"LIVE: AN EVENING WITH THE MEL BROWN QUARTET"
The Mel Brown Quartet — with pianist Tony Pacini, guitarist Dan Balmer, bassist Ed Bennet and Brown on drums — has become a Wednesday night mainstay at Jimmy Mak's in the Pearl District.
This CD will explain the band's continuing popularity over the long haul. It opens with the Pacini composition, "Dandyish," a sprightly piece with an easy-to-remember theme. Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" gets an unfamiliar rapid-fire treatment from both Pacini and Balmer, which the live audience loved, interrupting with cheers and applause.
Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" is beneficiary of Pacini's piano with a nice share of block chords and his usual sparkling right hand. Ed Bennet contributes a melodic bass solo, followed by the swinging Balmer. It's great to see and hear Balmer's straight-ahead chops.
Balmer shows the band's appreciation of club owner Jimmy Mak with his tune, "One for Jimmy Mak." Brown leads off with a very brief drum roll, and then it's an off-and-running Balmer. Pacini and Bennett make their contributions.
There is no weak link in either the band or the recording. It is solid through all 10 cuts, some of which include "Smile," "Gone With the Wind," "Ticondeep," "May Song" and more.
"THE UPTOWN QUINTET LIVE IN NEW YORK"
The first track on this album, "O'Cleary's Shuffle," with its excellent demonstration of hard bop, should hook you.
Certainly, it's not the work or sound of just one man that makes this band get over. It is the combined musicianship of five highly skilled individuals that give this that something extra. Trumpeter Ryan Kisor and alto saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith use the heavy firepower of their rhythm section of drummer Charles Ruggiero, bassist Barak Mori and pianist Michael Wilner as their foundation from which they launch barrage after barrage of hard-swinging solos.
It is obvious these cats are fans of Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Even their performance of the ballad, "A Foolish Lament," smacks of the Blakey quintet's "Live at Birdland Vol. II"
"Once in a While" track featuring trumpeter Clifford Brown. Kisor's trumpet is eloquent and Smith's alto simmers on the tune.
If one likes variety in the music he or she listens to, this 12-track compilation CD billed as Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner's favorites is just the ticket.
It begins with Tony Bennett and Bill Evans performing "My Foolish Heart." From then on, it's June Christy, Chet Baker, Dinah Washington, Charlie Byrd, Johnny Mercer, Keely Smith, Billy Eckstine, Jackie Gleason with Bobby Hackett, Jo Stafford, Mel Torme and Diane Schuur.
Washington exhibits her vocal versatility on the ballad, "For All We Know," accompanied by strings.
Eckstine sings the classic "Sophisticated Lady." Guitarist Byrd contributes "Corcovado." Trumpeter Baker sings, "Let's Get Lost."
This is a nice mix of jazz and pop standards for easy listening.
Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan works here with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Billy Drummond.
The results are stunning as Smulyan, with his full tone, rips through 10 tunes, most of which are not well known. "House of Chan," written by Phil Woods and named for his wife, the former Chan Parker, allows McBride to deliver on an exciting, straight-ahead bass solo.
There is a trick — or a game, if you prefer — contained in these so-called unfamiliar tunes. Each of them is based on the chord changes to a better-known composition.
The trick is to match them from a list in the liner notes. The answers can be checked via Smulyan's e-mail address, also contained in the notes.
There's not a disappointing track here, and it reinforces Smulyan's position at the top of the list of living bari players.
Many of these albums can be found in Music Millennium stores.