Innovative, exuberant, and controversial, Thelonius Monk’s music in its nearly 70 years of existence, has found both popular appeal and intellectual appreciation for its emotional and musical intensity. His compositions provide the most impressive examples of bop harmonies while supporting catchy themes. As with any great composer, the ability to arrange and perform Monk’s compositions at any tempo and time signature came with great ease for John Beasley. The award-winning composer/pianist formed the big band known as MONK’estra as a result of a commission from Los Angeles’ Luckman Jazz Orchestra and over the years, stored up a pile of groove-centric arrangements that best suited Monk’s compositions.
On their debut recording for Mack Avenue titled MONK’estra, Vol. 1, John Beasley arranged, conducted and produced all songs on the recording in addition to bringing together many of the most revered jazz musicians to play 9 songs from the Thelonius Monk songbook – big band style! He retains much of the bop style that was rooted in the big-band techniques of the swing era – including the walking bass as a harmonic foundation and the repetitive cymbal patterns of swing while supplanting certain aspects of rhythm, harmony and melody. Beasley also left room on his arrangements for the musicians to improvise and the result is a five-star gem that provides thoughtful and comprehensive interpretations of Monk’s remarkable music.
Opening with “Epistrophy” the orchestra swings its unforgettable melody as Gary Burton nails his solo on the vibraphone. This angular tune never sounds dated and with the orchestral tinge John Beasley has arranged, this song sounds as contemporary as the present. Great soloing from Bob Sheppard, Brian Swartz, Bijon Watson and Gary Novak make “Skippy” a real thrill alongside controlled riffs and handclaps. Trumpet solos from Gabriel Johnson and Brian Swartz along with a solo from trombonist Francisco Torres rise to the occasion on “Oska.”
However, the real gem on the recording is “Round Midnight.” Here John Beasley has added subdued harmonies, hip-hop beats and shades of neo-soul sounds that bring this song into focus for a new 21st century listener as well as reminding jazz purists of Monk’s compositional integrity and ability to transcend generations.
The recording concludes with the easy-going “Coming on the Hudson,” and is the perfect way to relax with your significant other or dance the night away. Beasley’s masterful pianism makes this one a real keeper also.
Overall, MONK’estra, Vol. 1 is a masterpiece that uniquely defies conventional interpretations of Monk’s music. The recording deftly indicates John Beasley’s virtuosity as a re- arranger of the groove-centric, swinging, contemporary harmonies that emanated from Monk’s jazz. Check it out. Learn more about John Beasley here.
Sky Begins is Daniel Meron’s second album which was recorded with his current band consisting of Maia Karo on vocals, Noam Wiesenberg on bass, Jimmy McBride on drums and himself on piano. Sky Begins featrues 8 of Meron’s most recent original compositions which are produced by Meron and Ian Turner. While clearly in the realm of jazz, the music on the album is dynamic and lyrical, traveling through rich harmonies to magical places in time and imagination. The band grooves hard on funky and folkloric rhythms, while shifting between energetic improvisation and intimate interaction.
Vocalist Maia Karo is supreme as are the members of the ensemble. Meron’s own lyrical piano prowess is worth the price of the CD alone. Along with his activities as composer, arranger and bandleader, Daniel continues to perform as a sideman in multiple bands such as the Ayal Tsubery band, Rubycon, and Arnan Raz Quintet.
Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp
On Callas, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp collaborate on this spontaneous duo performance that depicts the improvised free jazz versions of characters portrayed by operatic diva Maria Callas. Each of the improvised arias from operas such as "La Boheme," "The Barber of Seville," "Norma," "Tosca," "Aida," "Turandot " and others, evoke the operatic sensibilities of Perelman’s brilliance as well as Shipp’s emotional resonance and musical clairvoyance.
The pair discover the various nuances of each aria and develop them further throughout their improvisations. There is a subtle new vocal sound to Perelman’s saxophonics as he matches Callas’ approach to the low, middle and high registers she so brilliantly sang. The inflections are there, the subtleties, but not the melodies. Shipp’s dark, insistent ostinato supports and propels Perelman’s flights on the opening track titled “Lucia” the heroine’s defiant character from Donizetti’s opera “Lucia di Lammermoor.” On “Magdelina” Perelman channels a plangent yearning as Shipp’s steady, implacable undercurrents reminisce the doomed love of the title character’s fate in “Andrea Chenier.”
On “Norma” his throaty low notes contrast his brilliant coloratura excursions while on “Mimi” he unveils a tender romantic splendor. Overall, this album is a brilliant emotional breakthrough that comes from a newly discovered understanding and appreciation for some of opera’s greatest arias. Perelman and Shipp’s own superb musicality and artistry deserve more than one listen. Callas is that great.
Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm
Pop/Jazz vocalist/songwriter Jenna Mammina and guitarist Rolf Sturm offer their listeners 12 exceptional songs on their first recording together called Spark. Many of the songs such as “Talk To Me,” “Get Your Kicks On Route 66” and “I’m Beginning to See The Light” are from the 1950s and 1960s but now have a jazz twist. The duo also update the Stylistics’ tune “Betcha, By Golly Wow,” and later move from the Philadelphia International Sound to a sweet Brazilian fantasy called “The Girl From Ipanema.” Overall, this eclectic vocalist and fingerstyle player effortlessly alternate between swinging jazz chords and beautifully executed melodies. Together their improvisational abilities are both impressive and expressive.
Cuentos is Guraudo’s second release on ZOHO Music and his sixth as a leader. With fleshed out trombone and trumpet sections and a percussionist in the mix, Giraudo’s new Big Band capably delivers 9 great compositions including the beautiful four -movement “Angela Suite.” Pedro Giraudo wrote and arranged all of the songs and plays electric and acoustic basses. Following his critically-acclaimed 2011 ZOHO release titled Cordoba, Giraudo has created another masterwork with his daring and immensely rewarding Cuentos. He treats his fans to ravishingly detailed expression of Argentine music forms and themes while standing solidly in the tradition of such North American masters as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones and Gil Evans.
On Headin’ Out, alto saxophonist Matt Criscuolo and his bandmates guitarist Tony Purrone, acoustic bassist Preston Murphy and drummer Ed Soph, perform several original songs and rarely covered compositions as Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ at Bells” and Randy Weston’s “Little Niles.” These musicians offer the songs in freely improvised terms that were influenced by Henry Threadgill, Jimmy Lyons and David S. Ware, as well as Jimmy Heath. Headin’ Out is high-quality, impassioned 21st century modern jazz.
Triangles and Circles
Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Recorded on the heels of a one-week run at the Jazz Standard in New York City, the eight songs on Triangles and Circles capture the essence of Dafnis Prieto’s composing skills and imaginative drumming. Joined by Peter Apfelbaum on tenor & soprano saxophones, Felipe Lamoglia on alto saxophone, Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, Manuel Valera on piano and Johannes Weidenmueller on acoustic and electric basses, Dafnis Prieto Sextet excels in all areas and reaches a near-telepathic level o interplay and impeccable interpretation throughout this excellent program. Standouts include “Back and Forth,” and the title track “Triangles and Circles.”
All I Know
Rachel Caswell duets with Dave Stryker and Jeremy Allen on this lovely collection of songs from the Great American Songbook titled All I Know. Rachel’s vocal creativity is clear, controlled and relaxed on these 12 songs that serve as a wonderful vehicle for her new interpretations. Among the songs the trio remakes are “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” Each song is charming and emotional and exposes the sincerest form of musicality from all three collaborators.
Portland-based alto and soprano saxophonist Hailey Niswanger plays with remarkable authority and drive on PDX Soul. Rich in funky rhythms, instantly hooky melodies and sophisticated crafting, the 8 track recording is brimming with Hailey’s finely tuned improvisations. Working with a collective of 16 superb musicians Hailey’s great interpretation of “Take Me To The River,” will have you moving to its rhythmic joy while “I’m Gone,” shows her true essence as a reed player who can deliver the goods as an arranger and composer of new songs. Barbara Mason’s hit, “Yes I’m Ready” is also given a newly designed feeling and one that is sure to make you aware of Haley’s innovative skills.
B.J. Ward and Donn Trenner
Outstanding musical talents B.J. Ward and Donn Trenner have reunited after 40 years to release their second recording titled Double Feature. The duo recorded this exemplary program improvisationally, capturing voice and piano together with no over-dubbing of vocals. The 12-songs are culled from the annals of film music and Broadway musicals. Rarely heard songs include the haunting and beautiful “Theme From Rosemary’s Baby,” “Drifting” from Auntie Mame and “Do You Know Why?” from Love Thy Neighbor. Gordon Hunt produced the vocal/piano recording with Lee Lessack as Executive Producer.