Hits & Misses July 1998

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Greg OsbyJeremy Davenport
Bob BangerterMark Ribot
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Pacini & PaciniEstebanToots Thielmans
Jubilant Sykes featuring Terrence Blanchard

July 1998

Greg Osby

Blue Note

thagoround.gif (20174 bytes)Zero, Greg Osby’s latest salvo on Blue Note, reaffirms the 37-year-old altoist’s penchant for choosing the path least trod.  Not that the sax master has ever taken the easy track.  “When I was in R&B and funk and blues bands in high school in St. Louis,” he recalls, “we used to learn tunes for gigs off an old record player, which was either too fast or too slow.  So we learned them in the wrong keys, the keys people don’t play in, because they’re the hardest keys.  I would play and improvise in those keys, and therefore I developed an advanced level of dexterity — but I didn’t know it, because it was normal for me.   That’s why my music has what people call an edge.”

He must have been doing something right.  The teen neophyte grew up quickly as a working musician during his high school years, learning how to tell a story through his horn.  “From the age of 15 to 18 from Friday evening until early Monday morning, I would be on the road with these soul bands, making money,” Osby remembers.  “We would play for Elks lounges, the Masons, motorcycle gangs, fraternities.  I met guitarist Kelvyn Bell in one of these bands, and he gave me a Charlie Parker record when I was 16.  That shaped my ear for things to come.  I began to decipher it when I got to Howard University a few years later.  First day there, Wallace Roney helped me analyze the changes to ‘Cherokee.’  He saw raw potential.  I had a lot of fingers, a lot of chops.  I was quick.  I didn’t have to practice the technique; he just had to explain the theory.”
As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

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In a DreamJeremy Davenport
Maybe In A Dream
(Telarc Jazz)

Who will be the Sinatra or the Bennett of the next millennium? Of course the frontrunner is Harry Connick Jr., but between his forays into the popular genre, his roles in blockbuster films, and his numerous appearances on the David Letterman Show, he seems a bit preoccupied. Then there is a pair of new yet not so newcomers, Loston Harris and Jeremy Davenport. Both are proficient with their instruments and are sound vocalists (Harris plays piano and Davenport, the trumpet). From the cover photo to the song selections, Davenport’s new album “Maybe In A Dream,” looks to establish him as a singer worthy of such distinction. He is backed by his quartet of pianist Glenn Patscha, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Another singer/pianist sensation, Diana Krall, is featured on one track and it is their pairing that is one of the brightest moments of the album.

“Let’s Leave” is a fond duet with Krall exploring the beauty of the melody accompanied by a captivating Patscha on the piano. Davenport can play the horn and his animated delivery on “What Ever Happened?” is effective. The swinging rhythm section helps boaster Davenport’s vocal swagger. Davenport’s supple phrasing and clean voice continues on a spirited “P. S. I Love You.” Patscha’s piano work stands out once more and he should win some new fans with his excellence exertions. Not surprisingly, Washington’s bass riffs are pure magic.

Supported by a flawless rhythm section, Davenport is on his way and deserving of a seat at the table. The well of male jazz vocalists may not be deep, but it is rich.

– Fred Jung

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signof4.gif (12753 bytes)Bob Bangerter
Playin’ the right thing
Don’t Stop

Guitatirs Bob Bangerter is new on the scene. At least new to us. They say that first impressions are lasting impressions. This album makes a good impression from the start.

Featuring guest artists like Cornelius Bumpus (Steely Dan) and Dr. Lonnie Smith this album is very fluid and shows Bangerter’s versatility. There’s even a liner note from none other than George Benson. The quality of this release is not quite on a par with those of George Benson, but the music is well performed, well written and played from the heart.

– R. Redmond

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Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos
(The Prosthetic Cubans)

With the advent of such mainstream success stories like Medeski, Martin, and Wood and Charlie Hunter, it was only a matter of time before yet another young musician with considerable marketability would be found to capture the hearts of the Generation X market. Hunter has had substantial prosperity by utilizing the strengths of college radio and performing in non-traditional jazz venues that most jazz artists tend to steer clear of. Medeski, Martin, and Wood hasribot.jpg (3358 bytes) gained great popularity by playing in alternative music festivals such as the Horde Festival, but has anyone heard of Marc Ribot? Ribot, a guitarist with Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, makes his debut with some of the most exciting material in recent memory. His interpretations of the music of the legendary Cuban bandleader and composer Arsenio Rodriquez is full of panache and energy. Ribot’s cohorts aptly dubbed “Y Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans)” stars bassist Brad Jones of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time fame, organists Anthony Coleman and John Medeski, the Medeski in the before mentioned Medeski, Martin, and Wood, percussionist E. J. Rodriguez, and drummer Robert J. Rodriguez. It was wise of Ribot to not play Rodriguez’s signature guitar, but instead opt to reconfigure a 12-string guitar and removing certain strings to achieve the particular sound.

“Aurora En Pekin” is a refreshing look back to the days of yore when the West was untamed and cowboys rode the plains. Reminiscent of music from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, Ribot blends the guitar comfortably with the slow grooves provided by E. J. and Robert Rodriguez. “Como Se Goza En El Barrio” is a danceable melody that is instantly infectious. Ribot’s electric Afro- Cuban sound is hypnotic and the relaxed backbeat provided by Coleman and Rodriguez is festive. The sound machine carries on with an ear opening “Postizo.” Medeski and Ribot grind the music to its very soul to a chorus of hollers.

By no means is Ribot playing authentic Cuban music. It is simply his interpretation and if listened to with an open mind, it will surely win one over. “Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans)” is easily one of the most extraordinary debuts in recent memory.

– Fred Jung

Pacini & Pacini
Nueve de Copas

thagoround.gif (20174 bytes)Pacini is not only an acclaimed musician in his Brazilian homeland, he also is renowned there as an author, religious philosopher, poet, painter, journalist and lawyer. Renowned people always seem to have one name (i.e. Liberace). Now living in the United States his latest project finds him joining with his son for a duet album, Memory, on the Nueve de Copas label.

Pacini & Pacini — Carlos Pacini Aires da Silva (simply known as Pacini; pronounced puhsee-nee) and his 17-year-old son Pacini Filho (pronounced feel’-ee-oh) — have created an album that is beautifully bland. Pacini primarily plays acoustic, classical guitar. The same as Badi Assad, reviewed here in May, who also plays accoustical guitar, and boasts a brazilian homeland. The difference? Badi left me wanting more, Pacini & Pacini left me reaching for a bottle of no-doze.

– R. Redmond

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thagoround.gif (20174 bytes)Esteban
Enter the heart

Esteban is one of a small handful of musicians in the world who was given the coveted personal endorsement of the legendary classical guitarist Andres Segovia. Esteban also received his artistic name from Segovia during the five years of studying privately with the master in Europe and in the United States.

Now Esteban (pronounced Es-TAY-bahn) is a renowned virtuoso acoustic guitarist in his own right, performing an average of 300 days a year. He has recorded nine albums and has sold more than a half-million copies of his recordings. Enter the Heart is an all-instrumental album (his first containing only original material) featuring Esteban’s acoustic guitar backed by his band — violinist Teresa Paul, trumpet player Devon Bridgewater, percussionist Joe Morris, and multi-instrumentalist Robert Brock (piano, keyboards, bass and percussion). Tower of Power trumpet player Jesse McGuire makes a special guest appearance along with flute players and live strings. In addition, Esteban also plays sitar on several tracks.

Hmmm…wonder what happened. This all star cast is just…ok. The music is pleasant and Esteban’s playing is obviously skillful. The problem is that each song sounds pleasantly like most of the others. Perhaps Esteban should have thrown in a few standards to give listeners a yardstick with which to measure his adeptness, and to give himself a way to measure the creativity of his own compositions.

– S. Watkins

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thagoround.gif (20174 bytes)Toots Thielmans
Chez Toots
Private Music

Although the harmonica is prevalent in blues music, with artists such as the late Junior Wells, Slim Harpo, and Howlin’ Wolf, all harmonica wizards, jazz music did not have a standard bearer for the wind instrument. That is until, Toots Theilemans. While studying math in college, Thielemans started playing the harmonica. After emigrating to the United States in 1951, Thielemans worked with Dinah Washington and George Shearing before forming his own group and recording steadily since, Thielemans has introduced the harmonica to jazz. Now, Thielemans has primed the harmonica to be recognized as a jazz instrument of substance and is a consummate poll winner in the Miscellaneous Instrument category. “Chez Toots” has Thielemans returning to his roots and accompanying vocalists on the album’s most substantial material.

Featured are the vocal elegance of Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Shirley Horn, and Johnny Mathis. Thielemans is no stranger to performing with singers, both volumes of “The Brasil Project” were highly successful using such a format. The usually witty Thielemans is dulled by the ho-hum material of standards and French compositions. The vocalists, whom are all A-list musicians in their own right, are uninspired and lackluster in their rendition. The music is contrived and the energy is consumed.

– Fred Jung

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jubilant.jpg (5812 bytes)Jubilant Sykes
featuring Terrence Blanchard

Sony Classical

With the sudden flood of cross-over artists venturing out of pop to jazz, classical to jazz, and back again, it is not unique to find a jazz trumpeter accompanying a gospel singer. After all, Michael Bolton really set the world on fire with his loosely based opera album. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and gospel sensation Jubilant Sykes join hands on “Jubilant,” the baritone’s self- titled debut. The acclaimed horn player has experience with various genres of the musical spectrum, having been a veteran film composer for the Spike Lee films, “Jungle Fever,” “Mo’ Better Blue,” and “Malcom X.” Sykes, who was the 1996 recipient of Sacred Music USA’s award for Vocalist of the Year, has been enjoying the fruits of a highly successful operatic career. The baritone has sung on the stages of some of the world’s finest opera houses like the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Germany.

The fusion of gospel with classical along with an occasional hint of jazz is often times less innovative and poorly unoriginal. Gospel music, with its roots in religion, should be easily inspired, but Sykes lacks the humility for the spirituals. Although Blanchard makes every attempt to rescue the drowning music from its mired state, it is too little, too late. Blanchard’s aching horn cries on “Give Me Jesus” are just not enough.

“Jubilant” is more weary then joyful, but the budding star shows flashes of promise.

-Fred Jung

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