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Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Pianist and composer Eddie Russ, originally from Pittsburgh, was a beloved member of the Ann Arbor music community. He is remembered locally for his own fine bands, his contributions to such groups as Mixed Bag or the Ron Brooks Trio, and for his impressive role as an accompanist to visiting soloists such as James Moody. Russ made a number of albums under his own name, including two that included saxophonist Sonny Stitt, and these have become collector’s items, particularly in Europe, where his brand of Latin jazz funk has a strong following on the club scene. Indeed, some tracks from two of his best known recordings, Fresh Out and See The Light, have been reissued on various DJ anthologies, including his most famous composition, “Zaius,” which he recorded on Mixed Bag’s First Album and then again on See The Light. Alto saxophonist and flutist Larry Nozero, who was also a member of Mixed Bag, has now offered his own tip of the hat to his old friend and colleague by releasing four for three (DR 7705), subtitled The Larry Nozero Quintet Plays the Music of Eddie Russ. The quintet, which consists of Don Swindell (tp, fl), Cliff Monear (pno, keybrds), Kurt Krahnke (bs, el bs), and Ennix Buchannan (dr), is rounded out by another old friend from the Mixed Bag days, percussionist David Koether.

It is difficult to characterize the music on this recording. Russ’ compositions tend to be gently funky, and there is only one relatively straight ahead track on the album, “Big Al,” well known to those who used to hang around the Bird of Paradise in the old days. The atmosphere is therefore delicately groovy and Nozero and friends are masters at this kind of playing. The leader favors his flute, but when he lets loose on alto on “All But Blind” and on “Big Al,” the contrast is most effective. This is hardly a complaint, as Nozero is a fabulous flute player with the kind of real tone that one rarely encounters with a “doubler.” I must confess that I approached the album with some concerns, as I am not overly fond of funk jazz, but I found myself engrossed in the whole thing in no time, enjoying the joyous ensembles as well as the prodigious solo work of the leader and of brass man Swindell. Both play with restraint and style and make statements that match the tunes rather than simply run the changes. Monear has many similar moments and my only complaint is that he sometimes resorts to some rather banal keyboard washes that one could well do without. Having said that, one must also admit that he is only doing what Russ sometimes used to do. The percussionists do their work well, propulsive but not overbearing, and Krahnke once again shows his mastery of both funk and straight ahead playing; his solo on “Zaius” is simply delightful! Nozero and company has honored Russ in the best possible manner by playing his songs in their own fashion. Seek out a copy of this CD!

Chris Collins showed prodigious technique and great promise on his last recording, but it was a fairly conventional affair. This promise has been more than fulfilled on a new release that showcases his talents in an original context — Jazz From the Shamrock Shore (Heritage Jazz HJ 003, AC4080@wayne.edu). As the title reveals, Collins has gone back to his roots and has found a way of blending modern jazz with traditional Irish music. This may sound like a gimmick, but it works better than anyone could have expected, due, in no small measure, to the honesty and commitment of the leader and his companions. Collins plays the clarinet, flute and various penny whistles in addition to his customary tenor sax, and he is accompanied by Susan Bailey (fiddle), Gary Schunk and Dennis Tini (pno), Kersten Allvin (harp), Jeff Halsey (bs), and David Taylor (dr, perc). The leader penned all but one of the compositions, basing them on traditional Irish strains; the cd ends with van Morrison’s raucous “Blowfly, Spike (and Me).” The whole album is a delight, with strong melodies, shifting moods and textures, and peppered with strong jazz solos. Collins concentrates mostly on the clarinet and to me this was a great surprise, as I knew him only as a fast, complex, and highly skilled tenor player. It turns out that he is equally adept at the clarinet, a horn that for some is much harder to play. The recording starts out with a full-toned tenor outing, but on “Swan’s Lullaby” he offers a heartfelt, warm clarinet solo that puts to bed any notions that the wood horn is not suited to modern jazz. This fine impression is maintained throughout and although he returns to the tenor on two tracks, it is the clarinet playing that dominates this recital, as he demonstrates that he can play this instrument as well as anyone around. Collins is obviously the star of this recording, but all the musicians are first class and both pianists as well as bassist Halsey provide many excellent solos.

Vocalist Sheila Landis and multi-instrumentalist Rick Matle have put together an ambitious collection of poems set to music on Riding the Round Pool (SheLan Records, SL 1019, rmantle@juno.com). “Verse” by M. LaGattula, I. Barat, Landis and others are combined with the old Walter Donaldson chestnut “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and two more tunes to create a broad range of rhythms, tempos, and textures. Mantle creates most of the backgrounds and occasionally they are joined by guests, including guitarist Randy Johnston, trumpeter Dwight Adams, and Larry Nozero. Nozero is particularly effective, offering a fine, atmospheric solo on “Life in Flamenco Green,” as well as some swinging flute on “Secret Love.” This is another excellent release from Landis and Matle.

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