Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mario Romano Quartet – Valentina

2010 Alma Records
Mario Romano (piano), Pat LaBarbera (saxophone), Mark Kelso (drums), Roberto Occhipinti (bass)


Toronto-area businessman Mario Romano studied music formally in the 1970s before being lured into the more lucrative world of cement and construction. Without ever losing his passion for jazz piano, Romano has managed to keep maintain a healthy dose of chops and a keen sense of arranging. Valentina, his debut recording for the Canadian label Alma Records features a familiar set of standards and a couple of original pieces in an acoustic quartet setting. Top-notch Toronto musicians Pat LaBarbera (tenor saxophone), Mark Kelso (drums) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass) aid Romano in an engaging set of straight-ahead jazz.

LaBarbera, perhaps best known for his work with the late drummer Elvin Jones, begins the proceedings with a breathy solo cadenza to introduce Romano's fresh re-working of "A Night in Tunisia." The saxophonist's focused intensity inspires the hard driving swing Kelso and Occhipinti, setting up Romano for an in-the-pocket solo turn.

Romano proves an able soloist with a solid rhythmic foundation providing subtle bursts of technique. Standout piano work is heard on "On Green Dolphin Street," a ballad rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and Occhipinti's swinging contribution "Via Romano." Guest vocalist Kristy Cardinali offers a youthful, soothing delivery of Romano's original lyrics "Those Damn I Love Yous."

Valentina is a promising release for Romano, demonstrating how, even in jazz, it's never too late.
www.almarecords.com

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ralph Bowen – Power Play

2011 Posi-Tone
Ralph Bowen (saxophones), Orrin Evans (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), Donald Edwards (drums)


Power Play is a disc of hard-driving, intense, full-throttle, straight-ahead jazz. It's not that saxophonist Ralph Bowen isn't capable of subdued tender moments—such moments are certainly present throughout this disc—, it's just that the renowned veteran of the East Coast scene, in both his playing and composing, happily leans to the aggressive side of modern, progressive jazz. From his days in the 1980s with young-lion super group Out of The Blue to his more recent stints with pianists Horace Silver and Michel Camilo, Bowen has received much praise from fan and critics as an artist of unwavering conviction.

The disc's opening track, "K.D.'s Blues" sets the tone of the session with a brisk swinging tempo, memorable theme and go-for-broke solos by Bowen and pianist Orrin Evans. Evans takes charge of the dark and funky "Drumheller Valley" with lively support from bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Donald Edwards. The tireless rhythm section provides rock solid support for Bowen's inspired Coltrane-meets-Michael Brecker approach on the up-tempo "Two-Line Pass." After an endearing but predictable version "My One and Only Love," the quartet displays its most intuitive, collective risk-taking on the burner "The Good Sheppard" and the buoyant "Bella Firenze." Here, Bowen displays impeccable technique and flowing lyricism.

After a barrage of tenor saxophone, Bowen's primary instrument of choice, the soprano is taken up to handle the disc's two ballads "Jessica" and "A Solar Romance," revealing a meditative, pensive aesthetic. This softer side manages to hang on to the intensity of previous tracks, bringing a fitting close to an all around stunning release.

www.ralphbowen.com

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Samo Salamon Trio - Almost Almond

2011 Sanje

Samo Salamon (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), Tom Rainey (drums)


For the last ten years or so, guitarist Samo Salamon has been making a name for himself throughout the European jazz market as an inventive improviser, composer and leader of diverse small group ensembles, often featuring American notables such as saxophonists Mark Turner and David Binney. A tireless self-promoter, the Slovenian native has been creating a buzz with critics and fans of jazz guitar. His latest release, Almost Almond, is an inticing trio release sure to further the guitarist's reputation. The eleven-track disc of Salamon's original pieces was recorded in Switzerland in 2006 with the aid of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey.

As a composer, Salamon has a penchant for combining written parts with free-form sections as a foundation for improvisation. "My Amazing Muse," for example, begins with a rhythmic, Latin-inspired structure before an abrupt transition into a dreamy landscape of arco bass and arpeggiated guitar. Similarly, "Dutilleux," named for French compose Henri Dutilleux, has a wide interval theme developed by guitar and bass before Salamon delivers stinging jabs of distorted raunchiness. The overt intensity is nicely countered with the more lyrical, flowing piece, "Pleiades," featuring the meaty gracefulness of Gress' bass.

It is Gress who introduces the moody "Lastovo" with a tone that is warm and welcoming. The lengthy piece proves an ideal setting for guitar, bass and drums to interact in an open dialogue that is brooding, yet playful. The good-natured interplay continues on the short and clever piece "The Small Buddhist" and the airy "The Ladybird is Yawning."

As a soloist, Salamon is able to lend solid technique to an imaginative array of spontaneous moods. His style is grounded in the sound of modern jazz with unique characteristics, unbounded by the traditional confines of his instrument. Much like his contemporaries Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder, Salamon is forging ahead with a new standard of jazz guitar that is accessible and beyond established categorizations.

www.samosalamon.com

Friday, January 7, 2011

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM – Our Secret World

2010 Word of Mouth Music


Since the 1990s, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has been consistently turning heads with a series of releases showcasing his unique playing and compositional voice. Aside from his success as a leader, the Philadelphia native has racked up sideman credits with the likes of Brian Blade, Joshua Redman and Danilo Perez. Since 2003, Rosenwinkel has resided in Europe and currently teaches at the Jazz Institute of Berlin. In 2008, the Portugal-based big band Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (OJM) invited the guitarist to be featured in what would become a series of successful concerts, leading to an ambitious six days of recording that would result in Our Secret World, a dynamic large ensemble re-working of seven Rosenwinkel originals.

Arrangers Carlos Azevedo, Pedro Guedes and Ohad Talmor manage to maintain the small group flavor of pieces such as the title track, "The Cloister" and "Zhivago," while realizing the orchestral potential inherent in the music's sound compositional structures. While the coloring of the expanded ensemble enhances Rosenwinkel's original harmonic/melodic imprint, the main attraction is the graceful dance of guitar soloing heard on each track. The open blowing sections devoted to Rosenwinkel are plentiful and lengthy. An abundance of ideas, lyrical flow and impeccable technique create an ear-catching intensity, especially on the palpitating "Dream of the Old" and the ballad "Use of Light" with some of the disc's most interesting arranging.

It's no small task fronting a big band, especially through an entire disc of demanding material. Rosenwinkel is up for the challenge, leaving little doubt about his stature as a towering figure among jazz guitarists.

www.kurtrosenwinkel.com

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mike DiRubbo - Chronos

2010 Posi-Tone

Mike DiRubbo (alto, soprano saxophone), Brian Charette (organ), Rudy Royston (drums)


Connecticut native Mike DiRubbo has made a name for himself as a featured saxophonist in New York-based groups led by trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine and many others. His sixth release as a leader, Chronos (Posi-Tone), is a hard-blowing, straight-ahead affair with organist Brian Charette and drummer Rudy Royston. The disc features nine original compositions by DiRubbo and Charette, ranging from up-tempo burners and bouncy waltzes, to modal workouts and Latin-inspired grooves.

Primarily an alto player, DiRubbo conveys a soulful edginess with a sound reminiscent of the late Jackie McLean, the legendary saxophonist with whom he studied under at the University of Hartford. An uncompromising bebop influence can be heard in DiRubbo's soloing, especially on swinging numbers such as "Minor Adjustment" and "Lucky." The dark funk of "Rituals" and swinging intensity of "Eight For Elvin"—presumably a tribute to drum legend Elvin Jones—gives way to explosive vamp sections with DiRubbo going for broke alongside Royston's fiery drumming.

Charette provides solid support and contributes strong solos throughout the disc. The organist's manipulation of the drawbars recalls the vibrato-laden greasiness of Don Patterson, especially on his odd-metered piece "More Physical," with DiRubbo on soprano saxophone.

It's refreshing to hear a group of first-rate players who know how to swing and aren't the least bit bashful about letting a listener know it.

www.posi-tone.com

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 MaxJazz

Russell Malone (guitar), David Wong (bass), Montez Coleman (drums)


Guitarist Russel Malone has maintained a prolific balance over the last couple of decades as both a leader and sideman to jazz luminaries, such Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. and Sonny Rollins. It comes as a surprise to realize that his ninth solo release Triple Play is his first trio project. With the stripped down line up of bassist David Wong and drummer Montez Coleman, Malone finds himself fully exposed without the cushion of a piano or organ. With a choice selection of standards and originals, however, the Georgia native proves highly capable of shaping the harmonic and rhythmic direction of each piece.

Fans of classic guitar trio recordings from the likes of Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow will appreciate Malone's swinging approach, punctuating chord melody with single-note runs. There may not be anything conceptually new here, but Malone's sure-footedness and openness to express his fondness for the blues is captivating.

Stand-out tracks include Malone's own tunes such as the Latin-inspired "Honeybone" and "Pecan Pie," with a Stevie Wonder-style mix of chord and melody Cole Porter's "Do I Love You" is an impressive display of ballad work while John Hick's "Mind Wine" is straight-ahead fun with interesting twists and turns.

All in all, Triple Play is a well conceived release that will appeal to both guitar aficionados and listeners of mainstream jazz.


2010  MaxJazz
<p>Russell Malone (guitar), David Wong (bass), Montez Coleman (drums)
<p>Guitarist Russel Malone has maintained a prolific balance over the last couple of decades as both a leader and sideman to jazz luminaries, such Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. and Sonny Rollins. It comes as a surprise to realize that his ninth solo release <em>Triple Play</em> is his first trio project. With the stripped down line up of bassist David Wong and drummer Montez Coleman, Malone finds himself fully exposed without the cushion of a piano or organ. With a choice selection of standards and originals, however, the Georgia native proves highly capable of shaping the harmonic and rhythmic direction of each piece.
<p>Fans of classic guitar trio recordings from the likes of Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow will appreciate Malone's swinging approach, punctuating chord melody with single-note runs. There may not be anything conceptually new here, but Malone's sure-footedness and openness to express his fondness for the blues is captivating.
<p>Stand-out tracks include Malone's own tunes such as the Latin-inspired "Honeybone" and "Pecan Pie," with a Stevie Wonder-style mix of chord and melody Cole Porter's "Do I Love You" is an impressive display of ballad work while John Hick's "Mind Wine" is straight-ahead fun with interesting twists and turns.
<p>All in all, <em>Triple Play</em> is a well conceived release that will appeal to both guitar aficionados and listeners of mainstream jazz.
www.maxjazz.com