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Index of SEMJA reviews



Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Pianist Matt Michaels has participated in many performances and has appeared on many recording dates, but has, for the most part, avoided the limelight. Now, he steps out of the background with a vengeance, releasing two compact disks. The first one, entitled simply The Matt Michaels Trio (PBM 004), contains a relaxed mix of standards and originals, on which the pianist performs in tandem with his regular cohorts, bassist Dan Jordan and alternating drummers Jerry McKenzie and Jim Ryan. This is a nice, perfectly relaxed date of mainstream modern jazz piano that covers a variety of moods, all done with precision, swing and great taste. On The Matt Michaels Trio & Friends (PBM 3) the same rhythm section welcomes a series of guests, all of whom have benefited from the pianists' fine accompaniment. The recording opens with vibraphonist Jack Brokensha offering a fine rendition of Michel Legrand's "Summer Me Winter Me." The magnificent alto saxophonist Larry Nozero is next, taking a romp through "I'm Old Fashioned." Nozero is in fine form, but the recording is somewhat strange, distorting his highly personal sound. Few alto players today can match him on a good day, but for some reason he seems to be cursed by bad recordings.

It is hard to single out individual performances on such a compilation, which features some of the finest Detroit players in a relaxed, creative mood, playing well known standards. Singers Harvey Thompson, April Tini, Judy Cochill, and Barbara Ware, tenor saxophonists Chris Collins (also on clarinet) and George Benson, soprano sax man Russ Miller, guitarist Steve Carrier, trumpeters John Trudell and Don Swindell, as well as trombonist Ron Kischuk all put in fine performances. Everyone will have their favorites, but I was particularly impressed by the way Collins approached "More than you Know" on clarinet and with the relaxed manner that Swindell dealt with the Mercer chestnut "I Thought About You."


The Grand Rapids quintet Evidence has been together for some years and they now have two CD's out that document their recent progress. Untitled (JBD 80219-2), recorded in 1997, features leader Michael S. Doyle on tenor saxophone, together with James Daniels, trumpet, Steve Talaga, piano, Shawn Sommer, bass, and Quincy Davis, drums on six Doyle and Davis originals. Evidence was organized to celebrate the legacy ofArt Blakey's Jazz Messengers and contemporary groups; the young musicians do an excellent job of preserving this tradition with technical mastery and inspired spirit but without mimicry. The solos crackle in the Messengers manner, and the compositions belong very much in the spirit of the fifties and sixties of the last century. Five years later, Evidence is still together, albeit with bassist Tom Lockwood and drummer Fred Knapp replacing Sommer and Davis. Their recent CD Soulville (SMC 007) documents the changes that have taken place in the group. The recital includes compositions by band members in the style of the Messengers as well as pieces in a variety of Latin rhythms that include guest percussionists. The solos are perhaps a tad more confident, and the feeling is somewhat more laid back, but the character of the quintet remains much the same. These musicians have found a style that appeals to them and have mastered it so that it seems second nature to them; both CD's reflect their honest and dedicated love of straight ahead hard bop.

Blues lovers will welcome the overdue debut recording by Odessa Harris, entitled The Easy Life (ELD-012). Accompanied by a fine, idiomatic band consisting of Duncan McMillan on organ, John Barron on guitar, and drummer RJ Spangler, Harris is joined by a horn section and guest trumpeter Marcus Belgrave on some tracks. This is a soulful outing that covers many moods, including originals by band members, blues, standards, and a lovely, relaxed version of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," replete with a first rate trumpet solo. The rhythm section takes a good stroll on Barron's blues "The Soulful Miss D," which opens with an exciting outing by McMillan on the Hammond, followed by an equally swinging guitar solo. It is a pleasure to hear Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay" in this bluesy context.

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