Jung on Jazz September 1998

Jung on Jazz September 1998

The Contender
(Warner Brothers)

With the success of Swingers, the rejuvenation of swing music into the fabric of American pop culture is in full swing. Los Angeles clubs like The Derby and swing bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Squirrel Nut Zipper, and Royal Crown Revue have a cult like following that drinks martinis and dances the night away. But with success comes criticism, and the critics have been particularly harsh of Royal Crown Revue, calling the nineties swing band “crude” and “not authentic jazz music”. What does authenticity have to do with enjoying music or having a good time, because that is exactly what Royal Crown Revue seems to be giving their fans.

The seven members of Royal Crown Revue, vocalist Eddie Nichols, guitarist James Achor, tenor saxophonist Mando Dorame, baritone saxophonist Bill Ungerman, trumpeter Scott Steen, bassist Veikko Lepisto, and drummer Daniel Glass may not have the technical prowess of a jazz musician, but they sure know how to have a good time. Although their version of swing music is much more Oingo Boingo then it is anything resembling jazz, they have carved a musical marketplace for themselves and they may bring more younger listeners to venture into listening to an occasional John Coltrane album or experimenting with a Miles Davis classic.

Beyond the hyped images of cigars and zoot suits, Royal Crown Revue has plenty of gusto and the album’s title track “The Contender,” “Zip Gun Bop (Reloaded),” and “Salt Peanuts” are thoroughly enjoyable. Royal Crown Revue gives the Dizzy Gillespie tune “Salt Peanuts” a new, nineties twist and in the process helps the listener appreciate the sheer brilliance of the original.

These young musicians are “money” and they know it. Royal Crown Revue may have Glenn Miller turning in his grave, but that’s probably because he is getting “jiggy” with it. The Contender is not for everyone, but it is perfect for a poolside sitting with a gin and tonic in one hand and a Cuban in the other.


Nocturnal Traces
(Blue Note)

The trumpet has been at the front line of jazz since the dawn of Louis Armstrong and immortalized in musical folklore by Miles Davis. Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, and Freddie Hubbard are all household names because of the trumpet. Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Jon Faddis, Terence Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, and Dave Douglas are the trumpeters of today and tomorrow, continuing the legacy of the Biblical instrument that brought down the walls of Jericho. Marcus Printup is seldom mentioned on such lists. Along with Tim Hagans, whom Printup recorded Hubsongs with last year, Printup should be.

A recent defector to Los Angeles by way of New York, Printup has been developing a loyal following playing primarily at the Bel Age’s Club Brasserie and local county museums. One can not live in Los Angeles without having some connection with Hollywood and Printup will be flexing his acting muscles in the upcoming feature film starring Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, and the X- Files’s Gillian Anderson titled Dancing About Architecture. All this while recording his fourth album for Blue Note, Nocturnal Traces, a crossroad album for the 31-year-old trumpeter whose playing for the first time with his own band. Printup’s quartet includes Kevin Bales on piano, Ricky Ravelo on bass, and Woody Williams on drums.

Printup’s spirited “Woody’s Beat” has the horn player matching wits with a swinging Williams. Bales’s surprisingly imaginative approach challenges the leader to take flight and Printup stands tall and tempers a crisp routine. Williams, not to be outdone, lays down a furious onslaught. “Body and Soul,” the standard that tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins made famous, allows for Printup to eloquently express his warmth and strengths as a ballader. Printup’s soulful treatment fills the evening air with a stirring romanticism that lingers long after the song is over.

It is obvious that Printup has put his heart and his soul into this album and this hardworking trumpeter deserves immediate notice. Nocturnal Traces should be a must for anyone who enjoys the trumpet, anyone who enjoys jazz music, and anyone who enjoys life.


Goat Hill Junket
(MAMA Foundation)

Nineteen ninety-seven was a very good year for Anthony Wilson. The guitarist son of composer/arranger Gerald Wilson, debuted his recording career with his self-titled Grammy nominated CD on MAMA Foundation. To avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx, the young Wilson has chosen to stick with what worked for him last year for his newest release Goat Hill Junket. Utilizing another nine- piece band and including an encore performance by friend and mentor, tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace as the album’s featured guest soloist, Wilson has game planned another sure fire winner. Wilson’s ensemble also features the fine talents of trumpeter John D’ Earth, trombonist Art Baron, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Danton Boller, drummer Jeff Ballard, and saxophonists Jerry Dodgion, Ted Nash, and Joe Temperley.

The cohesiveness of “The Cherry Tree” makes it plainly obvious that Wilson has inherited the harmonic sensibility of his father. The music eases its way into the listener’s heart much like a gentle wave makes its way on to the shore. But, the album’s most special moments are the two tracks showcasing the criminally ignored talents of Wallace. Wallace first guests on his own composition “It Has Happened To Me,” a number Wallace has played with his quartet in recent years at Southern California club dates. Wilson took the smaller ensemble instrumentation and fitted that for a larger band. Wallace swings throughout the tune in grand scale, working his tenor up and down in charismatic structure, adding brief tonal exaggerations for effect. With the ante upped in such dramatic fashion, both Wilson and Boller unleash impeccable performances. The session comes to a close with an animated “Stairway To The Stars.” The tenorman’s bluesy rendition is vintage Wallace. Wallace’s thrilling solo is not spoiled by an incompatible orchestration, but rather highlighted by the rousing accompaniment of an array of sounds. Wilson’s arrangements are not a frustrating listening experience due in great part to the young guitarist’s familiarity with his instruments and his keen understanding that sometimes less is more. Wallace is consistently compelling in his role and the saxophonist’s witty solo development is only a testament to his mature virtuosity. It is a sorry editorial that he does not have a major record contract.

The young Wilson’s talents are without limits and his future is one of the brightest in jazz. With his footing firmly entrenched in humility and his heart in his music, Wilson will be every bit the strong leader that his father is.


Tenor Legacy
(Arkadia Jazz)

What is the legacy of the tenor saxophone? The tenor saxophone is the signature instrument of jazz. It has surpassed its potential with the advent of jazz music and the tenor players that have graced the stages of basement, smoke-filled clubs have ensured the instrument’s appreciation. Players like Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, and the venerable John Coltrane have been innovators of the instrument and every one of them are included in saxophonist Benny Golson’s massive tribute to the almighty tenor sax on Arkadia Jazz aptly entitled Tenor Legacy. Golson heads an all-star session filled with some of the most creative minds in jazz today. Tenor saxophonists Brandford Marsalis, James Carter, and Harold Ashby, pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Joe Farnsworth all join Golson in his dedication to some of the most influential tenors in history.

Obviously the prime time cast is not a working band and no real innovation is on display for this session, but the music is thoroughly enjoyable, mainly due to the musicianship of Marsalis, Carter, Keezer, and Golson. “Body and Soul” has Marsalis at his most lyrical moment to date. The much publicized departure from the Tonight Show has seem to re-invigorate his playing. Marsalis’s pleasing sound and his tender reading make for an appealing experience. Next up is the Rollins’s anthem “St. Thomas” and Golson and Ashby share the honors and their solos have the casual ease and lay back attitude that the calypso number should have. The young Carter puts the “P” into personality with an exhilarating version of “My Favorite Things.” Carter is not merely “talent deserving wider recognition”, he is the most consistently entertaining tenor player today. Carter’s trademark growls and fog horn blasts are beacons in the jazz night and give the war horse standard a new and bold face lift.

A project worthy of its players, Tenor Legacy proves that the legacy of the tenor saxophone lies solely in the hands of the tenor players of the past as well as the tenor players of the future. With such musicians as Marsalis and Carter, the future is in good hands.


Young Gunn Plus

(32 Jazz)

Seven years after the death of Miles Davis, another East St. Louis native makes his debut on Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz. A trumpeter who got his chops playing at Davis’s alma mater, Lincoln High, Russell Gunn is one of a growing number of young guns whose familiarity with jazz music is amazing. Originally released on Muse Records as Young Gunn (the cast included pianist John Hicks, tenor saxophonist Sam Newsome, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Cecil Brooks III), Adam Dorn added a couple more tunes and re-released the shamefully ignored album, re-titling it Young Gunn Plus.

From a lyrically soothing “Fly Me To The Moon” that would raise the curiosity of the staunchest Sinatra devotee, to a deeply mellow “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Gunn shows remarkable maturity as he negotiates the standards with distinguished exactness. But the highlight of the recording is Gunn’s duet with Hicks. Hicks’s sensitivity is thoroughly inviting and he brings out the sublime beauty of the Thelonious Monk composition “Pannonica.” The bonus track “Ginger Bread Boy” includes Brandford Marsalis on tenor saxophone, James Hurt on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums. The muscular tone of Marsalis’s saxophone musings are a perfect foil with the finesse horn cries of Gunn.

In the liner notes the 27-year-old Gunn candidly remarks, “There’s a whole different vibe when people approach music from a truly emotional standpoint instead from a trying-to-sell-records standpoint.” Young Gunn Plus’s “vibe” is different and that is a refreshing start for a young gun who does not seem to be shooting blanks.


The Art of Rhythm

(RCA Victor)

A fluent technician, trumpeter Tom Harrell’s understated lyricism and his exceptional harmonic restraint is the standard by which trumpeters will be judged for years to come. Occupying the trumpet chair for Horace Silver and Phil Woods, Harrell has built his iron chops in the presence of strong company to become the perennial horn player of his generation. Remarkably, Harrell has maintained his elevated level of playing throughout his career and has won poll after poll. The Art of Rhythm is yet another chapter in Harrell’s near flawless discography. The musicians featured in the four different rhythm sections involve bassists Andy Gonzales, David Finck, and Ugonna Okegwo, and percussionists Leon Parker, Adam Cruz, and Milton Cardona. The album’s soloists include Dewey Redman, Mike Stern, Danilo Perez, Greg Tardy, and David Sanchez.

“Petals Danse” contains a clarinet solo from Greg Tardy. Tardy, backed by an exquisite string section, forms a delicately balanced melody that is in perfect harmony with Harrell’s charming touch. Sounding uncharacteristically reserved, Redman’s seductive inventions on “Doo Bop” should put to ease any misconceptions that Redman is merely power oriented. The all of the septet contributes to the beginning of “Samba Do Amor” and makes room for Stern’s electric riffs. Stern’s explorations are full of vitality and color. Harrell remains within his musical parameters and his technique is immaculate.

Harrell is the essence of the beauty of jazz. Every note he fingers is the perfect note for that moment and he never embellishes his music, never grandstands. Harrell is not only the trumpeter of his generation, but one of the great trumpeters of all time.


Far Horizons
(Resurgent Music)

Born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota, pianist Gerard Hagen had the privilege of coming from a musical family (as a rule, everyone played two instruments). Playing the trombone and piano, Hagen’s interests in high school tended to delve into the rock and roll genre. It wasn’t until his jazz band director turned him onto jazz that Hagen, at 18, shifted his course to devoting himself to playing jazz music. After an unimpressive trombone solo in college, Hagen turned his attention to the piano, listening to the harmonic styling of Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, and Kenny Barron. Hagen has steadily been a fixture in southland clubs for many years and releases Far Horizons, primarily a trio date with fellow Californians, bassist Domenic Genova, and drummer Jerry Kalaf, guest starring alto saxophonist Gary Foster.

Hagen elegantly walks through Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” thoughtfully progressing along with the lyrical and harmonic sensibility of Bill Evans. The brush strokes of Kalaf help facilitate the melancholy longing of the tune. Foster initially makes his presence felt, opening a vibrant “I Should Care,” surging to the upper registers and unveiling a dynamic solo before allowing the rest of the quartet to work their magic. Hagen’s colorful splashes and mature subtleties make for yet another fine moment. The romantic “You And The Night And The Music” is the highlight of this delightful listening experience. Hagen and his quartet cohesively interact with one another and produce a mesmerizing portrait of sensitivity. Foster’s sensual wit may be at the forefront of the foursome, but it is Hagen’s gentle, seductive phrases that steal the show.

Occasionally, there are diamonds in the ruff, and every once in a great while there is a diamond worth searching for. Hagen’s Far Horizons is one to ask the local record retailer for. Available at all fine Tower Records locations or by contacting Resurgent Music at resurgentmusic@earthlink.net, Far Horizons is a listening treasure.


Bele Bele en La Habana
(Blue Note)

Although former Irakere members Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’ Rivera have gone on to fame and fortune in the United States (Sandoval was last seen accompanying Celine Dion and D’ Rivera earning a Grammy for Portraits of Cuba), Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes has largely remained underexposed. But with a new relationship with Blue Note and a targeted tour in support of his new release Bele Bele en La Habana, the son of Bebo Valdes might just get the notoriety he so sorely deserves. Using Afro-Cuban instrumentation, Valdes’s quartet of Alain Perez Rodriguez on bass, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot on congas, and Raul Pineda Roque on drums, explores the sounds of Cuba from danzon to mambo. The advantage of a more intimate Afro-Cuban setting as opposed to the more traditional larger ensembles is that this offers a rare glimpse into the piano stylings of Cuba’s most influential export since the Cohiba.

Valdes is an impeccable architect of drama and color and his prowess is on fine display with the son “Son Montuno.” As the leader balances creative keyboard quotes with elegantly sensual chords, Guillot and Roque mercilessly push the infectious pulse. The Cuban theme continues with the guaracha “El Cumbanchero,” as Valdes goes about surgically dissecting the piano. Valdes feasts off the group interplay and his flurries have a confident panache. Valdes is the titan of Latin jazz. Hopefully the public will take notice with the widespread availability of Bele Bele en La Habana and advance this statesman out of jazz’s shadows and into the spotlight.