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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#12

Ellen Honert - Hummingville
(Mill Station Records MSR-1002)

This is the second album by Dutch jazz vocalist and most welcome it is. I thoroughly enjoyed her debut album Breath Of The Soul, and this is a continuation of her vibrant jazz-pop style. The album starts with a very Latinesque title track which should get listeners either tapping their feet or up and dancing. The Latin vibe continues throughout the album, sometimes more subtly than elsewhere, but there is a definite Brazilian thread going right through this album. About half the songs were written by Ms Honert and assorted collaborators and the rest are by the likes of Sting [I Was Brought To My Senses] and Milton Nascimento [Bridges]. While Hummingville may be a jazz album I think the lightness of touch and the Latin vibe will also make it attractive to the pop listener to, if it can make it onto the pop radio playlists. I can't speak too highly of the musicians performing on this album, they provide a superlative backing for Ms Honert's lovely voice. They are Frank Martin on piano, hammond organ and production, Jose Neto on guitar, Pedro Eustache on flute, John Peña on bass and Alex Acuña on drums and percussion. The CD also includes a video file playable on computers, a documentary about the making of this album and the singer. All in all, Hummingville is a quality album by a vocalist who is just getting better all the time. It certainly deserves the widest exposure to show those in thrall to the cult of Lady Gaga and her ilk that the voice is more important than image, glam bling and hype.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.honertmusic.com

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Jeff Antoniuk & The Jazz Update - Brotherhood
(JAJU-1002)

We are currently in a mini heatwave here in the UK and being too pooped to pop I slid Jeff Antoniuk's new CD into the PC for a little r & r. Little chance of that as Screwball exploded out of the Labtec speakers and enveloped me within a ball of good vibes. Screwball is a raver of a tune, full of melody and Mr Antoniuk's sax rides over everything with confidence. I may not have started dancing - you really DO NOT want to see me try anything from the terpsichorean arts, believe me - but I was awake and listening with revived ears. The next track is Brotherhood, a gentler, more refined ballad, atmospheric and lovely. Backed by a trio, this is small scale jazz of a high quality, and dare one say, good humour... With Tom Baldwin on bass, Wade Beach on keyboards, and Tony Martucci on all sorts of drums and percussion, Mr Antoniouk's tenor and soprano saxes weave their magic throughout. I love the sound of a sax, especially when played melodically, rather than just honking up the air from the player's lungs, and I can say that on Brotherhood you are listening to someone who is thinking about the music and shaping beautiful sounds from his instruments. Other track titles include: Meet Me At The Ponderosa, Isfahan, Global Village, Waltz With The Wind, Mister No Bones, All Of You, Hot House/Evidence and Slickery. Seven of the tracks written by Jeff Antoniuk or band member Tom Baldwin. I think the band's tunes stand up to comparison to those by Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter and Tad Dameron and Thelonius Monk that are on this CD. This is the second album by Jeff Antoniuk and the Jazz Update, and for a first time listener I am extremely impressed by it - I can imagine the band's gigs in the Washington D.C. area are deservedly well received.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jeffantoniuk.com

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Kate Reid - Sentimental Mood

Kate Reid - Sentimental Mood

There's always something special about a small jazz group and a vocalist - the synergy of voice against the tapestry of instruments. It can be a magic time and a special listening experience. And that is definitely the case here with vocalist and pianist Kate Reid, whose deep alto voice playfully seduces the music on this collection of classic songs from the 'Great American Songbook'. So firstly the band creating this magic: Steve Barnes on drums, Chris Conner on bass, Ron Eschete on guitar, Steve Reid on trumpet and Ernie Watts on tenor sax. The full band don't play on every track, so the songs are often performed in an intimate trio setting, which obviously focuses attention on that sassy and sexy voice. And it has to be said that this group of musicians do these songs justice with their talents. Secondly the songs - well, the dozen songs here represent the cream of American songwriters, so check out the list: Johnny Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer [I Thought About You], Antonio Carlos Jobin [Dreamer], Cole Porter [Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love], Billy Strayhorn [Lush Life], Duke Ellington [In A Sentimental Mood], Sammy Cahn and Benny Carter [Only Trust Your Heart], and Harold Arlen [Out Of This World] are among the credits here. Add some swing and a dash of latin verve and you have an album of hidden and intimate pleasures suitable for low-light seduction. I can't really think of much else to write here about this album - if you revere the classic Ella Fitzgerald Songbook albums then you should enjoy this modern take on some of the same songs. Nobody can replace the inimitable Ella but Kate Reid is a singer to seek out and relish. Most definitely a highly recommended album of the year or any year.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.katereidmusic.com

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Shawn Maxwell -
Originals II

It takes some confidence and sheer chutzpah to follow up a debut album of all original music with another, and not resort to riffling through the 'Great American Songbook' for a few covers. That woodwinds player and bandleader Shawn Maxwell has done this with follow up album, Originals II, and managed to create a collection of strong jazz tracks that pulse and blow hard is a wonder. Deftly supported by Matt Nelson - piano, Graham Czach - bass, Brad Dickert - drums, Aaron Koppel - guitar and Johann Mahmud - trombone, Maxwell's alto sax, clarinet and flute soar over these strong players to create a dozen tracks of robust jazz. Some of these tracks also have a filmic quality that would suit Martin Scorcese's next movie set on the dark and grimy streets of New York, I'm thinking of Year Three in particular here. So, a very strong follow up to his debut album, and it reveals a composer using his palette of sounds to good effect.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.shawnmaxwell.com

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Lua Hadar with Twist
(Bellalua Records 1931)

Lua Hadar is a jazz vocalist with soprano capabilities and the ability to sing in multiple languages. Supported by her band, Twist, who can play in several differing styles you have a magical combination which is showcased on the nine tracks on their new album. The jazz on show here is blended with world music elements, especially French and Latin flavours, which make for quite a rich and sophisticated mixture. This is showcased most strongly on Sous La Ciel De Paris and Twilight World/Dancing In The Dark. Ms Hadar has a very dramatic voice, one that fills the sound stage between the loudspeakers with interesting shadows and drama. The material and the presentation on this album is reminiscent of the old cabaret clubs set back from the banks of the Seine. If you want a singer that is a cut above the average in every way then I urge you to check out Lua Hadar.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.luahadar.com

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Clatworthy, Colangelo, Doyle - The Decider
[BCM106]

This is a straight through jazz trio album featuring Benn Clatworthy on saxes and flute, Chris Colangelo on bass and Ryan Doyle on drums. The album contains eleven tracks, with a mixture of band compositions and their re-imaginations of music by Thelonius Monk, Kurt Weill, Cole Porter and John Lewis. This is not an album for jazz lite listeners, but it should excite those who enjoy technique and manipulation of melody into new avenues of musical exploration. It is an album for jazz fans of great breadth of knowledge of the subject and who will know the original tunes intimately, which I don't. While I applaud the musicianship and skills on show here I found that most of the music didn't connect with me, the style is mostly post-bebop - not a type of jazz that I am comfortable with. Though I did enjoy the delicate melodies of Tango Sentimental and I Get A Kick Out Of You, which was played more like a blues. So I urge you to find sample tracks online and explore this album for yourself and decide if it is for you.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.mixedmediapromo.com

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John Stein - Encounterpoint
[Whaling City Sound WCS 042]

I'm no stranger to guitarist John Stein's albums (see elsewhere on this website for more reviews), so it wasn't surprising to be jolted awake on a sleepy autumn afternoon by opening tracks Jordu and Line Drive. His new album Encounterpoint thinks big and definitely sounds big - you will be amazed at how full-blown and spacious the four musicians can sound on this album. In fact the musicians on this album only met up to record it over the space of a few days, so to hear how well they meshed together is rather amazing. Supporting John Stein is John Lockwood on bass, Ze Eduardo Nazario on drums and percussion and Koichi Sato on keyboards - definitely the funkiest Japanese Hammond player I've ever heard! There is a latin vibe that permeates the album tracks to varying degrees of intensity, sometimes just a hint and at other times a Latino swagger. I do like Mr Stein's way of playing, he may be a jazz musician but he stays within the parameter of the melody, finding little avenues to explore that please the ear. The sound is undeniably smooth with a hint of edginess lurking underneath - I can imagine this music going down well in a club or at home, winding down after a heavy day with something cold in the hand. I think this is another winner and deserves to do well - I hope that jazz radio stations pick up on its playfulness and sassiness.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.johnstein.com

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Mosaic - Unsaid, Undone
[Snack Records Snack 0006]

From the first seconds of track one of Unsaid, Undone you are aware that Mosaic are an uncompromising jazz quintet. Utilising a mixture of material written by band members and their take on Wayne Shorter's Sightseeing, Mosaic play jazz from the Bop end of the spectrum, and explore the intricacies of what you may call 'the tune' until they get back on melody. With only seven tracks, each one has the space [up to nine minutes] to breath and accept that exploration. The band consists of Matt Belzer on a variety of woodwind, Ned Judy on keyboards, Larry Melton on bass, Mark Merella on drums and David Font on percussion. Tracks are: Seconds Out, Knew One, Hikaru's Dance, Speak Down, Under The Sun, Sightseeing, and Unsaid, Undone. Listening to this album I kept flashing onto those atmospheric black and white photos of musicians on the old Blue Note album covers - the music here would certainly grace the vinyl of one of those iconic album sleeves. Bop isn't one of my favourite styles of jazz, but even so I can't help but stand back in admiration at the musical fireworks being showcased here. And the mellower vibes of Under The Sun made for a restful and tuneful interlude from all the hard blowing. If you like your jazz hard and fast then this could be the album you have been looking for, so go to those URLs listed below and sample Mosaic for yourself.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.snackrecords.com or www.myspace.com/mosaicsnack

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Timothy Cooper - Light on the Water
(New Piano Age Music)

Timothy Cooper is an artist working in many fields: music, photography, film-maker and novelist. Light On The Water was inspired by terrorist acts of 9/11 and the healing process afterwards. It consists of nineteen instrumental piano tracks, all improvised and without overdubs. The track titles also suggest something of the impressionist painters: Worldscapes, Madness, Solar Nights, Curve of Madness, A Quiet Urgency. To be honest I found most of these tracks more impressionistic than melodic and few really stayed with me afterwards. I don't doubt Mr Cooper's musicianship, which is impressive, but the music didn't do anything for me - now that may be because I live thousands of miles away from the events of 9/11 and New York, and it's emotional outcome. I would strongly urge any readers of this review to visit the website listed below and sample tracks from this album and make their own mind up - I certainly don't consider my opinion the last word on this album.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.new-piano-age.com

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Toni Jannotta - Is It Magic?
[Aerie Records]

Unlike most jazz singers who rely on the 'Great American Songbook' Toni Jannotta has written eight of the twelve songs on her third album, Is It Magic?, and selected the other songs from a diverse variety of sources including Sting (Fragile), Paul Desmond (Take Five), and Reggie Lucas (Madonna's hit Borderline), Ms Jannotta's voice is a thing of wonder, stretching notes, bending them to near breakability, ably assisted by her quartet of Greg Gordon Smith on piano, Pablo Motta on bass, Chris Wabich on drums and Scheila Ganzalez on sax. You could say that while superficially this is a standard jazz album, it is actually a series of experiments in harmony, pushing the listener into questioning what is in the comfort zone. I found the album as a whole difficult to like, at times it was a bit too uneasy listening for my tastes. But there are some joys to be found within: Opposites Attract, Ventura, Borderline and Square Peg Round Hole all have their attractions and are the tracks that I shall return to for pleasure. So a mixed bag based on my tastes. However, I would urge anyone interested in Ms Jannotta's music to visit her website [see URL below] and sample her wares for yourself.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.tonijannotta.com

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Anna Estrada - Soņando Vuelos
(Ferel Flight Productions FFP 001)

I've always enjoyed Latin music [plus Salsa and Latin jazz] and this new album by actress/singer Anna Estrada certainly made my ears perk up when it started playing on my CD deck. It begins explosively with the very jazzy Take's My Breath Away, which is more than enough to get the legs and anything else that's free tapping away energetically. Sonando Vuelos is a winning mixture of Brazilian, Latin, Salsa and jazz grooves, topped by Ms Estrada's effortlessly mellifluous voice. Almost all the tracks on the album were written by Latin American composers, and the exception is Never Can Say Goodbye, which fits in very well with the album's intent. I also rather liked Influencia Do Jazz, which is guaranteed to perk up the most depressed spirit. There are far too many musicians involved here to mention them individually by name, but the accompaniment is warm-hearted and surrounds Ms Estrada's voice like a velvet glove. It is so good to hear such an upbeat album with a singer and band so 'together'. This is definitely the album to transport you away from that typically British wet summer to a tropical beach fringed with coconut trees and a large pina colada in your hand!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

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Mark Prince - Fraction Of Infinity
(Contour 7-9604-40931-1)

I think this is drummer Mark Prince's first album as leader of a jazz band, though from his CV on the press release he has played and recorded with a huge number of other musicians over his musical career. Fraction of Infinity is an album of self-composed music, played by nine hot musicians, the music a melting pot of jazz styles yet the titles have a 'new age-ish' feel to them: Gnosis, The Healing, Quiet Thoroughfire, Gratitude. Essentially this is music for the listener to categorise - track three, August, even has a sweet soul vocal by Geno Young. Thankfully Mr Prince is not one of those drummers who spins out tediously long drum solos [I'm thinking Ginger Baker's Toad here], but provides a tight, rhythmic fabric for the other musicians to expand on. There's certainly a funky groove underpinning many of the tracks here and that should appeal to fans of soul and funk music. This is a fine album, not specifically my taste in jazz but the musicianship is something to wonder at and I'm sure it will find an audience within the modern jazz audience.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.markprince.com

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Sharel Cassity - Just For You
[DW Records DW01-0001]

This album is something of a rarity as I can't think of another one I've come across with a woman alto sax player leading a band. I'm sure I'm wrong but here we are with Sharel Cassity ably leading a band playing a hard swinging variety of bop, with occasional latin flavourings. The band size varies between quartet and sextet, which adds flavouring and saltiness to this stew pot of jazz. The album opens with Phibes' Revenge, which is more a statement of intent by the musicians, it swings hard and makes you sit up and take notice! Written by band trombonist Michael Dease, he goes on to provide three [Just For You, Roditi's Dream] of the best tracks, writing to the band's strengths. Sharel Cassity's alto sax glides smoothly on top of each track, taking snappy solos before falling back into the chorus. The overall impression of these sessions was good humour by all the musicians, with the jazz on show here being harder than the now popular smoother variety, redolent of smoky bars and after hours sessions, and yet the music is light enough to attract the non-jazz fan. There is even a homage to Jazz's past in the final track which is Ray Noble's Cherokee, played with verve and good humour. Just For You is a jazz album full of life and well worth checking out if your life needs a regular transfusion of jazz.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.SharelCassity.com

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Anna Maria Fletchero - Within The Fourteenth Hour

It is very heartening to see a new generation of jazz singers making their mark on jazz music. Anna Maria Fletchero may be no 'spring chicken' but her voice is a refreshing change from those younger singers who try to cram as many notes into each syllable of a lyric. Within The Fourteenth Hour is her second album as a solo artist, and anyone who has a passion for classic Broadway and pop will enjoy her relaxed and confident way with the melody and lyric. In many ways the selection of ten songs here is as near to the perfect songbook: Misty, What A Difference A Day Makes, The Look Of Love, God Bless The Child, Autumn Leaves, Summertime, I Wish You Love, Feel Like Making Love, My Funny Valentine, And I Love Her [Him]. This is a master class in cool and being in the vibe. The final track, the self-composed Pretty Soon, sits well in such august company. Needless to say, to sing this well you need to be supported by an excellent group of musicians, and that is the case here while on a couple of tracks Ms Fletchero is backed by her long standing friends the Cedar Walton Trio. Not really sure what the significance of the album title is, apart from the fact that her previous album was called Journey to the Fourteenth Hour. It may be hyperbole on my part but I believe Ms Fletchero truly ranks up there with Ella, Dinah and Sarah, and that this is a voice which can only improve like a great wine.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.annamariafletchero.com

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Karen Johns & Company - Star And Season
(Ptarmigan Music/Jazz 6344 7 966 630 8)

With the double theme of a journey through the seasons of the year and of love, this new album by Karen Johns And Company begins in a very lively fashion with a '40s style tribute on Carry Me Away [channelling the Andrews Sisters!]. The album, Star And Season, has eleven tracks which are a mixture of songs written by Karen Johns plus a well chosen selection of covers of jazz, pop and show tunes. While being jazz to its core this album has a strong pop sensibility - listen to Ms Johns versions of If, Night And Day, Desafinado, and Autumn Leaves to see what I mean. Luckily, Ms Johns also is a gifted songwriter and her own compositions match the classics easily - Carry Me Away is a great opening track for any album, setting the scene and creating the mood for what follows. Ms Johns also has a very pleasing voice, light and melodic, gliding on the notes rather than ploughing through them like some pop singers I could name. While The Moon is a most affecting track and should be gracing any late night smooth jazz playlist. I'd also like to compliment the 'Company' of musicians backing her, this band are very tight and give an already great voice that extra boost to raise the stakes. In fact this is one of the most radio-friendly albums I have heard for some time, but will the neanderthal-like playlist programmers recognise that!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.karenjohns.com

Jens Wendelboe Big Band - Fresh Heat
(Rosa Records CD-7)

Jens Wendelboe Big Band - Fresh Heat There is always something extremely impressive about the sound of a big band. The raw energy that a big band produces is the nearest thing to the sound of a rock band, in terms of a powerful sound. And that is the case here with Fresh Heat by the Jens Wendelboe Big Band - the Norwegian composer and trombonist has brought together his take on Norwegian jazz and a selection of American songs and fused them with his hand-picked musicians. It makes for an exciting sound, full of musicality and a dash of swing. The other composers include Clifford Brown, Joe Henderson, Richard Rodgers and Steve Swallow. Recorded in New York, the sound is crisp and rhythmic and thanks to some excellent engineering it punches out of even a PC's speakers with a vital pizzazz. For those who enjoy the solos there are plenty throughout the album, all annotated in the informative booklet - but rather than grandstanding, the solos are all integral to the music and don't overpower the overall sound. The band consists of seventeen plus several guest soloists - the main band are: Deb Lyons - vocals, Tom Timko - saxes/clarinet, Michael Migliore/Mark Fineberg/Joey Berkley/Sam Bortka - sax, Bob Millikan/Steve Jankowski/Rick Savage/Chris Rogers - trumpet, Dan Levine/Charley Gordon/Jens Wendelboe/George Flynn - trombone, David Anderson - electric bass, Lee Finkelstein - drums, Bill Heller - piano/synths. Fresh Heat contains eight tracks and they are: Joy Spring, No Mercy, Black Narcissus, My Funny Valentine, Falling Grace, What A Trip, Nix Vogel, Suite To Bjorn. As big band album go Fresh Heat is a beauty, loud and proud and lots of fun to listen to - highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.crazyenergy.com

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Stephanie Nakasian & The Harris Simon Trio - Show Me The Way To
Get Out Of This World

(Capri 7411-2)

Music is all about chance encounters which lead to musical collaboration [especially within Jazz], and that is the case on Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World when vocalist Stephanie Nakasian met composer and pianist Harris Simon. A string of successful live performances has led them to document their special relationship on this album. Show Me The Way... contains fifteen songs on the theme of love lost and found. I have to say that Ms Nakasian has a wondrous voice - part Ella, part Sarah, and a strong dash of Cleo Laine. She swings and bops, scats and seduces as an equal opportunity performer, and makes each song her own throughout. Harris Simon and his trio are the perfect foil, creating a succession of launch pads for her enticing voice. Along with Harris Simon on piano, the rest of the trio are Chris Brydge on bass and Billy Williams on drums. The song book is a varied one, drawing on material by Duke Ellington, Van Morrison, Cole Porter, Horace Silver, Harold Arlen, André Previn and many others. The songs are: Lonesome Road, So In Love, Lucky So and So, Easy Street, Nica's Dream, I Concentrate On You, The End Of A Love Affair, Don't Blame Me, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, Times Are Gettin' Tougher Than Tough, Ill Wind, Control Yourself, You And The Night And The Music, Zanzibar, Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World. Show Me The Way... is a wonderfully high-spirited album with many musical highlights. The partnership between singer and musicians is a perfect one and I don't think I have heard such a great Jazz album in some time. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.stephanienakasian.com & www.caprirecords.com

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Curtis Fuller - Down Home
(Capri 74116-2)

Curtis Fuller - Down HomeJazz music has fragmented into so many different types in recent decades it is easy to forget just how it began from one source all those years ago. Curtis Fuller's new album Down Home is an apt reminder of how Jazz in its original form was. Okay, this album doesn't directly reference New Orleans Jazz but it is there deep in the roots of the music Mr Fuller and his colleagues play. For the sake of simplicity [and 'cos I get confused by all of Jazz's offshoots] we shall call this mainstream Jazz, a mixture of swing, bop and a touch of big band - whatever you identify it as it is uplifting and soulful music. Trombonist Curtis Fuller has a quintet of musicians playing with him on these tracks and the sound is muscular and full of oomph, but they can be as delicate as a butterfly's wings on the ballads. These musicians are: Keith Oxman - tenor sax, Al Hood - trumpet/flugelhorn, Chip Stephens - piano, Ken Walker - bass, Todd Reid - drums. Down Home contains ten tracks, these are: Down Home, Ladies Night, C Hip's Blues, Sadness and Soul, Nu Groove, Then I'll Be Tired Of You, Mr. L, Sweetness, Jonli Bercosta, The Hip Priest. Nine are written by Curtis Fuller or other members of the band and there is one cover of an Arthur Schwartz song. I recall reviewing Curtis Fuller's previous Capri release, I Will Tell Her [click here for review] and being impressed with it. I feel the same with Down Home, it is Jazz as it should be - melodic, inventive and most importantly full of heart. This is a great band of musicians and I imagine if they also tour then they provide a musically rich night out for you. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.caprirecords.com

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Mark Sheeky - Stupid Computer Music / The Twelve Seasons / The End And The Beginning [with Steven McLachlan]
(Cornutopia Music)

Mark Sheeky - Stupid Computer MusicComposer/artist/computer games software programmer Mark Sheeky is no stranger to MusicWatch and it is good to see and hear more of his work at this time. Stupid Computer Music is a compilation of themes and incidental music he wrote for his computer games. Opening with the insanely catchy China Syndrome, this album is a showcase proving that music for computer games doesn't have to be insular and clichéd - in truth, this album is a prime selection of electro-pop instrumentals that would give any 80's knob twiddler a run for their money. Gunstorm, the only vocal track, could be a ringer for classic Erasure and a #1 pop single if there was any justice in this world. With titles such as Music For Supermarkets and Journey Through Fractional Space you could be forgiven for thinking Brian Eno had his hand in there somewhere, but no, all these tracks were composed, performed and produced by Mark Sheeky. And I have to say that the man can come up with great melody lines that you will be humming - the old grey whistle testers would be dancing madly if they still existed! If you have not tried any of Mark's albums before then Stupid Computer Music is the best possible place to be introduced.

The Twelve Seasons is a 'proper' album in that it is all original material and unrelated to any computer game soundtracks. Having said that ...Seasons continues to showcase Mark Sheeky's propensity for a great tune, just listen to the opener The Dance Of Summer and A Day In The Life Of An Aphid to see what I mean. It would be unfair to class this as a concept album but it does have a theme, that of the passing seasons, so some of the tracks are bridged with the sounds of nature, which offer a breathing space before the next belter. There is certainly much more variety here, the dozen tracks offering varying shades of lightness of touch and sound, and more adventurous layers of instrumentation. This may not be Vivaldi's Four Seasons but it shares some of that piece's grandeur. You could say that generically Mark's music lies somewhere between the thumping low brow drama of techno and the lighter electro-pop genres - the music has the oomph of the former and the melodies of the latter. Highly recommended.

The End And The Beginning is a departure from Mark Sheeky's usual music - it is a vocal album and a concept album about life and death, in particular about the crash and resultant coma of a motorcyclist and the death of his girlfriend in the same accident. Not fun stuff, to be sure, but a story which obviously resonates with the musician and will do so with the listener - and, of course, anyone who rides motorbikes. Musically, we aren't too removed from Mark's usual style, electro-pop but with more reflective, almost ambient sections, complimented by Steven McLachlan's voice on most songs and even Mark's voice on a couple of tracks. This is quite an adventurous album and a big stretch in both technique and style. It will be interesting to see how Mark Sheeky's music will progress from here.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.marksheeky.co.uk

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The Glimmer Room - Home Without The Journey
(A-Frame Media A-Frame010)

When Home Without The Journey by The Glimmer Room arrived in the post I had a certain amount of high expectation within me. Not unwarranted due to the perfect nature of synth magician Andy C's previous albums. It would be an understatement to say that I wasn't disappointed. Journey is a staggering tour de force of British ambient electronica, and on the first (title) track, we have what could be the first English pastoral ambient track. I'm not sure why but whenever I listen to this track I have flashbacks to Edward Elgar's miniature orchestral pieces that did so much to define English countryside. Okay, I may be inadvertently inhaling something a bit more psychedelic in my asthma ventilator, but every time I play this Elgar comes into my head! Somehow this track is intimate and yet extremely grand, all at the same time. Track Two, Carbon Statues, features the voice of nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer describing the effect the first nuclear bomb explosion had on him and his colleagues. Again, this piece has a strong elegiac feel to it, and emotionally it is the strongest piece on this album. Finally, Cool Blue And The Plough completes the album. As with Journey this a bit of a slow burner, continuing the overall melancholic atmosphere of the album. I have, I think, all of The Glimmer Room's albums and the musicality and the musicianship on them all is astoundingly high. Andy C must be one of the most underrated and unknown musicians in the UK, which is a bloody great shame - so go to the web sites listed below and buy his albums. You won't be disappointed.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.a-framemedia.co.uk or www.theglimmerroom.co.uk

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Richard Blake - Plays Midtown At Midnight

Richard Blake Plays Midtown At MidnightIn my dark and dim past when I worked in the record department of a high street store, an album like this, Richard Blake Plays Midtown At Midnight, would have been classified as 'easy listening' and dropped in amongst the James Last and Mantovani. This was back in the day when rock fans derided easy listening as something for the granddads. Of course, easy listening has now been rescued from obscurity by the more aware musical fan and reclassified as 'Lounge' and given some street cred by DJs. In actual fact I think guitarist Richard Blake's album is really Jazz Lite, with its gently swinging guitar and rhythm section. In reality, Mr Blake plays both electric and acoustic guitars and bass guitars on this album, with Dennis Kohrherr providing the sympathetic drums and percussion throughout. The eleven tracks are drawn from the jazz and pop songbooks of the 50s - 70s: Lollipops and Roses, Norwegian Wood, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, Get Your kicks On Route 66, Some Day My Prince Will Come, Harlem Nocturne, S.S. Cool, Desafinado, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Transfer Station At 3 AM, and Vaya Con Dios. I really enjoyed this album, the playing is superb, the vibe is good humoured and the album leaves you feeling positive and happy. Can one ask for more than that? I would also recommend this album to those learning the guitar and bass as a masterclass on the subject. To my mind Mr Blake should be a much better known guitarist than he is. I'm not sure which retail outlets are stocking this so please go to the live link below and check out availability options on the website there. I think I am going to rate Plays Midtown At Midnight as one of my albums of the year so far, just for the pleasure it provides.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.richardblake.net

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Jennifer Zarine - Fresh Made Cuppa Tea

Jennifer Zarine - Fresh Made Cuppa TeaWell, well, here we have an album that is firmly aimed at having fun. Vocalist Jennifer Zarine has one of those light soprano voices full of girlish giggles and a way of giving jazz and pop standards a rejuvenating workout. Backed by a band playing in a lightly retro swinging style, the twelve tracks on offer on her new album, Fresh Made Cuppa Tea, are performed with a smile and a big heart. Though the voices are very different, I was reminded of Maria Muldaur's seminal 70's jazz/roots/rock album, Waitress In A Donut Shop - this album has the same good vibe. The excellent band is Ben Gallina on bass, Brady Miller on drums, Eric Lindberg on guitar, Eric Stephenson on cello, Josh Rutner on saxes and Red Wierenga on piano and accordion. Tracks include: Orange Colored Sky, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Something Cool, Have A Cuppa Tea [a Ray Davies of the Kinks song], You're My Thrill, I Need You To Turn To, Boum, Paint It Black [A Stones song that even they wouldn't recognise], Smile/I'm All Smiles, Sleep, Bye Bye Baby, That's All. I think Fresh Made Cuppa Tea is as much a pop album as it is jazz, and one can only hope that it will find a home on some pop radio stations, as almost every track is radio friendly. It seems such a shame that a good singer like Jennifer Zarine has to self-release her album, when her talent is so big she should be on a major record label with a promotion budget to match. She is definitely better than many of the so called pop divas you can see on MTV. Do yourself a favour and get in at the beginning and support this lovely singer by buying this superb album.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jenniferzarine.com

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Lawrence Lebo - Don't Call Her Larry Volume 3: American Roots
(On The Air 9654)

Lawrence Lebo - Don't Call Her Larry Volume 3: American RootsOnce you get over the rather extravagant title, you discover that 'Larry' is in fact a female vocalist of self-composed blues and jazz songs. And we are talking old school blues and jazz, so while the songs may be mostly new the vocal style is drawn from the 40's and 50's. While there is quite a list of musicians listed on the inlay card, the heart of the album is Lawrence Lebo's voice and Denny Croy's bass, with the other musicians being used sparingly across the breadth of the album. Ms Lebo has quite an impressive voice and while these songs are original compositions they seem familiar thanks to the vocal styles used. I was particularly taken with Cowboy Swinging Boogie Woogie, It's Not The First Time and Lawrence's Working Girl Blues. Um, imagine if one of the Andrews Sisters had gone solo, then this is possibly how she would have sounded. There is also a nice cover of Sammy Cahn's I Should Care. Thanks to the variety of blues and jazz styles that Ms Lawrence uses this album has something of the variety act about it. Which is a good thing in her case as she is very versatile and seems to be a mistress of all the styles. American Roots is a very listenable album, one that I return to more often than I expected to.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.lawrencelebo.com

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Jackson Garrett - Speechless

Jackson Garrett - SpeechlessThis is an unusual album in that the artist listed is the composer and arranger only and doesn't perform on the album. That aside, Speechless is a rather appealing album of brass and reed led jazz. And rather than the usual post bop bombast this harkens back to the days of Basie and Ellington, with elegantly crafted charts for the soloists, and some rather memorable tunes as well. So the musicians involved are: Steve Madaio on trumpet, Kenny Meier on trombone, Pat Rizzo on sax, Steve Neilen on drums, John Pagels on guitar, Marty Steele on piano and Jeff Stover on bass. The music is muscular but always errs on the side of the tune, without the improvisation skyrocketing into the stratosphere. On top of that the tunes also rock out - if you still love pre-ballad Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears then this album is for you. Take it from me these gentlemen play with heart and a great set of chops. I find it hard to really pick out some of the tracks as the best, each time I play this CD I just fall in love with the whole damn thing - this is my kind of jazz, a bit of blues, a bit of rock, and a whole lot of New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and New York mixed together. Jackson Garrett has created something of a classic jazz album here, it is just so good. So here's the tracklisting, and you can assume they are all recommended: Just One More Time, Slow Down, Boy!, Back In Time, Cool And Easy, Kisses All Around, Downtown With You, Give A Little Bit To Me, Champagne Tower, Big Baby, I Don't Wanna See You, Around And Around, and We Gotta Go. Seek this album out, buy it and clutch it to your heart - it's that good. Highly recommended and one of the albums of the year so far for me.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jacksongarrett.com

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Shota Osabe & Margie Baker - A Bit Of Jazz And More...
(CAP1019)

This is an album for those still nostalgic for clean, melodic jazz of the old school, where you sat in a club and listened to the music. Japanese pianist Shota Osabe and American vocalist Margie Baker have been regularly performing together for forty years so its safe to assume that each has the musical measure of the other. Their new CD album of jazz standards and one original [Dizzstory] opens with Grover Washington's East River Drive, a lushly orchestrated instrumental featuring Mr Osabe's piano and strings, the same happens with Stanley Turrentine's Sugar, both tracks harkening back to the 70s when jazz, pop and rock all merged together to make sophisticated pop instrumental music. Margie Baker's vocal pipes have been around some time and have some mileage on the clock, but the lady can still sing the blues and make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Her performances of I Got A Name, At Last and Dizstory are proof of that. The fifteen tracks on A Bit Of Jazz And More... are a good selection for relaxed listening. Other tracks include Willow Weep For Me, Georgia On My Mind, The Days Of Wine And Roses, and Yesterday When I Was Young amongst the rest. I can't see a full listing for the band on the inlay, but Fred Berry on Trumpet and Michael O'Neill on sax are deservedly listed, and there is a full string section on most of the tracks [unless these are synth-based]. Whatever, the sound is very lavish, an intimate little big band that provide superb backing for voice and piano and still sounds more relaxing than many albums. A Bit Of Jazz And More... is full of charm, affection and good humour and well worth seeking out from your jazz specialist store or the usual online stores. Neither artist seems to have a website and neither does the record label CAP, so for more information write to Consolidated Artists Productions, 290 Riverside Drive, Suite 11-D, New York, NY 10025, USA.

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Kori Linae Carothers - Trillium
(iRoknNod Records)

Kori Linae Carothers - TrilliumI haven't come across composer/musician Kori Linae Carothers before, but her new album Trillium is certainly an excellent introduction to the lady's tuneful and exhilerating music. Ms Carothers plays piano, synths and Native American Indian flute, and she has surrounded herself with some superb musicians to flesh out the music into near orchestral complexity. A few I've even heard of here in the UK: Scarlet Rivera, Derrik Jordan, Jim McCarty, and T Bone Wolk. The album is produced by Will Ackerman of Windham Records fame. So we have eleven [mostly] instrumental tracks, each one a small but perfect soundscape of places and emotions in Ms Carothers life. The eleven tracks are tiny tone poems, creating moods and settings for the mind to conjure with, but always at the heart of each track is a melodic kernel that the listener will respond to. The track titles even offer triggers for the imagination: Crystal Fields, Blue Ice, Midnight, Nez Perce, Dancing In The Clouds, Nantucket. I don't have an iPod, but I imagine that this music would wrap itself around your ears when listening to it on headphones, enclosing you in a personal fantasy world. I think that Trillium is a wonderfully melodic and evocative album, which allied to its beautifully produced CD case and booklet make it a memorable package. It goes without saying that it is also a brilliantly recorded album and will sound stunning on that hi-fi you've just bought. Trillium is definitely one of my albums of the year and I look forward to hearing more music from Kori Linae Carothers.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.koritunes.com or go to CD Baby.com and Amazon.com

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Christopher Boscole - Presents Of Angels

I have to get it out of the way first - every time I see the title of this album I misread it as Presence of Angels, and the more I listen to the music on this album the more I think it would be a much more apt title. Christopher Boscole is a pianist in the "new age jazz contemporary instrumental genre" - I know this because it says so on the press sheet that came with the CD, but what does all that really mean? Outside of knowing that Presents Of Angels is an album of original solo piano music I'm not sure the aforementioned label actually means much. To my ears the music on these fourteen tracks could just as easily be billed as Classical Piano, and rank up there with Chopin's Etudes, Beethoven's Sonatas or Liszt's Studies. I can't discern any jazz in these pieces and it isn't as anaemic as most new age music. Surprisingly, Mr Boscole doesn't seem to evoke the musical traditions of his homeland, Hawaii, and this music seems to fit quite easily in the Western European tradition of classical music. If the pieces here had opus numbers instead of titles such as Country Hymn, Angel Of Bliss or Knights Of Gold then I think his music would be reviewed in higher music journals than my little website! However, taking this music on face [ear] value alone I can tell you that this is an extremely amenable album of instrumental pieces, covering many moods and feelings. Mr Boscole's playing is very easy on the ear, and yet demands serious listening, rather than being the lift music of the day.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.christopherboscole.com

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Anewday - Summer Reflections

Anewday - Summer ReflectionsAnewday is the duo of Rob Miller [piano and compositions] and Ron Huestis [orchestrations], and their new album, Summer Reflections, is a masterful concoction of piano and orchestral settings. Hailing from the Nova Scotia region of Canada, this is their second album based on the concept of the seasons - not that original, perhaps, but one endlessly fascinating for musicians. And as you would expect from an album about the summer, the tunes are light-hearted and playful. The track titles are suitably evocative: Summer Rush, Reverie, Solstice, Celtic Farewell, Mystique, Early Rising, Place Of Solitude, Whispering Streams, Solar Moons, Astronomical Convolutions and Misty Mornings. Thirteen absolutely delightful instrumentals, some with a little bit of a Celtic feeling to them, others hinting at the rough coastlines of Nova Scotia. While the piano leads the melody on each track it is surrounded with a variety of apt orchestrations, some acoustic, others with a spark of electricity amongst the instruments. Either way, these orchestrations fit like a glove and lift the music to a higher plane. I guess you could classify this album as New Age, but the hints of traditional and folk music woven throughout lift this into something much better and deserving of being heard properly, rather than being background music. Of the current batch of review albums Summer Reflections is the one I return to for pleasure most often, and in my parlance 'is a keeper' for the music collection!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.anewday.ca

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Michael Stribling - The Promise
(Leela Music LM09A)

Michael Stribling is a new musician to me and my website but on the basis of his latest album, The Promise, I certainly would like to hear more of his music. The Promise is the musical story of 'Everyman', recording the turmoil of life and the emotional journey through that life. In actual fact what you have is a collection of fourteen tracks of electronica instrumentals that straddle most areas of electronic music. You could interpret the sound and structure of this album as new age lift music, but there is more depth here than in the usual new age album. I found the variety of moods in the music a lively mixture, with some of the longer tracks taking on an epic hue - especially the ten minute long Ascending Through Clouds, with its multi-layers of drones and drifting melodies. Track Four, When Love Comes Near, also has a suspenseful drawn out atmosphere with overtones of oriental sounds. The tempi of the tracks vary, but never reach dance tempos, but I could see this album being used in the 'chill out' rooms in clubs or radio stations for relaxation purposes. It would be easy to make idle comparisons but I think if you like the music of Yanni, Gandalf and Kitaro then The Promise could be for you. It has certainly become a regular on my CD player, and is one of the best albums I've heard this year.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.leela-music.com

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Al Conti - Scheherazade
(Shadowside Music SM1562)

I'm a bit of a sucker for music that has an exotic and ethnic feel to it, and from the very first track (Daughter of the City) Al Conti's new album was pushing all the buttons for me. Liberally spiced with a middle-eastern vibe, this album is a beautifully melodic instrumental album rich in colour and simply great tunes. As far as I can make out Al Conti is the only musician on the album, which means it must have taken a long time to put all the instrumental elements together. I can't think of many albums received here for review that I have listened to for pleasure after the review process, but this will be one of those few. Yes, it is a cross between New Age and World, which in many cases results in bland, bland, bland music, but this is really great stuff - widescreen and very cinematic, you could imagine this music wafting amongst the pyramids or over the desert dunes. As you would expect from the title of the album the track titles (Desert Nights, Shahryar, Seven Veils To Midnight, A Thousand Tales, Dunyazad) take their cue from the tales of the Arabian Nights, and I think captures the wild romance of the stories. Scheherazade is also a great album for testing out your hi-fi - crystal clear sound, wide soundstage. This is one of the best albums I've heard this year, so highly recommended to those of you who enjoy quality instrumental music.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.alconti.net and www.myspace/alconti

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Ian Tescee - A Traveller's Guide To MARS
[ITC-21232]

Ian Tescee - A traveler's Guide To MarsThe planet Mars has been at the forefront of Man's inquisitive mind since he first saw the red planet in the sky untold millennia ago. Today, while we have still not stepped onto that famous red surface we do know a lot about the planet thanks to a variety of satellite probes and landers which have explored the planet on our behalf. Despite not finding the Martians of HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Ray Bradbury stories, the images of the dusty red surface have inspired writers and musicians over the centuries. The latest musician to take inspiration from Mars is Ian Tescee, a multi-instrumentalist and synthesist. A Travellers Guide To Mars is his musical impressions of what a trip to the planet would be like. The music was commissioned as a soundtrack to a multimedia show at the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh. It is such a shame that there isn't an accompanying DVD with the visual element as this is a superb album of atmospheric electronic music melded with acoustic instruments. I love synth music and it doesn't get much better than this one. While listening to this I had flashes of Vangelis's Cosmos soundtrack lurking there in homage. But this is music on a grand scale, almost an electronic symphony in places and an intimate chamber piece in others, but always dramatic and rippling with the tensions an explorer would feel. This is certainly one of the best albums I've heard this year and is highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.iantescee.com

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Brian Kelly - Afterplay
(Skylight Music SL-1002)

I have to admit that my ears perked up considerably while listening to this new album by multi-instrumentalist Brian Kelly. Afterplay is one of those lyrical and extremely melodic smooth jazz albums that if you listened to it blindfolded you would think it was by Bob James or any of the smooth jazz-rockers back in the 70s. In fact this album is bang up to date, using sampled acoustic sounds and wrapped around by a band of very talented musicians who have produced a very fine album of uptempo, 'feel fine', instrumentals. They are: Eric Crystal - alto sax (excellent solo on the title track), David Rokeach - drums, Ross Wilson - trumpet and trombone, Carol Alban and Viviana Guzman - flutes, James Robinson - guitar, and Tim Rolling - percussion. Brian Kelly plays all keyboards and some of the percussion. Just the music we need to lift the spirits in these economically fragile times. From track one, River Rush, the mood is upbeat and optimistic, and the eleven tracks are mostly in this vein, so you are guaranteed to have your spirits lifted by this album. At the same time this music is not facile, it has depths of melodic ingenuity and emotion - check out Snowflakes Rising for an example of this. Afterplay is most definitely a cut above most of the smooth jazz albums I receive for review, and as it arrived as I was recovering from an illness it certainly helped in my recovery - music this good is a tonic to be cherished! Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.briankelly.com

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Spencer Brewer - Cinematic
[Willow Rose WR621]

Spencer Brewer - CinematicCinematic is dedicated to the ambience and magic of cinema soundtrack music. It is a double CD split into two themes: Black and White, and Technicolor - the first CD performed on solo piano and the second CD performed on a range of keyboards and including other musicians. All of the music is composed and performed by Spencer Brewer, a name I've not heard before but a renowned composer and musician in America, I'm told by the press notes. Just a single listen of these CDs confirms that. Both CDs share a common core of tracks in their original piano versions which are then orchestrated on the second CD, plus a selection of tracks original to either CD. Thematically, the music on the Black and White album could be said to be a homage to the silent cinema, and that on Technicolor to the golden era of Hollywood. These are no simple pastiches to classic soundtracks, the music here is all original but suggests styles of movies, and even movie stars. It also evokes those moments of awe when lost in the magic of that movie on the big screen. For example, listen to Blueberry Street and Last Chance For Eden on the first CD and then compare with the orchestrated versions on CD2. The music on the second CD is richer in texture and offers a much more lush sound. If anything this album is a love affair between one musician and all the composers of movie music through the golden age of the cinema. I can't really decide which versions I prefer, you could arguably play either CD depending on your mood. Either way you are on a winner as this is a superb double album that is a frequent visitor to my CD deck. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.spencerbrewer.com

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Various Artists - Gemini Sun Records Live!
(Gemini Sun Records GSR2310)

Gemini Sun Records LiveThe various artists involved on this live album are flautist Nicholas Gunn, pianist Loren Gold, and guitarists Johannes Linstead and David Arkenstone, supported by a superb band of musicians. All four artists are key members of the Gemini Sun Records roster - indeed, Gunn is the boss of the record label - and here on this recording of a concert they get to showcase their respective talents. Each artist fronts the band for three or four tracks, all instrumental. In terms of style the music on this CD veers between 'new age' and 'world', with an occasional bit of a rock vibe. Alongside stage announcements, each track also features a voice-over introduction by the artist - I found this a little distracting, to be honest, and would have preferred this information to have been placed in the inlay booklet. Alongside the CD you also get a DVD of the same concert, and watching these musicians play is a joy. I won't select any tracks for special mention because I enjoyed them all - this is a recording of a great gig and the DVD version certainly enhances that enjoyment. I played this DVD to my elderly father who usually finds new age music boring but he had a broad smile on his face from early on and it stayed there for the duration of the concert. That definitely doesn't happen often. ...Live! is without doubt one of the best albums I've heard in recent times and I can't recommend it highly enough to those of you who enjoy instrumental music. One of my albums of the year for 2008.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.geminisunrecords.com

 

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