When William “Count” Basie passed away in April of 1984 it felt like a particular kind of swing was gone forever. In 70 years of practically constant performing Basie’s band developed an almost supernatural feel for the relentless, swinging music that is at the heart of jazz. Even the various Basie “ghost bands” couldn’t duplicate the feeling of a performance when the Count was at the helm.
Fortunately, really excellent jazz musicians respect and love tradition in music above all else. So the swing that Basie perpetuated wasn’t actually dead at all. It was merely dormant. And it was awakened in a huge way in 2003 with the release of the Lori Mechem Quartet’s first recording, “Shiny Stockings”. Now, six years later, Lori and her compatriots are revisiting the Basie Songbook. They have perfected their homage to the Basie band. And it is glorious! There are moments on this new recording when if you close your eyes and allow yourself to really get lost in the music you will swear that Basie and his men are back for the inevitable “one more time.”
From the sublime beauty of Thad Jones’ composition, “To You” to the emotion drenched rendering of “Blue and Sentimental” by modern day tenor titan Pete Christlieb and ending with a raucously swinging version of “Jumpin’At the Woodside” this is music that conveys the entire spectrum of emotions. Just like the Basie band at their best.
I feel sure that this is a disc that would make Count smile. I really miss that smile, don’t you?
Mechem is in particular a real eye opener. She is not only an impressive soloist, but a vigilant and perceptive accompanist.
All About Jazz
“April In Paris” comes out swingin’ with Freddie Green’s “Corner Pocket” and ends with Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”. You don’t have to go Europe to enjoy April In Paris, you can enjoy it right here, right now in full swing on the latest release by The Lori Mechem Quartet.
Creator XM Satellite Radio’s
Real Jazz XM 70
More irresistable, bowl-you-over Basie. Lori and the guys score big again with “April In Paris…”
Here is another review…..
All About Jazz – By Jack Bowers
I fell head-over-heels in love with the tenor saxophone the first time I heard Zoot Sims play one, and my heart (thank goodness) has never quite recovered from the impact. These days I have two tenors of choice, one on each coast—Eric Alexander in the east, Pete Christlieb way out west. And the strange part is, about the only thing they have in common is that they both play the same horn. Alexander is a hard-line, straight-ahead, no-nonsense swinger from the Dexter Gordon/George Coleman (and Zoot Sims) school, whereas Christlieb dances nimbly and impulsively with the edge, much like altoist Lee Konitz or the late Warne Marsh, and one seldom knows what avenue he may choose to explore or where the next phrase may lead him. Truth be told, Christlieb could play the phone book and make it sound intriguing.
Christlieb doesn’t play the phone book at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave, but he’s all over the tenor, as usual, in an electrifying live performance with the remarkably adept and supportive Lori Mechem Quartet. While there’s no doubt that Christlieb is the headliner, Mechem and her colleagues are there when he needs them, conveying the impression that this was a well-rehearsed gig instead of a hastily planned session, occasioned by Christlieb’s brief stopover in Nashville in April 2006.
Mechem, in particular, is a real eye-opener. What a pianist with her singular talent is doing in Nashville is anyone’s guess, but they’re lucky to have her. She’s not only an impressive soloist (who numbers among her influences Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, Monty Alexander, Erroll Garner and Bill Evans), but a vigilant and perceptive accompanist who always finds the proper notes to underscore precisely Christlieb’s impromptu acrobatics. Bassist Roger Spencer, drummer Chris Brown and rhythm guitarist Andy Reiss round out a splendid group that is by no means eclipsed or overawed by its celebrated guest star.
The music chosen for the concert is for the most part well-known, consisting of half a dozen standards plus jazz evergreens by Evans (Turn Out the Stars) and Benny Carter’s When Lights Are Low, Only Trust Your Heart. Luckily, Christlieb is a peerless balladeer, as there are four on the menu, including the requisite encore, Ellington/Strayhorn’s Day Dream. The snappy flag-wavers are Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein’s “The Song Is You” and Franz Lehar’s sunny opener, “Yours Is My Heart Alone”. Speaking of alone, Christlieb devises a breathtaking unaccompanied cadenza on We’ll Be Together Again.
In sum, this is a marvelous live performance, splendidly recorded with generous sixty-nine minute playing time. Don’t be put off by the fact that Christlieb’s companions are unknown; this is as sharp and stalwart a quintet as you are likely to encounter in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or anywhere else.
Parade of Stars- by Chuck Chellman
PETE CHRISTLIEB with the LORI MECHEM QUARTET “Live At The Jazz Cave” Artist: Pete Christlieb/Lori Mechem Quartet
Label: Cognito (Independent)
Oftentimes, listening to a great jazz album is like treating yourself to a gourmet meal. When you’re hungry for good jazz and recognizable tunes, this is the complete choice of the entire menu. The menu consists of eight items and all are delicious.
The ingredients are Pete Christlieb on tenor sax, Lori Mechem piano, Andy Reiss guitar, Roger Spencer bass and Chris Brown drums.
Christlieb has a great history across America having worked with the “Tonight Show Orchestra” for twenty years and countless recording sessions over the years and doing jazz club gigs. The club dates were mostly on the West Coast. The Nashville music community was treated to hear this recording being cut live at the Jazz Cave.
The album opens with the wonderful “Yours Is My Heart Alone”. We never get tired of this evergreen; yet Pete, Lori, Andy, Roger and Chris give it a fresh new life. Many think “Limehouse Blues” is a worn out nag. It certainly isn’t worn out with this group. The tempo is a really neat medium groove and the playing is strong throughout. Andy Reiss’ rhythm guitar and Spencer’s solid bass lines make it easy for Pete and Lori’s fine solo work. Hearing the instrumental rendition of the Billy Eckstine classic “You’ve Changed” is a special treat. They make this beautiful ballad sparkle with the treatment given. You can hear the love come across in all the solos. Ditto “We’ll Be Together Again”. We could list all the songs and declare them all favorites. We’d rather you buy this album off the Workshop’s website and find your own favorite. Now that we have devoured this classic dish of music, the desert fits the meal. The always sweet “Day Dream”, an Ellington – Strayhorn classic, finishes off the evening. Fittingly, this cut is the encore to the Pete Christlieb live recording at the Jazz Cave. I think Pete will agree that this is the finest quartet of musicians he has had the pleasure of working with.
The Jazz Cave is a part of the Nashville Jazz Workshop www.nashvillejazz.org. If you are in Nashville, you need to check it out. If you visit Nashville, make this your first stop. It is purely a listening room where you BYOB and are asked to turn off your cell phones while the music is going on and to hold conversation to a minimum. Directors are Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem. Any questions, check the website or call them at (615) 242-5299. Lori and Roger are head of a faculty that teaches all types of jazz studies. Part of the graduation process is the opportunity for the students to sing or play in front of a live audience that knows and loves jazz.
The City Paper – by Ron Wynn
Lori Mechem quartet teams with famed West Coast saxophonist
By Ron Wynn, email@example.com
October 13, 2006
Nashville Jazz workshop co-founder, instructor, pianist and bandleader Lori Mechem’s previous release Shiny Stockings—The Lori Mechem Quartet Plays Count Basie explored the classic swing compositions of the celebrated Basie orchestra. The disc won widespread critical acclaim, and its fans included noted West Coast saxophonist Pete Christlieb. Now Mechem and her quartet have teamed with Christlieb on a stirring new CD Live At the Jazz Cave—Pete Christlieb with the Lori Mechem Quartet that spotlights selections recorded during a two-night engagement at the Workshop last April.
They’ll be performing selections from the disc at a special CD release party Sunday that also features a rare Nashville appearance by Christlieb, a prominent studio veteran best known for serving more than 20 years in the Tonight Show orchestra.
“We first worked with Pete about four years ago at the Watertown festival and had a great time,” Mechem said. “Plus (co-founder and bassist) Roger (Spencer) had known him for years and worked with him on various studio projects. We had been talking about teaming together and finally said let’s go ahead and make it happen. But he’s an avid drag racing fan who even builds his own cars and we had to schedule the recording around his racing season. We had one 90-minute rehearsal and then it was just full speed ahead from there.”
Live At The Jazz Cave places Christlieb’s signature big tone, fluid solos and great combination of blues expressiveness and swing fervor center stage on such cuts as “The Song Is You,” “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” “You’ve Changed” and “When Lights Are Low.” But it’s a true collaboration with pianist Mechem, bassist Spencer, guitarist Andy Reiss and drummer Chris Brown all playing pivotal roles in every phase from ensemble interaction and support to fiery exchanges and excellent accompanying and complimentary solos. The sound is also superb, something Mechem credits to engineers Tom Knox and Jeff Hall, as well as Knox’s expertise (who spearheads the recording for WPLN-FM’s live concert series) at mixing and mastering.
“One reason that the session worked so well was that Pete really knows how to find the groove and bring out the swing in every situation,” Mechem added. “He’s like an Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis or Stanley Turrentine in that regard. Another thing that really clicked was when he called out the Bill Evans song ‘Turn Out The Stars.’ I had been studying that song for some reason, so we really got something special happening with that one.”
Live at the Jazz Cave will be available online at CD Baby early next week. Mechem also said she plans to eventually have it available at such retail outlets as Davis-Kidd Booksellers and Borders.
“This was the first live recording that we’ve done at the Jazz Workshop, so we were a bit nervous,” Mechem said. “But we’re thrilled at how well it turned out and we’re also really happy to have someone like Pete coming to town for this release party.”
Nashville Scene – by Jack Silverman
PETE CHRISTLIEB WITH THE LORI MECHEM QUARTET
Even if you don’t know Pete Christlieb by name, chances are you’ve heard his playing. Besides being a 20-year veteran of the Tonight Show band, the tenor saxophonist lent his skills to many a prime-time TV show, including the original Star Trek series and nearly every one of its spinoffs. He played on Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable and has been a member of several high-profile bands, including Woody Herman’s and Louis Bellson’s. Last April, Christlieb came to Nashville and recorded a live date at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave with the Lori Mechem Quartet, featuring Mechem on piano, guitarist Andy Reiss, bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown. (Mechem and Spencer run the Jazz Workshop.) The CD features some top-notch playing on standards by the likes of Bill Evans, Benny Carter, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, but it wisely avoids well-worn chestnuts. The lineup reconvenes this week to play a live afternoon set celebrating the album’s release. Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave, 4-6 p.m. —JACK SILVERMAN
Jazz Educator Celebrates CD Release
By Ron Wynn, October 15, 2003
The Lori Mechem Quartet will be playing selections from the new CD Shiny Stockings at a CD release party tonight beginning at 7 p.m. The event is being held at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, 1312 Adams Street, 242-5299. There is no charge.Nashville Jazz Workshop co-founder Lori Mechem has spent so much time over the past few years teaching and assisting numerous other area musicians with their various projects she hadn’t taken time to do her own release. But Mechem has now remedied that situation with a strong new disc Shiny Stockings: The Lori Mechem Quartet Plays Count Basie. The CDs formal release is being celebrated tonight in a special event at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s (NJW) headquarters, 1312 Adams Street. “I’d been doing everyone else’s record, so I felt it was time to do mine own,” laughed Mechem. “It had been eight years, but I’m not real sure that if I were just going to pick something to do it would be this type of record.” Shiny Stockings features complete transcriptions and the actual arrangements that the Basie band played on such songs as “Splanky,” “In A Mellotone,” “Plymouth Rock,” “One O’Clock Jump” and the title track converted over to piano quartet arrangements. “This is something that Roger (bassist, husband and NJW co-founder Roger Spencer) and I had been talking about doing for several years,” Mechem said. “The actual work started last November and we finally finished it. It was a tricky process in that there are some arrangers whose work really fit, and others that didn’t. There’s a lot of Quincy Jones and Billy May arrangements, as well as some Ernie Wilkins. Those arrangements had a lot of block chord voicings, like those of George Shearing. The other distinction was that, other than “One O’Clock Jump,” which you have to feature on any Basie album since it was their theme song for many decades, is that we’re not doing ‘30s material. It’s more the songs from the ‘50s.” Besides Mechem on piano and Spencer on bass, other quartet members are drummer Chris Brown and Andre Reiss, who’s playing a Stromberg guitar, the same model that legendary rhythm guitarist Freddie Green used on both live and studio dates. The disc, which also has a gorgeous, full and striking sound quality, is the latest Cognito Music and NJW production, and follows in the footsteps of other excellent area albums done by Annie Sellick, the Barber Brothers, and Liz Johnson. Shiny Stockings will be available locally in such stores as Tower Records and Borders, or by contacting the NJW either at 242-5299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simply put, pianist Lori Mecham’s ‘Brazilian Christmas’ is one of our favorite Brazilian-themed holiday CDs – a beautifully crafted instrumental set which combines the natural elegance of the Bossa beat with the quiet charm of these end-of-year evergreens. This album plays like new fallen snow and Mechem (who is a stalwart of the Nashville music scene and a big Brazilian music fan) leads this talent-laden group through a well ordered play list of well-known favorites plus a few originals. The recording quality is top notch and the light, jazzy arrangements are filled with enough surprises to keep you smiling throughout the holidays. Musically, Brazil shares its Christmas traditions with many of our modern American and old-world European melodies. How interesting that producer Jeff Steinberg would understand that by blending the warmth of Brazil with the crispness of a Christmas morning it would result in the perfect atmosphere for our holiday season! Released too late in the 2005 season for us to include in our Connectbrazil e-store, this CD was nevertheless a standout favorite during our annual ‘A Brazilian Christmas’ webcasts and its debut here marks the beginning of a long love affair with fans of Brazilian music around the world.
Allmusic.com – by Ken Dryden
Lori Mechem is one of the active leaders of the Nashville Jazz Workshop, which is a jazz education program consisting of live performances and classes featuring local musicians and, occasionally, nationally known musicians. Return to Ipanema is the pianist’s salute to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, with contributions by Denis Solee (tenor and soprano saxes plus flute), guitarist Pete Huttlinger, bassist Roger Spencer, drummer Chris Brown, and percussionist Dann Sherrill, playing the arrangements of Jeff Steinberg. The performances are enjoyable background music, though they are a little too conservative as Solee is the only musician who is improvising most of the time, while the strings provide more of a background feel. An example is “The Girl from Ipanema,” where Solee’s tenor takes a few chances (though not nearly enough), while Mechem sticks very close to the melody during her single chorus. Mechem does loosen up in “One Note Samba” and Solee’s adventurous soprano seems to stimulate the leader a bit in the breezy “So Danco Samba.” But because these compositions have been recorded so frequently in a jazz setting, they deserve to be played a little looser than many of them are on this session.
Ron Wynn Published on April 16, 1998
Lori Mechem doesn’t view herself as a jazz pioneer. But as far as the local music community goes, there’s no doubt she has done some pioneering work. After three years of preparation, she and husband Roger Spencer have finally opened Nashville’s first school for jazz musicians and jazz enthusiasts. The Nashville Jazz Institute, which opened its doors on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lafayette Street just a few months ago, started its second slate of six-week classes April 6. The course offerings include beginning jazz improvisation, a comprehensive history of jazz taught by Spencer, intro to jazz theory with noted Nashville musician Bruce Dudley, and jazz improvisation for drum set with Tom Giampietro. “I’ve had so many people call me since we opened and say, ‘Thanks, this is something we’ve needed for so long,’ ” Mechem says. She also notes that things have been extremely hectic since the school started. “This has been a dream of ours for so long, but we weren’t sure that there would be support in the marketplace.
The initial reaction has been both overwhelming and gratifying.” Ever since she moved here a decade ago, Mechem has rejected conventional notions about Nashville and jazz. This is due, in no small part, to her rich musical upbringing. Her father, mother, and two brothers are all professional instrumentalists, and Mechem herself started gigging at age 13, when she played drums in her father’s big band. An Anderson, Ind., native who graduated with a jazz degree from Ball State, she got her first post-collegiate professional job as musical director for an Indianapolis theater group. From there, she headed west for a time, hoping to find success in the world of film and show business. It was in California that she met her future husband Roger, also a transplanted Indiana musician. After a few years, the duo decided to relocate to Nashville, motivated not only by acts of nature like the 1987 Whittier earthquake, but also by a desire to move to a place where they’d feel more welcome.
Over the years, Mechem has amassed some impressive credentials as a musician, having worked with such storied names as Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Eydie Gorme, and the McGuire Sisters; for a time in 1988, she also held a regular gig at the now defunct Jazzy Johnny’s nightclub, a place she remembers as “wonderful in terms of audience and ambiance, not so great in some other ways.” Spencer, a bassist, boasts equally extensive and eye-opening credits; a versatile stylist who plays traditional acoustic bass, four- and five-string electric, and a keyboard synth model, he has performed behind vocalists Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Sammy Davis Jr., and R&B legend Ruth Brown; he has also appeared in bands led by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Buddy DeFranco, Kenny Burrell, and Bill Perkins. As head of the new Jazz Institute, Mechem comes by her academic background after several years of teaching at Belmont University, where she continues to work as an instructor. As if that weren’t enough, she also continues to stay active as a working musician. Her band Ritmos Picantes, which blends jazz with Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Latin influences, issued a first-rate release, Welcome to Brazil, last year. The date boasts nine Mechem compositions, along with some solid examples of the band’s skillful abilities: The players manage to navigate the smooth, often sensual Brazilian sound without sacrificing their jazz edge or harmonic facility. Besides Mechem on piano and keyboards, the group includes saxophonist and flutist Denis Solee, rhythm guitarist Pete Huttlinger, drummer Chris Brown, percussionist Dann Sherrill, bassist Spencer, and guest performers Mark Christian on guitar, and Russ May and Farrell Morris on percussion. The date was recorded at Belmont and earned a nomination for Best Jazz Album at the 1998 Nashville Music Awards. Mechem and Spencer also played recently at Austin Peay’s jazz festival, but for now they’re focused on building the Institute. Mechem has tabbed some of the city’s finest players to serve as instructors and professors; Jeff Coffin, Bruce and Sandra Dudley, Jeff Steinberg, Charles Dungee, and Beegie Adair are all providing valuable training and supervision.
Mechem also has far-reaching plans for the Institute. She’d eventually like to see the school build an archive with recordings that span the music’s history, and she’s currently laying plans for a weekend “jazz coffeehouse” series—regular jam sessions that would be reminiscent of the confabs at Minton’s in the ’40s that led to the birth of bebop. Eventually, Mechem would like to expand coursework to include other topics such as production, arranging, and composition. For now, though, she’s happy just to provide an outlet for the city’s jazz enthusiasts. “There’s so much jazz talent here in Nashville that people don’t know about,” she observes, “and there’s much more interest in the music than you would think from the city’s reputation. I think that the Jazz Institute can help play a part in elevating awareness and appreciation not just for jazz, but for the city’s jazz musicians. We have people here who have played with the top names in the business, and only a handful of people know about them.