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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine!  View and download here in Acrobat: December 2014

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Nir NaamanWith the demise of the stable working band, the path to jazz mastery no longer runs primarily through paying dues with bandleaders like Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis or Art Blakey. New jazz talent is now developed as much in the academy as it is on the bandstand. So it’s not surprising that the two young saxophonists whose debut albums comprise this Winning Spins both have already received master’s degrees in jazz programs in the New York area after earning undergraduate jazz degrees at Boston-area music schools.

Besides a solid foundation in jazz history, both bring experiences from life and the influence of mentors to their music. Nir Naaman also carries his Israeli heritage—he played lead alto in the Israeli Air Force Band—and an obvious affection for robust swing saxophonists to his style. Alex LoRe is that rare young alto saxophonist who eschews the dominance of Charlie Parker, taking his cues from such mentor/models as Lee Konitz and Bunky Green. Both Naaman and LoRe enlist a veteran musician along with a band of younger peers on their outings.

Independence, Nir Naaman (Naaman Music), showcases the leader on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones in settings from quintet and quartet to a duo featuring the piano master George Cables, who also wrote effusive liner notes. That duet, one of two classic standards on the album, is a resonant version of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” Naaman’s romantic tenor sax conjuring memories of earlier giants of the instrument.

Cables also appears on six of the other nine tracks, three in a quintet with trumpeter Marcus Printup, who sounds fresh and frisky away from his usual Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra role. Naaman plays tenor on two of those, digging into a meaty, soul jazz feel on his modern shuffle, “Ohali Blues,” leavening it a bit on the hard bop original tune. His most creative tenor work is on a Yemenite Jewish folk song he adapted, “Eshai Elohai,” his horn proudly swooping and swirling over the breezy desert rhythms.

Naaman has an appealing, light vibrato on soprano sax, which he plays with lyrical intensity on two original ballads in a quartet with Roy Assaf on piano: “Dream” and “Winter Sun.” He switches to alto sax in that same quartet for a warm version of “The Very Thought of You.” His other forays on alto are brisker. He and Cables spin out exhilarating solos on his “Dilemma,” a quartet track where his solo is marked by bright staccato phrasing and catchy riffs. There’s a swinging flow to “Fall,” Naaman’s only waltz, again with his engaging alto sax sound and a notable Cables solo. The album ends on a rave up, “New Orleans Twist,” Naaman’s updated take on Crescent City Second Line swing, his alto and Printup’s trumpet prancing through their paces.

Nir Naaman hosts a CD release party for Independence at Jazz at Kitano on Dec. 11.

Coming next: Ales LoRe at Cornelia Street Café.


Eliane Elias: Thinking about Chet Baker By Ralph A. Miriello

Elaine EliasEliane Elias has established herself as a popular, world-class artist in both jazz and Brazilian music. A skilled pianist, an evocative vocalist and a serious composer, by the time the Sao Paolo resident came to New York in 1981, she had all the tools she needed to be a successful working musician.

Elias is the product of a musical family—her mother was a classically trained pianist who often played American jazz around the house—and her unquenchable thirst for all things jazz found her transcribing inspiring songs from records by Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell and Bill Evans before age 15! Elias attended some of Brazil’s finest music schools and eventually began teaching piano.

Ultimately, she was given an opportunity to work with Vinicius Morales, the lyricist who, with Antonio Carlos Jobim, is considered one of the founders of the bossa nova sound. That experience shaped her musical identity. At the same time, her musical vocabulary was growing by listening to American jazz pianists like Peterson, Evans, Powell, Jarrett, Hancock and Corea, all key influences by her own admission.

In 1982, after working with the bassist Eddie Gomez, she moved to New York and was invited to take over the piano chair from the departing Don Grolnick in the progressive jazz super group Steps Ahead. The band included Gomez, Mike Mainieri, Peter Erskine and saxophone great Michael Brecker. Soon after, Elias launched her solo career and has since recorded more than 23 albums and has been nominated for five Grammy awards.

Her most recent recording is an CD titled I Thought About You: A Tribute to Chet Baker. As Elias sees it, the music is coming full circle. Baker was part of the California cool school of music, which strongly influenced the creators of the bossa nova. That sound became synonymous with Brazil and the beach community of Ipanema, where bossa is thought to have originated. It was its own reasonable simulacrum of the music being played by Baker, Getz and Mulligan at places like the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach CA. Elias recalls: “I remember speaking with Jobim and others and they all were affected by Chet’s unassuming vocal style. His music had a large influence on Brazilian musicians.”

For the past several years, the formidable pianist in Elias has yielded slightly to the vocalist within her. “Singing with the music has always been an integrating experience for me. It comes from the heart.” Her soft, sensuous voice seems to sway rhythmically in time with the rise and fall of her shoulders as she plays at her piano. Elias’ music can be downright sexy. “Some people can get away with being able to play bossa, but samba— that is another story. Samba floats; it is in my blood.”

In many ways, Elias’ voice is the perfect female complement to the Baker style: languishing, sensuous, with an irresistibly, organic rhythm to her phrasing. Her words seem to hang deliciously in the air like some ripe tropical fruit ready to be savored. “Baker had a special way of phrasing, of singing over the bar line and in an unaffected way,” she says. “And he was very melodic.”

Elias is moved by songs relating to love, whether lost or gained, and the album includes some Baker favorites such as “This Can’t Be Love,” “Embraceable You” and the wonderfully footloose “Let’s Get Lost.” “Most people think of the melancholy side of Chet, but he could swing too.” She proves it, bringing an upbeat medium tempo pace to the title song, “I Thought About You.” True to Baker’s tome: “You have to be a pretty great drummer to be better than no drummer at all,” Elias plays several songs without one.

The pianist has assembled a powerhouse band for this album. Bassist Marc Johnson and the intuitive drummer Victor Lewis, who both played with Baker and cool school legend Stan Getz, bring an authenticity to this music. In addition, the album features some wonderfully lyrical trumpet work by Randy Brecker, the tasty guitarist Steve Cardenas, the percussionist Marivaldo dos Santos and her regular drummer, Rafael Barata.

The Eliane Elias quartet will perform at Birdland Dec. 2 through 6. The band will feature guitarist Graham Decter, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata.

Coming next: Discover who was influenced by Ellington, Monk and Morton.


Holiday Gift Guide 2014 by George Kanzler

Jazz can always surprise. Take “Little Drummer Boy”—you think you know that Christmas carol in all its pop and jazz variations ad infinitum and ad nauseam. And yet you would be wrong. Among this compilation of holiday gift suggestions of books, DVDs and CD albums, both new and reissued or gathered in box sets, is a completely original, unexpected version of “Little Drummer Boy.”

ONE MORE WHIRL ‘ROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

By far, the best new jazz holiday album is an anthology featuring artists who record for Mack Avenue: It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue. It’s also the one with that fresh “Little Drummer Boy,” courtesy of soprano saxophonist Tia Fuller’s quintet, especially percussionist Khalil Kwame Bell, who creates exotic hand drum chatter around a sinuously slow tempo for this sumptuous version of a carol that often serves as an excuse to rave it up. Fuller appears with her alto sax on a dandy, hard boppish version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” from trumpeter Sean Jones’ quintet. Like all the best Christmas jazz albums, this one is more about the musicians as jazz players than holiday celebrators.

Among those making it a worthwhile jazz experience are bassist Christian McBride, with his trio’s wonderful pianist Christian Sands; pianist Aaron Deihl in trio, quartet (with vibist Warren Wolf) and a Monkish striding solo of “Christmas Star.” Singers contributing are Cyrille Aimée, Sachal Vasandani, and Cécile McLorin Salvant in a captivating coda of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Diehl.

In a more traditional, vocal album vein, we have Christmas (Prescott) with Peter Furler featuring David Ian. Although both principles are rockers, this is a jazz inflected holiday album with Furler’s slightly husky voice amped back into an almost Kenny Rankin sound and guitar-shredder Ian sticking to jazz/pop piano. The songs are all familiar carols, fetchingly done.

Creating your own holiday songs can be dicey, but Rick Lang pulls it off pretty well on That’s What I Love About Christmas: Timeless Seasonal Songs Penned by Rick Lang (RLM). The music is as much country as jazz, as it recruits musicians from the Nashville area, including jazz chanteuse Annie Sellick.

 

WELL WORTH ANOTHER SPIN

 2014 hasn’t been a bumper year for reissues and box sets since many major labels are still peddling CDs issued before the last holiday season. But here are a couple of items well worth hearing: one a luxury box, the other an easily overlooked, unearthed gem.

From that Rolls-Royce of reissue labels, Mosaic, comes the historically indispensable The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions. It collects, in nine CDs, the output of the California label that flourished for a short time after World War II, capturing the best of the Pacific Coast’s beboppers, as well as some of the most historic sessions waxed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they visited the West Coast. But Dial also recorded some of Los Angeles’ Central Avenue’s best beboppers including saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey, Teddy Edwards and Lucky Thompson, as well as trumpeter Fats Navarro. Also included are bop-oriented combos derived from Woody Herman’s big band under the leadership of trumpeter Sonny Berman and arranger Ralph Burns.

The Lost Tapes series from the German Jazzhaus label is well worth checking out in its entirety, but one not-to-miss CD in this series of concert performances captured for radio and TV is The Modern Jazz Quartet: Germany 1956-1958 (SWR-Jazzhaus). Besides catching the MJQ—pianist John Lewis, vibist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay—at an early peak of their live concert career, this CD also features premiere versions of two Lewis compositions, “Midsommer” and “Django,” and one Jackson, “Bluesology,” with orchestral accompaniment.

 

NOT JUST FOR LISTENING: DVDs

Jazz isn’t just for listening anymore; watching is also part of the experience. And it can be free if you explore the myriad offerings of jazz musicians on film and TV currently streaming on YouTube. But for the best and latest viewing experiences, here are DVDs that came out this year:

The most heart strings tugging and warmly emotional jazz documentary of the year is Keep On Keepin’ On (Radius-TWC DVD), a film exploring the mentoring relationship of legendary trumpeter Clark Terry and a young, blind pianist, Justin Kauflin. What shines through is Terry’s indomitable spirit and consistently positive attitude, despite horrendous health setbacks he encounters as he enters his 90s and how his spirit encourages Kauflin to persevere in the face of career disappointments. Along the way, Terry’s own career is spotlighted, but it’s his voice and perfect bon mots, that will resonate long after viewings.

Concord has issued a 10th anniversary of Genius Loves Company: Ray Charles Duets, that adds a fascinating bonus DVD on the making of the classic album to a CD of the original.

For the adventurous, two new DVDs present what once would have been called Third Stream music, by jazz pianists and quasi-classical ensembles, combined with impressionistic, sometimes abstract or esoteric videos. My Coma Dreams, Fred Hersch/Herschel Garfein (Palmetto), envisions the dreamscapes of Hersch’s coma as a fantasia-like jazz theater piece. Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi, Vijay Iyer and Prashant Bhargava (ECM), features jazz pianist Iyer with the International Contemporary Ensemble accompanying a film about the Indian goddess Radhe, in a phantasmagoric ballet.

 

ON THE BOOKSHELF

From novels to essays, here are some new jazz books to entice the reader: Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well by Rick Mitchell (Dharma Moon Press), profiles more than 50 jazz musicians who are currently active, from Randy Weston to Jason Moran, capturing their takes on the state of the art today. Hot House contributor Ken Franckling spotlights his photos as well as interviews in his Jazz in the Key of Light: Eighty of Our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves (at Amazon.com), a fine addition to the panoply of coffee table jazz volumes.

There’s also a pair of mystery/crime novels set in a jazz milieu or featuring jazz musicians as leading characters. Saxophonist Scott Schacter’s Outside In features—you guessed it—a jazz saxophonist down on his luck and embroiled in murder. And Joan Merrill’s And All That Moves has PI Casey McKie solving the murder of a leading jazz vocalist. Both are available on Amazon.com.