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STEVE WIEST & Phrontrange: The High Road: Any hard core jazzbo will tell you that an affiliation with the Lab Band is all the jazz cred you need, and this is a cat that instructs the young minds that go through the program. Very much a product of the jazz/rock years, this bone man takes you deeper than the stuff BS&T and Chicago turned out during the horn rock years and into the minds of Bill Chase and Maynard Ferguson. Wiest was one of the architects of the modernization of Ferguson and you can hear the continuation of those forward thinking vibes here in fine form. Cruising along at with the highest of high octanes powering the engine, don't let his gray hair fool you into thinking he's not thinking about the day after tomorrow. Outrageously killer stuff that's sure to blow your mind.

ELI DEGIBRI/Cliff Hangin': With nearly 20 years of slinging his sax around various front line bands, you might not be able to call him a kid anymore but he's taking his place as the new kid on the block viz a viz leaders. With a slew of fancy awards and recognition under his belt, Degibri is now out to impress the masses as opposed to the cloistered few. Showing he knows how to hit it out of the park as a writer, leader and player, this isn't skronk or easy listening---just a hot plate full of the stuff that makes jazz be jazz. A mighty player that has more than proven himself, this set is a winner throughout full of musical, straight ahead playing that's sure to keep you riveted. Be sure to check it out.

JANE MONHEIT/Songbook Sessions-Ella Fitzgerald: You know the story. The next big thing signs to a major label. They sand off the stuff they saw in her in the first place, make her do things their way and the results are underwhelming. Tether severed. The difference is these days when the next chapter is starting your own label, it is no longer a sign of failure that you do that instead of going back where you came from while the process is repeated with the next in line. The first thing you notice about this set is that Ella is just a starting point and Monheit doesn't imitate or other wise ape the mighty Ella. Keeping her jazz in tact throughout, this is really Monheit as you never heard her before. The kind of record that recorded jazz was all about before the biz threw everything into the pop meat grinder hoping what ever came out stuck, this is a sterling return to the golden age of the thrush that delivered with knowing sophistication. Well done.

JOHN MAYALL'S BLUESBREAKERS/Live in 1967 V. 2: The band here was only together for three months but it gave Mayall his reputation for running a finishing school for British blues rockers. While his backing band left en masse to become Fleetwood Mac 1.0 and real success for them would be elusive for 8 years, we know what happens when the fundamentals aren't in pace. The old, previously unreleased tapes aren't in the best of shape but the authenticity reaches over the oxide break down taking you back to how it was when things were done wild west style and big money hadn't entered into the picture yet. Not for archivists only.

KAT PARRA/Songbook of the Americas: This is a lightly different turn of events for Parra. Still a jazzy world beater, she turns up the Latin here and serves up a tasty dish of party music on well known tracks that are not only falling off the beaten path but usually aren't heard as mambos. With the vibe of her local San Francisco base front and center, this sprightly cross cultural mash up is kind of a throw back to those cool, non-hit records your musically adventurous parents had lying around the rec room that fascinated you with their exotic vibe. A tasty workout throughout, let there be know doubt that Parra knows her stuff. Well done.

MARIKA TAKEUCHI/Colors in the Diary: Producer Will Ackerman proves music is the universal language as he pairs an Eastern piano player with Eugene Friesen, recording it in the chilly northeast, and making it sound like the kind of chamber/contemporary instrumental music Windham Hill was doing when it was still a feisty indie making music you couldn't describe without a lot of borrowed terms for reference. You could slag this as 80s nostalgia if you are so inclined but it really wouldn't be fair to anyone on board as they are making timeless music for the ages. With a lot of room filling sound from just three players, what you really have here is a new wave of adult backlash music to counter teen pop for adults that want something meaty to dig into. Instrumental piano fans, rejoice.

ZMEI3/Rough Romanian Soul: Recorded in Transylvania, down the block from Dracula's castle (so the group says), this is certainly world beat taken to places you've only seen in dreams. Going to Kickstarter to raise the funds to bring an top shelf alt.producer over to record them, this isn't your usual Balkan party record. Often dark as a dungeon, it might be on an adult world music label but this is a mighty soundtrack for Goth malcontents needing some appropriate, new music to score their lives. Wild stuff.

ALMA AFROBEAT ENSEMBLE/It's Time: So, a Chicago kid moves to Barcelona and winds up leading an Afrobeat crew that can easily claim it's rightful place at the top of the underground food chain. A party on a platter distilled down to it's purest state, you don't have to be any kind of world beat fan to take up the cause here if you have any genes on your chromosomes that would let you enjoy a good party. With a little bit of outside money and tinkering, this is the kind of set that could bring Afrobeat to the mainstream ala "Catch a Fire". Top shelf stuff throughout.

CARBE & DURAND/A Bridge Between: If something feels familiar about this guitar duo it might be because they are 2/3s of the guitar group Incendio. Hitting that inevitable point where they want to do some things that don't fit into the guitar group's format, the married pair of ax players veer off onto a side road to make a personal album that's loaded with cover tunes they easily make their own. With a thriving career in Hollywood studio to feed their other creative outlets, they play music that doesn't come from passion driven by hunger but a base of appreciation that their ‘day job' gives them the freedom to follow their muses. An album of lovely playing the casual listener could mistake for a gift shop album, this duo imbues the set with so much more. The casual listener can enjoy it on it's face but the acoustic guitar fan will know this is a slice of nirvana powered by some serious chops. Killer stuff throughout.

CHRISTOPHER ZUAR ORCHESTRA/Musings: Following the current trajectory that let's striving, young jazzbos learn their craft without having to go the starving artist route, there's a lot of good cats in academia these days and the willing student can learn a lot. Zuar just plain hits it out of the park on his debut. The strongest influence you can hear is Stan Kenton when he went orchestral. Hardly dusty and with lots of room for everyone to move and groove, this is top shelf sitting down jazz as attention getting foreground music. Having walked the jazz/classical line to get to this point, he brings the best of both worlds together for a date that's sure to be the cornerstone of his reputation. Killer stuff throughout.

JEFF JENSEN/Live-the River City Sessions: It only makes sense to record this blues rock guitar slinger live since he lives on the road and has honed his chops there at knowing how to read a crowd and feed off their energy. Recorded before a room full of hard core fans live at Ardent Studios in Memphis, right from the first riff, you know this guy knows how to get the party started and that you want to be around when the invites are being handed out. A muscular, house rocking white boy with the blues, you can just picture him with one of those sly, dangerous grins on his face as he lights the fuse on the dynamite. Proving that blues don't have to be about misery, everybody on board here made sure this live set translates to record so everyone can bring the party home without missing a beat or spilling a drop. Talk about your power trios! Killer stuff.

Volume 39/Number 153
April 2, 2016
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2016 Midwest Record

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