09 26 2016
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McMenamins

"THE BIG PUSH"
LARRY WILLIS TRIO
Highnote
*****

These men know how to make not just good music but exemplary music in trio form.
The leader is pianist Larry Willis, someone I've come to know as a man of great spirit, faith, sensitive nature and abundant talent. Veteran bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster are familiar names because of their stellar work through several decades. Some say Foster is the most recorded drummer of all time.
Although the players are well known, the material herein is not recognizable with the exception of the first track, "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top." The prettiest is Willis' composition, "The Day You Said Goodbye," a very slow ballad with Foster on brushes and Williams' bass soloing with deep resonance. Willis unhurriedly constructs a lovely memorial to something or someone he cared very much about.
His affection for the late Nat Adderley is much in evidence on another Willis tune, "Poppa Nat," a wonderful up-tempo salute.

"TOPH-E AND THE PUSSYCATS LIVE IN DETROIT"
*****

The musical biographies of these five hard-swinging gentlemen is astounding!
The combined list of names they have worked with is more than impressive. It includes Bob Dylan, David Letterman's Late Show Band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Saturday Night Live Studio Band, Ashford and Simpson, Weather Report, Quincy Jones, George Benson, Tower of Power, the Brecker Brothers and more. That's a lot of bandstand cred.
They ignite off the top with a rock-'em-sock-'em treatment of Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm." David Mann delivers a fine soprano saxophone solo as a highlight. A solid gospel feel emanates from "Tee," with pianist Clifford Carter using some wonderful block chords to make his point. Mann, this time on tenor, nearly blows the house down.
He comes back on "Just the Two of Us," along with vocalist Will Lee for a rousing soul trip. It's hard to pick a favorite tune from the above tunes and "All Blues," "Compared to What" and "Mr. Magic."
This release is five stars from start to finish!

"LIVE AT THE DAKOTA 2"
NACHITO HERRERA
****

This band, with all its firepower, could light up the darkened night sky.
Leader-pianist Nachito Herrera is loaded with technique and an intuitive grasp of everything Afro-Cuban. He opens with his own powerful "Spin and the Twins." Bassist Terry Barnes is eloquent with his lyrical solo.
It's only a quartet with percussionist Shai Hayo and drummer Gordy Knuttson, but together they create a much larger sound. Two well-known tunes, Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" and "Yes and No," are special given the Herrera treatment.

"TIMELESS LOVE"
SMOKEY ROBINSON
Universal
****

Smokey Robinson, known for his long string of soul hits, takes a different route on this exciting Universal release, which hears him dip deeply into the great American songbook.
Robinson opens with a glorious treatment of "You Go to My Head," and generates plenty of excitement with the next track, "I'm In the Mood for Love." He sings the first chorus as it's likely intended, but then sings the second in a style similar to that of Eddie Jefferson's vocalese.
Robinson sticks to the pop hits of the '20s, '30s and '40s, including such tunes as "Tea for Two," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "Night and Day," "Speak Low," "I'm Glad There is You" and more.

"BEYOND THE OBVIOUS"
VALERY PONOMAREV
Reservoir
****

What is obvious is that this is a pianoless group — but that doesn't seem to inhibit the band from swinging.
On the first cut, "You Dig, I Hear You, You Know What I Mean, etc." is also tenorless. Saxophonist Don Braden was held up by traffic, making him late for the session. What we have, then, is Ponomarev on trumpet; Martin Zenker, bass; and Jerome Jennings on drums. Ponomarev, blowing clearly and in an upper range, carries the solo load and even engages drummer Jennings in a brief call-and-response exchange.
Braden comes on board for "Close Your Eyes," a version that differs radically from the usual. Its typical lyrical sensibility is cast aside until the very end, and in its place is some very innovative improvisation.
"Party Time" allows for some unison horn work by Ponomarev and Braden.
The prettiest offering is Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," with Ponomarev soaring to some very high places.

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