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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spain's Sketches, Israeli Swings, here's Johnny (Mercer) plus Kelly does Nina : latest CD reviews

Dan Adler: Back To The Bridge

Israeli-born, New York City-based guitarist Dan Adler more than hits his stride with this latest organ trio outing. Ably partnered up with Hammond B-3 titan Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Byron Landham (more on him in a minute), he shines on this 65-minute, 10-track workout, covering wide stylistic territory, encompassing four originals, five standards and an adaptation of an older Israeli folk tune. 

Listening them dissect classics like Oscar peterson's The Smudge, and Clifford Brown's Joy Spring, its easy to get the impression that the three have been jamming and even performing for years. In fact, while Landham and De Francesco are well acquainted, Adler is ironically the "third man" in this group. Landham, in particular, burns comet-like through most of the selections, simmering when needs be, only to explode again at a perfectly timed decisive moment. His dexterous brushwork also gels perfectly with and Adler’s clean, deft picking and fluid chordal streams. Of course, there's the 'incomparable' comping of Joey D, again perfectly in sync with the two cohorts. 

Adler's strength is his ability to veer from the wry affability of “Between Jobs,”  to the intense melancholy of the exodus ballad “Yatsanu At,” without losing credibility. 

With this kind of start, this is a combo that music lovers could be seeing and hearing a lot more of. 

Harmonie Ensemble NY feat. Lew Soloff: Sketches of Spain

Its sweep and cinematic majesty have inspired writer, actors, directors and, of course musicians, since it was first released a half-century ago. Now, Miles Davis and Gil Evans' epochal collaboration has been lovingly recalibrated. At the jazz church, St. Peter's Church, NYC, Steven Richman conducted the masterpiece Sketches of Spain, with renowned jazz trumpeter Lew Soloff, who played with Miles and was soloist with Gil Evans and his orchestra. This historic event was attended by Anita Evans, Gil Evans' wife, as well as their son, Noah, as well as uber-producer George Avakian, who was behind the boards on the original.

But so much for the biographical stuff. The sound is what we're really after and right from the very first note, its evident that the Harmonie Ensemble of NY, are equal to the weight of tradtion and jazz iconography. Under Richman's direction, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez pulls you into a vortex of intensity and alternately soaring and cascading notes (and spaces) that 12 miutes pretty much go by before you even blink.

Its a suitably grand start, but this renewal of Sketches doesn't let up. All through the repertoire, the orchestra maintains its commitment to serious, but not stuffy musicianship. Yes, the pace is leisurely, but deceptively so.

Sketches of Spain will lull you - but in a very good way - to a state to which you'll want to return.

Tom Culver - I Remember you: The Music of Johnny Mercer

While the lounge balladeer is not the ubiquitous staple that he may have been even 40 years ago, several exemplars still sustain and even extend the tradition, and Tom Culver certainly belongs in that elite.

This Mercer tribute is, at 18 tracks, fairly extensive, and Culver, enlisting a host of musical collaborators,  does a fantastic job with updated arrangements of Mercer's classics. Most notable among them are 'Skylark" "Midnight sun" And "Fools Rush In"

Culver applies his honest, unfussy sonorities to the task and also has a hand in determining the musical arrangements. The sonic palette is surprisingly rich, encompassing bossa nova, conventional swing and various pop stylings, but never losing the feel for Mercer's sense of wonder and wit.

I Remember You is that rare tribute project that does both its subject and its performer proud. 

Kellylee Evans - Nina

Even in the jazz/improvised genre, there's such a wide array of product (especially in the tribute bracket) that its a special thrill to put on a record and get the kind of immediate visceral pleasure as that provided by bassist Francois Moutin on "Feeling Good" (the fifth track on this spirited and unselfconscious collection of Nina Simone gems).

While he shines throughout the disc, its not Moutin's name on the front cover, nor is  he alone in the service of Canadian vocalist Kellylee Evans. Since earning a runner-up spot in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Compettion, Evans has been building a solid body of work.

On this, her third outing, she has brought in the fine guitarist Marvin Sewell and drummer Andre Ceccarelli to join Moutin in helping to dissect, reassemble and put her own stylishly sultry stamp on the Simone catalog.

Other standouts include "I Ain't Got No...I Got Life" the unabashedly sensual "Wild Is the Wind" and the poignant "I Loves You Porgy" the lead off in a two-song suite of short ballads (less than 3 minutes) about midway through the disc. (the other is 'July Tree").

Smart, but not too polished, energetically performed, but never out of control, Nina serves, for this writer as a welcome intro to a an artist (Evans) that we seriously anticipate hearing more from.

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