Jazz Plus: Ron Wynn is back in action with his latest reviews

jamieJamie Baum Septet: “In This Life” (Sunnyside)

The rhythms – and to some extent sensibility – of Asian music underline the compositions on New York-based bandleader and flutist Jamie Baum’s latest release. Her septet includes enough distinctive players and instruments (for instance a trumpet/French horn/sax frontline) to ensure that the East/West blend never loses immediacy or intensity. Baum’s a strong soloist whose style alternates between aggressive and mellow, soothing and fiery. The opening cut pays homage to the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, while “Richie’s Lament” recognizes outstanding veteran jazzman Richie Beirach. “In This Life” proves a tight combination of intriguing pieces, nice rhythm section contributions from bassist Zachary Lorber and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, and pieces that range from contemplative to ambitious.

rootToronzo Cannon: “John The Conquer Root” (Delmark)

Blues guitarist, songwriter and bandleader Toronzo Cannon’s led a varied, unpredictable life, one that’s been good preparation for his current occupation. A left-handed stylist in the Albert King mode (from an approach standpoint), Cannon didn’t embrace a fulltime musical career until 22. He’s uninterested in revisiting the past or exploring covers, making a point in one song to note that it’s not 1952, and he isn’t doing blues from that era. Still, his lyrics and vocals retain the classic edge, colorful bent and storytelling flair that are the genre’s hallmark. Cannon’s  playing is both flashy and direct, and often reflects in its extensive and creative uses of feedback, dissonance and volume the impact of prime influence Jimi Hendrix. Most importantly, Toronzo Cannon’s tunes, whether espousing pain and disappointment, or his spin on modern blues (“Gentle Reminder”), should resonate with fans of either traditional or contemporary sounds. Aided by an excellent supporting band augmented by premier special guests like soaring harmonica ace Omar Coleman and a sparkling horn section, Toronzo Cannon and such comrades as rhythm guitarist Lawrence Gladney, organist/pianist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassists Larry Williams or Dave Forte and drummer Brian “BJ” Jones deliver original (all Cannon tunes) South Side blues with plenty of vigor and soul.

dryeHoward Drye/Brian Drye: “Open Letter” (NCM East)

The father/son tandem Howard and Brian Drye share compositional and leadership duties on a new two-disc set mainly devoted to celebrating their musical heroes. The first CD (Howard’s) has poignant tributes to Jimmy Hamilton, Horace Silver and Johnny Hodges, plus a sentimental number for his wife. Brian’s set honors Thelonious Monk, Harry Carner and Bob Bowen, plus an unnamed feline. The songs are smoothly executed, with Brian Drye’s trombone solos memorable, and Howard Drye’s baritone work alternately fluid and edgy. They get dynamic assistance from Mike McGinnis (clarinet, alto/soprano saxes) and Jeff Hermanson (trumpet/flugelhorn) on the front line, and the bass/drums section of Dan Fabricatore and Vinnie Sperrazza on the bottom. Nothing earthshaking, just swinging, inventive fare from the elder and younger Drye and company.

ellingtonDuke Ellington and his Orchestra: “The Ellington Suites” (Pablo/Original Jazz Classics/Concord)

Duke Ellington’s output was so prodigious it was inevitable that not everything, regardless of quality, would be issued during his lifetime. The 16 tunes featured here over four extended suites were initially recorded during sessions ranging from 1959 (“The Queen’s Suite” selections) to 1972 (“The Uwis Suite” and a previously unissued number “The Kiss.”) Some fans and critics disliked the suites and felt they put too much emphasis on group cohesion and tonal colors while cutting back on the romping section interaction and special contributions from heralded Ellingtonians. There were certainly still famous players in the orchestra for these numbers, notably trumpeter Cootie Williams and saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby and Harry Carney. But it’s the lush, often thrilling ensemble work, and arrangements from both Ellington and Billy Strayhorn that take honors on this CD. While it’s well worth having for its historical value, “The Ellington Suites” deserves notice as much, if not more, for things off the bandstand rather than on it.

keefeKeefe Jackson’s Likely So: “A Round Goal” (Delmark)

Chicago tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist, bandleader and composer Keefe Jackson has assembled a splendid band whose music is definitely for fans interested in challenging, provocative and futuristic material. A septet that features nothing except reed players, all multi-instrumentalists, Jackson’s crew presents open-ended pieces with passionate, flamboyant solos, exchanges and interactions that sometimes mesh, and other times explode during an exciting live performance recorded at the 2013 Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Switzerland. There are some numbers (“My Time Is My Own,” the title track and nearly 12-minute finale “Roses”) with more easily followed melodic sections than others, but this is definitely a topflight disc, one that saxophone fans will find especially delightful.

blueskiesIra Sullivan Presents The Jim Holman Trio: “Blue Skies” (Delmark)

Pairing an established star with an emerging figure isn’t exactly a new concept, especially in jazz. But when it works, the results can be compelling, and that’s clearly the case with this eight-song set that matches the longtime Chicago (now South Florida) trumpeter/saxophonist Ira Sullivan with pianist Jim Holman’s trio. Holman’s Delmark debut indicated his sizable potential, and he’s just as impressive here, though in a different role. Sullivan is less animated than on some past releases, opting for a lighter, but expressive sound on either trumpet or tenor. He slowly builds tension and excitement during his solos, while Holman takes the cue and supplies thoughtful, supple accompaniment and equally delightful statements during his spotlight moments. The rotating bass/drum sections with either Nick Schneider and Roger Humphries or Dennis Carroll and George Fludas (“Blue in Green,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Along Came Betty,”) also get in the right groove, giving the Sullivan/Holman support that’s ample without being intrusive. Even though many tunes on “Blue Skies” have been done by other groups or showcased on previous releases, Ira Sullivan, Jim Holman and his trio find ways to make them fresh and engaging.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.