Rant’n’Roll: JAZZx3, ’90s Pop, Today’s Radio Garbage, VOCALESEx3

Rant’n’Roll: JAZZx3, ’90s Pop, Today’s Radio Garbage, VOCALESEx3

—by , March 29, 2017

03-29 Rant Steve Khan Sextet (Photo courtesy of Steve Khan)

When guitarist/producer Steve Khan—son of legendary lyricist Sammy Cahn—wraps his fingers around Thelonious Monk’s “Criss-Cross,” Ornette Coleman’s “Latin Genetics,” Stevie Wonder’s “Go Home” or his father’s “Our Town,” you know something magical is going to happen. This all-genre ax man, known for his work with Steely Dan, Billy Joel, James Brown and Weather Report, makes it seem so effortless. His new Backlog (Tone Center/Shrapnel) is a rare treat filled with Latin/Afro-Cuban meanderings and could be seen as the final chapter of a trilogy he started in 2011 with Parting Shot and continued in 2014 with Subtext. The band of guitar, bass, drums, two percussionists, trumpet, sax, vibes, keybs and voice (for the closing Andrew Hill song “Catta”) is sterling. The effect is mesmerizing. Khan also shows up on the terrific new debut CD, Voyage Home (Art Of Life Records), by trumpeter/composer Chris Rogers, as does the late sax man Michael Brecker. Both projects come wholeheartedly recommended.

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Is New York Session by musician/producer/engineer/educator/entrepreneur Mark Lewis (Audio Daddio) the best jazz CD of the year so far? If not, it’s close. The legally blind alto sax man doubles on flute, has recorded 20 albums, composed over 1,700 tunes, and is now back in his native Seattle area after living and working for 14 years in Rotterdam, a city in the Netherlands, as an ex-pat. His quartet is incomparable. George Cables was Dexter Gordon’s piano player. Victor Lewis (no relation) was Stan Getz’s drummer. Nigerian-American Essiet Essiet played bass in Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. All 11 tracks are the highlights. Be it blues or “Koan” (inspired by Lewis’s experience playing a Japanese end-blown bamboo shakuhachi) or “Child’s Play” (where Cables does what he used to do with another alto man, Art Pepper) or the carnivalesque “Boberto’s Magical World” or the sublimely sweet and introspective “Not As Beautiful As You” or the African “Sierra Leone” on through the closing “Roll ‘Em Joe” in 12/8 time (don’t try this at home), New York Session is jazz at its best. Period.

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I was all set to hate Sony Music Entertainment’s various-artist compilation Now That’s What I Call ‘90s Pop but I gotta admit these 18 songs sure sound good in 2017, shorn by time into short energetic bursts. Maybe it’s because I have disdained music-radio since the 1980s (radio for me is for baseball only) so if I don’t own it, I don’t hear it. Guilty pleasures being what they are, I admit I’m down with Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy It,” TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and even Hanson’s “MMMBop.” They’re all disposable but they all sound fine in my car when I’m speeding down the highway. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about other entries by Backstreet Boys, New Kids On The Block, Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Montell Jordan or the awful Everything But The Girl. Oh, and I totally dig “Baby One More Time” by Britney, bitch.

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I was also all set to hate Sony Music Entertainment’s 61st edition of its best-selling Now That’s What I Call Music series. And I do. Sure I like Bruno Mars, The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk and Rae Sremmurd featuring Gucci Mane but that’s about it. Three good songs out of 22? Is this what passes for pop in 2017? Some of this drek includes Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar (I thought Lamar was supposed to be so good?), Ariana Grande featuring Nicki Minaj and DJ Snake featuring Justin Bieber. Ugh! And what’s with all this featuring? Can’t any of today’s artists do it by themselves?

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It’s been 12 years since San Francisco singer/songwriter/educator Sandy Cressman’s Brasil album. Her self-released Entre Amigos contains 10 gems in English and Portuguese including “Ela E,” recorded in Germany with the 2010 Santana rhythm section (her husband, Jeff Cressman, was Santana’s longtime trombone man). Brazil abounds: there’s moments of beautiful folkloric Sao Paulo samba jazz, bossa nova and Rio de Janeiro “frevo” and “maracatu” rhythms long associated with Carnivale (Brazil’s equivalent of Mardi Gras). Then there’s the quieter moments where you can practically hear the waves softly wafting onto the shore. Her voice is an instrument, insinuating itself over, under and through the beautiful arrangements. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait until 2029 for her next CD.

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Florida singer/songwriter/TV host/fashion designer Kenley Collins is Belle Black (Lanark Records). She co-wrote nine of 11, sings ‘em with retro-punk-girl group angst as if Wanda Jackson fronted The Shangri-Las, and has Rockabilly Hall of Famer Quentin Jones on guitar, bass, production and composition. It’s an 11-track party. Her cover of the 1962 #1 “He’s A Rebel” is as good as the original. The only other cover is a doozy: “Whatcha Gonna Do,” a Top 10 hit written and recorded by the great Chuck “The King Of The Stroll” Willis [1928-1958]. Play it loud!

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Pittsburgh singer/songwriter/engineer Ron Boustead is your Unlikely Valentine (Art-Rock Music). Five albums in 34 years isn’t exactly prolific but Boustead likes to get it right and he does so here. He’s been part of the Los Angeles jazz scene since the ‘80s and has the cream of the studio crop backing him up. He takes great liberties with the standard “My Funny Valentine” (rewriting its melody to create the post-bop title tune) and he’s not above recreating Lieber and Stoller’s 1959 Coasters novelty hit “Love Potion #9” as a semi-serious jazz waltz. “I Won’t Scat” is ironic since he does. I could’ve done without the overdone “Autumn Leaves” (there should be a law that only Willie Nelson is allowed to sing this half-roasted chestnut) but “I Love My Wife” is a hoot and the instrumentation throughout is gorgeous. Boustead is a serviceable singer who admirably puts his all into each song. Recommended with reservation.

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