by: Hobert Taylor
Chris Cortez - Top Secret! - (Blue Bamboo)
You know how Willie Nelson transcends the form "country" by bringing his Texasness to his music, how Lightnin Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb redefined "blues" in the same way? Well Chris Cortez (like Arnett Cobb) brings the region's relaxed intimacy to "Jazz". Same words but with a sweeter accent. The guitarist, accompanied on several tracks by the dean of Houston jazz pianists Paul English and other local luminaries, takes classics and originals to another place, a special shaded bayou where fluids and odors commingle: sweat, magnolia, a distant oil refinery, and imminent rain held forever in abeyance. It's all perfect, not intellectual, but smart, not just soulful, but heartfelt. Cortez's own tunes , "420" and "Different Strokes" are amazingly deft and stylized the way Django's tunes were. His covers are true re-inventions.
Chamber 3 - Grassroots - (Origin)
Straight ahead sometimes generically pleasant Euro jazz from this German guitar /sax/drum trio trio joined here by American bassist Phil Sparks. What makes this stand out is its tastiness. The tunes sound familiar but the playing dances on the razor's edge. Just as you are lulled into complacency an outstanding solo makes your head snap. There's a Coltrane inspired broken time march "Enemy of
Inspiration", and a second line variation "E-flat Stop", that are my picks.
Art Lillard's Heavenly Big Band - Certain Relationships - (Summitt)
A mish mash of amateurish standards with a couple of real eccentric standouts. "Carolina Shout" and "Boogie Woogie Stomp" are cool big band re-workings of ragtime and boogie woogie styles.
Brian Pareschi and the BP Express - - (Self Released)
Medium sized band... with chops ...Not all of it sounds fresh, but "Farfalla", "Congo Blue" and "No, You Do" work for me.
Marc Seales - American songs Vol. 3 - (Origin)
Seattle based pianist Seales covers 70's pop tunes "Pusher Man", "Freddie's Dead" with a clear jazz eye on the melodic possibilities. He is less successful with the ballads, which seem to me well, "safe." His own tunes stronger.
Jack Gallagher - Symphony # 2 "Ascendant" - (Naxos)
This is steeped in Anglo/American romanticism, somewhere between Ives and Bernard Herrmann. In turns reflective and explosive, this piece also reminded me of say Benjamin Britten's sea interludes from "Peter Grimes". Performed with the London Symphony Orchestra; Jo Ann Falletta conducts.
Matt Haimovitz/Christopher O'Riley - Beethoven Period.: Complete Sonatas and Variations for Pianoforte and Vioncello - (Pentatone)
Performed on period instruments, this is a special treat for lovers of the pianoforte, the precursor to the modern piano, the tone is softer and there is less "sustain" than on a grand piano. As a result the balance between the vioncello and the pianoforte seems more complimentary to me, less competitive. UCI was fortunate to host one of the masters of the pianoforte last year, Malcolm Bilson, performing Beethoven A- flat major sonata,Op. 26. Opportunities to hear period pieces and travel back in time to original performance conditions enable listeners the pleasure of a more intimate relationship with the intentions and sensibilities of the composers.
That occurs on this recording as well.
Joel Fan - Dances for Piano and Orchestra - (Reference Recordings)
Fan, a pianist for Yo yo Ma's Silk road Ensemble, has assembled a romantic pop classical collection reminiscent of the piano virtuoso LPs of the '50's ("Worlds' Greatest...", "Most Beloved..."). What's different here is that some of the selections are more obscure and and so in that way interesting to hear. Along with Chopin, Weber, and Saint-Saens, there are works by Gottschalk, Gabriel Pierene, and a nicely dramatic and modernist piece "Dark Dancers of the Mardi Gras" by Charles Wakefield Cadmon.
Christian Lee Hutson -Yeah Okay, I Know - (Trailer Fire Records)
This North Carolina songwriter mixes folk, electronica, country and strong singer songwriter stylings for his mildly acerbic confessionals. Each song is arranged to its own needs, so there is no attempt to achieve a unified sound. The results shine. The up tempo "One, Two, Three" is thematically like a John Prine song, jauntily light melodically and spiritually dark at once. "Monster" is a dramatic duet that has a matter of fact casualness belying the deep recognition of just how selfish and egotistical lovers often are. With titles like "Playing Dead", "That'll Do", "I Do Mean Well", "No Apologies Please" and "They're All Gonna Hate Me", well you get the idea. Hutson opens himself up to us. Beautifully.
Cold Weather Company - Somewhere New - (Self Released)
This New Jersey band is deep folk. With neo-classical interplay between guitar, cello, and piano, the haunting melodies abound. Each instrument has a distinctive personality. Together they blend with a true sense of loving companionship. I like the country blues picking that morphs into a hypnotic trance on "Hey Bodham Dae"/What Do I Do." "Unlocked","Tumbling" (sort of a psychedelic reverie reminiscent to Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine), and the evocative "Seafarer" are also among my picks, While the vocals are not polished, they are earnest and honest throughout.