Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Strings x Three

© Andrea Canter

There’s been an explosion of new CD releases this fall, with local jazz artists no exception—Wendy Zaro, Tyler Anderson, Sophia Shorai, and tonight (10/28), Lee Engele. And there’s more on the horizon, with three new ones coming from local guitar heroes:

Guitarist Joel Shapira and his quartet have been previewing Open Lines, a spirited set that brings together an outstanding bop and beyond ensemble with saxophonist Pete Whitman, bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Dave Schmalenberger. They aired some of these tunes at Hell’s Kitchen last week and an official CD release party is in the works. But meanwhile, the new CD is available from Joel, one of the busier artists in the metro –with this quartet, Pooch’s Playhouse, his duo with Charmin Michelle (Charmin & Shapira) and an occasional gig with Triplicate, as well as frequent supporting roles for area vocalists.

In the realm of full disclosure, I have to note that I did the front and inside jacket photos for Open Lines, well before I heard the music. I hope the artwork adequately conveys the often colorful, sometimes sublime arrangements of an eclectic set of great jazz covers, and the movement of the music, from subtle to outright bouncy. I think it is fair to say that after “shooting” Joel throughout Wild Sound Studios, we had at least one photo that represented each track – boppishly straight ahead (“Have You Met Miss Jones”, “It Could Happen to You”), luxuriously subdued (“Nardis,” “How Insensitive” and “Time Remembered”), adventurously dark (“Invitation”), just a bit funky (“Turnaround”), and teetering on the edge (Frank Foster’s “Simone” and even every high school jazz band’s cover, “Confirmation”). Most telling is the music itself, that open feel to the quartet’s interplay, those “open lines” of communication that inform the disk’s title. (Charmin & Shapira are wrapping up a new CD of their own, stay tuned.)

When Lee Engele celebrates the release of In the Key of L (October 28th at Pardon My French), she’ll bring to the bandstand (as on the CD) a guitarist who is perhaps the most prolific of local recording artists, Reynold Philipsek. Philipsek figures prominently on another upcoming release, this one from Rhonda Laurie and Sidewalk Café (November 17th at the Aster Café). One might label Reynold a studio junkie, with over 30 albums to his credit, averaging at least one per year. Just this past July, he celebrated a full-length recording, All the Things You Are, taking us on a journey through his ancestry and significant life events.

Now Reynold has a new mini-release, a two-track CD in the spirit and design of an old fashioned 45 rpm disk that pays homage to his St. Cloud childhood with a new tune, “St. Germaine Street” and a reprise of an earlier original, “Astoria.” Yes, seems I did the cover photo for this one as well, although originally it was just a photo from one of Reynold’s gigs at Hell’s Kitchen with Sidewalk Café, with Reynold intently strumming the guitar while bassist Jeff Brueske keeps the pulse going. Jeff plays on “Astoria” along with harmonica virtuoso Clint Hoover; percussion master Michael Bissonnette joins in on both tracks.I am not familiar with “St Germaine Street” in St. Cloud but Reynold’s composition gives me an inner view of a vibrant town-center marketplace. At times he creates a near-mandolin sound from his six strings, indeed evoking carefree childhood days of the 60s, a bit nostalgic but forward-moving. On the “B” side, “Astoria” is tango-flavored, with Hoover’s harmonica sitting in for accordion and it all lilts and sways as if an homage to Piazzola… and maybe it is. Astoria?

In a couple weeks, there will be plenty to celebrate when guitarist Dean Magraw returns to the bandstand at the AQ with tabla player Marcus Wise. More than a CD release, this will be one of Magraw’s first gigs since diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) and undergoing a bone marrow transplant in 2009. I haven’t heard this one yet, but any project involving Dean will be worthy listening. The party for the release of How the Light Gets In (Red House Records) is at the Artists Quarter on November 9th. (And Dean’s trio, Red Planet, returns to the AQ December 17-18!)

Photos: (top to bottom), Joel Shapira (one of our out-takes at Wild Sound Studios); Reynold Philipsek with Jeff Brueske (used on the cover of his new 2-tune CD); Dean Magraw at the Artists Quarter in 2008. (All photos by Andrea Canter)