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4 New CDs are a Glittering Display of Genre

Four new CDs are among state-of-the-art jazz, rock, classical and pop: add a string quartet to the Danny Green Trio and you've got some impressive European classical despite the band being from San Diego. Then there's Kendra Lou's personal pain, Jim Rotondi's manifestation of being blue and Jim McKinley's penchant to just rock out.

"Dark Blue" by trumpet man Jim Rotondi and his amazing sextet of died-in-the-wool hard-boppers like pianist David Hazeltine, vibraphonist Joe Locke, drummer Carl Allen and bassist David Wong, is a travelogue of sorts, a nod to all the exotic destinations this longtime jazz man has traversed. Starting with "In Graz," the city in Austria where Rotondi has lived for the last five years and ending with "Going to the Sun," in honor of his Montana roots, "Dark Blue" touches all the bases. Fused with an adventurous sensibility where genre limits are stretched and re-imagined, there's "Biru Kurasai" for his Japanese fans (translation: "I would like a beer, please") and "Highline" approximates the hustle and bustle of New York City where he lived and worked from 1987-2010. "BC" is for Vancouver where Rotondi is popular. The covers are cool. "Our Day Will Come" was a 1963 #1 for Ruby & The Romantics. "Pure Imagination" is from the movie "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory." "Monk's Mood" is pure Thelonious. What else do you need?

Dark Blue cover

Singer/songwriter Kendra Lou comes from Copenhagen, Denmark but her influences are as American as Stax and Motown. Six years ago, she surfaced with her "To The End Of The World" debut which channeled Aretha and Billie Holiday with the icy alternative veneer of Bjork. After moving to New York City in 2011 and hooking up with producer Al Street, the seeds of her second CD, "Songs Of The Black Moon," sprouted. On it, she's all over the map from "Dream" where she barrelhouses through the mix like Etta James on steroids to "The Kill" where she could be a musical descendent of Joni Mitchell. Speaking of that Lady Of The Canyon, Kendra Lou's ultra personal compositions like "Louise" and "The Mistress Song" come from a place of deep hurt. She claims her parents didn't so much as enrich her upbringing, as they "behaved like children" themselves to the point where Kendra Lou survived, as she says, a "downbringing." No auto-tune, one-take live in-the-studio creations, these tracks hit home hard. Producer Street plays all the guitars but puts her unforgettable voice in the forefront and whatever is needed--be it keyboards, horns, bass, drums--is, indeed, in service to her rather special way with a song.

Kendra Lou
John McKinley Kasia Dunne

Take the music of Freddie King, Johnny Winter and ZZ Top, put all that Texas blues into a Frank Zappa blender but sprinkle in some Tex-Mex powder to the frothy liquid substance and then drink it on down. It should taste like a "Window on the World," which just happens to be The John McKinley Band's self-released debut. The Roswell, New Mexico guitarist hasn't seen any UFOs but maybe that's only because he's now based in Ontario, Canada. Dude writes songs aimed like a sucker-punch to the solar plexus and just when you catch your breath, boom, you're hit with a right cross to the chin. With his son Darius McKinley pushing the sound forward on drums (dig that 2:18 "Dirty Nails" opener), bassist Ben Rollo giving the band three singers, and guitarist Darryl Romphf, tracks like "Welfare Mama," "Cuando Yo Me Voy," "Rev It Up" and "Life's A Bitch" show a lean, mean rock machine.

Danny Green

The Danny Green Trio provides "Altered Narratives" (OA2 Records) on their fourth CD. It's a panoply of influences from blues, swing and European classical to Northeastern Brazil's folkloric baiao music. Bandleader/pianist/composer Green, who has a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies from San Diego State University, played nothing but Nirvana songs until he discovered ska at 14. At 19, he heard the Buena Vista Social Club for the first time and immersed himself in Cuban son music. This led to working in salsa bands.

These "Altered Narratives" come complete with a new love, blues, as demonstrated by the honestly-titled "I Used To Hate The Blues." Bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm share the blues spotlight as well as adding immeasurably to totally entertaining tracks like "Serious Fun" and "Chatter From All Sides."

Still, the obvious highlights here are the three tracks with a string quartet augmenting the trio. Here's where Green has stretched into compositional sophistication as he wrote the parts for the heavenly strings. He claims he heard the two violin/viola/cello parts in his head before committing them to paper. The three tracks in question--"Second Chance," "Katabasis" and "Porcupine Dreams" are what sets this particular trio outing apart from all others.