What's New on WDCB... with Paul Abella
NYO Jazz – We’re Still Here (Carnegie Hall Productions)
I’ll be frank. As WDCB’s music director, I don’t add many high school or college ensemble albums to our rotation. And I write about these kinds of albums even less. But the average college big band album doesn’t have Sean Jones AND Melissa Aldana AND Wycliffe Gordon playing on it, playing songs written specifically for this band by Miguel Zenon and John Beasley. So, yes, this is a special album. From the first notes of Zenon’s “Oyelo,” the leadoff track on the disc, it’s clear that these are some next level players. The intensity and complexity levels stay high throughout on the new and modern compositions, but on Duke Ellington’s “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool,” Duke Pearson’s “Bedouin,” or Neal Hefti’s “Cute,” they prove that they can swing and find a nice easy pocket, too. I’d keep an ear out for this one when you hear it on WDCB, these are going to be the folks you’re going to be seeing on the bandstand at the Jazz Showcase, The Green Mill and Winter’s in a few years. And you can say you heard them here first.
Cyrus Chestnut – My Father’s Hands (High Note)
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut is back and swinging hard on his latest trio session, My Father’s Hands. Joined by bassist Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, this is a flawless trio. It’s not remarkably different than most of Chestnut’s catalog. It’s a collection of some hard-swinging originals, a beautifully played gospel song (“I Must Tell Jesus” in a gorgeous solo arrangement), and a few tunes by some other folks. On “Cubano Chant,” things are funky, with a groove that is a little Afro-Cuban, but is all Jazz. “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” lilts effortlessly, and what he does “Yesterday”? When it starts, it’s a lovely ballad rendition of one the great Beatles ballads. But when it’s solo time, it’s subtly and sublimely funky. I’d call it a highlight of the album, but we haven’t even gotten to Cyrus’ own tunes yet. “Nippon Soul Connection,” a clear nod to Cannonball, is a great way to start off a record. And “Working Out Just Fine” was finely engineered to make you bob your head and tap your foot while you listen.
Lia Booth – Life Can Be Beautiful (MetaJax)
Vocalist Lia Booth, out of Southern California, is new to me, and Life Can Be Beautiful is her second album. A low-key affair with a local guitar trio and some special guests, this album popped up out of nowhere, and now I’m hoping to hear more from this crew. Booth loads up on the Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart songs and does right by them. But the real surprise songwriter here might be trumpeter Tony Guerrero, who contributed four songs, and they all stand up amongst a collection of standards. And while it’s a shame she saved them until the end, she gets adventurous on two well-worn classics, singing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” as a duet with bassist Will Lyle and “Honeysuckle Rose” as a duet with drummer Izaak Weatherwax. On the more straightforward readings contained here, fans of Sheila Jordan and Blossom Dearie are going to find a lot to like here.