Jazz Junction September Reviews

Sep 2, 2014

We begin with the KIOS Jazz CD of the month:

ORRIN EVANS – LIBERATION BLUES – Smoke Sessions Records SSR-1409

As a listener I appreciate an album that catches my attention through stimulating composition, improvisation and that spark that transpires between musicians during a good session. It is also pleasing when a CD's capacity is utilized to offer over seventy minutes of solid music that takes one unexpected places, both inside and outside the pocket. Pianist Orrin Evans' new release “Liberation Blues”embraces these qualities in stimulating fashion.

The album was recorded in January of this year at Smoke Jazz Club in New York City as part of the establishment's burgeoning catalog of Smoke Sessions Records releases. The engagement happened several days after the passing of bassist Dwayne Allen Burno, following a long illness. The first five tracks of this recording comprise the “Liberation Blues Suite”, dedicated to Burno, and two of his compositions open the program. “Devil Eyes” is a dark and edgy reworking of “Angel Eyes”in a Jazz Messengers groove that has trumpeter Sean Jones and tenor saxophonist JD Allen breathing fire and Evans showing the influence of Monk and Elmo Hope with the percussive effect of Horace Silver in his boiling solo turn. Evans is one of those musicians who has absorbed and transcended the styles of those who came before, planting a firm imprint of originality upon his music. The relaxed “Juanita” cools the pace with lovely harmony by the horns, JD Allen's warm and robust tenor sound and Evans' unpretentious yet captivating solo.  

Evans penned two numbers for the suite – the cleverly titled “A Lil' D.A.B. a do Ya” (Burno's initials set in the old Brylcreem advertising phrase) that has a propulsive beat reminiscent of mid-sixties Miles Davis and “Liberation Blues”with Jones and Evans creating a fiery, spirited elegy. Donald Brown's “A Free Man?” completes the suite for Burno.  

Evans' compositions “Simple Green” and “Meant To Shine” are attractive vehicles for group improvisation, showcasing either Jones or Allen with the pianist. These are superlative horn men, capable of blistering soloing or soft balladry and adept at moving about the intricate rhythmic settings with consummate ease. Throughout this session the impeccable support of bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Bill Stewart add to the excitement. Curtis's bass work can be absorbed as a continual solo instrument, supporting as well as actively forming the nature of each individual piece. Stewart is a perfect rhythmic companion; a steady source of energy, shaping the pieces and displaying impressive resourcefulness at the drumset.  

The Trudy Pitts' number “Anysha” is done in a quartet setting – pensive, unhurried, exquisite – with Allen's probing tenor and Evans' delicate keyboard notes. Paul Motian's “Mumbo Jumbo” is full of twists as the horns interplay with Curtis's admonishing bass lines and Stewart's thrusting cacophonies at the drumset. There's a trio rendition of “How High The Moon” that offers clear advice as to the diversity of Evans' many-faceted style as he recurrently uses the melody to launch yet another improvisatory excursion while Curtis and Stewart continue to aid and abet this killer session. The album closes with a vocal of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” by Joanna Pascale that again has the rhythm section in irresistible form.  

A two time Grammy nominee and Pew Fellow, Evans attended Philadelphia's Girard Academic Music Program and Rutgers University, studied with hometown musicians in Philadelphia such as Kenny Barron, Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons and Mickey Roker and is active upon the local jazz scene in the Quaker City. He has recorded some fourteen albums as a leader, appears as sideman on numerous other records and he also leads the Captain Black Big Band that has released two albums.

Evans reaffirms his status as a major creative spirit in jazz music during the Smoke engagement. As we have come to expect, his albums are always rewarding – prone to take unexpected turns of musical approach and with free use of diverse influences and jazz music forms from blues to straight-ahead and outside the pocket. This is creative music of the highest order, offering more for the listener the deeper one goes into the experience.

Not incidentally, the recording quality of the Smoke Sessions releases is excellent with the club's acoustics and the intimacy of the environment illuminating the performance. We invite you to enjoy selections from “Liberation Blues” as we feature the album during the month of September during our locally produced jazz programs here at KIOS-FM.  

Personnel: Orrin Evans - piano; Sean Jones - trumpet; JD Allen - tenor saxophone; Luques Curtis - bass; Bill Stewart - drums; Joanna Pascale - vocal (Encore only).  

Tracks: Devil Eyes; Juanita; A Lil' D.A.B. a do Ya; A Free Man?; Liberation Blues; Simply Green; Anysha; Meant To Shine; Mumbo Jumbo; How High The Moon; The Theme; Encore: The Night Has A Thousand Eyes  

Recorded live at Smoke Jazz Club, January 10 & 11, 2014



Akiko's release “Commencement” is a dangerously engrossing piece of recording artistry that fits right in to the vibrant Hammond organ scene with an intuitive sense of groove and impressive style. Add guitarist John Hart's rich, soulful lines and the interactive drumming of Jeff Hamilton and one has a powerhouse trio that is ready to take you on a varied journey that never releases its grip on your attention and bristles with good vibes.    

Akiko Tsuruga was born in Japan and immigrated to the U.S. after graduating from Osaka College of Music. For the past several years she has been touring the world as a member of the venerable Lou Donaldson's quartet as well as leading her own bands. Donaldson calls her “Queen of the Organ”.

Tsuruga composed three numbers on the album: “Blues for Bandit” is a straight-ahead little cooker that evokes Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott in her breezy solo. “Funky Girl” has a pop tune riff that evolves into an upbeat, down home blues and the title track hints at the original “Milestones” (by John Lewis) melody as it evolves into a laid back swinger. Yes, this is good stuff. She romps through the old Bert Kempferdt tune “L-O-V-E” and reaches into the bag of beautiful balladry to pull out a glittering rendition of “Don't Misunderstand”. Indeed, all of the tracks on this wonderful recording combine persuasive rhythm with consistently thrilling improvisation. “Commencement” is an attractive album that can really grab-hold of you; listen at your own risk.

Personnel: Akiko (Tsuruga) – Hammond B3 organ; John Hart- guitar; Jeff Hamilton – drums  

Track listing: Blues for Bandit; Funky Girl; When Johnny Comes Marching Home; How Deep is Your Love; Give Me the Simple Life; Spanish Flea; It's Easy to Remember; L-O-V-E; Don't Misunderstand; Commencement



Trombonist Michael Dease has largely flown beneath the radar for many a year – one of those artists who is in demand for recording sessions and who has recorded several fine leadership dates yet has not attracted the recognition their talent deserves. “Relentless”, Dease's latest release on the very active Positone Records label, threatens to move his myriad talents toward a new level of appreciation.  

This is simply an astounding album. Dease has opted for the big band setting on his latest effort and this naturally requires considerable ability with regard to arranging in addition to his composing skills and, not least, playing the trombone. As is immediately evident upon the first few moments of this new disc (it only gets better from there), Dease has offered a rewarding musical excursion. The band is a killer-good organization ensuring numerous substantial solos amidst arrangements that concentrate upon harmony and rich voicing – no shrill notes or pyrotechnic displays. The music pats your ears with affection, as one pats a puppy's noggin.  

The album has numerous highlights: Greg Gisbert's exhilarating trumpet solo on the Duke Pearson number “Is That So?”, the mellow sound of Dease's bone and Miki Hayama's entrancing piano work on “Force”, the horn section taking no prisoners on “The Takeover”, the wonderful arranging and harmonies on “Little Lucas”; and there's plenty of opportunity for enjoyable solos from many of the band members including Tim Green, Sharel Cassity, Todd Bashore, Tony Lustig and Alex Norris. Yet the spotlight is upon Dease as arranger and soloist and he has ample opportunity to warm your sensitivities with his delectable trombone voice, as upon “I'm Glad There Is You” with his softly burnished tone caressing the ballad. The irrepressible Wycliffe Gordon gets a spot to scat and play slide trumpet on the old barn-burner “Two Bass Hit”; even bassist Linda Oh gets into the act with solo space on Dease's “Webster Grooves” that has some really sharp ensemble passages. The album closes with “Autumn Leaves” and a horn arrangement placed around an upbeat version of the vamp Cannonball Adderley used on this standard for his “Somethin' Else” session. Wycliffe Gordon is back, at the trombone here; and Dease even closes the number with a brief vocal.  

“Relentless” sets up an exquisite groove from beginning to end. At times the arranging casts echoes of Stan Kenton, Count Basie and the exuberance of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, reflecting the layer of heritage that flows through this music, vibrantly transformed and placed in the Now with the immense talent Dease displays on this stunner. A definite Best of 2014 contender right out of the gate, do yourself a favor and get into this dynamic session.  

Personnel: Michael Dease: trombone, musical director; Todd Bashore: alto saxophone, flute; Tim Green: alto saxophone, flute; Diego Rivera: tenor saxophone; Sharel Cassity: tenor saxophone; Tony Lustig: baritone saxophone; Adam Rongo: tenor saxophone (7); Seneca Black: trumpet; Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Alphonso Horne: trumpet; Etienne Charles: trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Benny Benack III: trumpet; Anthony Stanco: trumpet; Tom "Bones" Malone: trombone; Jerrick Matthews: trombone; Coleman Hughes: trombone; Jeff Nelson: bass trombone; Ron Wilkins: trombone; Peter Nelson: trombone (7, 10); Wycliffe Gordon: trombone (10), vocals (8), slide trumpet (8); Miki Hayama: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Ulysses Owens Jr.: drums; Andrew Swift: guitar (7); Gwendolyn Burgett: percussion 

Track Listing: Is That So; Force; Relentless; I'm Glad There Is You; The Takeover; Little Lucas; Roppongi; Two Bass Hit; Webster Grooves; Autumn Leaves.