SIDEMEN STEP TO THE FRONT

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

As I have said on many occasions, jazz lovers in Louisville have been blessed with an extraordinarily strong lineup of concerts and club performances. As has historically been the case in jazz, often the roles of leader and sideman are interchangeable. Over the past few months, bands led by Kenny Garrett, Zach Brock, Jovino Santos Neto and Roland Vazquez have all included artists who have released their own CDS. It is a pleasure to write about these great musicians and to share their recordings with you. The reviews are in order of the artists' appearances here in Louisville.

Asi

Asi (aah‑see) comes from the Swahili dialect, meaning "it's obvious." This group is co-led by Alonzo Wright (saxophones, flute, percussion and wind synth) and Kendall Scott (guitar and keyboards). Wright was actually "performing" as road manager for Kenny Garrett here on August 30, rather than as supporting musician. From the evidence on this self-titled project, "it's obvious" that Wright is an inventive and talented musician and composer in his own right. Wright and Scott, along with Gene Lake on drums, Reggie Washington on bass and Jeffery Haynes on percussion, have put together a recording that is like a gumbo pot bubbling over with African-influenced grooves, funk and post-bop jazz. From the opening number, "All that Remains," it is clear that these musicians have taken a fresh approach to their work. Scott's "Memories of a Journey" showcases Wright's flute, while Wright's "Blues for Bearden" musically evokes not only the noted visual artist, but also seems to mesh Coltrane with a more modern backbeat. Produced and recorded by Wright, it is available at www.cdbaby.com, among other sites. This deserves a wider audience.

Music Box Ballerina

Matt Ulery's Loom

When Zach Brock performed at the Jazz Factory on September 13, he did not bring the Coffee Achievers; rather, his group was Chicago-based, including guitarist John McLean and bassist Matt Ulery. Ulery's project, Music Box Ballerina, was due out in November, but only a preview copy was available. Therefore, rather than going into detail now, I will simply mention that this displays a great deal of compositional talent and should appeal to fans of Louisville's Liberation Prophecy. Ulery's website is www.mattulery.com, which contains not only the usual biographical information and music links, but some cool recipes.

Better Angels

John McLean

After bringing guitarist John McLean with him to Louisville, both Zach Brock and his saxophonist, Jim Gailloreto, appear on McLean's recently released Better Angels (Origin 82486). The title track opens the disc, with a feel reminiscent of the Pat Metheny Group and featuring an incisive Brock solo before McLean takes off. Vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, in whose group McLean also plays, adds a light (not "lite") feel to several of the pieces, including the title track. However, her rendition of Janis Ian's "Ready for the War," with McLean on acoustic guitar, is chilling in its understatement. McLean's version of "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" sounds like Duke Ellington in the Twilight Zone; McLean also breathes new life into such chestnuts as "Air Mail Special" and "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." Although McLean took several burning electric solos as part of the Zach Brock Group here, on his own recording he seems to favor a more acoustic approach which features the band almost more than he features himself. This CD was recorded in 2004, although not released until recently. I hope this release generates enough interest to allow McLean to return to the studio soon, as he deserves a wider audience for his work. More information about the artist is available on his website, www.johnmcleanmusic.com and there is also a site for the label, www.origin-records.com.

Yemaya

Roberto Occhipinti

The 2007 Adelante Festival closed with pianist Jovino Santos Neto, on September 29. His bassist Roberto Occhipinti, is a Canadian from Italy who favors Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz, has released several recordings, the most recent of which is Yemaya Alma Records (recorded in Canada, Moscow and Havana). The core of the group consists of pianist Hilario Durán, (with whom Occhipinti played during the 2006 Adelante Fest) and Dafnis Prieto on drums; they are augmented by horns, strings and percussion. With the exception of the title track, which seemed to evoke the rhythmic mystique of Santería, I found this recording to be moody and cinematic, more than "jazzy" or "Afrocuban." Interestingly, Occhipinti told me that he had scored the music for the excellent PBS animated series George Shrinks, although the feel of this CD is darker. The recording, as well as more information about the bassist/composer, is available through his website, www.robertoocchipinti.com.

One Hopeful Day

Mark Soskin

Perhaps best known as Sonny Rollins' pianist through much of the 1970s and '80s, Mark Soskin has pursued a solo career that has been all too much relegated to "under the radar" status. Soskin added grace and fire to the music of drummer/composer Roland Vazquez at the 2007 Big Rock Jazz Festival recently and has issued a superb album, One Hopeful Day (Kind of Blue KOB-10019). Accompanied by an all-star ensemble, consisting of saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Bill Stewart, with guitarist John Abercrombie on two cuts, Soskin shows verve and taste throughout a 64-minute program of both standards and originals. Familiar songs such as the opener, Lerner and Lowe's "On the Street Where You Live," and Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing," are given makeovers that virtually demand that the listener pay attention to what Soskin is doing to make these pieces his own. More information is available at Soskin's website, www.marksoskin.com.