In follow-up to our 2015 Newport Jazz Festival preview last week, (see www.newportjazzfest.org for the lineup for Friday-Sunday, July 31st-August 2nd), it’s an easy segue into discussing a small independent recording label from Florida with a big classic jazz swing heart – one that pumps out audiophile quality recordings time and time again from its roster of outstanding artists. We speak here of Arbors Records (www.arborsrecords.com) founded in 1989 with a clear passion for good sound and the mining of vital swing from such far-flung inspirations as Django Reinhardt to Congo Square’s Sidney Bechet.
Here at bostonconcertreviews, we have a stack of Arbor Records CDs always at the ready. Their sonic treats include a consistent quality for great tactile presence; accurate image dimensionality; first-row dynamic punch and soundstages that capture the layered and intimate confines of their individual recording spaces. Above all, Arbor Records consistently deliver a naturalness that sets the stage for enjoying the individual virtuosity and styles of superb musicians and the easygoing soulfulness of this great music.
Examples of Arbor Records’ recording favorites abound. Take the first CD off the pile and we find guitarist Howard Alden’s I Remember Django [Arbor Records 19401], a recording that is a feast for the ears. Alden is joined by a group of rousing partners, including mercurial clarinetist Anat Cohen (Alden and Cohen appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival a few years ago and brought down the tent).
Cohen joins Alden on several numbers including Duke Ellington’s “Jubilee Stomp” – a number that will have you gasping for air with its frenetic swing and surging energy between these two sympathetic partners. (Check out Alden’s sparkling acoustic guitar on “Nagasaki” for another thrill ride). Alden’s “For Django” is another highlight: a gauzy ballad with Cohen slowly swirling and sashaying next to Alden’s nimble guitar and Jon Burr’s shifting bass lines. Also joining Alden on his roving masterpiece of a recording is Warren Vache, a cornet player of extraordinary range and versatility. Take a listen to the deep “Insensiblement” and linger for a while on Vache’s airy and polished cornet sound, meandering and flowing and packed with this diminutive horn’s soulful character.
Vache has found a home at Arbor Records and he appears on several recordings, including our favorite: Top Shelf [Arbor Records 19399] where he appears with his compatriot, trombonist John Allred, and their Quintet.
This is one of those performances where you never want the players to leave the stage. The recording has an informal, spontaneous feel that is infectious and addicting. From the opening salvo of Blue Mitchell’s “Top Shelf,” (with Allred belting out a fabulous trombone solo ranging all over the map-leaving just enough space for the creative mind of pianist Tardo Hammer to put his own stamp on the swing), you know this is going to be a treat of a session. Highlights are numerous on this fantastic recording. “Sweet Pumpkin” is a twitchy little gem, with nervy duets between Vache and Allred that scamper and linger in long held metallic tones (before Hammer lays down his own bluesy romp). Clifford Brown’s “Tiny Capers” is another crisp interplay with a buoyant feel (propelled along by Leroy Williams’ sparkling cymbals and snare work) while Monk’s “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues” gets the full blues treatment. Allred’s trombone is superb on “Moonlight in Vermont,” where he solos showcasing his myriad soft colors; his sweeping trills and plunging slides; his wide and soulful tone.
Vache gets his chance to shine on such great numbers as Cannonball Adderley’s “Spontaneous Combustion” where he works his cornet with tightly focused lines crisply up and down his register, tumbling and free flying, with assertive bursts along the way.
Throughout these delectable proceedings, Nicki Parrott’s acoustic bass is an unfolding wonder, keeping the foundational swing solid and plucky with a solo presence that is both propulsive and radiantly deep.
Parrott is not only an artful bass player but she is also a gifted vocalist, with a lively vocal style that is supple, weightless and witty. She too has some strong recordings of her own on Arbors Records.
A favorite is People Will Say We’re In Love [Arbors Records 19335] in which Parrott mines classic tunes from Cole Porter to Gershwin in her own buoyant style, with her sympathetic partner, pianist Rossano Sportiello. This duo can be explosive (as on the opener, “The Cup Bearers” or “Moon Shadow” – with Parrott’s bass humming along in dazzling punctuations with Sportiello clambering for another whimsical piano run) or they can be sweet and bluesy, as they are on “Blues For Basie” and “You Blew Out The Flame In My Heart”.
Parrott will also string you along with her marvelous vocal skills.
Porter’s “Let’s Do It” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” are suave, witty puffs of delight. Parrott’s breathy and light vocal quips and silvery vocals match perfectly with Sportiello’s spiffy piano inventions and delicate spray of notes. On “Moon River” and Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” these partners bring their suppleness to capture the tenderness in these numbers, with a sureness of phrase and an easygoing companionship.
And, speaking of tenderness, there is no one more expressive in communicating tenderness, (or boldness), on the clarinet than clarinetist extraordinaire Evan Christopher- one of our favorite jazz clarinetists who has also appeared at Newport Jazz Festival to rave reviews.
In our stack of Arbors Records, Christopher has two recording gems: Delta Bound [Arbors Records 19325] (with a quartet including the magnificent Dick Hyman on piano) and Remembering Song [Arbors Records 19383] with another great quartet that includes Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar).
Both of these recordings let Christopher’s glowing and expressive clarinet do the talking. His narratives are taken from the rich heritage of music from the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans and the songs are filled with joy, sorrow and every human emotion. The players that surround Christopher on these two recordings are stellar and their partnership and timing to react to every spirited twist and turn in Christopher’s expressive clarinet playing is uncanny and beautiful to hear. Nothing fancy here: just a group of outstanding musicians (led by one amazingly spirited clarinetist), seeking the source of their inspiration in Jelly Roll Morton’s warm caresses (“My Home Is In A Southern Town”) or in the Tin Pan Alley quips of “Vieux Carre” and the sway of “Kiss Me Sweet.”
Christopher and his band mates certainly know how to kiss the music sweetly, and Arbors Records knows how to take all this great swing home in glorious fashion.