10-27-2016  9:32 pm      •     

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Larry Willis has long been a favorite pianist of mine and this, his latest on Highnote, further justifies my judgement.
Although the disc has eight tracks and musicians including bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Billy Drummond and special guest, tenorist Eric Alexander, one track, "Ethiopia" is its tour de force.
"Ethiopia" conjures all that is fatal and destructive about war. Gomez' bowed bass intro sets the indigo mood after Willis' thematic opening statement. Willis then delivers his own thoughtful embellishments. Gomez returns plucking a melancholy solo before bowing again and creating mental images of stark desolation.
On "TD's Tune," Gomez shows strength and imagination on the homage to former major league outfielder Tommy Davis. Davis and Willis knew each other during their high school years. Interestingly, the liner notes were written by former New York Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda, a one time teammate of Davis. The finest young tenor player today, Eric Alexander, contributes the first of three masterful appearances with his closing solo.
Willis ends his recording with an unaccompanied solo of Duke Ellington's "Melancholia." He plays it bare, sticking to the melody all the way. It is a very moving ending to an exquisite recording.

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My oh my, there's a new guitarist in the Portland scene, and a good one at that.
John Keyser, a Portland suburbanite, pulls together an all-star rhythm section of pianist Tony Pacini, bassist Ed Bennett and drummer Dick Berk for this four star recording.
The first track, the title tune, "Compasino" was OK, but he really got my attention with the second cut, a whimsical ballad, "The Feeling Makes You Smile." That is just one of the nine compositions Keyser wrote for this project. The next tune, "The Coaster," has an entirely different feel. It harkens back to old-style jam sessions where the soloist had to cut it or get off the stage. Keyser proves he can cut it big time with his swinging.
He establishes a nice soulful groove with "How to Be A Friend." All it needs is a lyric. This review is to serve as an introduction to Keyser and his artistry. His accompanying players, already established, do a first class job as one might expect.

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Saxophonist Virginia Mayhew puts together a vibrant concert here using creative unison horn voicings to make it truly special.
Special guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen makes her first appearance on the title tune, "A Simple Thank You." She is articulate and crisp. Mayhew solos on tenor with a unique vibrancy. Harvie, last name S, is the bassist and shares the solo spotlight.
"Spring Is Not Here," the disc's first ballad, opens with an interesting unison horn section exercise. That sets the stage for a Mayhew soprano saxophone solo. Although she was chosen as a "rising star" on the instrument by Downbeat magazine, she says she seldom plays the "beast" these days. After hearing her gorgeous solo here, one has to wonder why.
She takes Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," touches it up with a bit of funky calypso, adding a fresh luster to a Monk standard. She spreads solo space among herself on tenor, trombonist Noah Bless, guitarist Kenny Wessell, alto saxophonist Lisa Parrott and even drummer Victor Jones. This is a superb recording!

Dick Bogle hosts a weekly radio show Mondays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. K MHD 89.1 FM. He can be reached at r.bogle@comcast.net.

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