Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Jazzheads JH 1184
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Tito PuenteTito Puente’s name is legendary. He performed from 1937 to 2000 and made over 100 albums, becoming almost synonymous with mambo and salsa, and he’s largely responsible for bringing Afro-Cuban music into the mainstream, so much so that people thought he was Cuban when in fact he was Puerto Rican. Bobby Sanabria, a drummer, composer, arranger, and Grammy-nominated recording artist, has taken up Puente’s torch, as well as a position at the Manhattan School of Music since 1999.

Puente was known as much for his sizzling arrangements as his original music, so it makes sense that Sanabria and his talented conservatory band created a concert using Puente’s fiery charts in either original or reconstructed guise. The exciting and authoritative readings from this live event are nothing short of perfection. Puente originals such as “Ran Kan Kan,” “Mambo Adonis,” and “Mambo Buddha” share time with “Autumn Leaves,” “Bohemia (Birdland) After Dark,” and “Ritual Fire Dance.” The band is outstanding at all times, and its soloists sound thoroughly professional, especially lead trumpet Paul Stodolka and vibes player Norman Edwards. The sound is big, bold, and brassy, which is just what this music needs.

Geoff Berner Victory PartyIf you’ve read any of my previous columns, you probably know that my musical tastes aren’t easily categorized. I try to stay abreast of popular artists to keep culturally current, but I’m usually unimpressed with mainstream music and I find the "alternative" classification a farce. It’s the underground, unknown, oft-overlooked releases from small, independent labels or self-issued artists that excite me most. This month I’ve found four such gems, and I urge you to have a listen. While you may not read about them in Rolling Stone or hear them on a major radio station, these bands play with a passion and exuberance that comes with the territory of being brilliant, unimpeded, under-the-radar artists. I for one revel in such rawness.

I’m still undecided as to whether Geoff Berner’s Victory Party or Chopteeth’s Live disc is more frenetic, as both are dizzying in their energy and delivery. Victory Party (CD, MRD-132) gives klezmer a real kick in the pants. The Vancouver-based Berner is an accordion player with a punk-rock heart, and his backing band is a misfit mix of two New Yorkers on bass and clarinet, a female pair of classically trained violinists, and a percussionist and pianist. The songs are witty, cynical, and brash, taking aim at religious authority, politicians, pimps, and hipsters. There’s a haunting old-world sound at the root of their music, but it all comes crashing gladly into the here and now thanks to Berner’s satirical singing and the swirling soundscapes imagined by his band mates. I’m ready to join the victory party, comrades, and I’ve officially added punk-klezmer to my list of adored genres.

Jeff BeckEagle Vision DV303409
Format: DVD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****
Picture Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

 

Jeff Beck is eight tunes into his Les Paul tribute set at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York for this DVD before he and singer Imelda May kick into "How High the Moon," which Les Paul and Mary Ford took to the top of the charts in 1951. May, who performed the tune with Beck during last year’s Grammy Awards, sings lead over her own multi-tracked backing vocals, and Beck gets Paul’s slap-back reverb, echo, and quick flurries of melody down solid on a gorgeous red sunburst Les Paul Standard, one of many guitars he picks up during the performance.

Jovino Santos NetoAdventure Music AM1063 2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

The Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto, who has lived and worked in the US since 1993, has recorded duet CDs with Weber Iago (Live at Caramoor, 2008) and label mate Mike Marshall (Serenata, 2003). Veja O Som pairs the pianist with 20 musicians, including Marshall, for this two-disc collection, with one disc recorded in Brazil and the other in the US. Santos Neto and Richard Zirinsky Jr., the executive producer of the disc and owner of Adventure Music, each chose the musicians who appear here. The idea for the set was Zirinsky’s because, as he told Santos Neto, “what the world needed at that stage of extreme global uncertainty was the reassurance of one-on-one human warmth and interaction.”

Zoho Records ZM201101
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

O'Farril BrothersThe O’Farrill Brothers are Adam, who plays trumpet and writes most of the music, and Zack, who plays drums. If their last name is familiar, it’s no doubt due to their father, Arturo, who’s well known as a jazz educator and performer. This is such a good debut disc, however, that the brothers will likely be known in their own right before long. The O’Farrill Brothers’ quintet is completed by Livio Almeida on saxophone, Zaccai Curtis on piano, and Michael Sacks on bass. Though the young men are all in their early 20s and have the energy and enthusiasm to prove it, the group collectively projects a singular maturity. The tight ensemble is a toe-tapping joy to hear, and each player distinguishes himself with virtuoso solo stretches that are most impressive. The O’Farrill group has no set formula for each chart, and that spontaneity makes for a refreshing playlist. A track might start with the whole group, or it may begin with a rhythmic bass ostinato that both anchors and drives the composition, as in Almeida’s “Face It!” The young players certainly show influences, such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Freddie Hubbard, but the O’Farrill Brothers have established their own pulsing style. The sound is warm and clean, though it slights the bass.

Gibex Recordings Gibex 006
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Michael William GilbertElectronica, ambient music, techno, or whatever name it chooses to go by is probably something of an acquired taste. For me, the best of it, such as the Bombay Dub Orchestra or Banco de Gaia, embraces music from other cultures and creates an enticing blend that draws you in. Michael William Gilbert’s I Can See From Here joins that company with an enjoyable disc that, despite its technical savvy, still has a big heart. Ambient music can be somnambulant, but Gilbert is a rocker at heart and the energy level on I Can See From Here remains high. “Amerikan Dream” is anthem enough for any Pink Floyd lover, and the shimmering guitars on “Over the Next Rise” will appeal to young rock fans. The keyboard washes and other electronic trills throughout the disc are typical of this genre, but Gilbert also likes rhythm, so the conga drums, shakers, and other percussion instruments ensure a human element. Peter Kaukonen is the guest guitarist on “Amerikan Dream,” but the rest is Gilbert, who also recorded and mixed the disc. A mastering engineer would have ensured more consistency in the sound, but Gilbert uses space well and most of the tracks will give your stereo a workout.

MDG 910 1625-6
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

201102_flyingsaxcircusWe all like what we like when we like it, but we should always be open to those off-the-beaten-track titles that, given a chance, can provide unexpected pleasure. It’s hard to imagine anything more unusual than a band comprising a dozen saxophone players (one sopranino, two soprano, three alto, three tenor, two baritone, and one bass), but it sounds a lot more familiar than you might think. The scores for three of Antonin Dvořák’s Slavic Dances have the ensemble sounding a bit like a huge, sonorous accordion. The “Lyric Waltz” from the jazzy Shostakovich Jazz Suite No.2 sounds like wistful film music to accompany a pair of lovers strolling by the Seine (or perhaps the Volga!). A suite of Gershwin songs played in a nostalgic “club” style finds the ensemble sounding totally idiomatic, and though “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” sound pert and frothy, the soulful arrangement of “Summertime” plumbs greater depths. If you’re an audio buff in the know, it’s enough to say that the sound is MDG at its best, with excellent stereo tracks and multichannel ones that impart a greater sense of three-dimensional realism.

Black Warrior Records BW1005
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

201102_andyfarberAndy Farber and His Orchestra open their new disc, This Could Be the Start of Something Big, with a lively, jumping piece of Ellington-inspired swing. “Bombers” features lock-step ensemble playing from the full band and great solos by Farber (on alto), Harvey Tibbs (trombone), and Kenny Rampton (trumpet). Pianist Kenny Ascher plays a smart, swinging solo on Farber’s “Space Suit,” which also features a warm clarinet outing by Dan Block. Farber has arranged the sections of the band precisely, and engineer Chris Allen at Sears Sound has placed them cleanly and well in the soundstage. Coleman Hawkins owns “Body and Soul,” but Farber’s own feature on his band’s version is a warm tribute and not a mere rehash. The title track was jazz lover Steve Allen’s gift to the music, and guest Jon Hendricks, with whom Farber has appeared, grabs hold of it to show us he still has his chops at age 89. Another Farber tune, “It Is What It Is,” is full-on Basie style, and Ascher has the earlier pianist’s easy touch down pat. Block, on tenor this time, plays a warm, melodic solo that leads to another impressive ensemble demonstration by the band. This Could Be the Start of Something Big is the work of a band that loves big-band jazz, doesn’t treat it like a museum artifact, and swings it hard.

201101_israelisongAnzic Records ANZ-3002
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

Eli Degibri is an Israeli jazz musician who started playing mandolin at age seven and picked up the saxophone three years later. When he was 16, he received a full scholarship to Berklee School of Music’s Summer Performance Program, and the school granted him another summer of study the following year. After further training at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, Degibri toured with Herbie Hancock’s sextet for two and a half years beginning in 1999, when he was just 20. Since 2002 he’s fronted his own quartet, and he’s also a member of the band led by drummer Al Foster.

Six years ago, a friend of mine was working as the advertising director at Jazz Times magazine. He put me in contact with the editorial staff at the SoundStage! Network and encouraged me to consider writing music reviews for them. His prompting led me to where I am now, writing about music I love and finding endless satisfaction in exploring. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and although he’s no longer working for a solely jazz-centric publication, he’s still an excellent musician and a die-hard music aficionado, so I turned to him this month for his thoughts on the best work to be released in the past year in the jazz genre. Ever knowledgeable and convivial, he easily plied me with a stack of recordings from composers that met my requirements and exceeded my expectations. Consider this my short list, if you will, of highlights of the year’s best jazz recordings.

201101_charleslloydSeventy-two-year-old legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd returned this year with the soulful, heady Mirror (CD, EMC 2176), his second release with his current quartet, consisting of Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (double bass), and Eric Harland (drums). This album floats along like a lucid dream, with Lloyd’s plaintive horn crying out with love, sorrow, faith, and finesse. Lloyd has been around long enough to experience much of the lifespan of jazz first-hand, having been an integral part of the early scene for decades, playing with the likes of Cannonball Adderley and leading his own star-studded groups of stellar acclaim and then quietly shifting gears in the ’60s to record with pop phenomenons like the Doors and the Beach Boys. He regrouped in the ’90s for a few short-lived sessions before taking another respite, and he’s now reclaimed his role as an innovator and messenger for the next era. Mirror is a confident recording that speaks of experience and contentment, but also a driving desire to continue exploring the boundaries of this uniquely American art form, as though Lloyd is rediscovering a long-lost first love. Comprising new takes on old gospel favorites, love songs, fresh originals, and covers of Thelonious Monk ("Monk’s Mood," "Ruby My Dear") and the Beach Boys ("Caroline, No"), Mirror makes for quite the reflective retrospective.