Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass add plenty of spice to this Christmas jazz CD, not only with superb, fresh charts but a few surprising selections. The rich brass and reeds carry the deliberate rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which segues into a perky Latin-flavored chart of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "Away in a Manger" is not the commonly heard melody but one first written in 1887, though the music will likely be familiar, even if one doesn't associate it with the well-known lyrics. The lush setting of "The Christmas Song," which likely set Mel Tormé and Bob Wells for life with royalty checks due to its many recordings, showcases the leader's valve trombone and pianist David Restivo. "My Favorite Things," originally written for The Sound of Music, has gradually been transformed into double duty as a Christmas carol; this swinging interpretation works very well. Johnny Mandel, the composer of many memorable melodies, deserves greater recognition for his gorgeous piece "A Christmas Love Song"; this arrangement deserved to help put it on the jazz map. Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass consistently delivered first-rate music throughout their existence, this holiday CD no exception.
An eclectic and rootsy set of music by Tony Furtado with Matt Flinner, Rob Burger and Luke Price, this beautifully recorded live album was culled from a series of performances at a cider brewery that can be called vibrant, explosive, introspective & alive.
This is a great radio session recorded in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 14, 2000. GratHovOx embodies everything uninhibited free improv can deliver. The presence of two of the genre's most prestigious veterans certainly has something to do with it. Fred Van Hove performs most of the set on a Steinway D piano. He grabs his accordion for "Foreplay/Vorspiel." Tony Oxley produces an astounding number of different sounds from his acoustic drum kit, keeping the electronics very discreet. Between them stands reedman Frank Gratkowski, using mostly instruments from the clarinet family this time around – his raspy alto sax makes an appearance in the 20-minute "Trenches/Tranches."
Trumpeter Rob Blakeslee leads his Oregon-based band through a series of labyrinthine excursions on Last Minute Gifts. Rooted in freer forms of early ’60s jazz, the pianoless quartet-trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs-features abrupt tempo changes, shifting rhythms and corkscrew improvisations. By now we’re long accustomed to the unpredictable, and for the band’s chosen path the surprising turnabouts are attractive. If the program has a slight shortcoming, it’s a similarity in tonality and changeable format, not the melodies or performances. Two pieces, however, have Latin beats of sorts: the beginning and ending of “Huff Creek Road” and the bass vamp throughout “Advice from a Pufferfish.”
Sometimes a jazz band will perform sans piano simply because the bar or hall doesn’t own one, or for a New Orleans funeral procession the reason is obvious. The choice not to record with an available piano is a conscious one. Take Ornette Coleman’s 1960 quartet, Sonny Rollins at The Village Vanguard 1957, or John Zorn’s Masada of the 1990s all elected to free themselves from the constraints of those black & white keys. I’m telling you this because Rob Blakeslee’s quartet opts for openness and the freedom. Peace. Blakeslee and Rich Halley are regular contributors to the West Coast bands of Vinny Golia and recordings from his label 9Winds.