August 2003


Brad Mehldau - "Largo"

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Since his initial release in 1995, pianist Brad Mehldau has displayed an amazing skill as exciting performer as well as a gifted composer and arranger, preferring to feature his own compositions in a variety of instrumental contexts. Stints as sideman with such notables as Joshua Redman, Jesse Davis, Chris Potter, Peter Bernstein, and Mark Turner, in addition to a solid training in the classics, have undoubtedly helped him to develop a unique conception of jazz that fuses many disparate musical sources. On this his latest release of original material, the numbers range from trio to septet format, including such diverse accompaniment as vibes, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns, trombones, tabla, and prepared piano techniques. Mehldau fairly glitters at the keyboard (and occasionally on vibes), from the spirited, unexpected, and fanciful to moments of great melodic beauty, always maintaining a bold inventiveness that has become his trademark. There is no lack of creativity here. J.S.

Warner Bros Cdw 48114

Michael Coppola/Rhonda Thomas - "Guess Who I Saw Today"

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Guitarist Coppola has teamed up with vocalist Rhonda Thomas in a programme predominantly of familiar standards. Though it had been over a decade since the two worked together regularly, the session took only 3 hours to record. As the guitarist states, "I have always felt the real magic of music whenever I've played with Rhonda". However, Coppola had developed his technique on the 9-string guitar in the interim, so that their musical bonding must have been a new experience. It's a match that works beautifully here, uniting the matchless intonation and rich sonority of guitar. Though Rhonda Thomas' voice carries traces of Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, or Abbey Lincoln, there is a decidedly unique quality to everything she sings, a rarity among today's popular/jazz vocalists. Highlights for me include the heart-rending interpretations of the Strayhorn/Ellington "Day Dream" and Harold Arlen's "Il Wind", the duo's swinging accord on "Nice Work If You Can Get It", and their playful exchanges with Nat Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right". Bears repeated hearings. J.S.

String Jazz 1039

Kye Marshall Jazz Quartet - "Say When"

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Cellist Kye Marshall obviously has no hesitation in blurring the musical boundaries, having "…. performed with various orchestras and chamber groups" as well as "…with her own jazz duo and quartet, with her string quartet and with many avant-garde improvisation groups". Her own spontaneous compositions have already been featured on 3 previous CD's, and this 2002 release with Don Thompson - piano, Kevin Barrett - guitar, Jim Vivian - bass and Terry Clarke - drums highlights 9 of her original compositions, many of which focus on our need to protect the "fragile ecosystem" so needlessly in danger of neglect: "Radar Reef", "Rush Hour", "Say When", "Memories of Toronto". With excellent support from the rhythm section, Marshall and pianist Thompson are the perfect musical complement to one another, especially with the vacillating swings between major and minor keys on "Libra", the mournful "Elegy", and a nod to the classics on "Bach to Bop". J.S.

For more information on Kye please visit:

Zephyr/Westwind Productions

George Coleman - "Danger High Voltage"

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Miles Davis always had an ear for selecting the best reed men to work in his unit, including John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley and George Coleman, the latter is a prime example of the trumpeter's foresight. Check out Davis' album "Four and More" to further attest this statement.

Saxophonist Ned Otter obviously heard that album and sought out the Davis alumnus in the mid 1970's, and a lasting relationship with Otter's Octets began, this recording was done in 1996 in the Rudy Van Gelder studios. Coleman, Bill Lee, Bobby Watson and pianist Harold Mabern conceived the majority of the arrangements.

The Octet had rarely been recorded in more than twenty years of playing although some great musicians such as Frank Strozier, Junior Cook, Sal Nistico and Billy Higgins had passed through the ensemble. This particular edition of the Octet too has some of the best of today's artists: Ned Otter - tenor, Jim Rotundi - trumpet, Adam Brenner - alto, Gary Smulyan - baritone, Ray Drummond - bass, Harold Mabern - piano, George Coleman Jr - drums, Daniel Sadownick - percussion.

The music is a nice mix: Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely", two good old good ones, a lengthy version of "Portrait of Jennie", with nice solos by Rotondi, Brenner and Mabern. An upbeat "Tenderly" with Otter coming out front, and four other well crafted compositions. Over 68 minutes of excellent music. R.F.

Two and Four TF-003

Janne Ersson Big Band - "Live at the Stockholm Jazz Festival"

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Drummer Janne Ersson relives the big band sound of Buddy Rich with this exciting group of musicians, all from Stockholm. The 17-piece band is very tight, swings like mad, and showcases many impressive soloists; unfortunately for this reviewer, they are not identified in the CD notes, however occasionally Janne does introduce individual members to a very appreciative audience after each solo.

The tunes chosen for this recording [July 21, 2002], are basically from the Rich era going back to 1967 "Away We Go", 1968 "West Side Story", 1970 "Groovin' Hard", 1971 "Mellow Tone", 1973 "Time Check", 1977 "Round Midnight", but in no way do they sound dated, due in part to the wonderful arrangements and the style of the band. For Buddy Rich fans and those who like swinging big bands, of which there so few these days. H.H.


Monty Alexander - "My America"

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Jamaican-born Monty Alexander was playing professionally as a teenager in his homeland. After moving with his parents to America, his first major accomplishment was to play with the Art Mooney Orchestra, later he accompanied a variety of top singers and instrumentalists such as Milt Jackson and Ray Brown. Alexander has forged a very successful recording career with over 50 albums to his credit, some often paying homage to his native Jamaica. On this recording he shows his appreciation and understanding to America, his adopted home, by paying tribute to the music of composers including Cole Porter, Marvin Gaye, Nat Cole and James Brown. He is accompanied by such luminaries as Freddie Cole (Nat's brother), Kevin Mahogany and John Pizzarelli. Together they create a mood that adds extra sparkle to the recording with the addition of their diverse vocal styling and interpretations. Over his long career Alexander has always shown his ability to excel with many genres, from swing, Latin and Reggae, as is heard on "Rockin' In Riddim", "Summer Wind" and "Mack the Knife".

This is a refreshing, easy listening recording with something for everyone, and is suitable for quiet listening moments or with the built in invitation to dance. This happens to be, in my opinion, one of Alexander's best offering for some time, and should find a welcome space in anyone's collection. C.S.


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