CD reviews – a few in brief

Danilo Rea & Flavio Boltro: At Schloss Elmau: Opera (ACT)
This lovely acoustic has been heard before, most recently in Gwilym Simcock’s Mercury Prize-nominated album. Here the magnificent building in the Bavarian Alps plays host to two Italians having a ball with the high drama, heart on sleeve emotions of their homeland’s favourite music.

The Roman pianist Danilo Rea and the Northern Italian trumpeter Flavio Boltro adapt music by Monteverdi, Rossini, Bellini, Vivaldi, Puccini and make some lovely improvisatory duets out of it.

Some, like Rossini’s Dal Tuo Stellato Soglio, are heart-achingly lovely, like; others, like Bellini’s Vaga Luna Che Inargenti, have the plain beauty of folk music; and then there is Rossini’s Sinfonia Dal Gugliemo Tell, which brings out all the jazz exuberance and humour in this pair of virtuosi. That last named reminded me of another great Italian piano and trumpet duo: Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani.

Great stuff from start to finish.

Mike Prigodich: A Stitch In Time (Mexican Mocha Music)
Jazz fusion lives! Well, it certainly does in Portland, Oregon, which is where the keyboard player and pianist from Illinois has settled to live an work. And it’s not music that he works at for the day job. He has a full time job in software.

This disc would sound pretty good from a career  musician, so it’s even more impressive in the circumstances.

The tunes titles say a lot – The Wizard Of Odd, Spanish Swordfight, Chaos Theory, At Sixes And Sevens. Yep, we’re talking tricky time signatures, influences from around the world, including the fantasy lands, and loads of instrumental chops on full display. Damian Erskine on bass and Reinhardt Melz on drums form a strong rhythm team with their leader, and there are some tight horn harmonies and searing guitar solos to decorate the surfaces.

After being diagnosed with cancer Prigodich realised now was the time to realise his life’s ambition of getting a band together and recording an album of his own tunes. He says he took inspiration from cyclist Lance Armstrong, and so this is really his Tour de France win.

James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (Emarcy)
More classical jazz crossover. This time the music is specially written by Roberto Sierra and there is a full orchestra for a Concerto For Saxophones and Orchestra. The disc also includes the title piece for string quintet and two solo Carters – saxophonist James and jazz violinist Regina – and the saxophonist also includes interludes, one for tenor and one for soprano.

The playing is much more interesting than the Sierra’s composition to my ears, and maybe those of the CD cover designers judging by the contrasting print sizes of their names. It’s well written, for sure, and very pleasant, but it provides a fine background setting for Carter’s performance, rather like quite grand film music, rather than saying an awful lot itself. It also has a fair amount of Gershwin-light,  blending flattened bluesy notes in with the strings, although Sierra’s Puerto Rican origins do provide some spice.

But what playing! James Carter has always been one of my favourite players, able to play in any style from rough gutbucket to super smooth conservatoire. Just listen to his soprano playing on the second movement of the concerto, and how he develops it from serene to searing in the course of under six minutes, and then adding a stunning cadenza: Tender is the name of the movement and tender indeed it is.

His tenor playing is on show in the final movement, Playful – Fast, and again the tonal range is amazing, from sandpaper low notes to sweet high tones. The Rhapsody is more reflective and the chamber group blends more readily with the saxophone. The solo pieces serve to make me long for the next real jazz album from James Carter.

Leszek Mozdzer: Komeda (ACT)
The composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda, best known around the world for his soundtracks for Roman Polanski’s early films, is a hero for Polish jazz musicans – though not just Polish jazz musicians – so it is fitting that this brilliant young Polish pianist should choose to make his debut solo piano album a tribute to Komeda.

A classical musician by training, Mozdzer came to jazz at 18 – he is 30 this year – but like so many others who followed the same path – Mehldau and Simcock among them – he makes full use of that great technical base training to give full expression to his improvisatory thoughts. We’ve heard him before on this label playing with the double bass player who shares his sense of classical/jazz synthesis, Lars Danielsson.

All Komeda compositions, the melodies and their harmonic riches are fully explored in performances which keep the virtuosity serving the composer and the heart at all times.

Mozdzer says one of his favourite Komeda quotes translates as: “Live for music, not from music.” Let’s hope Mozdzer can do the latter while dedicating himself to the former.

Tom Harrell: The Time Of The Sun (High Note)
The sounds that open this disc and its title track are actually made by the sun. I kid you not. Apparently they are the harmonies produced by the magnetic fields of the sun.

They quickly give way to the sounds of trumpeter Harrell, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, basist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake, as fine an ensemble as you can hear anywhere on Manhattan island, I reckon. The tune burns darkly, especially when Grissett is on Fender Rhodes and Blake and Okegwo are in processional mode behind the horn lines.

The music spreads out more easily, ebbing and flowing nicely on Estuary, while Ridin’ moves the tempo and tension back up. The Open Door has a terrific bass solo with horns providing the backdrop, followed by a supremely eloquent flugelhorn solo from the leader. Modern Life could be a composition from the golden era of quintet music on the Blue Note label, but it also has that 21st century bite and breadth, and the arrangement is a fine example of how to integrate solos into the structure and make it feel like a cohesive whole, a play with each instrument acting out its part.

This is the fourth album for High Note by this quintet and each one has been great. It’s a band that could gleam on any music, but with Harrell’s ever-so-strong tunes, full of light and shade, both muscular and dreamy, often at the same time, they really do have vehicles that give them all a chance to shine even brighter.

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