CD review: recent releases in brief

Adam Glasser

Adam Glasser
Mzansi
(Sunnyside/Sheer Sound)

Chromatic harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser, resident in the UK these days, returns to South Africa for an album filled with the kind of enjoyment that comes with rediscovering old loves, whether it’s the landscape or the indigenous sounds.

He brings together some of South Africa’s finest musicians, including tenor saxophonist Kaya Mahlangu, trumpeter Sydney Mavundla, singer Pinise Saul and bassist Herbie Tsoaeli, as well as some of the UK’s, like Jason Yarde who contributes soprano saxophone and Alec Dankworth on bass.

Glasser is generous with the space he gives to his collaborators and weaves his distinctive harmonica sound in and out of their music with great facility and an easy exuberance.

His dedication to the late Zim Ngqawana, Blues For Zim, his take on the classic township groove, Pasop, and a hymn-like interpretation of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Blues For A Hip King give a good guide to the album’s styles and strengths.

Lovely Rita
Strollin’ Along Abbey Road
(Frusion)

Viennese keyboardist Martin Stepanik had the very sensible idea of making some jazz/fusion versions of some Beatles songs. He has a couple of horns, guitar, bass drums and singer Anne Marie Fuerthauer to form the band.

Unfortunately, although there are some pretty moments, the fairly repetitive arrangements of the songs – cool and ultimately unengaging singing of the lyrics over an unchanging mid-tempo rhythm – just don’t match up to the ingenious things Canadian guitarist Michel Occhipinti did with Lennon songs on the recent The Universe Of John Lennon.

Choice of songs might be part of it – Lovely Rita choose narrative songs like She’s Leaving Home and Eleanor Rigby – but then again, Occhipinti was working with some pretty ironclad song structures.

Still, if you like Let It Be with a chill-out vibe and background horn riff, this could be your thing.

Dan Block
Duality
(Miles High Records)

Last time out multi-reeds man Block was reworking Ellington; this time he is exploring duets with a whole host of partners, from pianist Ted Rosenthall to singer Catherine Russell, to national steel guitarist Matt Munisteri to fellow reed man Scott Robinson.

The tunes come from Jerome Kern (Long Ago And Far Away) to Dimitri Shostakovich (Lyric Waltz) via Tadd Dameron (If You Could See Me Now).

My favourites are I’m Bringing A Red Red Rose with Block on tenor saxophone and bassist Lee Hudson on double bass for its relaxed swing, and Block’s own Out Of Touch which blends bass clarinet and national steel in a back-porch frame of mind.

Block is a fine player and you hear a lot of him in the course of the album. In a way, the closer is an admittance that two players can only take you so far – it’s a trio take on George   Gershwin’s I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise (which reminds me, we don’t hear this tune nearly often enough in jazz) and it’s great ribald fun.

Negroni’s Trio
On The Way
(AA Records & Entertainment)

The Negronis are Miami-based Puerto Ricans, pianist and composer Jose and his son, drummer Nomar. They have Josh Allen on double bass. On some tracks you also hear saxophonist Ed Calle and violinist Federico Britos.

The title track sets the tone for a disc of high-powered, Latin flavoured jazz with a pause in the pace for the classically-flavoured Matices.

All the songs are by Jose Negroni with the exception of My Way and the lovely Bruno Martino song, Estate. The recording places the piano right at the front of the sound which is good for enjoying Jose’s firm touch and clarity of line, but doesn’t really give an integrated sound to the band as a whole.

National Youth Jazz Orchestra
The Change
(NYJO)

No, it’s not that Change – this is a youth orchestra, not a bunch of 50-year-olds. The title refers to the fact that since NYJO’s last recording the band’s creator and long-time leader Bill Ashton has handed the reins over to Mark Armstrong, who himself came up through the band and is now a professor at the Royal College Of Music.

The band was also in recent times nudged by the Arts Council – its chief funder – to become more inclusive and less fixed in its style of big band jazz.

Thus, another change is that in addition to the repertoire we have come to expect – Caravan, Round Midnight – there is a lot more range in the original commissioned material. For this album, for example, new pieces come from Tim Garland, Nicki Iles and Julian Joseph.

Garland’s two pieces are particularly refreshing, sounding, as they do, so different from what we have heard this band play in the past. The composer and drummer Mark Mondesir are guest artists on these.

The playing is, as always, astoundingly good irrespective of the musicians’ age. Of particular interest in my neck of the woods is that Lichfield resident Nick Dewhurst is in the trumpet section. Good stuff!

Betty LaVette

Betty LaVette
Thankful N’ Thoughtful
(Anti)

It’s not exactly jazz but with Etta James now doing her gutsy thing up among the clouds, it’s down to Betty LaVette to hold the torch for forceful singing that, like Ray Charles’s, unites all kinds of music, from R&B to the blues, country to jazz.

Betty, born in Muskegon and raised in Detroit, has been singing for a staggering 50 years, and has lost none of her power – in fact, I reckon she’s acquiring more all the time.

Among the covers here are Bob Dylan’s Everything Is Broken, The Black Keys’ I’m Not The  One and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. The biggest revelation is what she can do to Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town, which sloughs off its Salford, Manchester, origins and The Dubliners’ folkiness for some hard-edged Detroit attitude.

Producer is Craig Street, who in the past has done wonders for Cassandra Wilson and more recently for Lizz Wright, and he brings a warm earthy background for LaVette to set her razor-sharp tone against.



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