January 4, 2017
CD Reviews by jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil
As the New Year rolls into town with bells and whistles, a few new CD releases offer an ear full of creative composing and arranging. Among them are RON BOUSTEAD with his be-bop vocals and exciting lyrics, LISA HILTON as a prolific composer and pianist, along with DAVID WISE, another fresh composer and jazz saxophonist. CHRIS ROGERS woo’d me with his Straight-ahead compositions and master band. Each offers a specific style and invites us into their world of songwriting, poetic license and self-proclaimed composition and arranging talents. Here’s my take on them.
RON BOUSTEAD – “UNLIKELY VALENTINE”
Ron Boustead, lyricist/vocals; Bill Cunliffe, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; Mitchel Forman, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ/accordion; John Leftwich, acoustic bass; Jake Reed, drums/percussion; Pat Kelley, acoustic and elec. Guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxes/flute; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, flugal horn; Fabiana Passoni, guest vocalist.
One thing that has been missing or limited from the jazz scene is a male vocal in the style of Jon Hendricks. On the first cut, Boustead offers the listener some extraordinarily creative lyrics, sung in a swift-paced, be-bop style. It conjures up the image and artistry of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The following song is familiar, picked from the 1950s Era of doo-wop records popularized by crooner groups with eccentric stories, like “Love Potion #9.” This hit record was originally recorded by The Clovers. Several others covered this song, but I remember the Clovers rendition the best. Boustead’s arrangement is quite jazzy and far from the R&B roots of this Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber composition, thanks to the creative Bill Cunliffe arrangements. “Coffee” is a lovely ballad extolling the plea of a gentleman asking someone out for a frothy latté or a cup of French Roast. Boustead’s lyrics are believable and compliment these melodies rhythmically. He exhibits a songwriting gift to be admired. “I Won’t Scat” shows me that indeed, he has studied the vocal somersaults of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, because he mentions them in this catchy tune with comedic poetry that pokes fun at ‘scatting.’ The addition of a B3 organ to this tune lifts it to another degree of hotness. An example of Boustead’s unique lyrical composing is in the ‘hook’ of this song.
“… I won’t scat, tell you flat, off the bat, Keep my hat, kiss a rat, but not that .. I’m just not that cat…”
Surrounded by arrangers that push the boundaries of jazz like Mitchel Forman, Bll Cunliffe and Pat Kelley, Boustead basks in their rich glow. Together they bring new perspectives to old standards like “Autumn Leaves” and, as mentioned above, the Rhythm and Blues tune, “Love Portion #9”. The band is tight, supportive and features some of the best musicians that Los Angeles has to offer. Ron Stout sounds amazing and engages us on his flugelhorn during a provocative solo on, “Love’s Carousel.”
I find Ron Boustead totally engrossing and fresh. Some shades of Dave Frishberg dance in these catchy lyrics, but Boustead’s voice is a lot smoother and less nasal. He’s pleasant to the creative palate and tasty with his honest, sometimes spicy, poetic stories. This album is scheduled for a Valentine’s Day release and would make a sweet surprise for you or your loved one.
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LISA HILTON – “DAY & NIGHT”
Ruby Slippers Productions
Lisa Hilton, Steinway & Sons piano. Al Schmitt & Gavin Lurssen, GRAMMY award winning engineers.
A solo performance of any kind leaves an artist totally vulnerable and objectifies their art to the eyes of the public. It takes a very talented and confident artist to record a complete album as a soloist. In the spotlight, Lisa Hilton blossoms, presenting us with a package of original compositions that, she explains in her liner notes, are a tribute to one of her favorite composers; Cole Porter. Thus the title tune, “Day and Night” referencing in a round-about way Porter’s famed song, “Night and Day”. In her own words, Hilton describes the song as “… my commitment to discover and savor every day moments; to see the beauty in a day from the first glow of sunrise to the dimming sky at sunset, and to acknowledge and share these rich times with others.”
Hilton’s work is steeped in classical music, obvious right from the very first original composition, “Caffeinated Culture.” She has composed nine of ten songs, including one Cole Porter standard, “Begin the Beguine.” On “Sunrise” you can hear her blues roots. Although hugely inspired by Cole Porter, Hilton admits she is also influenced by jazz pianist/composers Horace Silver and Count Basie, as well as Blues by B.B. King and Brownie McGhee. You can hear Latin influences in her solo piano during cut #6 titled, “A Spark in the Night.” It brandishes a memorable melody and two-handed rhythms that encourage the feet to pat or dance a tango. Unafraid of the treble register, her fingers race around the 88-keys, demanding the best from all the notes, with special attention to the upper ends, especially notable on “Seduction.” “Dark Sky Day” is unforgettable and sexy, with smooth key changes, blues undertones and a beautiful melody that pleads for lyrics.
As an independent artist, Hilton has produced and released a total of nineteen albums. When not tickling the Steinway keys and playing solo piano, or working on her original compositions, you will find Lisa Hilton collaborating with such jazz luminaries as Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Marcus Gilmore, Lewis Nash, Billy Hart and many other jazz notables on various music projects. However, if you are a lover of piano and originality, here is a lovely album to add to your collection.
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DAVID WISE – “TILL THEY LAY ME DOWN”
David Wise, tenor and baritone saxophone/vocals on track 8 & 9; Bruce Forman, guitar; Alex Frank, bass; Jake Reed, drums; Special Guests: Mitchell Cooper, trumpet; Glenn Morrisette, alto sax; R.W. Enoch, tenor sax; Amy K. Bormet, keyboard; Mikala Schmitz, cello; Jason Joseph & Laura Mace, vocals; Josh Smith, guitar.
The opening song, “What More Could One Man Want?” is an original composition sung by special guest Jason Joseph. It’s dirge-like in feel and harmonic changes. I can almost see a New Orleans funeral procession marching slowly down a Louisiana avenue playing this catchy melody and celebrating the life of some departed soul. The lyrics have nothing at all to do with my reflection, but that’s how the music itself moved this listener. I thought it was beautifully mournful. Josh Smith, on guitar, performs an unforgettable and electric solo. The horn arrangements share the harmonic spotlight and feature some special guests who only appear on that particular cut including Cooper, Morrisette, Enoch and Bormet. The Wise composition, “Sylvia,” uses the same one-line melody as “I Love You Porgy” to open the verse. It’s a pretty ballad, but I wonder if he realizes he borrowed that well-sung line from the Porgy and Bess song? “Here’s That Rainy Day” swings, as does Alex Frank, who plays a powerful walking bass to keep the groove intact.
There is a touching sadness to all of the Wise original tunes, buried in his arrangements like tears flowing from woeful eyes. For example, the ballad, “Home” has lovely changes, but wreaks of blues. Nothing wrong with blues! I love a good blues and Wise flies through this song on his saxophone with emotion and admirable technique. Bruce Foreman’s guitar solo on this gutsy tune is lovely. They work together quite well, Forman being professor of jazz guitar at the University of Southern California and touring regularly with David Wise as a part of the “Cow Bop” group that Forman leads. “Kol Nidre” is a traditional Jewish song celebrating Yom Kippur and Wise takes an opportunity to play it solo on his baritone saxophone. “Till They Lay Me Down” is another blues tune that Wise explains, “ means that for as long as I’m here, I’ll be me and I’ll carry, as a part of me, every single person I’ve ever met and every single thing I’ve seen heard, smelled, tasted and done. You know who you are.”
Wise sometimes has a gritty, breathy signature sound on his horn and his band brings out the best of his compositions. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wise received a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College in African-American Studies, as well as a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory in Jazz Saxophone Performance, and was mentored by Gary Bartz. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
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CHRIS ROGERS – VOYAGE HOME
Art of Life Records, LLC
Chris Rogers, trumpet/keyboards/composer; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Ted Nash, tenor & alto saxophone; Steve Khan, guitar; Xavier Davis, piano; Jan Anderson, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Guest Musicians, Barry Rogers, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax; Art Baron, trombone. Additional musicians: Mark Falchook, synthesizer/keyboards; Willie Martinez, congas/percussion.
From the first flowing notes of a tune called, “Counter Change,” I was in love with this album of straight-ahead jazz featuring original compositions by Chris Rogers. Rogers not only has composed all nine songs on this project, he has also arranged them. The late, great Michael Brecker made a guest appearance on the first and third track, (“Whit’s End”) and is stellar on both. A flurry of bass notes open the premiere tune and bassist, Jan Anderson, definitely snatches my attention. Pianist Xavier Davis adds solid support to the rhythm section throughout and his solo on this cut soars. “Voyage Home” is sexy and blue, with Ted Nash adding his own creative saxophone licks on this arrangement and Rogers selling the lovely melody with trumpet bravado. I enjoyed the way Rogers and Nash interacted with each other on the fade, offering a sense of freedom with their splendid improvisation. The horn harmonics and arrangements on “Ballad for B.R.” are lush and enhanced the melody sweetly. Willie Martinez’s percussion on cut #6, “Rebecca,” added spice and excitement to this composition, as did Steve Khan’s rhythm guitar. The Afro Cuban flavor infused this project, lifting it to another dimension. I enjoyed every song Rogers composed and his bandmates interpret his artistry to perfection.
The liner notes explain that Rogers celebrates his multiple families by creating this musical treasure. His father is a legendary Salsa and jazz trombonist, (Barry Rogers), and consequently his son was exposed to excellent music and musicians his entire life. These artists included the Brecker Brothers, who his dad played with during their jazz fusion ensemble, ‘Dreams’. For his premiere recording, Chris Rogers has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians the East Coast has to offer and they become his extended family. On this journey to becoming a solo artist, he has wandered a musical path that put him on stages and in studios with icons like Chaka Khan, Mongo Santamaria, Maria Schneider, Ray Barretto, Lee Konitz, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Eddie Palmieri and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of this talented trumpeter before this recording, but I will be listening for him from this moment forward. Here is a conglomerate of great music to be enjoyed over and over again. The Chris Rogers album is scheduled for a February 3 release.
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