Wednesday, July 4, 2012


In 2009, jazz drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts split from the Branford Marsalis quartet after a 10 year run. Watts formed his own record label, Dark Key Music. Last year, he put out two excellent discs Family and his wife’s Circular. Marsalis hired a young Philly native named Justin Faulkner to replace Watts. Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, on sale the 10th of August, is Faulkner’s first time recording with  Branford’s quartet and by all accounts he’s a sufficient replacement.

With Watts gone, you can finally hear the other band member’s bass player Eric Revis and piano player Joey Calderazzo. Watts wasn’t a spotlight monger. Rather he’s a drummer with a lot of chops, and he consumed a lot of space. Like Watts, Faulkner is an athletic drummer. 

Marsalis gave Faulkner the floor right away. On the opener The Mighty Sword, Faulkner shadowed Marsalis like a stalker. On Maestra, Faulkner solo sounds as though Watts left him instructions on how to solo in Branford’s band. The emphasis on Four MFs Playin’ Tunes is  on the member's interpretation of each song not on individual or collective improvisation. Compositionally, all the members pitched in. For example, Calderazzo wrote As Summer Into Autumn Slips, and Revis Brews. The album's MVP is Thelonious Monk’s  Teo.  Four MFs Playin’ Tunes is Faulkner’s official coming out party.

Lyrical Volume 1, is jazz singer Milton Suggs sophomore outing. Skiptone Music releases it nationwide the 24th of July. Things to Come released in 2009 was Suggs’ debut as a session leader. The disc was crazy good and it caught many jazz writers off guard. Suggs wailed on some well-known standards. He’s voice sound as if pieces of Joe William’s, Kevin Mahogany’s and Eddie Jefferson’s voices were hand stitched together. 

On Lyrical Volume 1, we get to experience Suggs as a composer. Suggs wrote lyrics for and renamed songs by jazz great such as Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, and Benny Golson. At heart, Suggs is a romantic. Suggs family lore says he started writing love songs as a kid. Lyrical Volume 1 is full of quiet storm  slow jams. The best is Jayme’s Song, a touching ode to Suggs' niece. Suggs sings it so beautifully it’ll make a 400 pound Sumo wrestler weep.

The readers of this jazz blog know I dislike solo jazz piano albums. In the past, I’ve regarded them as purposeless and self-indulgent excursions, or worst overblown practice sessions. In the last year or so, my outlook on solo piano albums have softened a bit. Recently, I’ve listened to some excellent  ones Me, Myself, and I by Kenny Werner, and This Time the Dream is on Me by Larry Willis.

This week, I experienced another excellent one The Noguchi Sessions by Cuban jazz piano player Arturo O’Farrill. This disc was recorded in the Noguchi Museum, in the gallery that houses some of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi's signature works. 

By nature, O’Farrill is an ensemble oriented piano player, and he’s made many great albums over the years Risa Negra, Arturo O’Farrell Live in Brooklyn and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra to name three. 

Doing a solo album was a stretch for O’Farrill, and it’s an album O’Farrill wanted to make for sometime.   Of the 12 cuts, the most endearing are those composed by O’Farrill The Sun At Midnight, In Whom, Alsionia, and Once I Had A Secret Meditation. The album, which ZoHo Music releases July 10th, shows “O’Farrill is an elegant improviser and the songs he composed are works of art.

Jazz organ player Kevin Coelho is 16-year-old, and Funkengruven the Joy of Driving a B3 is his debut disc. A teenager recording as a leader is not uncommon. Alto sax player Grace Kelly, trumpeters Lee Morgan and Booker Little were teens when they cut debuts. Coelho has what mystics call an old-soul. It’s mindboggling how funky and how soulful Coelho is. He has a command of the B3 comparable to jazz organ player’s generations older. Clearly, Coelho spent time studying albums by Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey D. Francesco and Tony Monaco. Monaco produced Funkengruven. The album is a mix of originals and standards. The cuts that will receive the most play are Cantaloupe Island and Dock of the Bay. Chicken Coup/Summit releases Funkengruven  the 10th of July.
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