Some positively solid releases from Posi-Tone Records (2009, 2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

One of the newer jazz labels that’s been on a roll lately is Marc Free’s outfit, Posi-Tone Records. Started up in 1994, Posi-Tone is a rare independent label that’s done a remarkable job in balancing its roster with top shelf veterans and some of the more promising young talent, specializing in mainstream, soul and even a little bit of whack jazz. What’s more, the production quality of their releases are on par with some of the larger labels like Concord and even ECM.

Already, five P-T releases have been picked apart in this space since the beginning of the year; just click on the “Posi-Tone Records” tag to see what we’ve covered already . Lately, though, these guys have been churning out records at a faster pace than what I can keep up with, which probably wouldn’t be an issue if they were crappy records. Instead, this is an issue where both quality and quantity are both plentiful. And that’s when it’s time for a Quickies.

The three releases presented here are just a sample of what I’ve been digging from the label lately, but are representative of the level of new talent who flock to this label. If you hadn’t heard of these cats before, well, it’s time you did…

Jacám Manricks Trigonometry: Jacám Manricks is a composer and alto saxophone whose resumé alone makes you want to check out his music. He’s performed with heavy hitters like Ray Charles, David Liebman and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. He hold a doctorate of in Musical Arts Degree (his third degree overall) from the esteemed Manhattan School of Music, where he has taught master-classes and lectures on jazz composition, jazz saxophone, improvisation and arranging (as well as a number of other musical institutions). He’s been a featured soloist at renowned venues such as the Lincoln Center, The Jazz Gallery, the Jazz Standard, and several distinguished hall overseas. Last month, Manricks brought this decorated background and the experience of three albums already under his belt for his first Posi-Tone release, Trigonometry.

What’s clear from the first listen of this record is not so much his chops, which are solid as he amply demonstrates on the Eric Dolphy original “Miss Ann,” but the arrangements of his own compositions which make up the remaining nine tracks. He’s culled together a collection of crack musicians to back him up on this endeavor: Gary Versace (piano), Alan Ferber (trombone), Joe Martin (bass), Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and Obed Calvaire (drums) and selectively employs the services of his non-rhythm section players to fit each song’s requirements. This three-to-seven piece band bring out Manricks’ advanced vision for each tune, showing much poise to not overplay as to not disturb the essence of each tune.

It’s evident from Trigonometry that Manricks loves to integrate knotty rhythms with naturally flowing melodic lines in such a way that attest his aptitude for scoring pieces for full orchestras, as he’s done in the past. The mathematically structured of the title tune sets up problems and resolutions in a compact, quartet setting. “Sketch,” with it’s craggy ostinato that’s cut up into pieces at one point and devolved into a drum solo at another, shows off Manricks ability to play off of an elliptical beat, finding the right gaps to place his notes. A full, three piece horn line is utilized for the sophisticated soulful groove of “Cluster Funk.” A traditional, blues strut permeates “Slippery,” but even here Manricks slyly inserts rhythmic and Monk-like melodic meanderings that make makes the song more interesting below the surface. “Nucleus” is a sextet exercise that recalls some of Cedar Walton‘s better compositions.

As a realization of a bevy of both talent and experience, Trigonometry, which went on sale on June 22, is just what the doctor—literally speaking—ordered. Visit Dr. Manricks’ website here. Oh, and here’s Manricks playing a live version fo “Sketch,” with a different but no less stellar band:

Steve Davis Images: Trombonist Steve Davis might owe much of bop-oriented ‘bone to the great J.J. Johnson, but alto legend Jackie McLean looms large in his life, too. Having learned and worked under Jackie Mac, Davis also played in the final incarnation of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as well as served in Chick Corea’s Origin ensemble and a number of notable big bands. With a dozen of so records under his own name since the mid-nineties, Davis last month released his second one for Posi-Tone, Images.

A tribute to his adopted hometown of Hartford, CT, Davis’ ten originals clearly show the influence of McLean, Blakey and many other hard bop luminaries who have contributed to his significant career. For this album, Davis goes with his working quintet consisting of Mike DiRubbo on alto sax, David Bryant on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, Josh Evans on trumpet/flugelhorn and Eric McPherson on drums (tenor saxophonist Kris Jensen sits in for one tune). The repertoire and lineup make this sound like a typical Jazz Messengers record, a pleasing blend of tempos and an emphasis on soulful groove.

It begins with the snappy, no-
nonsense swing of “Nato” and powers on with the controlled hot numbers of “Tune For Calhoun” and “Club 880.” Even the midtempo compositions like “The Modernist” and ballads like “Rose Garden” and “Kenny’s” retain highly identifiable soulful characters that shape memorable moods, and everyone in the band is playing with taste and an ear on what the others are doing. It’s the kind of chemistry you’d expect from guys who have gotten accustomed to playing together. With most tracks running in the five-to-seven minute range, solos are kept succinct and meaningful.

Anyone with an affinity for the steady groovin’ straight-bop developed and propagated by Steve Davis’ heroes would have nothing but love for Davis’ Images. Visit Steve Davis’ website here.

Wayne Escoffery Uptown: Tenor sax specialist Wayne Escoffery’s last CD came out way back in September of last year, but it remains such an enjoyable record to listen to, I can’t go without saying a few words about it.

This is record that brings to mind all those great Jimmy Smith Blue Noters Smith did with Stlanley Turrentine. Esoffery, like Turrentine, has a big, souful tenor voice, but Escoffery’s is a little smoother around the edges. Another key components on this album is the organist, who was the piano player on Manricks’ album covered above. Gary Versace is a fine pianist, but when he sits behind a B-3, he has a way of elevating everyone around him. Witness the crucial role he played in making John Ellis’ first record leading his delightfully eccentric Double-Wide combo. Guitarist Avi Rothbard is helping things along with his Pat Martino stylings on tunes like “Cross Bronx.” Escoferry’s own considerable abilities work just as well for the softer songs, such as what he does to give justice to Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care.” Escoffery’s own “Gulf Of Aqaba” is fashioned as a fusion song, and Jason Brown’s cymbal-laden rock beat sets the tone for the leader’s incendiary solo. “Nu Soul” is a cool, contemporary sounding number that doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of straight jazz, another original where Escoffery successfully marries other elements into post bop.

Uptown is just one of one several examples of noteworthy organ jazz coming from Posi-Tone, and one of the best ones, too. Visit Wayne Escoffery’s website here.

BONUS: For more of the sweet, sax sounds of Escoffery, check out his acoustic jazz collaboration with former schoolmates Playdate, which includes the talented plectrist, Amanda Monaco. This one has likewise been out since last September, and also features Noah Baerman (piano), Henry Lugo (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).

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