Quickies: Charlie Hunter, Martin Urbach, Andy Scherrer, New York Electric Piano

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It’s Thanksgiving, y’all, and while I don’t have a Thanskgiving-themed record or song with which to celebrate this national holiday, we can always be thankful of fresh new tunes by talented musicians.

In the case of this chapter of “Quickies,” it’s all talented jazz musicians. For those not so inclined, don’t fret; I have some more mainstream sounds lined up for the next two days. Otherwise, here’s a few records that would make some fine stocking-stuffers for the jazz lover with an inclination for exploring new names.

So while you gorge on some bird and watch the Cowboys game, consider familiarizing yourself with these mostly unfamiliar acts. Opening your mind can sometimes be as fun as opening Christmas presents.

Oh, and Happy Turkey Day, music lovers…

Charlie Hunter Baboon Strength
Hunter’s work in the aughts hadn’t been quite as consistent as it was in the nineties, but the dude still remains one of foremost practitioners of outlaw jazz guitar. Maybe I’m a bit unfair in applying the “less consistent” label, as he is always modulating his style. Still, I’ve lately been a bigger fan of his collaborations with Garage a Trois and Groundtruther than his solo stuff.

Hunter self-released his latest, Baboon Strength, and it continues the guitar/keyboards/drum format he started last year with Mistico. That prior record raked in some good reviews, but it didn’t do nearly as much for me as the more experimental Altitude from Groundtruther did from about the same time.

Baboon, on the other hand, is more like it. Hunter presents tighter compositions that don’t waver between trying to decide whether to groove or get abstract. Oh no, this one is wholly devoted to the groove.

The first four songs are pretty concise, with the rocking “Athens” leading the way and the disco-oriented “Welcome To Frankfurt” being the only real miscue on the whole record. After that, the numbers are more extended, giving the players more room to stretch out. Hunter’s blues-rock ruminations on “Fine Corinthian Leather” is mighty nice.

Baboon Strength is one of Charlie Hunter’s most accessible records, which is a bit ironic since the physical CD is not in wide distribution (you can buy the MP3’s from Amazon). If you prefer the shiny silver disc, you can order that from his website; I’ve provided a nifty little link below to get you there fast:

Martin Urbach Free Will
Do you know any really good Jewish drummers from Bolivia? Well, you do now; his name is Martin (pronounced mar-TEEN) Urbach.

Urbach resides in Astoria, NY these days, but he once called New Orleans his home, where he got his bachelors in jazz performance from UNO, until Katrina drove him out. Even though he’s firmly settled up East with also a masters in jazz performance from Manhattan School of Music, his heart is still in New Orleans.

Free Will marks his first time out as a leader, with all nine songs his own. The music is what I call jazz with some fusion tendencies without quite being fusion, if that makes any sense. A good point of reference is Gary Burton, with the Burton connection made stronger by the presence of vibe player Tim Collins, late of Sam Barsh’s (I Forgot What you Taught Me).

Also accompanied by Brian Seeger (guitars), Pascal Niggenkemper (stand-up bass) and Scott Bourgeois (saxes), Free Will is full of interesting melodies that range from graceful to driving. The band avoids overplaying Urbach’s songs and Urbach himself mostly stays behind the front line to propel the other players, although he gets in a couple of powerful solos. The softer, folk-like pieces like “Southern Damsels” and “Velvet Swamp” are counterbalanced by some unrestrained, nearly avant garde jazz found in “I Broke The Jazz” and “Free Will.”

To find out more about this up-and-comer, visit his website. Urbach did well his first time out and is worth keeping tabs on for what he does next.

Andy Scherrer Special Sextet feat. Bill Carrothers
Wrong Is Right
The Swiss tenorman Andy Scherrer put forth this CD last spring that presents a cornucopia of delectable modern jazz mostly from from advanced bop realm. Scherrer does it with a formidable front line of three…yes…three saxophone players, and as the title makes clear, features a big American name in jazz piano.

Bill Carrothers, who’s played with such legends as Dewey Redman, Charlie Rouse, Bill Stewart and Billy Higgins, makes his presence well known on this record, applying his understated use of modern shapes much in the way a Bill Evans or a Herbie Hancock might. The Evans-like original “Karma” is a particular highlight for him.

Scherrer himself shines on tracks “In And Out,” where his soulful tone paces a smokin’ hard number. The cascade of saxophonists on the traditional hymn “Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel” is an imaginative, swinging arrangement of an old tune. “Freckles” calls to mind Oliver Nelson’s Blues And The Abstract Truth. There’s also one of the better cov
ers of Coltrane’s “After The Rain” I’ve heard in a long time. The only misstep is the brief chorus of kazoos (you read that right, folks) on “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong,” but given the song title, one suspects that Scherrer is just pulling our collective legs.

That’s easy to ignore when the rest of the album is so consistent. Wrong Is Right is just right a lot more times than not.

New York Electric Piano King Mystery
I’m a real sucker for the warm, cozy sound of a Fender Rhodes, so any jazz combo built around that instrument is bound to get rapt attention from me. That’s just the kind of ensemble electric pianist Pat Daugherty put together about five years ago with Tim Givens (acoustic bass) and Aaron Comess (drums).

The trio has now grown to a sextet with the addition of Till Behler (saxes, flute), Leon Gruenbaum (Samchillian keyboard), and Deanna Kirk (vocals). This newly expanded group debuts with King Mystery. In addition to these changes, Daugherty takes an occasional break from the Rhodes to play acoustic piano.

And what the heck is this “Samchillian” keyboard you ask? It’s an innovative MIDI controller type contraption invented by Gruenbaum. You get a pretty good idea of how it works through his tweleve minute instructional video here.

As to the music on King Mystery itself, the reduced role for the electric piano isn’t so bad, as Daughterty’s rhythmic, advanced but listenable compositions carry the day. And, his band is really tight. Kirk is a fine vocalist who’s gotten more than her share of accolades, yet the singing pieces tend to cut against the vibe of the rest of the record. Even a well-written number like “Why Are We Here” seems like a perfect cut for a vocal jazz album, but not for this one. But the handful of vocal cuts are far outweighed by meaty instrumentals like “10 to 11”, “I Shot The Deputy” and the title track.

King Mystery ushers in a new era for the New York Electric Piano, one that brings in a mixed bag of changes. But overall, it’s jazz that’s got a good groove going and doesn’t quite sound like anyone else. It’s certainly worth checking out.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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