CD Review: ‘The Definition of Insanity,’ Tony Monaco

The Definition of Insanity
Tony Monaco- Hammond B3, piano, accordion and voice
Chicken Coop Records—Release date January 18, 2019

Monaco, a Hammond B3 artist, has done it again. With his usual small-group format, which includes guitarist Derek Decenzo, and drummer Tony McClung, he also uses his wife Asake Monaco on piano on a single number, Never Let Me Go.

Monaco is a personal favorite and he earned more converts when he was a featured soloist with his trio at a Pensacola JazzFest in the early 2000s.

The selection of 11 tunes is eclectic. Cars, Trucks and Buses, by keyboardist Page McConnell, is the opener on the CD. Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” is executed more or less faithfully to the Smith version except that Smith used a bass player whereas Monaco plays the bass part with left hand. Never Let Me Go is a lovely ballad by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and features Monaco also on vocals and his wife Asake on piano.

Monaco’s only original tune, Awar Athar has a Middle Eastern flavor and uses the Turkish scale, which he learned from one of his Turkish students. He sings in Italian and also plays accordion on Non Ti Scordare Di Me a traditional Neapolitan song. Monaco’s rendition of Floyd Cramer’s big hit, Last Date is also memorable. His finale, A Song for You, Leon Russell’s composition, which has been frequently recorded by many artists, is rendered as a vocal as well as keyboard piece.

This CD was a joy to hear and to review. It will be placed in the Jazz Room of the West Florida Public Library for patrons to check out and enjoy as well.

CD Review: ‘Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet’

There’s a saying some circles: There are two kinds of music, TRAD and STAD. (S—t, that ain’t Dixieland.) If you’re a strict adherent to the former, then this review won’t appeal to you.

However, for the rest of you musically adventurous souls, this may or may not appeal to you. I was aware of Eric Dolphy’s multi-instrumentalism and his important place as a jazz icon, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. The full title of this three-CD set is “Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet; The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions.” It is released by Renaissance Records and produced by Zev Feldman and flautist James Newton. The set is accompanied by a 100-page CD size booklet complete with commentary by various artists. Two of the three recordings are reproduced on CD with supplemental recordings to make an approximate one hour each. The third CD features alternate takes from the previous two recordings, previously unreleased. All are mono-track recordings.

The two recordings previously released are entitled Conversations and Iron Man. The accompanying 100-page booklet includes photographs, description of how the recordings came to be made as well as commentary from various artists about Dolphy’s life and musical artistry. Besides Dolphy, who performs on alto sax, flute and bass clarinet, are the following: William “Prince” Lasha, flute; Huey “Sonny” Simmons, alto sax; Clifford Jordan, soprano sax; Woody Shaw, trumpet; Garvin Bushell, bassoon; Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphone; bassists Richard Davis and Eddie Kahn; and drummers J.C. Moses and Charles Moffett.

Several personal take-aways: the previously unreleased “Muses for Richard Davis” was intriguing duet for Davis’ bass and Dolphy’s bass clarinet. Also, a discussion about how Dolphy would practice flute and birds would respond, so Dolphy’s practice might be interrupted by a flute-bird conversation. This reminded me of my own flute and chromatic harmonica bird conversations. Dolphy was a straight-arrow who avoided the drug/alcohol problems of so many musicians of that era. He was engaged to a Parisian dancer but died in 1964 at age 36 of undiagnosed, untreated diabetic coma in a Berlin hospital.

This is not a recording that is likely to leave the casual listener humming a familiar tune. But it will leave the perceptive listener was a greater appreciation of the talent and skill of multi-instrumentalist Dolphy and his talented performers.

Pensacola library patrons may check out this valuable recording from the Jazz Room of West Florida Public Library.

Two Nina Fritz oil portraits added to Jazz Room collection

Joe Occhipinti by Nina Fritz

Two Nina Fritz oil paintings have been added to the Jazz Room Area at the downtown West Florida Public Library. The latest acquisitions were donated by jazz enthusiast Amelia Asmar.

One of the Fritz paintings shows local jazz saxophonist and band-leader Joe Occhipinti. The other depicts the late world-famous jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines.

Earl “Fatha” Hines by Nina Fritz

For those few who are unfamiliar with Pensacola artist Nina Fritz, she has been a benefactor for the jazz community for many years. There are several of her oil paintings in the jazz room area of the downtown public library. Her paintings are highly prized by many experts in the arts community. For many years, she has supported Pensacola JazzFest by allowing a raffle of a portrait. And she is planning to continue that tradition for this coming Pensacola JazzFest in April 2019.

The Jazz Room collection was started in the mid-1980s as the recordings were transitioning from LP to CD. The Jazz Society of Pensacola has made annual donations toward that effort and the Friends of the West Florida Public Library has matched those donations. Currently, the collection of jazz books, CDs and DVD is valued at $20,000. And library card holders can access the collection through any of the public library branches in Escambia County. The library is in process of accessing another larger order of jazz materials which will include newer CDs and DVDs as well as a number of jazz related movies on DVD. Todd Humble, library director, has researched and found that there is only one other public library in the US which has a dedicated jazz room. Others have music collections but ours is only one of two which is dedicated solely to jazz.

Kristine Crane, in charge of the jazz room and the library reference area, poses with the two newly acquired Nina Fritz oil paintings.

CD Review: ‘Standard Deviations 1 & 2,’ Tobin Mueller

Standard Deviations, Volumes 1 and 2
By Tobin Mueller
Album available CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes

Interestingly, I had reviewed a previous two-CD set, “Afterwords,” exactly one year previously. On receiving this one, my expectations were pleasantly fulfilled. But, first some words about this unusual multi-talented man. In addition to being a pianist/composer/vocalist, he’s a playwright and sometime actor.

The current two-CD set features Tobin on piano, keyboard or organ. Some of the selections have an added instrumentalist such as saxophonist or guitarist. Then Mueller might add vibraphone, drums and/or bass. All selections on this album will be familiar to most jazz listeners. To name a few: God Bless the Child, St. Louis Blues, Take the “A” Train; Autumn Leaves, Stardust, My Funny Valentine and Georgia On My Mind.

All are performed tastefully and in Mueller’s unique style. Hence, his appropriate title of “Standard Deviations.”

So, this is a recommended album for those willing to listen to standard jazz tunes presented in a tasteful yet different style.

See www.tobinmueller.com to get more details on this album and other interesting projects of Mr. Mueller. One can purchase from the usual mail order sources as well as directly from this website.

CD Reviews: ‘Cabin in the Sky,’ ‘Music From the Heart’

Cabin in the Sky
Hendrik Meurkens, chromatic harmonica; Bill Cunliffe, piano
Height Advantage

Music from the Heart
Roger Davidson Quartet featuring Hendrik Meurkens
Soundbrush Records

The common factor in these two recordings is, of course, chromatic harmonicist Hendrik Meurkens. According to publicity accompanying “Cabin in the Sky,’ Meurkens and Cunliffe had long planned to get together for a recording, which occurred June 26, 2015 and April 1, 2016. String arrangement on one number was added later. Meurkens, German born of Dutch parents, immigrated to the U.S. in his mid-30s. He spent time in Brazil, where became entranced with Brazilian-style music. Meurkens is first-call chromatic harmonicist in the style of late Jean “Toots” Thielemans. This recording — with the exception of one strings-added number, Afternoon, a composition by Meurkens — is a mix of jazz standards and compositions both by Cunliffe and Meurkens. Numbers that are likely familiar to jazz fans include Cabin in the Sky; Joe Zawinul’s Young and Fine; Invitation, Bobby Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe; Weill’s Speak Low and Jobim’s Wave.

This recording will remind some jazz fans of the Thielemans and Bill Evans recording, “Affinity.” And the current one doesn’t suffer by comparison. I’m pleased that these two experts finally got together. Let’s hope there are more recordings in the pipe-line. I have one regret; the recording came without liner notes. Let’s hope the second one will come so supplied. For further info see their respective websites:
hendrikmeurkens.com and billcunliffe.com.

Music from the Heart

Music from the Heart features pianist and composer Roger Davidson on piano, Hendrik Meurkens on both chromatic harmonica and vibraphone. The quartet is completed by Edwardo Belo-string bass and Adriano Santos-drums. All compositions are by Roger Davidson. This pianist-composer was previously unfamiliar to me but in reading and listening, I learned that he is talented in many areas of composition. Davidson has a long American lineage and has spent time in Brazil, a similar story to that of Meurkens.

Although the compositions are all new, they have the typical Brazilian flavor and the listener will likely find himself/herself humming along and keeping time to the catchy rhythms.

And, extra treat here, there are a number of tunes on which Meurkens plays vibraphone. The drummer and bassist are an integral part of the quartet and get to “shine” with their occasional solos, too.

Recommended for quiet listening times such as late-night or dinner-time. This one will spin on my own turntable frequently. Non-jazz fans likely will be intrigued as well.

www.rogerdavidsonmusic.net; www.soundbrush.com

Book Review: ‘Jeru’s Journey: The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan’

Jeru’s Journey
The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan
By Sanford Josephson
Hal Leonard Books, pp.213 © 2018
Paperback

Jeru’s Journey is the first definitive biography of Gerry Mulligan. Most jazz fans likely know him as an outstanding baritone saxophone player but he was much more than that — arranger, composer and even a sometime theatrical actor. Author Sanford Josephson has done an excellent job of researching Mulligan’s work and career as well as interviewing many of Gerry’s musical collaborators.

In a telephone interview with the author, I learned that he had interviewed Mulligan in 1981 for a newspaper article that became a chapter in his 2009 book Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations. Other valuable source material was the Library of Congress. Mulligan’s papers are deposited there along with his jazz instruments. There were a series of fourteen audiotapes that Mulligan had produced with an interviewer that were lent to Josephson by Mulligan’s wife Franca.

Mulligan’s career is succinctly laid out by the author and supplemented by comments from his collaborators.

The purpose of a book review is not to reveal the entire contents of the book but merely to provide an overview and enough insight for the reader to determine whether or not to proceed further. For those interested, the book will reveal intriguing aspects of Mulligan’s personality. For example, he had a relationship with theater and movie actress Judy Holliday. Mulligan played the part of a priest in the movie “The Subterraneans,” based on the Jack Kerouac novel. He also played Judy Holliday’s blind date in the movie version of “The Bells Are Ringing.” Mulligan was happy and comfortable with most styles of jazz, as well as other music. His musical associations were widespread from Dixieland, Bop to Classical.

Allow me two intriguing examples from this book. Mulligan had met New York Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta on an airplane flight. Mulligan was invited to play the soprano saxophone part on “Bolero” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. A few days earlier, not having the music beforehand, Mehta had whistled Mulligan’s part over the phone. He only saw the music on the evening of the concert.

Some time after Mulligan’s death, there was to be a celebration of Mulligan’s life and career at the Library of Congress. Saxophonist Scott Robinson was scheduled to perform a piece on Mulligan’s baritone sax. He brought his own reeds and mouthpiece to play on Mulligan’s instrument. Following the trial run, he put his own mouthpiece and reed along with Mulligan’s instrument in the large airline traveling case. The staff assured him that he wouldn’t have to carry that bulky case; they’d set everything up for his performance. When it came time for Robinson to get ready to play, to his horror, he discovered that his own mouthpiece and reed were not on the horn but Mulligan’s own mouthpiece and a 25 year-old cracked reed! However, much to Scott’s relief, he got through the piece without incident!

Recommended. Josephson and Hal Leonard are to be thanked for the effort to bring Mulligan’s life and work to the present and future generations.

This book will go to the Jazz Room of the West Florida Public Library for its patrons to enjoy.