Mike Allen Trio with pianist George McFetridge
Vancouver saxophonist Mike Allen follows up his trio’s award-winning 2003 CD Dialectic with perhaps his most beautiful recording to date.
Fearless features seven Allen compositions and one by guitarist Sonny Greenwich, a longtime associate. Allen says that in general he’s been trying to write lyrical tunes that provide him a vehicle to connect with audiences on a more emotional or spiritual level, and he’s successful with virtually all his compositions on Fearless.
The title track, which opens the CD, is a good example. With its simple, lovely, hymn-like melody and its relaxed swing tempo, this tune is among the most soul-soothing pieces of music I’ve heard – instant relief from the day’s cares or stresses. Allen exudes a wonderful warmth in his playing.
The second tune, The Man, starts out in much the same vein, but Allen injects some tension with a Coltrane-like section that resolves itself in joyful expression.
Two middle tracks, John Robbins, Crystallized, are both moving ballads. The first is reflective in mood. The second has a bit of a mournful feel to it and is the only track to feature Allen on soprano sax (he plays tenor on the rest of the CD).
Next is the medium-tempo Until it’s Over, which the trio also recorded on Dialectic. While the earlier version is a hard-swinging number, the newer version is more contemplative, conveying feelings of inner turmoil -– questioning, doubt and regret.
The CD finishes cheerfully with the group swinging briskly on From a Different Angle and then stretching out on Mingus Jump, a fun blues.
Bassist Paul Rushka and the exciting drummer Julian MacDonough joined Allen on Dialectic. Both are back on Fearless, though Adam Thomas replaces Rushka on two tracks.
Of his decision to add George McFetridge on Fearless after two trio recordings, Allen says the tunes required the pianist’s harmonic contribution: “They wouldn’t be harmonically full in a trio formation.”
While MacDonough plays more of a supporting role on Fearless than the featured role he played on Dialectic, all the musicians sound great. In particular, Rushka sounds more confident and comfortable with the music this time.
Fearless is one of Allen’s best recordings, but if you’d like to try before you buy, the Okanagan Regional Library has two copies in its catalogue.
Blue Note On his Blue Note debut, New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard returns to form as one of contemporary jazz's best musicians, composers, arrangers and bandleaders.
While his 2001 release, Let's Get Lost, on the Sony Classical label, came up short as a sustained creative exercise, 2003's Bounce compares favourably with his previous successes, such as 2000's Wandering Moon, 1999's Jazz in Film, 1996's The Heart Speaks and 1995's Romantic Defiance. A critic with the All Music Guide goes so far as to call Bounce Blanchard's "masterpiece thus far and a high-water mark for anybody else to follow."
Blanchard's latest release is strong for various reasons, not the least of which is the dynamic band, featuring Brice Winston on saxophones, Aaron Parks on piano, Brandon Owens on bass, Eric Harland on drums, Robert Glasper on organ and Fender Rhodes, and Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocals. While they aren't household names in the jazz world, they make a few sparks fly on this CD, whether playing together with Blanchard or taking a solo. For example, check out Winston's commanding tenor forays on the Blanchard originals On The Verge and Azania.
Bounce may have Blanchard's name, photo and undeniable stamp on it, but it's very much an ensemble recording. Like Dave Holland's great quintet, the sidemen are active participants in creating the music, even contributing three of the nine songs, and get a chance to showcase their talents. The leader shares the spotlight rather than hogging it.
The songs themselves on Bounce are another of the CD's strengths, with most featuring a memorable tune built on an engaging rhythm. Perhaps the exception is Blanchard's Fred Brown, which verges on a freer style of playing.
In several cases, the rhythm is Latin-based, as on the leader's Passionate Courage and Ivan Lins' Nocturna, two ballads which recall the spirit of Blanchard's beautiful collaborations with Lins on The Heart Speaks.
In the case of Azania, which features Loueke's guitar and chanted vocals, an African rhythm propels the band toward a climax bristling with energy.
The Wayne Shorter classic Footprints is given a subtly funky foundation for a reading that doesn't blaze any trails, but is classy and tasteful.
The band explores the neo-bop style on songs such as Transform, by Harland, and Innocence, by Owens. On these two pieces, Parks' playing is reminiscent of Lyle Mays' work with the Pat Metheny Group.
Blanchard returns to his roots for the CD's final cut, Bounce/Let's Go Off, which borrows from traditional New Orleans marching band music.
As well as the variety of engaging music and great musicianship, Bounce benefits from an overall economy of style. As good as Wandering Moon is, parts of it sound almost cluttered by comparison. On his latest CD, Blanchard appears to have pared down his arrangements, simplified his playing and introduced more space between notes to create a recording that sounds more focused. The listener can more easily follow and appreciate the various elements as a result. Ben Verkerk
...And His Mother Called Him Bill
Bluebird Duke Ellington's tribute to longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn was one of the great jazz reissues of 2002.
Although not among the best known of the Duke Ellington orchestra's recordings, this CD featuring Strayhorn compositions is one of its most celebrated. Critics Richard Cook and Brian Morton, for example, give it the maximum four stars in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.
The CD was recorded during the three to six months following Strayhorn's death from esophogeal cancer in May 1967, and Cook and Morton describe its mood as "primarily one of loss and yearning."
That mood certainly comes through on selections such as My Little Brown Book, After All, Lotus Blossom, Blood Count and Day Dream. The latter two feature almost painfully expressive solos by alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges.
Ellington's solo version of Lotus Blossom was unplanned, taped after recording had finished for the day, so the listener hears the sounds of the musicians packing up and yakking about their plans for the evening as the song unfolds. Rather than detract from the piece, the background noise seems to heighten its impact.
While there's an air of melancholy and reflection to some of the songs, the CD is far from being a downer overall.
Most of the other selections are all swing and bustle, sure to get your toes tapping. They include Snibor, Boo-Dah, All Day Long and Charpoy, which both feature the sassy trumpet of Cat Anderson, U.M.M.G., The Intimacy of the Blues, Raincheck, Smada, Midriff, Acht O'Clock Rock and the light-hearted Rock Skippin' at the Blue Note.
As well, there are alternative takes of Smada and Raincheck and a trio version of Lotus Blossom.
Two of Strayhorn's most famous compositions are not on the CD. Take the "A" Train was not included because it had recently been re-recorded and issued on another Ellington album, and Ellington refused to play Lush Life. Producer Brad McCuen twice suggested the hauntingly beautiful song for the recording, but Ellington shook his head and said, "No, that wasn't him. That's not me." Ben Verkerk
On this 2001 release, saxophonist Campbell Ryga pays tribute to the Cannonball
Adderley Quintet of the mid-1950s with the help of Brad Turner on trumpet and
three other Vancouver jazz musicians -- Chris Sigerson on piano, Torben Oxbol
on bass and Blaine Wikjord on drums.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet featured the Adderley brothers, Julian
(Cannonball) and Nat, on alto saxophone and cornet, respectively, and Ryga
writes in his liner notes that the repertoire of this duo influenced him
Spectacular features a half-dozen compositions by members of the Cannonball
Adderley Quintet and five tunes by other composers, including one by Ryga
Ryga notes that high energy and quick tempos were often “an integral part of
the Cannonball Adderley Quintet equation.” The material on Spectacular, much of
it short and snappy, combined with the musicians’ zestful, tight performances,
succeeds in conveying the character of the quintet. A prime example is the
first track, Hayseed, with its hoedown-flavoured introduction, fast tempo and
While much of the material on Spectacular is up-tempo, the CD does include two
ballads, Rodgers and Hart’s You Are Too Beautiful and the standard Lover Man.
The first features Ryga and Sigerson, and their rendition of this pretty tune
is heartfelt. Lover Man features Turner, and his tasteful interpretation of
this classic is a highlight of the CD, as he by turns caresses and teases the
Indeed, as Ryga points out in his liner notes, the “amazing” Turner is a key
part of the equation for this quintet. He and Ryga are a treat to listen to on
My only complaint about Spectacular is it’s a bit short by today’s standards,
clocking in at under 45 minutes. A possible explanation for this is that it was
originally produced for broadcast on CBC Radio’s Jazz Beat program, and
typically the performances on that program last about that length of time. Ben Verkerk
Ross Taggart Quartet
Cellar Live Thankfully is the debut release on a recording label created by Cory Weeds, a
Vancouver musician and owner of The Cellar Restaurant/Jazz Club. In his notes
for the CD, Weeds says he decided to record the Ross Taggart Quartet after the
members’ memorable first performance as a band at The Cellar in February 2001. “I knew that Ross had hit on something very special,” he says.
Four months later, Weeds recorded the quartet of Taggart on tenor saxophone,
Mike Rud on guitar, Bob Murphy on Hammond B3 organ and Bernie Arai on drums
during two nights at The Cellar for this release.
Selected from the performances were eight tunes -- four strong compositions by
Taggart and singles by Rud, Paul Desmond, Victor Feldman and Vancouver pianist
Sharon Minemoto, Taggart’s spouse.
About half are slower-tempo pieces or ballads which showcase Taggart’s warm,
soulful sound and his lyrical style, combining respect for the jazz tradition
with a contemporary sensibility. These numbers include Desmond’s Late Lament
and Taggart’s Shorter Days, on which the leader’s playing sounds especially
The other selections are a mix of medium- and up-tempo numbers. A highlight
among them is Taggart’s Don’t Call Before Ten, a funky number reminiscent of
some of the great recordings produced during the 1960s on the Blue Note label.
While the quartet bears Taggart’s name, Thankfully is an ensemble performance.
The leader gives his sidemen plenty of opportunity to display their
Murphy, a mainstay on the Vancouver jazz scene for years, and Rud each
contribute some exciting solos during the quicker numbers and beautiful,
affecting solos on the more introspective tunes.
Rud weaves strong melodic lines and impresses with his dexterity on his
instrument, while Murphy’s hip sound on Hammond B3 adds a slight edginess to
the recording that is welcome. Ben Verkerk
Brad Turner Quartet
Live at the Cellar
Maximum Jazz Vancouver's Brad Turner has hit the big time as a member of Metalwood, the
Juno award-winning groove jazz band that in May 2001 released its first CD for a
major label -- Universal Music Group Canada.
But since 1996, Turner has also been recording contemporary jazz albums under
his own name, featuring his own material.
Live at the Cellar, recorded in
January 2000, is the latest of these. It teams Turner, on trumpet, and his
rhythm section of Bruno Hubert (Rhodes piano), Andre Lachance (bass) and Dylan
van der Schyff (drums) with tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, a former
Vancouverite, for a set of five Turner compositions and two tunes by Thelonious
Monk and Lee Morgan.
The five Turner originals highlight his development as a composer. They are, as
a group, his strongest recorded under his own name so far.
As for the two
"covers" on this CD, Monk's Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are is a treat. The group
has a lot of fun with it, spinning out a wonderfully loopy rendition of the
tune that leaves the listener smiling. Blake and Turner carry the loopiness
into their solos, and, in a tribute to an earlier era, Turner tosses in a New
Orleans-style solo about three-quarters of the way through.
The band has less success with Morgan's Calling Miss Khadija. You'd expect the
group members to cut loose on this lively tune from the hard-bop era, but
instead they end up sounding a bit restrained.
One member of the group who
practically never sounds restrained on this recording is van der Schyff. His
drumming style is very out-front and creative, grabbing your attention. At the
same time, he knows when to hang back, so he never drowns out the rest of the
band. Throughout, he contributes so much more to the group than just a solid
A note on the recording quality. Maximum Jazz may not be a major label, but the
sound is good, especially for a live recording. You can hear everyone clearly
and there is no discernible background noise from the crowd, except for
applause after solos and at the end of tracks. Even then, it's not intrusive. Ben Verkerk
Live At The Cellar
The Oliver Gannon Quartet
Over more than 30 years, Oliver Gannon built a reputation as one of Vancouver’s finest jazz musicians. His tasteful, swinging guitar playing, influenced in part by Wes Montgomery, contributed to the appeal of recordings by the 1970s jazz band Pacific Salt, saxophonist Fraser MacPherson and trombonist Ian McDougall, among others.
But in all those years, he recorded only as a sideman, never as a leader.
In 2002, Cory Weeds persuaded Gannon’s quartet to record for his new Cellar Live label, finally documenting Gannon as a featured performer. Within months of the CD’s release, Gannon was voted Guitarist of the Year at Canada’s National Jazz Awards, a testament both to the high regard in which he is held in the country’s jazz community and to the strength of this recording.
One reason for the CD’s strength is the high quality of the tunes -- three standards, five compositions by Gannon and two more originals by the quartet’s pianist, Miles Black.
The standards are Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now and Charlie Parker’s Bloomdido. All are great, well-loved jazz tunes.
Gannon’s and Black’s own compositions are also enjoyable, memorable tunes -- from the catchy, bouncy first track, Groovin’ At The Cellar, to the Latin-tinged Kelowna, with its sweet melody you’ll find yourself humming hours afterward, to So Nice, which borrows liberally from You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To by Cole Porter.
Another big reason for the strength of Live At The Cellar is the high quality of the performances by the quartet, which is completed by Miles Hill on bass and Blaine Wikjord on drums, two more highly respected members of Vancouver’s jazz scene.
In his liner notes, Weeds writes that the members of the quartet have played together for many years, and it shows on this CD. Their rendition of the ballad If You Could See Me Now is especially beautiful.
Gannon and Black naturally take most of the solos on Live At The Cellar, and their different approaches provide a pleasing contrast. Black’s solos stand out as often-exuberant, occasionally showy forays that pick you up and carry you along for the ride, while Gannon’s typically are more mellow and low-key. On a ballad, Gannon bathes you in a warm glow.
CBC Records Early in January 2004, Neil MacGibbon presented a jazz concert in Kelowna featuring three of the Okanagan’s finest saxophone players: Larry Crawford, Michael Garding and Pat MacGibbon.
That show, which was enthusiastically received, brings to mind this CD, issued in 2002. Sax Summit, recorded on Jan. 25 of the same year at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, features seven of Canada’s best saxophonists and a rhythm section in a swinging homage to the genre’s great sax players.
For the project, the CBC enlisted Phil Dwyer, the B.C.-born saxophonist, pianist, composer and jazz educator. As music director, he selected the musicians and arranged all the music -- even contributing one original for the recording -- and performed as well.
Choosing the players wasn’t easy. “I was given a budget for a certain number of players and a mandate for regional representation,” he has said. “Obviously, this meant that some fantastic saxophone players were not involved. In fact, I told the CBC that we could do this every year with different players, and it would be a while before we ran out.”
For this performance, Dwyer ended up getting Seamus Blake, P.J. Perry, Mike Murley, Campbell Ryga, Yannick Rieu and Perry White, along with Mark Eisenman on piano, Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums -- a stellar lineup in Canadian jazz.
Together, they produced a thoroughly enjoyable recording which, through the songs, arrangements and performances, succeeds in recalling the music of jazz icons such as John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Hodges, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Charlie Parker, to name a few.
The CD kicks off with Blues Up and Down, a tenor duel made famous by Stitt and Gene Ammons. After a bit of a rough start, the saxophonists quickly find their groove and don’t let up till the end of the tune.
It’s followed by Jesse Greer’s Just You, Just Me, recorded by Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1952.
The third number on the CD is a medley of Johnny Mandel’s Emily and Paul Desmond’s Wendy. This lovely ballad features alto saxophonists Perry and Ryga.
Next comes Dwyer’s own Appearing Nightly, with which the composer pays tribute to the great sax players who passed through Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers over the years.
No. 5 is Body and Soul, one of the highlights on the CD. Dwyer writes in his liner notes that his arrangement draws on versions of this classic tune recorded by Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and Coltrane. You really can hear the influences of all three in turn, especially of Coltrane when the group adopts the pulse from the version recorded by his quartet in 1960.
The group picks up the tempo with Rollins’ Oleo and Nat Adderley’s Work Song, then slows it down again with Duke Ellington’s Warm Valley, on which Perry plays beautifully.
Coltrane gets the nod again with Richard Rodgers’ My Favorite Things, which features Dwyer and Murley on soprano sax.
Sax Summit ends with a rousing, long version of the Parker classic Billie’s Bounce.
For the most part, Dwyer’s arrangements of the cover tunes are good, balancing the desire to pay tribute to jazz’s sax legends with the need to make the songs interesting and different enough so they don’t sound like recreations of the originals.
As for the performances and solos, they’re spirited, joyful and moving. And, in a nice touch, the order of the soloists is listed for each tune on the back of the CD. Ben Verkerk
The Next Step
Verve I could have heard Kurt Rosenwinkel and band-mate Mark Turner during
Vancouver’s 2001 jazz festival, but I chose to attend shows by bigger-name
artists instead. Listening to The Next Step, Rosenwinkel’s second release for
Verve, I regret missing this talented electric guitarist and composer.
Based in New York City, Rosenwinkel plays with a thoughtful, unique style and a
sound that brings to mind, at different times on this CD, Pat Metheny, Bill
Frisell and John Abercrombie.
He often sings along wordlessly while soloing, adding an ethereal quality to
his sound, especially on the higher notes. A few artists hum along to their
solos, and that can be irritating on a studio recording. But Rosenwinkel’s
vocalizations complement his solos more than they detract from them.
The Next Step features his working band, with longtime collaborator Turner on
tenor saxophone, Ben Street on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums.
Rosenwinkel composed all eight tracks, and pretty much all of them are good --
complex, yet accessible, emotive songs featuring themes that stay with the
listener. Much of the music -- even the up-tempo material -- is centred in
minor keys, giving it a reflective, yearning and at times melancholy quality.
But Rosenwinkel and Turner keep things from getting dark with trebly, airy
The guitarist and saxophonist take most of the solos on this recording. Their
sympathetic interplay, employing a call-and-response approach, and nuances help
make this CD one which rewards repeated listening. Ben Verkerk
Life on Earth
Blue Note Records Blue Note billed Renee Rosnes’ 2001 CD as the Canadian-born pianist and
composer’s “most conceptually ambitious project to date.” While the music
consumer must take any such promotional statements with a grain of salt, in
this case it could be true.
On Life on Earth, Rosnes explores various types of world music with a jazz
sensibility, drawing on rhythms, melodies and textures that reference India,
Senegal, Brazil, Spain, Indonesia, Native American and European classical
music, as well as jazz.
Not since her 1992 recording, Without Words, which featured strings as an equal
member of the rhythm section instead of just being relegated to the background,
has Rosnes taken such risks. But whereas that recording’s presentation of the
strings in an up-front role seemed a bit awkward, Rosnes is generally
successful in integrating various world-music elements with jazz on Life on
Assisting Rosnes in this task is an impressive lineup of rhythm players. They
include Western drummers Billy Drummond and Jeff (Tain) Watts, Brazilian
percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca, Indian tabla drummer Zakir Hussain and
Senegalese djembe (West African drum) player Mor Thiam.
Among the instrumentalists joining them are bassists John Patitucci and
Christian McBride; saxophonists Chris Potter and Walt Weiskopf, and trombonist
Steve Turre, who improvises on conch shells for the final number.
The collective talents of these musicians are showcased in various
configurations on seven original compositions by Rosnes. These include the
lively Icelight, composed in honour of the newly established territory of
Nunavut, and Gabriola Passage, whose title was inspired by a listener who said
it invoked thoughts of ocean waves and winds -- reminding him of sailing
through Gabriola Passage in British Columbia.
As well, there are two piano trio performances -- Nana, taken from a group of
six Andalusian folksongs by Manuel de Falla, and Ballad of the Sad Young Men
from Frances Landesman’s 1959 musical The Nervous Set.
While the integration of elements of world music with jazz works in general on
Life on Earth, it’s not a complete success. At times during Rosnes’ solo on the
opening track, Empress Afternoon, Hussain’s tabla drumming is loud enough that
it competes with her piano.
If you’re unfamiliar with Rosnes and are wary of her synthesis of world music
and jazz, instead try her 2001 “best-of” compilation entitled With a Little
Help From My Friends, 1990’s For The Moment or 1996’s Ancestors. Rosnes is a
wonderfully sensitive pianist and composer, and each of the above CDs
demonstrates that in a typical contemporary jazz setting. Ben Verkerk
ECM This double-CD recording of Jarrett’s trio at a 1999 concert in Paris received wide critical acclaim on its release in 2000 and was selected by Down Beat magazine as among 50 essential piano and keyboard jazz recordings.
It was also warmly welcomed by fans, being the trio’s first recording since 1996, when Jarrett was stricken with a form of chronic fatigue syndrome and quit performing.
Following the release of The Melody at Night With You, Jarrett’s comeback solo recording, Whisper Not silenced any remaining concerns about whether this master pianist had returned to form. It offers some of the most joyful and beautiful jazz you’ll ever hear.
The recording features an all-standards program of 14 bebop tunes and ballads, only one of which -- What is This Thing Called Love -- the trio of Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette has recorded before.
Some of the uptempo numbers include a syncopated version of the trio’s previously recorded Cole Porter classic, George Shearing’s Conception, Groovin’ High and Clifford Brown’s Sandu. The trio also pays tribute to Bud Powell, one of Jarrett’s early influences, with two of his compositions -- Hallucinations and Bouncing With Bud.
Among the ballads are the recording’s title track by Benny Golson, Chelsea Bridge, Round Midnight, Prelude to a Kiss, When I Fall in Love and the gorgeous Poinciana by Buddy Bernier and Nat Simon.
Jarrett is known as one of jazz’s greatest improvisers. Some of his solo piano performances have been totally improvised, with no preconceived themes or forms, and on the recording Inside Out the trio tackles free improvisation.
While that style may alienate many jazz fans, Jarrett’s improvisation on Whisper Not does not.
Rather than experimenting wildly with structure, harmonies or something else, Jarrett focuses on exploring the melody of each tune. He never takes listeners too far from what they know, but he still manages to keep things interesting. Even an old chestnut like Round Midnight sounds fresh performed by this trio.
One warning about Whisper Not for those not familiar with Jarrett: he has a habit of occasionally vocalizing -- sighing, moaning and nasal singing -- as he plays. Some listeners -- myself included -- find this sort of thing distracting and annoying, but it’s no reason to write off this superb recording.
If you like it and want more, Hugh Parsons, Okanagan jazz pianist and a music director at Kelowna Secondary School, recommends 1992’s At The Deer Head Inn, Tokyo ‘96 and 1989’s Standards in Norway. All three are on ECM. Ben Verkerk