Over the Transom

Jazz Some Friends Asked Me to Tell You About

If Arnie Carruthers is unknown here, Larry Vuckovich, a big-cheese pianist and bandleader in San Francisco, is fondly remembered by many from his brief relocation here in the '80s, when he entered the piano bar rotation for a time before heading home. Vuckovich, who was Vince Guaraldi's protégé in the 1950s when the latter was getting started, records infrequently and never treads the same ground twice. City Sounds, Village Voices (1983) brought the lineaments of modern jazz to the traditional music of Yugoslavia; Tres Palabras (1990) did as much for Brazil. Young at Heart (Robbins-Tetrachord; try lvuckovich@usa.net) does the same for Lester Young. Except for the superb drummer Harold Jones, the members of the sextet are unknown to me, but the twin tenors of Noel Jewkes and Jules Broussard give the album the urbane flush of an abbreviated Basie reed section.

Broussard has the heavier attack and persuasively captures Herschel Evans on "Blue and Sentimental," though he's a little rhapsodic playing Young's famous Keynote solo on "Sometimes I'm Happy." Jewkes is a genuine find, a fluent Youngian on tenor and clarinet whose solos are long, sure, twisty phrases with surprising turns and knowing resolutions—dig his get-off and chorus on "Jumpin' at the Woodside." The album hits the doldrums with an uneventful—except for Jewkes—"She's Just My Size" and an unnecessary vocal (by the bassist) on "Sweet Lorraine," but is otherwise dapper, smart, and swinging, with Vuckovich displaying nearly selfless regard for the economy of Basie piano. He has arranged "Young at Heart" as a lyrical three-note riff with the tenors spreading like butter on the release.

Two more undercover discs I admire are Nicholas Hoffman's Jazzy's Dance (Jazz Friends, Bellingham, WA; try jazzkoo@memes.com) and Nu Soul Zodiac by Gold Sparkle Band (Squealer, Blacksburg, VA; try contactus@squealermusic.com). Hoffman may be an unknown guitarist, but his sidemen include the alternating organs of Dave Mathews and Joey DeFrancesco and long-time-no-see tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman, who himself led a couple of obscure sessions in the '80s. The quartet is occasionally cluttered, though the leader is shrewd enough to take his time and build orderly solos; the backbeat cuts—Willie Dixon's "My Babe," Larry Young's "Backup"—are most effective. "This Can't Be Love" has steady guitar, but could have used a second take to lose the corny tag ending, which undermines Caliman's hip reference, just prior, to "Chasin' the Trane."

Arnie Carruthers, after 40 Years in Spokane
Photo Courtesy of Arnie Carruthers
Arnie Carruthers, after 40 Years in Spokane

The four members of Gold Sparkle Band—altoist-clarinetist Charles Waters, trumpeter Roger V. Ruzow, bassist Adam Roberts, and drummer Andrew D. Barker—also know their Coltrane and their Ayler and Hill and Shepp and Zorn. And all those avant shadows tend to mitigate the overwhelming influence of Ornette Coleman, giving the ensemble a sound of its own, with centered pitch and buoyant rhythms (they know Eddie Blackwell, too) and a touch of klezmer. Only five of 11 selections are over four minutes, and all the pieces are focused, some to produce a single effect—the kinetic drum riff of "Double Bump," the planned chaos of "Splintered Synapse"—while others are rendered dirgelike with arco bass and the addition of cellist Kim Lemonde. Ruzow growls and whinnies, but has a fat broad sound when he wants, and the musicianship is high all around.

The big question about outatown jazz is, How would it stand up in cities with heavyweight jazz populations, which presently appear to be New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. When you are starved for good jazz on the road, you listen less for individuality than competence, and even fair players can sound great lording it over their own villages. Then when you get home, the thrill is gone. These discs sounded good on the road and they still sound good.

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