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DOUG WAMBLE: You can take the player out of Memphis but you can't take Stax and Southern Baptist church pews out of his soul. Well established in New York jazz circles, this third date as a solo finds him going back to his roots but not wrapping himself in them too tightly. A deft mix of jazz, blues, gospel and soul for those who think white Americana is missing something. Frat boy music isn't what it was 40 years ago, but if you want to blast something contemporary your pop won't hate over parent's weekend, this set is sure to keep the checks coming even of you aren't paying close attention to your grades. So what would be so bad about contemporary frat boy music sounding like this?

CHARLES EVANS-NEIL SHAH/Live at Saint Stephen: Yes, yes, yes, we know; this is a blatant example of art jazz. Sax and piano only. If you aren't a hipster, you know how you would come in contact with this? One of your girl friend's ding bat would be hipster friends know about this duo performing in a wellness center. Your girl friend drags you to see it the night of the play offs and you go to shut her up figuring she'll owe you one. (Optimist!) After a while, she wonders why in the hell she's there but you're having flashbacks to those BYG/Actuel albums your brother left behind when he went to college that smelled like a dirty duffel bag. Ahhhhhhhh. Improv and free jazz you haven't thought about since becoming a yuppie and checking your cholesterol against your amortization schedule or something. These cats are just scraping up against thirty but something going on here is sure to make an involuntary, illegal smile creep across your face. It's our little secret.

KENNY & LEAH/You and the Night and the Music: Back when Chicago was a hub of recording, commercials and live performances, Kenny Soderblom was one of the busy and rare cats that had the luxury of turning down gigs. We are talking well seasoned chops here. Pairing up with the Mrs. here for a date that is mainly a sax/vocal date, one can only hope their home life is as harmonious as this session is. Going full throttle on a set of songs that you really never get tired of hearing, even if they aren't poured from the same beaker, this is prime example of the kind of after hours jazz that makes you happily show up bleary eyed at work the next day because you stayed out too late listening to it. Classy throughout, this set is so deep in the pocket you might think it fell through a hole you didn't know was there. First class throughout.

KENNY & LEAH/April in Paris: The energy of the prior album is expanded upon with some more instrumentation, Kenny taking more solos, Leah singing in more languages in unexpected ways at unexpected times. Like a Jackie & Roy but with only one singer (even if the sax playing is quite lyrical in its own right), this duo simply knows how to step up and deliver. A solid, straight ahead jazz vocal date that has that extra magic that makes it make itself at home on your IPod even if you don't know how it got there. Once again, it's first class throughout.

FRED HO & the Green Monster Big Band/Celestial Green Monster: In another galaxy, Ho would have been the kid Carla Bley and Frank Zappa had by accident. With the over the top abandon that you could only find in doing a mash up of "Waka Jawaka" and "Escalator Over the Hill", Ho adds the special sauce he's been adding to the mix for 30 years. It's restricted him to being a cult hero but he's certainly aged into the loveable madman of progressive jazz. A wild set for the way out; there was a time that stoner record execs would have made this on the cheap and on the fly because they had to, even if it only escaped from the vaults. An Afro-Asian jazz revival of "Inna Godda Divida"? You tell me this isn't nuts. And, it works when you have that frame of mind going. Not for the faint of heart.

GAIL PETTIS/Here in the Moment: I'm not sure how grandpa is going to react to this jazz vocal set, but if you dug "Goodfellahs" but were too young to live in the era of supper clubs, clip joints, b-girls and all that fun stuff, you just might flip for this set. After 20 years as a dentist, this product of bloodlines that were deep in the dual worlds of medicine and music decided it was time to stop looking down into mouths and let the music in her get out. Right away, she was leading the home town Seattle jazz scene around by the nose. This set is a throw back to what we think things were like in the era of Nancy Wilson, Dakota Staton, Anita O'Day and all the rest of those jazz divas. She's just young enough to have missed the era first hand as well and maybe this set works so well because she's sharing our fantasy. In any case, wow, this is a jazz vocal set that cooks hard enough to boil all the wannabes down to tallow. Hot stuff throughout that's great fun to listen to. It might even make you feel like a grown up!

CHARLIE HUNTER/Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid: After all these years of being the Crash Davis of major league jazz, Hunter finds himself put on waivers. At least this gives him the unmitigated chance to make the music he wants to make. Hunter cuts loose with the kind of jazz flavored jam band music you need when the Bay area bridges aren't collapsing and you need a soundtrack to get you from the Pez museum to Sausalito and back to Berkeley to finish the night playing in some hippie restaurant that's over priced and under nourishing. If this set feels a little claustrophobic at times, try it with your headphones on. It's a whole different vibe. Next stop on the adventurous music cavalcade, a 7 string guitar face off with Bucky Pizzarelli.

GABRIEL RIESCO PROJECT/Sculptures in Time: Riesco is a jazz guitar man that you can't easily categorize. On this outing, he and his crew pay audio tribute to sculptor Eduardo Chillida and they wish to stay true to his vision. In doing so, this set was recorded in a day with very little rehearsal. It's certainly a river of a jazz set as a single track can take you here, there and everywhere before it's done. Smart stuff for smart listeners looking for challenging listening that isn't work to listen to.

Volume 33/Number 41
December 11, 2009
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
© 2009 Midwest Record

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