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PHIL HAYNES & FREE COUNTRY Live/Something Beatles: What happens when you get a jazz crew with a feeling for Americana tackling the Beatles canon 50 years on? Interesting results. It's always gratifying when some players can reroast some chestnuts without them sounding reheated and reroasting is what's going on here. Beatles fans won't be hollering sacrilege and the open eared will fine a new kick lurking in these bytes. Out of the ordinary as played by a crew where a good time was had by all.

MANUEL VALERA & the New Cuban Express/In Motion: Pulling together a crew you could loosely call the Criss Cross All Stars, Valera continues to stake out his turf as the leading light in contemporary Latin jazz. With a sound that owes as much to Tito Puente as it does Dizzy Gillespie, Valera lets those musical bees do their cross pollination with dexterity and energetic energy. This is the kind of album that makes a fully realized statement as opposed to just being a serving of bunch of pretty notes played well. Upbeat even when it's laying back, this is high octane goodness throughout.

JAKE SCHEPPS QUINTET/Entwined: Here's quite a daring work. A banjo master from the new school string band corridor commissions some contemporary classical music for his Colorado band of marauders. With the spirit of something you'd expect from Mike Marshall and his pals hovering in the background, this is a set you can love even if you don't care a whit for classical or string band music. Giving ‘bluegrass' a quantum leap forward proper to this age of Mars exploration, this is state of the art contemporary instrumental music no matter what colors you want to paint it with. As much Copland and Messiaen as anything else, open your ears to a killer, good time. Well done.

JOE SAMPLE & NDR BIG BAND/Children of the Sun: Funny where interpretation will take you. Sample's first new record in 12 years is his tribute to the slaves, yet the music has the bouncy, upbeat feel of any of the amped up smooth jazz he was doing in the 70s. While that stuff was purely commercial, this set mixes commercial with creative yielding the kind of results only a real pro could formulate. Tasty, zesty stuff that you wouldn't associate with such a heavy topic, Sample proved once and for all his innate ability to deliver the goods. Killer stuff.

PETER KATER/Etherea (Elements Series): When properly harvested, creativity and imagination can be unlocked to the nth degree with marvelous results. Since there are only 4 elements, the elements series came to it's logical conclusion after the fourth entry in the series. While the label and the artist pieced out what to do next, the light bulb moments came in the question ‘what if there was a fifth element'? And? Now, in Kater's ears, the heavens are the fifth element. Why not? The cat that owns a lot of real estate in the piano/new age sector has already proven he can do no wrong in the ‘what is' corridor. Now he's ruling the ‘what if' corridor as well. A set that spiritually takes new age back to it's space is the place years, he brings it forward with spiritual overtones and smart ideas that makes for great stressed out adult listening. A sterling audio tour of the outer cosmos, set your phasers to ooooommmmmmm and plug into the original sound. Well done.

GEORGE GEE SWING ORCHESTRA/Swing Makes You Happy: It's been a while since we've heard from this unabashed swinger. Now, with the freedom he's found in crowd funding coupled with maturity and more time on the bandstand, his new one is a total cooker. Even the originals fall right in the pocket. With an undisguised love of Basie leading the way, Gee puts his heart and soul into advancing the form and gives us a note perfect set of moving and grooving jazz any hard core swinger will love on the first spin. Killer stuff that works throughout, this beats the tar out of down mouth stuff any day. Check it out.

20 YEARS ANNIVERSARY/various: If Tom Ruf wants to throw himself some bouquets, we're fine with it. Without the dedication and fan's energy of the Holger Petersons, Bruce Kaplans and others, a lot of killer music in many genres might have never gotten out of the starting gate. Ruf's epiphany came 20 years ago at a Luther Allison show. The bug bit and loads of careers have been launched under his penumbra since. A distillation 20 years of hot spots of his creation, this set is a smoking collection of modern, amped up blues by names we never would have heard of who stalk the backloads of the night. Hot stuff that keeps coming, here's to another 20 winning years like this.

SWISS YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA/Future Steps-Live at Jazzaar Festival 2014: You know how you can almost always count on high school and college marching bands to get "Peter Gunn' right no matter what? This bunch of Swiss kids take it one step further. While sounding well school in the Henry Mancini canon, they augment their sound here by being apprentice to the pros, this time around being a bunch led by Randy Brecker and playing charts in the model of Steps Ahead with other Steps members being on board as well. Clearly one of those unexpected, diamond in the rough sets, this is another set you can add to your list of hard core cookers. With a raging big band vibe throughout, you can't help but feel that this is the bomb and these kids have bright, jazzy futures for the taking. Hot stuff.

JOSH HOYER & the Shadowboxers/Living By the Minute: This soulful bunch doesn't sound like a bunch of honkys. Maybe it's because Hoyer believes the groove can heal anything. With more funk that you would expect to come out of the whole of Nebraska, this Nebraska bunch sees the bad but wants the good. Who can argue with that?

JACK MOUSE & SCOTT ROBINSON/Snakeheads & Ladybugs: If this set of sax/drums improvs sounds like church basement music, that might be because the set draws it's inspiration from the old Coltrane/Elvin Jones improv duet sessions. An arty set that's not for everyone, the playing is right on and if Coltrane/Jones explorations are your cup of tea, this set is a long overdue addition to your starving record collection.

Volume 37/Number 38
December 8, 2014
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2014 Midwest Record

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