Category Archives: CD Review

DownBeat Magazine Editor’s Pick Review of “Imprints”

March 2012

Tatum Greenblatt is a first-call trumpeter who is based in New York City but grew up in the great jazz education scene of Seattle. His new recording, “Imprints,” is his third as a leader and his strongest recording to date. “Imprints” delivers a perfect blend of hard-swinging grooves and tight, interesting arrangements. But Greenblatt also develops a big-vision set of music that displays the breadth of his interests and influences in one beautifully cohesive statement. On “Frafrito Malenke Bonacci (‘DIAP!’),” Greenblatt pays tribute to his time as a member of the Richard Bona Group with a wicked clave and sweet overdubbing geared to sound like Bona’s loop-pedal inspired guitar solos. On “Paris Is Burning” and “Consider Me Gone,” Greenblatt shows his love for pop music as a launching point for improvisation, covering St. Vincent and Sting, respectively. Throughout the recording, Greenblatt’s trumpet is a crystal-clear clarion, and he’s joined by a stellar band—Geoff Vidal on tenor sax and clarinet, guitarist Simon Kafka, Adam Birnbaum on keyboards, drummer Donald Edwards and bassist Boris Kozlov. Edwards slams a sweet drum solo to kick off a cover of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud.” Kozlov’s bass solo on “Floating” sets the tone for this terrific original. And Kafka’s guitar work shines throughout. The closing duet between Kafka and Greenblatt on “Pure Imagination,” which most will remember from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, sends you off with a smile and a sigh. It’s a lovely conversation between two terrific musicians.

– Frank Alkyer

All About Jazz Review of Hilary Gardner’s “The Great City”

New York City has its fair share of sobriquets—”The City That Never Sleeps,” “The Big Apple,” and “Gotham” are just a few that spring to mind. It’s a place of joy and frustration, triumph and tragedy, hope and despair, and all that exists between the extremes. It’s a microcosm of the world we know, existing not asa great city, but as the great city. Just ask vocalist Hilary Gardner, an Alaskan-turned-New Yorker who’s been soaking up New York City’s aura and contributing to its cultural landscape since 2003.

Plenty of musicians, in New York or any other locale across the globe, try to build careers around or atop recordings, but Gardner went the other way. She spent her first New York decade carving her place into the city’s artistic fabric, working her way into the heart of live audiences at clubs, performing/collaborating with symphony orchestras, and taking Broadway by storm via her singing in Twyla Tharp’s Frank Sinatra extravaganza—Come Fly Away. Now, after firmly planting her flag in “The City So Nice, They Named it Twice,” Gardner delivers her leader debut—a better-than-great offering called The Great City.

To many, this record may seem like a throwback date. It’s a classy collection of songs that speak, saunter, and/or swing with old world charm, but it’s not a look into the distant past or an overly romanticized vision of New York life. It’s a collection of stories that form a big(ger) picture about the city. There’s an after after hours perspective (“Drunk On The Moon”), a touch of sadness mixed into a season of beauty (“Autumn In New York”), references to “Ol’ Blue Eyes” (“Brooklyn Bridge”), and more. Through it all, Gardner proves to be poised, world-wise, and witty in her experience-shaded delivery.

Crafting a program of music that successfully puts Leonard Cohen next to Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Tom Waits beside Vernon Duke, and Nellie McKay after Johnny Mercer is no easy feat, but Gardner makes it seem like a breeze. She ties all of the music together beautifully and she works with a simpatico crew that’s able to bring her vision(s) to life. Pianist Ehud Asherie upholds and extends his reputation as an old soul living in modern times, guitarist Randy Napoleon serves as Gardner’s most trusted guide, saxophonist Jason W. Marshall and trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt capture the essence of the past without coming off as affected, and the rest of the crew provides superb backing. The Great City may be a paean to New York on the surface, but it’s something more: it’s recorded evidence indicating that Hilary Garder is a superb singer deserving greater recognition.

– Dan Bilawsky

The Seattle Times’ review of Hilary Gardner’s “The Great City”

Hilary Gardner, who lived briefly in Seattle a decade ago and has been in New York ever since, has released her first album on Anzic (the label that brought us the wonderful reed player Anat Cohen, among others) and is given an able assist on a few cuts by another Seattleite-turned-New Yorker, trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt. It’s a fine debut.

A sophisticated and literate love letter to Manhattan, “The Great City” offers a well-chosen brace of songs, both familiar — “Autumn in New York,” “Chelsea Morning” — and obscure — “Sweetheart (Waitress in a Donut Shop).” Gardner sings with impressive clarity and confidence, phrasing straightforwardly with her ample alto, using few mannerism or clichéd crutches, and occasionally attacking lines with the punch of a horn.

She’s particularly strong on the opening tune by Leonard Cohen, “No One After You,” accompanied by embers-glowing electric guitar, and on the title track, which brings out her feel for finger-popping swing, though her choice of material trends more cabaret than jazz. On the shop girl ditty, she captures loneliness in the big city with Streisand-like poignancy. So many singers leap from the nest before they are fully fledged. Gardner’s ready to fly.

– Paul DeBarros’s Review of Captain Black Big Band’s “Mother’s Touch”

Well, now I’m becoming a huge fan of jazz pianist Orrin Evans. Why wasn’t I already? I mean, the guy has been playing with everybody and their moms since he burst on the scene 20 years ago. He recorded as a leader in 1994 when he was merely 18 years old, exhibiting even then a powerful grammar of hard bop, soul, daring, and gospel groove. Man, the guy was born in Jersey and raised in Philly — which is pretty much the lineage of jazz royalty — and I’ve seen him rip up rooms with the Mingus Big Band.

But sometimes you just have to let a musician grow on you until that day arrives when you hear him anew. Which has happened to me with Evans’ latest recording with his Captain Black Big Band, Mother’s Touch. The band is a pick-up group of brilliant New York and Philly jazz players that decidedly does not sound like a pick-up band. It recorded a live disc in 2011. Now, the band is back with a studio recording done shortly after those live dates in 2011: nine tunes, six by Evans.

It is compulsively cool and driving: smart, complex, hip, in the pocket, fully alive with modern energy.

Here’s what you get with this modern big band: five trumpets (including Duane Eubanks), seven reed players (Marcus Strickland, Stacy Dillard, and Tim Green among them), five trombones (including Conrad Herwig) and a solid rhythm section. But for all its size, the Captain Black Big Band has several modes beyond roaring. The down-home opener, “In My Soul”, is a funky 6/8 tune that mixes blues cry and wistfulness. The band sounds loose and slick in reading the moving theme before giving way to Evans’ easygoing solo. This is the kind of glossy stroll in the park you might have heard from the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band a couple of decades ago, and the tenor solo by Strickland is marvelous.

The band also does a great job with more exotic material. “Explain It to Me” uses a complex rhythm that shifts often: three bars of 7/8 set over a Latin groove followed by a bar of 8/8, which then switches into driving Latin eighth notes that can also convert to fast 4/4 swing or a cool section where the groove is suspended. “Tickle” is a flying and complex chart that mixes elaborate runs by the reed section with a stabbing figure, leading to a solo section that uses an implied rhythm before giving way to uptempo swing. “Maestra”, a tune by bassist Eric Revis, runs on a funky bass line and drum groove that sits beneath a slow-developing arrangement for brass and saxophones. There is also a very clever arrangement by trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt of Wayne Shorter’s Miles-era song “Water Babies”, which uses a chattering call-and-response pattern that tests the band’s skill to the max.

All the arrangements on Mother’s Touch expertly use a range of colors and subtleties. The “Water Babies” arrangement trades in chirping high reeds and the rich bottom of buzzing trombones, particularly beneath the emotional Dillard tenor solo. “Dita (for Karyn Warren)” is a lovely tone poem that uses flutes, clarinet. bass clarinet, and various muted brasses to set the table for Evans’ gorgeous impressionism. Under Todd Bashore’s feeling-soaked alto sax solo, the arrangement (also by Bashore) is gentle and playful, developing a fantasia section of its own that gives each section of the band its say in the melody. The title track, “Mother’s Touch” is split into two short halves that are stated as rubato settings for a single, simple melodic motif, evoking Coltrane, with the colors of the whole bands bursting forth like rays of sun.

My favorite track is the last one, “Prayer for Colombine”, a long piece that combines mournful surges of horns with a hopping figure and compelling ostinato bass part that makes things thrilling as much as they are blue. The solos on this song are excellent: Herwig’s trombone and Mark Allen on baritone sax. At the end, Tim Green’s alto and Dillard’s tenor engage in a marvelous duel that begins with the groove, develops into a straight-ahead walking swing, and then finally the rest of the band melts away and it’s just those two voices in conversation without accompaniment.

Although the first track gives the Captain Black Big Band a heavy dose of Evans’ piano, it’s notable that this is a band animated more by a sense of collective purpose and shared vision that a vehicle for one player. The Evans originals are strong, but the arrangements were written by many others. Oddly, the recording was made almost three years ago. Whatever excuse there needs to be to get this group back together is welcome. 2011 was a fine year for the band, even if this set didn’t emerge right away. In the meantime Orrin Evans is still everywhere, playing up a storm.

Now that I’m a convert, let’s get Orrin Evans all the attention he deserves. That’s to say: plenty.

– Will Layman Review of The Verve Jazz Ensemble’s “East End Sojourn”

The latest release from the Verve Jazz Ensemble is one this year’s best jazz albums to date. This kind of jazz pays striking tribute to the music of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train,” a silent moment to feel the simply joys of life. But wait my good friends, this is not for the initiate. This is sweet jazz for the aficionados. So, let’s talk about the wonderful, and at times brilliant performances of these musicians. Trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt is the hero here, followed with gratitude for Peter Bernstein (guest guitarist), along with the beautiful synergy of Jon Blanck (tenor sax), Matt Oestreicher (piano), Elias Bailey (bass), Josh Feldstein (drums), Chris Deangelis (bass), and Steve Einerson (piano). The five outstanding performances include “Jitterbug Waltz,” “You And The Night And The Music,” “My One And Only Love,” “Flor De Lis,” and “East End Avenue.” Everywhere on this album there are genuine pearls of the American jazz book with invocations and eulogies reminiscent of some of jazz great masters. East End Sojourn is an award-winning jazz album of contemporary beauty and poetic artistry.

– Jean-Keith Fagon

All About Jazz Review of The Verve Jazz Ensemble’s “East End Sojourn”

In April of 2013, the Verve Jazz Ensemble released their first album It’s About Time (CD Baby, 2012) to rave reviews from critics and jazz lovers everywhere. Exactly one year later, the group follows up on their amazing debut by unveiling East End Sojourn, an exciting second effort featuring new creative arrangements, more reimagined standards, a couple of original statements and the inclusion of guitarist luminary Peter Bernsteinas special guest. The bop and post-bop grooves of the first recording are very much in play here with Jonathan Blanck’s sizzling tenor,Tatum Greenblatt’s soaring trumpet, and a tight rhythm section—all providing a swinging sound and a wish that this short sojourn, had encompassed more time.

Old style swing jazz kicks off the music with a Blanck arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” featuring Greenblatt and Blanck exchanging solo salvos and continues on the trumpeter’s arrangement of—and extended solo work on—the classic Fats Waller composition “Jitterbug Waltz,” ably accompanied by pianist Matt Oestreicher. Guitarist Bernstein appears on three consecutive tracks with the first being “You And The Night And The Music,” followed by the Guy Wood standard “My One And Only Love,” the only balladic piece of the set.

Venturing into Latin jazz for the very first time, the group delivers a spirited rendition of Brazilian singer Djavan’s “Flor de Lis” led by the guitarist and drummer Josh Feldstein’s light samba beats making this taste of Brazil quite engaging. Feldstein’s up beat swinging “East End Avenue” is the first of the two originals with the trumpeter’s muted horn-heavy “Dilly Dally Doodle,” serving as the finale but, not before showcasing some of Elias Bailey’s sharp bass line and pianist Steve Einerson’s fine solo work.

The Count Basie staple “Corner Pocket” gets a fresh new treatment from Blanck’s arrangement of the Freddie Green classic featuring light cymbal accents from the drummer, more from Einerson and the horn section. What happens when you merge elements of the Horace Silver standard “Strollin'” with Neil Hefti’s “Cute”? The answer of course? A wonderful sampling of two classics on the appropriately titled “Strollin’ Meets Cute,” highlighting excellent bass phrasings from Chris DeAngelis in support of the two leaders—and arrangers of the hybrid piece—drummer Feldstein and pianist Oestreicher.

Keeping faith with the traditional and contemporary side of jazz, East End Sojourn delivers a fair share of hard-driving swing and bop which, is something the dynamic Verve Jazz Ensemble has become accustomed to doing so well.

– Edward Blanco

All About Jazz Review of Verve Jazz Ensemble’s “It’s About Time”

In 2006 drummer Josh Feldstein established the Verve Jazz Ensemble, a contemporary jazz group playing standards and straight ahead material in the finest venues throughout the Connecticut area without having an album to their credit until this appropriately-titled recording debut It’s About Time. On tap are an array of jazz standards featuring new arrangements and dynamic interpretations of music from the likes of Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis, Henry Mancini and Oscar Hammerstein. From bebop rhythms to sweet melodic ballads and swinging romps forged with exciting solo statements, the Verve Jazz Ensemble delivers quite an attention-grabbing first effort drawing inspiration for an encore performance.

Comprised of players from the New York area and elsewhere, the band is essentially a quintet highlighting New York trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and saxophonist Jonathan Blanck on leads throughout, beginning on Dameron’s bebop classic “Lady Bird.” Bassist Chris DeAngelis and pianist Matt Oestreicher also take their turns on the opener providing stellar solos on a number that sets the stage for what’s to come. Feldstein and crew recorded five versions of each track, with one rendition sounding better than the next, and in post-production made a determination to include alternate takes to three songs (“Lady Bird,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” and “Big Swing Face”). Needless to say, each take is a winner.

The Buddy Rich staple, “Big Swing Face” is clearly the swinger of the set where Feldstein’s drumming blends a small ensemble sound with a big band approach resulting in a powerful swinging sound. In stark contrast, the band shifts gears in taking on the Davis piece “Boplicity” where the tone is decidedly down tempo with Blanck blowing the pronounced notes. The rhythm section comes to the fore on Mancini’s immortal “The Days of Wine and Roses” featuring the leader on brushes accompanied by the bassist on a minute and a half opening introduction before Oestreicher’s gorgeous dance on the keys.

Feldstein displays his formidable chops on the drums with several well-placed drum solos on the up tempo version of Duke Jordan’s “Jordu” on the final one-take selection of the album. Even though three of the nine pieces are alternate takes, the music is just as inviting as if you’re hearing it for the first time. An all-around solid performance from the Verve Jazz Ensemble, Feldstein and group lay down one impressive recording with It’s About Time making the wait well worth it.

– Edward Blanco

Earshot Magazine Review of “Imprints”

One of the strongest virtues of trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt’s Imprints is his selection of material. “Paris Is Burning,” written by young electric guitarist singer-songwriter St. Vincent (Annie Clark), makes use of traditional jazz devices applied to a very contemporary composition. Sting’s “Consider Me Gone,” from his recording The Dream of the Blue Turtles, makes good textural use of Adam Birnbaum’s Nord keyboard, giving this 80s piece a 60s Hammond feel for the head, which also features effective interval work from Greenblatt and saxophonist Geoff Vidal. The tour de force of the recording is Greenblatt’s arrangement of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud,” contrasting oddmeter and driving swing sections, skillfully executed by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards. Also on the release: guitarist Simon Kafka and vocalist Sofia Tosello. While opening track “Frafrito Malenke Bonacci (Diap!)” flirts with over-production – layers of overdubbing – and “Silhouette” may be too trite, Greenblatt has fully harnessed both his education and his influences. Imprints is a well-conceived, wellproduced recording by one of jazz’s rising stars. Educated in Seattle’s Garfield jazz program, New York’s New School and Juilliard, young Greenblatt is a virtuoso in his own right and has adroitly incorporated his primary influences – Wynton Marsalis, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and, most audibly, Freddie Hubbard. This third release reflects the virtuosity of a well-schooled musician.

– Fred Kellogg

Rifftides review of Captain Black Big Band’s “Captain Black Big Band”

On last year’s Tarbaby: The End of Fear, Evans was the intrepid pianist in an adventurous trio. Here, he is at the helm of a 16-piece band staffed by New Yorkers and Philadelphians, some of them up-and-comers, a few semi-grizzled veterans, all full of fire. Busy conducting, Evans solos on only one piece, but there is no shortage of impressive soloists in this live recording. Among them are saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Ralph Bowen, trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and pianist Neal Podgurski. Evans’ supercharged “Jena 6” is a tour de force for the band at large and, notably, for Shaw.

– Doug Ramsey