Here we provide capsule viewpoints on independent jazz recordings. These are not â€œreviewsâ€ per se, in the traditional sense of music magazine recordingsâ€™ reviews. The mere fact that these recordings appear here mean they are in some way meritorious in terms of their music (why waste space with negativity).
As opposed to standard music magazine record reviews, weâ€™re concerned here also with rating how they stack up in terms of such marketplace essentials as consumer accessibility â€“ i.e. whether proper contact information is provided â€“ packaging considerations and such important and often overlooked aspects as whether the packaging provides adequate information about the given recording and the artists to meet the needs of consumers, writers, and radio. Consider this section part of our ongoing technical assistance efforts for artists.
This review section focuses on recommended-to-highly recommended recordings from the vast universe of independent jazz and related recordings, including CDs and DVDs.
Regarding these technical assistance matters, consider this frequent conundrum: As often happens at WPW (89.3 FM Washington, DC; www.wpfw.org) when our listeners want information on what they just heard (usually of the â€œwhatâ€™s that, and where can I get it?â€ variety) they simply call the studio line. All too often, after searching and searching the disk and the CD booklet programmers are flummoxed â€“ no phone number, address, web site, email address, not even a suitable label name that one could investigate on the web are readily discernible. And given the nature of jazz radio these days, a significant number of programmers spin their own libraries on air. Some â€“ yours truly included â€“ choose not to tote around loads of plastic jewel cases and instead use those convenient CD booklet holders, carrying only the disk and booklet to the studio.
It is now essential that all pertinent CD information be listed not only on the back panel of the jewel case but either within the CD booklet or imprinted on the disk itself. Why are so many artists failing to list a simple label name for their independent, self-produced recordings? Part of the idea here folks is building your catalogue. Anyone in the record business will tell you that catalogue development is the key to building a label, even if itâ€™s just for your own recordings. If you donâ€™t go under a record company name â€“ even if itâ€™s simply your given name â€“ how are you going to build a catalogue?
What Am I?
This an interesting title for a young woman who has a clear sense of herself. June April has a voice thatâ€™s more than a little in tune with the Creator, as well as hip hop accents and beats, neo-soul sensibilities, all informed by jazz. Ms. April endows her controlled enthusiasms with a clear, sure voice and engages very complimentary backing musicians. Sheâ€™s comfortable scatting but not over-wrought with it. She knows the spirituals, as is clearly displayed by an all-too-brief â€œSomebodyâ€™s Knockinâ€™ at Your Door,â€ and she delivers a tender â€œCome Sundayâ€ with stripped-down acoustic guitar accompaniment. Above all thereâ€™s a palpable sincerity in her artistry.
Info factor: The CD booklet contains copious acknowledgements (June is one grateful woman!); lacks track listings (back jewel case only) but does contain some of her lyrics; does list personnel & songwriting credits. Web, email and (free) download contacts are listed: www.juneapril.com; email@example.com
Info Grade: B
Trombonilla is the clever band name for the brawny trombone of Luis Bonilla. This date was captured in performance at The Jazz Gallery, a fearless lower West Side of Manhattan space that has welcomed more than a few adventurers like Bonilla onto its stages. Curiously, though captured in performance this disc doesnâ€™t have a live gig feel in its sonic landscape. Saxophonist Donny McCaslinâ€™s â€œUp Easyâ€ reminds one of George Russell. If you know his history perhaps you expect Luis Bonilla to deliver in an Afro-Cuban context, and he does, but in more covert ways, as on his clever ostinato â€œMambostinatoâ€. This is decidedly a composerâ€™s date; â€œTerminal Clarityâ€, by the other saxophonist on the date Peter Branin, is a successful tone poem and â€œThatâ€™s How They Get Youâ€, a band construct, is a sleek montuno.
Info factor: Digi-pack (no booklet); Bonillaâ€™s web and email contact info on the back: www.trombonilla.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; track & credits info clearly listed on inside cover; no bio info or program notes.
Info Grade: B
A Horse of a Different Rhythm
Dreambox Media DMJ-1097
Without knowing McIver, from the opening son-of-Max Roach drum essay you know this is a drummerâ€™s date. McIver, who is a well-rounded percussionist, follows that opener with the aptly-titled â€œRunâ€, which is full of requisite fire and drive like a victorious 400 meter dash. Is that Odean Pope on tenor sax? (Thereâ€™s no tenor credited on the track listing.) This is a combustible, drum-proud date. McIver crisply addresses his kit and augments with marimba, tympani, and overdubbed electronics in a tasteful way; his music has an orchestrated quality and this is overall a very spirited release. Craig McIver certainly knows his way around the traps.
Info factor: Again, as with the two previous artists, since Craig McIver is likely a name needing introduction (unless you live in Philly), why no notes or bio info? Tracks are listed on inner one-sheet (including full track-by-track personnel listings and composer credits), on the disc, and on back jewel case. The artistâ€™s direct telephone and email contacts on one-sheet: email@example.com; label web contact bold as life: www.dreamboxmedia.com on the spine.
Info Grade: B+
Roberta Piket Trio
Love and Beauty
Thirteenth Note Records TN002
Roberta Piket is a pianist whoâ€™s always had a sort of edgy sensibility. But the best sense of this date is of a trio in successful evolution. With bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Billy Mintz (who contributes three originals) Ms. Piket is forging a cohesive trio sound. Her â€œIâ€™m My Everythingâ€ is a clever re-ordering of â€œYouâ€™re My Everythingâ€, while â€œFor Uncle Harveyâ€ is cloaked in poignancy. Any questions about her ability to swing are neatly addressed on the Mintz original â€œFlightâ€, and she delivers a pleasant vocal on the drummerâ€™s â€œDestinyâ€. The Roberta Piket Trio dispenses with this business in a decidedly engaging way.
Info factor: A digi-pack with a difference: actual (and informative) liner notes! Tracks listed on disc and back cover (incl. times); ditto personnel on back. Accentuating the relative coop nature of this trio each memberâ€™s web site is listed: www.robertapiket.com; www.billymintz.com; www.ratzoharris.com. Info grade: A
On The Balcony
(no label or matrix number)
Since sheâ€™s black-dressed and posed amidst a leafy backdrop I suppose itâ€™s apropos that the legend â€œAlto Saxâ€ is bolded on the cover. Curiously track 2, her own â€œNumber 17â€, might have made a better opening track with its crisp saxophone lines and loose-limbed Latin feel. Perhaps the most successful pieces on this disc are her duets with acoustic guitarist Tom Landeman, ala the properly tender â€œA Song for Mimiâ€ and the medium tempo Alec Wilder chestnut â€œMoon and Sandâ€. Richman and Landeman have clearly worked together for more than a minute; theyâ€™re quite comfortable and supportive of each other, including their â€œTime After Timeâ€ essay.
Info factor: Whereâ€™s the label name and numbering info? The booklet has a couple of paragraphs of date descriptives from Ms. Richman and a complimentary quote from Onaje Allan Gumbs, but not much is revealed as to just who Libby Richman is. Tracks and times are listed on booklet (incl. credits), disc and back cover (incl. personnel).
Info Grade: B-
The Things I Am
Renwick Entertainment RE-01
This Mr. Rogers is one of our brightest young bassists, and Iâ€™ve never seen him in a sweater. He also shows himself to be a promising writer as well, opening with an effective bass solo alongside what sound like throat singers, though not credited, a piece about the evolution of mankind. The
Info factor: Foldout booklet lists tracks, times, composer credits and
Info Grade: A
Saltman Knowles Quintet
It About The Melody
Blue Canoe Records BC1032
This is the third release from the bass/piano pairing of Mark Saltman and William Knowles. The pianist is a Stanley Cowell protegÃ© incidentally. This date is a departure, pretty much given over to vocalist Lori Williams, which doesn’t do a lot for their band identity. Ms. Williams has a pleasant enough voice, but she would be wise to vary the syllabic content of her scat forays, which are somewhat repetitious. And in the case of a emerging singer like Ms. Williams, this date cries for at least one standard tune for less adventurous ears to hang their hats on. A couple of instrumentalists would have also better served the ongoing Saltman Knowles Quintet ID development.
Info factor: Letâ€™s say youâ€™re hearing the Saltman-Knowles Quintet and Lori Williams for the first time. Donâ€™t look for many identity clues in the booklet; though you will learn about â€œThings we likeâ€ and â€œThings we dislike: music without melodies.â€ Given the original nature of the 10 pieces here, itâ€™s helpful that the lyrics are listed under each track. Tracks and personnel on rear jewel case. Artist contact is: www.saltmanknowles.com, inside booklet and on rear cover.
Info Grade: B
The Greg Thompkins Quintet
Boo Booâ€™s Birthday
Roland Park Jazz 001
This big man with a horn (saxophone) from
Info factor: Finally an emerging artist provides at least a capsule bio of himself â€“ as well as thumbnails on his cohorts! Tracks and times listed in the booklet and on back cover of this colorfully artful package replete with cover line drawing. Contact info in booklet, on disc, and on rear jewel case: www.baltimoresax.com.
Info grade: A
Next To You
Amplified Records AMP 102
This young vocalist is to be applauded for daring to take the hang fly route here with a stripped down vocal-guitar duo date. Ms. Vinson does not have operatic pipes or extraordinary range, but she has good pitch and depth of feeling that are quite sturdy. Guitarist Tom Dempsey is a properly sensitive accompanist who lays down an attractive carpet for Teraesa and they breathe well together. They inject new life into a compact, zesty rendition of â€œI Remember Youâ€ then neatly switch gears for Stevie Wonderâ€™s contemporary gem â€œRibbon in the Skyâ€. Elsewhere thereâ€™s a tender evocation of the lovely McCoy Tyner/Sammy Cahn piece â€œYou Taught My Heart to Singâ€.
Info factor: No real bio of either artist but Vinson pens an informative story of how she and Dempsey came together as well as her artistic intent with this date, and a nice graphic highlight of Dempseyâ€™s contribution to an otherwise mainly-standards pallet. Tracks and credits artfully listed inside the fold-out booklet. Tracks and times on rear jewel case.
Info Grade: A
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