In any style of music, singers who are also formidable instrumentalists are rare. In jazz, that usually boils down to players who can carry a tune – Frank Lacy and Wycliffe Gordon, for starters- rather than vocalists with instrumental prowess. By any standard, Diana Krall is a strong pianist; Karrin Allyson is vastly underrated on the 88s, and Alicyn Yaffee is a fantastic guitar player. Then there’s Champian Fulton, who’s even more ambitious. Her latest album, wryly titled Speechless, has no vocals on it. It’ll be up at Posi-Tone Records; bookmark this page and check back for a link.
Although Fulton is best known as a singer with deep, blues-informed roots and a fondness for reinventing Dinah Washington classics, this daring move pays off, through a mix of originals and a coyly dynamic take of Someone Stole My Gal. She’s leading a trio at Mezzrow on March 7 at 8 PM, which no doubt will be a mix of instrumental and vocal numbers. Cover is $20.
This is jazz as party music and entertainment: it’s anything but rote or slick. There’s a jubiliant, fearlessly improvisational quality to these songs. Fulton obviously approached this album as she would a live gig, throwing caution to the wind and having an exuberantly good time with it.
Fulton plays and writes with a singer’s nuance. In the New York City Jazz Record, Scott Yanow compared the album’s opening number, Day’s End, to Errol Garner, and that’s on the money: one of Fulton’s signature devices is winding up a phrase or a turnaround with a trill or grace note-like lightness, just as she’ll pull back from the mic to lure the listener in. She also does that a lot with rhythm: throughout the album, bassist Adi Meyerson and drummer Ben Zweig anchor the swing while Fulton carves out a comfortable envelope for lyrical expression.
Lullaby for Art, an Art Blakey homage, is both a showcase for Fulton’s sublty ironic humor – it’s hardly a lullaby – and also for her scampering but spacious hi-de-ho swing chops. The ballad Dark Blue, based on the changes to Woody ’n’ You, is more tenderly dark: the way she essentially scats her way through the final verse on the keys, encompassing a century’s worth of stylistic devices, is the high point of the album.
Tea and Tangerines is a wryly waltzing mashup of Tea for Two and Tangerine, Later Gator, a shout-out to Fulton’s longtime pal Lou Donaldson, follows a loose-limbed soul-jazz tangent, spiced with Zweig’s tersely exuberant syncopation. Pergola is a peacefully lyrical Shelter Island vacation tableau, Fulton’s lingering upper-register chords paired against Meyerson’s dancing bass. Then the two switch roles.
Fulton cites Horace Silver as a stepping-off point for Happy Camper, the album’s most hard-charging number; Dizzy Gillespie in bracingly latin mode also seems to be an influence. That’s Not Your Donut – #BestSongTitleEver, or what? – returns to the jaunty charm of the album’s opening track. Fulton winds up with Carondeleto’s, a salute to her important early influence, Clark Terry and his Missouri hometown. It’s a bustling, rapidfire swing shuffle that’s the closest thing to hardbop here.
Brian Charette gets a lot of ink here, partly because he’s been so ubiquitous. He’s gone back to his original instrument, the piano for some gigs including a turn with erudite, infectiously charismatic chanteuse Audrey Bernstein, as well as leading his own organ jazz groups. And he keeps putting out albums, all of them infused with his signature wit and penchant for pushing the envelope out of the organ jazz ghetto. If you’re down with the B3 jazz cult, toe-tapping gin lounge grooves are great fun, but like his fellow A-list organists Barbara Dennerlein and Jared Gold, Charette keeps reinventing the genre. His latest release, Alphabet City – most of which is streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is a characteristically eclectic, fun mix. of tunes. He’s doing a two-night album release stand uptown at Smoke on July 15 and 16 with sets at 7 and 9 PM; cover is just $15, which is a real deal at this place. And if the prix-fixe menu doesn’t match your requirements, you can always hang back at the bar where the sound is just as good as it is in the rest of the room.
The album is a trio session with Will Bernard on guitar and Rudy Royston on drums. You probably wouldn’t associate Royston – another increasingly ubiquitous guy – with this kind of music, but his extrovert drive is a good match for the bandleader’s sense of humor. The album kicks off with East Village, a bubbly, bustling shuffle with a subtly carnivalesque undercurrent – which makes sense considering what’s happened to the neighborhood. The band follows that with They Left Fred Out, a catchy, jauntily syncopated soul-jazz strut with characteristic Charette wit. After that, West Village, a suave swing number, has a similarly erudite, nonchalant Bernard solo at the center – and toward the end, Charette throws a few jabs toward the snobs.
Royston proves to be the perfect sparring partner for Charette’s boisterous, googly-eyed ELP riffage in the sardonically titled Not a Purist. Sharpie Moustache, a funky shuffle with a droll Zombies quote and a gorgeous oldschool soul chorus, might be a Jimmy Smith homage – remember how he had that retro facial hair thing going on?
Bernard’s sparkly hammer-ons move front and center as the latin-tinged vamp Disco Nap gets underway. The album’s best and most riveting number is Hungarian Major, a creepy, chromatically fueled, genre-defying piece, Bernard’s bell tones glimmering against Charette’s funereal Balkan syncopation. Is this Eastern European art-rock? Romany jazz? Circus music? How about all of the above?
After the sly, satirically-infused previous two downtown New York numbers, Avenue A has a disarming wistfulness set to a calm clave groove. Damn, back when the LES was Loaisaida, it sure was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Likewise, Detours, a catchy swing anthem, leaves no doubt that taking the long way this time around was the right move, Bernard’s catchy, looping riffage setting the stage for Royston to rumble.
Charette contrasts murky atmospherics and woozily loopy pedal lines with a deadpan, lackadaisical pop hook throughout Split Black – a psychological term for how borderline personalities go off the deep end. A hazy southern soul-tinged waltz, White Lies brings to mind similar low-key collaborations between Jimmy Smith and Jim Hall. The album winds up with the oldschool 60s-style shuffle The Vague Reply, both Bernard and Royston getting plenty of room to raise the energy level. By now, it’s clear that Charette doesn’t give a damn – he’s going to do what he always does without any regard for limitations. Best case scenario is that he brings some new fans into the organ demimonde while managing to to drag the purists into his camp without any kicking and screaming.
To steal a phrase from his fellow tenor saxophonist JD Allen, Tom Tallitsch plays jukebox jazz: hard-hitting, toe-tapping music enhanced by a shot and a beer. Esteemed by his peers in the New York jazz scene, it’s a crime he’s not better known. In a sense, he’s a throwback to guys like the Adderleys, but with more focus. His latest album is All Together Now, leading a sizzling sextet with Mike DiRubbo on alto, Michael Dease on trombone, B3 monster Brian Charette taking a rare turn on piano, with the hardworking rhythm section of Peter Brendler on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Tallitsch’s next gig is at 10 PM on July 8 at 55 Bar with a similarly good sextet.
His compositions are full of hooks, and unexpected interludes, and ideas, and trajectories and narratives. The album opens with a characteristically catchy, bustling number, Passages, a harried latin theme with purposefully percolating solos from Dease and the bandleader himself. Hearing Charette, a brilliantly unorthodox organist, on his original instrument, the piano, is a trip, and he acquits himself well as a salsa jazz guy. Who knew!
You might not think that the Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down would translate to jazz, and apparently Tallitsch doesn’t think so either – this version finds the band reinventing it as brightly festive, summer-night southern soul. And it beats the hell out of the original. Then the band switches back to a wickedly good, original Jimmy Smith/latin jazz mashup with Slippery Rock, Charette’s offcenter chords – is that a DX7, or has he found a way to get that weird, echoey sound out of a Rhodes? – anchored by Tallitsch’s sailing lines, holding it together from way up high.
The aptly titled Big Sky opens with a pastoral theme but shifts in a second into shuffling wee-hours, distantly latin-flavored ambience, Ferber’s deliciously flurrying drums with Tallitsch and DiRubbo maxing out the red-neon flavor. The most epic track here, Border Crossing is classic Tallitsch, an almost viciously swinging, vampy number, the composer’s own lively opening solo contrasting with Charette’s tightly wound, scampering attack, Ferber driving the big, concluding horn chart home with an unexpected ending.
Curmudgeon is a subtly funny shout-out to Dave Brubeck, everybody in the band playing their cards close to the vest. The second cover here is a casually swinging, goodnatured take of Frank Zappa’s Uncle Remus, a launching pad for a long, warmly crescendoing Tallitsch solo. Medicine Man brings back the Brubeck edge and catchiness, with a tightly unwinding horn chart, DiRubbo working in reverse, taking it down gently from Tallitsch’s after-the-grenade smokiness.
Greasy Over Easy is a slow, genial minor swing number, Tallitsch adding a counterintuitive edge by bouncing around rather than going for gravitas, Dease doing the same thing. Dunes, a shapeshifting, vividly uneasy jazz waltz follows; the album winds up with the slowly swaying, boisterously and then very subtly gospel-infused Arches. This isn’t a collection of knock-you-off-your-stool moments – it’s more like keep-you-at-the-bar moments. You don’t want to get up and leave because the band is so good. The album hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but you can get a good idea of where Tallitsch is coming from, with lots of audio at Posi-Tone Records and their soundcloud page, as well as Tallitsch’s own page.
Brian Charette – an insightful contributor to the New York City Jazz Record – is the rare music writer who also writes a good tune. And he literally wrote the book on the B3 organ. He goes under the hood: drawbar settings, mechanical tips, it’s all there. And he’s generous with his ideas: if you want to sound like Charette, he’s got all his harmonic tricks in there. He records prolifically for the reliably swinging Posi-tone label, and he’s playing the album release show for his latest one, Good Tipper – streaming at Spotify – with his reed-fueled “sextette” tonight, April 29 at Smoke Jazz Club at the southern tip of what used to be Harlem and is now more or less the Upper West tonight with three sets at 7, 9 and 10:30 PM. As an alternative to the pricy prix-fixe menu, you can hang at the bar in the back where the sound is just as good.
Charette’s playing is distinguished by fearlessness and an imperturbable wit. He has no issues with code-switching between dub, funk, Jimmy Smith and maybe even a little Messiaen if he’s in the mood. Charette’s back catalog is mostly originals; this new release is a grab bag of new material and an eclectic bunch of covers, most of them as unpredictable as you would expect from this guy. The album’s title track is a briskly swinging, amiable number centered around a genial Avi Rothbard guitar hook, Charette working a steady, full-on, allusively fluid solo midway through. The funky cover of the Zombies’ Time of the Season is an improvement on Rod Argent’s teenage original but other than offering tongue-in-cheek hubris, doesn’t really add anything. Richard Rodgers’ Spring Is Here gets a balmy, tremolo-toned bossa tinged reinterpretation, Rothbard matching Charette’s optimism as he chooses his spots.
Al Martino’s Cuando Cuando Cuando is reinvented as a roller-rink latin soul shuffle, guitarist Yotam Silberstein adding lively, wry spiraling followed by a similarly deadpan, chugging Charette solo. Another Quarter, by Rothbard is a funky soul strut with an astigmatic, somewhat acidic Charette solo that really wakes you up while the band keeps it on the purist 60s tip.
Standing Still, a Charette original, is catchily polyrhythmic as it hints at a waltz and dips in and out of doubletime. John Barry’s theme to the film You Only Live Twice gets a very straight-up take, Charette letting Silberstein carry the hooks and saving a muted menace for his own lines, drummer Mark Ferber driving it hard.
Charette tackles a couple of Jimmy Webb tunes, Wichita Lineman and Up Up and Away, the former backing away from the baroque arrangement of the Glenn Campbell hit, adding a swinging funk groove and in the process maxing out the song’s bittersweet angst, Rothbard and drummer Jordan Young building to an insistent peak. The latter is a revelation, Charette bringing an unexpected, chordally-fueled gravitas to lite 60s stoner soul, Silberstein’s guitar supplying the helium.
One and Nine, also by Rothbard, is the album’s most expansive number, a loping groove which Charette colors judiciouslly, tenor saxophonist Joe Sucato doing the same and anchoring the tune with a tinge of smokiness. Charette sets up a classic biting/pillowy dichotomy, organ versus guitar throughout his ballad To Live in Your Life (with some irresisibly clever hints of a famous 60s janglerock hit). They take the album out on the upbeat tip with a swinging, syncopated version of Joe Henderson’s The Kicker. It’s a good introduction to the many things Charette has fun with, and a continuation of a career that confounds some of the more uptight members in the jazz community but keeps everybody else entertained…and sometimes in stitches.
Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch has been on a roll lately. He’s been writing some of the most memorable tunes in jazz over the last couple of years. His latest Posi-Tone album, Ride, is streaming at Spotify; tomorrow night, Feb 20 he’s at the Garage (99 7th Ave. South, 1 to Christopher St/Sheridan Square). for happy hour starting at 6 PM, leading a quartet with Jordan Piper on piano, Ariel De La Portilla on bass and Paul Wells on drums. Then next month, on March 27 at 8 PM Tallitsch leads a monstrously good sextet including Mike DiRubbo, David Gibson, Brian Charette, Peter Brendler and Mark Ferber at Victor Baker Guitars, 38-01 23rd Ave, Astoria (N/Q to Ditmars) for a live youtube broadcast.
The band on the album is just as good. Art Hirahara is one of the most instantly recognizable pianists in jazz right now, drawing on styles as diverse as the neoromantics, Asian folk and funk. Bassist Peter Brendler continues to build a resume of some of the best recording dates and groups in New York in recent years. Trombonist Michael Dease is another in-demand guy, with nuance to match raw power; drummer Rudy Royston has finally been getting long-deserved critical props, and pushes this date along with characteristic wit and thrill-ride intensity.
The album’s title track kicks it off, a brisk, edgy Frank Foster-esque shuffle with some tumbling around from the rhythm section, an expansively uneasy Tallitsch solo echoed by Hirahara followed by a machinegunning Royston Rumble. Rubbernecker, a caffeinated highway theme with subtle tempo shifts, moves up to a spiral staircase sprint from Hirahara. Rain, a plaintive pastoral jazz waltz, is anchored by Hirahara’s sober gospel chords and Royston’s stern cymbals. The Giving Tree, another brisk shuffle, works a vampy, nebulously funk-influenced tune – a lot of 70s and 80s fusion bands were shooting for something like this but couldn’t stay within themselves enough to pull it off. The Myth, a rippling, lickety-split piano-fueled shuffle, is sort of a more uneasy, modal take on a similar theme.
El Luchador, a wry, tongue-in-cheek Mexican cha-cha, gets some surprisingly pensive rapidfiring sax that Dease follows with a hair-trigger response once he’s finally given the chance. Dease fuels the droll Knuckle Dragger with an infusion of wide-eyed cat-ate-the-canary blues. The somewhat ironically titled The Path is the album’s most challenging, labyrinthine track, but Royston keeps it on the rails. The album winds up with Turtle and its kinetically romping mashup of latin-inflected drive and moody modalities.
There are also two stunningly successful rock instrumentals here. The band does Life On Mars as straight-up, no-BS art-rock anthem – Tallitsch’s wistful timbre nails the bittersweetness of the Bowie original. Led Zep’s Ten Years Gone rises with majestic twin horn harmonies from Tallitsch and Dease – while the rhythm is totally straight-up, it’s closer to jazz than the Bowie cover.
Tallitsch is also a radio host. His WWFM show spotlights lots of under-the-radar NYC talent.
Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify – with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.
Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.
Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.
Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.
Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.
Sarah Manning is to the alto sax what JD Allen is to the tenor: even in a world of rugged individualists, she stands out. Lots of artists doll themselves up, tone themselves down and smile sweetly for the camera for an album cover shot. Manning scowls at you from the inside of the cd booklet for her new Posi-tone album, Harmonious Creature. Her bright, defenestrating, Jackie McLean-esque tone, angst-fueled crescendos and stunningly uneasy tunesmithing also set her a step ahead of the pack. Her previous 2010 Posi-Tone release, Dandelion Clock, was that year’s underrated gem. It may be early in the year, but her new album Harmonious Creature threatens to be the best of 2014. Her chromatically-fueled edge brings to mind Kenny Garrett; her moody compositions compare with Garrett and Allen as well. This new quintet session is an ambitious and slashingly successful move into the increasingly crowded chamber jazz arena with Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. Manning is playing the album release show at I-Beam at 8 PM on Jan 25 with a slightly altered lineup featuring the reliably electrifying Alli Miller on drums.
The opening track, Copland On Cornelia Street, starts as stately waltz, brings the guitar in, lingers on the turnaround and then Manning works some morose magic over Goldberger’s brooding resonance. It picks up with a sunbaked Goldberger solo over a dancing, whirling rhythm. Did Aaron Copland find his epiphany in the West Village? He was a Queens guy – it’s not out of the question.
Tune Of Cats echoes a famous Coltrane riff before the group takes it over Jennings’ careful, tumbling pulse, Manning’s utterly casual phrasing contrasting with the relentless intensity of the melody, her tone more smoky than usual. Floating Bridge, an austerely bright jazz waltz, has Kang echoing Manning’s kinetic lines, the bandleader teasing the listener with flitting motives over Jennings’ imperturbible washes….and then sax and viola go back at it.
Reharmonized jazz versions of rock and country tunes can leave you gasping for oxygen, but Manning’s cover of Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway stakes out atmospheric, Frisellian big-sky territory. Goldberger’s pointillisms against gently unfolding sax and viola fill the vast expanse up to a ridiculously psychedelic, ambient outro that pans the speakers. Later in the album, they take a similar approach to Neil Young’s On the Beach, but at a glacial tempo that Manning finally cuts loose and blasts straight through once the final “get out of town” verse hits, the band following her searing lead to the point where any atttempt to get back into ballad mode would be pointless.
The naturalistic Grey Dawn, Red Fox blends allusions to the baroque and simmering exchanges of voices into a precarious narrative that grows more anthemic as it shifts course: this animal is on the lookout for something far more dangerous. If Manning is to be believed, the Radish Spirit guards its ground closely, with a tight, somewhat frosty cameraderie from the whole group, Manning and Goldberger taking it into the shadows before Hart rises to the foreground and pulls it back. The enigmatically titled Three Chords For Jessica emerges from Hart’s solo chromatics to a haunting, elegaic, gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged grey-sky theme. Don’t Answer To The Question returns to waltz tempo with some understatedly wicked push-pull between Goldberger, Jennings and Kang. The album ends with a counterintuitively warm guitar feature, What the Blues Left Behind.
Doug Webb‘s new album Another Scene ranks among the best from Posi-Tone, including Jared Gold’s organ albums, the Captain Black Big Band album and Ralph Bowen’s awesome Power Play from a couple of years ago. This one puts the LA tenor saxophonist out in front of a New York rhythm section with energy to match – you want intensity? You got it. Bill Frisell keeps Rudy Royston in his band because he is what he is, but this unit gives Royston the chance to cut loose in the studio like he does onstage in JD Allen‘s trio. He makes bassist Dwayne Burno‘s job easy. Pianist Peter Zak also gets plenty of opportunities to raise the voltage.
The opening track, Mr. Milo, is a briskly biting, syncopated Miles homage, Webb burning through the whole-tone scale, Zak hitting a similarly highwire intensity as he charges downward. One for Art – a homage to Webb’s late bassist bandmate Art Davis – is a launching pad for a long, absolutely blistering run by Webb, Zak’s solo over impatient drums that turn loose explosively- and then the band goes back to swing as if nothing happened. OK…for a little while, anyway.
Kenny Wheeler’s Smatter gets a clenched-teeth, scurrying swing and more Royston being Royston – it calms, or at least focuses, from midway on. They do Dave Brubeck’s Southern Scene as a warmly cantabile ballad, Zak rippling over almost wry Royston cymbals, keeping it lush, Webb’s warm solo echoing a Paul Desmond dry martini elegance. Another Step sets Webb and Zak’s energetic hard-bop moves over a disarmingly simple swing; Jobim’s Double Rainbow works the tension between Webb’s balminess and the raw intensity of the rhythm section for all it’s worth. Royston’s cascading waves in tandem with Zak’s solo are absolutely luscious.
Eulogy takes awhile to get going, but springboards an absolutely haunted, wrenching tenor solo from the bandleader, contrasting with the lickety-split romp Rhythm with Rudy. The version of What Is There to Say here is a predictably long feature for Webb, while Verdi Variations playfully pilfers the opera book, both Webb and Zak attacking the themes with more agitation and fire than you would expect. They follow that with a sly, bouncy excursion through Thad Jones’ Bird Song and conclude with a warmly steady take of Benny Carter’s Trust Your Heart. Webb has come a long way since his days voicing tv characters.
The big band compositions on Idan Santhaus‘ new Posi-tone album There You Are have steady tempos, bright colors and a slowly unfolding melodicism, sort of a reverse image of Bob Belden’s darkly panoramic Animation project. Santhaus honed his chops as a teenage flutist with the Haifa Youth Orchestra in his native Israel; as you might expect from someone with a classical background and a stint in Jim McNeely’s BMI Composers Workshop, his compositions are third-stream, straight down the middle between classical and jazz, sort of a Maria Schneider Junior. This is big band jazz with an orchestral sweep rather than beefed-up blues or swing, an ensemble project rather than a launching pad for a lot of expansive soloing – which isn’t a bad thing at all. If you can’t wait til Schneider’s next album, this will tide you over.
Much of the opening track, After All is a simple one-chord overture whose waves grow harder the brass rising over an insistent Jon Gordon alto sax solo. Tempo Rarely climbs out of a tensely suspenseful intro to rising and crashing flamenco allusions, then bookends a slinkily swinging, noirish interlude with a funky full-ensemble pulse. The title track begins with suspenseful low sheets punctuated by drum bursts, Santhaus’ own flute terse over a bossa beat. Frank Basile adds a goodnatured, even wry counterbalance on bari sax as it builds.
Now I Feel Like It, Now I Don’t works variations on a catchy singalong hook around a moody bridge of sorts, Matt Garrison’s lingering tenor sax exchanging with Thomas Barber’s more carefree trumpet. Purple and Yellow, a slow late summer tableau sets resonant sostenuto harmonies under James O’Connor’s emphatic trumpet and another smoky excursion from Basile. A Place I Know brings back a summery bossa soul groove, a feature for Michael Dease’s lyrical trombone and Ben Kono’s lively soprano sax, pianist Deanne Witkowski underscoring it with a purist bluesiness.
Change of Season plays off a brightly funky central riff, Mark Small’s tenor solo following the ensemble on a darker trajectory, Andy Hunter’s trombone holding the center over a marionettish dance fueled by the high reeds. High Maintenance starts out as a lustrous ballad and morphs into a pouncing swing tune: it’s the most trad track here. The album winds up with Nothing Yet?!?, taking a somber minor blues riff slowly upward with a brooding bolero pulse. There are two ensembles here, one with eighteen members, the other with sixteen, many of the players appearing in both, tight and seamless all around.
The shadowy red-and-black cd sleeve of Nick Hempton‘s new Posi-Tone album Odd Man Out implies noir but it’s mostly not. It’s a little less ambitious than Hempton’s 2011 album The Business but there’s a lot of tunefulness, clever composition and purist playing, a solid melodic postbop (and occasionally prebop) effort with Mike Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara on piano, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums.
They open with Nice Crackle, an altered dixieland bounce, Hempton’s expansive alto solo answered by a more rhythmic one from Dease. One of the album’s standout tracks, the ambitious narrative Five Ways Through Harsimus Cove tiptoes and then waltzes, takes the long way around through some sketchy territory and then suddenly they’re in the clear: the way they bring it back to the waltz theme midway through is great fun. By contrast, Winnie Blues is a straight-up, pretty predictably bluesy Hempton feature.
Their take of Billy Strayhorn’s Day Dream is languid and lyrical, Hempton’s gentle ornamentation slowly picking up steam. The album’s best track, The Set-Up, works a creepy Johnny Mandel-esque late 50s LA cool swing, Hempton choosing his spots, Dease taking a more gritty, squirrelly approach; they finally hit the noir head-on right before the end. The sense of suspense keeps going with Fifth Floor Run-Up, a latin vamp subtly cached under endless hints of a lickety-split swing that the band never hits head-on.
Nights and Mornings sounds like a rewrite of I Cover the Waterfront, morning slowly emerging out of night and then receding again. The suspense returns with The Slip and its droll nonchalance that the band absolutely refuses to give away: they keep walking and walking and walking and finally there’s a payoff when it’s clear that they made it out! The diptych A Bicycle Accident coalesces slowly into a funky shuffle and then morphs into a blithe mambo of sorts and has an ending that nobody sees coming. Streetlight Lament is less a lament than a fond, wee-hours reminiscence. The album winds up with an easygoing, bluesy take on Randy Newman’s Blue Shadows, more of a late afternoon than nocturnal theme. Hempton’s slightly smoky tone, purposeful playing and imaginative compositions make him someone to keep an eye on.