Category Archives: Album Reviews

Jazz CD Review: Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band, ‘Fields of Moons’

Chris Washburne "Fields of Moons"

Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band – Fields of Moons

Recorded by Hal Winer at BiCoastal Music in Ossining, NY

Chris Washburne: trombone, tuba
John Walsh: trumpet, flugelhorn
Ole Mathisen: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet
Barry Olsen: piano
Led Traversa: electric bass
Diego Lopez: drums
Christian Rivera: percussion

Music:
mda: The first listen to this album, I was a little unsure if I liked it.  Now it is definitely growing on me.  Everything is pretty much a slow Latin groove and band is certainly accomplished and has a very high musicianship.  I enjoy this.  The tunes are a great mixture of originals and standards, with the standards being quite different.  I do feel, however, that the album is maybe 2-3 tracks too long.  a slow Latin groove is great, but it can start to drag on you after a while.  It seems Chris Washburne is a very busy person in the NYC area with freelancing in the classical and jazz worlds and teaching ethnomusicology at Columbia University.  I enjoy his trombone sound and it really fits in well with the supporting band members.  I better turn this over to RBD as I know he is really wanting to geek out on a trombone album…

RBD: As you may know, mda, I rarely ‘geek out’ when it comes to trombone related subjects. I will say though, that Chris is a fine trombonist. It’s clear that the band has a good concept and play together in a complimentary way. The only thing I have to say is that there are intonation issues all over the place. I’m not suggesting auto-tuning anything, but bad intonation just hurts the groove and the band can not gel as well as it should. I think the arrangements are very well done and the tune writing is very nice!

Physical Product/Packaging
mda: I like the fact Chris chose to go with the digipak over the traditional jewel case.  The artwork is nice but what’s up with NO LINER NOTES?  I feel in this day and age of declining cd sales, the artist must add liner notes to make the jazz fan want to buy the CD over just downloading the album on the internet.  It would be interesting to hear Chris’ point of view with the chosen pieces.  Why did he chose almost all slow pieces?  What is the history of the band and where did the name come from?  I think it is really important to connect with the listener on as many levels as you can.

RBD: I couldn’t agree more mda. You almost have to assume that people want to know more about you, your band and your product. When I first saw the album cover, the artwork (which I really like) led me to believe that the album would be full of original tunes and avant-guard playing. The playing is good, not just what the album artwork made me think. Also, I have to say even though the picture of the band is shot probably at the recording session, it doesn’t look professional, well thought out or serious. I understand wanting to have fun and be loose, but sometimes one can be too casual.

The Ratings:
(A description of our rating system.)

mda: *** (Nice Latin groove, good musicians, and enjoyable music.  However, I think it is something more enjoyed in the background with a small party or maybe your loved-one.  There are better albums out there in this genre, that’s about it)

RBD: *** (There is a lot of nice playing on here and very good arrangements, but I think this album would have a tough time holding my attention for an entire third or fourth listening. Too much of a good thing can work against you, and does in this case.)

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Jazz CD Review: Patty Cronheim, ‘Days Like These’

Patty Cronheim: 'Days Like These'

Patty Cronheim: Days Like These

Vocalist Patty Cronheim released Days Like These on Say So Records. The album was recorded at Systems Two Studios in Brooklyn New York in the early part of 2009.

Patty Cronheim: vocals
Aaron Weiman: piano/vibes
Brian Glassman: bass
Corey Rawls: drums
Greg Wall: tenor/soprano sax
Clifford Adams: trombone
Audrey Welber: alto sax

Music:

RBD: My first reaction to most new albums I hear is, “What is the purpose of the album? Are you doing anything different that I NEED to hear?” Far too often, musicians release albums because…that’s just what you do. I wonder if most people think about what they have to SAY to their audience when releasing an album. After listening to this album nearly 3 times, I think this falls into the category of releasing an album because that is just what you do. The album sounds great, I won’t lie. Very well mixed, very clean, yet intimate, so kudos to Mike Marciano. Kudos too for having a trombonist on the album, some nice solos by Clifford Adams.

mda: I have to agree with RBD.  The playing is great and Patty has a very nice voice, but I continually come back to “So what?”  I think it is interesting that she states in her liner notes that the album started off as being a ‘business card’ to hand out for potential gigs around the NY/NJ area.  However, I don’t think it “became something different, so much more about the music.”  I believe it is still a ‘business card’ and that is about it.  The arrangements are nice and very clean, but I think I am at the point where I want a little challenge in the music.  I want to sit up and think “I must rewind that and listen to it again.”  That doesn’t happen at all.

RBD: No it doesn’t happen. You’re right. If I never hear another arrangement of ‘Summertime’ again, I’ll be a happy guy. Again, the playing is nice, although the intonation in places give me the shivers, but…as the kids say today…’meh’.

Physical Product/Packaging:

RBD: Well, the album artwork is pretty nice. I thought at first the cover art was a Japanese print of a tree, but it is actually of the singer Patty. I like the fact that the lyrics are printed since I rarely listen to lyrics, nor do they ever stick with me. The liner notes are by Doug Ramsey who I read quite often in the jazz blog-o-sphere.

mda: The liner notes are great, although a little wordy at the beginning…do I really need to know that she likes to swim?  I don’t know.  Here is something odd.  I too thought the cover art was something of an abstract, Japanese print and didn’t realize it was Patty Cronheim until RBD told me.  Hmm.  It would have been nice to add some photos of the band members since she hypes them up quite a bit, but that is just a personal preference.

The Rating:
(A brief description of our rating system)

RBD: **   (As a business card for a working band, this is very professional and clean product. I wouldn’t hesitate hiring this band for my wedding, divorce, holiday party, bamitzveh, bris, or funeral. Is there some nice playing on here? Yes. Would I listen to it again? No.)

mda: ** (Again, so what?  The recording is very high quality [it was recorded at Systems Two after all] but there is nothing special about the music itself.  I think it will be enjoyed by many people who like vocal jazz, but there are so many better vocal jazz albums out there.  Good background music, in my opinion.)

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Jazz Album Review: Anthony Nelson Jr.

So here we go.  The first album review for the RBI blog.

Anthony Nelson Jr.

Anthony Nelson Jr. – Testament/Live at Cecil’s Jazz Club & Restaurant

Anthony Nelson Jr. – tenor and soprano saxophone
Freddie Hendrix – trumpet and flugelhorn
Allyn Johnson – piano
Matthew Parish – bass
Tyshawn Sorey – drums
Cecil Brooks III – drums

Recorded live at Cecil’s Jazz Club and Restaurant in West Orange, NJ

Music:
mda: The album consists of 11 total tracks with a nice mixture of originals and standards.  For a live recording, the engineering is quite good.  A concern with live albums from smaller labels or independent artists is whether they will be able to spend the proper money on recording and mixing.  Anthony Nelson obviously did.

RBD: The first thing that struck me was the intonation. Or lack there of to be honest. It is hard enough playing in tune throughout the night on a brass or reed instrument as it is. Lots of reasons can go into why people have intonation problems, temperature fluctuations, hearing issues among other reasons. However, the intonation, right from the beginning, is bad. I will blame this 80% on the piano that sounds like it should be in a saloon out west during the 50’s…the 1850’s. So, for me, the recording just never settles into a comfortable place due to the out of tune nature. OK, that’s out of way, let me proceed. The opening track is burnin’! Great energy and as I was listening I could tell that the band grabbed the crowd and didn’t let go. Recording a live performance is tricky…what if you have a bad/low energy crowd. That could make things more difficult. Tyshawn Sorey literally set the room on fire! With such a great bed or rhythmic intensity the rhythm section was laying down, I just didn’t feel that the soloists could keep up.

mda: I agree about Tyshawn Sorey.  He is without a doubt the strongest musician on the album.  Actually, I would say the second strongest musician on the album is the other drummer, Cecil Brooks III.  The soloists definitely cannot keep up to the drummers.  The intonation is certainly a major issue with this recording and certainly must be taken in to consideration with thinking about purchasing this album.  But we will get back to that in a few.  The compositions and arrangements by Anthony Nelson Jr. are quite strong.  The album starts off with two strong tracks ‘Two By Two’ and ‘Elsie.’  I can easily say these are the two best tracks on the album in my opinion.  Some of the other highlights for me would include ‘This Little Light of Mine.’  Nothing overly special about the arrangement, just a nice, whimsical, New Orleans-type shuffle take on a children’s tune, except for the end when the drummer (Cecil Brooks III) decides to recreate the sound of a machine gun multiple times.  I feel it was totally out of place for the arrangement.

RBD: I agree about the arrangements. They are strong and Anthony Nelson certainly is a talented writer. I wish that some of the arrangements had time to breathe, they feel rushed, or they start strong, stay strong and end strong (with the exception of ‘Paul Danielle’ I must admit). On ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’ Nelson gets a nice, soft, ‘old-school’ sound and it is very nice. I’m feeling that perhaps there is still some searching going on with his sound. Coltrane? Webster? or something more contemporary? Getting a cohesive and consistent sound will very quickly unify a set, give direction to compositions. As a young player, Anthony has a way to go, but this album is a representation of where he is in 2010 that he can look back upon with pride. Oh and Cecil Brooks (drummer and club owner)…TUNE THAT DAMN PIANO!!!

mda: Yes Anthony’s tone is unfocused.  It almost seems like he practiced too much before the gig/recording session and lost his embouchure throughout his playing.  I just don’t know what to say other than that.  But overall the music is a nice listen, I just wish the performance of the music was a few notches better than what it is.

Physical Product/Packaging
RBD: One thing that we are going to do a little different on the RBI blogs is that we are looking at the albums we review as a whole. From the moment the CD arrives in the mail we are formulating an opinion and an idea of what the record is all about. With Testament by Anthony E. Nelson Jr, the overall look of the product is cohesive and looks rather nice. It is in an older-style Jewel case (circa 1996, so not THAT old) and the booklet with the liner notes by Zan Stewart are easy to read and has a wealth of information. The ‘Song Listing’ that has Anthony’s remarks about the tunes and a quick description are a little hard to read as they are in a paragraph setting. When I went scanning the paragraph for details of a particular track, it was a little difficult to locate what I was looking for.

mda: I do like the overall design of the package.  Zan Stewart’s liner notes are very well written, something one would expect from a newspaper guy, eh?  The nice thing about the package is that Anthony gives all the information one would need to understand his musical concept for this recording.  It does help with getting in to the music when one knows where the artist is coming from and what he is trying to accomplish.

The Ratings:
(A description of the rating system we are using.)

mda: **  (I am torn, I really would like to give this album a 3-star because of the enjoyable composing/arranging and the playing of Tyshawn Sorey.  However, the intonation and the lackluster solos force me to offer up a 2-star.)
RBD: *** (Despite the terribly out of tune piano (which is where I believe the intonation issues originate) and the lackluster soloing as mda stated, the arrangements are well thought out there is a TON of energy and it is a fun album!)

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Jazz CD Review: the down and dirty of it all

So RBI is starting something new for our readership…CD Reviews.  Luckily RBD has the hookup with receiving newly released jazz albums for his great radio program “Have You Heard” on WICR 88.7FM.  We decided we could take the cds RBD receives from the radio promoters and also review them.

The plan on RBI is to do the review a little differently than you may see on other blogs, newspapers, etc.  We have always felt reviewers did ‘half-ass’ jobs and didn’t look at the entire package.  We will.  We plan on reviewing the music (and promise to listen to the entire album no matter how awful it is), the packaging, the liner notes (if applicable) and any other aspects of the product.  We want to make sure you know everything about the album so you can make a worthwhile decision on whether or not you should buy the product.

***** (5 Stars) = Stop what you are doing right now and go out and buy this album…the whole package. You need to hold this product in your hands for your life (and your CD collection) to be complete.

**** (4 Stars) = You should own this CD, but don’t feel obligated to stop what you are doing to get it. Downloading the album is Okay, but owning the entire product is nice too.

*** (3 Stars) = Good album that you may enjoy if it’s on in the background, or if alcohol is involved. If you come across it in a bargain bin, or remember to look for it while browsing iTunes or Amazon, buy it. You’ll live without it, but you’ll enjoy it as well.

** (2 Stars) = Listen to it if you can find it for under $5, or if somebody gives it to you. Could be a possible late-night digital download binge after a night of high-octane drinking.

* (1 Star) = Get it if you want or if need coasters, but if you respect yourself, just don’t do it.

~RBD

-mda

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