By Scott Yanow
NUTTY AT THE E-SPOT
To say that Nutty is a unique band is a definite understatement. While some of today’s jazz artists enjoy playing rock and pop tunes and trying to turn them into jazz, Nutty has a different concept altogether. The arrangements of singer Sonny Moon and bassist Guy Wonder generally have the eight-piece group starting out performing a jazz piece, switching to a completely unrelated rock song when Moon begins singing, and alternating between (and sometimes combining) the two numbers during the performance. The result is humorous, unpredictable and surprisingly musical.
I have never heard any other group succeed at this idea like Nutty. Nutty performed before a packed house at the E-Spot. The audience, which was comprised of both jazz and rock fans, was quite enthusiastic. Whether it was a combination of “Hit The Road Jack” (with three guest female singers), “My Little Red Book” (a mid-1960s hit record for Love) and “Intermission Riff,” a mixture of “On Green Dolphin Street” and the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” or a bizarre and humorous fusion of Ozzy Osbourne and excerpts from four Antonio Carlos Jobim songs, the music was quite memorable. Where else can one hear “Purple Haze” and riffs from “The Pink Panther” co-existing, Charles Mingus meeting the Kinks, or “A Night In Tunisia” teaming up with Yes?
Nutty would run the risk of being a novelty act were it not for the inventive arrangements and the high musicianship. Sonny Moon is a very good singer who makes humorous ad-libs between songs, has the persona of Dean Martin of the early 1960s, and sometimes dances around a bit like Louis Prima. His voice is very flexible, perfectly in-tune and quite appealing. Nutty features three excellent and high-powered horn soloists in tenor-saxophonist Edmund Velasco, baritonist Mike Reznick and newcomer trumpeter Blake Martin (who was particularly expressive with the plunger mute), each of whom had many opportunities to stretch out. With the alert and tight rhythm section of pianist Dan Spector, electric bassist Guy Wonder, drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. and percussionist Munyungo Jackson, this is a hot and swinging group that is not afraid to have a good time.
Go see Nutty whenever you can; they put on a great show. Nutty will be back at the E-Spot on March 25. Jazz and rock not only co-exist in their music but form a good-humored and fascinating new style.
Pianist Harold Mabern is a brilliant pianist from the 1960s who gets more appreciated every year. While he was overshadowed early on by such stylists as McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans, he has been consistently excellent throughout his long career. Mabern first recorded with the MJT + Three in 1959, was a member of the Jazztet in 1962 and worked with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Betty Carter, Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan and many other greats. He began leading his own record dates back in 1968 and since the early 1990s has often played in a quartet with Eric Alexander.
At Catalina’s, Mabern and his trio with bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Joe Farnsworth were joined by the legendary tenor-saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. First the pianist was featured on several numbers including a soulful blues that was danceable and an original that sounded like a spiritual. After that, Mabern unselfishly gave the spotlight to Sanders. After a bit of struggle during the first few choruses of a very uptempo Coltrane tune, Sanders settled down and played a long and exciting solo. He dug into such songs as “I Want To Talk About You,” a medium-tempo blues (which had Mabern at one point making the saxophonist smile by quoting “One O ‘Clock Jump”) and a mostly theme-less version of “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” Gurrola had a few good spots on bass and Farnsworth took several drum solos, all of which were quite musical.
While I wish that Mabern had been featured more during the second half of the set, it was a fine night of music. Some enterprising booker should bring the Eric Alexander Quartet with Mabern to L.A. in the future.
BILL CUNLIFFE BIG BAND
Each December, pianist Bill Cunliffe puts together his big band and performs at the E-Spot. 2016 was no exception as he presented a variety of his arrangements. With such fine soloists as Bob Sheppard on soprano and alto, trumpeter Kye Palmer, tenor-saxophonists Rob Lockart and Jeff Ellwood, and the always swinging drummer Joe LaBarbera, Cunliffe led a top-notch modern big band.
While his version of “Secret Love,” which had the ensemble switching keys every four bars, seemed a bit frivolous and it took a little while for the music to pick up momentum, “’Round Midnight” (taken as a tribute to Michael Brecker and featuring Lockart) was much more successful. Other highlights included Sheppard’s alto playing throughout a memorable version of “Christmas Time Is Here” and the revival of Cunliffe’s arrangement of “One O’Clock Jump” that he originally wrote for the Buddy Rich Big Band a few decades ago. Singer Denise Donatelli guested on a 5/4 version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” a Bach piece on which she did fine with some wordless singing, and, best of all, a fine rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with the rhythm section.
Two of the major bebop record companies of the classic bop era (1945-49) were Dial and Savoy. The Mosaic label (www.mosaicrecords.com), which reissues consistently magnificent limited-edition box sets, previously came out with the nine-CD The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions. Their latest release is the ten-CD Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49.
The Savoy label, founded in 1942, recorded plenty of small-group swing, rhythm and blues, and gospel through the years. It was also the first company to record Charlie Parker as a leader, documenting many of his classic performances during 1945-48. Because those sessions have been reissued many times, they are the only bop-oriented Savoy dates not on the Mosaic set, although the Dial box does include Parker’s dates for that label. While none of the 216 performances on the Savoy box were previously unreleased, some had not been reissued on CD and it is a joy to have all of this timeless and exciting music in one collection.
Many magical names from the bop era are featured in their early prime. The bandleaders are tenors Dexter Gordon, Allen Eager, Stan Getz, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Brew Moore, altoist Sonny Stitt, trumpeters Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee, trombonists Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson, baritonists Serge Chaloff and Leo Parker, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist-composer Tadd Dameron, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Kenny Clarke, singer Kenny Hagood and arranger Gil Fuller (who leads the only big band in this set). Among the more notable sidemen are pianists Bud Powell, Hank Jones, Al Haig, George Wallington, Duke Jordan, Junior Mance, John Lewis, and Sir Charles Thompson, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie (on the Ray Brown date), Kenny Dorham, Shorty Rogers, Red Rodney, Doug Mettome, and Joe Newman, saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Charlie Rouse, James Moody, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Heath, Billy Mitchell, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Gerry Mulligan, guitarist Jimmy Raney, Julius Watkins on French horn, and drummers Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Denzil Best, Stan Levey, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, and J. C. Heard, plus Billy Eckstine on valve trombone.
Every session is well worth hearing, whether it is very early Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz (the latter is heard before he had developed his cool sound), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis at his most uninhibited, or Fats Navarro at the peak of his powers (including on a few trumpet battles with Howard McGhee). The Lp-size box, which includes an informative 32-page booklet, could not be improved upon other than perhaps including the Charlie Parker dates. Hopefully a Classic Savoy Swing Sessions box will be in the future. Bebop fans should consider Mosaic’s Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49 to be essential.
Ever wonder what a jazz record producer does? Unlike in pop music where producers often completely control the music, jazz producers generally allow the musicians to create their own music while working with the leader to have the atmosphere of the recording session be as hospitable to creativity as possible. The jazz producers generally act as a director, overseeing not only the session but the later editing, overdubbing and packaging. Sometimes they are very influential in setting the repertoire and hiring the musicians.
For his fascinating book Pressed For All Time (University of North Carolina Press), Michael Jarrett interviewed 57 contributors to jazz history, most of whom were (and some still are) record producers. Many had their own record companies, some were musicians, and a few were engineers. Starting around 1936 and reaching to the present time, the narrative is broken into four chapters, depending on the medium that was used. The result is a non-stop discussion in the producers’ words about what takes place in the recording sessions and what their work actually entails. There are many colorful stories about the musicians and specific records without including musical analysis or reviews.
One hears from such significant major behind-the-scenes giants as Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Orrin Keepnews, Teo Macero, Don Schlitten, John Snyder, Creed Taylor, Bob Thiele, Bob Weinstock, Steve Backer, Joel Dorn, Joe Fields, Bob Koester, and Michael Cuscuna plus such musicians-producers as Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Sonny Rollins, and Pat Metheny. While John Hammond, Norman Granz, Alfred Lion, Nesuhi Ertegun and Lester Koenig were not interviewed in time, they are discussed by others, with John Koenig talking about his father. Pressed For All Time is filled with fresh stories and insights about the process of recording jazz, filling in an important gap in jazz history. It is highly recommended and available from www.uncpress.unc.edu .
It has been a few years since the fine Denver-based jazz vocalist Tina Phillips has appeared in town. On Feb. 17 and 18, she will be singing at Mr. C Beverly Hills at 8:30, co-leading a quartet with bassist Sherry Luchette. Also in the group will be pianist Sascha Dupont and drummer Matt Baker for a night of swinging standards. For more information, call 310-277-2800.