The 14 Jazz Orchestra – Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy
If Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy, the debut album of The 14 Jazz Orchestra, is any indication, big band jazz is hale and hearty, and it’s living in Florida. The band under the direction of Dan Bonsanti powers its way through a set of 11 tunes, mostly jazz classics, spiced with a pop outlier or two, for a well-rounded inventive program with a big contemporary sound.
Whether they are working through a lyrical gem like the Jaco Pastorius ballad “John and Mary” with some high-toned solo work on the soprano sax from Ed Calle or swinging their way through Billy Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G.” with sweet solos from Ed Maina on alto and Dante Luciani on trombone, the band is a joy to hear. Other jazz classics on the disc include Wayne Shorter’s “Palladium,” a flaming version of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee (In Disguise),” and modern waltzes like Chick Corea’s “Windows” and Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus.”
Add a blues take on Paul McCartney’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” and a soulful version of “Take My Hand Precious Lord” featuring some intense solo work from trumpeter Ray Chicalo and baritone player Peter Brewer, and you’ve got one winning debut album.
Lou Volpe – Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes: (Songs of Sinatra)
Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes: (Songs of Sinatra), guitarist Lou Volpe’s instrumental tribute to Frank Sinatra, begs the question why a tribute sans vocals. Not that there’s anything wrong with a guitar tribute, but to make an album that includes 13 classic songs from the Great American Songbook and tie them to Sinatra seems little more than an excuse to explore 13 classic songs, even if the singer did record them. Volpe is a fine musician and his work on individual songs is always interesting and inventive but the idea behind this whole effort is simply unnecessary. He plays with enough finesse to sell albums on his own.
So if you don’t mind a Sinatra tribute without lyrics, and you like hearing new takes on old gems like “Speak Low,” “A Foggy Day,” “That’s Life” and “I Get a Kick Out of You,” Volpe’s release is an album worth your attention.
By the way, there is one song that breaks the pattern: the last number, “Europa,” which is dedicated to the brilliance of Sinatra. It is an elegant solo piece, one of three on the album. The others are “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Softly as I Leave You.”
Jon Burr Quintet – Very Good Year
Bassist Jon Burr, a member of the Manhattan Jazz Quintet since 2011, fronts his own hard-bopping ensemble in the October release, Very Good Year. The Quintet features Tim Ouimette on trumpet, Stephen Frieder on tenor sax, Mike Eckroth on piano, and Jerome Jennings on drums. They work through a set of a dozen tunes emphasizing some arresting contrafactuals and a number of popular covers.
The contrafactuals which Burr describes in the liner notes are compositions “based on the chord schemes of well known jazz standards,” a practice characteristic of many jazz composers. Clever titles often indicate the source material. Burr’s originals include “All the Things You Ate,” “Cherry Keys,” “Savoy Fare,” and “Out of This World.” Then, of course, there is Eckroth’s “Always Let Me Go.” Add these and dynamic arrangements of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry About a Thing,” Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” and Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year” and you’ve got the ingredients for a very smart jazz album.