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Index of SEMJA reviews


Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Lovers of traditional jazz, as well as anyone who has but a smidgen of musical taste, will delight in the posthumously issued Doc Cheatham release, Live at the Windsor Jazz Series 1981 [Jazzology JCD-333]. Trumpeter and singer Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham, 76 years old at the time, was brought to Windsor by Hugh Leal, who recorded the concert for his Parkwood label, which has just been sold to Jazzology. The other musicians on the date were pianist James Dapogny, drummer Richard "Pistol" Allen, and Dan Jordan on bass.

All three perform with perfect taste, providing just the right rhythmic and harmonic cushion for Cheatham. Dapogny was in particularly fine form that day, providing sensitive idiomatic accompaniment and soloing with wit and imagination. He seems to have had an uncanny connection with Doc, and the two bring out the best in each other. One of the highlights of this CD is Dapogny's sweet solo rendition of Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose." At this point in his life Cheatham had a specific repertoire of songs that he played at each concert, including such chestnuts as "Struttin' with some Barbecue," and "Someday You'll Be Sorry;" he played and sang these tunes over and over again, but on a good night he always found some new way of interpreting them. This was one of these great occasions.

From Ann Arbor comes the new release by the Carl Michel Group, (+) [Play On Records 1002-2]. Leader and guitarist Michel is joined by Gerald Cleaver, drums, Tim Flood, bass, Mike Graye, alto sax, Andrew Bishop, tenor sax and clarinet, Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet and flügelhorn, Chris Smith, trombone, and Ellen Rowe, piano. On his last release Michel used a quartet of Graye, Flood and Cleaver, but this larger ensemble offers him new possibilities which he exploits with vigor; the songs and arrangements are all his own.

All the compositions and arrangements are by the leader, who solos with taste and restraint, offering much of the space to the other fine musicians assembled here. All of these musicians are familiar to local music lovers and they acquit themselves very well, playing the parts accurately and providing fine, idiomatic solos. Michel's tunes range from funky to delicate swing, and he manages to use traditional arranging methods while instilling contemporary elements such as collective improvisation. His compositions often honor other musicians. There are many fine moments here and quite bit of sophisticated down-home playing. "Les Can," the funky opening number that cleverly references the pianist Les McCann, provides the groove, and the closer, "N.O. Blues," his homage to New Orleans, swings out in fine fashion, complete with roaring trumpet and clarinet.

Two former Ann Arbor residents shine on the Eric Roth Trio release Program 16 [RosCo 001, esroth59@hotmail.com]. The recording documents one long performance in which the leader's composed themes were juxtaposed with improvised interludes. For the release the music was broken up into tracks and given names, but the music is enjoyed best at one fifty-minute sitting. The trio of Dave Rempis, alto and tenor sax, Jason Roebke, bass, and Eric Roth, drums and percussion achieves a marvelous unity throughout this long outing.

Roth and Roebke, who now live in Chicago, attended the University of Michigan and are well known locally; Rempis is best known as a member of the Vandermark 5. A trio of sax, bass, and drums needs to do well to hold one's attention for almost an hour, but this one does the job. The balance between composition and improvisation provides reference points that assure that the music does not wander, and the skill and imagination of the instrumentalists do the rest. Rempis has a fine technique and can play with a broad palate of sounds on his saxophones. Roebke holds the proceedings together with imaginative melodic playing, and the leader is a sensitive percussionist who joins in as an equal third partner and not simply as an accompanist. Trios, duets and solos intermingle; the moods and tempos shift, providing an engaging variety of sounds bound logically together. The music references sixties "free jazz" as well as more contemporary movements, but is refreshingly passionate and original. The musicians know and respect the tradition, but are more interested in the present and the future.

Roebke is also present on Low Down by the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Ellen Rowe [BOPO 42]. There are many fine university jazz bands around, but this one sounds more like a professional outfit than a college band. The arrangements are more interesting, and the musicians play with a fire that is not commonly found in this kind of an outfit. The director has provided some fine charts, and the tradition is represented by Neil Hefti and Thad Jones arrangements.

Perhaps the most ambitious composition on this CD is Andrew Bishop's "Funeral Music for Jobim and Piazzolla," a complex homage that incorporates fragments of and allusions to the compositions of these two masters. The composer is the only soloist and his tenor saxophone rides with grace over the subtle orchestration. The other tenor soloist is Matt Bauder, now resident in Chicago and best known for his mastery of avant-garde extended techniques. Here he plays a more traditional role, as he provides perfectly idiomatic garnishes to "Low-Down" by Thad Jones, but he shows us his other side on "Solidarity" by Ed Sarath, with an amazing demonstration of how to fit an "out" solo into a relatively traditional context. This last tune, the longest of the set, also offers fine extended improvisations in the mainstream mode by Jason Roethke on bass, David Luther on baritone sax, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Dan Moore on alto, and Mike Bomwell on soprano. Ellen Rowe's beautiful understated arrangement of "I've Got a Crush on You" provides a perfect setting to hear the amazing tone and sensitivity of Vincent Chandler's trombone. The ensemble playing is first rate throughout; the band plays with precision and drive, propelled by Aaron Siegel's fine drumming. Other soloists include Tal Kopstein and Ben Polcer on trumpet, Dykan Kruziki on flügelhorn, Steven Aho on vibes, Ben Yonas, Brian DiBlasio and Neil Donato on piano, and singer Sachai Vasandani.

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