Category Archives: Jazz

New Audio Releases for the Holidays – 1

I’ve received about a half dozen new holiday titles worth mentioning this year and I’m going to try to get them all covered by December 15 so you’ll have time to actually buy one that looks interesting and enjoy it. If you’re reading this too late, well, there’s always Christmas in July.

Very Singin Basie Cheistmas

The Count Basie Orchestra kept going after Basie’s death and has made many new recordings. Long time Basie trumpeter Scotty Barnhart currently leads. This year, the band has released  A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas on the Concord Jazz label. The play list is almost entirely secular (“Jingle Bells,” “The Christmas Song,” ” Little Drummer Boy,” etc) but there is one nod to the religious aspect of the season – “Silent Night.” Revelations are many. “Little Drummer Boy” swings as Kansas City Jazz, “Sleigh Ride” is brassy and sassy in a chart by Gordon Goodwin, and you can guess the nature of “Good ‘Swing’ Wencelas” by its title.  Guests include Ellis Marsalis, Ledisi, Carmen Bradford,  and Johnny Mathis, who amazes with a spirited version of “It’s the Holiday Season.” Mathis has just turned 80 and shows no signs of stopping. And speaking of 80, this disc also celebrates the Basie Band’s 80th anniversary. It’s the best pop/jazz album this year. Treat yourself. Oh yes, it has demonstration caliber sound, too!

Make the Season Bright

A little over ten years ago, the United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants released a holiday album titled Make the Season Bright. It’s been re-released this year by Klavier Records and sounds like it’s been re-mastered for superb fidelity. The approach is slick and smooth with virtuoso playing and excellent singing. Highlights include a narrated version of The Polar Express and “Variations on a West County Carol,” which turns out to be “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The approach is spirited throughout, with sentiment sometimes replaced by dazzle.


Another Wonderful Jazz Recording from Sound Liaison

Sound Liaison is a Netherlands based partnership two bass players, Frans de Rond and Peter Bjørnild. They’ve assembled some terrific artists who play great jazz and given them high definition sound.  I raved about their initial recordings on the Sound Stage! Network, and have enjoyed watching their progress in listening to their appealing new albums.

En Azul

Their newest program is titled En Azul and features the Witmer Trio, Cajan Witmer – piano,
Han Slinger – double bass, and Maarten Kruijswijk – drums. The trio has been together for 20 years and all the players sound very comfortable in their skins. Their emphasis is on melody with ornamentation and variation that heightens a sense of melody rather than distracting from it.  And they’ve picked some terrific tunes to work with – Carioca, The Gentle Rain, Moon River, Moonglow, Rhapsody in Blue, Recado, and St. Louis Blues, to mention a few. The playing is delightfully impeccable and the recorded sound nearly so.  The trio sounds like it’s playing in a real space and is nicely spread between speakers with no exaggeration. The piano sound is perfect as is the sound of the many percussion instruments that are so imaginatively employed. The bass is solid; I could use just a tiny bit more focus on the attacks. Sound Liaison recordings are only available as high quality downloads. Many download formats are available including DSD and PCM 24bit/96kHz stereo. If you’re searching for real sounding intimate jazz, give the work of these folks a try. You’ll not be disappointed and it’s so good-natured, I’ll bet it will put a smile on your face.




Surround Sound Audio is Back – Part One

Well, it never really went away, but it’s been pushed way into the background, no pun intended. New releases from Audio Fidelity and Pentatone give me hope that there’s a new revolution in the making and like the Phoenix, surround will rise from its own ashes. In the 1970s there was a big push for Quad sound, a four channel system for vinyl that failed because the software just couldn’t cut it. Enter laser disc, followed by DVD and surround sound as surround sound became a must have item…for video! The combat between SACD and DVD-Audio brought forth a lot of surround sound discs, but Hybrid SACD never replaced CD, as it should have, and things have been low key for some time.

Enter Audio Fidelity with a slew of new SACD releases on hybrid discs that will play stereo on a regular CD player and stereo and surround on an SACD equipped machine. Most of the titles seem to be drawn from those that were previously out during the SACD-DVD Audio combat but some range back to the quad era. You can get the complete list here. The best sounding one is

Grover Washngton Winelight

Winelight, an easy listening jazz masterpiece from Grover Washington, Jr. Many surround sound discs use the extra channels just to capture the atmosphere of a studio or room but Winelight aggressively puts the listener in the middle of the action. The opening of the title song sets the stage. Electric bass guitar up front, guitar back right, some percussion back left, then solo sax up front and center. Elliott Scheiner is responsible for this amazing mix. If you’ve been around a while, it’s basically the same as the previously released DVD-Audio disc, but Audio Fidelity has said they added a few tweaks. It’s one crazy great sounding disc. All the instruments are sharply defined, the bass in particular has that focused sound that allows you to hear both the attack and the tone, a sound I find all too infrequently.  I’ll go so far are to say that Winelight, as Audio Fidelity presents it, is one of the best sounding jazz programs ever recorded. Ever.

I also received The Best of Bread and The Best of the Guess Who from Audio Fidelity, both from the quad era. They sounded really good, with the surrounds used a lot for backup vocals and less important musical lines. If you’re a fan of either band, you’re going to hear them with a greater clarity that brings them to new life. All of the SACD’s have original cover art, even the vinyl labels get sharply defined photos. Coming up soon from the label – a compilation Doors album, Labelle’s Nightbird, and Billy Joel’s Street Life Serenade. If you can only play stereo, you still need the Bread and Guess Who discs, because the stereo mastering from Steve Hoffman is so perfect.




Lush, Brazilian Jazz from Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias has had a career peppered with success. She’s recorded for major labels like Blue Note, RCA, RCA Bluebird, and ECM. She’s been nominated for many awards and won quite a few. Now she records for Concord, and Made In Brazil, which streets on March 31, is her third album for that label.  It’s a masterpiece and proof that Elias is the best Brazilian vocalist in the world. Her voice has darkened beautifully to become a perfect instrument. Always sure of pitch and having an innate sense of rhythm, she’s an effortless performer; her singing seems as natural as breathing. But it doesn’t stop there – Elias is also a pianist of considerable merit, writes appealing and significant songs,  and pens just-right arrangements.

Elaine Elias Made in Brazil

For Made in Brazil, Elias has surround herself with magnificent talent. Take 6 contributes sumptuous vocals to a stunning version of Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco,” while its lead singer, Mark Kibble, also adds his talent to “Incendiando” and the playful “Driving Ambition,” both with music by Elias and lyrics from Elias and her husband, bass player Marc Johnson.  Roberto Menescal adds vocals and guitar to two of his compositions – “Voce” and “Rio.” Though all of the vocals and instrumentals were recorded in Brazil (a first for Elias since she moved to the United States), strings were added from a session in London . The mix of all this talent by Pete Karam is masterful. The sound is warm and lush but important details always emerge with great accuracy and no strain. Eliane Elias has been nominated 5 times for a Grammy award. Listen to Made in Brazil and you’ll hear another nomination knocking on the door.

Two New Hot Jazz Piano CDs

I’ll give you full disclosure. I receive around 40 new jazz recordings a month, mostly indie projects. About 88 percent of these have something to do with the piano. I hear a lot of very good players. If I heard them at my local pub, I’d be thrilled. But most of them tread safe, established paths. I long for something new and inspired. This month I received two totally different recordings, each unique and different, that fill the bill.

Janioce Friendman

The fist was from CAP and Janice Friedman. It’s a live recording from Jazz at Kitano in New York City and features the Janice Friedman Trio (Friedman on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Ed Howard on bass). The program is a mix of tried and true (“God Bless the Child,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Curacao”),  underplayed standards (“Half and Half”), and original compositions (“Get Set,” “Ripplin'”). Friedman’s style varies, depending on the tune, but with enthusiasm, optimism, grace, and virtuoso chops, she nails every piece on this disc, as do her partners. She sings wonderfully well on three cuts, and her version of “God Bless the Child” is distinctive and appealing. I also liked her non vocal version of “My Man’s Gone Now,” which is very rhapsodic in her lush arrangement. The audience is enthusiastic and quite when they should be, too, and the recording is bright and chipper.

Peace in Time Steven Feifke

Peace in Time, from pianist Steven Feifke, is an entirely different program. The group is larger, a septet, and the textures are naturally thicker. Feifke has programmed three familiar classics – “Evidence” (Thelonious Monk), “Nica’s Dream” (Horace Silver), and “Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke) – alongside his own compositions. His style is bold, often jagged, assured, dramatic, and dynamic. Feifke’s only 23 but he tempers the undeniably attractive brashness and confidence of youth with unusual maturity. His ensemble is top notch, too, with special mention going to Benny Bernack on trumpet and Flugelhorn. His solos on “Autumn in New York” are inpisred. My only suggestion is that Feifke and his friends experiment with recording. The sound here is a bit congested at times and the string bass lines not sufficiently focused and defined.  Brilliant playing like this deserves better engineering.