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Philip Manuel

PM

(IIFire)

For those who only know Philip Manuel as a jazz singer, his new rhythm and blues record may come as a shock, but for those who know his theatre work or his performances with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, his versatility is quite familiar. His new CD, PM, is a smoothly crafted, hip and urban sounding record. On numbers like the wistful 'I Don't Know How To Say Goodbye" or the upbeat 'I Got Love For You," his vocals are right on, emotional without being over the top. Whether he's trading off lines with his backup singers or using the bottom of his range to talk directly to his audience, Manuel's voice charms and seduces. His range sounds effortless as his voice slips into falsetto for sometimes just one line before coming back to his usual voice. The lyrics of this CD invoke relationships between a man and a woman from the apologies on the Michael Pellera-penned 'Never Again" to the affection of 'You Showed Me What True Love Is." It is difficult to avoid cliches with these sentiments, but on the whole Manuel is successful in expressing adult themes of love without resorting to trite wordplay. His band stays in the pocket, setting up slow jams or more up-tempo grooves with the subtle sounds of Derwin 'Big D" Perkins' guitar laying a base and the percussion of Michael Skinkus. The keyboards come in on top with a variety of sounds and timbres that sound surprising at first but fit right in. This is a radio-friendly record that could be at home in '80s, '90s, or in the new century. " David Kunian

Jim Robinson

Economy Hall Breakdown

(Delmark Records)

On the reissue of Jim Robinson's Economy Hall Breakdown, Delmark Records has made another addition to the canon of New Orleans Jazz. The band includes Raymond Burke (clarinet), Johnny Wiggs (cornet), Bob Greene (piano) and Allan Jaffe (tuba) and stretches out on some of the lesser-known standards. Robinson's trombone is the key to the recording, and by the time he made it (1965), he had proved himself to be the top New Orleans-style trombonist while working with Bunk Johnson and George Lewis. Robinson's playing can be robust and forceful or slow and stately, but he is always on top of his game whether he is soloing or playing an alternate bass or melodic line behind a solo. Wiggs and Burke also have some great solo and ensemble playing on both W.C. Handy's 'Atlanta Blues," where Wiggs and Robinson weave rhythmic short phrases above Burke's longer line beneath, and on the opening 'Economy Hall Breakdown." Wiggs' compositions are also featured here with the jaunty swing of 'Postman's Lament" and 'Right Now Is the Right Time." The rhythm section is steady, on the beat and restrained. Bob Greene, famous for his piano on the soundtrack of Pretty Baby, alternates between short single-note runs and chords. His piano has that barrelhouse, juke-joint sound that meshes well with the music. Jaffe's tuba, a difficult instrument to record back in 1965, is well heard in its simple and strong bass notes. This recording was the debut of Preservation Hall founder and tubist Jaffe as well as being Robinson's first recorded singing. Overall, the playing is relaxed and comfortable the band stretches out on longer tunes. " Kunian

The Karl Denson Trio

Lunar Orbit

(Bobby Ace Records)

Proving that the flute can do way more than Jethro Tull led us all to believe, reed-man Karl Denson has woven a complex, chilled-out psychedelic meditation that draws on funk and soul as much as the avant-garde space jazz he turns out with the Tiny Universe or the jam band the Greyboy Allstars. Pulling together elements of funk, soul and cosmic meanderings in an understated yet danceable combination, Denson's stripped-down combo proves it doesn't take just manpower to launch listeners on an interstellar groove, thanks not only to Denson's sax and flute leads but also to the tripped-out keyboard and organ work of piano men Kenneth Crouch, Will Blades and Anthony Smith. With elements of Sun Ra's Arkestra and John Coltrane as much as smooth '70s funk, the record has all the restrained loveliness of an asteroid trapped in orbit. All in all, Lunar Orbit is a soothingly groovy trip through the spaceways. " Alison Fensterstock

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