Recent Recordings by Area Musicians
Urban Transport has released its second CD, Live (self-produced). On this album, recorded during a 2005 concert at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, the quintet consists of Vincent Chandler, trombone, Dean Moore, alto saxophone, Scott Gwinnell, piano, Josef Diaz, bass, and Sean Dobbins, drums.
The group plays what might be called, for lack of a better term, mainstream modern jazz, but it stands out among similar combos for a number of reasons. The alto saxophone/trombone front line is unusual, and provides an identifiable ensemble sound, and the quintet usually only plays compositions written by members of the band. On this CD five are from the pen of Chandler and two are by Dean. The repertoire provides one element of Urban Transport's success; each tune has a different feel and a different rhythmic basis, providing much variety. More important is the exciting, driving spirit that enlivens these performances, a spirit realized with amazing musical ability.
The two horn men constitute the core of the band, and both of them are original soloists with strong individual styles. Their personal friendship over the years is apparent in their playing; they share many concepts and their music retains the excitement and playfulness of youth, burnished with experience. The group has been together for more than five years and has been fortunate enough to play regularly at Detroit clubs such as Bert's and Baker's, and the musicians have developed an admirable cohesion so that it is sometimes impossible to tell which parts are written and which are improvised. This is a splendid release by a group that should be known far beyond the boundaries of Michigan.
Guitarist Randy Napoleon may no longer be living in his native Ann Arbor, but he comes back often to offer us evidence of his musical development. On his latest CD, Between Friends (Azica AJD-72236), he is joined by Benny Green, piano, Jared Gold, Hammond B3 organ, David Wong, bass, and Quincy Davis, drums. The recital intermingles cuts with Napoleon's regular band-mate Gold with quartets featuring Green's piano. The atmosphere is rhythmically solid and yet relaxed at the same time, due in large part to the drummer's light touch. These musicians have played together for some time, and there is a nice feeling of familiarity on this album.
The repertoire consists of standards as well as three compositions by Napoleon and one by Davis. Napoleon has forsaken the pick, and now plucks the strings of the electric guitar with his right hand fingers and gets a light, singing tone from his instrument. I have never heard another guitarist swing so well using such techniques, but it also serves him well on ballads, as can be heard on "My Foolish Things;" he plays the head solo and it is simply lovely. The whole album works well because the repertoire is both strong and varied, with Irving Berlin and Alec Wilder tunes intermingled with originals, but also because the arrangements offer variety. It also features some less-well known standards, such as Harry Warren's "You're My Everything," which will be familiar to anyone who has heard Randy perform; he is obviously fond of this tune, and has made it his own.
This release demonstrates that Napoleon must be considered in the first rank of modern jazz guitarists.
Dave Usher, of Dee Gee records fame, continues to release wonderful performances from his archives. Three years ago we reviewed three volumes of music from the first Birmingham Jazz Festival that took place in 1960; this is now followed up by a double CD with music from the second installment: Birmingham Jazz Festival: The Early Years Vol. 4, 1961 [CAP 990, Red Anchor Productions, 1-800-425-6657].
The lineup is completely different this time, but no less impressive. The rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Nick Fiore on bass, and J. C. Heard on drums provide the foundation of the all-star proceedings. After two trio numbers, they launch into "On Green Dolphin Street," with Kelly's introduction that he was using in the Miles Davis Quintet at the time, and they are joined by the tenor saxophones of Sandy Moss and Oliver Nelson (in that order) for a ten minute exploration of the tune, which was still new as a jazz standard at the time; it is nice to hear Nelson really stretch out in a concert performance. Next comes a set of classic big band performances by the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra, very much in the Basie manner. Wilkins was a major contributor to the Basie book, and the arrangements are first class, but this is also a piece of Detroit jazz history, as it demonstrates just how good local musicians were at the time. The booklet lists five tracks in incorrect order; the CD contains nine; as far as I can determine, the correct listing is (5) "Shiny Stockings," (6) "Jack the Riffer," (7) "Fathead's Blues," (8) ?, (9), ?, (10) "Lover Man" (the fluegelhorn player is surely Clark Terry), (11), "You Stepped out of a Dream," (12) "Li'l Darlin'," and (13) "Birmingham Blues." The first cd ends with a long fast blues featuring trumpeters Joe Newman and Clark Terry, tenorist Billy Mitchell, and guitarist Less Spann.
The second CD opens with four tunes sung by Joe Carroll with the rhythm section augmented by Les Spann. The guitarist and vocalist then lay out and are replaced by trumpeters Clark Terry and Joe Newman from the Basie band. They play a ballad medley and then romp through "The Continental." Two other companions from the Basie band, trombonist Al Grey and tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, who co-led a wonderful combo after leaving the Count, in turn, replace them for the next three tunes. The imaginative soloing, the swinging rhythm section, and the playful interaction between the horn men make this set one of the highlights of the whole CD! All the musicians return to the stage and take things out on Newman's "The Opener."
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