RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS

RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS
By jazz journalist – Dee Dee McNeil

STEVE SLAGLE – “ALTO MANHATTAN”
Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto saxophone/flute; Lawrence Fields, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Roman Diaz, congas; Bill Stewart, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone (1 & 7 track)/G mezzo soprano sax (8)

The title of this latest Slagle CD release, “Alto Manhattan” translates to the ‘Upper Manahattan’ neighborhood of New York City, and is a slang by the Latino community to depict ‘the Heights’. Slagle has called this area home for the past twenty years. The drums propel his first cut with hurricane force. Bill Stewart on trap drums and Roman Diaz on congas light fire under this sextet. Lawrence Fields is no slouch on piano. His harmonics and comping chords punch the rhythm with a force that matches the power of Cannon on bass. You can really hear them merge and become the adhesive that holds the rhythm section tightly in place on the title tune, “Alto Manhattan”. There is all the NYC energy and magnificence wrapped up in this Slagle composition.

I was wow’d by the first take, but later on down the line, they add Joe Lavano to the mix and cut this tune again. It’s powerful both times. Slagle gives his band a break and records his own rendition of “Body & Soul,” simply solo. Playing a’cappela makes a memorable, musical statement. This tune and another one of my favorites, “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” are the only two songs that are not composed exclusively by Slagle. I enjoyed his bluesy take on “I Know That You Know,” where Cannon took an opportunity to give us a creative and gutsy bass solo. “Inception” is another straight-ahead, original composition and favorite of this reviewer. Each musician takes a definitive solo-space to splash their creativity across the space canvas. Yes! Here is an album of jazz I will play over and over again.
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LAURA DUBIN TRIO – “LIVE AT THE XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL”
Independent Label

Laura Dubin, piano; Klaran Hanlon, bass; Antonio H. Guerrero, drums

Here is a live recording that reflects the mastery and high energy of three awesome musicians and places the listener, thanks to the incredible ‘mix’ job, in the front row of a concert production. I was enraptured by their sound and Dubin’s notable technique, beginning with the Steve Allen composition, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Right away, Laura Dubin establishes her breadth of power and musical persuasion. She has a light touch, never ignoring the piano’s treble register, but she’s powerful at the same time. This standard jazz tune is played at a clipping pace. Ms. Dubin jogs across the black and white keys to establish the catchy melody and then plunges into improvisation with style and creativity. The trio’s excellence continues non-stop. “Thunderstorm” features Dubin’s compositional skills and is beautiful, forceful and well-written. Hanlon on bass and Guerrero on drums are the perfect partners for interpreting her music and establishing a trio sound that mirrors the perfect trine. Per the title, this composition sounds like a thunder and lightning experience thanks to the astute attention to detail of Guerrero, on trap drums, as well as Hanlon’s solidity on bass. You can enjoy Halon’s solo and get to know him better on “Ode to O.P.”, another Dubin original that really swings. Everything on this recording rewards our ears and places the big “S” firmly in grooves that “Swing” non-stop. Bravo! This is a concert you will want to attend over and over again. By the Way, this is a two-disc recording that includes a taste of the jazz festival on video and press photographs.

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EL TORO – “ZARABANDE”
Independent Label

El Toro (Alfred Flores), marimba/malletKat/producer; Joe Caploe, vibraphone/percussion; Mark Little, piano; Pete Ojeda, bass; Dean Macomber, drums.

Mark Little’s grand piano chords are solid, demanding and grand. They take stage front immediately, from the first bar of the first track of this CD. This group is forceful and jazz is at the forefront, in-your-face and fearless. When the vibraphone arrives, like the pulsing hooves of “El Toro”, the mood changes from straight-ahead to Latin. El Toro’s marimba mallets fly and we are off and running. The vibraphonist, Joe Caploe has composed the first tune and two others on this production. From the very first composition, I am hooked. Pianist, Mark Little, has composed all the other songs. El Toro, (Alfred Flores) is a force to be reckoned with on Marimba and MalletKat, pulling from West African cultures and Latino roots. On the Title tune, “Zarabande,” Dean Macomber gets to showcase gargantuan talents on drums. On the third tune, “The West Wind,” the music changes to a more Pop/Smooth jazz style, showing the diversity of the group. Another favorite of mine is cut #6, titled “Praise”; a beautiful ballad. It’s unusual to combine a vibraphonist and marimba player on the same recording, but Flores and Caploe make it work effortlessly. Alfred Flores remains the bull, racing across the face of the music with lightning-fast mallets. His group works in concert, like matadors flashing their bright, red capes.
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ANDREA CLABURN – “NIGHTSHADE”
Lot 49 Labs, LLC – Independent label

Andrea Claburn, vocals/arrangements; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Sam Bevan, acoustic/electric basses; Alan Hall, drums; John Santos, percussion; Terrence Brewer, acoustic/electric guitars; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Kasey Knudsen, alto sax; Teddy Raven, tenor sax; Rob Ewing, trombone; Mads Tolling, violin/viola; Joseph Herbert, cello.

This conglomerate of jazz musicians bursts on the scene and sets the tone for a stunning recording project. As I listen to the amazing musicianship, they remind me of the bands that Betty Carter used to mentor; strong players, who are a force of nature on their own. I wonder what the vocalist will sound like. I don’t have long to find out. Andrea Claburn has composed this first cut and the lyrics race, like the jazz ensemble accompanying her. It’s not her voice that catches my interest, but instead her songwriting skills that grab my attention. Cut #2, “Bird On A Wire” she has co-written with Pat Metheny. Once again, her lyrics and her attention to the details of a challenging melody captures me creatively. I love this song! Claburn has a degree in ‘Jazz Studies’ from California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, California. She has arranged all tunes on this CD except “Skylark.” The other eleven arrangements are all hers and are very well done. Seven of the dozen songs recorded are her original compositions, some co-written with others. This is an interesting blend of challenging jazz compositions by respected composers mixed with Claburn’s own songwriting. The arrangements are exquisite and the musicianship is top notch. I applaud her composition talents and although she uses her voice like an instrument, the one thing I listen for in a jazz singer is that special ‘it-factor’ represented by quality of style and tone. Carmen McRae had it; Ella had it; Nancy Wilson has it; Chris Connor had it; Diana Reeves has it. Billy Holiday had it. Betty Carter had it. Ann Hampton Calloway has it. Cyrille Aimee has it and Sarah Vaughan had it. Claburn’s vocal style is indistinctive. However, I think she is a dynamic composer/lyricist and arranger. Much of her music swings hard,the way good jazz should.

Check her out “Live” below singing a Monk tune.

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