Archive for jazz piano

Two New Jazz Albums To Warm Your Holidays

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2017 by curtjazz

Each Holiday Season usually brings a few new discs in most genres, including jazz. Here’s our take on a couple that stand apart from the rest:

Champian Fulton – Christmas with Champian

Christmas with Champian final coverThis delightful Oklahoma native has had quite a year – She released a fine, all instrumental album (Speechless). This was followed by a terrific, live date, as a co-leader, with the great tenor saxophonist, Scott Hamilton (The Things We Did Last Summer). Champian Fulton now caps 2017 with Christmas with Champian, her first Holiday disc. It is another winner.

To be successful, Christmas albums, need to exude a certain joy of the season and this one does, from the finger-snapping backbeat of “White Christmas” (nice work by drummer, Fukushi Tainaka, throughout) to the closer, “Merry, Merry Christmas”, a lovely original number by Ms. Fulton. The rest of the album is filled with familiar songs of the season but thanks to Ms. Fulton’s first-rate piano work and the rock-solid backing of her sidemen; Mr. Tainaka, bassist David Williams and Champian’s dad, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, these tunes have new life.

Then there are Ms. Fulton’s vocals – to these ears, her sound is an amalgam of Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, to which she has added a touch of Blossom Dearie’s playfulness and charm. Yet, it manages to be all her own. She has grown by leaps and bounds as a singer, in the decade that she has been a part of the jazz scene. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, opens with a cool, bluesy piano figure, which pulled me in, prior to Ms. Fulton’s sassy vocal, which was then followed by a rollicking piano solo…Nice. Papa Stephen is on board, with his flugelhorn, for a swinging “Sleigh Ride”, with dad being pushed a little by his baby girl during his solo. That brought a smile to my face. “A Child is Born” is the stronger of the album’s two instrumental tracks, thanks to Ms. Fulton’s sensitive piano and outstanding work on the bass by Mr. Williams.

Order through Ms. Fulton’s website

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars – Champian Fulton has produced a classic Holiday album that should be heard all year round.


Jason Paul Curtis – These Christmas Days

Jason-Paul-Curtis-These-Christmas-Days-CoverJason Paul Curtis is a Washington D.C. based vocalist and songwriter, who mostly works with a big band, called Swing Shift and a small combo, Swinglab. He is a pleasant, modern swinger, in the Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Bublé vein. For this, his second Holiday themed album, he has concentrated on his own music, having written eight of the album’s ten tracks.

These Christmas Days, has a warm, family feeling, with most of the tracks referencing family celebrations and Christmas memories with his children. Curtis is in fact, joined by his daughter, Isabella, on vocals, on two of the album’s more memorable tracks; the lightly swinging, “December Again”, which will touch a soft spot in the hearts of any of us who have watched our kids grow up too quickly; and the bouncy, “I Want Snow”, with a warm alto sax interlude by Dave Schiff. “Came Winter”, a finger snapping piece, with a punchy big band arrangement, and good solos. It’s a winning tune but its lyrical content is more along the lines of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, with its topic of Holiday season bitterness against the treachery of a former lover. Not exactly one for decking the halls. “I’ll Feel Christmas”, with its Motown derived backbeat and the happy freneticism of “Christmas Breakfast” are more like it, as they celebrate, respectively, the start of the Holiday Season, in the city and the joy of Christmas morning with those you love.

The arrangements are sharp and tight and Mr. Curtis is in excellent voice, throughout. If you’re looking for a well-played, Holiday jazz album, with tunes that are not in the traditional vein, give These Christmas Days a try.

Order through Click HERE

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. A Charismatic, swinging and warm Holiday album.


Album Review – Loston Harris – Swingfully Yours

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 7, 2013 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Loston Harris

loston harris

SWINGFULLY YOURS – Magenta Label Group LHM-CD-101  Kiss and Run; Nice Work If You Can Get It; I’m Old Fashioned; Hey You With The Crazy Eyes; How About You; I’ve Got The World On A String; 9:26 Special; The Lamp Is Low; You Can’t Love ‘Em All

PERSONNEL: Loston Harris, piano, vocals; Ian Hendrickson-Smith, tenor saxophone; Gianluca Renzi, bass; Carmen Intorre, Jr, drums

By Curtis Davenport

I was very pleased to see this CD from Loston Harris come across my desk. I had first enjoyed the work of this Virginia native in the late’90’s, when his Comes Love CD was on the playlist of the radio station I was then working for. His recordings in the ensuing 15 years have been sporadic but always enjoyable. Swingfully Yours, his fifth disc, is no exception.

Many New Yorkers are already familiar with Mr. Harris from his decade as a headliner in Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, a role previously held by Bobby Short. Those in Los Angeles know him from his regular gigs at The Whisper. However on his recordings Harris has consistently shed his cabaret conventions in favor of a hard swinging, somewhat percussive piano style that betray his musical beginnings as a drummer. When you find out a little about Mr. Harris’ background, you understand his sound. He’s a protégé of Ellis Marsalis, who he met through Harry Connick, Jr. Harris also has studied with Geri Allen and the late Dr. Billy Taylor. With all those folks around him, how could Loston keep from swinging? And like his piano pal Connick, Harris also sings rather well.

On Swingfully Yours, Mr. Harris sticks to the formula that has worked so well for him in the past; well-known standards mixed with a few rarities from the great composers.  Harris himself describes the album quite succinctly on the inside cover: “This recording is all about swing. No torch songs or ballads, just tunes with tempos that make you wanna tap your toes.” He is accompanied by his new working group, a simpatico trio of young New York based pros; bassist Gianluca Renzi, drummer Carmen Intorre, Jr. and Ian Hendrickson-Smith on tenor sax. They all get where the leader wants to go and they take him there in high style.

Harris’ early albums concentrated on instrumentals with a few vocals thrown in.  Now, perhaps due to the expectations of his cabaret audience, that balance has reversed.  Swingfully Yours has only two instrumental tracks but both are choice. The disc springs to life with one of them, “Kiss and Run”, the minor classic, performed memorably in the past by Johnny Hartman and Bill Henderson, among others. Here Harris and company romp joyously through it as if opening their nightly set. You can hear one of Harris’ teachers, Dr. Taylor, all over Loston’s festive solo, as Renzi and Intorre keep perfect time. He is followed by Hendrickson-Smith, a very versatile and creative saxman who deserves much wider recognition and brief statements from Renzi and Intorre before the out chorus. It’s classy without sacrificing an ounce of swing. The other instrumental is “9:26 Special”, Harris’ arrangement of “9:20 Special” the swing chestnut by longtime Basie saxophonist Earle Warren. This arrangement was so infectious that I listened at least three times before moving on. Harris is not only a fine soloist but a good accompanist as well. I loved the intricate figures he was playing in support of Hendrickson-Smith on this track and throughout the album. Among the vocal tracks the most notable were “The Lamp is Low” taken at bop speed with a Petersonesque solo by the leader and the saxophonist matching him step for speedy step; “Nice Work if You Can Get It” has an inventive mid-tempo boogie rhythm with a real strong left hand from Harris and “How About You”, is taken at a mid-tempo burn that makes it the closest thing to a ballad on this set. Harris’ vocal put this old warhorse over in a delightful manner that says “I’ve sung this a hundred times and I’m still finding new things in it”. Because he does, we do too.

Swingfully Yours is another fine album from Loston Harris, who has grown by leaps and bounds as a pianist and as a singer over his two decade career. There was only a two-year gap between this album and its predecessor. That’s encouraging. Perhaps it’s a sign that those of us outside of NYC and LA will hear from Mr. Harris a bit more often.

Mulgrew Miller – A Video Memorial

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , on June 1, 2013 by curtjazz

mulgrew millerAs most jazz fans know by now, Mulgrew Miller passed away on May 29 at 57, due to complications from a massive stroke he had suffered a few days before.

Though casual jazz fans may not have known his name, he was considered by many (myself included) to be one of the outstanding pianists of his generation.

Much has been written in the last few days about the man and his art by those far more knowledgeable than I, so I will let their words suffice as many of those who have written knew “Grew” personally.

Instead I would like to pay tribute by posting three of the many fine performances that he delivered over the years and a few sage words of wisdom from the man himself, that he shared with some young musicians. I’ve also listed a few of his best recordings as a leader, for those with some catching up to do.

Rest in Peace, Brother Mulgrew. The musical world that was so enhanced by your presence is diminished incalculably by your departure.

Recommended Recordings

Work (Landmark) – One of his earliest dates as a leader with Charnett Moffett on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Out of Print and expensive. Grab it if you see a reasonably priced copy.

Hand in Hand (Novus) – My personal favorite. Eddie and Joe Henderson, Steve Nelson on vibes, Lewis Nash on drums, a young Christian McBride and Mulgrew’s compositions and amazing solos. One of the best jazz albums of the ’90’s. Also Out of Print.

The Sequel (MaxJazz) – This was a 2002 revival of Wingspan, a formidable quintet that Miller had originally formed in 1987. This time around they were a sextet with the addition of Duane Eubanks on trumpet. Though the membership is mostly different, they hadn’t skipped a beat in 15 years, due mostly to Mr. Miller’s strong guiding hand. CD is OOP but it’s currently available on mp3 at a very reasonable price.

Live at Yoshi’s – Volume Two (MaxJazz) – This was the second of two excellent volumes that Miller and his trio recorded at the famed Bay Area jazz club in a 2003 session. The reason that I give this set the nod over number one is simple; Volume Two is still available on mp3 for those who want it.