MARK ANTHONY FEBBO OPENS HIS HEART IN "DRY RIVER REDEMPTION"
"ORANGE COLORED SKY" MAKES THE TUCSON JAZZ INSTITUTE SHINE
Mark Anthony Febbo has traveled a long way from his 2013 recording with the Tucson country-eclectic band Clam Tostada. Just like the Mississippi River, Febbo has become wider, deeper and lots more interesting.
The declaration of this richer sound in both his singing and songwriting is Febbo's new and surely to become eponymous CD release, the 12-track “Dry River Redemption.”
Recorded locally at the studio of his new singing partner Oscar Fuentes, all the songs are Febbo originals. He gives a co-writing credit to Billy Sedlmayr for “Blue Monsoon” and to Buck Burns for “Sleepy Eyes.”
Americana is the sort of label most often given to this blend of country and folkish sounds, timeless in its own way. But I would suggest a new category, “two-lane lament,” or “roadhouse revival,” or maybe “desert soul.”
Febbo sings from a spot that's way deep in his past, sealed away and never touched until now. Not loneliness, exactly, but private. Very private. So personal that it's doubtful anyone else could give these lyrics the intensity and intonation they require.
These are the songs of men accustomed to riding long distances by themselves, preferably at night. Driving and thinking. Driving and hearing lyrics that take shape from the hum of the asphalt, thoughts left hanging in the dim glow of dash lights and cigarettes.
Each plaintive cut on “Dry River Redemption” tells a story, creates an atmosphere, paints a picture of lives haunted by myth (as in “Dulcinea”), possibility (“Living Before You Die”) and Fate itself (“Penitent”).
A third-generation Tucsonan by birth, Febbo mentions the Old Pueblo by name in three other songs, “Urban Hollow,” “Agave Nectar” and “Alfie's Song (Riverside).”
The whole album flaunts this inside knowledge of border life from an older time, before Trump's wall, the internet and cell phones, when everyone helped each other get along as best they could, when survival was always a shared reward.
Febbo's core band is Oscar Fuentes singing harmony and playing various instruments, Thoger Lund on bass and drummer Bruce Halper.
Joining in at different times on various songs are Heather Hardy, electric and acoustic fiddle; Tom Walbank, harmonica; Alvin Blaine, lap steel, pedal steel, dobro and other instruments; Damon Barnaby, Rich Hopkins, guitar; Billy Sedlmayr, Misty Nowak and Lisa Novik, background and harmony vocals.
To hear the music of “Dry River Redemption” and get your own copy, visit markanthonyfebbo.com
"BETWEEN THE SPACES" FILLED WITH THOUGHTFUL LISTENING
"Orange Colored Sky” is the new 11-track album from the Ellington Big Band of the Tucson Jazz Institute, directed by John Black.
Upon the twin pillars of Duke Ellington's compositions “Jack the Bear” and “Sunset and the Mocking Bird” this aggregation of enthusiastic young swingers sets up its own tribute to Nat “King” Cole in the centennial celebration of the legendary singer's birthday (March 17, 1919).
Joining the big band as guest artist is widely recognized Nat Cole interpreter Joe Bourne, singing “Walking My Baby Back Home,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Nature Boy.” “Unforgettable” and a very bouncy version of the title track, “Orange Colored Sky.”
Several of the institute's band members get solo spots that are credited in the liner notes, as well. All the recording was done in June, 2019, at the Tucson Jazz Institute studios in Tucson's Utterback Middle School, with Levi Post serving as recording, mixing and mastering engineer. Mike Levy is the vocal overdubbing engineer.
Musically the songs recall the time when big bands in the Ellington mold were being tweaked to accommodate the newer sounds of bebop and hard bop as jazz moved through the post-World War II period into the 1950s.
The song list includes “Groove Merchant” by Thad Jones, “Stable Mates” by Benny Golson, “Meetin' Time” by Benny Carter and Frank Foster's “Blues in Frankie's Flat.”
Here's how it goes, title by title.
“Jack the Bear” is big band fun in an easy swinging tempo with lots of color (and a touch of “Night Train”) as each of the sections gets its own solo time. Featured are Colin McIlrath, bass; Jazmin Harvey, piano; Gavin Burgess, lead trombone; Denali Kauffman, Daniel Richard, trombones; Aidan Trujillo, tenor sax, Kevin Ravellett, clarinet and tenor sax; Cameron Davidson, John Sheehan, trumpets.
“Walking My Baby Back Home” sounds smooth and mellow as the Ellington band in top hat mode sets the table for Joe Bourne's vocal.
“Straighten Up and Fly Right”gets all jivy and uptempo as Joe Bourne's voice takes flight, with a fat soprano sax solo by Andrew Gioannetti and flaps-up piano work by Jazmin Harvey and Esme Martin.
“Meetin' Time” has the whole band feeling that down home Sunday spirit, led by Cameron Davidson, trumpet, and Kevin Ravellette, tenor sax.
“Groove Merchant” pulls out all the stops (so to speak) with its full sound of a more modern orchestration, including one long unison solo riff for the entire saxophone section. Individual highlights are provided by Jazmin Harvey, piano, Denali Kauffman, trombone, and Kevin Ravellette, tenor sax.
“Nature Boy” gets a thoughtful reading full of mystery from the TJI Concord Combo and Joe Bourne's haunted phrasing, entwined with Ben Canfield's atmospheric tenor sax.
“Orange Colored Sky” seizes the moment as Joe Bourne's pumped up vocal and the band's energy give this 1950s jump tune the benefit of Tucson's pride in its own orange colored skies.
“Stable Mates” has a need for speed with lots of romping around to dial up the dexterity. Going for the red line in their solos are Cameron Davidson, trumpet, Denali Kauffman, trombone, Andrew Gioannetti, alto sax, and Kevin Revellette, tenor sax.
“Sunset and the Mocking Bird” pauses for artistic, touching moments a la Ellington with exceptional piano playing from Esme Martin as Duke's alter ego. Additional solos of a similar tone are provided by Kevin Ravellette, clarinet, and Shaun Adcock, alto sax.
“Blues in Frankie's Flat” goes for unchained big band swing powered by fat chords and exhilarating accents. This is road music for extra-long convertibles with tall tail fins, made for really wide lanes. The high octane soloists are Aiden Trujillo, tenor sax, Cameron Davidson, trumpet, Denali Kauffman, trombone, and Esme Martin, piano.
“Unforgettable,” arguably Nat Cole's most beloved ballad, receives Joe Bourne's full attention in the TJI Concord Combo format, enhanced by Denali Kauffman's piano.
The complete line-up for the Ellington Big Band is: saxophones; Andrew Gioannetti, Shaun Adcock, Kevin Ravellette, Paymon Sadat, Aidan Trujillo, Ryan Wilson; trumpets; John Sheehan, Cameron Davidson, Nicholas Perez, Isabella Sagia, Tyler Ballentine; trombones; Denali Kauffman, Gavin Burgess, Daniel Richard, Brennan Miller; piano, Esme Martin, Jazmin Harvey; guitar and bass, Ryan Magness, Colin McIlrath; drums, Jayden Lopez, Kenji Lancaster.
The TJI Concord Combo, directed by Brice Winston, includes Denali Kauffman, piano, Ben Canfield, saxophone, Owen Green, drums.
For details on getting your own copy of “Orange Colored Sky” visit tucsonjazzinstitute.org
LOCAL JAZZ HEROES RELEASE THEIR FIRST CD
"LIVE AT THE NASH"
Longing for a jazz album that feels gentle and relaxed, yet stimulating in a thoughtful way? Sounds impossible, doesn't it, particularly in these over-stimulated times of relentless social media messaging and video commercials demanding our attention on 5,000 channels 24/7.
Tasteful memories of the Modern Jazz Quartet come to mind, but here in freshly minted 2020 jazz itself has become quite squirmy. A maze of choices without a road map.
Choosing the path of thoughtfulness is bassist Jeff Denson's trio with French guitarist (and former Berklee classmate) Romain Pilon along with like-minded drummer Brian Blade. The three men together play with one mind, uncanny in their ability to anticipate each other's thoughts, on their debut release “Between Two Worlds.”
This is not beer-drinking music, for sure, but more of a 16-year-old single malt scotch opportunity to let all the senses go exploring on their own.
The musicians themselves project this sense of wonder at their discoveries together. You could play this album for a year and still be hearing new quips, new touches, in the deeply textured grooves.
All that understatement and sophistication could be credited, in part, to Denson's childhood, growing up in the Washington DC area, and gigging heavily on the DC jazz scene. He also studied at Northern Virginia Community College and Virginia Commonwealth University before heading north to graduate from Berklee.
Adding a few more academic degrees to his bandstand experience, Denson eventually settled in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming a ranking faculty member at the California Jazz Conservatory.
Pilon became instant friends with Denson at Berklee some 20 years ago, keeping in touch after graduation as the Frenchman built his own career between Paris and New York. Also a composer, he evenly splits all the songwriting duties with Denson on the album's 10 tracks.
Drummer and Louisiana native Blade was first a kid singing gospel in Shreveport's Zion Baptist Church where his father was the pastor. Once the younger Blade became a student at Loyola University in New Orleans, he was invited to play with all the music masters of the Delta. He parlayed that experience into career work with artists ranging from Marian Faithful to Bob Dylan to Norah Jones.
The 10 pieces of original work are arranged on the CD like a concert program. The first track introduces each of the band members on the lyrical "Sucre."
"Song of a Solitary Crow" kicks up the tempo. "En Trois Temps" switches to lightly swinging waltz time. "Nostalgic Farewell" feels a little Latin. "Listen Up" has a quicker beat, even adding some crunchy chords. "Madrid" pushes an even harder rhythm, but never gets rude about it.
The title track "Between Two Worlds" is placed ninth, introducing some appropriately mysterious effects which are enhanced by the album-closing "Azur."
In the liner notes, Denson says “Between Two Worlds” expresses that space we all experience floating between “the physical plane” and a powerful spiritual reality “that can only be found with the most open of ears, hearts and minds.”
To hear a sample and order a copy, visit jeffdenson.com
At last, fans of freely swinging straight-ahead jazz from Tucson's own Pete Swan Quartet can hear the music now without the distracting clatter of dishes and disinterested diners in the background.
Best known in these parts for years of regular appearances in the city's popular establishments for fine dining, inspiring the brightest jazz improv in each other for more than a decade, the foursome has released its debut CD, “Live At The Nash” – ironically enough, recorded live in another public place, the Nash jazz club just up Interstate 10 in Phoenix.
The band's eight-track playlist includes a balance of four standards, three titles from the harder-bop neighborhood and a Monk tune, “Bye Ya.”
The American songbook contributions are “It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing,” “I've Never Been In Love Before,” “We'll Be Together Again” and “A Beautiful Friendship.”
A bit younger in calendar years are Herbie Hancock's “Driftin',” Bennie Golson's “Along Came Betty” and the Horace Silver favorite,”Yeah.”
An intently percolating chemistry of jazz interaction is the magic ingredient in this group with Angelo Versace, piano, Brice Winston, tenor sax, Scott Black, bass, and Swan on drums.
Never searching for some extreme chord or arcane rhythm pattern to inflate their own egos, each musician thrives on giving his heart to good ol' honest home cooking. If this band was playing any deeper in the pocket, they would be a handful of nickles, dimes and quarters.
Each player also has a competitive spirit that is, as the sports pages say, “unquenchable.” Using the round-robin format of stating the melody as a unison introduction, then giving each person a solo, has become a fan favorite.
They thrive on those special times that begin when a sparkling phrase early on inspires the next soloist to take the intensity a little higher, which always motivates the third man up to kick it higher still.
Right away you can hear this happen on the opening cut, “It Don't Mean A Thing” when Versace on piano opens the venerable tune at a crisp pace that spins an elaborate series of lyrical upper register runs and dives that turn swing into swirl.
Black's bass responds by deepening the rhythm of his playing with bigger, fatter notes adding some heft to all that filigree.
By then Swan is ready with drum solos that pull the whole portrait together, creating a kind of layered swing effect to let the band's unison ending settle into its own resolve.
On the next track, “Bye Ya,” Winston's robust tenor sax jumps into the rotation, adding muscle with a jaunty opening theme and variations that feel like splashes of bright color streaking across the band's intricately balanced scene.
So it goes on each song, pulling on the personality of the piece as if the quartet and the melody have known each other for a very long time. The album flows by in a variety of moderate time frames, with nods to the blues and a peppery spice of more abstract moments.
For contrast, there is the haunting ballad “We'll Be Together Again,” beginning with an introspective piano line of single notes joined after the chorus by a line of counterpoint bass. This soulful duet continues to the end of the song, their connection stated so simply, building with an understated power that draws you deeply into life's more meaningful memories.
You can get a copy of “Live At The Nash” wherever the band is playing, as well as online 24/7/365 at www.peteswan.com as a digital download for $15 or in the CD format for $23.56, via PayPal. Click on the “store” link at the top of the home page. Still not convinced? On the website you can also play two of the tracks for free.