I N - T H I S - I S S U E :



Index of SEMJA reviews

Recent Releases by Area Artists


Pianist Jacob Sacks has left the area to study music in New York, but he still occasionally comes home. During one such visit last year he unveiled his quintet at a marvelous concert at Kerrytown Concert House. Soon after, the musicians went into a studio and the result is his debut CD, Region (Unleaded Records UR 5001, 718-625-1986). The young pianist and composer is joined here by the two of the finest young saxophone players in Michigan, Andrew Bishop and John Wojciechowski, with bassist Tom Flood and drummer Danny Weiss. This is an ambitious and mature first outing. Sacks wrote all the compositions and he covers a wide variety of moods and styles, all of them informed by a post-bop modernist aesthetic. The structures are complex, but the band is always swinging. Flood's understated but sure-footed bass playing is put to good use here, as it is often used to set up the ambiance of a tune. Sacks stresses the more introspective aspects of his own playing. Those who are used to hearing him in less controlled settings might even be surprised. The saxophones are outstanding throughout, building solos rather than just running through them. Bishop and Wojciechowski have complementary personal styles and this is particularly nice to hear on tunes such as "Two," where both play on soprano. This is undoubtedly one of the finest recordings of the year.

Drummer Pete Siers is well known to Ann Arbor audiences as the man who can play well in all styles of jazz. Each Monday night he drives the Bird of Paradise Big Band, but can also be heard with the house piano trio, with the Latin jazz group Los Gatos, or with his own free jazz quartet. He has appeared on a number of recordings led by others, and now we have before us his debut as a leader, Those Who Choose to Swing (BOPO Records PST 111). For this trio date Siers chose his close companion Paul Keller as the bassist and Johnny O'Neal as pianist. All three have played together many times before and the sympathetic vibes are well evident here. Keller and Siers can swing like one in their sleep, and riding over this propulsion is O'Neal, who has a ball with standards and one nice original, entitled appropriately "Sweet Pete." It is good to hear O'Neal again on a straight-ahead instrumental jazz date. He has a lovely touch on ballads and unleashes his formidable technique on the faster tunes. This is an unpretentious, classic set of high-quality mainstream modern jazz.

Singer Sheila Landis has just released a vigorous collection of standards and original compositions under the title Where Jazz Lives (SheLan 1013, phone: 248-651-9477). On most of the cuts the impressive guitar of Rick Matle accompanies her; the rest of the musicians change from track to track. The goal of this recording is to feature the singer in a variety of settings, trying on different musical styles. How one reacts to this depends on one's personal taste. I personally prefer her straight, swinging renditions of songs such as My Shining Hour, where she works well with the great bassist Kurt Krahnke and the lovely piano of Cliff Monear, to the lounge rendition of "Girl from Ipanema," complete with horrid synthesizer background. Landis can sing very well, and her many talents are well demonstrated here. She and Matle have a close rapport and it would be nice to hear them as a duet on a future recording.