Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month - "Mark Little Trio: Kindred Spirits"

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month
Mark Little Trio: "Kindred Spirits" (Caralittle Music) 2014

***** (musical performance)
**** (sonic quality)

Produced & Arranged by Mark Little
Co-Produced by Robert De La Garza
Recorded @ Windmill Valley Recording (Bulverde, Texas)
Recorded & Mixed by Robert De La Garza
Mastered by Jerry Tubb @ Terra Nova Digital Audio, Inc. (Austin, TX)

A phenomenal session led by pianist Mark Little, with superlative contributions by Mike Porter (acoustic bass) and Daniel Dowling (drums). Top-class repertoire, alternating inspired renditions of jazz standards with mesmerizing originals ("Rrose Amarillo," "Anthem Jazz," "Sturdy Man" and the title track "Kindred Spirits") plus some classical pieces. The famous Adagio from Beethoven's "Pathetique Sonata" and J.S. Bach's "Air On The G String" (also a favorite of Milcho Leviev, who had recorded it as "Air On A Blue String," a track I gave lots of airplay when working for TUPI-FM radio station ages ago) are both played as jazz ballads.

A third classical work, Chopin's "Prelude In E Minor, Op. 28, No.4" appears mixed with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive," the bossa nova classic inspired by the Prelude. There's another gorgeous bossa, "Caminhos Cruzados," co-written by Jobim and Newton Mendonça, and made internationally famous through João Gilberto's masterpiece album with Claus Ogerman, "Amoroso."

Nevertheless, the CD highlights are the audacious, daring and highly creative treatments provided by the Mark Little Trio to Bill Evans' gem "Time Remembered" (btw, he studied with Evans and combines the master's lyricism with a powerful touch a la McCoy Tyner), an 8-minute version of "Come Rain Or Come Shine" (excellent bass solo, astonishing drumwork), "You Don't Know What Love Is" (simply superb!), "Tenderly" and Charlie Parker's bop anthem "Relaxin' At Camarillo". The musicians' interplay is impeccable throughout the album; the dense and intense approach provided by the leader is impressive. His "inner voice" speaks eloquently and clear. What else could we ask for? So far, one of the best releases of the year.

Mark was born August 28, 1951 in Amarillo, Texas. He began piano lessons at four, and played his first professional gig at six. He joined an R & B group “The Undertakers” at 14, touring with them for four years. Mark moved to Austin in 1970, and played with numerous groups including Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willis Allen Ramsey & Jerry Jeff Walker. He received a scholarship from Berklee School of Music where he got the chance to study with Bill Evans. Little adds that studying with Bill Evans was a “once in a lifetime incredible experience”. He (Bill Evans) talked extensively about developing the “inner voice’s” of the piano and sited Mozart as an example of this technique. By 1975, Mark was teaching at Berklee.

In 1980, Mark moved to California and got the job playing piano for Cleo Lane and John Dankworth, performing with them at many venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center in New York City, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and Royal Albert Hall in London.

He composed and arranged for Bobby McFerrin, as well as performing with him at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. He toured the United States and Europe with Maria Muldaur, working at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City and Ronnie Scott’s in London, among other places. On tour with Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan, Mark played the hottest clubs on the West Coast including Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

He “tenured” as the musical director and pianist for E.W. Wainwrights African Roots of Jazz. During which time he did special “command performances” for Nelson Mandela , Danny Glover and Louis Farrakhan .

Mark has worked with many great jazz artists, including Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders, Grady Tate, Eddie Henderson, Morgana King, Joe Lovano, Ted Curson, Shorty Rogers, Chico Freeman , Bobby Hutcherson, Steve Allen, Ryo Kawasaki, Don Moye, Morganna King, Bud Shank, and Melba Moore.

He recorded his first album as a leader, “Dreamwalk’n” in 1993 on the Monarch label and received his first Grammy nomination. Little’s second CD, “The Tribe” was recorded in 1995 again for Monarch, and gave Little his second Grammy nomination. His third CD, “Birthright,” was a solo live performance at the famous Maybeck Recital Hall released in 1999.

Little’s 2003 CD, “Isn’t Art It!” released on his own label “Caralittle Music” is all original compositions dedicated to the life and work of his brother Ken Little which demonstrates Mark’s versatility of styles and creativity.

Mark moved to San Antonio in 2004 and has played with numerous groups including his brother Ken Little’s band, Richie Cole’s Alto Madness orchestra and  Kyle Kyner’s Small World with Polly Harrison and Richard Oppenheim. A new chapter starts now with "Kindred Spirits".

In the words of Mark’s old friend the late, great, John Dankworth, “Mark Little’s spirited playing amply demonstrates his total immersion in the music he loves, not to mention his wholehearted commitment to it. His fluent improvisations explore ever-changing routes with a surprise around nearly every corner; they sometimes display extraordinary virtuosity and sometimes almost disarming simplicity, yet are never devoid of interest. He shows himself to be an exciting performer whose work is still developing; this bodes well for the future of this highly individual artiste.”

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