RACHEL Z - Jazz Piano - Female Jazz Artists - Vertu - "Eclectic Earwig Reviews Music and More for You!"
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Rachel Z, Room of One�s Own (57:23) NYC Records, NYC 6023-2, 1996 Phone: 212-627-9426 Cyberhome: www.nycrecords.com A stunningly good record by pianist Rachel Z, Room of One�s Own features a stellar lineup of musicians, including saxophonist George Garzone, violinist Regina Carter, flutist Helen Campo, bassists Tracy Wormworth and Charnett Moffett, and drummers Cindy Blackman and Terri Lynne Carrington. Four tracks feature a beautiful wind ensemble that includes top-notch players such as Donny McCaslin and John Clark. Maria Schneider, the great big band composer, orchestrates and conducts the ensemble on "Artemisia" and "Gently Sleeps the Pear Tree," while Alvaro Cordero performs the same duties on "Feel the Power" and "Ship of Tears." Vibraphone master and Steps Ahead leader Mike Mainieri produced the record, so its success is in part a testament to his supremely good taste.

The music on this all-original album is accessible yet without a hint of commercialism. Z�s piano playing is superb. The ensemble formats vary widely; the wind ensemble tracks contrast nicely with the straightahead quartet pieces "Room of One�s Own" and "Set Her Free," as well as unique configurations like "Dance of the Lioness Cub," featuring Z on piano, Helen Campo on flute, and Mino Cinelu on percussion. Z�s unaccompanied solo piece "Talking to Electrons" is also a highlight.

Z dedicates each tune to a notable woman, and the hall of greats includes not only the musical figures Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell, but also women from the fields of literature, dance, painting, and film. These tributes ring true, and they add a genuinely personal touch. ~David R. Adler

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Rachel Z, Love Is the Power (47:18) GRP, GRD-9929, 1998 Cyberhome: www.grp.com Produced by smooth jazz keyboardist and programmer Michael Bearden, Love Is the Power is not one of pianist Rachel Z�s better efforts. Since Z herself forswore this smooth jazz direction in the November 2000 issue of Downbeat, there�s not much sense piling on more negative feedback, and this album has received plenty. Let�s just say that as far as smooth jazz goes, this writer has heard far worse. Z�s acoustic piano is out front and center, and Nick Moroch�s nylon-string guitar solos are pleasing to the ear. Still, if this is a move that Z plans never to repeat, good for her. Hopefully, that also includes the sexploitative album cover photo. ~David R. Adler Listen to samples & Buy CDs/DVDs here

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Vert�: self-titled (CD, 59:52); Legacy/550 Music -BK69871, 1999 550 Madison Ave., #1779 New York, NY 10022-3211 Phone: 212-833-4448 (Tom Cording) E-mail: LegacyMediaRelations@sonymusic.com Cyberhome: http://www.vertumusic.com Vert� is a new group with former Return to Forever mates Stanley Clarke and Lenny White at its core. Billed as "The Second Coming of Fusion," the band's debut release is thick with references to RTF's heyday - tight, rhythmically punchy unison figures, unexpected tempo changes and orchestral shifts, and in particular Stanley Clarke's inimitable staccato, high-register bass solos. Stanley is the star of this disc. After his half-hearted foray into "smooth jazz" over the last several years, he's back to playing music he really cares about, and it shows. His soloing contains as much spark and individuality as ever. His bass is definitely a melody instrument in this group, almost as much as Karen Briggs's violin and Richie Kotzen's guitar - and yet he always anchors the bottom register and drives the band when it needs driving. This is in keeping with the innovative electric bass tradition he did so much to establish back in the 70s. How nice, also, to hear him play upright bass on two tracks, his own "Topasio, Part Two" and Lenny White's "Danse of the Harlequin." If Stanley is the star, keyboardist Rachel Z is certainly the co-star. Her synth textures and chordal underpinnings give this music a lot of its character, and her acoustic piano is featured in abundance, which is one of the most welcome echoes of old RTF. Her confident solo on the mid uptempo swing of "Topasio, Part Two" is one of the disc's highlights. She also plays some propulsive single-note fills during "Toys," the album's closer penned by Stanley Clarke. However, these are only glimpses of her improvisational prowess, leaving this listener wishing for more extended solo time and fewer flashy unison passages and self-consciously slick changes of feel and tempo. Particularly in "Toys," there's so much virtuosity on display, instrumentally and compositionally, that one can't even digest it - and it doesn't tell a coherent story. Musicality is at times swept away in the desire to establish the band's virtuoso credentials, which are already well known. That's not to say that there aren't some exceptionally musical moments on this CD: Stanley's beautiful melodic statement on Karen Briggs's "Anoch�," the catchy 5/4 shuffle and syncopated unison figure of Lenny White's "The Call," the intimate, pure, and lyrical opening of Clarke's "Topasio, Part One" (the tune becomes a little stiff as it develops), and the crisp 9/8 pulse of White's "Danse." Hats off to Lenny White not only for his excellent drumming, but also for writing the best cut on the record. Like the late Tony Williams, White is both a masterful drummer and composer. On "Danse," we also get to hear Kotzen on acoustic guitar, which is a welcome departure from his arena rock, Steve Vai-ish approach on much of the disc. Kotzen plays the pyrotechnic style expertly and is a formidable talent, but it's just not my thing, and it injects an aroma of heavy metal flashiness into the overall sound of the band. I guess I like my jazz/rock fusion heavier on the jazz than the rock. Oh, and I have to say that Kotzen contributes the worst track on the album hands down, a very weak R&B power ballad called "Start It Again." Kotzen's singing is melodramatic and his lyrics are clich�d, to put it mildly. Overall, though, Vert� gives fusion fans, and especially RTF fans, much to chew on. Pick up the record and catch them on tour. ~ David R. Adler
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"TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE." So, now read Legatogort's REVIEW #2 of Vert� . . .

Vert�: self-titled (CD, 59:52); 550 Music/Legacy BK 69871, 1999


Vertu: self-titled is a joy long overdue, a "hats off" to jazz fusion. The '70s saw an explosion of jazz rock fusion groups. They need not be listed here again. The advantage of being nouveau rock enlisted a fresh group of fans, loyal devotees, and the inevitable faddish clan. With the gradual fan-base attrition, the rise of disco, and the floundering big-hair glam of the '80s -- fusion fizzled. Fusion hunkered down into a diehard, low-keyed trickle mode. Locating "golden age" fusion that hadn't mutated into semi-smooth jazz or dance floor, funk rock was a challenge for the thirsty devotee. Many a fine fusion artist simply vanished or was absorbed into the old whatever- else-works genre. I heard them say, "I grew beyond fusion . . ." while I heard the real vibes instead -- sour grapes make lemons sweet. The fiery flame dwindled into a muted flicker. Stubborn fusionists looked elsewhere to foreign lands, to the obscure -- for the good stuff. Now, over a quarter of a century later at least some of the big boys, the phat cats of fusion are back. Stanley Clarke and Lenny White of the legendary Return To Forever show their old habits do die hard. With them, for this '90s reprise, is the formidable femme, Rachel Z on inspired and wondrous keyboards and Richie Kotzen on rockin' guitars. To further enhance the full fusion spectrum, lending that Mahavishnu Orchestra punch, is Karen Briggs on fiery and fusion-heavy violin. Hear Clarke's signature bass solos, White's superb polyrhythmic drums, Z's ivory-clean runs, Briggs' virtuoso bowing, and the bluesy-rock, jazz-inflected riffs of Kotzen. There loads and loads of delicious morsels of fleeting unison lines, solos, and stimulating compositions. Enjoy the obvious tributes and surprise appearances of nostalgia rush on "On Top of the Rain" and "The Call". Opening track, "V-Wave" may cause many a glass of wine to overturn and CD jewel case to hit the ceiling on its attack-and-decimate opening! "Marakesh" as a slick, world fusion, groove throb, funk-jazz piece, definitely needs radio play -- globally. On "Toys", I must say I heard Vert� at their very best. I finally got to hear Rachel Z stretch a precious bit all alone. Lenny White exploded on the skins. Briggs went delightfully crazy and yet stayed oh so tight on the unison runs. Clarke pushed it all to that mountaintop climax and sea floor-rumbling trench while Kotzen kept a controlled crunch ripping. What a perfect outro! In all subjective fairness I have to say I wished "Start It Again" had been merely a hidden track with its rhythm-n-blues, soulman-Kotzen vocals, and fusionless shufflings. It just did not work itself into the album's aura. I guess it was somehow considered a radio-play, crossover genre track. Go figure. Lastly, Kotzen as a the guitarist of choice for Vert� baffles me. He has brief flashes of fusion stylings when doing unison lines with Briggs or during the Di Meola/Connors overdriven melody note mimicry. But . . . his soloing, phrasings, and fills, being very strong in technique, are still lackluster, go-speed-racer-rock and fall short of fusion-fed guitar life as we devotees know it. Kotzen approaches that good olde Ray Gomez bluefuserock gestalt but I keep hearing straightup pentatonic riff-rock driving it all in that post-Poison mode. Maybe next time out Kotzen will deliver the real fusion goods like Connors, McLaughlin, Holdsworth, Henderson, Gambale, Garsed, Helmerich, McGill, and others have done so deftly. For rock enthusiasts crossing over into '90s fusion -- Kotzen will be a more than solid delight and perhaps that is exactly what is hoped and expected. All in all, Vert� is a very strong offering that will please jazz fusionists everywhere, X-generation young and RTF-old. High recommendations. ~ John W. Patterson
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