-like scatting add to her performance's weight. The songs here celebrate love and love's heartbreaks from the easy swing of "A Lovely Way To Spend the Evening" to the blues of "Drown in My Own Tears." Stryker and Almazan are superb soloists, although Blake and Oh both take crisp, short breaks on "A Lovely Way."

Caswell's gorgeous voice shines on the title song, a light waltz. This vocal is another song that her sister's violin adds to the color. Caswell dazzles on Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care," while there is an easy Latin tinge to "Two For The Road." Her nuanced phrasing on this latter number contributes to another engaging performance. Another notable performance is her scatting tour de force on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity."

Also heard is an outstanding rendition of Jon Hendricks' lyrics to Thelonious Monk's "Reflections (Looking Back)," with restrained, supple backing and Almazan's understated piano solo. It closes this superb vocal jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a promo video for this recording.