Jazz Quick Hits: Cliff Hines, Nick Finzer, Michigan State Professors of Jazz (CD reviews)

cliff hinesCliff Hines, “Wanderlust” — The New Orleans guitarist works with his own band and a cavalcade of notable Crescent City talent to create a suite of atmospheric acoustic-electric music drawing from multiple genres.  Loose- limbed Brazilian jazz bumps up against electronica and Sasha Masakowski’s wordless vocals on the opening “Brothers” and then it’s off to improvised new music on “Dresden Intro,” with pianist Andrew McGowan and guest cellist Helen Gillet backed by static-filled shortwave radio transmissions, leading into “Dresden,” a fusion piece with Hines’ six-string surrounded by ricocheting feedback.”Tehran” is flavored with Middle Eastern percussion, oud-like guitar sounds and electric piano, and the title track, with Bill Summers (Headhunters, Los Hombres Calientes) on percussion and Kent Jordan on flute, shifts from Brazilian guitar figures to rhythms moving from the Caribbean to Africa. Astral Project bassist James Singleton takes a beefy, growling extended solo on the New Orleans-tinted “Aetherea,” which also features trombonist Michael Watson, and Rex Gregory on bass clarinet. The switch-the-dial texture shifting continues with the lush strings, aching vocals and bossa nova rhythms of “Lonely Moon”; the dark, intense “Clouds,” with Gregory’s urgent soprano sax work; and “Arjuna Intro,” a raga built around Dave Easley‘s sitar-like slide guitar and Dave McLean‘s tabla playing, with Hines on ebow guitar and loops. It’s an intriguing pan-global affair, quite ambitious and often engaging. 

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Nick Finzer, “Exposition” (Outside In Music) — The dynamic young trombonist, joined on the front line by tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino, leads a sextet of fellow fast-rising NYC players on a set of 10 bracing original compositions. Finzer, in his playing as well as his writing, referencesnick finzer the likes of bone masters J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, and Steve Turre. The trombone/tenor blend makes for a pleasing, slightly retro tonality and Finzer, on his recording debut as a leader, proves to be a marvelously agile and intuitive improviser. “The Ramp” allows Pino to show off his considerable chops, and opens wide for drummer Jimmy MacBride‘s build-up and eruptions over the 5/4 groove, while the laidback “Eventide” feels like a lazy summer stroll (as Finzer suggests in the liner notes) and the ballad “With Gratitude” has the leader making artful use of a bucket mute. “Introspection,” another gem, is a quiet, meditative piece inspired by a progression borrowed from Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite.”

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 Michigan State University Professors of Jazz, “Better Than Alright” (Michigan State University College of Music) — MSU jazz studies director and well-traveled bassist Rodney Whitaker is joined by fellow jazz faculty members — top-flight players, all — for tunes largely taken from three original suites, with the individual compositions
MSUdistributed across two CDs (rather than being presented sequentially). Whitaker’s “Jazz Up-South” was inspired by the South-to-North migration of African Americans in the U.S., and titles tell the story of the other two suites — saxophonist Diego Riveras “The Spanish Tinge,” and trumpeter Etienne Charles‘ “Jazz in the Caribbean.” Highlights of the set include lively Rivera-penned  opener “Nueva York,” Charles’ ballad “Turquoise” and the airy “3 Note Blues,” Whitaker’s sprawling, hard-swinging “Big Four” and “Robert’s Lament,” the latter fronted with a thoughtful unaccompanied bass solo, and a zippy take on the standard “Broadway,” arranged by Whitaker. Academic setting, yes; however, the sharply arranged compositions, played by a hard-bop sextet in the mold of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, are anything but dry.

Essentially Ellington: High-School Jazz Band Finalists Announced

Jazz bands from two Florida high schools made the list of 15 finalists selected to play the 15th annual Essentially Ellington competition and festival in New York, May 8-10 at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Sunshine State bands headed to NYC are both from South Florida: Dillard Center of the Arts, in Fort Lauderdale; and New World School of the Arts, in Miami. Bands from those high schools and one other school in the Southeast — The Lovett School in Atlanta — will compete with a dozen others from Washington State (3), Wisconsin (2), Texas (2), Massachusetts (2), California (2) and New York City (1).

The bands will participate in a variety of jam sessions and workshops. The closing concert, May 10 at Avery Fisher Hall, will feature performances by the top three bands, with JALC head Wynton Marsalis sitting in as guest soloist; and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Judges for the competition: Wynton Marsalis, David Berger, Ted Buehrer, Jimmy Heath, and Rodney Whitaker. Festival clinicians: Walter Blanding, Ronald Carter, Vincent Gardner, Wycliffe Gordon, Dana Hall, Sherman Irby, Loren Schoenberg, and Reginald Thomas.

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program encompasses the competition and festival, as well as regional festivals, resources for jazz curriculum, a summer teaching session for band directors, and monthly newsletters.

For more information on “Essentially Ellington,”  click here.