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: DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson”

DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson” (Motema)

Jazz-rooted groove music with a penchant for sprawl and experimental sounds is on the program for the opener and several other tracks on the debut collection from a quartet of former NYC-based musicians who have all settled in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Little wonder these well-traveled musicians have landed on this musical terrain — Guitarist John Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette played in different versions of Miles’ electric bands, and worked together in Trio Beyond (with Larry Goldings). Sco is a frequent fourth member of organist/keyboardist John Medeski‘s MMW, and bassist Larry Grenadier has done fusion and other shades of jazz with Pat Metheny and others.

That nearly 11-minute first track essentially is one long, undulating one-chord jam, with Medeski and Sco strafing the soundscape with various sonic effects, the two alternating solo-ish leads. The guitarist spins out a series of bluesy curlicues and at one point quotes a quick snippet of the melody from Perez Prado’s “The Peanut Vendor.”

The four first played together in 2014, at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, but much of the disc is devoted to creative acoustic-electric arrangements of tunes by musicians associated with the Woodstock rock era (even if they didn’t all play that famous fest). Joni Mitchell‘s “Woodstock” is aptly tinted with an ambling rhythmic figure, pastel-shaded piano, and probing six-string, while Bob Dylan‘s “Lay Lady Lay” thrives on oozing B3 and a light reggae beat, and his “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” effectively migrates from laidback to frantic before coming down with several minutes’ worth of open-ended floating. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” is aptly raw and chunky, and The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” is a happy slab of rootsy Americana.

The album is rounded out by several originals, including Sco’s strolling, harmony-laden “El Swing” and blues stomper “Tony Then Jack,” a nod to Miles’ drummers Williams and DeJohnette, and DeJohnette’s initially swirling “Song For World Forgiveness” and aptly titled “Great Spirit Peace Chant.”

And the drummer takes to the mic for a husky-throated vocal turn on “Dirty Ground,” co-written with Bruce Hornsby and first heard on DeJohnette’s 2012 “Sound Travels” album. Even more so than previously, it sounds like a lost track by The Band, also happy denizens of the Hudson region.  It remains an artistically fertile place, apparently.



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.


Disc of the Day: The CCM Jazz Orchestra as James Bond Featuring Steven Bernstein, “Nobody Does It Better”

The CCM Jazz Orchestra as James Bond Featuring Steven Bernstein, “Nobody Does It Better” (Summit Records)

james bond

Steven Bernstein has applied his prodigious talents as trumpeter, composer, arranger, and innovative art-jazz conceptualist to a huge variety of intriguing projects, from the music for his own Sex Mob band to the score for Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” to work for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

For this recording, the CCM (College-Conservatory of Music) Jazz Orchestra, based at the University of Cincinatti, brought in Bernstein to rearrange the compositions from his 2001 “Sex Mob Does Bond” album. Last year, the same big band, led by musical director Scott Belck, successfully revisited the music of Garaj Mahal (see my review for Relix). Yeah, it’s a gas.

Fans of soaring, tuneful melodies are treated to Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does It Better,” its opening brass blast seguing into Bernstein’s introduction of the theme, via his antique sounding slide trumpet, and the full band taking over, driven by an organ-injected rhythm section; impressive soloing by baritone saxophonist Joe Duran, tenor saxophonist Josh Kline, and guitarist Joe Wittman. The familiar “Goldfinger” theme sneaks into the opening of John Barry’s intense, suite-like 9 1/2-minute “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox,” hinged on a martial beat and multiple call-and–response figures,  and painted with multiple psychedelic swirls and slashes

Barry, of course, is everywhere here, with waterfalling horn lines cueing the light-on-its-feet “You Only Live Twice” and Chris Ott’s rich, fluid trombone playing showcased on a timpani-bolstered “Thunderball,” the latter opened with a gong and — like other tunes here — veering from slinky to appropriately bombastic.  The moody, impressionistic terrain of “This Never Happened to the Other Guy” is strafed by Bernstein’s slide trumpet and Joe Wittman‘s guitar, and the relatively brief “Bond With Bongos” buzzes with Shane Jones‘ simmering congas.

This veritable Bondapalooza opens with Bernstein’s own “Dr. Yes,” a slab of sleek theme making perfectly in sync with the 007 movie-music tradition, prominently featuring Bernstein and Sam Lauritsen on trumpets, and Wittman. Consider us shaken, stirred, and wanting more.




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)


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