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Jazz Plus: Nashville’s top jazz players score big with new recordings

jazzplusroland2Roland Barber, “Heart Expressed, Art Finessed” (RolandBarber.com)

The trombone wizard of Music City delivers a super set of predominately mid-tempo and mellow numbers on his new release. Ronald Barber displays remarkable technique on trombone, whether playing it with a mute or open, delivering flashy or smooth solos. He’s heading an excellent quintet with brother Rahsaan steadily exploring multiple horns (alto, soprano and tenor saxophone) and providing a capable, adventurous second soloist and contrasting voice in the frontline. A topflight rhythm section with bassist Jim Ferguson (no vocals this time around), swirling pianist Gordon Webster and drummer Ulysses Owens bring vibrant support and complementary muscle. Other than a nice reworking of “What Is Thing Called Love” and the selections “Chopsticks” (intriguing treatment) and Steve Turre’s “The Dripper” (a great showcase for trombone fireworks) this session spotlights Roland Barber’s compositional and leadership prowess (he does triple duty as producer as well). This was an expertly played date.

Lynn Lewis, “At Long Last Love” (LynnLewisMusic.com)

jazzpluslewisVocalist Lynn Lewis has previously been an instrumentalist and section member, so she’s quite familiar with the discipline needed to effectively handle the jazz vocal canon. She excels in every area, from up-tempo swing to elegant theatrical works, playful love ballads and intense, surging standards. Her latest release contains stirring examples of each, with varying settings and accompaniment that give listeners the chance to hear Lewis’ strong, striking delivery and emphatic leads. Beegie Adair adds dashing piano assistance to “You Must Believe In Spring,” while Lori Mechem takes over piano duties on “Time Remembered.” A host of other excellent players like drummer Duffy Jackson, bassist Roger Spencer, pianist Bruce Dudley, trombonist Roy Agee, saxophonist Jeff Coffin and drummer Marcus Finnie (among others) alternately contribute to other standout pieces like “Easy To Love,” “Autumn Nocturne,” “Midnight Sun” and “Out of This World.” Along with a solid version of the Brazilian classic “Dindi,” and “At Long Last Love,” this disc offers a full, first-rate portrait of Lynn Lewis’ jazz vocal expertise.

njoThe Nashville Jazz Orchestra, “It Ain’t Necessarily So: New Twists on Gershwin Classics” (Jazz Music City)

There aren’t many cities large or small with a corps of big band musicians equal to those who comprise The Nashville Jazz Orchestra. Their concerts at Blair are always delightful, and demonstrate there’s still life in the swing and music for dancing format that once dominated the charts. Longtime director Jim Williamson supplies the right blend of strong musical leadership and on-stage humor and comraderie. The group’s cohesive edge is fully displayed during their  new release that updates, tweaks and revises beloved classics from the legendary George Gershwin. Although these are hardly new tunes, the fresh visions and inspired approaches taken by various NJO players make them sound that way. All eight are memorable. Singling any out doesn’t make sense because listener reactions will depend on whether you prefer aggressive or sentimental Gershwin, minimal solos with lots of unison work or dueling instrumental contributions with standout sections. Most importantly, the Nashville Jazz Orchestra ranks with any large band anywhere, not just in America but around the world, and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” serves as proof of their brilliance.

Imer Santiago, “Hidden Journey” (Jazz Music City)

jazzplusimerTrumpeter Imer Santiago has been a formidable presence in both mainstream and Latin jazz circles since his arrival in Nashville. Those skills, which include a bright, dynamic sound, extensive range, ample ideas as a soloist and composer, and idiomatic flexibility, repeatedly emerge on his new release. “Hidden Journey” spans the thematic gamut from tribute pieces such as “Flat 2176” (for Miles Davis) and another version dedicated to Tito Puente to splendid covers of “The Very Thought of You” and “Lonely Nights,” plus several strong originals. Santiago’s unafraid to share the spotlight, bringing on board another masterful trumpeter in Rod McGaha on “Fourthcoming.” He gives plenty of space to bandmates like multi-instrumentalist and prolific session player/producer Rahsaan Barber (alto and tenor saxophones and flute), the equally in-demand pianist Bruce Dudley, bassist Jon Estes and drummer Josh Hunt. Santiago’s set also incorporates outstanding guest stints from a distinguished cast. Their ranks include vocalist Stephanie Adington (“The Very Thought Of You”), trombonist Roland Barber (“Flat 2176),” and percussionist Giovanni Rodriguez (“Reminiscence” and “Flat 2176”). Santiago and company light things up on all “Hidden Journey’s” numbers.

The New Jerry Tachoir Group, “Stories” (tachoir.com)

jazzplustachoirVibraphonist Jerry Tachoir is not only a premier soloist and bandleader, he’s among the nation’s top clinicians and touring musicians in his field. Tachoir’s fiery playing style and versatility, as well as that of his group, are front and center on their new release “Stories.” The musical menu has fast-paced, swinging pieces like “Flyer” and “See Saw Scene,” tunes that pivot off other idioms such as “All Tango’d Up” and “Greener Blues,” and tributes (“All About Shearing”), plus fresh Tachoir pieces (“Chase The Dream,” “Natchez”). Besides Tachoir’s consistent vibes mastery, the band’s powered by first-rate piano and vocal contributions from Marlene Tachoir, and an ace rhythm section in bassist Roy Vogt, percussionist Beth Gottlieb and drummers Danny Gottlieb and Rich Adams. At first glance, some tunes may remind listeners of the music pioneered by Gary Burton in his LPs with Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, except there’s a lot more rhythmic punch and edge to the songs on “Stories.” While he’ll continue to be better known in other cities than here, Nashville should take note we have our own vibes champion, and he’s crafting some of the best jazz on that instrument since Burton’s days here in the late ’60s.

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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.