Friday, December 7, 2007

Local jazz artists recommend gift-worthy favorites: Holiday jazz CDs

Originally published on on December 7, 2007

Pianist Michel Legrand once observed, "Jazz is the best of all nourishments." Jazz also makes a great gift, says someone who hopes to get some. (Hint to husband: We don't yet have all of these.) Jazz CDs are small enough to tuck into stockings, varied enough for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

But where to start and what to buy?

MinnPost turned to experts: local jazz artists. What do they consider gift-worthy and why? We asked them to recommend CDs by other local artists and suggested they not be holiday CDs, the better for year-round listening. We also said the CDs did not have to be new or recent. The best-selling CD of all time, Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue," was released 40 years ago and is sure to end up under a tree or two. So why not Jay Epstein's "Long Ago" or Gordy Johnson's original "Trios"?

Pianist Bryan Nichols calls "Long Ago" (1997) "a great piece of music from three great musicians, and still one of my favorite Minnesota jazz releases ever." Drummer Epstein is joined by Bill Carrothers on piano and Anthony Cox on bass. (Carrothers lives in Michigan but grew up here so we still claim him as ours.) Nichols would also give saxophonist Chris Thomson's new electro/acoustic "The Three Elements" (2007): "Easily my favorite local record of the year. Plus, for the holidays, it has lots of bell sounds."

Lauds for Maud

Singer and radio personality Arne Fogel loves Maud Hixson's just-released "Love's Refrain" (2007). Backed by her husband, Rick Carlson, on piano, "she sounds like nobody else, and the record is a definitive document of that unique sound." He also recommends "Voracious: Live at the Times" (2007) by the Wolverines Big Band. "An absolute killer."

Bassist Gordy Johnson was driving home from a gig when he heard a track from Hixson's "Love's Refrain." "I got goose bumps as I was listening. ... It's in the groove and polished, totally first class. I would give that disc to anyone and everyone."

Singer Maud Hixson joins Fogel in recommending "Voracious: Live at the Times." And she likes Erin Schwab's "Martinis and Cleavage" (2007), recorded live at Jitters downstairs from the Times. "Erin was taking requests on cocktail napkins during her live recording." Another Hixson pick: Twin Cities Hot Club guitarist Reynold Philipsek's latest solo acoustic release, "What It Is" (2007).

Tailoring for tastes

Trombonist Dave Graf customizes his choices. "For someone whose taste in jazz runs to mellow yet sophisticated: 'Duo' (2006) by Irv Williams and Peter Schimke. For someone who likes a larger ensemble and adventurous-yet-accessible original composition: Snowblind's 'Taking Shape' (2007). For someone who would dig some fun and funky a capella horn work: The Hornheads' 'Fat Lip' (2004). For a wide range of jazz listeners: 'Call Me When You Get There' (2001) by Mary Louise Knutson. Hey, it's a delight."

Like Graf, pianist Mary Louise Knutson considers the recipient. "If I don't know someone's musical tastes, I'd say 'Some Cats Know' (1999) by Connie Evingson. Connie's voice is always easy on the ears. ... For a Doris Day fan, 'Daydreaming' (2004) by Connie Olson. If it's a horn player, 'Fat Lip' by The Hornheads. For a piano trio lover, 'I Love Paris' (2005) by Bill Carrothers. Accessible to all."

Singer Christine Rosholt has "always loved Connie Evingson's 'Some Cats Know.' As I was just getting going in the biz, I would listen to that CD all the time. I also love Lucia Newell and Departure Point's 'Steeped in Strayhorn' (2004). Lucia's rich voice and unique phrasing, paired with Pete Whitman's band, is close to perfect."

Pianist Laura Caviani is another Lucia Newell fan. Her pick: an older disc, "Enter You, Enter Love" (1995) by guitarist Joan Griffith and Newell. "It's a very romantic CD, with warmth and genuine joy. Perfect for the holiday season."

Phil Hey digs fellow drummer George Avaloz's "The Highest Mountain" (2004). "Great solos and arrangements of really cool tunes, including the title track. George swings his ass off." Listen for soulful Twin Cities singer Debbie Duncan on "A Beautiful Friendship."

Seduced by 'Subduction'

Guitarist Joel Shapira gives the thumbs-up to "Subduction: Live at the Artists' Quarter" (2005) by the Phil Hey Quartet. "Great players, great club, adventurous tunes, great arrangements. A jazz lover's delight."

Singer Vicky Mountain mined her home play list for favorites she'd share. " 'The Bridge' (2002) by the Chris Lomheim Trio. Beautiful, lyrical playing. 'Steeped in Strayhorn' by Lucia Newell and Departure Point. Mary Louise Knutson's 'Call Me When You Get There.' Very relaxing. And all of the Gordon Johnson 'Trios' CDs." There are three: "Trios" (1996), "Trios V. 2" (2002), and "Trios Version 3.0" (2004), and those of us who know them want Gordy to hurry up and make more.

Accordionist Dan Newton would give the recording by Dick & Jane's Big Brass Band, a local band that plays New Orleans street music. "Festive and celebratory, it fits the holiday season and can be enjoyed any time of the year." Good luck finding it, but if Daddy Squeeze likes it, it must be good and worthy of sleuthing out. Check the band's website and try one of the phone numbers there. I left a message.

Where to find CDs mentioned above: Check the Electric Fetus, a strong supporter of local artists (2000 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-870-9300). Try the CD Baby website. Visit the artists' websites (many have their own). Best of all, ask the artists themselves; they live here, they play here, and many have holiday shows scheduled around town. That way, you can have your CDs signed.

Upcoming picks

Matt Wilson's Carl Sandburg Project: Poems, improvisation, and wacky hats. The Minnesota Opera Center, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, $15. See this week's MinnPost story, "Rhyme, rhythm and riffin': Jazz meets poetry in drummer Matt Wilson's Carl Sandburg Project."

Happy Apple: The locally grown jazz/improv/indie/whatever trio of Michael Lewis (saxophones), Erik Fratzke (electric bass) and Dave King (drums; King also plays with The Bad Plus) is the most fun you can have sitting down, if you can find a seat. (If not, check them out here.) The Artists' Quarter, Friday through Sunday, Dec. 7-9, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday ($12).

Rhonda Laurie: At last, live music comes to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. Vocalist Laurie has a regular weekly gig with guitarist Reynold Philipsek and bassist Jeff Brueske. Cavé Vin, Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., no cover.

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