Rockin’ In Rhythm: A Duke Ellington Tribute (Telarc)
A seriously entertaining record. Within his deep discography, John Pizzarelli has produced several tribute recordings (Dear Mr. Sinatra, Meets The Beatles, Dear Mr. Cole and one more, P.S. Mr. Cole) but this is his first time reinventing the Ellington songbook and it’s a doozy. The singer/guitarist is world-renowned for his showmanship, while his concerts, performances and radio show play up his easy-breezy personality. That persona, along with his fleet fingered prowess is in full force here on his ninth album for Telarc. I don’t know what it is about John Pizzarelli but he just gets better.
A big part of this album’s success lies with Pizzarelli’s core band – his brother Martin on bass, piano whiz Larry Fuller, Tony Tedesco on drums — and guests like vocalist Jessica Molasky (Mrs. Pizzarelli) and Kurt Elling (who joins the guitarist on a sizzling Gerald Wilson arrangement of “Perdido), saxophonist Harry Allen, dad Bucky, and violinist Aaron Weinstein. A vibrant four-horn section does Duke’s music proud, and the quality of those charts rests squarely on the shoulders of arranger Don Sebesky. The album combines snazzy vocals and instrumental arrangements (the band rockets “C Jam Blues” to the moon and back and it’s kind of awesome) but a bouncing version of “Satin Doll” and a seductively dark mash-up of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo with” Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” are winners, too. (12 tracks; 49:48)
Decisive Steps (Mack Avenue Records)
For her sophomore recording on the Mack Avenue label, saxophonist Tia Fuller lights up “Decisive Steps,” a bold artistic declaration spotlighting Fuller’s compositional strengths, musical ability and her dynamic band featuring drummer Kim Thompson, bassist Miriam Sullivan and Shamie Royston on piano and Fender Rhodes. This is a powerful and gifted group of women, rare on today’s jazz scene, and it doesn’t hurt that Fuller and her drummer toured as part of Beyonce’s band for the past two years. It’s a significant credential that Fuller rightfully trades on. Interestingly, “Decisive Steps” is a muscular post-bop modern jazz romp – no smooth jazz or R&B here. Her solos are often blistering (though tuneful) and her songs have a soulful, swinging Cannonball Adderley-like vibe. Favorite tracks include the title cut, “Ebb and Flow,” featuring guest bassist Christian McBride and the Latin flavored “Shades Of McBride” named for her friend. Label mate, trumpeter Sean Jones, adds his distinctive solo to the high-flying “Windsoar” and the standard, “I Can’t Get Started,” simmers late-night style with Fuller’s burnished sound and Warren Wolf’s melodic contribution on vibraphone. Overall, the album captures a band in its element – playing hard (and well) together. “Decisive Steps” has an aura of confidence that puts Tia Fuller among the top tier of current saxophone players. (10 tracks; 55:45)