Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The jazz trumpeter Pharez Whitted took 14 years off from recording as a leader. Whitted used those years wisely, keeping his talent from molding working with greats such as Slide Hampton, Ari Brown, Von Freeman, and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. In 2010, Whitted returned to the studio and recorded the excellent comeback album “Transient Journey”. Last month, Whitted released the jewel “For The People” on Origin Records. The album could easily be mistaken for one of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s classic for Blue Note Records “For The People” isn't loaded with special guests. Whitted wrote all the tunes, and hired guitarist Bobby Broom—who dropped a wonderful album this year “Upper Westside Story”—to loan his genius to the album. There’re sappy ballads on the album such as “Sad Eye” and “Unbroken Promise”. The cuts likely to be fan favorites are “Watusi Boogaloo,” and  “Another Kinda of Blue”. Be warned, those cuts could burn a hole in your eardrums.

The ink wasn't even dry on jazz guitarist Randy Napoleon's diploma from the University of Michigan before his career took off. Shortly, after Napoleon graduated, drummer Jeff Hamilton, co-captain of the Clayton- Hamilton Orchestra, tracked Napoleon down to offer him a chair in the orchestra. When the run with that orchestra ended, pianist Benny Green snatched up Napoleon. Then Napoleon hooked up with jazz vocalist Freddie Cole. For the past five years, he’s recorded and toured with Cole. Somehow given Napoleon’s full schedule he found time to assemble a band—trumpeter Justin Walter, saxophonist Ben Jansson, trombonist Josh Brown, organist Duncan McMillan, and drummer Quincy Davis—to record his second album “The Jukebox Crowd”. Napoleon is a humble guitarist like Bobby Broom and Jim Hall. Improvisation isn’t necessarily the focal point of what Napoleon does. “The Jukebox Crowd” is a soft-bop (a close cousin of smooth jazz), and Napoleon put 14 cuts on listener’s plates, all of which are satisfying. Obviously, Napoleon wanted listeners to leave “The Jukebox Crowd” with a full belly.

There's not enough fingers and toes on a human body to count the number of bands and projects that jazz drummer RJ Spangler is involved with. The Planet D Nonet and the RJ Spangler Trio are two that gets a lot of press. The trio is comprised of guitarist Ralph Tope and organist Duncan McMillan. The trio is the shit around Detroit. Wednesday’s the trio can be experienced live at the jazz club Cliff Bells. The trio’s latest offering is “This Is What We Do”. What the trio has done since Spangler formed it is make smooth organ jazz music. That sounds contradictory when you think of organ jazz down-home hell-raising comes to mind. Spangler's trio is capable of hell-raising. If that claim needs to be backed up, check out the albums closer “Funky Mama”. On that cut, it appears McMillan is playing two Hammond B3 organs simultaneously. Every worthwhile organ jazz trio has a linchpin. In Spangler’s trio, it’s McMillan who has the most horsepower. “This Is What We Do” is an album you can wear every day. 

I wonder if there’s an official count of how many female jazz alto saxophonists are out there. I can come up with Tia Fuller, Anat Cohen, Lotte Anker, and Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophonist  making some good jazz music. A week ago, I came across a splendid new album by alto saxophonist titled “Live Work & Play” by Caroline Davis. There are traces of Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman in Davis' bloodstream. That’s clear on the cuts “Dionysus,” and “Cheryl”. Davis is a brain, too. She has a Ph.D. in Music Cognition from Northwestern University. On Chicago’s jazz scene, she’s been a mainstay, and she perfected her sound at saxophonist Von Freeman’s weekly gathering at the New Apartment Lounge. “Live Work & Play” is the kind of post-bop that straddles the lines of free-jazz..   
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