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Index of SEMJA reviews



Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Cool Moose OrchestraYoung jazz players tend to congregate around hard bop these days, but there are some who have an interest in other forms as well, and as far as big band music is concerned, the future seems assured, as exemplified by the Cool Moose Orchestra (PKO 43) under the direction of Glenn Tucker. This large ensemble, made up of high school students, has been together since 2004 and has been playing on a regular basis in a variety of places, most recently at Ann Arbor's Firefly Club. Forget the fact that the players are in their teens—this is simply a great big band album!

The arrangements are all by the leader, who also solos idiomatically on the tenor saxophone, with a nice bow to Eddie Harris on his own composition, "Eddies's Theme." The musicianship is first class, and the fresh enthusiasm is impressive. As anyone who has heard them knows, the band continues to develop, and has already taken its place alongside the Paul Keller Orchestra to make Ann Arbor a haven for first-rate big band jazz.

Dusk UptownGlenn Tucker is a young man of many talents; not only does he orchestrate, compose, play the saxophone, but he is also a highly accomplished pianist, as he demonstrates on Dusk Uptown (PKO 39). On this recording he is joined, in various combinations, by bassists Ben Rolston and Paul Keller, drummer Steve Fentriss, and on four tracks by trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner and tenor saxophonist Keith Kaminski.

Tucker is an easygoing pianist, whose roots lie with Bud Powell, but filtered somewhat through Oscar Peterson, so that he plays in a relaxed and yet forceful manner, although without the excesses of the latter. His ballads are simple and his blues playing laid-back and to the point. Listening to his recital, one would never know just how much younger he is than his cohorts, who are all highly accomplished players. Tucker wrote nine of the eleven tunes and the arrangements are all his, proving once again that he is a complete musician who has already mastered his craft.

SaxombleThis month we review another recording by a saxophonist/composer/arranger, namely Bobby Streng. His Saxomble: Live at the Firefly (myspace.com/bobbystreng) features a five saxophone front line accompanied by Jonathan Ovalle on keyboards, Matt Henninger on bass, and Nick Adams on drums. The five reed players are Mark Kieme, soprano & alto, Pat Seymour, alto, Michael Hiemstra, tenor, and the leader on baritone.

The arrangements favor funk rhythms, with a constantly changing voicing palate. Saxophone ensembles tend to sound like big bands without the brass, but Streng provides much variety in his arrangements, avoiding this trap. This album preserves much of the club performance atmosphere, including the exuberance of the players. The section work is crisp and precise and the solos are first rate. It is particularly gratifying to hear so much of Mark Kieme, who is especially effective on soprano. The Saxomble has a style of its own and its repertoire, all from the pen of the leader, is varied and strong enough to maintain interest throughout the recital.

Night TownFor sheer joy, nothing recent comes close to the Hot Club of Detroit's new album Night Town (Mack Avenue MAC 1041). The transformation of this group, from a Django Reinhardt tribute band to an original entity that develops rather than recreates the legacy of the great Belgian Gypsy master has been one of the better stories from the jazz scene in Detroit in recent years. Their instrumentation is unique, eschewing the traditional lead/rhythm guitar/bass/violin of Django-type groups. The Hot Club consists of Evan Perry (lead guitar), Paul Brady (rhythm guitar), Julien Labro (button accordion, accordina), Carl Cafagna (tenor and soprano saxophones), and Shannon Wade (bass).

The Hot Club also avoids antiquarianism by means of humor. Who else would have thought of taking the 1928 tune "Coquette" (the first hit of Johnny Green, composer of "Body and Soul"), and turning it into a samba, or playing the tenor saxophone duel anthem "Blues Up and Down" on an accordion?

Cafagna has a great mastery of the saxophone, but does not overwhelm the ensemble. Perry has an amazing grasp of the Django style, with an amazing guitar technique that allows him to build upon his model and bring it into the new century. Julien Labro is an accordion master who can make the instrument swing better than anyone I have ever heard; he has a lovely sense of melody that fits right in with the style of the band. Most important, the Hot Club is moving in a new direction, eschewing imitation, creating a modern, rhythmically and harmonically sophisticated vision of its original model, and thus keeping it truly alive.

Un Systema Para TodoThe latest offering from the Latin jazz band Tumbao Bravo, Un Systema Para Todo (PKO 48), is the first recording of a new lineup consisting of Alberto Nacif, congas, guiro; Paul Vornhagen, saxophones, flute, piccolo; Robert Mojica, trumpet, flugelhorn; Wesley Reynoso, piano; Patrick Prouty, bass, Kevin "Cano" Quiles bongos, bell; and Javier Barrios Timbales, bells, shekere, gong. This is a working band that keeps getting better and better, as anyone who has heard them in person will attest, and as good as their first two CDs were, this one tops them both.

Rather than rely on traditional repertoire, the band plays only compositions from the pens of its members here, and the material is memorable, with just enough variety to keep one's attention. The dense rhythms change from track to track; some of the slow tunes are wistful and melancholy, but then the fast ones burn with passion. The polyrhythmic carpet laid down by the percussionists and the piano keep the momentum going, and the soloists are supreme. Mojica manages to combine fleet jazz trumpeting with melodic Latin mannerisms, and newcomer Reynoso does much the same for the piano. Vornhagen offers some first rate saxophone solos, particularly on the soprano, but it is his full toned flute playing that is particularly impressive. He has obviously combined his many years of jazz experience with the study of Cuban and Latin American flautists and as a result uses the instrument with passion and facility on many of the tracks.

Soul PortraitsLatin jazz bands north of the border are sometimes mechanical and brash, but Tumbao Bravo! has its own original take on the rhythmic and emotional complexity on Latin jazz styles. Most important, they want to make you dance—this is truly music for lovers!

For a more laid back feel readers may want to try the Cool Mood Trio's release Soul Portraits (Fanafa Records). The trio consists of Fred Scott Sr., piano, bongos, vocals, Fred Scott, Jr., drums, and Vincent Bachman, electric and acoustic bass. This is also a working band, much in the mold of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, which offers relaxed, unpretentious renditions of standards such as "Night in Tunisia," "Wave," or "Night and Day," as well as a few originals. Some are done in straight jazz time, others rely on funk, or even on Latin rhythms to maintain variety, and the leader sings on some of the tracks as an additional attraction. The recital ends with an impassioned rendition of the theme from the film "Exodus."

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