Monday, June 27, 2016

MUST HAVE ALBUMS FROM BRANFORD MARSALIS, CYRUS CHESTNUT, DAN PRATT, MIKE LUGERNER & SHEILA LANDIS AND RICK MATLE



“Hymn For The Happy Man” is the first time saxophonist Dan Pratt has recorded an album as a leader with a conventional rhythm section. The past eight years, the organ has been the centerpiece of Pratt's band. The change was a good move. The new album which has seven originals and solid contributions from bassist Christian McBride, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, and pianist Mike Eckroth. McBride and Hutchinson are household figures. Eckroth is the band's centerpiece. He played one meaty solo after the next. “Hymn For The Happy Man” is a colossal outing for Pratt, who has a bulletproof track record as a leader, and as a hired gun for outfits such as the Christian McBride Big Band, and the Village Vanguard Orchestra. There's an odd mix of beauty and raw aggression to his playing. He blows with such pure force on  “Gross Blue” and on “Warsaw” it's a wonder his tenor didn't explode in his hands before the songs ended.

Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was a hard-bopper by nature yet equally proficient in other brands of jazz. He died in 2006, and he left the planet upwards of fifty albums, of which many are now hard-bop classics. Bay Area alto saxophonist Steven Lugerner is an admirer of McLean’s work. Lugerner new album “Jacknife The Music Of Jackie McLean” is his tribute to McLean. As a saxophonist, Lugerner has one foot rooted in post-bop and the other in free-jazz. For this tribute, Lugerner remade “Jacknife,” one of McLean’s best albums for Blue Note Records. Throughout the album, Lugerner blew as if nourished from birth on an exclusive diet of McLean’s music. How good is this remake? If McLean were around to hear it, he’d be damn proud of Lugerner and his top-flight sidemen pianist Richard Sears, bassist Garret Lang, and drummer Michael Mitchell. It was a pleasure listening to them stretch out on McLean's "Das Dat," Melody for Melonae," and Hi.p Strut".

The past decade jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut has bounced from label to label. Currently, he's signed to High Note Records, and he's made some of his best work there. “Natural Essence" is Chestnut's new trio album, and it’s something to behold. The trio is the best setting to experience Chestnut’s pure virtuosity. Chestnut chose familiar standards such as "It Could Happen To You," "I Cover The Water Front," and "My Romance". To aid in repurposing those standards, Chestnut hired two skilled hands bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Lenny White. The lead off cut "Mamacita" will give your soul goosebumps. Chestnut has a gift for appearing to play two pianos at the same time on up-tempo numbers. Chestnut changes sidemen for each album. The chemistry he has with Williams and White is effortless. Pray Chestnut keeps this trio together.

Vocalist Sheila Landis and guitarist Rick Matle musical loveship has been going strong for nearly three decades, and they have produced a body of outstanding recordings. "Beautiful Things" is the duo's new offspring. There're seventeen songs recorded live. Many of the duo’s recordings have been a showcase for Landis, one of the more dynamic jazz vocalists on the planet. This album contains everything's she’s offered for decades vocally. She has a gorgeous voice. At the drop of a hat, she can change it into a muted trumpet, a trombone, a sax, and even a drum. Her pitch perfect scatting would make Ella, and Armstrong jealous. This time around, Matle's virtuosity, his God-given ability to make his seven string guitar howl, cry, and melt in the palm of his hands is the draw. “Fine Fat Daddy," “Taller In The Morning," and "In a Mellow Tone" are the cuts likely to garnered the most water cooler talk.

When I received word jazz vocalist Kurt Elling was the guest star on a new album by the Branford Marsalis Quartet, I wondered how Elling would fit into the tightest jazz band working. Two cuts into "Upward Spiral," the phenomenal result of the quartet’s collaboration with Elling, I was convinced Marsalis ought to offer Elling a permanent spot in the quartet. Rumor spread Marsalis wanted Elling for this project because of his flexibility. Drop Elling in any musical situation and he’ll succeed. “Upward Spiral” is mostly recrafted golden oldies. What a good fit Elling is in the quartet come through on the "Blue Gardenia," "Doxy," "I am a Fool to Want You," and "Blue Velvet”.

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