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DICK HYMAN/House of Pianos: In lesser hands you could write this off as a gimmick record and be respectful to the piano man because he's old. However..., not so here. The grand old man of piano tackles tunes we grew up on whether from Sondheim, Monk or Ellington while magically and mysteriously adding his own special sauce to the proceedings making these song something new and different with nary a gimmick move in earshot. There's much more going on here than meets the ears and it all flows from ten fingers, 88 keys and nothing else. If you think you're too jaded to be impressed by anything anymore, check this out---it's going to take your ears to a whole ‘nother planet. Hot stuff that raises the bar for solo piano jazz.

JACOB FISCHER/...In New York City: The snazzy guitar man hooks up with some Arbors All Stars, adds Matt Wilson on drums, dusts off some worthy chestnuts that benefit from some love and lets the good times roll. The thing that sets this apart from other nice sets of club jazz is that you've never heard songs like "Tenderly" , "How About You" and others swing like this. With enough bounce to spare to add to the walk of the average AARP card holder that would really appreciate this, don't be an ageist and think this would only be a fine present for grandpa. This crew doesn't let any grass grow under their feet. Betcha they'd be laughing at how many times 16 bars has to fly by before you go "oh yeah, I know that song". Dazzling stuff so well played you'll be wondering how long they had to practice to get this good.

MITCHELL FORMAN TRIO/Puzzle: As we continue through the deconstruction of everything, long stemmed roses are starting to appear in the field pushing their way through the piles of cow poop left behind. A cat that's been at it over 35 years with a stellar solo and sideman resume, Forman had a chance to make a record by happenstance and seized on the opportunity by creating art that he wouldn't have had the chance to pursue through the usual means. He meets the challenge head on by crafting jazz/art that you can play repeatedly as well as for your friends without them checking their watches and rolling their eyes. A heartfelt roller coaster ride with nary a note of the tortured artist effect in evidence, piano jazz fans have an unexpected trio treat here that presents standards as anything but. Well done.

MARK WINKLER/Jazz and Other Four Letter Words: The cat that sounds like California sunset beach jazz changes it up a bit but doesn't let the apple fall too far from the tree. Mixing originals with appropriate stops at Frish, Gershwin, Duke and others, while having Clayton, Hamilton and Bentyne add a few notes to the proceeding, you are left with a smart, savvy date by a cat with a track record deep enough to let him slide yet he refuses to. A proud addition to the hip tradition pioneered by Frish, Blossom Dearie and others, adult, up market jazz knows it has a cool practitioner keeping it miles away from the respirator. Hot stuff.

HARPETH RISING/Shifted: A new album by Harpeth Rising is always a treat but this time around they really take rising seriously. Making the kind of record that just can't be made these days within the system but needs to be made more than ever, the insightful lyrics and genre fusing music take this back to the time when music was a religion. Very mature young people music, ring leader Jordana Greenberg must be some wild kind of old soul because this is something special for young and old. Taking Newgrass to the next dimension, taking back lyric writing as an art form, if you've cleaned your ears out recently, this set is going to blow your mind. Step up to the challenge and see if you can handle something this meaty that goes down so easily. One of a kind, in a class by itself and simply superlative throughout. Miss out on this at your own risk.

GEORGE CABLES/In Good Company: Here's where I tell the jazz police to bugger off. This lovely album seems like just the thing they love to hate but it's also the reason why Cables' first name is "The Great". The piano man takes us on a journey through the past where his piano takes the place of a camera as he shows us what it was to play with and admire the greats of the past. A simple but solid trio work, the dexterity and chops make it all look and sound so easy hiding the decades of work and care that's gone into it all. Chef Paul once said that if someone tells you it's not Cajun because it doesn't burn your tongue, tell them to kiss my ass. Same principle here. Just because it's not difficult to listen to doesn't mean it's not great jazz. If someone scoffs at this for being dinner music, scoff right back at them and say at it's worst, it's a great aid to digestion. Yes indeedy, this is tasty stuff throughout! A stone cold winner as well.

JACK PERLA/Enormous Changes: A very personal album from a cat that has had his share of enormous changes over the last few years, Perla takes a break from his opera world commissions and heads back to late 60s jazz rock for a mental and spiritual cleansing that finds him right in the pocket of pre-fusion where the seeds were being sown. This feels much like the kind of post civil rights jazz "Stan" Clarke was recording for Polydor prior to Return to Forever coming together. Perla has the chops to make this a smart journey through the past whether he intended it that way or not.

SAMMY FIGUEROA/Imaginary World: Figueroa does that cool thing again where he fuses old school, classic Latin jazz with moves and vibes that ring well in contemporary ears. His percussion drives the originals from the band members, Rachel Faro continues to produce leaving her folkie days well in the rear view mirror and the album is dedicated to Lew Soloff. This is the long way of telling the uninitiated they better initiate quickly because this is one train you don't want to have leave the station without you. The soundtrack that would be present at any up market party I'd want to be at, sophisticated soulful jazz never had it so good. Check it out.

SHEN LU/Watercolor: I'll say it because you're afraid to. Lu is the Asian kid we didn't want in our math classes because his presence meant we wouldn't be able to cruise to a B. Presenting a solo piano tour de force FOR HIS RECORDING DEBUT, I'm not an expert on solo classical piano but I feel good about saying we haven't heard anything like this since young Leonard Bernstein found his footing. A massive award winner throughout the world before ever entering the recording studio, this relative youngster could quit now and leave a foreboding legacy or keep going at the clip he's been going at and have a golden future. This water themed recording is a lovely and entrancing set that single handedly could bring a whole bunch of classical fans into the tent. Killer stuff throughout.

BOB JAMES-NATHAN EAST/The New Cool: I forgot for a minute that Yamaha manufactures a lot of gear so I was a little dumbfounded for a minute about why these two long time pros were recording for a new, off beat label. Duh. In today's world this makes perfect sense. What better way to have Yamaha show off all kinds of their recording and playing gear by putting it in the hands of these two pros and telling them ‘do whatever the hell you want'. Let's just say James and East wouldn't get this kind of love at Sony, WB, E One or any of the other usual haunts for their solo or Fourplay projects these days---all the way down to Bernie Grundman doing the mastering. Jazz with no walls or eyes on the clock is what these rascals serve up as they corral Vince Gill, the Nashville Recording Orchestra and more as they let 25 years of playing together show off the telepathy and simpatico they have evolved along the way. Real music for real listeners, slip on the headphones, block out the noise and let the magic have it's way. Well done.

Volume 38/Number 259
July 17, 2015
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2015 Midwest Record

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