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STOCKTON HELBING/Crazy Aquarius: When a youngish drummer's day job is with Doc Severinsen, you might well expect some after hours, off the clock fun and games after punching out for the day. Helbing and his pals don't stray far from mainstream jazz but they do turn it on it's head in ways sure to grab your ear and make you make sure you heard what you thought you heard. Dipping into cartoon music, music appropriate for contemporary silent movie scores, music for left leaning tastes etc, these pros don't let you down or leave you stranded. Fun stuff for jazzbos looking for solid stuff beyond what the majors are offering.

NATE NAJAR TRIO/Blues for Bight People: I don't think a lot of listeners nowadays remember when Charlie Byrd was a real swingier unless they are really into digging through the dusties. Byrd's later stuff on Concord seemed to be of a high minded, concert presentation. Najar hears it differently and takes it back to jump, even earning praise from Byrd's widow. Fronting a smoking trio that makes just as much sound as they need to, this wonderful reframing of the Byrd legacy shows there's still plenty of gold in the old and that maybe learning a little but about where we've come from might lead to paving tomorrow's streets with a thicker layer of gold. Except for a tribute written by Najar, this is a fine cross section of songs identified with Byrd's earlier jazzbo periods and it's less homage than tribute, right from the heart from a real fan as well. Tasty stuff guitar jazzbos will want on their playlists.

IZZY CHAIT/Straight from the Heart: Yes, objet d'art fans, this is the same I. Chait from the Asian art gallery in Beverly Hills. He originally wanted to be a singer but hung it up when he had to support a family. Now that the kids are grown and everyone has all the tchotkes they need, he's hired a band, turned on the mic and polished up a bunch of songs from his era that you can tell he has affection for. Well, he's proof that still waters run deep. This is a set any lounge lizard can be proud of. Without an ounce of Vegas insincerity, this is the kind of set old timers and pomo kiddies can equally enjoy, bringing their own particular baggage along for the fun. He's not going manqué on Sinatra or Jones or trying to be ironic, he's just having a contagious good time. Check it out.

TOM WOPAT/I've Got Your Number: It's no coincidence that Wopat looks like an older, hang dog version of Jon Hamm on the cover. He's dipping his toe in "Mad Men" era supper club big band stylings here. Working hard enough to shake off his good old boy image, he doesn't infringe on Steve Tyrell territory here instead channeling an older, wiser Jack Jones as he takes the program into late 60s singer/songwriter territory. While these might be tough times in general for Broadway/cabaret type recordings, there ain't no room for "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" on here. It's a swinging, big band good time that won't let you down.

ILIA SKIBINSKY/The Passage: Here's a sax player that's bursting with so much energy and has been bubbling under for so long that he uses his debut album as a platform to be a resume piece showing off everything he can do at once. The trick that makes it click is he's got some special sauce up his sleeve that makes it flow as a record as opposed to a disparate collection of songs. Crafty! If you like to play a lot of music back to back, there's something about this set that hits you as a palette cleanser as you shift between courses. In it's own void, it's a breath of fresh air. Nicely done straight ahead jazz, this is first rate listening jazz that'll get heads bobbing and toes tapping as well. Smoking.

HEATHER MASSE & DICK HYMAN/Lock My Heart: Here's an album that shouldn't work; a Wailin Jenny vocalist facing off against an 85 year old piano man responsible for the most sinister version of "Mortitat" ever, recording it for a folk label. With a set list heavy on the chestnuts, this is an amazing cabaret session from a boite on Mars that you want to reserve your spot on the shuttle to get to asap. It's not often that a duo can light these kind of magical sparks with absolutely nothing to hide behind. Flat out, a record you can't help but enjoy, this is certainly the revenge of the underserved adult ears who just can't sit through another 70s/80s band blasting the walls in a 200 seat club. Check it out.

GOD DIDN'T CHOOSE SIDES-Civil War True Stories About Real People, V. 1/various: So you've been to Cairnton, learned how to pronounce Antietam and might even know about Harrison House. You've sat through Ken Burns and have Jay Ungar's record. More On the Civil War? Yes. A labor of love for the label that's taken over two years to get note perfect throughout, this audio history of the war between the states does a fine job of making it a living history (and this is only the first of a projected four volumes). Bringing together the crème of the bluegrass world to realize the vision at all musical levels, this set is quite the marvel accomplishing the impossible at many turns. This is just a smoking record that gives country fans such a welcome break from country product that's it's sure to be hailed as a classic just for that reason. Then there's a few more as well. Hot stuff throughout.

BALLAKE SISSOKO/At Peace: Only sort of returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, "Chamber Music", Sissoko hooks up again with Vincent Segal. The two of them keep it simple once again, but the vibe is vastly different, and just as welcome. Cultured tea pad music, the vibe of Indian music might be there but the playing and spirit are purely from a non-war torn side of Mali. This stuff will trick you into thinking it's great background music, but when that first break in the thought process comes along, you won't believe how easily this takes over. Well done must hearing for the laid back arm chair traveler.

Volume 37/Number 79
January 19, 2013
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2013 Midwest Record

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