Disc of the Day: Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure”

plucky strum

Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure” (Whaling City Sound)

Harvie S first came into my view in the mid-’80s, when he was releasing albums as a leader on Gramavision, and had already built an impressive resume of performances and recordings with practically every major jazz artist you could name.  I was fortunate enough to catch him twice in Greenwich Village — with a group at the old Seventh Avenue South, and in a duo performance with singer Sheila Jordan at the Public Theater. That week, we chatted for a feature I wrote for DownBeat magazine.

The artist formerly known as Harvie Swartz hasn’t slowed down. In recent years, he put together Plucky Strum, a duo with well-traveled guitarist (and Berklee College prof) Sheryl Bailey. For their first, self-titled 2015 release, Bailey stuck to acoustic guitar. This time, she adds electric guitar, sometimes with effects and overdubs, to the mix.

The results are uniformly appealing, and it’s a pleasure hearing the two in a stripped-down sonic setting, each instrument projected with great clarity, with great wood-and-strings aural intimacy.

The program is characterized by intuitive interplay and fluent improvisations, starting with the tricky bebop-esque unison and harmony head of opener “Sublime,” one of three tunes here penned by Harvie. His “Now I Know” is a lush, laidback ballad, with a pretty melody sounded by bass, and “Good Ole Days” is a mid-tempo ditty built on steady walking bass.

Bailey’s “Old and Young Blues” is reminiscent of the kind of folkish pieces Charlie Haden wrote, with the two taking turns leading the theme, and the bassist turning in a typically probing, searching solo, followed by Bailey’s relaxed but rangy improvisation. Bailey also contributes the Latin-flavored, slowly shifting “Sabado Con Mi Amor”; the starting-stopping riff tune “What She Said,” which hints at Wes Montgomery and offers another stunning workout by Harvie;  the bluesy “Cranshaw,” built on a slow-grooving bass line and topped with overdriven, wah-edged guitar; and poignant ballad “Alone,” the disc’s closer.

All that, plus breezy, creative takes on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Joni Mitchell‘s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” the latter complete with acid-washed six-string. Here’s to more from Plucky Strum.

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Montreal Jazz Fest — Wishing I was there

I’ve had some incredible experiences hearing great performances and soaking up the other jazz happenings at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not to mention getting a chance to enjoy the cosmopolitan culture of one of North America’s most beautiful and most historic cities.

montreal

Last summer’s festival was again jam-packed with great music, some of which I wrote about for JazzTimes, and in several posts on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t make it for the 38th edition of the fest, which runs June 28-July 8.

But if I WERE headed to Montreal at the end of this month, I’d do my best to catch the following jazz, blues and pop/rock artists (some of whom are playing in bands with others on the list):

Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, The Bad Plus, Ben Street, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Buddy Guy, Carla Bley, Charles Bradley, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Lundy, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Diana Krall, Donny McCaslin, E.J. Strickland, Eric Harland, Essiet Essiet, George Cables, Gerald Clayton, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jacob Collier, Jane Bunnett, Jeremy Pelt, Jesse Cook, John Hollenbeck, John Medeski, John Pizzarelli, John Scofield, Joshua Redman, Joss Stone, King Crimson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Michael Blake, Nicholas Payton, Reuben Rogers, Robert Glasper, Robin Eubanks, Scott Colley, Stanley Clarke, UZEB, and Wallace Roney.

Headed to Montreal? Let me know your thoughts on what you hear.

As for me — better luck next year.

 

 

Disc of the Day: Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle”

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse” (Resonance Records)

Before Wes Montgomery became the commercially successful star guitarist known simply as Wes by fans, he was, of course, a burning bebop guitarist of the highest order. “Smokin’ in Seattle” handily captures the calm before his career explosion, with Wes and longtime collaborator Wynton Kelly’s trio joining forces for a set at popular Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded live — via four-channel tube mixer — for a radio show hosted by Jim Wilke. Shortly later, the 43-year-old guitarist’s Verve album “Goin Out of My Head” started climbing the R&B charts on the road to selling a million copies and scoring a Grammy.

Wes couldn’t have found more suitable musical partners than pianist Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb (both ex-Miles) and young bassist Ron McClure, recently with Maynard Ferguson. The guitarist and Kelly’s original trio, with another former Miles sideman, Paul Chambers, had notably worked together on the live “Full House” and the widely acclaimed “Smokin’ at the Half Note”; the latter disc was called “the gold standard” by guitarist Pat Metheny, a Wes devotee,

It’d be hard to beat Montgomery’s soulful “West Coast Blues,” with its inventive twists and the guitarist’s unpredictable, typically brilliant and rambunctious solo work, or Sonny Rollins’ uptempo “Oleo,” which closes the set but, unfortunately, fades out midway through the tune, as does “Blues in F” (blame radio-broadcast conventions). There’s lots more to savor here, including the start-stop head and steady swing of Montgomery’s “Jingles,” the rich balladry of Bob Haggart’s “What’s New?”, and a Jobim tune, “O Morro Nao Vez.” And four tracks featuring Kelly’s trio minus Wes.

As if that weren’t enough, the set is contained in the kind of vessel that makes one happy CDs are still being produced: the beautifully designed package includes a 40-page booklet featuring contributions by Cobb, McClure, Wilke, disc producer Zev Feldman, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Pat Metheny, and jazz journalist Paul de Barros. It’s a keeper.

Jimmy Cobb

Ron McClure

Resonance Records

 

 

 

Disc of the Day: Bill Evans Trio, “On a Monday Evening”

Bill Evans Trio, “On a Monday Evening” (Fantasy Records/Concord Bicycle Music)

Relaxed if quite often intense and exploratory, the previously unreleased “On a Monday Evening” captures pianist Bill Evans in a peak performance leading his trio circa the mid-‘70s, with virtuoso bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eliot Zigmund.

The show, at a packed 1,000-seat Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus, survives thanks to some serendipity – two college-age jazz DJs had interviewed Evans, and decided to document the concert using their radio station’s equipment. The recording, remastered from the original analog tapes, sounds all but pristine.

Fusion was the fast-growing flavor of the day, but Evans continued to ply his elevated trade in a strictly acoustic format. As per his usual approach, he mixes original compositions with standards, starting with his own spritely “Sugar Plum,” which begins with two minutes of unaccompanied piano before opening up for a leapfrogging solo by Gomez.

The leader’s “Time Remembered” is a nostalgia-laced mid-tempo piece, capped with Gomez’s arco improvisations. And the pianist’s aptly titled “T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune)” is more adventurous, with the three musicians dropping in and out of various sections in a kind of extended call and response.

The set offers several familiar crowdpleasers, including a freewheeling, time-tugging workout on Disney film waltz “Someday My Prince Will Come,” featuring some of the album’s most provocative soloing; a hard-swinging version of Cole Porter’s “All of You”; and the somber, way-laidback closer “Some Other Time.”

Two other tunes, Jerome Kern’s beautifully melodic “Up with the Lark” and the wistful, Brazilian-flavored “Minha (All Mine)” were relatively new to Evans’ repertoire. “On a Monday Evening” is a welcome and unexpected gem which illuminates the in-concert prowess of the Evans/Gomez/Zigmund lineup.

FANTASY RECORDS/CONCORD BICYCLE MUSIC

Disc of the Day: Joris Teepe & Don Braden, “Conversations”

Joris Teepe & Don Braden, “Conversations” (Creative Perspective Music)

braden teepe

Bassist Joris Teepe and tenor saxophonist Don Braden, musical collaborators for nearly a quarter century, demonstrate their synchronicity on this collection of mostly trio pieces, with drummers Gene Jackson and Matt Wilson joining on various tracks.

It takes sustained creativity and ingenuity to keep things interesting and musically provocative in a group absent of a chordal instrument, but these guys handily achieve those goals by way of high-octane playing and deft arrangements. Particularly appealing are a duo reading of Mingus’s “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” with Teepe’s rich, woody double bass coming to the forefront on an unaccompanied intro and then the two harmonizing on the melody.

Also notable are the opener, Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty,” a tricked-out version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” the standards “It’s You or No One” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” and Teepe’s climbing-and-falling duo piece, the aptly titled “We Take No Prisoners.”

But all of these conversations are dynamic, and worth hearing, and made even more so thanks to the remarkable sonic clarity of these tracks, recorded at Creative Perspective Music and edited, mixed and mastered by Braden.

Don Braden

Joris Teepe

Disc of the Day: Walt Weiskopf, “Fountain of Youth”

Walt Weiskopf, “Fountain of Youth” (Posi-Tone)

Weiskopf

The tones and textures on this disc are sometimes beefy, sometimes airy, thanks to a mix of instruments and players that jell well: Tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf,  a longtime Steely Dan sideman, is joined by vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Peter Zak, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Steve Fidkyk.

The quintet offers inspired bop-driven originals, frequently showcasing Weiskopf’s muscular but agile playing, starting with his “Backstage Blues” and continuing with his multicolor, meter-shifting “Petal,” floaty ballad “Loose Lips,” the uptempo “Echoes of the Quiet Past” and another bluesy tune, “Hot Dog Days.”

Weiskopf also turns in fresh arrangements of tunes by others, including a lovely “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” a nifty “Laura,” and a sprawling, after-midnight take on the standard, “Young and Foolish.”

Walt Weiskopf

Posi-Tone Records 

Disc of the Day: Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, “Get Up and Go”

Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, “Get Up and Go” (Jazz Family/Neuklang Records)

The debut trio recording from the classically trained pianist, who’s worked with vibraphonist Gary Burton and singers Karrin Allyson and Dee Dee Bridgewater, feels alternately playful (“On a Bicycle,” “San Felio,” “Who Is It?”) and somber (“Winter,” “Krai” and the title track).

Portuguese singer Sara Serpa brings an exotic touch with her haunting wordless vocals on “Station Taiga” and the pretty, bells-lit “Almost December.”

Throughout, Neselovskyi, a jazz piano professor at Berklee College of Music and former teen phenom from the Ukraine, demonstrates prodigious technique, harmonic sophistication and a real synchronicity with New York bassist Dan Loomis and Israeli-born drummer Ronen Itzik; the pianist and Itzik were Berklee classmates, and played together with alto sax great Lee Konitz.

Vadim Neselovskyi

Jazz Family/Neuklang Records