Anne Drummond: Curumim

“Curumim” is a bouncy, incisive Brazilian flavored tune that’s perfect for a flute/piano duet such as this one performed by Drummond and Mueller. Mueller is quite a busy fellow on this performance, engaging in snaky unison lines with Drummond, playing harmony, holding down a bass line and keeping time. Drummond’s flute flutters around the piano, stating the melody, playfully jousting with Mueller and inserting mini-solos so seamlessly that her constant role changes go mostly unnoticed. Frequent returns to the memorable theme punctuate brief breaks between the conversational interludes, and so much is packed into a song that runs only a little more than three minutes.

Mariano’s composition is a strong one, but “Curumim” is greatly bolstered by the rapport between these two players.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Ray Brown-Monty Alexander-Sam Most: Too Late Now

There's plenty of Ray Brown and Monty Alexander to be heard on numerous CDs, but most of flutist Sam Most's work is hard to come by. Most was both a pioneer and innovator on the instrument in the '50's, a bop flutist who may have been the first to utilize a humming or singing technique. Charles Mingus once told Most, "You're the world's greatest jazz flute player." He was an admitted early inspiration to many other jazz flutists, including Herbie Mann, James Moody, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hubert Laws, and Joe Farrell. Mann, in the liner notes to Most's 1976 Mostly Flute album (on which Sam also played clarinet), was quoted as saying, "The order of jazz flutists is Wayman Carver with the Chick Webb band, Harry Klee with Phil Moore, and Sam Most. Then the rest of us followed." Although Jerome Richardson actually recorded flute solos with Lionel Hampton in 1949 and 1950, and fellow multi-instrumentalists Frank Wess, Bud Shank, and Buddy Collette were among those to emerge on flute soon after Most several years later, none (except Mann) became as dedicated to it as did Sam. Most largely disappeared into the studios and pit bands in the '60's after touring with Buddy Rich, and was coming off a wonderful series of "comeback" albums for the Xanadu label that began in 1976 when he joined Brown and Alexander for this 1982 session.

Alexander's tender intro to "Too Late Now" is followed by Brown's expertly bowed rendering of the melody, with the pianist providing highly sympathetic support and Most lithely handling the bridge. Alexander's extravagant solo is full of sleek arpeggios and other flourishes, but exudes a great deal of warmth as well. Most's concise improvisation grabs the listener's attention from its very first notes (as does Alexander's superb comping), playing his flawlessly executed runs and tricky, creative phrasing with an appealingly breathy tone. His overall command cannot be questioned, and reveals all you need to know about the reason for his high status amongst all jazz flutists. Search out the rare Xanadu releases, if you can, for further confirmation.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Bill Evans & Jeremy Steig: So What

When Denny Zeitlin was brought in by producer John Hammond to play piano on Jeremy Steig's 1963 debut recording, Flute Fever, as Zeitlin recalled in a recent interview (see Marc Myers' JazzWax blog), Steig "was very frank about his raw emotional approach to playing. He said to me, 'Sometimes I just like to have a tantrum out there.' " Bill Evans first met and heard Steig in 1964, and in his original liner notes for the 1969 What's New album wrote, "Jeremy's playing also has a side of intensity that occasionally might defy belief. I played flute and piccolo for fourteen years and therefore feel a justification for my high estimation of Jeremy's exceptional scope as a flutist." Evans, who had once recorded with flutist Herbie Mann (Nirvana), was well aware that Steig was taking the instrument to places untouched emotionally and technically by even Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It wasn't until 1968 that Evans and Steig played together, Steig sitting in with the Evans trio at club dates in New York, which logically led to their recorded collaboration on What's New.

Steig had already performed "So What" on his Flute Fever session with Zeitlin [see review], and of course Evans had played it on the album that introduced the now jazz standard, Miles Davis' revered Kind of Blue. Evans and Steig essay a diverting free-form intro and play the theme together alongside Eddie Gomez's bass vamp. Steig's breathy tone and swirling, tenacious attack is encapsulated in his first brief solo, which gives way to Evans' lengthier improv. Evans' pronounced McCoy Tyner-like left-hand figures, two-handed unison exclamations, and unyielding momentum are all a far cry from the pianist's contemplative, subdued side. Steig's second solo seems to be propelled to greater and greater heights by Gomez's driving, variegated bass lines. The flutist's tonal inventiveness is boundless, including the use of overblowing, humming, and vocalized overtones. Even at his most possessed, however, Steig's phrasing retains logic and relevance. Gomez's feature prior to the theme restatement is an excellent early example of his deliberate yet elaborate modus operandi.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


James Newton: Cotton Tail

James Newton's tribute album to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, The African Flower, is memorable largely because, as did Ellington, Newton wisely used musicians with distinctly individual sounds to help make his arrangements both personalized and unique. You might say that altoist Arthur Blythe is Newton's Johnny Hodges, cornetist Olu Dara his Bubber Miley or Cootie Williams, and violinist John Blake his Ray Nance, with Sir Roland Hanna at times simulating the Maestro at the piano. On top of this, Newton's own vibrant flute and Jay Hoggard's incisive vibes add instrumental colors rarely present in the Ellington harmonic palette.

"Cotton Tail" was introduced in 1940 by the celebrated Jimmy Blanton-Ben Webster edition of Ellington's orchestra, and featured Webster's famous tenor solo and a riveting unison interlude for the saxophone section. The combination of Rick Rozie's persistent bass line and Hanna's spiky keyboard clusters precede the ensemble's theme reading, with Newton and Blythe energetically splitting the bridge. Blythe's extravagant solo is pumped by Rozie's race-walking bass, playing the Blanton role. The altoist's wide vibrato accentuates the high-pitched squeals and shrieks that pepper the many riffs and subtexts that he succeeds in assembling into a coherent whole over the composition's "I Got Rhythm" changes. Hoggard and Hanna follow in a sparkling duet that gravitates from call-and-response mode to contrapuntal engagement, with modernistic Hanna here sounding very little like Duke. Newton's flute solo is one of his best on record in a straight-ahead, no-frills context, his marvelous tone and ample technique bringing to life his inventive, lucidly streaming lines. The theme's recurrence ignites brisk fills from Blythe and Newton, and then a concluding exultant flurry from the band.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Lew Tabackin: Rites of Pan

Tabackin's Rites of Pan album has just been reissued on CD for the first time. On this early all-flute program, Tabackin proved without a doubt that he should be considered as one of the finest flutists in jazz history. Having majored in flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, by the '70's he was the kinetic main soloist on both flute and tenor in the big band he co-led with his wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi. Tabackin by then thought of the flute and tenor as his dual primary instruments, and the contrast between his styles on the two instruments is frequently breathtaking. His key influences on tenor are clearly Sonny Rollins, Don Byas, and Ben Webster, while on flute the flavor of Asian classical music as might be played on the shakuhachi is often most prominent.

The title track, "Rites of Pan," is an astonishing spontaneously improvised dialogue between Tabackin's flute and the always unflappable and infinitely flexible veteran drummer Shelly Manne. "It turned out to be a pagan kind of thing," said Tabackin after the session. Except during a briefly more lyrical and subdued middle section, Tabackin's playing is tempestuous and verging on obsessed, utilizing various tonal, tonguing, and breath control techniques to fully express himself. As is usual with Tabackin on either flute or tenor, there is structure and logic in even his most impromptu sounding flights of fancy. Trills, birdlike effects, staccato bursts, fluttering ovetones, riffs, and attractive motifs appear in a dazzling, unending stream. Manne interacts with Tabackin exclusively through vigorous, rumbling, mallet-intoned rubato patterns, only occasionally colored by gentler cymbal splashes. A unique and exceptional track well worth hearing.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments


Urban Hansson: All Of Me

In a bold set of intimate duets pairing the flute with various instruments, Swedish flautist nee tenor sax man Urban Hansson offers a quirky smorgasbord of jazz standards, amid a smattering of interesting originals. His technique wavers between straightforward Herbie Mann-erisms and vintage Jethro Tull-ery at times and his approach on this particular cut recalls the initial, jazzier days of Ian Anderson. That said, Hansson’s “All of Me” is an entertaining listen, as he and guitarist Andreas Oberg give this old chestnut the jazz Manouche treatment.

Oberg introduces the track with enticing chord slapping and harp harmonics on his signature AJL grande bouche acoustic before launching into a spirited pompe, over which Hansson’s flute growls breathlessly. The young guitar phenom’s aggressive Django-style solo stands alone for two meaty choruses before the two bring the lively jam home. It may not be cutting-edge, but this version is still a fun romp that’s not hard on the ears.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Jeremy Steig (with Denny Zeitlin): So What

This was the debut recording of two precocious talents, Jeremy Steig (then 21) and Denny Zeitlin (then 25 and on the verge of completing Johns Hopkins Medical School). Producer John Hammond paired them with the seasoned Ben Tucker (b. 1930) and Ben Riley (b. 1933).

Flute Fever is an inspired ”blowing session” with a repertoire of standards and 1950s jazz classics. Steig’s personal spin on the Roland Kirk/Yusef Lateef school of jazz flute probably will not appeal to those who relish a pristine “classical” approach to the instrument, but on his own terms Steig is a more-than-convincing player. Zeitlin does ear-catching things on every selection, but his most forward-looking solo is on “So What”. The highlight of this track is a piano/drums duet perhaps inspired by John Coltrane and Elvin Jones—Coltrane was already one of Zeitlin’s varied influences.

Though briefly reissued on CD, Flute Fever is hard-to-find and a collector’s item. Here’s hoping that some label will make it available once again.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Hubert Laws: Amazing Grace

Laws has proven to be adept at playing jazz, soul, R&B, and last, but certainly not least, classical music. As he began a series of recordings for CTI in the late '60's that would propel him to a level of popularity only experienced up to that time by one other jazz flutist, Herbie Mann, Laws was also performing with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. CTI's Creed Taylor took full advantage of Laws' virtuosic technique and vibrant, penetrating tone on a number of arrangements of classical pieces as well as quite memorably on the famous and entrancing Christian hymn "Amazing Grace."

The cavernously deep sound that Laws projects on alto flute to begin "Amazing Grace" is both soothing and inspirational, as are the softly undulating strings in the background. When Laws switches to a more impassioned attack on standard flute, the orchestra swells movingly in support. Laws' crescendo leads to his brief, unaccompanied, fluttering solo break, and then once again to the pristine beauty of the melody, played at the very end on alto flute as the track fades out. Thanks to the harmonious combination of Laws' flutes and Don Sebesky's arrangement, the potent lyrics—which were written in 1772 by repentant former slave trader John Newton—are not overly missed.

May 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Bud Shank & Laurindo Almeida: Little Girl Blue

Almost a decade before "Girl from Ipanema" hit the charts, Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida were exploring ways of combining Brazilian music with the ethos of cool jazz. Contrary to what you might have heard elsewhere, they didn't invent bossa nova—Almeida's guitar is much more on top of the beat than what João Gilberto would deliver in a famous session held a few weeks after this Hollywood date. This Shank-Almeida collaboration captures a more overtly classical sensibility, and establishes its mood with a stately elegance that is rare in jazz of any era. If you want to hear Shank in a loose, blowing vein, this is not the place to start. But the other side of Bud Shank—inquisitive, experimental, and (yes) cool—comes to the fore on this track. The entire Shank-Almeida oeuvre is too often treated as a footnote to the bossa nova story, but deserves to be better known on its own merits.

May 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Stefano Leonardi: Afro Blue

With a slowly building drum solo by an energized Carlo Alberto Canevali to introduce this classic Mongo Santamaria piece, Stefano Leonardi and mates set the pace of their "Afro Blue" in a steamy medium tempo. With their darting lines, Leonardi and Matteo Turella are at once comparable to such classic flute/guitar tandems as Mann & Almeida or Lloyd & Szabo. They have listened well and absorbed some of this genre's finest examples of brilliant interplay. After a probing bass solo by Paolo Ghetti, Leonardi and Turella play off each other in a simpatico display of dancing notes in joyous synchronicity. Leonardi's tone is pure and his technique facile, and he and Turella push one another to explore the edges of the melody, weaving in and out of each other's ideas. All the while Ghetti and Canevali keep the beat prancing nicely along. A worthy rendition of this classic song.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Stefano Leonardi: E-Ray

With a distinctively Arabic sound, Italian flautist Stefano Leonardi and troupe have created a mysterious and exotic offering. "E-Ray" builds its mood with a variety of string and percussive techniques to create an aural landscape reminiscent of a hot desert wind like a Simoom. Here Leonardi invites you into his world of nomadic repose, where he uses the deeper-toned alto flute in a hypnotic, snake-charming approach, with guitarist Matteo Turella playing in an almost oud-like fashion to complete the magic. Paolo Ghetti's bass and Carlo Alberto Canevali's drums and percussive arsenal pick up their respective parts to perfection and in keeping with this skillfully rendered piece. A tightly conceived gem of other-worldly inspired music. Check your shoes for sand after listening.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Mark Weinstein: Canto de Ossanha

Former Herbie Mann sideman Mark Weinstein first became interested in Brazilian music about a decade ago. On Lua e Sol he pays tribute to the "dark" and "light" sides of the Brazilian music tradition.

"Canto de Ossanha," the popularly covered tune written by Baden Powell and Vinicus De Moraes, most definitely comes from the light side. Cyro Baptista's Brazilian percussion and Nilson Mata's bassline open the piece to make room for a beautiful-sounding acoustic guitar played by Romero Lubambo. Flutist Weinstein then enters to handle the lion's share of the lilting melody. This is followed by a long solo section on which Weinstein nimbly climbs up and down the scales quite nicely, thank you. Lubambo follows with a wonderful acoustic turn. For its climax, the song returns to its brighter-side-of-life roots.

I have alluded to something in other reviews of jazz flute music, and I'll say it again here. You have to be an exceptional flute player to hold most jazz fans' attention. Mark Weinstein can do that. To my ears, he is among only a handful who can.

December 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Marco Granados: Los Tiestos De Moca (Moca's Pottery)

Lovers of the flute, not to mention anyone else who appreciates the technical mastery of any instrument, simply must hear Marco Granados. He studied with James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal, and it's not hyperbole to say that he is at least the equal of each. On Music of Venezuela, Granados explores the contemporary music of his native country, with the aid of his Venezuelan group, Un Mundo.

"Los Tiestos de Moca" is composer Valderrama's tribute to his mother, who makes pottery for a living in a secluded region of Venezuela. It's described as a Venezuelan meringue, which is distinguished by its 5/8 rhythm. Granados starts out in unison with bassist Koch, playing the melody in a nearly rubato classically restrained fashion. The full ensemble then repeats the line in a bracing 5/8 rhythm and Granados solos spiritedly above Glem's vigorous accompaniment on cuatro (a 4-stringed guitar). Granados's flawless intonation and articulation are quite apparent, as is his skilled use of slurs, trills, and other devices. His fast-fingered ease with the rhythm, and his inventive thematic variations prove that he is no mere robotic technician. Koch and Glem follow with shorter solos that are both fluent and highly expressive. The breezy theme is once again briskly handled by the agile and commanding Granados.

November 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Lori Bell: A Ilha (The Island)

When most people think of Brazilian music, they tend to think either bossa nova or samba. Musicians who have traveled and played around Brazil will testify that there are many other rhythmic forms and subtle variations within its musical melting pot. One artist who did much to bring the various elements together was singer-guitarist-composer Djavan, who incorporated elements of African folk, R&B and pop music, as well as the more traditional Brazilian flavors. Brooklyn native Lori Bell, a member of that increasingly rare species known as the jazz flautist, pays tribute to his diverse musical confections in a handsomely crafted album from Resonance Records.

This is an unusual recording in many respects. Aside from showcasing the music of Djavan, who is technically more of a "pop" artist, and the welcome return of the flute to the fore, there is an obvious break from the typical Brazilian instrumentation: the guitar, a staple of Brazilian music, is curiously absent from all but one track of this album. Fortunately it is not missed, due largely to the strength of Tamir Hendelman's polished arrangements and beefy keyboard work. On "A Ilha," the rhythm section alternates between a solid Afro-Cuban 6/8 feel and a lively samba, over which Ms. Bell's rich, lyrical flute takes flight. Her solo lines, a bit evocative of Joe Farrell's work on "Molten Glass," reflect a solid respect for time and space, while her tone reminds us that, in the right hands, the flute can be a powerful, expressive voice. "A Ilha" is an island getaway worthy of an extended visit.

November 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Mark Weinstein: Lua e Sol

Now here is a fine example of sensitive instrumental interplay. After the ominously low rumble of bass serves as an introduction, the structure of "Lua e Sol" is set with a series of guitar chords and arpeggios that are used as starting point for Mark Weinstein's flute excursions. The contrast between the rolling nature of the guitar figures and the angular approach taken by Weinstein (recalling Anthony Braxton in spots) adds depth to the composition. As things progress, both the guitar and flute expand their sonic reach, with the great percussionist Cyro Baptista adding many exclamation points along the way.

October 31, 2008 · 0 comments


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