Monday, March 28, 2016

A gift from his Texas days, U Indy's Freddie Mendoza issues Los Jazz Vatos CD

Freddie Mendoza, with his "other" horn
When he taught in Texas before coming to the University of Indianapolis last year, Freddie Mendoza was a major composing/performing/arranging force in the band Los Jazz Vatos. The release "El Jefe" (Lounge Side Records) is a great exhibition of this sextet, with a few other musicians making cameo appearances.

The arrangements are meaty, and everyone crafts solos that get right to the point. The title tune, one of Mendoza's, yields to a Jimmy Shortell trumpet solo that is fully in the spirit of the tune. The ensemble works together cohesively, and the conciseness of the soloing never sounds offhand or short on ideas. It's the essence of what's meant by the kudos "taking care of business."

The label's name seems to be addressed in "Ted's Groove," in which the hot temperature of "El Jefe" is lowered to a cool lounge atmosphere. Its four-to-the-bar swing indicates immediately that the band enjoys a North American groove just as much as it feels comfortable in a Latin-jazz idiom.

Mendoza's trombone soloing particularly caught my interest. A Latinization of "Cantaloupe Island," the Herbie Hancock classic, features one of his fiery solos. "Lindo San Anto" offers a particularly catchy display opportunity for Terry Bowness on piano. The keyboardist seems just as much at home on organ: His wailing phrases punctuate the blasting band assault in "6th Street Messin' Round" over drummer Ernie Durawa's New Orleans-style shuffle pulse.

Mendoza leads the charge in Arturo Sandoval's "Conjunto," with added percussion from Jose Galeano and a particularly captivating tenor-saxophone solo by Steven Vague.

Mendoza's "Jay Jay's Blues" (which has got to be a tribute to Indianapolis' J.J. Johnson) closes out the disc, featuring particularly burning work from Mendoza and trumpeter Shortell. For sheer cheesy fun, Shortell picks up the accordion on "Laredo Rose' as Bowness pours on the organ sentimentality.
Justin Mullens waxes mythological in "Cornucopiad."

Another brass player, this one a specialist in the French horn, has an odd concept album on BJU Records. Justin Mullens' "Cornucopiad" is a blend of mythologically inspired originals, several standards, and short linking material for just his horn and Pete Thompson's guitar.
The effect resembles — in a less gruesome way — what it's like to read Ernest Hemingway's "In Our Time," with its short prose sketches, many of them violent, interspersed among the short stories.

As with Hemingway, the sketches (on "Cornucopiad," the horn-guitar bits) seem drawn from a related but separate part of his artistic sensibility.  Mullens shows off his many-splintered tone on an instrument unusual in jazz. Right off the bat (in Freddie Hubbard's "Hub-Tones"), he's fluent, energetic and quite creative in his sense of ensemble. He doesn't ignore the horn's classic woodsy lyricism; it comes to the fore in "You Stepped Out of the Dream."

The guitar-French horn interaction is fundamental to "Amalthea," one of the disc's enchanting originals. Peter Hess' bass clarinet is plangent and evocative in another Mullens piece, "The River Horn." Throughout, the rest of the band is also rich in sonority and balances the leader's individual timbre expertly: Chris Cheek, alto sax and clarinet; Ohad Talmor, tenor sax, Desmond White, bass; Matt Ray, piano, and Marko Djordjevic, drums.

Finally, the New York Standards Quartet celebrates its tenth anniversary on "Power of 10" (Whirlwind Recordings). The bassist, Michael Janisch, is new to the ensemble; the three original members build on their well-honed rapport with the standards that give the group its name: "Embraceable You" really gets a new look, invested with new ideas. "Lush Life," such well-worn terrain for jazz musicians, draws from saxophonist Tim Armacost an amazingly inventive solo.

"Hidden Fondness" is a clever contrafact based on "Secret Love," the work of pianist David Berkman. A concise account of "Polkadots and Moonbeams" poses Armacost and drummer Gene Jackson in conversation to conclude the disc.

 Happy birthday, gentlemen!

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