John Coltrane: Blue Train


John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds

John Coltrane was the most influential saxophonist to follow Charlie Parker. His work in the late 1950s served as a model for most aspiring (as well as many established) hard-bop tenorists. The up-tempo blues “Blue Train,” appearing on the only album Coltrane recorded for Blue Note, epitomizes the tenorist’s fully developed, pre-modal hard-bop approach. It displays his great intensity and features the dizzying scalar passages that came to be called “sheets of sound.” In their own improvisations, Coltrane’s stellar colleagues illustrate their instruments' roles in the hard-bop style.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ran Blake: Wende

Jazz's unaccompanied piano tradition goes back to Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton. At the other end of this tradition, following such modernists as Monk and Cecil Taylor, sits Ran Blake. To appreciate Blake, however, we must also reckon with mid-20th century European composers Messiaen and Boulez, whose music, explained their colleague Stockhausen, "consists of separately formed particles." The aggressively propelled particles of "Wende" ricochet around Ran Blake's acoustical accelerator with the exuberance of subatomic bumper cars, showing how thoroughly he has internalized post-Schoenberg serialism. If you've ever wondered what jazz pointillism might sound like (and who hasn't?), here 'tis.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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David Baker: Calypso (from Sonata for Jazz Violin and String Quartet)

About the time African-Americans originated jazz, Afro-Caribbean musicians invented calypso, likewise testing the limits of free expression in a segregated society. David Baker's "Calypso" (1987) features violinist Diane Monroe, whose jazz bona fides are longstanding. More surprisingly is the jazz facility of four University of Oregon School of Music faculty members, in particular Steven Pologe, strumming his cello with the élan of a Trinidadian street guitarist at Carnival. Whether Baker—himself a cellist and former jazzman—has improved conventional notation, or classical string players have newly developed jazz chops, the result is an uplifting celebration of music as universal language.

November 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Yusef Lateef: Transmutation

In the context of Yusef Lateef's African-American Epic Suite, "Transmutation" refers to the metamorphosis of blacks abducted to the New World. No longer Africans, never to be fully accepted as Americans, they become an uneasy hybrid: African Americans. Third Stream seems readymade for such drama, being neither European classical nor American jazz, but their amalgamation. Lateef emphasizes this cultural disparity by pitting "primitive" instruments, including drums, whistles and conch shells, against a more "sophisticated" German symphony orchestra, with stunning effect. Like the bowels of a slave ship, this music is not for the fainthearted. It is provocative, disquieting and powerfully moving.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Turtle Island String Quartet: Blue Rondo à la Turk

Merely referencing Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" didn't make Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (1959) Third Stream. Instead of combining jazz and classical elements, "Blue Rondo" simply wedged 4/4 blues solos between a bravura 9/8 enclosure. Recognizing that a sandwich is not a salad, the TISQ here mixes ingredients much more tastily. The piece's overall form is unchanged, but when played by string quartet instead of jazz quartet, time-signature shifts are less abrupt, more organic. Third Stream boosters have long dreamt that string players would someday learn to swing. Turtle Island à la Turk is our dream come true.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Glenn Miller: Bluebirds in the Moonlight

Although "Bluebirds in the Moonlight" scoffs at its own title as a silly idea, some bluebirds are early risers, singing a predawn moonlight serenade. What is silly, though, is that five weeks after Nazi Germany started World War II, Americans were (judging from this recording) going about their daily lives as if nothing had changed. This track isn't great jazz, but it's a revealing snapshot. The boogie-woogie piano intro, sweet sax section, punctuating trombones, rousing trumpets and winsome female songbird trilling empty-headed lyrics to a cheerful tune at an agreeable tempo—this innocent formula was so appealing it carried us to Hiroshima in the daylight.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Wess: Low Life

Six months to the day after these same musicians (except Burrell and Thigpen) recorded "Low Life" with Count Basie's big band, they reconvened for this sextet version featuring Frank Wess's flute, which had become emblematic of Basie's New Testament band. Not surprisingly, Basie's busmen on holiday remain very much in Count's bag. After all, any track on which Freddie Green plays rhythm guitar is going to sound like Basie. Hell, if Freddie had recorded Beethoven's Ninth with the New York Philharmonic, we'd expect Leonard Bernstein to exclaim "One more time!" at the finale à la Basie's "April in Paris."

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef: Playful Flute

"Mohammedan leanings are shown by many bebop musicians," Life magazine reported in 1948 at the height of a short-lived bop craze. Among the first-generation boppers who embraced Islam during that period was Yusef Lateef. We mention this because, far from being the evidence of kookiness that Life implied, Lateef's spirituality has thoroughly informed his music. Exotic modes and unusual instruments reflect Lateef's unquenchable cross-cultural curiosity. Here, from opening trills to climactic passages of simultaneous humming and playing, Lateef ranges from Africa to the Amazon by way of the Middle East. A fascinating 4-minute excursion by a unique musical explorer.

November 30, 2007 · 1 comment

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Herbie Mann & Buddy Collette: Give a Little Whistle

Disney's animated morality play Pinocchio (1940) depicts a puppet's quest to become human by resisting corruption. "And if you start to slide," he's advised, "Give a little whistle! And always let your conscience be your guide." Too bad the movie wasn't required childhood viewing for future Enron, Adelphia and WorldCom executives, who might've subsequently avoided having whistles blown on them. These five jazzmen, though, must've had front-row seats. Their integrity is impeccable. As for who's who, Buddy's on the left channel; Herbie's to the right; and that little whistle you hear is Collette's peeping piccolo. Jiminy Cricket, this swings!

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song

Partridges, as ground-nesting seedeaters, have no business in pear trees, unless they're waiting for said fruit to fall and yield its seed. Or maybe they're hanging out for acoustical purposes, to amplify the marginal snickering that passes for partridge birdsong. Certainly they can't compete as singers with Nat King Cole—who could? As for "The Christmas Song," Rudy Reindeer prefers Nat's first recording, despite its being long shelved in favor of remakes with syrupy strings. In any form, though, it's the coolest possible yuletide greeting, with Jack Frost nipping at your nose and partridges dressed like Eskimos in pear trees.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mose Allison: Your Mind Is on Vacation

In the culture-clash of jazz and psychiatry, shrinks have gotten short shrift. Mose Allison, however, plays Devil's advocate, enacting the role of long-suffering clinician who's endured more bellyaching than even the highly compensated can tolerate. "You're sittin' there yakkin' in my face," declares Dr. Allison at wit's end. "I guess I'm gonna have to put you in your place." Technically called counter-resistance, this can seriously impair the doctor-patient relationship. But when delivered with Mose Allison's Laid-back Sage of the Mississippi Delta aplomb and set to his funky down-home piano, such in-your-face attitude is delectably therapeutic.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother

"All of us who stay sane," reflected Charles Mingus after seeking treatment at Bellevue and being locked up for his naïveté, "stay inside our own cages all the time." Mingus spent years in analysis and even had his psychotherapist write liner notes for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady discussing client C.M.'s "recurrent themes of loneliness, separateness and tearful depression." Here, Mingus's 1960 quartet with the brilliant Ted Curson and ever-astonishing Eric Dolphy deconstructs a series of Chinese boxes devised by the leader to challenge musicians and listeners alike. Mingus could no more be caged than King Kong.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Susannah McCorkle: I Don't Think I'll End It All Today

After Billie Holliday pondered joining a dead lover in "Gloomy Sunday" (1941), an urban legend spread about melancholic listeners offing themselves. Since then, whenever other jazz singers have musically contemplated suicide, they've been more optimistic, as in this upbeat calypso first sung by Lena Horne in Broadway's Jamaica (1957), which cites "the world and its wonders" as reasons enough to stay alive. Susannah McCorkle's performance is thoroughly convincing. When she sings, "So many sweet dreams still to unfold," you hear hope in her voice. Seven years later, that hope was gone. A depressed McCorkle killed herself at 55. So many sweet dreams still to unfold.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Alberta Hunter: My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More

Ain't it just like a woman? At the peak of her 1970s comeback, 83-year-old blues doyen Alberta Hunter catalogs the virtues of her hardworking handyman, who is, by Miss Hunter's account, as dedicated as he is versatile. Up before dawn, he slaves in the kitchen, making her breakfast and cleaning up after himself. Why, he's even an accomplished musician, stroking her fiddle to the octogenarian's delight. Best of all, he never utters a word. Who says you can't find good help nowadays? Yet what does Miss Hunter conclude? "My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More." We men can't win for losing!

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Monty Alexander: The Serpent

For all their differences, one thing the world's religions share is the mythological Serpent. Here, Monty Alexander offers his take on that much-maligned creature. Growing up in Jamaica exposed Alexander to both Christian and Obeah (West Indian black magic) serpent symbolism, and this piano/drum duet is suitably slithery. Reminding us with a raking left-hand ostinato that snakes move with lightning swiftness, Alexander relentlessly pursues the elusive Serpent with his viperous right hand, until at last engaging it at Armageddon. We won't give away the ending, but it's a thrilling chase.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Alfie

One of the curses of jazz pianists is that they are forced to share their repertoire with cocktail lounge tinklers and elevator Muzak maestros. Some jazz musicians are so dismayed by this state of affairs that they refuse to play many of the best-known standards -- especially those composed after 1960 when hip chord changes became an endangered species. Most of them would rather work through Czerny backwards or play Hanon with mittens on before tainting their fingers with Bacharach or the Beatles. But Brad Mehldau plunges bravely into the world of pop tunes, playing more Bacharach than Bird, more McCartney than Monk. But he puts these songs through an exemplary purification rite, stripping them of the vapid flourishes and empty gestures that your local bar piano man might employ. The end result is a pristine "Alfie," beautiful in its starkness, and without any excessive sentimentality. This, my friends, is harder than playing "Cherokee" in all twelve keys. Ballard's brushwork is sublime, and Grenadier's time as reliable as a Patek Phillipe watch.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Los Angeles II

Brad Mehldau refuses to dumb it down for his audience. And I'm not talking about his references to Richard Rorty and Schopenhauer in the liner notes to this CD. Well, I am talking about them, but also about the music. "Los Angeles II" is as busy as the second runway at LAX -- perhaps that was where it was written -- but every note carries its full weight. Mehldau crafts a musical perpetual motion machine marked by rapidly evolving left-hand textures, dramatic variety in the harmonic structure, and a melody that starts out as a simple yearning motif but soon spirals into brave new patterns. Mehldau's right and left hands play a beguiling cat-and-mouse game, in which the bass always seems ready to pounce on the treble. A very intelligent composition played with the mastery we have come to expect from this extraordinary musician.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ron Carter: My Funny Valentine

How many different ways can a bass player handle a ballad in 4/4 time? Listen to this track and you will find Ron Carter demonstrating most of them. Scott plays admirably, but Carter steals the show with his feints and jabs, and the sheer creativity of his lines. More than one thousand jazz versions of "My Funny Valentine" have been recorded over the years -- including a classic Miles Davis performance at Lincoln Center in 1964 with Ron Carter in the band. But this new-millennium ensemble ignores the weight of history, and dishes out a fresh performance that both brings the standard up to date but also respects the mood of the Richard Rodgers original.

November 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Miles Davis: Summer Night

This is a hidden gem in the Miles Davis discography, a dark and moody ballad performance that got lost in the shuffle -- inserted as an extra track to fill up some space on Quiet Nights, the least well known of the Miles Davis - Gil Evans LPs. But "Summer Night" deserves a prominent place on any list of Davis's most emotionally charged performances. Here Miles returns to the ethos of King Oliver and Bubber Miley, pioneers who showed back in the 1920s that the quality of sound is always more important than the quantity of notes. This is also my favorite Victor Feldman performance. He makes every note, every chord, every pause count for maximum effect. "I wanted [Feldman] to join the band," Davis later wrote in his autobiography, "but he was making a fortune playing studio work in LA. I came back to New York looking for a piano player. I found him in Herbie Hancock." So Davis heads off into the sunset with his great mid-1960s band, and Feldman mixes it up with Steely Dan, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. But this moment when their paths intersected left us this classic performance.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ron Carter: Seven Steps to Heaven

Victor Feldman's stint with Miles Davis was little more than a one-night stand (although his ballad accompaniment on "Summer Night" serves as lasting testimony to their chemistry). Feldman preferred the security of studio work (bad decision) to the Davis school of jazz, but he left behind his most famous composition, "Seven Steps to Heaven." When Miles recorded it with his new band -- some fellas named Herbie, Ron and Tony -- he made jazz history. Forty-three years later, Ron Carter leads a new generation of jazz players on this proven seven-step program. Hot band and a smartly played arrangement full of surprises. The call-and-response between hard swing and Latin percussion is especially effective. Listeners should compare with the original version from the Age of Camelot to get the full effect.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Seven Steps to Heaven


Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

When Miles Davis added Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams to his band in 1963, they were far from household names, and not even widely known in the jazz world. But even on this debut recording, you can tell that Miles had found another dynamite rhythm section, one destined to influence the later evolution of jazz combo playing. Hancock plays with absolute authority from the intro to the final coda. And Carter moves this piece through the paces like a jockey heading for the finish line at Churchill Downs. And could it possibly be true that drummer Tony Williams was only seventeen years old when he made this recording? He might have been too young to register for the draft (not a bad thing in '63), but his drum breaks sound like they could lead a regiment of hipsters into hard-bop hand-to-hand combat. Where does Miles find 'em? Can't say. But where does he lead 'em? Easy, right up the seven steps to jazz heaven.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sun Ra: Medicine for a Nightmare

During a mid-1950s concert for mental patients at a Chicago hospital, a chronic catatonic rose from the floor, made her way to the piano player and uttered her first words in years. "Do you call that music?" It was a fair question. No stranger to disbelief, pianist Sun Ra had visited Saturn as a teenager, and later renamed himself after the Egyptian sun-god, Ra of Heliopolis. (Well, why not aim high?) With a keyboard technique reminiscent of Imhotep wielding mummified fingers, Sun Ra doesn’t tickle the ivories so much as scuffle with them. His sidemen are fine, but Sun Ra is more nightmarish than medicinal.

November 29, 2007 · 7 comments

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Chet Baker: But Not For Me

The late Richard Bock, who produced this recording (and so many other classic West Coast jazz sessions) once confided to me that Chet Baker, in his opinion, played his very best trumpet on this debut session as a vocalist. It's hard to disagree. Not since Lester Young accompanied Billie Holiday had a jazz soloist managed to add such melodically succinct interludes to a vocal date. And those who have only heard Chet Baker sing on records made late in his career need to go back to this 1954 date to experience the magic of this music. One of the great moments for jazz on the dream coast.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: My One and Only Love

Sinatra's 1953 recording established this song as a pop standard, and Coltrane's version with Johnny Hartman enshrined it as a much cherished tenor sax ballad. Since then, everyone from Michael Brecker to Sonny Rollins has shown off their chops on these changes. Big shoes to fill, but Redman makes his mark on this exceptional performance, captured live at the Village Vanguard in 1995. He has the audience ooh-ing and ah-ing from his very first phrase, and keeps them mesmerized until the conclusion of his tour de force coda. So many great saxophone performances have graced the Village Vanguard over the years, but this still has to be among the very best.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: Stella by Starlight (Tokyo 1987)

Some people will tell you Chet Baker never could do much on the trumpet. David Thomson, in one of the most wrongheaded reviews I have ever read, proclaimed "Baker, in my view, could not play jazz, and did not play it." Others will begrudgingly admit that Baker made some good records, but soon destroyed his talent with drugs and fast living. But here is a live recording made less than a year before Baker's death -- at a Tokyo date much prized by Baker-o-philes -- that finds the trumpeter improvising with unbridled creativity. Baker's preternatural ear always guided him to the right notes, the interesting phrases, the clever cadences. Here he takes an oblique pass at the melody, and then digs in deeper and deeper with each passing chorus. No trumpeter was better skilled at solving that age-old jazz problem: namely how to create new melodies for old chord changes. And this talent remained, even while Baker's good looks and health faded. Chet did not play jazz? Check out the record, and then you make the call

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman (featuring Sonny Berman): Sidewalks of Cuba

Sonny Berman was on the road as a jazz trumpeter at age sixteen and dead from a heroin overdose at 22. He worked with many of the Swing Era greats -- Benny Goodman, Harry James and Woody Herman -- but was deeply immersed in the bebop vocabulary, which he played with fluency and dramatic flair. Berman possessed tremendous expressive range on the trumpet, able to belt out big, brassy lines or coo gently with a mute in hand. He starts out his solo on "Sidewalks of Cuba" with a bravura quote from "Flight of the Bumblebee," and proceeds to show off his melodic inventiveness and full-bodied trumpet tone. Had he lived longer, Berman would have been a major figure during the 1950s and after. As it stands, only a handful of recordings testify to his greatness.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny G: Summertime

No surprises in this smooth jazz version of the Gershwin standard. Kenny G keeps fairly close to the sheet music chord changes, and relies on a tinkly piano background floating in a heavenly cloud of pseudo- strings. Mr. G. gets in a few good sax licks, but his solo is little more than an embellishment of the melody. George Benson makes a very brief cameo appearance, but doesn't even stay around for a solo. If this is summertime, I can hardly wait for school to start.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman (featuring Brad Mehldau): Summertime

Summertime . . . and the fish are jumpin' in 5/4 time. From Sidney Bechet to Kenny G, saxophonists have delighted in rebuilding Gershwin's plaintive lullaby into various jazz configurations. But this is perhaps the most ambitious transformation I have yet heard of the popular standard. Mehldau has proven in other settings how skilled he is at unusual time signatures, and this recording is no exception. Check out the close of his solo where he quotes Gershwin's melody in the lower register, while pushing an insistent figure in the treble -- a great example of jazz multitasking. And Redman shows once again why he is considered one of the best soloists on the current scene. Grenadier and Blade also shine.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis & Barney Kessel: Lover

Without resorting to the manic metronome marking of quarter note = 5280 that for "Lover" had become de rigueur, this track swings quite nicely, thank you. What makes convocations of mature jazzmen consistently joyful is how complementary, not competitive they are. Whether soloing—in order: Herb, Charlie (acoustic) and Barney—or engaging in a delightful 3-guitar ensemble, the immodestly but accurately billed Great Guitars sum up earlier "Lovers," especially Les Paul's 1948 forerunner, while making their own distinctive contribution. It may have taken 35 years of recorded jazz "Lovers" to find just the right groove, but, hey, better Great than never!

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Dolphin Dance

I marvel not just at the quality, but also at the impressive range of Hancock's work for the Blue Note label during the 1960s, which delved into everything from soul jazz to the avant-garde. And at the midpoint of the decade, Hancock offered up his now classic Maiden Voyage album, featuring a world-class band (essentially the Miles Davis Quintet with Freddie Hubbard stepping in for Miles) and some of the finest writing of his career. "Dolphin Dance" is my favorite Hancock composition, an impressionistic mood piece with very creative chord changes. He settles in at a difficult tempo, just a little too fast for a ballad, but not fast enough to swing the rhythm. Many other jazz ensembles falter at these betwixt and between tempos, but Hancock and cohorts float effortlessly like . . . well, I imagine, like dolphins at a dance. The pianist was now working with textures of sound rather than recycling the typical modern jazz harmonies. The ultimate hard-bop pianist was showing that he could move far beyond the confines of the genre. He might have spent another decade mining this rich vein of material, evolving into the Ravel or Debussy of jazz. But for Herbie Hancock this was just one more stopping point on a restless journey toward the next new thing.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Watermelon Man (from Head Hunters, 1973)

Always dangerous to try to remake a classic. You can't just turn Citizen Kane into an story about an Internet media tycoon or make Moby Dick into a reality show. But every once in a while, an old masterpiece gets a fresh, invigorating take. Here Herbie Hancock reconfigures his 1962 hard-bop hit "Watermelon Man" into a 1973 fusion tune. Bill Summers' brilliant work on percussion (including a very cool imitation of the African hindewhu achieved by blowing into a beer bottle) is worth the price of admission alone. And Hancock gets high marks for the daring step of bringing the tempo down several notches from his Blue Note version, proving that slow-mo can be funkier than fast-forward. And when it's all done, put it on replay to hear that Summers intro one more time. Here is fusion that really fuses, drawing on African, Caribbean and jazz traditions, and mixing them into a cross-cultural gumbo.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock (with Corinne Bailey Rae): River

I love jazz and I love Joni . . . but I get nervous when they are mixed together. Joni Mitchell's idiosyncratic delivery is already so jazzy, that it is hard enough just singing it straight. Trying to jazz up these songs further is like adding more cayenne pepper to grandma's prizewinning chili. As I have always said, nobody sings Joni better than the diva herself. But Corinne Bailey Rae makes me reconsider. This is the best version of "River" I've heard since that rude classmate drew a mustache on the cover of my Blue LP back in the Nixon era. Rae sings with sweet, almost girlish forthrightness, and just the right touch of melancholy. Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Colaiuta provide thoughtful accompaniment (albeit in a different studio on another continent) for a richly layered performance in which every phrase and micro-rhythm is perfectly placed.

November 28, 2007 · 1 comment

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Harry 'Sweets' Edison: Sophisticated Lady

You may associate Edison with the invention of the light bulb, but fans of the American popular song prefer to remember another Edison, namely the trumpeter whose tasty brass stylings adorned those timeless Sinatra recordings. Singers always loved Sweets, and his trumpet work weaves in and out of other classic recordings by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan. No surprise here … Harry 'Sweets' Edison played the trumpet the way great vocalists sing. He builds his solos in breathy, conversational phrases, telling a story along the way. This intimate trumpet and piano duet on an Ellington standard gives Edison room to work his magic. Sweets is bittersweet here, and every note contributes towards creating a rich aural mood. By all means, enjoy him behind the great American singers, but also hear what he could do when he stood out as the star of the show.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Roberta Gambarini: Lover Come Back to Me

The spirit of Ella lives! Gambarini shows off her considerable vocal skills on this rapid-fire version of the Sigmund Romberg standard. And not the slightest telltale accent betrays the Italian origins of this up-and-coming vocalist, who first made her name working in Milan clubs during her late teens. A tendency to be too slick may be Gambarini's only limitation - the mood is so upbeat that it's hard to imagine that she is singing a lament about a lost lover here. But her scat-singing is impressive and her phrasing impeccable.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Lover Come Back to Me


                  Zoot Sims at Birdland
                  Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Al Cohn and Zoot Sims may have gone to that great tenor battle in the sky, but at least they live on at their own MySpace page. (However, I must admit that I am afraid of clicking the link on that page which sends an email message to Al and Zoot. I prefer to use a Ouija board, not cyberspace, to contact the great horn players from the golden years.) Face the facts, email and text messaging are not the way to enjoy these tenor titans. Better to mix a stiff drink, and kick back listening to the knights in shining Selmers joust over the changes to "Lover Come Back to Me." Cohn takes the first two solo choruses, and Zoot digs in for three, and of course they save some special treats for the four-bar question-and-answer period. And here's an unexpected treat: Mose Allison serves as referee on the eighty-eight keys. Who wins this duel? The listener, of course.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock (featuring John Mayer): Stitched Up

Sometimes these pop-star-meets-jazzcat dream dates go bad before the appetizers are on the table. But Mayer is not your typical pop star, and Hancock knows how to cross over without losing his balance. It helps that the song is hot, with an irresistible dance beat on the refrain. Hancock deserves a lot of credit for the groove, digging in with that acoustic funk sound he pioneered back in his Blue Note days, but the rest of the band is also in the pocket. Steve Jordan may be a rock-pop drummer, but he could teach jazz snobs how to lay down a beat. And Mayer sings with the white Motown soulfulness he pioneered on that crazy Continuum release -- yeah, you know, that disk that looked like ECM on the cover but sounded like Marvin Gaye when you popped in into the CD player. Hey guys, how about a second date?

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Oleo

This trio continues to amaze. Think about all of the versions of “Oleo” out there. It would seem that all of the song's creative juice had long since dried up. The reality is that the musical lubrication is provided by the band. As usual, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette fly through the changes, giving Jarrett ample room to spin off runs in all directions. These guys may have played this tune many times before, but the freshness of their ideas really shows: check out the solo measures traded back and forth as the song reaches its climax. Really fun stuff.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men

Do you remember Fusion before it was tagged with the “F-word” label? Had that particular branding already occurred before Return To Forever came onto the scene? Clocking in at a little over eleven minutes, “Toys of Men” brings back all of the features that made listeners love (or hate!) the 'Fusion Era' – shifting time signatures, blistering melodic runs (including some unison insanity between Clarke and violinist Mads Tolling), wordless vocals, muscular drumming. And oh yes, it's a multipart suite. That construct seemed to raise the “pretentious flag” back in the day. In this case, Clarke's masterful weave of the composition's theme through each subsection gives a very cohesive feeling. Pretentious? Who cares?!!

November 27, 2007 · 1 comment

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Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex

On many (most?) Thirsty Ear recordings, technology plays the part of an extra band member. This record provides a fresh counterexample to the rule. Morris and Dickey lock in to a very subtle groove that Shipp uses as fuel (or maybe fulcrum) for his launch into some very percussive and angular solo passages. I'm somehow reminded of both Chick Corea and Cecil Taylor, and yet this music sound nothing like either artist. As Shipp takes things more and more out, Dickey and Morris work hard both to reign in and add to the chaos. It's a great structural trick that deserves repeated listenings.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jacky Terrasson: You've Got a Friend

Jacky Terrasson adds to the jazz tradition of exploring the harmonic possibilities inherent in popular music. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for this particular Mirror entry, mostly because it seemed to my ears that James Taylor and Carole King had wrung all of the juice out of it. Wrong. Terrasson comes at it from a very different angle, the left hand alternating between simple arpeggios and two-note ostinatos while extracting every pensive and romantic subtlety lurking in that famous melody.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Groundtruther: Warsaw Radio Mast

Groundtruther takes as source material music that would be considered “modern” in the same sense that electric Miles was “modern,” and gives it the funhouse-mirror treatment. While there are some familiar remnants, such as the loping funk of Charlie Hunter's basslines and the skittish swagger of Bobby Previte's kit, the overall vibe can sink into a gauzy layer of abstraction. Hey, I mean that in a good way. Just as it's funny that you appear to be four feet wide in that wiggly mirror, it's entertaining to hear John Medeski's oddball keyboard figures slowly devolve into signals from outer space.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dewey Redman: Thren

I fell in love with Dewey Redman's big, open sound after hearing his work on Pat Metheny's 80/81. Going back in musical time, I then discovered the Ornette connection. This track, from the recent first-time-on-CD release of The Struggle Continues, finds Redman wielding that expressive sound while being supported beautifully by the uber-swinging bass of Mark Helias and the always nuanced drumming of Ed Blackwell. Redman's history is very apparent here, with the sideways departures of melody and that bluesy sound echoing all the way back to his Ornette years.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley: Ad Infinitum

Here we have a Carla Bley composition being given its third context. “Ad Infinitum” first appeared on her essential, large ensemble LP, Dinner Music. Years later, Bley and Steve Swallow took a far different approach on their duet record Go Together. With Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu brought into the Lost Chords fold, it sounds like saxophone player Andy Sheppard may have discovered a long-lost jazz brother. Sheppard takes a long, dynamic solo just past the song's midpoint that leads into some incredibly nuanced phrase trading between Sheppard and Fresu. Yes, the Lost Chords have definitely found something here.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bennie Maupin: Ensenada

For some reason, the idea of a “tone poem” has always bothered me. It seemed like one of those pretentious, reviewer phrases only used to describe formless music. Now, I've got to take it all back as that description is perfect for Bennie Maupin's “Ensenada” (from the recently reissued, long out-of-print The Jewel in the Lotus). A theme slowly unfolds via Maupin's flute, and progression is marked by the subtle fan-out of percussion, marimba, glockenspiel and piano. Of course there's plenty of form here, so I was wrong about that too.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Ellis: Indian Lady

Since his death in 1978 at age 45, trumpeter Don Ellis has fallen off the radar screens of most jazz listeners. But in 1967, Ellis had the most innovative big band on the planet. The liner notes called the Electric Bath LP an "aural collage made up of the Beatles, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ravi Shankar and Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz." That's a scary claim, and maybe a bit much to substantiate, but Ellis was clearly pushing at the limits of the big band vocabulary with the exotic textures and driving 5/4 beat of "Indian Lady." Ellis had immersed himself in avant-garde and mainstream jazz traditions, and dug deeply into "World Music" before it became fashionable. He published an influential article on Indian music two years before Electric Bath, and studied with Hari Har Rao while doing graduate work in ethno- musicology at UCLA. These experiences married to his strong mastery of the trumpet ensured that Ellis not only could lead a hot band, but would also stand out as its star soloist. Check out "Indian Lady" and find out why this unfairly forgotten release garnered a Grammy nomination and an "Album of the Year" award from Down Beat back in the day.

November 27, 2007 · 2 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Hidden Shadows

Before he got the fusion formula right with Headhunters, Hancock tested the crossover waters with his Mwandishi ensemble, a high-energy funk band that caused the lights to dim every time it plugged in its large arsenal of electronic equipment. But the groove on "Hidden Shadows," from the Sextant LP, is not strong enough to sustain the 10-minute performance. The multilayered sound swallows up the soloists, and the monotonous bassline needs a stronger hook if it wants to catch some fish. Hancock was funkier on his acoustic outings "Watermelon Man" and "Cantaloupe Island" and on his fusion hit "Chameleon."

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Supersax: Ko-Ko

In 1947, an awestruck fanatic named Dean Benedetti followed Charlie Parker from gig to gig, setting up amateur recording equipment to capture every note—but, since discs and tapes were costly whereas Dean was poor, only Bird's notes; Dean shut off his recorder whenever others soloed. Thirty years later, Med Flory exhibited similar demented hero worship by arranging Bird's transcribed solos for full sax section, which he and his buddies nailed to a note-for-note tee. While this may seem like the devotional excess only lunatics could love, it's actually a joy even for relatively sane jazz listeners. "Ko-Ko" is loco but magnífico.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington (featuring Bubber Miley): The Mooche

Duke Ellington once described Bubber Miley as "the epitome of soul and a master of the plunger mute." In time, Miley's alcohol abuse and unreliability would lead to his departure from the Ellington band, and he was dead from tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday. But no one, apart from Duke himself, did more than Miley to shape the early Ellington sound. His incomparable mute work helped transform "The Mooche," "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" and "Black and Tan Fantasy" into classic statements of the jazz idiom. In an era in which jazz was increasingly focusing on virtuoso soloists, Miley remained true to King Oliver's philosophy that emphasized the quality of sound rather than the multiplicity of notes. With his arsenal of bends, moans, whimpers and growls, Miley could turn even the simplest melody into a deeply personal statement. Ellington, who always knew how to write to his band members' strengths, contributes one of his finest compositions of the decade.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island

This is one of the funkiest acoustic jazz performances of the era, ranking with those other Blue Note classics, Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," Art Blakey's "Moanin'" and Hancock's own previous entry in the slam-funk competition, "Watermelon Man." The largely static harmonies impart a slight modal tinge to the composition, creating a spacey-futuristic groove that still sounds modernistic today. Hancock's piano vamp drives the band, and Hubbard contributes one of his most memorable solos. Forget about Gilligan's or Crusoe's boring beachfront property . . . the nightlife is better on "Cantaloupe Island."

November 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Herbie Hancock: Speak Like a Child

Every new release from Herbie Hancock during the 1960s seemed to chart an exciting step forward. On his Speak Like a Child session from 1968, Hancock experiments with the unusual front line of flugelhorn, bass trombone and alto flute. Peculiar idea, huh? Almost like a homework assignment at Berklee? Well, young student Hancock gets an A+ on this track. The horn writing is superb, and the whole track infused with a nostalgic, late night mood that makes you want to play it over and over again. This is Herbie Hancock in an Ellingtonian or Gil-Evans-ish vein, and leads one to speculate what wonders he would have worked had he dug in with a big band for a few years. But Hancock was looking forward not behind, and a few months later he was off to the Warner Bros. label working on his Fat Albert Rotunda project.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Byas: Riffin' and Jivin'

Given Charlie Parker's dominance, "bebop saxophone" instantly conjures alto, not tenor sax. Even the great Coleman Hawkins, who was sympathetic to bop and had the chops to play it, remained tethered to the Swing Era. As historian Ted Gioia points out, "The idea of modernism seemed to hold more appeal for Hawkins than its execution." One tenorman who made the transition was Don Byas. Eight years Hawk's junior, and stylistically more akin to Ben Webster, Byas here leads a quintet of Swing Era veterans in a brisk and boppish original that—aside from Stewart's annoying hum-along arco-bass shtick—was cutting edge.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Georgia White: I'll Keep Sittin' On It

"When you want something good," Georgia White advises, "you've got to spend your jack." This track illustrates how, by the mid-1930s, the risqué tradition of jazz and blues as bedfellows in bawdy houses had been commodified. Through the voyeuristic medium of a phonograph, respectable folks could peek into dens of iniquity without risk of exposure or social disease. But, as Miss White makes clear, it's still cash on the barrelhead. A shrewd businesswoman with a chair to sell, she also has an ax to grind. Evidently some no-account ne'er-do-well has suggested that she give it away. Don't hold your breath!

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet: Stand By The Bedside Of A Neighbor

Jubilee quartets were early 20th-century male vocal groups who sang Negro spirituals a cappella. What differentiated Virginia's NJQ, aside from superior close harmonizing, resonant bass and clear Tidewater falsetto, was their jazz-inflected phrasing. Cross-pollination has always characterized jazz, but usually it's jazz fertilizing itself from other genres, not vice versa. Here, comforting a neighbor about to cross over, the NJQ moves and mesmerizes us. It's a pity the NJQ's individual membership went uncredited, for they were exceptional artists. Yet they sang not for personal glory, but to glorify God. Maybe more of us should think that way.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry 'Red' Allen & Coleman Hawkins: S'Wonderful

Henry 'Red' Allen lets loose with a boisterous version of "S'Wonderful" that lives up to the exuberant proclamation of the song title. His accomplice Coleman Hawkins had dabbled in bebop during the preceding decade, but here returns to a premodern jazz setting -- a double helping of 1930s dancehall swing with a smidgen of New Orleans counterpoint thrown in for good measure. A sense of unbridled fun permeates the performance, and all the horn players are at top form. Cozy Cole's drumming is outstanding throughout, and he almost steals the show at the end.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry 'Red' Allen & Coleman Hawkins: I Cover the Waterfront

"In 1957, [Henry 'Red' Allen] made a startling recording for Victor," Whitney Balliett wrote of this session. "It included several long ballads, and Allen converted each into a massive lullaby." But don't let this lullaby put you to sleep -- you might miss one of the finest trumpet solos of the decade. Allen shows how to craft a complete musical statement on the horn, each phrase developing a story, without wasted energy or empty pyrotechnics. Allen had learned his craft on the riverboats with Fate Marable, and assimilated the Great Leap Forward signaled by Louis Armstrong in the 1920s; but he was still raising the level of his game during the Eisenhower years. One even hears faint echoes of Miles Davis and the 1950s cool school in this gently ambling improvisation. And then Allen invites Coleman Hawkins to join in on tenor. Can you get too much of a good thing? Listen to it once, and then listen to it all over again. Then -- and only then -- is it time for bed.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mary Lou Williams: Clean Pickin'

Mary Lou Williams didn't need bass and drums to keep the dancers shaking and shimmying. With her driving, two-fisted piano playing, Mary Lou was a one-woman band. Bassist Booker Collins and drummer Ben Thigpen come along for the ride on "Clean Pickin'" but Mary Lou sets the pace from start to finish. The Kansas City scene attracted many of the hardest swinging pianists of the era -- Count Basie, Jay McShann and Pete Johnson among others -- but Mary Lou could challenge the best of them. A very hot performance from a master of pre-bop piano stylings.

November 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bud Powell (featuring Fats Navarro): Wail

"Wail" is one of my favorite bebop recordings. This three minute gem has it all -- a great melody by Bud Powell (why don't more musicians play his tunes, with their great heads and blowing changes?), a hot rhythm section and a glimpse at eighteen year old tenor-titan-in-the-making Sonny Rollins. But, for me, the star of the show is trumpeter Fats Navarro. His tone is big, beautiful and brassy, and each note is hit perfectly on center even at warp speed. Navarro starts out with bugle boy purity for the opening eight bars of his solo, plays around with a clever interpolation from "I Hear Music" in the second eight, and breathes fire over the bridge before sliding safely into home plate at the turnaround. Just thirty-two bars, but every one is perfect. Less than a year later, Navarro would be dead at age 26, a victim of the combined effects of tuberculosis and drug addiction. "Wail" shows how much the jazz world lost by his untimely passing.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Theme for Maxine

"Woody Shaw was the next major stylist on his instrument," Michael Cuscuna writes, "after Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and the forgotten Booker Little." From 1977 through 1981, the CBS label agreed with this assessment, and recorded Shaw in a series of varied and smartly conceived dates. But in 1982, CBS latched onto Wynton Marsalis as the cornerstone of its jazz line, and Shaw never recorded another leader date for the label. At the time of this stellar session, Shaw was still the young lion and his reputation on the rise. "Theme for Maxine" was one of several standout tracks from the Rosewood LP which was nominated for two Grammies and selected as record of the year in the Down Beat readers' poll. Everything clicks here: the stellar rhythm section, the shimmering Shaw composition (a medium groove waltz) and the soloists who bob and weave over the changes. Shaw starts his solo in a gentle mood, moves into a more aggressive stance, before concluding with three well-aimed interval leaps like an Olympic athlete completing a triple jump. A superb track by one of the finest combos of the decade.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy & Booker Little: Fire Waltz

Trumpeter Booker Little would be dead from uremia less than three months after this celebrated recording, a promising career cut off at only 23 years of age. Eric Dolphy would also soon be gone, dead three years later at the age of thirty-six. But even if this duo had only left behind the Five Spot recordings, their reputations would be secure. The piano is out-of-tune, the audience noisy, but Dolphy and Little solo as though this is the concert to end all concerts, playing with the fervor of those true believers who walk barefoot on hot coals. On this "Fire Waltz," Dolphy leads off with a speaking-in-tongues solo on the alto, proselytizing for a new world of jazz between the extremes of Bird and Ornette. Little follows, opening in a hard-bop vein, but gradually pushing harder and harder against the harmonies. "The more dissonance, the bigger the sound," Little mentioned in a rare interview. "I can't think in terms of wrong note. In fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them." Little demonstrates his thesis on this track, constantly disrupting the harmonic equilibrium with a slashing, shock-and-awe solo that ranks among his finest musical moments.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hot Lips Page: Lafayette

Hot Lips Page departed the Basie band shortly before the group left Kansas City for New York. Page hooked up with Louis Armstrong's manager Joe Glaser, who promised to make the trumpeter into a star. But Page's dreams of becoming "the next Louis Armstrong" failed to materialize, although he had all the tools for jazz success: fluid technique, a strong sense of swing, an energetic solo style, and could even (like Louis) sing a blues or popular song with aplomb. By the early 1940s Page had stepped back from fronting his own band, settling for a sideman gig with Artie Shaw. He spent most of the remaining years of his career, before his death at 46, freelancing. "Lafayette" finds Page in top form, stoking the fires of a hard-swinging band with his trumpet pyrotechnics. Though stardom eluded Page, jazz cognoscenti still prize his classic recordings.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Bright Moments (live)

Rahsaan Roland Kirk ranks among the finest soloists of his generation. But when you bought one of his records you never knew what you might get. First, there was that strange three-sided LP. What about those times he played three horns at once? And don't forget those bizarre instruments, the manzello and the stritch. And I loved it when he played the nose flute (but you wouldn't catch me sitting in the front row at the club when he blew it). If Kirk had just focused on tenor sax, he would have ranked with the finest, but that was just a sideline in his traveling one-man show. Where should the uninitiated start with this wide-ranging artist? The Bright Moments recording in San Francisco ranks first and foremost in my Kirk CD collection, and this wild title track is about as good as it gets. Kirk talks, sings, and grooves in high gear with his inimitable over-blowing technique on the flute. A bright moment all should enjoy.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chu Berry & Hot Lips Page: Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You

This song had been recorded by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers back in 1929, and then faded from view during the Great Depression, only to resurface at Chu Berry's 1941 session for the Commodore label. The band takes the tempo at a relaxed stroll, while Page gently lofts the melody on trumpet, then follows with a soulful vocal. Berry's moody tenor solo is the high point of the song, and probably helped establish this Don Redman composition as a jazz standard. A solid combo outing by two underappreciated horn players from the Swing Era.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (OKeh)

Ellington's growing musical maturity from the 1920s through the 1940s is one of the most remarkable stories in the history of jazz. At the time of "Black and Tan Fantasy," Duke was still in the early stages of this unprecedented evolution, but already we see his ability to craft a distinctive musical mood, to tell a story through the medium of his band. Here he presents a late-night dreamscape, both menacing and alluring, one that must have drawn many patrons back to the Cotton Club, where Duke had recently started his four-year stint leading the house band. Trumpeter Bubber Miley helped craft this memorable piece, both as composer and through his solo efforts. But on this date, 18-year-old Jabbo Smith -- a near-legend of 1920s jazz -- subs for Miley, and handles the trumpet chores with aplomb. One wonders what Smith might have accomplished had he accepted Ellington's offer to join the Cotton Club band. Duke completists will want to compare this track with the Brunswick and Victor versions, each featuring Miley.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jabbo Smith: Jazz Battle

"Jabbo was as good as Louis [Armstrong] then," bassist Milt Hinton later remembered. "He was the Dizzy Gillespie of that era. He played rapid-fire passages while Louis was melodic and beautiful . . . [Jabbo] could play soft and he could play fast, but he never made it." Until the Great Depression, Smith always seemed just one step away from stardom. While still a teenager, he recorded with Ellington on a memorable version of "Black and Tan Fantasy" but turned down's Duke's offer to join the band. He went head to head against Louis Armstrong in Chicago during the late 1920s, sometimes on the same bandstand, and Jabbo could hold his own with the jazz legend. Smith's Brunswick recordings with the Rhythm Aces were supposed to make money off the audience Armstrong had built with his classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, but they sold poorly at the time. Yet Smith's trumpet work, as demonstrated on "Jazz Battle," was exceptional, full of fire and executed with virtuosity. A few years later, Smith had moved to Milwaukee where he worked for a car rental agency, and his sporadic attempts to return to music never made much headway. But in his prime, he was one of the greatest trumpeters of his day.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tony Fruscella: I'll Be Seeing You

Tony Fruscella spent most of his short life in institutions of various sorts -- orphanage, army, prison, hospital. But on those rare occasions when he graced the bandstand, he was one of the finest "cool school" trumpeters in jazz. Fruscella still has a small, dedicated cult following (check out this tribute, for example), but many even knowledgeable jazz fans have never heard his music. Those who admire the 1950s work of Miles Davis and Chet Baker would do well to track down his definitive performance of "I'll Be Seeing You." Fruscella's solo is beautifully crafted from start to finish, every phrase rich in melodic invention, and the whole infused with deep emotion. A musical gem from an unfairly forgotten master of the horn.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Redman: Chant of the Weed

Venture past this track's K-tel campiness—As-Seen-On-TV: All-time Smokin' Reefer Songs! Act Now! Supplies Are Limited—and you find the adventurous orchestration of pioneering big band conceptualist Don Redman, among the first to separate brass and reeds into sections and exploit their contrasting timbres. One of a handful to grasp the jazz band's orchestral possibilities only recently expanded by Ellington, Redman cultivates in "Chant of the Weed" a bumper patch of cleverly camouflaged, strangely evocative tonal and atonal colorations. In particular, devotees of the late-1930s Raymond Scott Quintette will detect an ancestral pungency. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mal Waldron: Fire Waltz

The fire on this, the original recording of one of the pianist’s most enduring original compositions, emanates primarily from Booker Ervin’s potently keening tenor saxophone. Waldron’s own short solo typifies his style: insistent and blues-tinged, sprinkled with note clusters inspired by Monk’s example but sounding like no one but Waldron himself. The other two soloists are Carter, whose cello playing here sounds undisciplined compared to his work on the piccolo bass in later decades, and bassist Benjamin, who turns in a competent, if not brilliant effort. There’s no Dolphy solo here, but he would make up for it the following month with his classic live rendition of the piece captured at New York’s Five Spot.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang: A Handful of Riffs

Guitarist and blues pioneer Lonnie Johnson’s most significant partnership captured on discs during the jazz age was his series of duos with jazz guitar pioneer Eddie Lang. OKeh Records billed Lang on their records under the pseudonym “Blind Willie Dunn,” masking the fact that these sides were the product of integrated record sessions. However, as this performance aptly demonstrates, these two used the blues to forge a perfect musical bond: Lang’s time is flawless, and he provides the ideal backdrop for Johnson’s three-minute stream of improvised variations.

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Edmund Hall: Jammin' in Four

Hall was one of the great New Orleans clarinetists, but he was a fixture of the New York jazz club scene at the time of this recording. Don’t be fooled by the instrumentation of this drummer-less ensemble: this isn’t quiet chamber music, but a swinging romp driven by Crosby’s bass and Christian’s acoustic rhythm guitar. They back the unique sweet and sour sonic combination of Meade Lux Lewis pounding out boogie-woogie on celeste with Hall’s hard-edged clarinet blues. Christian’s four-chorus single-line solo reveals how this short-lived musician influenced generations of guitarists to come.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather

No other Jazz Age singer rivaled her versatility. Combining the tony diction of London's posh Mayfair salons (although she actually grew up in Philadelphia poverty) with gospel sincerity and an ever-lurking earthy inflection, Ethel Waters exercised an unmatched artistic range. With the savvy dramaturgy of a seasoned stage actress, Miss Waters didn't simply sing a song, she enacted a minidrama replete with theatrical flourishes. Here, as she concludes, we want to rush the stage crying "Brava!" and strew bouquets at her feet. In 2003, when the Grammy folks enshrined this track in their Hall of Fame, they got it right.

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jelly Roll Morton: Jungle Blues

Before becoming jazz's first great composer, Jelly Roll Morton spent years entertaining within the bizarre Black Minstrelsy tradition, where Afro-Americans (often in blackface) perpetuated the demeaning routines popularized by earlier generations of white minstrels. Thus, for Morton, associating jazz with the jungle was a familiar appeal to the basest expectations of white audiences. "Jungle Blues," with its insistent rhythm and unchanging harmony, is Roaring '20s primitivism in which the jazzman embodies the noble savage to titillate the suppressed sensuality of sophisticated whites. Dressing Uncle Tom in a tuxedo instead of plantation tatters was progress, but not much.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Mississippi Mud

"Just as happy as a cow chewin' on her cud," regales Bing Crosby, "when the darkies beat their feet on the Mississippi mud." No track better exemplifies the diamonds-in-quicksand contradictions of Jim Crow jazz. The jewels are supplied by Bix Beiderbecke, whose cornet glitters gloriously amidst the muck of racial condescension. Instead of attacking a note head-on, Bix would sneak up on it, rolling the note delicately through his horn as if massaging a caterpillar, and finally spring it surprised from his bell, newly arrayed. Bix's laid-back lyricism redeems a track that would otherwise belong at the bottom of the swamp.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Monotony

In 1948, at the pinnacle of success, bandleader Stan Kenton—who at his wife's urging had entered psychoanalysis—announced his intention "to give up music and become a psychiatrist." Kenton soon reconsidered his projected 12-year metamorphosis, and returned to music. "Monotony" shows Kenton's fascination with the obsessive-compulsive repetition of Ravel's Boléro (1928) that led French neurologists to detect (65 years postmortem; ain't science grand?) "the influence of progressive cerebral disease on Ravel's creative process." No doubt the more original an artist, the better a target for the shrink squad. But what's crazy about repetition? What's crazy about repetition? What's crazy about repetition?

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Krazy Kat

Hollywood's Young Man With a Horn (1950), writes film scholar David Sterritt, is "loosely based" on Bix Beiderbecke and "explicit about the trumpet as a fetish." Any suggestion that Bix was sexually fixated on his cornet is pretty sick stuff, but nobody better embodied the self-destructive Roaring Twenties. Here Bix cavorts with another Jazz Age icon—Krazy Kat, feline focus of George Herriman's long-running newspaper cartoon. Surprisingly, this track is distinguished by its orderliness. Bix's languid legato presides over a businesslike ensemble about as wild & crazy as President Calvin Coolidge soberly invoking what Chico Marx called a "sanity clause."

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Madness in Great Ones

COURTIER: My liege, our esteem'd Duke of Ellington is by madness possessed. He doth protest to all who would hear, "I love you madly." KING: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! COURTIER: Pray hasten his confinement to the lair of loons, whence he may be shrink rapt. KING: Get thee to a punnery! And fetch me headphones that I may with royal ears attest his madness. (Listening) Why, this be magnificent, so gracious is the time in Duke's solo. Thence Cat Anderson's lofty trumpet awakens as cock to the morn. Let all our imperial jazzmen be thus beguiled!

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Matt Dusk: The Best Is Yet to Come

It will be a sad day when jazz singing is defined by nostalgia efforts like this one. Jazz will become like opera, an art form in which imitating the mannerisms of a previous century has mostly replaced more immediate and original expressions of creativity. But if Sinatra impersonators ever grow as popular as Elvis clones, Dusk will be in his sweet spot. This record is merely playacting, with an expensive horn and string section as backdrop. Your faithful reviewer would like to ignore such releases but, like bad money squeezing out real legal tender, they are increasingly finding their way into circulation, and fans need to be educated enough to protect themselves.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Phineas Newborn, Jr.: The Midnight Sun Will Never Set

"If I had to choose the best all-around pianist of anyone who's followed me chronologically," Oscar Peterson decided, "undoubtedly I would say Phineas Newborn, Jr." After a promising start in the mid- 1950s, Newborn's recurring mental meltdowns led to confinement in the Jazz Wing at Camarillo State Hospital and elsewhere, continuing intermittently until his death at 57. "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" may have been a beacon of clarity in Phineas's fog, but if so we are fortunate to glimpse it. With such artists, it's better not to dwell on what might've been, and savor instead their gifts, however fleeting.

Caveat: "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" is often misnamed "The Midnight Sun Never Sets," perhaps due to Quincy Jones having written it in the back of a cab, as recounted by Jazz.com's David Tenenholtz. Rest assured it's the same song, which in any case must not be confused with "Midnight Sun," a 1947 melody by Sonny Burke & Lionel Hampton to which, in 1955, Johnny Mercer mentally added lyrics while driving his car home from Hollywood to Newport Beach. (What is there about midnight suns and moving vehicles?) I hope all that's clear. You will be tested on this later!

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tom Harrell: Everything Happens to Me

In a 2005 report on the $14 billion anti-schizophrenia drug market, forbes.com focused on "renowned jazz musician" and diagnosed schizophrenic Tom Harrell. "For years, he has fought not only his disease, but also the crippling side effects of the drugs used to treat it. He still cuts an otherworldly figure, a grey-shocked wraith who stands stooped until he puts his horn to his mouth to play. But many of his symptoms—at least the drug-related ones—have improved." In this light, "Everything Happens To Me" assumes singular poignancy. Tom Harrell's deeply moving performance is a victory not of medicine but of one man's indomitability. $14 billion cannot buy such courage.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Greensleeves

Coltrane’s jukebox-friendly interpretation of the show tune “My Favorite Things” has always overshadowed his overhaul of the English folk song “Greensleeves” – also known as the Christmas song “What Child Is This?” – but this is the superior performance. This wasn’t the first time he recorded it, but he really nailed it here. The first few notes out of Coltrane’s sax come crashing down more than an octave as he states the melody once and then sends it caroming all over the place, augmenting its simple beauty with squeals and phrases that seem gorgeously out of place.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: Red River Valley

When Hollywood's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) made "Red River Valley" the anthem of Dust Bowl Okies, moviegoers assumed the Red River referenced was that marking the Texas-Oklahoma border. Folklorists, however, lean towards North Dakota's Red River Valley as a more likely namesake. Whatever its source, the song's long sufferance as country-&-western fodder renders this track an epiphany. Backed by Colin Linden's solitary slide guitar—as stark and vast as the Great Plains—Cassandra Wilson transforms "Red River Valley" into a love song as hauntingly personal as Sheila Jordan's "You Are My Sunshine" with George Russell (1962). A triumphantly original reinterpretation.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lorez Alexandria: Show Me

Who knew? Turns out the Cockney Cinderella who morphs into a duchess for a musical set in Mayfair actually hailed from Missouri. Or so suggests this waltz from Broadway's My Fair Lady (1956). Lorez Alexandria's "Show Me" halves the tempo of Eliza Doolittle's stop-beating-about-the-bush-you-limey- blighters grievance, yet doubles its temperature. Whereas Eliza was girlishly impatient, Lorez is womanly seductive, proving there's more than one way to skin a stubborn Missouri mule. When Bill Marx's arrange- ment does break a sweat, it's only to exult Lorez's triumph, after which order is restored for a bluesy finale. Show me the way to Alexandria, Missouri.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Ain't No Sunshine

At his best, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was one of the most exciting instrumentalists of his generation. I still recall a night at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach when Kirk had the audience in a frenzy, digging in with a tenor solo to end all tenor solos. But the Atlantic release Blacknuss did a disservice to this masterful player with its sub-par accompaniment and hokey crossover arrangements. On this forgettable LP, Kirk recorded the Bread pop-schlock tune "Make It With You" (all-too-white Bread on an LP called Blacknuss?), "My Girl" and other pop drivel, and even Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," one of the grittier soul tunes of the era, collapses under the weight of an overwrought arrangement. If you want to hear Kirk in a more inspired mood, track down the dynamic Bright Moments live recording at Keystone Korner, or his tour de force performance on the Mingus at Carnegie Hall release.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hartman: Sleepin' Bee

Sometimes the finger-snapping is figurative; here it's literal, but quiet enough to not awaken a sleepin' bee. At little more than two minutes, this track might seem miserly, except it's really all Johnny Hartman needs to convince us that despite their tinsel tackiness, Ring-a-Dings are at heart romantics. Hartman's hushed but torrid baritone, abetted by soundman Rudy Van Gelder's twist of reverb, could melt frozen daiquiris still in the freezer. Hell, it'll curdle your cream at 50 feet. Toast your muffins. Simmer your soup. Sizzle your steak. Warm your cockles. Heat your hearth. Scorch your earth. You get the idea.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: I'm an Old Cowhand

William Claxton, who took the cover photo of Sonny Rollins in cowboy attire in a desert setting, confirms that Mel Brooks got the inspiration for his film Blazing Saddles from this striking image. But this is only one of the many peculiarities of this recording. After all, who expects Sonny Rollins to cover a Roy Rogers song? But a more welcome innovation is the absence of piano on this track. Rollins would emerge as the master of the sax trio—just bass and drums, and no chords to clog up the middle. And it all started on this legendary session. Solidly swinging tenor with a dollop of good humor.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Marshall: Cowboy Jazz

If your idea of cowboy jazz is Sonny Rollins's "I’m an Old Cowhand" or Stan Kenton's "Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle," ponder agin, pardner. According to country singer Paul Marshall, cowboy jazz is yippee ki-yay giddyup sons of pioneers tumbling tumbleweeds cool water home on the range and don't fence me in. It's a campfire glowing under a silvery moon, harmonica bleating, coyotes yowling and prairie dogs yodeling in 5-part harmony. In other words, it's Wyoming, our least populated state, with half a million people scattered across 100,000 square miles. On second thought, we'll stick with Sonny.

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: The Tattooed Bride

Ellington was ahead of his time, and not just for preferring his brides with tattoos. This extended piece, premiered by the Ellington band at Carnegie Hall in 1948, ranks among the Duke's most daring works, with its advanced harmonic language and dramatic mood shifts from somber introspection to hard-edged swing. Ellington's first LP, Masterpieces, gave him the chance to present this 12-minute work on record without interruption – not possible with the earlier 78 format – and the composer delights in his newfound freedom. Three minutes into the piece, the rhythm section disappears, and the horns engage in an avant-garde dialogue that gets wilder and wilder until the band returns cooking like a McDonald's crew at lunch hour. But Ellington soon brings down the energy level, and plays around with a host of "hear-a-pin- drop" effects. Not for long . . . Ellington returns to hard and heavy swing to close out the proceedings. What a bride! Jimmy Hamilton, Cat Anderson and others solo with aplomb, but the star here is Ellington's chart, which still sounds fresh and invigorating more than a half century after it was written.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo (1950)

The advent of the long-playing record finally released Duke Ellington from the time constraints that had previously forced him to slice and dice his creative output into three minute installments. In truth, Ellington had grown comfortable with short forms, and even when he wrote extended suites for his late vintage LPs, he tended to fill them with short vignettes of a few minutes duration. But for his first LP, Ellington revisited some of his earlier classics and fleshed them out into longer versions. His 15-minute version of "Mood Indigo" is a breathtaking reworking of a song Ellington had first recorded twenty years earlier. Here Ellington pulls out every trick in the book, taking this song all the way from Mood Infrared up to Mood Ultraviolet, and touching on every shade between. The whole track shines, but the avant-garde waltz restatement toward the close is about as good as big band writing can get. Fans who are looking for outstanding Ellingtonia from the 1950s should start here.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: A Tone Parallel To Harlem

Many fans back in the early 1950s thought that the arrival of the LP -- youngsters, that stands for "Long Playing" record -- would inspire jazz musicians to tackle extended works. No longer subject to the time limitations of a 78-rpm disk, the great minds of jazz would compose symphonies and suites, concertos and chamber works. Well, not quite. But Duke Ellington was certainly inspired by his newfound freedom, especially on his 14-minute A Tone Parallel To Harlem (The Harlem Suite). At age 52, Ellington was still at the peak of his abilities, and the bittersweet melody (entering at the nine-minute mark) that closes the piece is one of his finest. For my money, this composition and Duke's long and revamped version of "Mood Indigo" (from the Masterpieces LP) rank as his finest extended works of the decade.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Harris: Uptown Sop

To soul-food connoisseurs such as your humble reviewer, sop refers not to bribe, fool or Standard Operating Procedure, but rather to what Essence magazine's Khephra Burns describes as that "all-too-fleeting moment of ultimate contentment when the last sop of gravy is wiped up with a biscuit." Similarly mouthwatering is the "Uptown Sop" tandem of Harris & Turrentine, here reunited a quarter century after their memorable Blue Note Blue Hour soul-feast. Warmed by the enthusiastic crowd attending this live recording, and further heated by a simmering rhythm section, Harris & Turrentine wipe every plate in the place cleaner than an automatic dishwasher. Ultimate contentment.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gary Foster: The Peacocks

The alto flute is the Lauren Bacall of musical instruments. Its slightly lower pitch than the concert flute makes for a huskiness that's, as the French say, très sexy. Indeed, in To Have and Have Not (1944), Miss Bacall herself provides the best instruction on playing it: "You just put your lips together and blow." The lips here belong to Gary Foster, covering a tune best known for Stan Getz's lovely 1975 duet with its composer, Jimmy Rowles, who's also on this track. But just as a peacock's shimmering plumage varies with changes in light or position, flautist Foster fans a gorgeous, thoroughly seductive iridescence all his own.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers: Rhythm Saved the World

By the mid-1930s, the Mills Brothers' vocal imitations of instrumental sounds were wearing thin. Yet 70+ years hence, this track remains timely for its depressingly topical lyrics. "Diplomats talk through their hats," writes Sammy Cahn. "They claim guns win every war … [but] guns will never bring this country glory." Coming from Tin Pan Alley, such sentiments are startling. And indeed, resorting to form, this song ultimately stops short of being antiwar, holding instead that rhythm, by instilling "new life" in warriors, ensures their victory. While that may be a discomfiting prospect to fundamentalists who deem music sinful, it's doubtful that rhythm by itself will save the world. We also need melody and harmony—lots of harmony.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers: Tiger Rag

Besides singing conventionally, the teenage Mills brothers imitated musical instruments with kazoos. But, legend has it, forgetting to bring their kazoos to one gig, the youngsters cupped hands over mouths and conjured convincing instrumental sounds with voices alone. This so gassed the customers that the kazoos were trashed. With Herbert mimicking sax or trombone, Harry simulating trumpet, and deep-voiced John doing bass—all in support of Donald's lead vocals—the brothers caused a sensation. Today's listeners may equate "Tiger Rag" with Looney Tunes, but novelties were an important gateway for early jazz into pop culture, and this one's still fun.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins & Benny Carter: Smack

This ad-hoc recording ensemble (which revived a name used for various small group record dates from the 1920s and '30s) reunited stars of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra – Henderson (whose nickname provided the tune’s title) couldn’t make it to the date, so, unusually for the time, no piano is heard here. Also, the side has no opening theme statement, but simply goes directly into its one-two-three punch of solos by some of the most distinctive soloists in jazz: Benny Carter’s polished and witty alto, Roy Eldridge’s incandescent trumpet and Coleman Hawkins’s gruff and vigorous tenor.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa & Roy Eldridge: Rockin' Chair

In the 1950s, Eldridge rerecorded this song under his own name with a small combo, but this is the original masterpiece by the trumpeter. His solo, which dominates the side from beginning to end, has been studied by generations of brass players. However, Eldridge had been taken unawares when Krupa originally called the tune at the recording session, and thinking that his playing was not up to snuff, he begged the drummer not to release the side. But on hearing the issued disc, he warmed up to the performance, and later would often refer to it as representing his best work on records.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Remember Rockefeller at Attica

The sentiment evoked in the title of this work is far removed from the vibe of the music. Mingus stated that the moniker was attached later and the original title was "Just For Laughs, Saps" The piece is unique in the unconventional use of a 51-measure form with the final bar of each chorus to be played only by the piano. Throughout the work Mingus sprinkles his usual rhythmic variation and the ensemble rushes in with the enthusiasm one expects from the master's aggregations. Great solos from Adams, Pullen and the composer take us to a final reading of the head and that marvelous lone piano chord to conclude!

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Cables: Goin' Home

The 2nd-movement tune from Dvo?ák's New World Symphony (1893) sounds so American that many listeners mistake it for a Negro spiritual. The Czech composer, however, having written it in New York, insisted his themes were original, merely "embodying the peculiarities" of indigenous music. A hundred years later, George Cables demonstrates that "Goin' Home" had become as American as baseball (from Britain and Ireland), hot dogs (Vienna/Frankfurt), apple pie (England) and Chevrolet (Swiss immigrant). In any case, quoting Ellington's "I Got It Bad," Cables gently reminds us that, be it ever so humble, our most authentically American indigenous peculiarity is jazz.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Toshiko Akiyoshi: Con Alma

Con alma, meaning "with soul," was written by Dizzy Gillespie, born in Cheraw, South Carolina. Yet, as shown by Toshiko Akiyoshi, the soul in question need not derive from collard greens and black-eyed peas. Born in China, Toshiko moved at 17 to Japan following World War II, so it's unclear whether Peking duck or Ginza sushi accounts for her deep-dish piano flavoring. A composer herself, she obviously delights in Dizzy's recipe, which she not only prepares to perfection but delivers with the skill of a Zen waitress carrying steaming takeout on a Honda Super Sprint motorcycle through rush-hour Tokyo streets. Pedestrians fend for yourselves. This lady hauls alma.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Claire Martin: Slow Time

I am struck by how many talented jazz singers are coming from the UK these days. Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua are perhaps the best known, but we also need to give kudos to Ian Shaw (who contributed this composition and arrangement) and Claire Martin, who handles the microphone on this rendition. Martin is still uncertain whether she wants to stay in the museum of jazz standards or tackle more contemporary material. Let me put in a vote for the latter path. This song captures a beguiling late-night atmosphere, the kind of tune you want to hear on the radio for the last stretch of the long drive home. With the right producer and surrounded by world-class musicians, Martin could make a much bigger splash.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lizz Wright: Afro Blue

Wright is one of the more promising jazz singers of the new generation. She has a powerful, soulful voice and although she could belt the notes out of the ballpark, she never over-sings. Wright builds this six-minute performance from a simmer to a full boil, then gradually brings down the energy level with a bittersweet wordless vocal over Perez’s deft keyboard work. This track, from her debut CD, is very jazzy, but elsewhere Wright shows potential for crossover success. Certainly she has the voice, but I am even more struck by her poise. She was only twenty-two when she made this recording, but has already honed her own personal sound.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Goosey Gander

This track takes its name from a nursery rhyme, but don't let Woody Herman's First Herd anywhere near the nursery. True, "Goosey Gander" starts tamely enough, with Woody's clarinet waddling like a gosling, followed by Flip Phillips's casually watchful tenor sax. But then somebody wakes up Bill Harris, and the geese go a gaggle. Harris was so powerful, Woody's 3-man trombone section could out-blast Ohio State's Marching Band at halftime in Columbus. Not to be outdone, Pete "Superman" Candoli leads the trumpets blowing all-out for Truth, Justice & the American Way. If birds evolved from dinosaurs, "Goosey Gander" was Tyrannosaurus rex.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Claude Thornhill: Yardbird Suite

Once the Swing Era expired like a lapsed subscription to The Saturday Evening Post, many big-name bandleaders became bopycats. Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and even King of Swing Benny Goodman jumped on the bebop bandwagon. For his part, pianist Claude Thornhill tinkled amiably along to Gil Evans's arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." It's a remarkable chart, with an especially distinctive solo by Lee Konitz—seemingly oblivious to Bird's otherwise pervasive influence. Even so, there's no mistaking bop's overall impact. Within two years of its 52nd-street debut and Diz & Bird's first great recordings, bop ruled the roost.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Bird Gets the Worm

This track has no pretense of melody. The red light comes on, Parker sets a furious tempo, and the musicians take off on the chords of "Lover Come Back to Me." Of course, boppers often copped the changes from some standard and overlaid a thinly disguised tune to create an "original" (wink, wink) composition. Here, however, Bird seems impatient. Perhaps, four days before Christmas, he's anxious to finish his last-minute shopping. Whatever, Parker's leadoff solo is one of his most jaw-dropping on record, and Miles's assured cup-muted follow-up is the ideal complement. With improvising like this, who needs a melody?

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Flamingo

In 1940, the star of such Westerns with a black hero as Bronze Buckaroo (1938) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939) became the hippest singing cowboy ever by joining Duke Ellington and charting with "Flamingo." Herb Jeffries was a far yodel from Gene Autry. For rounding up lonesome dogies, Autry's hayseed tenor was fine. But Herb's manly baritone rounded up more doggone ladies than would fit in the O.K. Corral. (Not that ladies should be kept in a corral, mind you. It's just a figure of speech.) Apart from short solos by trombonist Brown and altoist Hodges, this track belongs to Jeffries—and to Billy Strayhorn, whose vibrant orchestration befits one of the world's most colorful birds.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Richard Twardzik: Bess, You Is My Woman

"Then there was this white cat," Cecil Taylor later recalled, "Dick Twardzik . . . He had destroyed some Kenton people by playing like Bud Powell first and getting them all excited and then going into his, at that time, Schoenbergian bag." Twardzik was dead before his 25th birthday, a victim of heroin abuse, and only a handful of recordings testify to his forward-looking combination of modern jazz and avant-garde classical currents. On "Bess, You Is My Woman," Twardzik opens with a rubato chorus which turns the Gershwin standard into a harmonic showpiece. Thick sonorous chords are intermixed with brittle fragments of wounded voicings and brief stabs of polytonality. (Pianists, check out Twardzik's pedaling . . . How often have you heard it done that well in a 1950s jazz recording?) The trio settles briefly into a straight groove during the final seconds of the track, but this deference to conventional jazz vocabulary sounds almost like an afterthought. Even today, Twardzik would stand out in a crowd of keyboardists, but back in 1954 he was a lone warrior at the frontier of the jazz idiom. A definitive performance from a musician who deserves to be far better known.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Trajectories

As usual, Stan Kenton was ahead of the curve. His Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra was an icebreaker, intrepidly forging an uncharted Third Stream long before Gunther Schuller named it. Here, composer Franklyn Marks shrewdly overcomes the inherent viscosity of strings by tracing pizzicato swirls across the clear night sky. Shelly Manne once famously griped that getting the Kenton band to swing was as strenuous as chopping wood, but the built-in momentum of "Trajectories" eases his woodchopper's chore. While the brass, alas, are vintage mid-century crime jazz, this pioneering expedition is among the friskiest voyages of discovery since Darwin's Beagle.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Pas de Trois

Concurrent sentences under warden Stan Kenton left Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers, like career criminals acquiring new tricks of the trade in prison, hardened musical adventurers. By contrast, Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers" sojourn with Woody Herman scarcely foretold his subsequent avant-gardism. Only after falling under the sway of composer/mystic Dr. Wesley La Violette did Giuffre grow cerebral, rigorously applying formal compositional devices to chamber jazz. While much mid-'50s West Coast jazz was contrapuntal, Giuffre's "Pas de Trois" takes full advantage of Manne's melodicism, integrating his drums into an extraordinary tripartite fugue. Abstract, controlled, fascinating—Third Stream for three, please.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Lewis: Three Little Feelings

This track both connects and disconnects Birth of the Cool and Third Stream. BOTC holdovers include Miles, J.J., Barber, Lewis and Schuller. But whereas BOTC was an arrangers/improvisers band, Third Stream is a composers/soloists orchestra—even, as here, sans strings. "Three Little Feelings" beefs up the brass, but don't expect Kentonesque overkill from John Lewis, who always understood that a well-placed arrow is just as effective as cannon fire, and far more economical. Miles and J.J. solo sensitively, yet the ultimate triumph is composer Lewis's ability to avoid bombast and reveal the luxuriant beauty of 17 brass instruments.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Lewis: Sketch

MJQ + string quartet = one felicitous match. Whereas many jazz groups would simply overwhelm such a setting—can you imagine, for instance, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with string quartet?—the MJQ's genteel nuances are, if anything, rudely interrupted by the strings' first entrance. But the parties quickly reach such amicable rapprochement that we wish this 5½-minute "Sketch" had been developed into a full-fledged painting. Come to think of it, the following year the MJQ & Orchestra recorded Third Stream's one-hit wonder, "England's Carol." So maybe "Sketch," blending modern jazz and rococo elegance, grew into a mural after all.

November 23, 2007 · 1 comment

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Art Tatum: Have You Met Miss Jones?

Has Art Tatum met Miss Jones? By the end of this five-minute track, Art has taken her uptown, downtown, out back, and round the block twice. He can even tell you if she has any sisters at home, and describe that birthmark behind her knee. Yes, he knows Miss Jones, and relates every detail in this keyboard jaunt. Here are all the Tatum trademarks: the effortless stride, the rapid-fire runs played with machine-like clarity, the modulations into the stratosphere and back, the "Look, Ma, three hands!" pyrotechnics. All well and good. But, after this, there isn't much left of Miss Jones for the next pianist.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tony Bennett: Lover

Finally! After three decades of jazz "Lovers" streaking to shatter the 3-minute mile, Tony Bennett shows what an enchanting love song this was all along, just waiting for a master balladeer to rein in the tempo, lower the volume and try a little tenderness. It's the difference between leading an all-out, bugles-blaring cavalry charge and whispering sweet nothings in the ear. We can't document it, but we'll wager that down through history, strategically placed whispers have conquered more sovereign territory than any cavalry. And if you know a more seductive whisperer than Tony Bennett, please let us know.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Pass: Have You Met Miss Jones?

Joe Pass's Virtuoso LP on Norman Granz's Pablo label shook up a lot of guitarists when it was first released, and catapulted Pass from obscurity to the top ranks of jazz artists. Soon Pass was recording with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, among others, and following up with several more solo guitar releases under the Virtuoso imprimatur. Pass lived up to the big claims of the title - he was a true virtuoso of the six strings. The speed and clarity of his single-note lines was unsurpassed among jazz guitarists of his day, but one can also enjoy his performances for their harmonic ingenuity or their sheer unbridled swing. On "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Pass is all over the fretboard, spinning out basslines, rapid-fire licks, passing chords, moving from relaxed rubato to hard-driving swing rhythms, dancing through the "Giant Steps" changes in the bridge. And every note sings clear, every phrase conveys a confident sense of mastery. Pass is now gone, and only the recording remains. But a generation after this album's debut, it still captivates and impresses.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Lover

For the first 45 seconds of this 2-minute track, Anita O'Day treats her "Lover" as tenderly as, well, "Tenderly." Then arranger Billy May loses patience, and it's off to the races for a familiar sprint to the finish. Too bad. Anita was onto something. "Lover," a pretty Cinderella grown haggard from too many frantic pumpkin rides tempting midnight's last stroke, might indeed fare better as a ballad. But Billy May won't give her a chance. While Anita is certainly up to an up-tempo gallop, it's dismaying how a tried- and-true treatment can become a straightjacket for even the most creative interpreters.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dorothy Ashby: Taboo

F.W. Murnau's silent film Tabu (1931) introduced a sacred Polynesian word into the pop lexicon. Shot on location in Bora Bora, Tabu tells of lovers fleeing their village after the girl's unwilling selection as a bridesmaid to the gods. Americans were scandalized by their first cinematic exposure to the au naturel South Pacific, abounding with bare-breasted native ladies. Here, a fully clothed Dorothy Ashby performs "Taboo" on an ancient and most exotic musical implement. Some instruments deserve to be taboo in jazz, but not Ashby's harp. This is solid, swinging jazz, whetted by Wess and whisked by the matchless Haynes.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Ysabel's Table Dance

Trying to party away the heartache of a failed marriage, Charles Mingus found "not even Tijuana could satisfy." Born in Nogales, Arizona, he had a special feel for border towns. From his unsatisfying binge around Tijuana's streets and bars, Mingus brought home a hard-won hangover and a triumphant flamenco trophy. Featuring namesake Ysabel Morel's crisp castanets and vocal urgings, "Ysabel's Table Dance" does in <10½ minutes what filmmaker Orson Welles's Tijuana-lite Touch of Evil (1958) fails to in >1½ hours. Namely, it scares hell out of you. For Mingus, danger and depravity are not the stuff of stagecraft. They're real.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Invitation

Born in St. Louis of Swedish stock, Cal Tjader was to Latin jazz what New York pianist Martin Denny was to the South Pacific. (Transplanted to Hawaii, Denny christened Exotica with his 1957 LP and scored a campy mainland hit with "Quiet Village," on which sidemen imitated birdcalls and jungle cries.) After an early-'50s apprenticeship with Englishman George Shearing's pseudo-Latinized combo, Tjader capitalized on the mid-'50s mambo mania with such Latinate lounge-exotica as Polish émigré Bronis?aw Kaper's 1952 MGM movie theme "Invitation," which is Denny minus the birdcalls. With Awk-awks and Whoop-whoop-whoops, this could've been a huge hit.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Evening in Pakistan

Like the proverbial Ark, Stan Kenton's behemoth Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra included at least two of every known instrument. Yet try as he might, Noah couldn't keep the boat afloat. During its 2-year maiden voyage, Kenton's Titanic struck an economic iceberg. The overextended skipper knew he was in trouble when his crew began outnumbering paying passengers. Before reaching dry-dock, however, Captain Kenton put in at Karachi Port for an "Evening in Pakistan," which conjures via finger cymbals and tambourine an atmospheric stroll after dark around the bazaar. For all his foibles, Kenton was jazz's Marco Polo—a magnificent adventurer.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: 7.5

In November 1957, Sonny Rollins became the first jazz artist to record live at the Village Vanguard. Forty-five years later, Chris Potter joins the select list of saxophone greats – which includes John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Joe Lovano – who have recorded at the famed New York City jazz club. Taking center stage midway through the opening track, Potter duets with drummer Bill Stewart for a performance worthy of the Vanguard's rich history. This track is not altogether consistent, but features several spectacular moments.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'

He doesn't sing here, but Waller's skills as pianist and composer are amply displayed. While Fats didn't invent the Harlem stride style (usually credited to James P. Johnson), he was among its most prodigious practitioners. And whereas he didn't write all the best songs of the 1920s (a guy named Gershwin being no slouch), Fats contributed many jazz standards. Both in conception and execution, "Ain't Misbehavin'" personifies Waller's irrepressible mischief and merriment. Disporting the lilting melody with his effortless bubbly touch, he simultaneously goads the song with a vibrant sense of swing, producing a track as irresistible as Fats himself.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pine Top Smith: Pine Top's Boogie Woogie

Mystery hangs like a dusty, fraying shroud upon pianist Clarence Smith. (As Dashiell Hammett observed, the cheaper the reviewer, the gaudier the patter.) Most sources agree that Smith was born in Alabama (1904) and died in Chicago—variously knifed (1928) in a barroom brawl, shot (1929) by a stray bullet during a dancehall fracas or crushed (1930) in a fraternal lodge melee. Poet Langston Hughes claims Smith popularized boogie woogie "about 1930," making an earlier demise unlikely but not altogether impossible. Even his nickname, derived from cranial resemblance to a pine tree, is sometimes one, sometimes two words. All that's certain is this track's everlasting enjoyment as a party record.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Search for Peace

On his first Blue Note album, the pianist who is forever linked to John Coltrane had a chance to present his own originals. From the opening phrase of this sober ballad, Tyner's love of music shines. As a soloist, Tyner is well-schooled in the tasteful and hard-swinging styles of Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, but inserts his own radical flourishes and hammering touch. Elvin Jones’s brushwork, though, is somewhat tight, and the phrasing between Henderson’s sax and the piano is a little loose.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: 'Round Midnight (1957 solo version)


        Thelonious Monk at Salle Pleyel (1954)
                Photo by Marcel Fleiss

To truly appreciate Monk's most famous and most revered composition, "'Round Midnight," one must hear one of his solo recordings of it. This one is painfully beautiful, as Monk plays it softly and without a lot of fancy tricks or spiked notes. The CD Thelonious Himself includes one heck of a bonus track, too: 22 minutes of Monk working on the tune, trying to find the right groove and exploring its nooks and crannies. Another (better-recorded) version of the tune came 11 years later and can be found on the two-CD Sony release Monk Alone. It's a totally different beast. Less introspective and more powerful, Monk jabs the keys with a vengeance, as though telling the listener in no uncertain terms that this four-minute gem is an important piece of music.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: Hello Young Lovers

Few trombonists came anywhere near J.J.'s light-speed technique, and even those who did failed to match his tonal purity. The all-stars on this quintessential track rise to the leader's level, with former Johnson sideman Chambers, current sidekick Flanagan, and old bebop buddy Roach meshing masterfully. As a coda, J.J. quotes "March of the Siamese Children"—like "Hello Young Lovers," from Broadway's The King and I—slyly reminding us of his ungainly instrument's humble marching-band origins. In Johnson's hands, the sliphorn not only scaled the heights, it reached the summit. J.J.'s flag flies triumphantly alone at the peak of jazz trombone.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chris Botti: La Belle Dame Sans Regrets

During the original mid-'60s bossa nova craze, Brazilian Portuguese was the lingua franca. Despite being understood worldwide by a fifth as many people as English, the native tongue was part of the mystique, as with Swedish cinema. Four decades later, English pop star Sting writes and sings a lovely bossa nova in—no, still not English, but French! The good news is that the Harmon mute has made it into the new millennium. Chris Botti, the most angelic-looking trumpeter since a young Chet Baker, is such a divine Harmon-izer that the mute's sleepless 19th-century inventor, John F. Stratton, may at last rest in peace.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Stormy Weather (1954)

Until the late 1940s, John LaPorta coulda been a contender. That's when he hooked up with Lennie Tristano. Talk about a one-way ticket to Palookaville! In 1954, LaPorta emerged from Tristano's training camp to spar with heavyweight Charles Mingus, then championing jazz Abstract Expressionism. LaPorta's modernistic arrangement of "Stormy Weather," featuring Thad Jones with eerie reverb and a lugubrious cello, undermines our expectations, using bitonality to create an illusion of suspended gravitation. This scheme, particularly applied to a familiar standard instead of an original composition, demonstrates how experimental New York jazzmen were half a decade before Ornette Coleman blew into town. Incidentally, the album title's "Jazzical" connoted jazz + classical two years before Gunther Schuller coined the artier Third Stream.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)

Harold Arlen's composition may be the ultimate late-night, brokenhearted, drown-your-sorrows-in-booze song. Sinatra owned this territory -- his last commercial session found him rerecording it (with Kenny G!), and a short while later the same piece was performed at the crooner's funeral. But others have also put their stamp on this tearjerker. Bette Midler sang it to Johnny Carson on one of the last episodes of his talk-fest, and even brought tears to the eyes of that seasoned host (and snagged an Emmy for the Divine Miss M). Astaire danced to it, and Cab Calloway sang it behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. But Wes Montgomery stakes out his claim to the standard on this memorable performance from 1961. His guitar lines are very soulful and he puts his personal stamp on every phrase. No guitarist ever played with a better sense of timing and swing than Wes, and he shows here that he can keep the music grooving at a slow-to-medium tempo that often puts seasoned rhythm sections into a rut. A gem of a performance from a giant of the six strings.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Stormy Weather

Possessing neither the theatricality of Ethel Waters nor the stateliness of Lena Horne, Billie Holiday eschews "Stormy Weather" as a torch song, and instead makes it a saloon song. You might fear that Billie's quarter-to-three, no-one-in-the-place-except-you-and-me barstool confidential would detract from the lyrics; with such a distinctive artist, a mere song risks becoming more about her than about its intended subject. Think again. Nobody ever served "Stormy Weather" better than Lady Day, who affords a whole new appreciation of Ted Koehler's words. Songs are a form of storytelling. And jazz never had a wiser, more believable storyteller than Billie Holiday.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: My Shining Hour

The Denny Zeitlin trio was one of the most important jazz combos from the 1960s -- but the execs at the Columbia label (now part of Sony) seem intent on keeping most of this vibrant music out-of-print and unavailable. Zeitlin had assimilated the breakthroughs of the previous decade, from the impressionism of Bill Evans to the free-fall explorations of Ornette Coleman, and blended them into a personal style that anticipated the next fifteen years of keyboard advances. He stood out from the crowd for the unbridled creativity of his work, the richness of his harmonic palette, and the sheer beauty of his piano tone. I finally replaced my scratchy LP of Live at the Trident with an expensive CD import from Japan. But the music has never been made available on CD in the U.S. The same is true of Zeitlin's exceptional Zeitgeist release from 1966. Will somebody open up the vault and let the music out? Fans who seek out these rarities will be rewarded with piano trio music of the highest level.

November 21, 2007 · 1 comment

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Fred Hersch: Haunted Heart

Like Jessica Williams's "I Remember Bill" recorded during Maybeck's previous season, Hersch pays homage to Bill Evans. After an impressionistic beginning reminiscent of Evans's "Peace Piece," Hersch uses pedal points to set a Satie-esque stillness, and overlays the spectral standard that Evans first haunted in 1961. It's spooky. Just as ghosts attach to artifacts from their former lives, certain songs are so closely associated with particular artists that we need hear only a phrase to be drawn into their netherworld. Certainly during his lifetime Bill Evans haunted hearts like no other pianist. Fred Hersch reminds us that great spirits linger on.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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André Previn: Stormy Weather

Sometimes to see something clearly, you have to momentarily look away. We tested this once while practicing our Zen archery, and frankly the results were not altogether satisfactory. Our neighbor still bears a grudge about his plate-glass window. André Previn's "Stormy Weather," though, suggests the principle may be true. Moonlighting from his day job as an MGM staff composer, Previn doesn't so much reinterpret the song as recompose it à la Gershwin's Prelude No. 2 (1926), with echoes of Negro spirituals. Far from demeaning "Stormy Weather," this momentary distraction refreshes our insight into Harold Arlen's venerable song. A blindfolded bull's-eye.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam

"All I want is equality for my sister, my brother, my people and me," sings Nina Simone, forcefully stating her agenda. Cursing Mississippi is just a start. "This whole country is full of lies," she snaps. "You all gonna die and die like flies." Staged as vaudevillian parody, "Mississippi Goddamn" suitably ridicules its subject and clearly delights an audience. But measured by contemporaneous standards, it falls short. Four months earlier, 22-year-old folksinger Bob Dylan crystallized early-'60s social protest with his unflinchingly powerful The Times They Are A-Changin'. Inadvertently, Simone's two-beat burlesque shows how far behind the curve jazz had fallen.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Clark: Lover

Soundman Rudy Van Gelder's reverb made hard-edged trumpeters such as Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd sound commodious, but here it has the opposite effect. Electronically diffusing Art Farmer's glowing tone was akin to peering at Monet's Water Lilies through a gauze scrim, missing the point entirely. Fortunately, this track is redeemed by Jackie McLean, oft uneven but in fine fettle, and by Philly Joe in fettle even finer. Although producer Alfred Lion initially spurned "Lover" due to a raggedy-ass ending in which Jones gets carried away by his own enthusiasm, it's well worth hearing.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Impressions

McCoy Tyner had not made a trio recording since 1964, when he walked into Fantasy Records studio in Berkeley to join bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones for the two days of impassioned music-making that resulted in Trident. But during the intervening decade, the pianist had expanded his harmonic and melodic vocabulary, and also raised the intensity of his playing several notches. "Impressions" is a carryover from Tyner's days with John Coltrane -- just as "Impressions" was Coltrane's reinvention of "So What" from Trane's stint with Miles Davis. This is some of the finest modal piano work on record, and a reminder of why so many up-and-coming from that era were borrowing from Tyner's bag, imitating his trademark runs and howitzer keyboard voicings. A major work from a preeminent artist.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: My Romance

Tyner's style has mellowed with the passing years, and at time he floats over the changes rather than (as he might have done in the 1960s and 1970s) rip them apart at the seams. But he still shakes things up with characteristic piano licks, those ricocheting intervals that go up when you think they should go down, and vice versa. His crisp attack at the keyboard is always a joy to hear, especially when he is ably assisted in a trio setting with Ron Carter and Al Foster. This release is a notch below the classic Trident  session Tyner made with Carter and Elvin Jones back in the day, but it is still a welcome addition to the pianist's discography.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: Aesop's Foibles (Minnesota)

Artie Shaw was forever quitting the music business in disgust, only to return and repeat the cycle. In 1949 he was in comeback mode, first touring the country as clarinet soloist with local symphony orchestras, then forming what was heralded as Artie's "bop band." Despite the presence of sidemen from Woody Herman's and Gene Krupa's earlier "bop bands," and boppish charts by Johnny Mandel and Gene Roland, Shaw's outfit remained primarily a showcase for his pre-bop clarinet. "Minnesota," featuring solos by Shaw and Al Cohn, is an easygoing, pleasant, thoroughly competent piece that's as remote from bop as Minnesota is from Florida.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Michigan Water Blues

Jelly Roll Morton was many things: pianist, composer, bandleader, bartender, bouncer, raconteur and self-proclaimed inventor of jazz. He wasn't, however, a singer. Not that anything so trivial ever deterred Jelly Roll. Here he vocally extols Michigan, where "water tastes like sherry wine," compared to Mississippi water, which "tastes like turpentine." Skepticism is advised when considering early jazzmen's evaluations of water, a substance they imbibed only under duress. Even so, Jelly Roll's world-weary but still cocky voice and minimalist piano playing bring to this blues a serene maturity as cool and refreshing as Great Lakes water. An old master at work.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa: Massachusetts

Many state tributes are about a native who, torn from home, longs to return. Of these, the toughest to sing is "Massachusetts." Aside from its name, which demands concentration and sobriety, Andy Razaf's run-on lyrics scarcely give a vocalist time to breathe. Fortunately, galloping into this breach as intrepidly as Paul Revere, rides Anita O'Day. During the Swing Era, every big band had a "girl singer," mostly squarer than the Harvard quad. Gene Krupa's canary, by contrast, was one fly chick. Backed by a precision ensemble with the power to burst into high dudgeon, Anita compounds the Commonwealth with interest.

November 21, 2007 · 2 comments

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Miles Davis: Someday My Prince Will Come (alt. take)

My joy in listening to most of Davis’s transformations throughout his career makes picking a favorite period nothing short of pure folly. That said, this ensemble will always rank high on the list of his great rhythm sections. It’s great to contrast this alternate version of the title track with the original (played by the same quintet plus John Coltrane). I love Kelly’s fantastic punctuations during Miles solo, and just listen to the whole band swell up to greet the entrance of Mobley's tenor sax solo. Magic!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Phil Kelly: My Museum

Seattle-based arranger Phil Kelly changes pace from his customary straight-ahead big band jazz to support the Pacific Northwest's premier vocalist, Greta Matassa, in a staggeringly beautiful ballad. Excepting a Freudian slip ("empty halls" become "empty holes"), Greta shows why her name's an anagram for Great. And Kelly's consummate orchestration elevates what easily could've been schmaltz to sublimity. But the real star is lyricist (and, for the sake of full disclosure, Jazz.com contributor) Marissa Dodge. Gently guiding us past the romantic illusions that our hearts tirelessly project, she brings us with unswerving accuracy to that focal point of concentrated emotion where only the bravest love songs dare converge. A masterpiece.

November 21, 2007 · 2 comments

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Bill Anschell: Humble Origins

To appreciate why pianist/composer Bill Anschell so enriches Seattle's jazz scene, consider "Humble Origins." Like Oliver Nelson's classic "Stolen Moments" (1961), "Humble Origins" exudes an aura that expands with every hearing, quietly enveloping the listener, subliminally compelling us to press Repeat until this hypnotic 8-minute track has turned into 16, then 24. (Its unsatisfying fadeout only encourages repetition.) With Thomas Marriott's flugelhorn providing a gorgeous foil, Anschell's shadings darken and brighten as gradually as clouds fading across the noontime Seattle sky. Origin Records may be humble, but Anschell and their other artists are unassumingly grand.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Zoot Walks In


                  Zoot Sims at Birdland
                  Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Renowned for his witty lyrics, Dave Frishberg removes tongue from cheek for a jaunty tribute to the inexhaustibly swinging tenorman Zoot Sims. Aside from capturing the lovable nonchalance of the only of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" for whom a Muppet was named, Frishberg makes the most of a rare opportunity to show off his own swinging piano style. As for what to do when Zoot walks in, Frishberg advises: "Better telephone home and tell 'em not to wait up, then order double Dewar's straight up." The irrepressible Zoot, who died of liver cancer after much heavy lifting at bars worldwide, would've approved.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Warren Vaché: Quasimodo

The post-World War II dispute between jazz modernists and Dixieland revivalists spawned the colorful term "moldy figs" to describe diehard traditionalists. Amidst this surprisingly bitter feud, Warren Vaché was born (1951). A quarter century later, the controversy long forgotten, Vaché emerged as a cornetist, seemingly in the mold of figs Ruby Braff and Pee Wee Erwin (Vaché's instructor). Hadn't he heard? The modernists won! Jazz trumpet meant Diz & Miles, not Bix & Bobby Hackett. Vaché molders on, but he's no dogmatist. Here, with a sweetly succulent cover of Bird's "Quasimodo," Vaché's fresh fig leaves no doubt he's mold- free.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tommy Flanagan: Bird Song

It's fitting that a man who spent a lifetime playing superb jazz piano celebrated his 67th birthday gigging at the Village Vanguard. And it's especially gratifying, after his decades accompanying a Who's Who of singers and instrumentalists, to find Tommy Flanagan spotlighted in a trio format, where he's free to deliver more than tasty backup. Flanagan splits the boppish tribute "Bird Song" by repeatedly invoking "Thelonious" (1947), swinging aggressively (Bird) and at times almost recklessly (Monk). Basking in the glow of his 67 candles, Tommy responds to wishes of "Many happy returns" by returning everlasting happiness to jazz piano fans.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Carol Sloane: I Didn't Know About You

Given the range of Duke Ellington's accomplishments across half a century, we tend not to think of him as a "songwriter." The term isn't grandiose enough to befit his eminence. Yet Duke in that role was as cool and classy as Ellington the maestro/composer, especially when collaborating as here with Hall of Fame lyricist Bob Russell. (They also did "Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me" and "Don’t Get Around Much Any More.") Accompanied only by pianist Brad Hatfield, Carol Sloane intimately reminds us what a masterful melodist Duke was. A warm and wise performance by a sensitive, mature artist.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Stormy Weather

Erroll Garner didn't invent octave tremolos in jazz—fellow Pittsburgher Earl Hines gets credit for that. But Garner came up with an instantly recognizable application for them as part of his uniquely rippling style, sounding for all the world as though playing the piano underwater. Garner could execute these tremolos tirelessly at any tempo. But since, notwithstanding his irrepressible wit, Erroll was at heart a romantic, his tremolos were most gallantly tremulous in ballads. While his "Stormy Weather" isn't immaculate, Garner's art was more about setting the right mood than getting every note right. Here his mood is right as rain.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Golden Gate Quartet: Stormy Weather

Of the 1930s male vocal groups who sang Negro spirituals in a jazzy style called Jubilee, the most successful was Virginia's Golden Gate Quartet. Expanding their traditional repertoire, the GGC here universalizes the plight of a lovesick woman ("Since my man and I ain’t together") by cleverly changing five words: "Can't get my poor self together." Listeners may be reminded of the contemporaneous Mills Brothers—especially by the vocally imitated wah-wah "trumpet" solo—but the GGC spent more time in church than at the barbershop. If you doubt that gospel + jazz = doo-wop, check out this track.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lena Horne: Stormy Weather

Eight days after Pearl Harbor, the breathtaking Lena Horne correctly forecasts long-term war clouds. The following year, in Hollywood's Stormy Weather (1943), an all-black musical biopic of dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Horne co-starred and reprised the title song. Lip-synching at her apartment window opposite an El Train station, Lena misses her man so much she's oblivious to a virtual hurricane battering Harlem. The role made her a star, and "Stormy Weather" became her signature. Here, Ned Freeman's Harlem- Meets-Hollywood arrangement is a washout, discordantly mixing Ellington-style jungle growls with Vine Street violins. Still, Lena's star shines undimmed through the clouds.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Half-Mast Inhibition

Mingus began "Half-Mast Inhibition" at age 18, but left it unfinished for 20 years. As tempting as it might be to call this the first Third Stream composition, it's unclear how much was written in 1940 and how much the mature Mingus added later. What is clear is that this is a wellspring of orchestral complexity and compositional fecundity, presaging The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963). Uncharacteristically for Mingus, "Half-Mast Inhibition" is entirely written: no head arrangements, no improvisation. Yet from first note to last, only Mingus could've poured forth this disturbing, dissociative Third Stream of consciousness.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Piece for Guitar & Strings

Jim Hall's pre-1960 written output had been, as was the guitarist himself, modest. Hall the composer came out of left field—or, at least, out of Cleveland, where he matriculated at the Institute of Music. His bluesy playing is no surprise, since that was always Hall's forte. Nor is it unexpected that he incorporates folk jazz, which he'd explored as Jimmy Giuffre's sideman. What's revelatory about Hall's Opus #1 is his uncanny writing for strings, rendering those hoary Stradivari tinderboxes as funky as fiddles at a hoedown. Like the MJQ's "England's Carol," this proves Third Stream can be fun.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gunther Schuller (featuring Ornette Coleman): Abstraction

"Abstraction," explained its composer, combines "the most advanced [circa 1960] stylistic manifestations of both jazz and classical music," particularly investigating the "many parallels between the playing of Ornette Coleman and serial music." The piece is structurally ingenious, employing an "ABA form, in which B is a solo cadenza by Ornette, and the second A is an exact retrograde of the first A" (in other words, a mirror image). "Abstraction" occasionally sounds like a radio picking up two stations simultaneously, one jazz and another 12-tone. But soon we realize that, amazed as Alice, we've slipped Through the Looking-Glass. Curiouser and curiouser!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Lover

Against the backdrop of polished repartee and perfectly tuned glasses clinking at Manhattan’s swanky bistro Basin Street East, the Brubeck Quartet eschews the by-now obligatory racetrack 4/4 and restores "Lover" to her original waltz form. The Quartet's elegant delicacy—or delicate elegancy (we can't decide which)—befits both the song and their surroundings. Desmond's self-described dry-martini alto is naturally right at home, Brubeck himself displays an unusually light touch, and Dodge motors comfortably in a meter then exotic to jazz. We especially like Dave's unaccompanied coda appended calmly after the audience assumes the song is ended. A lovely "Lover."

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Nutty


     Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
                   Photo by Marcel Fleiss

The eccentricities of certain artists are essential to their mystique. One such is Thelonious Monk. Despite an unfailingly protective family, the so-called "Mad Monk" had repeated run-ins with psychiatry. During one 30-day hospitalization, he was diagnosed with "unclassified schizophrenia." Evidently Monk's madness, like his music, was too weird to categorize. "Nutty" shows why shrinks threw up their hands when confronted with the peculiar potentate of percussive dissonance. Trying to pigeonhole Monk is as futile as tossing Cracker Jack at your mouth on an upside-down merry-go-round. Here, Art Blakey's drumming shows he understood Monk better than a phalanx of physicians. Suspend analysis, kick back and groove.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Hallucinations

During a 1945 fracas resulting in his arrest for disorderly conduct, Bud Powell was reportedly bopped on the head by what author Scott Yanow calls "racist police," who thus caused the mental illness that haunted Powell for the rest of his life. Frederick J. Spencer, M.D., though, is unconvinced. "How much this affected Bud's behavior is debatable, as he had been mentally disturbed prior to his arrest." Whatever its cause, Powell's irrationality produced several psychiatric institutionalizations, one lasting a year and including electroconvulsive therapy. How, then, to explain the illimitable lucidity of "Hallucinations"? On this track, Bud's the bop Descartes.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Max Roach: Lover

Like Dave Brubeck's 1955 "Lover," this track sticks exclusively to waltz meter. These cats, however, are card-carrying hard boppers, so quaintness ain't an option. Roach formed this band after the previous year's premature death of his co-leader, Clifford Brown. Bop veteran Kenny Dorham wisely doesn't try to emulate Clifford, but rather asserts his own, somewhat prissy style opposite the perpetually priapic Sonny Rollins. Little-known pianist Billy Wallace impresses by soloing in octaves, while Max exerts his customary mastery. Whatever fool wrote (on this very website!) that drum solos should be seen and not heard has obviously never listened to Max Roach.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson: Lover

After alternating the melody between 3/4 and 4/4, this pickup group settles into a frisky gambol better befitting both song and musicians than the breakneck tempo jazzmen by consensus had decided made an ideal "Lover." During the 1950s it was the critics’ cliché that Milt Jackson, temporarily loosed from the John Lewis-imposed rococo restraints of the MJQ, swung as hard as anyone in jazz. Here, bouncing his felt- tipped mallets off gold-plated aluminum bars with the effortless grace of a Chinese ping-pong champion dispatching opponents in the Grand Slam, Jackson shows that (in the words of our all-time favorite fortune cookie) Truth Sometimes Resides Even In Cliché.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bobby Darin: Hello, Young Lovers

In the early 1960s, Bobby Darin made Down Beat's cover and played a jazzman in Hollywood's Too Late Blues. But his jazz standing, like the singer himself, died an early death. By 1986 jazz critic Francis Davis could at best damn Darin with faint praise, and in 2006 one acclaimed jazz scholar couldn't even spell Darin! Yet no other Ring-a-Ding would brave this track's fleet tempo, much less stagger the rhythm as Darin does nonchalantly on the second "I know how it feels to have wings on your heels." Bobby Darin and jazz gave up on one another much too quickly.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Lover


        Charlie Parker with Strings at Birdland (1951), photo by Marcel Fleiss

Though billed as Charlie Parker with Strings, the latter flounder ineffectually on this up-tempo track featuring Bird's blazing alto and a brace of bellowing brass. Indeed, with such ear-splitting trumpeting, Harris's trombone turn and Lamond's drumming, this might sooner be Woody Herman's 1945 Herd than a showcase for bebop's leading improviser. The concluding harp glissando—verily Verley Mills, the soul of patience, sat through the entire track just to strum that single lick—sums up what makes Bird's "Lover" tough to take. Somebody should've decided between bop, big-band swing or sappy strings, and stuck with that choice. Even so, it is Charlie Parker.

November 21, 2007 · 1 comment

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Erroll Garner: Lover

Fans of post-1960 jazz piano trios might be shocked to find that previously such groups weren't wildly egalitarian gymnasiums where bassist and drummer vied with one another to out-muscle the pianist. Not so long ago, rhythm instruments accompanied the piano—no overbearing bassist plucking like Earl Scruggs on steroids, no drummer trading fours with himself from start to finish. As proof of how captivating this could be, consider Erroll Garner's cozily affectionate "Lover." Especially coming on the heels of Stan Kenton's overpoweringly brassy "Lover" (1947) and Les Paul's equally impersonal techno-pop cover (1948 ), Garner's warm-blooded, one-on-one effervescence is endearing.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Les Paul: Lover

In 1941, applying modern technology to the venerable One-Man-Band idea, Sidney Bechet overdubbed himself playing "Sheik of Araby" on six different instruments. The musicians' union was irate. Those five displaced members couldn't pay dues if they didn't work! In 1948, Les Paul struck another blow at featherbedding, and incidentally pioneered multitracking, by laying down eight guitar parts, some at half speed, then added reverb. Played back at normal speed, Les's "Lover" sounded like harpsichords on helium chattering in a cave. After a minute-waltz lead-in, Paul startlingly shifts to an up-tempo 4/4 electronic virtuosity prefiguring Switched-On Bach (1968). Gimmicky but historic.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Lover

After lulling us with an intro fit for a biopic of some doomed Romantic Composer, including stating the melody as a Chopin waltz, Stan Kenton's "Lover" outraces even Gene Krupa's "Lover" of two years previous. Moreover, while Krupa's cup-muted trumpets maintained a modicum of restraint, that word was missing from Kenton's vocabulary. Well before Detroit decided "bigger is better," Kenton laid on extra brass, widened his voicings and (foretelling Spinal Tap's amp that goes to 11) boosted fortissimo from ff to FFFFFFFFFFF. Vido Musso and Kai Winding solo, but this track is all about mass mania—the madness of crowds.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa: Lover

With the Swing Era fading fast, its star drummer demonstrates how far both this song and big bands had come. In 1933, bandleaders Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman waltzed dancers around in dignity with "Lover," but Gene Krupa's postwar fox-trot is so frenetic even the most jittery jitterbugs couldn't keep up. Drum devotees, though, were no doubt delirious at Krupa's double-timed businessman's bounce, which includes a 30-second drum solo that'd be overlong at any length. (Like children in polite society, drum solos should be seen and not heard.) The parking meter on jazz's stint as America's dance music had clearly expired.

November 21, 2007 · 1 comment

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Tony Bennett: Sometimes I'm Happy

FLASH: Tony Bennett scats! True, it's scarcely four bars, but that's the least of what makes this track remarkable. Here's a Ring-a-Ding workhorse at Carnegie Hall just as his all-time biggest hit was breaking (something about forgetting his luggage at SFO). Yet instead of the expected oodles of strings, mountains of floral arrangements and molehills of musicality, Bennett joins a jazz sextet, trading fours with Kenny Burrell and giving solo space to the underappreciated Eddie Costa (whose rattling vibes break up the band if not the house). Tony Bennett is a gas. We sure hope he got his luggage back.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ralph Sutton: Honeysuckle Rose

Question: What's a 70-year-old white guy in 1990s upscale California doing with 1920s Harlem rent-party stride piano? Answer: Playing the hell out of it. Sutton was only 7 when Fats wrote "Honeysuckle Rose," but sounds like he was anointed in the Reverend Waller's Abyssinian Baptist Church. After a long, out- of-tempo intro, Sutton settles into a loping 4/4 to quote from "At the Codfish Ball." Did lowdown Ralph in highfalutin Berkeley feel like a fish out of water? No matter. Soon hitting his stride, Sutton double-times it to the finish line with such wit and wallop as did Waller wallow. Wow!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ellis Larkins: Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

On its face, the unsung lyric seems pedestrian: another loser pining for a bygone lover. But when you realize it was written in the middle of World War II, this ballad acquires special pathos. The sweetheart left "in my lonely world over here" isn't a jilted whiner, but a partner in noble sacrifice. Twenty-year-old Ellis Larkins, graduate of Peabody Conservatory and Juilliard, was a professional musician, not a soldier. Yet the way he caresses this song half a century hence convinces us he never forgot what it meant during his youth, when spring sprung late for millions, and not at all for far, far too many others.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hank Jones: I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan

Experience counts. By the time of his Maybeck recital, 73-year-old Hank Jones had been recording an incredible 47 years, backing instrumentalists from Hot Lips Page to Miles Davis and singing stars from Lena Horne to Ella Fitzgerald. Here he assays a 1932 ditty also known as "The Blue Pajama Song" because the would-be Lothario who sings it has prematurely invested in such attire, only to discover the object of his affections is married! Invoking James P. Johnson's stride style, Jones exemplifies the lilting impeccability that made him a musicians' musician, and the gentlemanly humor that forever commends him to listeners.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Alex Riel: On Again, Off Again

Lester Young vs. Coleman Hawkins. Dexter Gordon vs. Wardell Gray. Gene Ammons vs. Sonny Stitt. The tenor saxophone battle has always had an important place in the history of jazz. In a nice outing by Riel, "On Again, Off Again" adds to that tradition, pitting modern tenor giants Michael Brecker and Jerry Bergonzi against one another on this lively minor blues. The angular and jagged melody leads into swinging solos by both Brecker and Bergonzi, but the highlight of the track comes when the two duel it out, trading back and forth. For fans of contemporary saxophone, this track is a must.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Muggsy Spanier: Big Butter and Egg Man

"Muggsy" is a splendid jazz name. But can you picture it in another genre? Muggsy Beethoven, say, strains credulity. Jazz's Muggsy Spanier, though, was on the cutting edge of pre-World War II Dixieland revivalism—that is, if a revivalist can be cutting edge. Here he revives a 1926 Louis Armstrong Hot Five classic to dubious effect. Muggsy was not in Louis's league as a cornetist (who was?). Nor does George Brunies shouting "Jive me, Jack" rival Armstrong's bawdy banter with singer May Alix. Absent the tongue- in-cheekiness of present-day retro, Muggsy is mugged by his own sincerity. More egg than butter.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Central Park West

One of Coltrane’s early explorations on soprano sax, cut a few days after the “My Favorite Things” session. This lovely, lyrical ballad is a study in dynamic control and taste. The tune is handled with kid gloves as Coltrane makes small rhythmic and harmonic alterations to the evolving theme. Tyner’s accompaniment is like a classical waterfall, splashing into limpid pools of quiet melody. One of drummer Jones’ gifts was knowing when to keep it down; here his brushes shuffle sinuously along the skins, making occasional pinpoint strikes on the cymbals. Steve Davis’ bass, too, mostly issues percussive pulses. Rapturous.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Rick Braun: Missing in Venice

"Missing in Venice" is a drawing, part M.C. Escher and part René Magritte, from Chris Van Allsburg's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984). Inexplicably, a Titanic-sized ship is lodged in a lagoon where, on a good day, two dieting gondolas might just squeeze past one another. "Even with her mighty engines in reverse," confirms the caption, "the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal." Listeners to this track will be similarly sucked into an improbable vortex where a 19th-century mechanical device (the Harmon mute) navigates such 21st-century obstacles as computers, synthesizers and drum machines, pulling us further and further into The Mysteries of Rick Braun.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Lullaby of Birdland

Vaughan always makes the hard stuff look easy. When bebop was shaking up the older musicians and rewriting the rules of jazz, Vaughan was mixing it up with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the bandstand and in the recording studio, as comfortable with their revolutionary sounds as she had been singing and playing the piano, as a child in Newark, at the New Mount Zion Baptist Church. Vaughan continued to expand her horizons during the 1950s and, on this high-profile session, she floats effortlessly over George Shearing's changes, and trades fours with the front line. Her scat-singing is first rate, and my only complaint is that the great trumpeter Clifford Brown -- who would be killed in car accident 18 months after this session -- isn't given more space to blow. His brief exchange with Vaughan on this track leaves us longing for more.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Jimmy Rowles: The Peacocks

Rowles was on a roll in the 1970s. After years of accompanying singers and languishing in obscurity, Rowles relocated to New York in 1973, and found himself fêted and fussed over, profiled in The New Yorker, and (in his late 50s) heralded as one of the most celebrated new pianists on the Manhattan scene. It was a great decade for this journeyman musician, but the high point came on this session -- with a major label in his corner, and Stan Getz producing and stepping out of the booth to join in as a sideman. Rowles contributed this deeply poignant ballad, a haunting melody that would become a jazz standard, recorded by everyone from Wayne Shorter to Bill Evans. But this is still the definitive version of "The Peacocks," a ballad performance that ranks among the most memorable jazz moments of the decade.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Woodchopper's Ball (1946)

Woody Herman's "Woodchopper's Ball" (1939) was a natural hit for the native of Wisconsin, which even today is nearly half forested. Seven years after cutting what would become one of his three Grammy Hall of Fame singles, and two weeks before disbanding his immortal First Herd, Woody harvested a musically superior remake: still a simple blues riff with the same solo order, but now featuring Bill Harris—the Paul Bunyan (or maybe Babe the Blue Ox) of jazz trombone—plus tenorman Phillips, trumpeter Lewis, 12 bars of early Jimmy Rowles, a smoother rhythm section and more climactic ending. Attention choppers!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Caravan (1936)

Duke Ellington's first "Caravan" set off from Hollywood five months before his better-known 1937 big-band excursion departed New York. The journey was cloaked in mystery. Asked our destination, Duke said only, "Expect sand." That could've meant Malibu. Duke chuckled, "Lots of sand." So the Sahara was not entirely a shock. Upon arrival, a local official demanded to know why we were there. "We came," said Duke, "for the waters." The official sputtered, "We're in the desert!" Duke slyly tugged his ear and replied, "I was misinformed." Cootie, Carney and Barney are all masterful here, but co-composer Tizol's valve trombone is unforgettable.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley: United States

“Very big.” Now that is an understatement. Very big in size, sound, attitude and subtlety. Bley's composition seems to take on a life of its own with huge, unresolved chords, wide-ranging dynamics, and tension & release passages. From the quiet intimacy of the oboe or a piano/bass duet to the high-torque, full horn section blast, this music has serious reach. Carla Bley has written her share of pensive music (especially with husband Steve Swallow), yet “United States,” taken in total, is anything but. With a series of quite varied (and often very loud!) musical vignettes, Bley manages to create a sonic portrait that is as wide-ranging as the many subcultures to be found in the States.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chu Berry & Roy Eldridge: Body and Soul

This record exerted a tremendous influence during the late 1930s. Coleman Hawkins may well have learned from Berry's example -- although Hawk's famous tenor solo on the same chord changes eleven months later shows how fast jazz was evolving during these years. But Berry's tenor musings are merely an appetizer for the main course provided by Roy Eldridge. Eldridge upstages the bandleader with a trumpet solo for the ages. A generation of brass players studied this performance, and even saxophonists memorized these licks -- a recording of Charlie Parker from 1940 finds him quoting Eldridge's solo. This landmark recording sums up the previous decade, and looks forward to the next stage in the evolution of the jazz idiom.

November 21, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charles Mingus: Tijuana Gift Shop

Mingus’s music often proclaims its own biting and intense vernacular. This quirky melody, with a sharp rip to its highest note, is full of the composer’s off-kilter spirit. Jimmy Knepper’s trombone adlibs are not prizewinning feats, but the other members of the ensemble make up for this. Trumpeter Clarence Shaw captures the programmatic vibe with aplomb, and alto saxophonist Shafi Hadi’s personally acidic sound adds an even more brittle flavor to the tune. Drummer Dannie Richmond’s loose swing is always in step with the leader’s unorthodox wishes.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bessie Smith & Louis Armstrong: St. Louis Blues

We apologize for joking in our review of Dizzy Gillespie's 1959 cover that W.C. Handy wrote "St. Louis Blues" amidst the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, and that the song is mostly heard before ballgames. It's not really that old. Still, "St. Louis Blues" ought to be the U.S. national anthem. Certainly this historic convocation of the Empress of the Blues and the Emperor of Jazz supersedes any Act of Congress to the contrary. Backed at stately tempo by a spectral, tent-meeting pump organ, Bessie & Louis stream as gallantly as Old Glory herself.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mamie Smith: Crazy Blues

"Crazy Blues" was a million seller for OKeh Records and struck gold for black artists, whose works were now marketed directly to African Americans. Despite deplorable trappings—OKeh's artwork featured a top-hatted cartoon Sambo gaily eating a plateful of worms—"race" records uniquely showcased the talents of these performers. In particular, "Crazy Blues" provides fascinating documentation of the convergence of jazz, blues and black music-hall traditions. The audio is primitive, but Mamie Smith's powerful voice carries from one century to the next even without mechanical reproduction. "I can read his letters," she belts out one of our all-time favorite blues lines. "I just can't read his mind."

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Abbey Lincoln: Throw It Away (2006)

"Throw it Away" is Lincoln's best-known composition, and has gradually become a jazz standard. But nobody sings it like Lincoln. This is not your typical cabaret fare - the lyrics have more in common with a zen koan than Tin Pan Alley. And the melody sounds more like a folk song than a jazz tune. But in an age of conformism, we are grateful for such transgressions. Yet there is more to celebrate here --namely that Lincoln, at age 76, is still performing at a very high level. On this recent Verve release, she shows that she can bring a fresh perspective to a song she has been singing for decades. Goldstein's accordion work deserves special mention too.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Crazy

You ever notice how difficult it is to get a good look at a tropical fish while walking around the tank? How the water and glass distort and bend the light? Well, Bill Frisell performs the musical equivalent here on Willie Nelson's “Crazy.” Chords are bent out of shape while the sense of time expands and contracts. It's almost like Frisell has figured out how to simulate one of those kiddie hand-crank guitars...and I mean that in a good way! I sure hope Willie's got a sense of humor.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald: A Fine Romance

It's hard to be disappointed when two of the greatest jazz singers in history share the same recording studio. But this is more than just another all-star date. Louis and Ella left us a masterpiece with their timeless version of the Jerome Kern standard. No grandstanding here or sly games of one-upmanship, just delightful music-making exuding the joie de vivre that helped define these two larger-than-life musical personalities. They treat each other with respect, spiced with coyness and the lightest dose of sensuality -- just what we expect from two courting lovebirds. A fine romance indeed!

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: A Fine Romance

So, is Marian McPartland, best known for hosting NPR's long-running Piano Jazz, a radio personality who plays jazz well, or a pianist whose personality plays well on radio? Listen to this track, and you'll think of her first and foremost as a musician. While the occasional walking bass might imply a traditionalist, her modernist harmonies and boppish right hand dispel the allusion in Dorothy Fields's unsung lyric to "old fogies" who "need crutches." Two months shy of her 73rd birthday, Marian McPartland was spry as a kitten, and just as playful, suggesting NPR stood for Never-ending Piano Radiance.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Hicks: Oblivion

Oblivion, says the dictionary, means being forgotten. Bud Powell's stunning original "Oblivion" (1951), though, was too good to meet that fate, as John Hicks's dazzling revival 40 years later attests. Taken at tempo furioso, Bud's "Oblivion" scarcely lasted two minutes, shorter even than early-'50s technology mandated. Yet Hicks, under no time limit, adds just 1½ minutes to Bud's 2, suggesting this piece isn't meant to be longer. The technique required is daunting, energy level draining, and concentration exhausting—but only for the performer. Listeners are exhilarated. In John Hicks's hands, "Oblivion" means never to be forgotten.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny Barron: Witchcraft

"I'll charm the air to give a sound," the First Witch cackles to her weird sisters, "while you perform your antic round." Cue music. During the early 1600s when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, King James himself believed in witchcraft, and music's association with paganism, sorcery and magick was well established. In the four turbulent centuries from Macbeth to Maybeck, that much hasn't changed. Music remains as enchanting as ever, especially in the bubbling cauldron of Kenny Barron's Yamaha S-400 B. Gliding on the keyboard as nimbly as a crone riding her broomstick across a moonlit Halloween sky, Kenny casts his spell.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Myles Boisen: Third Grade Regrets

This is the kind of music that, when presented to the uninitiated (read: the people who hate the bulk of your record collection) might elicit that classic response: “When are they going to stop practicing?” Ah, who needs to practice when this much fun can be had by taking a seesaw chromatic run and then spending a few minutes pulling it apart? Boisen's guitar throws off sparks, Dave Barrett's sax attempts to incite a riot, and the rhythm section keeps flinging spitballs at everybody. Somehow, nobody gets hurt.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Cocktails for Two

Among Duke Ellington's 7 singles and 2 albums enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the 2007 choice is least explicable. Why did Grammy's eminent and knowledgeable professionals, tasked to honor recordings of qualitative or historical significance, elect this non-Ellington composition over "Caravan," "Cotton Tail," "It Don't Mean a Thing" (not inducted until 2008), "Rockin' in Rhythm," "Solitude" and "Sophisticated Lady"? With mincingly staccato trumpets, plus vibrato-oozing saxes and trombone, this is hardly among the Seven Wonders of Duke's World. Hollywood's pros are evidently more eminent than knowledgeable.

Dr. Jazz.com's Recommended Antidote: Funnyman Spike Jones's "Cocktails For Two" (1945). Consume aurally as needed.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: Honeysuckle Rose

When Roaring '20s Chicago gangsters abducted Fats Waller to sing "Happy Birthday" to Al Capone, they showed more musical refinement than etiquette. Too voluminous to fit in a cake (his emergence would've been a sight!), Waller was a premier entertainer in an era when jazzmen actually strove to ensure people enjoyed themselves. Here, after a chorus of his delightfully decorous stride piano, Fats dispenses a tongue-in-cheek vocal with a wink in his voice broad enough to make the primmest librarian laugh out loud. "Honeysuckle Rose" is a trip to the candy store without the guilt. Confection, goodness knows! Yas, yas.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: Moonglow

B.G.'s come-hither clarinet and Hamp's voluptuous vibes make "Moonglow" one of jazz's most romantic encounters. The U.S. population spike nine months after this track's release was eminently predictable. B.G. was of course best known for fronting the Swing Era's breakthrough big band, but trio and quartet sessions show his kinder, gentler side. Similarly, Hamp's flamboyant showmanship would subsequently overshadow his musicianship, but "Moonglow" demonstrates what a splendid, intimate instrumentalist he could be. As for the impeccable Teddy Wilson, his elegance is here displayed only on the first 8-bar bridge, but his classiness is felt throughout. "Moonglow" doesn't shine, it shimmers.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hoagy Carmichael & Bix Beiderbecke: Barnacle Bill the Sailor

Records hardly get stranger than this. An integrated, all-star cast convenes to record a tune most of them thought was beyond stupid. In fact, Bix later told a friend he had had no idea the side would even be released. But release it RCA-Victor did – a Depression was on, after all – despite the fact that the musicians, led by trickster Joe Venuti, happily inserted profanity into the chorus. Bix, already a veteran of rehab, had been a stranger to the studio since fainting during a session the previous Fall. His 20-bar solo begins triumphantly and then ends, like his life soon would, a total mess. That Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman would take over for a turn that is tight and remarkably accomplished – well, that just makes sense.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Camptown Races

The racist dialect of "Camptown Races" (1850) is lampooned in Mel Brooks' s Blazing Saddles (1974), where black railroad laborers bamboozle their ofay overseers into enacting the song minstrel-style only to have boss Slim Pickens ride up and excoriate the hapless whites: "I hired you people to get a little track laid, not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots!" That America's most popular jazz group in 1959 could've similarly bamboozled themselves is revolting. "I hired you people to get a jazz track laid, not to jive around like a bunch of corn-fed minstrels!" Good Desmond, bad judgment.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Al Cohn & Jimmy Rowles: Them There Eyes

Six-and-a-half minutes of sheer fun. Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles have a blast with this corny standard from 1930, and you can imagine them chuckling in the studio after they were finished with it. Few performances do a better job of capturing the spontaneity and irreverence of the jazz idiom. This song is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, and the blueprint was drawn on the fly. I have never heard Rowles play better than on this track, but Cohn matches him chorus for chorus. A neglected classic from the 1970s well worth hearing . . . if you can track down a copy.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: In a Chinese Garden

Like Albert W. Ketèlbey's 1925 "In a Chinese Temple Garden," one of the staples of British light music, "In a Chinese Garden" invokes clichés; but it also shimmers with Debussy-esque delicacy, transporting us to a tranquil landscape in which the fluttering of bamboo shoots, water gently dripping into a jade green pond, and fragrance of jasmine are palpable. A lovely, contemplative and unjustly neglected travelogue from a cornerstone cool jazz group that committed the cardinal sin of popularity. To critics, the more widely loved an artist, the less worthy of respect. To prove them wrong, sneak into this "Chinese Garden."

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Melissa Stylianou: Them There Eyes

"Them There Eyes" is one of the hokiest, silliest tunes in the American popular songbook, and only a fool or a genius would try to bring it to life today. (Speaking of genius: I still recall with delight Jimmy Rowles and Al Cohn deconstructing this song in a now-forgotten recording from thirty years ago - someone please get that disk back into print!) But the very stylish Stylianou rises to the occasion, and tosses everything from surreal scatting to Middle Eastern modes into this vibrant performance. This vocalist is one of the best-kept secrets in jazz, but secrets like this deserve to be shared.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Julia Dollison: Autumn in New York

Yes, there are undiscovered gems in the growing ranks of self-produced CDs. Dollison is a major talent who deserves a bigger platform than this low-profile release. She has developed her own ineffable sound, a little breathless and slightly-out-of-control style, but very, very jazzy. And she doesn't just sing the standards, she completely reinvents them. This is an autumn in New York you haven't seen before, with bright electric leaves floating up into the chiaroscuro air. The rhythm section also deserves kudos for their contribution on this inspired performance.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Lullaby of Birdland

Reeves made her name singing contemporary pop-jazz with crossover appeal. But now in her 50s, she has adopted a more traditional approach, as demonstrated on this Sarah Vaughan tribute and her efforts on the soundtrack to Good Night, and Good Luck. Reeves sings with admirable technical command, and Childs pulls out all the stops with the orchestra, but it is hard to find a compelling reason to recommend nostalgia disks of this sort when many listeners haven't heard Vaughan's classic version of the song from 1954. Reeves fans will want this for their collection, but listeners searching for some fresh jazz sounds are advised to look elsewhere.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Somi: My Mother's Daughter

The barriers between genres are collapsing, and this exceptional recording could easily be classified as world music or pop. But the rich harmonic palette and engaging compositional twists and turns will interest jazz fans. Somi was born - as Laura Audrey Kabasomi Akiki Kakoma - in Illinois and raised mostly in the United States, but the spirit of her Rwandan heritage dominates her musical vision. Somi has her own distinctive style, which is reflected as much in her compositions as in her vocal efforts. You will need to search out this CD - when I last checked, it was only available on import - but it is worth the effort.

November 20, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chick Corea: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs

As of 2008, the most recently recorded (as opposed to most recently enshrined) jazz inductees to the Grammy Hall of Fame were this 1968 Chick Corea single and Miles Davis's 1969 Bitches Brew album. All of 1970s jazz is eligible, but (to the Recording Academy at least) none has enough "qualitative or historical significance" to merit induction. Which places a heavy burden on this track: to signify jazz when it last meant something. What stands out, though, about this recording from a year of rampant social upheaval is how un-revolutionary it was. Just superb straight-ahead jazz piano trio, proving that tradition-based excellence outclasses glitzy fusion even by the same artists. (Corea led Return to Forever; Vitous was an early member of Weather Report.)

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Mack the Knife

"Mack the Knife" is dramatist Bertolt Brecht's grisly answer to Jack the Ripper, a nasty narrative of murderously mutilated bodies oozing scarlet billows before being dumped in the river. Enter Louis Armstrong, genially growling about a shark's pearly whites. Only when the blood spreads is it obvious that the shark is metaphor for Brecht's knife-wielding villain, Macheath. Yet with Satchmo's trumpet leading the Dixieland merriment and his single atop the pop charts, laughing Louie has clearly neutralized Brecht's pathology. Our greatest jazzman dunks us into a voyeuristic cesspool, and we cheer as though watching Jaws and rooting for the great white. Sick stuff.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Last Exit: Taking a Beating

Energy music. To some, the term means nothing more than “noise.” True enough, it can be noisy, but in the hands of Last Exit, those barely contained sounds have purpose. Here, Brotzmann's horn seems to have been possessed by some unknown fire spirit attempting to do harm to the rest of the group. As the sax tears a hole in the air, Sharrock, Jackson, and Laswell hurl a mountain of energy in an attempt to encircle the beast. Somehow, blistering, almost frightening funk is the result.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Max Roach & Dizzy Gillespie: In the Beginning

Two old friends find themselves in Paris and get together for a night of improvised music. It's tough to say what's more amazing, that the “rehearsal” amounted to several hours of chatting, or that the outcome is so full of the shared history of these two giants. Here Max and Dizzy construct a hybrid of bebop and sound- scape. Max sets up a sparse groove and Dizzy flits in here and there to react. While it's true that this recording was made long past Dizzy's peak, it's still inspiring to hear the rhythmic telepathy and exchange of ideas.

November 20, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bix Beiderbecke: From Monday On

Paul Whiteman was like a giant, mostly benign mothership that swallowed up available musicians like Bix and his buddies. However, his relentless touring and recording schedule quickly took a toll on Bix’s health. The commercial pressure to record so many icky “sweet” tunes took its own toll, but that was mostly on later generations of critics. Bix just kept on improvising great solos, such as the one on “From Monday On.” (Granted, “From Monday On,” written by Bing Crosby and Harry Barris, isn’t nearly as icky as much of the Whiteman material.) Bix recorded three extant takes over two sessions, and each of his performances is distinctive and memorable. Here, on Take 6, he cuts through Crosby and company’s vocals like a swinging scythe.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Borneo

Bix and Tram were jazz’s odd couple. Tram was all business; Bix, increasingly, was all drink. Tram insisted on playing from the charts; Bix, infuriatingly, was content to make it up as he went along. (Even after Bix’s death, Trumbauer complained about how this caused him fits in the studio.) But team them up, even on silly novelty tunes like “Borneo,” and the tension of their friendship yielded great results. Here they record, for the first time, one of their renowned “chase” choruses, with Bix improvising a statement and Tram fashioning a response. At the end, their instruments converge in a single moment of dissonance that feels both humorous and wryly appropriate.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke: Royal Garden Blues

When the Goldkette outfit disbanded, Adrian Rollini rounded up a few Old Reliables for a gig at the Club New Yorker, which promptly went out of business. Bix, meanwhile, decided to ditch Tram and record under his own name again. On “Royal Garden Blues,” a standard popularized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (and recorded by Bix’s first band, the Wolverines), he leads the Gang with great confidence. Bix’s close friend, the equally short-lived Don Murray, goes first, then the surprisingly nimble Rollini, who moans like a moose. Bill Rank swings and then wisely steps out of the way – here comes Bix. There’s nothing fancy about his 12 bars, nothing French; they just arrive out of nowhere, effortless and astonishing.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

Compared to “I’m Coming, Virginia,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” is all light and Caravaggio. It’s cheerful, down-tempo, even a bit wandering, taking its time to transition from Tram’s more languid sax to Bix’s brighter cornet. A bit more than halfway through his solo, Bix scoots up to a C-sharp, the highest note he ever recorded. This is the exception that proves the rule: Bix, whose mangled fingerings were of his own devising, liked to augment his chords but not the range of his instrument. Think of him as the playwright who creates tension by confining all the action inside a single, cramped apartment.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Clarinet Marmalade

Set to wax earlier on the same day as “Singin’ the Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade” is notable for a few reasons: Bix, for all of his legendary “cool,” could run with the best of them. Here he blows at breakneck speed while remaining “surefooted as a mountain goat” (to quote Mezz Mezzrow), always sounding original, his tone nothing short of flawless. Note also a short interlude, just prior to Tram’s solo, that borrows from Bix’s composition “In a Mist.” Bix wouldn’t record the piano solo for seven more months, but it was clear that it was long in the works and that his ideas, at least in “Clarinet Marmalade,” were an important part of Bill Challis’ arrangements.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Shank & Bob Cooper: Sweet Georgia Brown

A longtime jazz favorite, "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1925) became beloved by millions after the Harlem Globetrotters made it their theme in 1952. Amazed crowds worldwide, watching the Globetrotters' comic basketball wizardry, whistled along with "Sweet Georgia Brown." Likewise bouncing with skill and surprise is this quintessential 1950s West Coast jazz track. Although classical composers had long paired flute and oboe, Shank & Cooper here demonstrate the tandem's superior jazz IQ. With Cooper's call-&-response arrangement coyly teasing the melody, "Sweet Georgia Brown" tips off tiptop players at the top of their game.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Patricia Barber: Whiteworld

Here is a snatch of the lyrics - "I have institutions in the West / To make institutions in the East / I historically revise / with Deconstructionist ease." Yep, we have come a long way from June-moon-spoon rhymes. And even in the land of Derrida, where this live recording was made, they may not know exactly what to make of Patricia Barber. But at a time when most jazz vocalists are held in thrall to a vocabulary (musical and literary) that is a half-century old, this fresh, unpredictable singer-songwriter is a welcome addition to the contemporary scene. Barber can be trés recherché at times, but do not be fooled by the highbrow references in her lyrics - she can also interpret a ballad with great feeling or dig in on the keyboard with the best of her generation. Highly recommended!

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Harry Connick, Jr.: My Blue Heaven

Connick is perhaps the most widely imitated male singer of pop standards of his generation, but he still stands out head-and-shoulders above his emulators. Where Connick is slick, the Connick wannabes are oh-so-slick; where he is controlled they are mechanical. His performances sometimes linger at the borderline where jazz becomes cabaret fare, but Connick is never saccharine. His phrasing and sensitivity to dynamics are first rate, and even this ancient song, written the same year they introduced talking movies, sounds fresh and up-to-date.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Randy Crawford & Joe Sample: Feeling Good

Randy Crawford and Joe Sample first showed how well they worked together when Crawford sang with Sample’s then-band the Crusaders on the 1979 song “Street Life,” which has become a classic. Crawford and Sample have re-teamed for a collaboration album called Feeling Good, and on the optimistic Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley-penned title track, Crawford’s soaring vocal is complemented by Sample’s brisk staccato soloing and a steady driving rhythm provided by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kate McGarry: It Might As Well Be Spring

McGarry has developed a conversational way of phrasing that is very effective in bringing a lyric to life. Other vocalists may hit the notes, but McGarry tells a story. Even an old song, such as this Rodgers and Hammerstein warhorse, sounds fresh in her arrangements. She feints, she slides, she slows down and speeds up, she chirrups brightly or whispers darkly, she twists the melody into unfamiliar shapes – but all very unaffectedly. Even when she reaches for a high note or a dramatic flourish, the move seems natural and essential to the emotional content of the music. I expect great things from this young singer.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Where Are You?

In 1962, returning from one of his periodic sabbaticals, Sonny Rollins met a mixed reception. For some, jazz's increasing experimentalism had rendered Rollins passé. One young jazzman dismissed the elder's comeback album as outmoded, scoffing, "We all knew Sonny could play pretty.” This was like declining free samples from Fort Knox by saying, "We all knew they had gold there." In five golden minutes, Sonny reminds us that ballads aren't about navigating tricky chord changes. They're about rafting the far trickier currents of the human heart. Sonny Rollins was a raftsman par excellence.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: I Wish I Knew

There are precious few recordings where a musician's opening notes bypass our eardrums and strike directly at the soul. This is one of those tracks. After Tyner's intro, Coltrane's entrance doesn't merely tingle the spine, it galvanizes the central nervous system. People long remember exactly where they were upon learning of some signal event (usually a national tragedy). Other, more personal experiences are momentous in a different way. They make us forget where we are. Like the instant when we realize that someone we love, loves us, too. John Coltrane's "I Wish I Knew" is such an epiphany.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ramsey Lewis: The 'In' Crowd – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Mighty&nbsp;Aphrodite</i> (1995)

The mid-'60s pop avalanche split jazz in half. One side slid OUT, exploring the crowd-abatement effects of what author Stanley Crouch calls “one-dimensional screeching and honking.” Another side followed the IN crowd, scavenging the pop charts for fresh roadkill. Recorded live before an IN-thusiastic crowd, Ramsey Lewis's cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd” unexpectedly outdid Dobie Gray’s original, becoming one of 1965's top hits. Lewis, whose first gig was backing the choir at Chicago's Zion Hill Baptist Church, adds hard swinging to gospel roots, and shows remarkable dynamic range. Sure he played to the crowd, but they loved it. We still do.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: That Old Feeling – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Husbands and Wives</i> (1992) and <i>Celebrity</i> (1998)

In the 1950s, owning a mere record player was not enough. Audiophiles grew so obsessed with turntables, cartridges, styli, preamps, power amps, woofers, tweeters and graphic equalizers that many dispensed with music altogether, preferring entire albums of sports cars in action. Fortunately, Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi retained "That Old Feeling" of two great jazzmen jousting one another, and it was sleeker than Jaguar jockeying with Ferrari at Le Mans. To justify the Hi-Fi tag, reverb is added to the horns, but it doesn't mar a performance in which both sax men play more robustly than usual. This is topflight 1950s modern jazz.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: Sing, Sing, Sing – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>New York Stories</i> (1989), <i>Manhattan Murder Mystery</i> (1993) and <i>Deconstructing Harry</i> (1997)

Immensely popular in its day, "Sing, Sing, Sing" is the nadir of white jungle music. Not to be confused with the 1990s electronic drum-&-bass dance genre, jungle music in jazz has racist connotations. During long runs at such dubiously named Prohibition-era Manhattan nightspots as the Plantation Club and Cotton Club, Duke Ellington's nonpareil orchestra—ignominiously billed as The Jungle Band—entertained white patrons in jungle-themed floor shows with light-skinned Negro female dancers in loin cloths. "Sing, Sing, Sing" updates this foolishness to the Swing Era, and compounds the insult by being performed entirely by white men. Cringe, cringe, cringe at our ancestors' naïveté.

November 20, 2007 · 1 comment

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Billie Holiday: Did I Remember – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Celebrity</i> (1998)

At 23, Billie Holiday was an untrained vocalist with no technique but oodles of charisma. She was fun to hear because she was obviously having fun. On this track, her unselfconscious artistry shines through a typically inane song from the mid-1930s. The band does its best with tepid material, with relaxed turns by Shaw and Berigan, but only Billie strikes the right note of saucy impertinence. At a time when most singers were stiffer than an Englishman's upper lip, Billie’s playfully conversational delivery was as refreshing as a Cockney barmaid at the Royal Academy of Headwaiters. Wot'll y'ave, guv?

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Irving Aaronson: Let's Misbehave – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex</i> (1972) and <i>Bullets Over Broadway</i> (1994)

In 1922, between cocktails, F. Scott Fitzgerald christened the Jazz Age, which thereupon lived up to its moniker with gay abandon—bringing us to Cole Porter, whose song "Let's Misbehave" shows how promiscuously jazz by the late 1920s had debauched Western civilization. Here is a popular dance band laden with such antiquities as fiddles, tuba and splash cymbals, yet their rakish syncopation and scat vocal chorus are as modern as the Chrysler Building. "Let's Misbehave" ain't jazz, but sure is jazzy. Plus it's more campy fun than Cole Porter's coming-out party, which we hear was simply to die for, darlings.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: But Not For Me


     Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

"I never knew how good our songs were," Ira Gershwin allowed, "until I heard Ella sing them." As the 1950s dawned, America's First Lady of Song wasn't yet lugging around the excess baggage of superstardom that would weigh heavily on her voluminous Song Book series later in the decade with their kitschy Las Vegas- type arrangements. In 1950, traveling light, Ella could arrive at the studio with a solitary accompanist—the impeccably sensitive Ellis Larkins—and reduce a song to its sparkling essence with the graceful simplicity of a world-class diamond cutter. We never knew how good Ella was until we heard this track. Ella-gant.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nat King Cole: Route 66

In olden times (pre-Interstates), U.S. Route 66 was the main highway from Chicago to L.A. It was lawful to travel in the opposite direction, but since songwriter Bobby Troup's "Route 66" journeyed from east to west, that's how everyone thought of it. Fortunately, by the 1940s, east-west migration was less desperate than during the Great Depression. Folks were now receptive to the romance of a road with such colorful place names as Joplin, Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, Winona, Kingman and Barstow. A decade before Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Nat King Cole made it cool to get your kicks on Route 66.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dakota Staton: The Late, Late Show

Dakota Staton was jazz's Ethel Merman. Her booming voice didn't just reach the auditorium's last row, it bolted out the door, raced down the street and swept out to sea. When she wriggled onstage in a low-cut, form-fitting satin gown with matching sash slung sexily to one side, it seemed a safe bet Dakota wasn't there to conduct a civics lesson. And sure enough, when she swung into her hit "The Late, Late Show," Staton set the drunks with swizzle sticks to drumming on their ice-laden Scotch glasses (thereby annoying hell out of her musicians). It was sooooo Fifties!

November 20, 2007 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: Cotton Tail

Duke Ellington is jazz's most intimidating figure. His reputation (20th Century's Greatest Composer) is exceeded only by his mountainous output. For a mere reviewer to do the Maestro justice would demand years of fulltime listening and study. AND NO TV! Luckily, for the indolent among us, there is "Cotton Tail." Starting abruptly (no intro), "Cotton Tail" hops like an indecisive rabbit in a newly discovered cabbage patch, dramatically expanding from Ben Webster's magisterial solo to a crisp brass unison and sensational sax section soli, only to trail off surprisingly to Carney & Blanton's final low note. No PhD required. Enjoy.

November 20, 2007 · 3 comments

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Nina Simone: Mood Indigo

A classically trained pianist, Nina Simone kicks off Ellington's "Mood Indigo" with a two-fisted display that sounds amazingly like Duke, fires off a fugue worthy of J.S. Bach, and finally vocalizes with a youthful (age 24) defiance that thankfully would never mellow. When she sings "You ain't never been blue / Till you've had that mood indigo," Simone is clearly invoking not personal depression but her homeland's 300-year collective black experience. Her militant Afro-Americanism and kick-ass feminism would both find wider voice in the 1960s and '70s. But Nina Simone was there first, a pioneer woman on the Fifties frontier.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Comes Love

By the mid-1950s, Billie Holiday had been rescued by a record label (Verve) with the wisdom to scrap her former label Decca's desperate late '40s attempts at commercialization, and put Billie back where she belonged—with a small jazz band. And what a band! True, Lady's voice had seen better days, but the more her notes wavered, the more unwavering became her struggle. Billie carried about her the nobility we accord to survivors of some large tragedy. In her case, the tragedy was her life. She may have been a wreck, but she was still the damnedest jazz singer ever.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: S'Wonderful / They Can't Take That Away From Me

"Swing you into bad health" is the ultimate jazz compliment. "Man, that drummer will swing you into bad health!" The reason bad health is prized above good health purportedly goes back to early 20th-century New Orleans, where admission to the St. James Infirmary gave a musician a leg up on gainful employment in the band that trailed the hearse bearing a patient whose Infirmary stay had ended unhappily. Anyhow, among 1950s vocalists nobody could swing you into bad health better (worse?) than Anita O'Day, ably assisted in her surgery by the eminent Doctors Gershwin and Consulting Professor Peterson.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Carmen McRae: Love Is Here to Stay

What distinguishes a jazz vocalist from a pop singer? It can't be improvisation. Aside from occasional scatting (nonsense syllables), both jazz and pop singers stick pretty much to the lyrics as written. Jazz singers take more liberties with a melody, but must be careful lest their embellishments prevent listeners from following the tune. (Otherwise, what's the point?) The biggest difference is rhythm. Jazz singers are freer in phrasing their words. Take Carmen McRae. At age 35, early in her belated recording career, McRae shows her maturity with a remarkable rhythmic creativity. She started late, but Carmen McRae was here to stay.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: You Can't Go Home Again


  Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds

Don Sebesky takes composer credit here – and also handles arranging, conducting and electric piano duties – but the song is based on the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. (Eric Carmen borrowed the same theme for his pop hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," released one year before the Baker LP.) This is a classic track by any measure; however, I would have preferred this performance without the string orchestra. Do you really need to enhance a rhythm section built around Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Kenny Barron? Baker delivers a top notch solo here, but Desmond steals the show with one of the most incisive improvisations I have ever heard. The altoist would be dead, from lung cancer, before the album was released, and he hardly had enough breath for his brief solo. But he makes every note count in this moving swan song.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Easy Did It

Some bass players walk, others float over the beat, but Dave Holland positively dances. A fresh, sprightly quality infuses his lines – helped along by his zeal for playing with time signatures. When I hear his performances, I invariably wish I had the lead sheets in front of me – there is so much happening, that a casual listening doesn’t do justice to his recordings. I hear the time signature shifting back repeatedly from duple to triple feel on “Easy Did It,” and I am half convinced that there is a lopsided chunk of fourteen beats stuck in every once in a while just to shake things up. But the soloists are never thrown for a loop, and when Holland dances, they join in on the fun.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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João Gilberto: Bim Bom

While Jobim’s is the name most people associate with bossa nova, he himself attributed its creation to João Gilberto. Gilberto’s approach represents a clear break from the comparatively unsophisticated samba tradition. His style, which remains unique and instantly identifiable, is composed of his soft, smooth voice, with its signature lack of vibrato; his graceful rhythm guitar; and his impeccable time, which enables him to tinker with phrasing without sacrificing any swing. Essentially a one-man band, Gilberto’s singular artistry makes the bass and drums nearly superfluous on his playful little tune.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Mann: Consolação

Herbie Mann was on that 1961 State Department tour that was just supposed to bring American jazz to Brazil; instead, it brought bossa nova back to North America. Mann soon returned to Rio to make an album, and recorded this track with its composer, guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino. Incongruously named after the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Baden Powell mixed indigenous Brazilian rhythms with elements of jazz and Django. His signature sound is dark and mysterious, which fits this hypnotic composition perfectly. Mann soars over the extended chorus, making it the longest track on the record.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Waltz for Debby (live version, 1961)

Because of this historic evening of music, “Waltz for Debby” has become one of the most familiar tunes in jazz. Opening the fourth of five sets that June evening in 1961, Bill Evans states the beautiful theme in ¾ time as Scott LaFaro plucks his considered notes on the upright. After a minute, the pace picks up and Paul Motian moves his brushes to action. Another round through the head, and Evans is off, taking his solo well away from the melody but always within the harmonic framework. Motian doesn’t do much more than keeping time, but LaFaro listens intently to Evans and Evans to LaFaro – their ideas synch up so naturally. This is the evening, and perhaps the tune, that would influence generations of pianists.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Forrest: Night Train

In 2006, the Recording Academy inducted this track into its Grammy Hall of Fame as a Jazz Single, but only because they had no Stripper Songs category. Neither as corny as "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" nor as tacky as "Harlem Nocturne," Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train" generates more reverb than a steam locomotive thrusting through a long tunnel (nothing Freudian implied). We haven't heard such coarse, vulgar honking since the time Mother mistook exit road for onramp leaving a truck stop. (Mom drove long-haul freight.) If those rude truckers had seen her old strip-tease runway act, though, they'd have whistled a different tune—probably "Night Train." Whew!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Maria Schneider: Hang Gliding

As a major figure in contemporary big band composition, Mrs. Schneider's use of lush textures and complex, yet satisfying, layers of sound give away her influences—namely Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer—without destroying her own personal sound. Maria wrote "Hang Gliding," the opening track of her third album, after an experience hang gliding in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. With inspiring solos by Greg Gisbert and Rick Margitza, which play in and around the written material, this composition captures the joyous feeling of flying. It all sounds so natural, listeners may be surprised to discover that “Hang Gliding” is written in an odd meter. Quite an accomplishment.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Stars Fell on Alabama

Featuring members of the Miles Davis sextet minus Miles, this session was recorded as an aside from an engagement at the Sutherland Lounge in Chicago. Most of the album showcases the stylistic differences between Cannonball and Coltrane, but "Stars Fell on Alabama" gives Cannonball a chance to show off his lyrical phrasing and wonderfully rich alto sound. Using the language of Charlie Parker but with a style uniquely his own, Cannonball effortlessly weaves between single, double and even quadruple time, floating on top of the steady groove of the rhythm section. A beautiful example of Cannonball at his best.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jouni Järvelä: Enkelin Kannel

Järvelä joined the UMO Jazz Orchestra (funded by the Finnish government) as a teenager, a considerable achievement for one so young, and promptly distinguished himself as a leading solo voice. With his own band he lets his cultural heritage wash over him, and on “Enkelin Kannel,” his solo on soprano saxophone is surely one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, improvisations of the last two decades. Like a wild bird taking flight it soars effortless above the ensemble, its aesthetically pleasing symmetry and melodic construction using the rising line to dramatic and profound effect. A delight in an era where rote, pattern-based improvising has become the norm.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tomasz Stanko: Soul of Things I

What do you play after Kind of Blue? It seems to consume the space before and after it, diminishing anything that follows. Here is one answer. Stanko had been mentoring a talented trio of teenagers through the 1990s and when they became his regular working group in 2000 they so perfectly complimented his musical vision that the sublime Soul of Things represents the trumpeter’s most complete artistic statement to date. Stanko says he’s played the same tune all his life, but this album’s set of thirteen variations condense a lifetime’s deeply felt emotion into a compelling series of vignettes that haunt the memory long after the music has finished.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gianluigi Trovesi: L’Infanta Arcibizzarra/Crisbell

Gianluigi Trovesi argued that if Duke Ellington could be influenced by the sights and sounds of Harlem, then he could be influenced by his beloved home town of Bergamo in Italy. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom asks, “Will it please you…to hear a bergamask dance?” The Italian bergamasca is a dance that originated in Bergamo in 16th century. It’s all Trovesi needed to inspire this dizzying Midsummer fantasia where Italian folk dances and Renaissance variations provide a stimulus for improvisation, not as they did five hundred years ago, but refracted through the prism of jazz.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jan Garbarek: A.I.R.

During their respective stays in Scandinavia, George Russell and Don Cherry encouraged Garbarek to bring aspects of his own cultural and musical background into jazz, with Russell asserting Garbarek was “the most original voice in European jazz since Django Reinhardt.” Intensity, space and melody are hallmarks of Garbarek’s playing on “A.I.R.” and although Keith Jarrett later came in for Stenson at ECM record producer Manfred Eicher’s suggestion, this was nevertheless an exemplary album from an exceptional group.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Arjen’s Bag

The regular bass player in this short lived quartet had been Dave Holland, who a few months earlier responded to the call to join Miles Davis. Odgers is an able deputy, but it’s the luminous interplay between Surman, McLaughlin and Oxley that make this album so memorable with its arresting melodies that effortlessly segue one into another – despite unusual time signatures (13/8, for example) – and its time-no-changes approach to improvisation. Surman takes a leading role and is majestic, while Johnny Mac’s (as he was then known on the UK scene) phenomenal articulation, sense of time and space combine to create superior jazz, regardless of postcode.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nancy Wilson: Midnight Sun

Alaska is the only U.S. state where periodically the sun shines around the clock. Thankfully, Nancy Wilson lets us unfortunates in the lower latitudes share this phenomenon. "The clouds were like an alabaster palace / Rising to a snowy height," she sings Johnny Mercer's extraordinary lyrics. "Each star its own aurora borealis / Suddenly you held me tight / I could see the midnight sun." Who says songwriters aren't essential to civilization? Oliver Nelson's lovely arrangement, expertly performed by studio musicians, provides leverage. But Nancy Wilson's sensitivity, matchless diction and dramatic intimacy keep the sun permanently perched above our horizon.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Great Guitars: On the Trail

"Basically just a big hole in the ground," scoffs our friend who's never seen it. Well, yeah, but as big holes go, Arizona's Grand Canyon is a mother. Anyone blessed to have witnessed it will appreciate composer Ferde Grofé's awed response, which inspired his Grand Canyon Suite (1931). "On the Trail," best known of five movements, is here traversed by the Great Guitars. Aroused before dawn, the group rustles up grub, breaks camp and by sunrise hits the trail. Herb solos first, next Charlie, then Mundell—just three American coots finding new wonders in familiar terrain. What could be grander?

November 19, 2007 · 1 comment

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Béla Fleck: Arkansas Traveller


Once the official state song, "Arkansas Traveler" was demoted to historical status because of its unflattering portrait of a lazy rube content to fiddle in a cabin full of puddles rather than mend his leaking roof. Needless to say, this isn't the image of modern industriousness the tourist bureau seeks to promote. Obligingly, Béla Fleck omits the lyrics for an instrumental reversion to the pre-Civil War tune that reeks nonetheless of rustic charm. With bassist Meyer's strong support, Fleck recreates the simplicity of a quiet backwoods afternoon without impugning the dynamism of a state that, after all, gave us Wal-Mart.

November 19, 2007 · 1 comment

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Wes Montgomery: California Dreaming

In 1963, the year California overtook New York as the most populous state, folk-rockers John and Michelle Phillips were living in New York, writing a song about longing for L.A. In 1966, with "California Dreamin'" a top hit for The Mamas and the Papas, Wes Montgomery heard in it the mystical ka-ching of cash registers. Wes wasn't the only mid-'60s jazz master to become a pop schlockmeister. In retrospect, though, knowing that in less than two years he'd be dead at 45, it's particularly tragic that Wes squandered his huge gift on hooey. He deserved better, and so do we.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Iowa Stubborn

In the 1950s, Jimmy Giuffre seesawed between commerce and the avant-garde. After early West Coast adventurism, Giuffre caught the first wave of America's folkie craze, leading a successful folk-jazz trio. Next he leapt on the Jazz Meets Show Tune bandwagon by raiding Broadway's folksy hit The Music Man. Giuffre treats "Iowa Stubborn" as if it were a schottische (round dance) unearthed by Hawkeye folklorists especially for inclusion in the Shubert Alley blockbuster. It's refreshing to hear the normally drummer-less Giuffre against Ed Shaughnessy's suavely brushed snare, but the pit-band-at-a-barn-dance effect is disconcerting. Broadway Folk Jazz is at least one genre too many.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: Indiana

"Wow!" marveled Zoot Sims, watching the 1969 telecast as astronauts first set foot on the Moon. "Look at that! And I'm still playing 'Indiana'!" Thirty years later, Joey DeFrancesco was still playing "Indiana," a tune written in 1917. Thank God. Even for listeners not enamored of the Hammond B-3 organ-trio formation, this is one of those 11-minute jump-on-the-table scream-&-holler performances that will, as musicians say, swing you into bad health. Hell, this'll swing you into intensive care! Joey DeFrancesco, who always barrels his butt off (and, 'case you haven't noticed, that's a sizable appendage), outdoes himself. Wow! Listen to that!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Illinois Jacquet: Illinois Blows the Blues

"The Italian navigator has landed in the new world," read the coded dispatch to Washington during World War II. "The natives are friendly." This signified that Enrico Fermi's physicists, in their secret University of Chicago lab, achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Hadn't they heard? Six months earlier, Illinois Jacquet beat them to the punch, famously blowing his top on Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home." Come 1947, though, the Cold War chilled things out. Accordingly, "Illinois Blows the Blues," showing the influence of Jacquet's by-then employer Count Basie, is more July 4 starburst than mushroom-cloud airburst. Cancel the Hazmat Squad.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Idaho

When Lester Young, Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich recorded a similar ad hoc session in 1946, it jelled. Already a star, Cole unselfishly became part of the whole. In contrast, Art Tatum can't hide his candle under a bushel long enough for anyone else to get a note in edgewise. Benny Carter, among jazz's premier altoists, is so overrun by Tatum's compulsive "accompaniment," he bows out after a single adlib chorus. Even after showing off his prodigious technique for two choruses, Tatum can scarcely brake for Bellson's break. Art must've heard that Idaho's state fish is the Cutthroat Trout.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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King Oliver: Everybody Does It in Hawaii

Among Hawaii's many enchanting gifts to the mainland is the steel guitar, named for its slide plied in lieu of finger-fretting. This benefaction, readily embraced by hillbilly musicians, became a whiny staple in country music. Its use in jazz, however, where sentimentality is more circumspect, has been mercifully rare. Here, covering a song by the legendary "Blue Yodeler" Jimmie Rodgers, the legendary King Oliver showcases vaudeville's Pennsylvania-born "Wizard of the Strings" Roy Smeck (the Les Paul of his day) in a bizarre gumbo of old-timey New Orleans, Grand Ole Opry, Guy Lombardo syrupy saxes and Waikiki clichés that is surprisingly delectable. Hana hou!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans: Georgia on My Mind

When a self-described Brussels street kid joins Japanese jazzmen in Tokyo on July 4, 1979, for a soulful "Georgia on My Mind," it seems to fulfill Marshall McLuhan's 1967 prophecy of a global village spawned by new forms of communication. Of course, Longfellow had declared a century before that "Music is the universal language." But pre-electronic media, this meant in practice that people could appreciate foreign music as consumers, not perform it with authenticity. Thanks to recordings and radio, however, by the year Georgia's legislature enacted as state anthem this song written by two Hoosiers, Monsieur Toots could toot an old sweet song in the Land of the Rising Sun as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: Florida Flo

Like other jazz greats (Armstrong, Holiday), Fats Waller has been criticized for doing material that was beneath him. Such an accomplished pianist and gifted composer, goes the gripe, ought never have stooped to Tin Pan Alley tripe. This, we submit, misconstrues one side of a multifaceted performer. Waller's buffoonery was no less artful than that of court jesters or opera buffa. While seemingly indulging the triviality of "Florida Flo," for instance, Fats slyly transforms it, letting us in on the joke with a mischievous sidelong wink in his voice. By playing the fool, Fats Waller turns foolishness on its head.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marty Nau & Phil Woods: Delawareness

Delaware is steeped in American history. Long before becoming the first state, the name was attached to a river, bay and Indian tribe, all named in "honor" of Lord De La Warr, a brutal 17th-century English colonial governor who did his damnedest to exterminate Native Americans. Since 1976, the name has also been associated with Delaware Water Gap resident Phil Woods. Here he pairs with altoist Vince Lardear in what will inevitably remind Phil's fans of his hard-blowing 1950s romps with Gene Quill. Half a century later, the Woodsman (who solos first) could still cut through a choir of chainsaws.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Yankee Doodle Never Went to Town

Making "Yankee Doodle" its official song was in keeping with Connecticut's Revolutionary spirit. As first sung by British redcoats to deride disorganized colonials, "doodle" meant fool. By adopting the ditty as their own, nutmeggers demonstrated impudent defiance. In 1935, however, investigative reporter Billie Holiday discovered that the backstory was phony. "Yankee Doodle never went to town," she revealed. "He didn’t even own a pony." State historical societies were understandably up in arms. Buoyed by Swing Era stalwarts, however, Billie stuck to her guns. This track doesn't aspire to be High Art, but its silly fun is thick as hasty pudding.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Colorado Waltz

Touring the U.S. in 1882 to lecture on Aestheticism, a dandified Oscar Wilde ("I have nothing to declare," he assured a customs inspector, "except my genius") was ridiculed by snooty San Franciscans but caused an absolute sensation amongst the silver-mining ruffians of Leadville, Colorado. Eighty-six years later, Cal Tjader continues this ill-advised tradition of aesthetic arbitrage between Bay Area and Rocky Mountains. To a state with one of the U.S.'s highest proportions of Hispanics, Tjader dedicates a waltz—a form forged in that crucible of Spanish culture, 18th-century Vienna. An attractive piece, a lilting performance, but like Oscar Wilde, it's Coloradan by adoption only.

November 19, 2007 · 1 comment

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Christian McBride: Little Sunflower

Bass solos suck. Let's face it, the ponderous, unwieldy instrument is meant to fill out the bottom like stuffing, not rise to the top like a soufflé. Released from their murky depths, plucked bass solos rumble more than resonate. Worse yet, bowed solos evoke a Popeye-the-Sailorman bass-sawing silliness. All of which makes this 4-minute, All-Bass-All-The-Time track hard to explain. Quite simply, it's a gas. Atop his pizzicato rhythm role, Christian McBride overdubs three arco parts (stereo-separated), plus fretless electric bass, giving us an unexpectedly light treat—rather like a soufflé after all. Toto, the bass is not in Kansas anymore.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Russell: Kentucky Oysters

Claiming their bluegrass neighbors couldn't differentiate between seafood and hog guts, Indianans made "Kentucky Oysters" slang for the soul food delicacy chitlins. The slander, as celebrated in this dual-tempo blues waltz by Hoosier David Baker, seems good-natured. (No truth to the rumor that Baker's dislocated jaw, forcing him to abandon the trombone, was applied by an irate Kentuckian.) The ensemble reverb is overdone, and there's an awkward splice between trumpet and piano solos—the latter an especially interesting contribution from leader Russell, best known as theorist/composer. But this is nonetheless an outstanding example of early-'60s jazz, simultaneously searching and funky.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Vince Guaraldi: O Tannenbaum

"I think that I shall never see," wrote Leonard Feather (1914-1994), dean of Anglo-American jazz critics, "a review as lovely as a tree." Well, okay, maybe it wasn't Leonard Feather. But the sentiment is beyond reproach. Not even the finest review can match a tree in loveliness, especially a Christmas tree. And yet, consider the life of a Christmas tree. "Nasty, brutish and short," said Thomas Hobbes. Well, okay, maybe he wasn't talking about Christmas trees, exactly. But that sentiment too is beyond reproach. We cut them down in, let's face it, the prime of life. We bind their branches and cart them off ignominiously to vacant lots to be sold to complete strangers, who schlep them home and prop them in a corner. Throw up a few lights, toss around some tinsel icicles, and stick an old Styrofoam star on top. And within days, tear it all down. Unwanted and thankless, the tree is dispatched to meet its maker at the local recycling center. Is that any way to treat a tree? What have they ever done to us, aside from providing oxygen to breathe and piquant pine scents to savor? It's a crying shame.

Perhaps that's what Vince Guaraldi was thinking during his wistful, unaccompanied, out-of-tempo intro. Or maybe he was musing about the song itself, which has suffered through enough identity changes to be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. First it was "O Tannenbaum," a German folk tune, which is all well and good if you learn German, but who has that kind of time? Then the gods of war conscripted it into a U.S. state anthem, "Maryland, My Maryland," where it served as pro-Confederacy propaganda to no avail. (Maryland not only stayed in the Union, they kept the song. After all, no reason to waste a perfectly good tune.) Later it was repackaged as a yuletide carol, "O Christmas Tree," which is how Vince Guaraldi found it in 1965 when he adopted the perennial orphan into his jazzy score for the animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

After concluding his pensive intro, Guaraldi glides into an easygoing 4/4 statement of the theme, then improvises three boppishly funky choruses. And, in the true spirit of Christmas, he even gives bassist Fred Marshall two solo choruses of his own. In measure to be jolly, Vince returns to deck the halls with boughs of holly and restate the theme, which has by now become, in his graceful hands, "Merryland, My Merryland."

No, we shall never see a review as lovely as a tree. But celebrating the holidays with this quietly joyous track, as toasty as a solar-heated sauna on a sunny December day, just might be the next best thing.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Al Jolson: My Mammy

"Leave my house!" a cantor banishes his musically wayward son, played by Al Jolson in Hollywood's The Jazz Singer (1927). At the film's finale, Jolson—now a famous blackface entertainer—genuflects to one knee to milk the pathos of "My Mammy." This iconic calumny, circulated worldwide, made Jolson the USA's most visible Jim Crow since that minstrel caricature's 1828 invention, reinforcing racist stereotypes that should've been flushed into history's septic tank. By false association, Jolson smeared jazz in the same way he applied burnt cork to his face: selfishly, thoughtlessly and unforgivably. Not even Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels in all his infamy could've devised a more noxiously anti-American image.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: The Memphis Blues

This pairing of Armstrong’s artistry with Handy’s music seems so obvious that one might question why it took until 1954 to become a reality—but let’s just be glad that it did. Armstrong’s vocal is charming as always, and Young and Bigard add some complimentary commentary. The power of Armstrong’s trumpet sound will never be surpassed, nor will the elegance, emotional weight, and indisputable logic of his improvisations. Some fans will eternally wish that Louis played more trumpet in his later years, but listeners will be hard-pressed to imagine any more notes being added to this perfect solo. After you hear it once, you’ll never want to hear it any other way.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef: The Plum Blossom

Master reedman Yusef Lateef was playing “world music” before the genre had a title. As early as the mid-1950s African, Near and Far Eastern influences are heard in his compositions and improvisations; by the end of the decade his records included many foreign instruments. On “The Plum Blossom” Lateef opts for the Chinese globular flute—which allowed him the use of only five pitches. He works within this limitation magnificently, constructing a concise improvisation that continuously evolves the simple, buoyant theme. Though the piece is built on only two chords and a repetitive rhythmic vamp, its exotic, minimalist qualities are compelling.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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King Pleasure: Moody's Mood For Love (aka I'm In The Mood For Love)

Vocalese sets words to preexisting instrumental passages, usually note for note. Invented by singer Eddie Jefferson in the early 1940s, vocalese broke through in 1952 when King Pleasure recorded Jefferson's words to a 1949 solo by tenorman James Moody. In 2001, the Grammy Hall of Fame inducted this track but misidentified its artist as Moody, not Pleasure. At least, we think that's what Grammy meant, bless her heart. (Alzheimer's, you know.) Singing with more gusto than skill, Pleasure put vocalese on the map and then, as online biographer Alex Henderson writes, "faded into great obscurity." Isn't that the best kind?

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Morris & Mat Maneri: Versicolor

It can be frustrating dealing with the jazz non-fan who doesn't care for the music because it's “difficult to understand.” In some cases, that completely misses the point. As I listen to Joe Morris' guitar and Mat Maneri's violin tentatively trading ideas, then pushing them farther "out," and finally launching new ones based on the resolutions – I'm struck by how much like life the process is – dealing with problems and coming to conclusions. Obviously, this isn't the only way to perceive the music, but the unsure listener needs to know that there is no “one true way.”

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Witches & Devils: Angels

Albert Ayler's brand of jazz, while bursting with torrents of energy and emotion, was not without its tender and spiritual side. Witches and Devils gets inside this Ayler composition and takes advantage of both its passion and quiet, underlying spirit. Vandermark and Williams begin with rising joy, delivering an intense, almost prayer-meeting feel that morphs in a blast furnace of energy. Midsong, the heat is dialed back to allow an extended cello and bass duet. The intertwined lines, while slowly allowing the quiet to take over, are no less effective in channeling the spirit of Ayler. Inspiring stuff!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Penthouse Serenade – as heard in Woody&nbsp;Allen's <i>Mighty Aphrodite</i> (1995)

One mark of a great jazz artist is the ability to make a standard his or her own. By that yardstick, and by any other as well, Erroll Garner was a great jazz artist. Atop his habitual left-hand 4-to-the-bar chording (most reminiscent of Count Basie's perennial rhythm guitarist, Freddie Green), Garner's bubbly tremolos guide listeners through a melody with the attentiveness and fertile imagination of Samuel Taylor Coleridge touring Xanadu. Garner's patented "Penthouse Serenade" is entrancing, as elfin Erroll courts his high-rise sweetheart. For the hopeless romantic in us all, Erroll Garner shall ever be a stately pleasure-gnome.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Take the 'A' Train (1941) – as heard in Woody&nbsp;Allen's <i>Radio Days</i> (1987)

In 1941, Duke Ellington escaped the bondage of jungle music via an underground railway called the ‘A’ train. Duke's motorman Billy Strayhorn, picking up a carload of familiar Swing Era passengers—catchy theme smoothly stated by saxes, punchy punctuation from the brasses, steady rhythmic pulse—transports us to Sugar Hill in Harlem, a destination just this side of paradise. Combining Benny Goodman's precision with Count Basie's nonchalance, Ellington's band rode its own express line to immortality. If you're looking for a single track to both epitomize and justify the Swing Era, take the ‘A’ Train.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Body and Soul – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Stardust Memories</i> (1980)

In Paris during the 1930s, jazz was all the rage. But when a homegrown quintet of 3 guitars, violin and bass appeared, something seemed lost in translation. Until, that is, they played. The group's star was Belgian Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Despite an injury that reduced his fretting to two fingers and a thumb, Django's flat-picking speed and projection on the steel-string acoustic guitar were phenomenal. Reputedly, when no pick was at hand, Django would break off a tooth from his plastic pocket comb to discharge notes that exploded with the fury of artillery ordnance. His hair may have been mussed, but Django's rockets hit their targets without fail.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ken Clark: Eternal Funk

You’ve probably never heard of organist Ken Clark, but he deserves wider attention. “Eternal Funk” is a smoking blues number with a funk-rock beat and a catchy melody that sears itself into the brain. Clark doesn’t waste a note or resort to any B-3 gimmickry; instead he quietly escalates the intensity of the performance. Guitarist Mike Mele and Steve Chaggaris, who handle their roles more than ably, engage Clark in a mysterious huddle of an interlude at the halfway point that erupts into a craze of action, like a football team drawing up a play and then throwing a bomb for a touchdown.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sasha Dobson: Without You

Dobson impresses in her debut with a warm, intimate performance. The poise and confidence here are striking. This vocalist already has a firm sense of her own style -- no empty pyrotechnics, just a deeply felt interpretation of a wistful composition by guitarist Harris. Harris, who wrote the material that propelled Norah Jones to fame, may have aligned himself with another rising star with this promising singer.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: S'Wonderful (studio version, 2001)

I once thought that all the great bossa nova singers were from Brazil, but Krall has forced me to alter my opinion. Thirty years ago, João Gilberto recorded this same Gershwin standard adapted to the bossa beat (also with a Claus Ogerman arrangement), but Krall's version can proudly stand alongside this esteemed predecessor. Yet Krall never stoops to imitate, and she makes this song her own. When they write the textbook on relaxed singing, this should be included on the companion CD.

November 18, 2007 · 1 comment

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Luciana Souza: House

In her earlier settings of Elizabeth Bishop's writings, Souza demonstrated the upside to mixing jazz with modern poetry. But her interpretations of the great poet Pablo Neruda are even better. Souza navigates through this careening 7/4 piece with aplomb, and the poetry comes alive with an almost savage beauty. But I am puzzled that the Brazilian singer Souza presents the Chilean poet Neruda in English translation. Does the heavy hand of marketing shape the gentle fingers of art?

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eric Felten: I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good)

Felten made his name as a trombonist before switching gears to vocals. He possesses a voice out of the 1940s, rich and pure, without a hint of rock-and-roll grit or postmodern irony. His whole notes are beautiful to hear, hanging in the air like a perfect spiral at a homecoming game. And, unlike so many male singers of his generation, Felten is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Listen to him put on this Ellington standard like a well-tailored suit, and you can believe he's got it bad, oh so bad - and it ain't good . . . except for the fans lucky enough to stumble on this unheralded CD.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jane Monheit: In the Still of the Night

Monheit has all the tools for greatness - perfect intonation, great range, nuanced phrasing. And I've never heard a prettier version of this Cole Porter song. But is prettiness the right attitude for Porter's classic song? This "still of the night" landscape is mostly an empty horizon, with little happening on an emotional level. Monheit has the potential to rank among the finest singers of her generation, but the psychological content of her songs doesn't yet match the slickness of her technique.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jamie Cullum: Singin' in the Rain

Cullum shows his generation how to reinterpret an old song. "Singin' in the Rain" has been performed and parodied so many times, only a great vocalist can make it sound as fresh as a spring shower. Cullum does just that on this 2004 recording, from his invigorating Twentysomething release. Above the sparkling re-harmonization and strutting groove, Cullum offers his full range of vocal tricks—humming, cooing, jumping up for an overripe falsetto, or falling back to blend in with the strings. A great recording by one of the finest singers of the new generation.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower

In the late 1960s Charles Lloyd was a legitimate jazz star, and for a time, his star shined the brightest. His quartet’s music, daring and complex yet unpretentious and accessible, was adored by jazz and rock fans alike. “Forest Flower” was Lloyd’s initial key to success in the United States. Even in its most experimental sections, the piece remains invitingly warm. Lloyd’s shimmering arpeggios cover the entire range of his horn, yet his playing remains lithe and light. Jarrett contributes an ingeniously constructed solo, fleet- fingered and lyrical. The communication between him and DeJohnette is telepathic, hinting at what would come years down the road.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Lloyd: Dream Weaver

From the only studio recording by one of the most important yet under-recognized groups of the 1960s, “Dream Weaver” reveals the power and range of the Charles Lloyd Quartet. The dark, brooding intensity of “Meditation” is counterbalanced by the joyous groove of “Dervish Dance.” The open structure of the piece could lead to aimless wandering by a lesser group, but Lloyd’s young quartet weaves together a lucid performance that is focused and ultimately transcendent. The seeking quality in Lloyd’s avant-garde playing is not imposing or distasteful (as that of many 1960s tenormen) but remains pleasant and charming. An unappreciated treasure.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Lloyd: Tone Poem

To celebrate the rebirth of the label, a host of former Blue Note stars assembled for a historic concert at New York’s Town Hall in 1985. The group led by Lloyd reunited him with Petrucciani, his pianist from the early 1980s, and McBee and DeJohnette, members of his classic 1960s quartet. “Tone Poem” is a circular and hypnotic two-chord vamp—the perfect setting for Lloyd to both ground himself in melodic diatonicism and extend the harmonic framework of the piece when he so chooses. Petrucciani and McBee contribute excellent improvisations and DeJohnette is interactive as ever—motivating yet remaining complementary and empathetic.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave McKenna: Detour Ahead

Dave McKenna scuffled for decades as a sideman, equally adept with moldy figs and modernists but never making a name beyond his peers. Finally, in his 40s, he found a wider audience. This track shows how lucky we are that he stuck it out. Forty years after Billie Holiday put her indelible stamp on "Detour Ahead," McKenna finds his own, slower way inside, giving us a wistful, plaintive yet uplifting interpretation. "Why am I the only one," the lyric wonders, "travelin' this way?" Some of us, heedless of warning signs, must find our own route. Dave McKenna lights our path.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joanne Brackeen: Thou Swell

The first female flower (1969-1972) in that hothouse of testosterone, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, also won pride of place in the Maybeck Recital Hall series. To a song from Broadway's A Connecticut Yankee (1927), with dances staged originally by no less than Busby Berkeley, Brackeen applies her own gift for kaleidoscopic formation, deploying all 88 piano keys as if they were lithe chorus girls in skimpy costumes, arranging their black-&-white curvilinear motifs into quickly dissolving geometric designs observed from bird's-eye view. Yet despite her impressive choreography, Brackeen is no showoff, deferring to the melody, respectfully reharmonizing and swinging throughout. First in show.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano: Wow

Lennie Tristano offered jazz's answer to abstract expressionism. A graduate of Chicago's American Conservatory of Music, Tristano was so cerebral, his sidemen were compelled to become his pupils. Together they emulated the overlapping trajectories of painter Jackson Pollock, their extended lines demanding evaluation not by music critics but by mathematicians schooled in fractal geometry. Men wearing lab coats and operating with scientific detachment are, however, better suited to surgical sterility than to the teeming Petri dish of jazz. Tristano's palindromic "Wow," which would be equally valid/vague played back to front, is as austerely beautiful as Antarctica and just as frigid.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Jordan: Choo Choo Ch'Boogie

A late-1930s jazz veteran, Louis Jordan scored a string of #1 hits from the early '40s through 1950 that broadened the crossover appeal of "race music" by merging swing and boogie woogie into jump blues. The locomotive shuffle of "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" typifies his populist formula. Humorous jive lyrics defuse what might otherwise be construed as lowlife ethnic stereotyping. Shuffle beat and simple riffing keep the music unchallenging—the opposite of bebop, a contemporaneous development that alienated dancers. Jordan acted the genial naïf, but his consistent success amidst America's wartime and postwar ferment betrayed uncommonly savvy showmanship.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Big Joe Turner: Cherry Red

"You can take me, baby, put me in your big brass bed," proposes Kansas City blues shouter Big Joe Turner. "You can rock me, baby, till my face turns cherry red." During a stint at Manhattan's facetiously named Café Society, Big Joe and pal Pete Johnson recorded this timeless testimonial to cardiac arrest. Set to a boogie-woogie shuffle beat, Buster Smith's creamy alto and Hot Lips Page's growling plunger encourage Joe's lascivious mortality. "Her husband died trying to satisfy her prodigious sexual desires," a gossip informs Woody Allen in Love and Death (1975). "No kidding!" says Woody. "Died smiling, I bet."

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke: Louisiana

After Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana in 2005, Americans expressed outrage at their federal government's laggard response, and privately donated billions for emergency relief. All 49 other states individually extended help. If proof were needed that we're united in more than name only, there it was. And yet, jazz has expressed such unity-in-diversity for 100 years. What else can you call a middleclass kid from Iowa fronting an all-white band in one of the loveliest, most glorious celebrations of music from the black South? Bix Beiderbecke plays "Louisiana" as if raised amidst crawfish and cotton, not cornstalks. One nation, under jazz.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: How About You?

"I like New York in June," sings Frank Sinatra. "How about you?" Obviously a trick question. Who, after all, is going to disagree with Sinatra? Especially since he puts New York in June in the same class as a Gershwin tune, potato chips, moonlight, good books, and holding hands in a movie show when lights are low. What's not to like? To that list, however, should be added this track, vastly superior to Tommy Dorsey's 1941 version featuring a skinny heartthrob from Hoboken. Sinatra at 26 was a star; at 40, he's a mature artist—still stellar, but now masterful.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chicago Underground Duo: Memoirs of a Space Traveller

A lot of music on the Thrill Jockey label is referred to as “post-rock,” probably because the sound palettes employed fit in both the rock and jazz worlds – though sometimes comfortably in neither. “Memoirs of a Space Traveller” draws from both genres to tell a story that moves from disturbing, almost violent cacophony (with blustery clots of percussion, electronic noise, and blasts of cornet) to end in peaceful reflection – a quiet set of guitar figures and muted horn accents close things down as the noise finally recedes. It must have been quite a trip.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Closer

Solo jazz piano was a lost art during the 1960s. Most of the leading keyboardists of the era preferred to work in a trio setting, or in the context of larger combos. But this all changed in the early 1970s, a turbulent period when the entire jazz piano vocabulary was in process of redefinition and reconfiguration. Only a few months before Paul Bley undertook this seminal session, Keith Jarrett had entered the same studio in Oslo and recorded his monumental Facing You solo piano project. Around this same time, Chick Corea also made a pilgrimage to Norway where he spent two days recording his Piano Improvisations albums. These works forged a new path for jazz, one in which European and African-American elements sought a renewed symbiosis, and where the conflicting paradigms of freedom and lyricism entered into a fruitful détente. Bley’s introspective work on “Closer” – which, despite the name, was the LP’s opener – still sounds fresh and provocative a generation later. Every note carries an ineffable rightness, and Bley’s rich piano tone never sounded better.

November 17, 2007 · 1 comment

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Count Basie: Dickie's Dream

Four days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland to kick off World War II, Count Basie's Kansas City Seven invaded a New York record studio with less earthshaking but still memorable results. After a simple, twice- repeated 8-bar riff, the K.C. 7 casually tosses the ball around like minimalists at a picnic. (Tip: BYO every- thing.) There are genial solos from a cup-muted Clayton, bubbly Wells, light-fingered Basie and, best of all, the saxophonist honored annually on President's Day (third Monday of February). The world at large may've been determinedly hell-bent, but Lester Young kept his cool when all about were losing theirs.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke: Sorry

French biographer Jean Pierre Lion twice uses the word “astonishing” to describe “Sorry.” Bix himself boasted, “I have never felt better on any recording date.” And who’s to argue? Although the tune may not have been Bix’s fastest, it still manages to leave one breathless with its propulsive, toe-tapping hummability. An opening, grenade-burst staccato ignites Don Murray’s 32-bar clarinet solo, and from there things only get better. When Bix finally enters, he pushes against the beat, rides above it, and then hangs back with a brilliant five-note off-the-beat run that defies notation.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cuong Vu: Vina's Lullaby

To label Cuong Vu a jazz trumpeter is to severely limit the scope of his musical imagination. He can take an initial idea, alter it through effects, muse on the result...and repeat the cycle until variations of the original theme form that seem both otherworldly and perfectly natural. On “Vina's Lullaby,” Vu and bassist Stomu Takeishi sketch out the lonesome melody before the full trio begins a series of choruses. Just when you're certain that the head will return, the group launches off into the stratosphere – Cuong's horn shrieks, Takeishi's bass growls, and Hollenbeck tries to hold it all together. I don't know who Vina is, but I sure hope this lullaby didn't lead to nightmares!

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: I'm Coming Virginia

In this, his longest solo, Bix is at the height of his powers. He eschews the gutbucket growls and half-valves that were just becoming popular with Duke Ellington and instead digs deep into the melody. In true Impressionist style, with all the manly restraint of Henry James, he suggests rather than declaims the tune’s dark melancholy, taking Trumbauer’s solo – the handoff is just perfect – and gently refining it. His “correlated” phrases (Bix’s term) build, one on top of the other, until Bix finally leaps up to a (relatively) high register and delivers what Richard Sudhalter rather dramatically described as “Caravaggio-like shafts of light.”

November 17, 2007 · 1 comment

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Singin' the Blues

Bix needed Louis (at least in retrospect) to define his style; he needed Trumbauer just to get through the day. The straight-and-narrow saxman, known to his friends as Tram, was the source of personal and professional stability for Bix, and when the two finally hooked up in the studio, they produced a masterpiece. It’s easy to forget that Trumbauer’s solo, which opens the number with unprecedented lyricism, was as important in its time as Bix’s. “Trumbauer always told a little story,” Lester Young explained. It was not about dancing, in other words, or virtuosity; it was about feeling. When Bix chimes in, jazz changed forever. Here was jazz’s first balladeer. His solo, though improvised, feels like a finished composition – restrained, precise, and governed by melody instead of chord changes and tempo.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Original Dixieland Jazz Band: The Darktown Strutters' Ball

"Darktown Strutters' Ball" stems from the cakewalk, a popular Southern spectator sport in which pre-bellum slaveholders rewarded their best dancing minions with, à la Marie Antoinette, a piece of cake. By 1917, with the all-white ODJB absurdly billed as The Creators of Jazz, ofays themselves were traveling in taxis to "dance out both my shoes" at nightspots presenting hot music—and if they wanted cake, they had to pay extra. Surprisingly, "Darktown Strutters' Ball" doesn't sound like five white stiffs clumsily pilfering black music. Jim Crow was their guardian angel, but these skilled instrumentalists had a genuine feel for jazz.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Mondsee Variation I

Paul Bley hasn't released a solo piano recording on ECM in 35 years, and many of his current fans may not even remember his captivating Open to Love album from 1972. Bley was on the cusp of 40 back then, and his upstart label, ECM, barely three years old. But that recording was an important statement at a time when jazz piano was in a state of flux and ferment -- and revealed how a deep musical mind could reconcile the opposed demands of freedom and structure, tonality and dissonance. Solo in Mondsee is a more ruminative, lyrical work, less polemical in its outlook than Open to Love, but equally brilliant in conception. Bley's loose phrasing and translucent tone control are his trademark virtues, and both are well displayed in this rubato meditation. Bley may have made his name as an avant garde pushing the frontiers of jazz into the next new thing, but this pristine performance is the confident statement of a master who doesn't need to prove anything, who simply creates houses of sound for his own (and our) delight. Highly recommended.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: I Should Care


    Hank Mobley
Artwork by Michael Symonds

Hard bop and ballads were strange bedfellows. Many hard-bop drummers didn't own wire brushes for their snares, preferring sticks the size of Hank Aaron's bat. Another Hank, surnamed Mobley, was one hard-bop stalwart with a soft spot for pretty tunes. Moreover, at the time of this recording, Hank and his cohorts were either current or former sidemen of Miles Davis—a preeminent balladeer. Even when resorting to the jazzman's time-honored recourse of double-timing over a slow tempo, as he does here, Mobley's slightly overcast tone was mobilized in the service of lyricism. And, yes, Philly Joe uses brushes. Another knockout.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Madeleine Peyroux: Don't Wait Too Long

You may recognize the song from the Dockers commercial, but this performance is worth checking out whether your khakis are on or off. Peyroux has definite crossover appeal, and "Don't Wait Too Long" presents an attractive blending of jazz and pop that will captivate even listeners who don't know Lady Day from Ladyfingers. Aging baby-boomers who are nostalgic for the long-lost days when Top 40 divas such as Phoebe Snow and Rickie Lee Jones artfully mixed genres into fresh, new hybrids should make the acquaintance of this charming stylist.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny Davern & Ken Peplowski: Careless Love

While the two reed players are the focal point of this session it sounds much like a group effort. Bunch plays a journeyman intro leading right into Poplowski’s solo. Alden follows and keeping with the protocol established by his predecessors solos around the melody more than anything else. From the ground up the late, great DeNicola not only anchors the ensemble as great drummers do, but does so much more than keep time. Cohen gets a solo turn, massaging the melody thru the blues lens and then the piece breaks down to a wonderful trio for part of Davern’s solo with the rest of the rhythm section fading up for the final intertwining from clarinet and alto.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian: Mumbo Jumbo

Intriguing track featuring a unique lineup, written by an iconoclast composer and one of the best drummers in the business. Motian’s skills as a bandleader and composer usually overshadow his playing, and I’m sure that’s the point. While the looseness of this piece and the textures of the front line (three guitars and two reeds) make for an almost quilt-like sound, all the melodic weaving adds up to an interesting and singular performance.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Elliott Lawrence: Elevation

Within every fat person is a thin one longing to get out. We're reminded of this dubious adage by Gerry Mulligan's youthful arrangements for the oversized postwar ensembles of Gene Krupa, Elliot Lawrence and Stan Kenton. Getting such lummoxes to swing was like teaching a hippopotamus to skate. Amazingly, Mulligan got them gliding around as gracefully as Sonja Henie. While many big bands featured a "band within a band" (small combos drawn from the ranks for relief), Mulligan deftly refashions the full unit into a svelte reflection of itself. If our tailor could do this, we'd call him a magician.

November 17, 2007 · 2 comments

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Gene Krupa: How High the Moon

By mid-1946, when Gene Krupa recorded 19-year-old arranger Gerry Mulligan's arrangement of "How High the Moon," the 1940 Broadway show tune was such a jazz staple that interpolating Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" (based on songwriter Morgan Lewis's lunar phases) was a transparent signal of wannabe hipness. Even so, the fading, 37-year-old Swing Era superstar drummer deserves credit, both as talent scout for discovering Mulligan and as bandleader for so crisply executing the lad's buoyant chart. Despite this track's substandard audio on Columbia's 1998 Mullenium CD, the postwar swing-to-bop transition is revealingly documented from the belly of the beast—Gene Krupa's throwback big band.

November 17, 2007 · 1 comment

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Benny Goodman: Avalon


    Benny Goodman
 Photo by Herb Snitzer

In Hollywood's sappy biopic The Benny Goodman Story (1955), B.G. finds Lionel Hampton toiling as a musical waiter in an L.A. café, when actually Hamp was an established jazzman, having recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1930. Whatever . . . Benny—by 1936 America's most popular bandleader—did spotlight a major talent. Plus, by adding Hamp to his racially integrated combo, Goodman struck a blow for equality as resounding as Hamp's exuberant solos. "Avalon" is vintage B.G. Quartet, as bright and breezy as a springtime excursion to Catalina, and incidentally inspiring the Star Wars "Cantina Band." May the Force be with the Benny Goodman Quartet.

November 17, 2007 · 1 comment

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Paul Ellingson: Artistry in Rhythm

Yes, Ellingson, not Ellington. The late Paul Ellingson (1938-2005) was an aesthetic gadfly out-of-place in a Salt Lake City that never recognized his talents. But Ellingson didn't make it easy for those trying to come to grips with his personal artistry in rhythm. Sometimes he focused his energies on the visual arts (his painting and sketches illustrate his Solo Jazz Piano release), at other times he stirred things up as an architectural critic, or tried to rewrite music theory with his radical ideas on harmony. But his creativity was perhaps best served when he sat down at the piano and improvised. Under different circumstances he might have gained recognition as one of the most expressive jazz pianists of his generation, a true poet of the keyboard. Instead he left us only one -- ridiculously hard to find -- recording of solo piano music. Seek it out and enjoy his ruminative, highly intelligent recreations of standards and original compositions. Ellingson's nuanced reworking of Stan Kenton's theme song, "Artistry in Rhythm," is a revelation, showing the fragile beauty inside the grandiloquence of the big band anthem. A pristine reminder of a musician who never found his audience, but (in Brando's famous words from On the Waterfront) "could've been a contender."

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm

To Stan Kenton, bigger was better. More instruments, expanded ranges, wider voicings, grand gestures, GREATER VOLUME. Everything about him was louder than life. (Did we say louder? Sorry, we meant larger. Listening to Kenton, it's tough to hear yourself think.) And manly? Oh, my dear! Derived from "Invocation to the Nymphs" in Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloé, "Artistry in Rhythm" is Stan's only known connection to nymphs. Verily, in the Dark Age before pharmacology vanquished erectile dysfunction, anyone with depleted virility had merely to touch a Kenton record to be restored to full functionality. "Artistry in Rhythm" is Viagra set to jazz.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: Stardust

In Ken Burns's documentary Jazz (2001), Artie Shaw puts down erstwhile rival bandleader Glenn Miller as a mere "businessman." Talk about a pot defaming the kettle! Their only difference is that Miller was pleased to be commercial, whereas Shaw shamelessly posed as an aesthete caught in the vile clutches of industry. To illustrate, "Stardust" offsets standout solos from Butterfield, Shaw and Jenney with strings sawing away as contentedly as if just signed to a lifetime contract with Mantovani. By expressing contempt for show business, Shaw was like the cagey used-car dealer who will ever-so-reluctantly sell you the best buy on his lot but only if you swear on your mother's Blue Book not to tell anyone where you bought it.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: Frenesi

After one of his intermittent, annoyingly short-lived retirements, Garboesque bandleader Artie Shaw returned from a Mexican vacaciones frenéticas to record "Frenesi" (Spanish for frenzy). It's a lovely tune, attractively arranged and well performed, but it makes us wonder just where in Mexico Señor Shaw ensconced. With flute, oboe, French horn and strings, "Frenesi" sounds more palacio presidencial than barrio cantina. Artie's concept of local color seems mighty elitist for an immigrant dressmakers' son born on Manhattan's Lower East Side who professed to hate the trappings of celebrity. "Frenesi" is fine for ballroom dancing, but it's cornier than a maize tortilla.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Livery Stable Blues

20th-century popular arts were bundled with the technology used to deliver them. Jazz is a case in point. Not until the phonograph, an overlooked 1877 mechanical novelty, was developed into one of the new century's signature industries, could individual performances be mass marketed. The first jazz record— "Livery Stable Blues," employing comic instrumental barnyard effects—sold a million copies at its 1917 release. If you've never heard this track, try to imagine its effect on adults who may never before have laid ears on such music. As the opening salvo of recorded jazz, it was sensational. And, in that light, still is.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: A Ballad

As chief arranger and co-principal soloist, Gerry Mulligan helped deliver Miles Davis's obstetric triumph Birth of the Cool (1949-50). Three years later and on the opposite coast, Mulligan added a second trumpet and baritone sax to the 1950 BOTC octet lineup for an ad hoc "Tentette" that proved nearly as influential as the earlier band. Gerry contributes a lovely solo to this track, but its appeal is his gorgeous arrangement, answering Gil Evans's miraculous "Moon Dreams" chart for BOTC. "A Ballad" is deficient only in its title—rather like naming your newborn "A Baby." Otherwise it's three minutes of perfection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: The Joint is Jumpin'

The reason Fats Waller was so huge (6' tall, 300 lbs., shoe size 15) was because there were two of him in there. One was a dazzling pianist and prolific songwriter. "The Joint Is Jumpin'" gives us the other Fats, a Pagliacci-type buffoon hilariously re-creating the raucous ambience of a Harlem rent party. Of Waller's death at 39 from pneumonia, Frederick J. Spencer, M.D., observes: "His alcoholic clowning endeared him to his fellow musicians and the public. But if he had stayed sober the world might not have been deprived so soon of one of its great pianists and entertainers." Duh!  If James Dean had been a safe driver, we'd have more James Dean films to watch. The problem is, if James Dean had been a safe driver, he wouldn't have been James Dean. If Fats Waller had stayed sober, he might've made a swell shoe salesman, but he wouldn't have kept The Joint Jumpin'. We are who we are.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Norah Jones: The Nearness of You

Almost from the release of her debut CD, critics carped that Norah Jones was not a “real jazz singer.” Students of the music’s history know that this criticism has been leveled at many of the greatest jazz performers of the last century, and is usually a signal that something interesting is afoot. Jones is, in fact, an exemplary jazz singer, and anyone who doubts it should listen to her sing an old ballad with just her own piano playing as accompaniment – as she does on this rendition of a Hoagy Carmichael standard. Her interpretation here is exquisite and heartfelt, and proves that Jones is the real deal whether handling contemporary material or (as on this track) a 70-year-old ballad.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cab Calloway: Minnie the Moocher

The word hep, signifying "in the know," had appeared by the early 1900s, but its greatest vogue came during the 1930s, when hepcat lingo was codified in Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary (1936) by the leather-lunged, hugely popular singing & dancing bandleader. In his greatest hit, "Minnie the Moocher," Cab's jive so masterfully veiled references to cocaine and opium that even Hollywood came running. By the time he revisited her for The Blues Brothers (1980), Cab had been mooching off Minnie for half a century, but neither he nor his audiences ever seemed to tire of the Moocher's infectiously nonsensical call-&-response scatting.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: The Magician in You

Expectations was Jarrett’s only recording for Columbia and it was the earliest masterpiece in his career as a bandleader. This double disc features a wide array of moods and styles, clearly demonstrating Jarrett’s artistic versatility and virtuosity. “The Magician in You” is essentially a folk-pop ballad; Brown’s tastefully distorted guitar and Motian’s backbeat give the tune a jazz-rock edge. It fits perfectly on Expectations considering the album’s stylistic breadth. At times, Jarrett is a bit longwinded, but always lyrically eloquent and expressive. His tense, flurried runs stretch the time and harmony but he resolves them sweetly, returning home to begin his next phrase. Recommended for all ears.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Filthy McNasty

Though this Horace Silver group contained no outright superstars, their unity and foot-stomping swing made them one of the most solid groups during the hard-bop era. Mitchell and Cook served in Silver’s frontline for over five years—their controlled, energetic choruses are dripping with soulfulness and both men are at their best with Silver’s funky riffing behind them. The enthusiasm doesn’t wane for a moment through the entire tune, and things really get going as Silver digs in. His well-planned choruses build one after another, with each successive chorus a logical response to what was played in the previous. A great introduction to a hard-bop pioneer.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: When It Rains

On Largo, Brad Mehldau moves away from his preferred piano trio format. The aptly titled “When It Rains” begins with a pensive piano introduction, quietly augmented by an octet of woodwinds. Mehldau’s droning left-hand triplets behind the melody recall those days where the incessant patter of gentle rain becomes a sobering rhythmic accompaniment to the day’s activities. Mehldau’s playing is bittersweet—his mood is lonesome and melancholic, but his phrases end with a sense of optimism, leaving listeners touched and surprisingly uplifted. Mehldau’s solo reprise of the introduction is a fitting conclusion to a convincing piece of stark emotion.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Concierto de Aranjuez

Jim Hall’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” unites three of the purest melodists in jazz in Baker, Desmond, and the guitarist himself. While sharing the lead, all choose to forgo extra frills and ornamentation to focus on what matters the most—conveying the magnificence of the pristine melody. Carter and Gadd introduce a delicate funk groove on which Hall and Hanna paint a sensuous and ethereal harmonic canvas. Given ample improvisational space, the soloists complement each other well, utilizing a “less-is-more” approach within their improvisations and creating many moments of subdued, passionate musical poetry. Moody and rich, this is one of the finest recordings in the CTI catalog.

November 16, 2007 · 3 comments

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John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane

Any self-respecting jazz fan ought to own this four-disc set, and ought to play it at least once a year. It hints at where Coltrane would head in the years to come, and it is a transcendental experience in its own right. “Chasin’ the Trane” – pianist McCoy Tyner drops out for this tune – finds Coltrane and Eric Dolphy squawking at each other while drummer Elvin Jones furiously propels them along and Reggie Workman keeps them tethered with a walking bass. Tyner’s absence is actually a plus here, taking away the middle register and the chords to allow the listener to focus exclusively on the mentally exhausting interchange between the horns. How Coltrane and Dolphy manage never to repeat a phrase through all of this is almost beyond comprehension.

November 16, 2007 · 2 comments

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Eddie Henderson: The Kumquat Kids

Eddie Henderson established himself in Herbie Hancock’s futuristic fusion outfit Mwandishi from 1969 to 1972. On this 1975 release, Henderson recruits former Hancock alumni Maupin, Priester, and Mason, along with George Duke and bassist Alphonso Johnson, to piece together a stimulating space-funk group of his own. Henderson’s trumpet, soaked in electronic echo and wah-wah effects, sweeps into and darts out of his high register, using trills, glissandos, and off-kilter chromatics. The synthesized otherworldliness of Mwandishi is present, but Duke, Johnson, and Mason lock into a tighter groove, keeping “The Kumquat Kids” groovy and grounded. Highly recommended for all funksters and fusion-heads.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Scream

This live date is one of the more exciting soul-jazz records in the Blue Note catalog. Underappreciated organist Lonnie Smith leads the charge through this extended 18-bar jam, during which all soloists dive headfirst into the blues. Not only will listeners find an array of catchy blues licks, but some fine melodically inspired playing as well. Cuber’s slick and soulful choruses are the highlight, as he displays deft control of his big baritone. Dukes and Jones keep the energy high, layering polyrhythms that allow the groove to remain loose and elastic. Beware—this funk is contagious, but catching it will be worth it.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Love for Sale

The man called “Long Tall Dexter” possessed a tone as striking and unforgettable as his 6’5” frame. He commanded the tenor saxophone; once his robust, metallic, authoritative tone is heard, listeners will know exactly what the instrument is supposed to sound like. Gordon’s swing is remarkable. His time is rock-solid—consistently behind the beat but never sluggish. His self-assured yet understated take on the head of “Love for Sale” and melodically inventive, long-phrased improvisation prove him to be the master bebop tenorman. This performance also demonstrates how he inspired and influenced all of those who unjustly overshadowed him in the 1960s. Essential to any collection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe

At a time when far too many Coltrane clones roamed the Earth, Joe Henderson shined as a personal, distinctive stylist with a brawny, instantly recognizable tone. Walton’s delicate and gently swinging “Mode for Joe” brings out the softer, lyrical side of these Blue Note heavyweights. Henderson contributes one of his more subdued solos on record. Though less aggressive than normal, his solo is still harmonically adventurous and surprising. His melodicism is juxtaposed by sudden bursts of frantic clusters of notes. Hutcherson is in top form—once again proving he is the most expressive of all vibraphonists. A great addition to any collection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: Ad Lib Blues

This 1952 session will undoubtedly quiet anyone who criticizes Lester Young’s postwar career. Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s hard-swinging combo, Young sounds as brilliant and confident as ever. His tone is focused and deliciously sweet. His lines wind gracefully around the beat and are presented with expert clarity and logic. Young avoids many of the clichés that characterized his later period, instead stringing together longer, flowing phrases that recall his days in Count Basie’s band. He really digs in during his second solo, building intensity through motivic development and riffing, though never sacrificing the melodic beauty inherent in his playing. A true gem in the Lester Young discography.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin'

For this laid-back blowing session, Sonny Clark fronts an all-star lineup of which he was the only non-star, although Blue Note's faith in this 26-year-old pianist was certainly well placed. After the group states his engaging blues line, Clark's leadoff solo amalgamates Bud Powell and Horace Silver but with a lilt of his own. Like his role models, Clark could toss off one inspired chorus after another with apparent ease. Farmer follows with customary comeliness, McLean displays his intriguingly off-kilter intonation, and Sonny prevails again before giving way to Chambers's short bowed solo. "Cool Struttin'" sashays with sunny, unassuming poise.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Hershey Bar (studio version)

Cool jazz, said Dizzy Gillespie, was "white people's music," played by musicians who, Diz scoffed, "never sweated on the stand." But by 1950, hadn't hyperactive beboppers generated enough perspiration? Stan Getz, who combined Lester Young's light tone with Charlie Parker's dexterity, thought it was time to chill out. Never letting his exquisite sound stifle his enthusiasm, Getz was simultaneously cool yet warm, like hot apple pie à la mode. And, oh yeah, about white people's music? This quartet was evenly comprised of palefaces Getz & Haig and Afro-Americans Potter & Haynes. They may not have sweated, but they damn sure swung.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Apple Honey

In the mid-1940s, Woody Herman's fire-breathing Thundering Herd was the most exciting big band in jazz. Sparked by the rhythmic high-jinks of Jackson & Tough, the Herd's boisterous "Apple Honey" serves up tasty bites from Flip Phillips's Ben Webster-style tenor, Norvo's vibes and Herman's clarinet. But the core soloist is the decade's most rambunctiously distinctive trombonist. Bill Harris could rustle up a stampede in a mortuary. Woody's rip-roaring ensemble is capped by a spectacular trumpet section led by high-note phenom "Superman" Pete Candoli. If this track doesn't leave you dazed, blinking and gulping for breath, then please report to the mortuary.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Mann: Push Push

The participants here set Mann’s composition in a great groove. The record is more famous to some for the presence of Duane Allman and there is good reason for praise. For me it’s another instance that begs the question ‘what if’ he’d lived to play more of this kind of music and explore even further. That being said, the real star of the session is Mann and his interaction with his rhythm section. The way these cats react to the soloists is stunning. It sounds like they’ve been playing together for decades. Real pros!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Chubb Sub

Medeski Martin & Wood deserve a lot of credit for getting young people into jazz by tricking them into confusing it with jam-band music a la Phish. These guys constitute an atypical organ trio – there’s an upright bass and no guitar, largely because they started off as a piano trio. Also, John Medeski plays all sorts of keyboards, not just Hammond B-3. “Chubb Sub,” one of the trio’s earlier recordings, has Medeski mostly on the Hammond but also on the Wurlitzer for a few bars. A solid groove of a number that was used to great effect in the film Get Shorty, it demonstrates that B-3 practitioners do not have to invoke Jimmy Smith every time they sit down. For one thing, these guys interact equally throughout the tune, as opposed to taking turns soloing. Wood’s loose-string plucking and Martin’s thick-sounding drumming create a different sort of aesthetic, and Medeski’s from-the-soul playing owes as much to Booker T. & the MG’s as to Smith and his ilk.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Joey DeFrancesco: The Champ

Joey DeFrancesco is this era’s Hammond B-3 star, and rightfully so. He’s a master and a kindred spirit of Jimmy Smith, whose trio joined DeFrancesco’s for the final two numbers of this album, recorded at the 1999 San Francisco Jazz Festival. Still, even given the electricity of that collaboration, the piece de resistance of the concert was the DeFrancesco trio’s rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie tune “The Champ.” The group ruminates for 13 minutes and never revisits an idea. Check out what DeFrancesco does at 5:20: Right and left hand peck with stunning speed, seemingly arguing with each other and throwing off sparks like mad. The trio sets off such fireworks with this opener that you fear they can’t go anywhere but down when it’s over. Happily such a letdown fails to materialize.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: The Whip

Perhaps the most underrated organist of his generation, Dr. Lonnie Smith has come into his own really only in the past several years, with a batch of terrific old-school soul-jazz albums. This one, OK, technically isn’t a trio outing, but the two guitarists – one playing rhythm, one playing the solos – tend not to overlap, so it sounds like a trio. “The Whip,” written by Smith, is a simple enough blues, but the group’s touches – including the stop-start nature of its intro – add some unexpected excitement. Smith hands the first solo over to guitarist Peter Bernstein, who has a nice, clean voice and gets a strong, deep tone from the thicker strings. Smith’s swirling solo is right out of Blue Note circa 1965, but he’s got his own things to say, playing wonderfully behind and against the beat. Hot stuff.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tony Monaco: The Cat

As a teenager, Tony Monaco suffered a polio-like disease that left him with nerve damage, yet he has become one of the more interesting organists on today’s scene. A disciple of Jimmy Smith, Monaco is sometimes given to such Hammond clichés as unreasonably long sustains, but he can chew up a tune and spit it back out, which his does with Lalo Schifrin’s classic composition “The Cat,” which became a staple of Smith. Not all jazz need be great art, and this certainly isn’t. What it is, however, is great fun – and an organ trio doesn’t get more blatantly enjoyable than what Monaco served up at the 501 Jazz Bar in Columbus, Ohio, in the spring of 2002.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Richard 'Groove' Holmes: Indiana

Now here is a burning number. Richard “Groove” Holmes pulls out all the stops in leading his trio through a riotous take of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” to open a stand at Count Basie’s in New York. He does everything imaginable to his B-3 over the course of these nine and a half minutes – dazzling runs up and down the keys, pulse-quickening arpeggios and glissandos, hair-raising sustains. The drummer, George Randall, churns and churns the rhythm, eliciting sympathy for his poor drum kit, which is having its senses knocked out. Guitarist Gene Edwards, who had been comping ably with chords, strikes forth with a blistering, single-note solo, and then Holmes is at it again, soloing in double time. What a romp.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michael Bublé: Summer Wind

If Bublé is the future of jazz singing, then the future looks just like the past. This young Canadian vocalist has genuine talent, but he is so tightly packaged by his handlers that he might be some computer- generated version of a modern-day crooner. Mix in boyish good looks, a swagger, an attitude, some classic band charts, and a slick publicity campaign, and this is what the result looks like. But Bublé's vocal cords are strong, and he projects with the energy of an American Idol finalist. When he finds his own voice, Bublé might create something of lasting value. In the meantime, we don't need one more Harry Connick wannabe.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bobby McFerrin & Chick Corea: Windows

McFerrin may be on the other side of fifty. The song may be forty years old (dating from that prehistoric era when "Windows" were still on walls and not in your operating system). His piano accompanist on this duet may be in his 60s. Yet this recording sounds more modern and forward-looking than the "new stuff" from the younger generation of jazz vocalists. While the new kids on the block are still scatting out the Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé method books, McFerrin creates wordless vocals that never settle for the old tired clichés. His melodic lines soar and swoop according to his own innate sense of musicality. And how about that fellow Corea on the keyboard? His version of this same song on the Stan Getz Sweet Rain release (from 1967) is still one of my desert island favorites. Yet Corea continues to reinvent his own compositions with the passing decades. His spontaneous counterpoint with McFerrin is a delight to hear, the two musicians clearly finding mutual inspiration in this duet setting.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Norah Jones: Don't Know Why

This lovely ballad, composed by Jones' guitarist, helped catapult the vocalist's Blue Note debut to the stratosphere. "Don't Know Why" won the Grammy for Record of the Year (one of five Grammies awarded to Jones that year), and was a major reason for the twenty million copies sold of this landmark CD. Everything clicks here - the wistful melody, Jones' impeccable phrasing, the understated accompaniment. This unexpected success for such a nuanced performance restores our much shaken (and sometimes stirred) faith in the taste of the mass market.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Deodato: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Space Age Jazz's final triumph was to prove, 72 years after Nietzsche's death, his Eternal Return theory of a constantly recurring universe. Time being cyclical, the philosopher foretold, everything he wrote would reappear in one form or another. Sure enough, Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883) returned as Richard Strauss's tone poem (1896), which returned as the movie theme from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which returned as Deodato's campy electrified hit (1972). Alone among these immortal works, Deodato's is actually fun. Thus concludes the Eternally Returning Odyssey of Space Age Jazz. Please rotate the iPod, Hal.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Propulsion

During the Space Age, nobody journeyed farther than Jimmy Giuffre. Never a virtuoso, the clarinetist in 1956 found his niche with "swamp jazz," which bogged him down in a barely audible chalumeau register. Six years later, having grown restless, he fearlessly drained the swamp but was soon up to his ass in alligators. Adapting Italian flutist Severino Gazzelloni's breakthrough techniques involving overtones and multiphonics, Giuffre plunged into the avant-garde without a chute. His subsequent free fall became both album title and career description. "Propulsion," though, remains extraordinary, a depressurized balloon streaking amazed out of a child's fingers and unpredictably into space.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Ellis: Slow Space

Cruising at warp speed, we lose our sense of velocity. Surveying the illimitable reaches, we confront infinite stretches of emptiness. Space and time crawl. At last, having penetrated deepest recesses, our inertial dampers bring the mighty ship to a stop. It is quiet. Commander Ellis and his mission specialists methodically place sonic buoys at strategic intervals to serve as guideposts for future travelers. When not fingering his keyboard, jazztronaut Bley reaches into the innards of his unlidded instrument, dampening, strumming and plucking by hand. Peacock and Stone show the restraint of Zen gardeners. Humans are in space. Slow space.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Out of this World

This important marker in Space Age Jazz traces Coltrane's trajectory following his 1959 "Countdown." Unfortunately, his flights became 14-minute marathons of monotony, inaugurated with "My Favorite Things" (1960). Despite periodic modulations, "Out Of This World" is essentially a 2-chord vamp at a single dynamic—loud. Throughout, Elvin Jones is busier than a lone cashier at Toys 'R' Us on the day before Christmas. As always, Coltrane glows red hot. But everything is grossly overweight, as if a mad scientist at Cape Canaveral had launched an antique steam locomotive destined for Jupiter. The marvel is that the damn thing even gets off the ground.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Trombones Inc.: Old Devil Moon

In the Space Age's rapidly unfolding drama, the Moon held center stage. Not only was it our nearest celestial neighbor, it was often visible to the naked eye, presenting a hugely obvious target and a stepping stone into space. First hit the Moon, we figured, then hop, skip and jump to the other planets and beyond. "Old Devil Moon" arranged for ten trombones (seriously!) captures our hallowed orb's wacky wonder even without the lyric's testimonial that "Stars in the night blazin' their light / Can't hold a candle to your razzle dazzle." And nobody's razzle dazzled more than that of Frank Rosolino, who shoots for the Moon with another of his devilishly demanding trombone solos and, as usual, makes it seem easy as pie.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me

The threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the Space Age like a millennial migraine the morning after 100 consecutive New Year's Eves. ICBMs and B-52s vied for the honor of carrying death and destruction to our enemies in megaton yields. Armageddon loomed a button-push away. Into this doomsday scenario charged jazz's most intrepid activist. Having ridiculed the all-American heel segregationist Gov. Faubus, Mingus now took on nuclear brinkmen Kennedy and Khrushchev. No ducking and covering for Mingus. His slow, moaning blues exhorts, "Don't let 'em drop it. Stop it. Bebop it!" We're still here, so it must've worked.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Countdown

After being traumatically beaten into space by the Soviet Union—momentarily making Communism seem scientifically and technologically superior—the U.S. played catch-up with an urgency unseen since Pearl Harbor. Soon our own rockets began lifting off, most of which collapsed back onto the launch pad in fiery embarrassment or careened out of control and had to be detonated. Still, we were determined. And nowhere was our newfound sense of national purpose better expressed than in John Coltrane's "Countdown," the most technically advanced saxophone solo to date. Why, if an American could accomplish this, we could … go to the Moon!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sun Ra: Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus

Unskilled, impoverished, equal parts showman, shaman and charlatan, Sun Ra was to jazz what low-budget filmmaker Ed Wood, Jr. was to cinema—an outsider by necessity. Writing about Wood, journalist Gary Morris equally describes Sun Ra: "In fact he had no taste or even 'talent' as that term is generally understood." Just as Wood laced his shoestring Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) with flying saucers that were actually junkyard hubcaps, "Rocket #9" plunders the musical junkyard of Sun Ra's imagination for an uncontrolled 6-minute flight that crashes in Roswell, New Mexico. No need for a cover-up. Just harmless hokum … as that term is generally understood.

November 16, 2007 · 7 comments

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George Russell: Chromatic Universe (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

Space-themed dual-piano albums were briefly fashionable in the late 1950s. Ferrante & Teicher mixed schmaltzy arrangements, gimmicky prepared pianos and runaway reverb for musical analogs to Les voyages extraordinaires, those farfetched 19th-century literary fantasies where gentlemen in evening dress ride plush davenports into space aboard vessels with handsomely appointed drawing rooms. By contrast, piloting composer George Russell's ultramodern starship, astronauts Bill Evans and Paul Bley shoot light years past Ferrante & Teicher. "Chromatic Universe," with the Milky Way's most stellar dual piano work, truly is un voyage extraordinaire. All systems A-OK. We have a go for launch. Godspeed, George Russell.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: Martians' Lullaby

On the cusp of the Space Age, many otherwise well-informed people believed in Martians. Orson Welles's Halloween 1938 radio enactment The War of the Worlds panicked the unsuspecting with breaking news of Martians invading New Jersey. Fourteen-year-old Milton Rajonsky may have been listening that night. Years later, as the Orson Welles of West Coast jazz, Shorty Rogers fixated on the Red Planet for "March of the Martians," "Martians Go Home," "Martians Stay Home" and "Martians Come Back." Only with "Martians' Lullaby" did he discover that Martians were lulled by trumpets and trombones blasting a 12-bar blues. If only New Jersey had known!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Circle

It's a long way from Miles's Harmon-ized landmark "There Is No Greater Love" (1955) to the untethered flotation of mid-1960s jazz. In the interim, the reluctant romantic had become an abstract expressionist. Miles's legendary onstage detachment now dominated his art, which grew increasingly remote from recognizable forms. Fans were as befuddled as if Mozart, at the pinnacle of classical mastery, had suddenly started composing atonal music. Yet the stark beauty of "Circle" is as penetrating as the most heartfelt conventional ballad. Symbolically, the Harmon mute connected Miles's past to his ever-changing present, giving his ever-dwindling (for now) fan base something familiar to hold onto.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Karyobin, Part 1

Collective improvisation takes many forms, from the brazen “energy music” of a Peter Brotzmann to Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz double quartet. On the quieter side of things lies England's groundbreaking Spontaneous Music Ensemble. On “Karyobin,” the focus is on the musician's ear, resulting in an extremely high level of interplay. Phrases are offered up in quick succession, each a response to the last. A ride-cymbal pattern evokes a chromatic response from the trumpet, which is then extended by the sax...and the guitar. The breathtaking changes of direction give shape to what initially appear as abstractions. Brilliant stuff.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

On this long, slow blues meditation, Branford and his cohorts paint a modern-day abstraction employing the Coltrane palette of colors. The searching and mournful introductory section is both prequel and extension of A Love Supreme. Mid-song, the tempo increases, egged on by Jeff Watts' stellar, almost Eastern work on the toms. Robert Hurst makes the connection back to the head by reconfiguring that main theme into a lower register. Throughout, though, we have Branford at his soulful best.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Rob McConnell: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Despite its name -- the Boss Brass -- Rob McConnell’s Canadian big band does indeed include full saxophone and rhythm sections. And McConnell’s fresh-sounding arrangement of Mercer Ellington’s medium-tempo blues “Things Ain't What They Used To Be” gives all the horns an opportunity to shine collectively on a long unison ensemble passage adroitly written in the style of a bebop improvisation.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: Opus One

Terry Gibbs played vibraphone in many big bands, including Benny Goodman’s and Woody Herman’s, but for a while around 1960, he led a fine band of his own that contained many of the best players in Los Angeles. Its verve and gusto are evident in Marty Paich’s arrangement of “Opus One,” which features, in addition to solos by Gibbs and valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, a rousing cutting contest between Charlie Parker-modeled altoists Joe Maini and Charlie Kennedy. The band is kicked by Mel Lewis, whom many of his peers considered the best big band drummer of them all.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Freddie Redd: O.D.

The New York Times called Jack Gelber's off-Broadway play The Connection (1959) "a farrago of dirt, empty talk and extended runs of cool music." Dirt and empty talk aptly described a stage full of scruffy addicts awaiting their heroin dealer. The Times was wrong, though, about "cool music." Freddie Redd's score (no pun intended) was hard-core hard bop performed by onstage jazzmen. Sadly, Jackie McLean, his understudy Tina Brooks, and Dexter Gordon in the L.A. production were true-life junkies cast to type. Having once accompanied fictitious felons, crime jazz now supported real ones. If this be progress, progress be damned.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry Mancini: My Manne Shelly

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Henry Mancini was the sincerest man in Hollywood. Donning different styles like a bald man trying on toupees, Mancini purloined other people's music as smoothly, efficiently and utterly without shame as a pickpocket. A favorite mark for his Peter Gunn TV series was Count Basie, whose Neal Hefti arrangements Mancini counterfeited weekly (and weakly). The best was "My Manne Shelly," filched from Basie/Hefti's "Cute" (1958). When, during Episode 27 ("Breakout"), Shelly Manne—playing Himself, as the credits used to say—performed this showcase onscreen, Mancini's role in bringing 1950s jazz's favorite drummer to prime time became exculpatory. Shelly was da Manne.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Woodchopper's Ball

Thanks to his first two Herds (1945-'48), Woody Herman's place in jazz history rests secure. His biggest hit, however, was the simple prewar blues riff "Woodchopper's Ball." As clarinetist, Woody wasn't in the same league as his rivals Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. But Herman's bands had more bounce, buoyancy and brashness than his competitors combined. Here, Woody solos first, followed by trombonist Reid; then two fabulously Runyonesque characters named Saxie Mansfield and Steady Nelson hold sway. "Woodchopper's Ball" gives no hint of the phenomenal Herds on Woody's horizon, but it's a surefire toe-tapper and heartily representative of big-band swing.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Barnet: Cherokee

In becoming a bandleader, millionaire playboy Charlie Barnet defied his family but wound up making more money than as the white-shoe lawyer they'd have preferred. His biggest hit, "Cherokee," would serve as the basis for bebopper Charlie Parker’s “Ko Ko” (1945), but otherwise holds scant historical interest. Evidently meant to evoke the largest Native American tribe through hokey wah-wah and tom-tom effects that were beneath even Hollywood's casual indignity, Billy May's arrangement is little more than tedious commercialism, unredeemed by Barnet's dilettantish saxophone. 1939 was among jazz's greatest years, crammed with classic recordings. "Cherokee" ain't one of them. Don't waste your wampum.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans & Steve Lacy: Reincarnation of a Lovebird

Steve Lacy’s association with Gil Evans was three decades strong in 1987 when the two met for what would be Evans’ final recording. The resulting Paris Blues is an intimate performance that finds the two breathing new life into familiar material. “Reincarnation of a Lovebird” is a highlight of the session, featuring Lacy’s wry soprano over the ethereal tones of Evans’ electric keyboard. It’s a rare treat to hear Evans the accompanist behind Lacy, laying down basslines and gnarly voicings before delivering an unaccompanied solo that delightfully abstracts on Mingus’ unforgettable melody.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: The Minor Drag

This original, from Waller’s first self-led session, foreshadows the wonderfully spontaneous recordings he made with his band during the mid and late 1930s. In his autobiography, We Called it Music, Eddie Condon recalled the haphazard way this session was thrown together: Waller, a great musician but considered undependable by the Victor A&R folks, was assigned Condon as a deputy to ensure that the pianist would make the date. As a result, Condon was hired by Waller to participate. “The Minor Drag,” taken at a brisk and steady 264 beats per minute, features Harris, Gaines and Irvis soloing over a simple 16-measure strain in C minor while Waller adds a new Eb major strain for his second chorus. The ensemble riffs and fills which close the performance are free of clutter and full of excitement. This performance demonstrates Waller’s uncanny ability to make near-perfect and timeless music with an ad hoc ensemble at the spur of the moment.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag

The second version of this Dixieland standard as recorded by the first orchestra of recorded jazz has much to listen for and to learn from. When heard in context of what ODJB imitators were putting on wax at the time, the Originals sound relaxed and lithe. LaRocca played a very well-defined lead and in tune. Shields's countermelodies were sensibly crafted in alignment with the chord changes and played with fluidity and even beauty. The trombone work by Edwards is rugged and although at times virtuosic, is never in the way. The recorded copycats such as Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band gave an imitation of the ODJB’s overall effect of energy, noise and novelty without offering the harmonic cohesion or gentle humor of the men from New Orleans.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jackie Cain & Roy Kral: Auld Lang Syne

When three French hens showed up for the gig, they were informed as delicately as possible that the summons had been for three French horns, not hens. They stuck around anyway to hear Jackie & Roy's sextet—which included an equal number of men and women. (In jazz, the French hens knew, gender parity is a rarity.) Jackie & Roy's sprightly rendition of the traditional Scottish ode sung at midnight on New Year's Eve sought to "ring out the old, swing in the new" and encouraged revelers to "bop away at work and play." The French hens clucked their approval, and when the clock struck 12, bopped "Happy New Year!" in perfect 3-part harmony with the rest of the revelers.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ramsey Lewis: Here Comes Santa Claus

Nine ladies dancing, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figured, meant one for him and one apiece for the other reindeer. Boogying to Ramsey Lewis's cover of singer/songwriter Gene Autry's "Here Comes Santa Claus," however, seemed like a stretch. But when someone handed Rudy a copy of Mr. Autry's Cowboy Commandments (1930s), which included telling the truth, keeping your word, respecting women, children, elders and animals, helping those in need, working hard, obeying the law and (get this!) disavowing racial and religious intolerance, Rudy was impressed. As for Ramsey, this track cultivates the same funky soil that yielded his mid-'60s pop hits. Look at those reindeer dance!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Deck Us All With Boston Charlie

If you think seven swans a-swimming is a tongue-twister, try singing along with LH&R's spoof of "Deck the Halls" à la Walt Kelly's cartoon carolers (Pogo Possum, Albert Alligator, et al.):

   Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
   Walla Walla, Wash., and Kalamazoo!
   Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
   Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!

Annie Ross sounds like Margaret Dumont in a Marx Brothers movie—the dowager soprano desperately in need a stocking stuffed down her throat. Fine fun.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy McGriff: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Eleven pipers piping are peachy for pipe organs, but the Hammond B-3 has no such plumbing. It's as electrified as Mrs. Claus's reaction to this song about Mommy kissing Santa Claus. Mrs. C. didn't work and slave 364 days nonstop so Santa could fly about on Christmas Eve to be kissed by strange women! Santa's protestations that the red smudges on his cheeks were from the cold night air, and that the lady in the song kissed her hubby, who was merely playacting Kris Kringle, fell on deaf ears. Why, if Santa hadn't saved an especially nice gift for his missus, he'd have never gotten back into the house. And it does get nippy outside at the North Pole on Christmas Day!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Jingle Bells

Ten lords a leaping plus a Duke, Cat and Rabbit shake up "Jingle Bells" (1857) by James Lord Pierpont, who wasn't really a Lord, but an American commoner. For that matter, Ellington wasn't technically a Duke, Cat Anderson was feline only in name, and Rabbit Hodges nibbled his lettuce on sandwiches, not in gardens. Even so, this is the leaping-est "Jingle Bells" ever, with lordly solos by Duke, Brown, Hodges, Nance, Gonsalves and Hamilton. Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, swinging all the way, oh what fun it is to hear Duke's big band play.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Six geese, allaying Rudy's fears, assured him, "You'll go down in history." That's exactly what he was afraid of. It wasn't so much this song's embarrassing gossip about the original eight reindeer laughing and calling him names, refusing to let poor Rudolph join in their silly games. It was the scary way Ella interpolated "Tom Dooley," The Kingston Trio's 1958 folk hit about a knife-murderer. "Hang your nose down, Rudy," Ella hoarsely scolds. "Hang your nose and cry." Frankly, this veiled threat nearly scared the shine out of him—although the geese were right about one thing: having Ella sing about you is historic.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: Winter Wonderland

For calling birds, a trumpet is the most reliable instrument. Especially if the trumpeter looks like jazz's James Dean. When the youthful Chet Baker blew, feathered friendlies flocked from miles around. To the wunderkind's “Winter Wonderland,” birds in the meadow built a snowman, pretending it was Parson Brown. "Are you married?" they'd ask Chet, who'd say, "No, man." The birds would then twitter and tweet, vying to win Chet's heart. It didn't work, but with his quartet swinging down the lane as snow glistened, the birds flew along and merrily monitored. Nothing could dampen birdie spirits in Chet's winter wonderland.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bix Beiderbecke: In a Mist

The timing of “In a Mist” is off. Bix played the first take and it was too short; the second take ran long. It was not until Take 4 – when Tram, ever the housemother, helpfully tapped him on the shoulder – that he wrapped up in the allotted time. Unlike Goldilocks, however, he never got it just right. It still seems rushed. Bix had been working on these chords forever, combining the herky-jerky syncopations of jazz with flourishes reminiscent of Monet’s Giverny. Still, as progressive as “In a Mist” was, it comes off nowadays as a bit clunky. Bix’s true aspirations may not have been Satchmo-hood but a post at the New York Philharmonic; if so, he had a ways to go.

November 13, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jean Goldkette (with Bix Beiderbecke): My Pretty Girl

Jean Goldkette had fired Bix for his poor reading skills, but later rehired him, forming the hottest white dance band of its day. After a nationwide tour, the “Famous Fourteen” squared off against Fletcher Henderson’s post-Satchmo outfit in a legendary battle of the bands at New York’s Roseland Ballroom. Henderson’s cornetist Rex Stewart called the experience “humiliating,” and it was partly due to audience favorites like “My Pretty Girl,” which the band recorded a few months later. Bix retreats to the background as Polo on clarinet and Trumbauer on saxophone take a scorching lead, bowing out only briefly for Venuti’s two fiddle breaks. The action, meanwhile, is driven by Brown’s incomparable slap bass. “You know, Steve was even better known to more people at that time than Bix was,” saxophonist Doc Ryker remembered.

November 13, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke: Davenport Blues

This is Bix’s first recording under his own name and includes musicians from the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, an organization that had just given Bix the boot for his poor sight-reading skills. On this date, though, sight-reading wasn’t even an option. Bix was composing the piece as he went along and his friends did their best just to keep up. Although Bix’s long, laid-back solo boasts nothing of the martial precision that would mark his best years, his grasp of melody is perfect. Even while improvising, he lends the tune wonderful shape and clarity. Don Murray provides effective counterpoint and, unfortunately, Tommy Dorsey doesn’t have much to do. Still, the dreamy swing of Bix’s playing undoubtedly helped to shape the Sentimental Gentleman’s future.

November 13, 2007 · 0 comments

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Earl "Fatha" Hines: Cavernism

Anyone who thinks Benny Goodman launched the Swing Era from the Palomar Ballroom in 1935 should explore "Cavernism," which has all the accoutrements: lively rhythm, precise section work from the horns, ebullient solos (dig especially Darnell Howard's violin!), an adroit chart from Jimmy Mundy, and the star power of an indisputable jazz giant, pianist Earl Hines. Perhaps the Swing Era as a pop phenomenon began in 1935, but "Cavernism" proves the music was around and raring to go years before. Caveat: audio quality is cavernous.

November 12, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jack Teagarden: I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Swing Era and Big Band Era are not necessarily synonymous. Medium-sized groups produced much of the Swing Era's finest music. Here's a case in point. Benny Goodman was nominal leader, but the star is Jack Teagarden. As surely as Louis Armstrong redefined the jazz trumpet's role, Teagarden revolutionized jazz trombone. With trumpet promoted to bravura centerpiece, Teagarden subdued his instrument's traditional tailgate bluster in favor of understatement. Yet while playing half as loudly, Teagarden played twice as skillfully, developing unprecedented technical control. Add to that his laid-back singing, and the Texan's soft-spoken eloquence is more persuasive than the noisiest rant.

November 12, 2007 · 1 comment

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Benny Goodman: King Porter Stomp

Five years after Jelly Roll Morton recorded his tribute to pianist Porter King, bandleader Fletcher Henderson adopted it, first as arranged by Bill Challis (1928), then by Fletcher's brother Horace (1933). By 1935, as re-scored for Benny Goodman by Fletcher himself, the chart was more Henderson than Morton. In particular, it better focused the catchy hook that Jelly Roll had needlessly buried in mid-piece. With Bunny Berigan's superb trumpeting, B.G.'s saucy clarinet, Red Ballard's mellifluous trombone and an unforgettable call-&-response finale, this is one of the Swing Era's signature records, and a landmark in American pop culture. Not to be missed.

November 12, 2007 · 0 comments

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Andy Kirk: Walkin' & Swingin'

When orchestrating her compositions, Mary Lou Williams never felt constrained by the sectional mindset that dominated big bands. She combined unmatched instruments the way a painter mixes colors from different parts of her palette. Here, she slyly draws us in with an opening chorus led by the saxes, with obbligato brass, except on the bridge when the roles are reversed. Boilerplate; straight from Arranging 101. Then she drops the other shoe, with a proto-boppish chorus-long unison to confound the most seasoned arranger. Mary Lou Williams is the least celebrated major talent in jazz history.

November 12, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Shoe Shine Boy

By convention, Swing Era jazzmen improvised harmonically, grinding through chord progressions as implacably as a train on its tracks, never veering from their predetermined path. Which, to Lester Young, was much too rigid. His frisky, mischievous solos kittenishly skimmed the harmonic cream, leaving him and his listeners poised, as musicologist Scott DeVeaux observes, "to savor the pleasant ambiguities of the moment." Here, in his inaugural recording, Pres juts from the old-fashioned surface of Basie's stride piano like bas relief, projecting his individuality without overshadowing anyone. Lester was part of the group, yet slightly apart from it. The first modernist.

November 12, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tommy Dorsey: Song of India

Rimsky-Korsakov's 1898 opera Sadko depicts a Russian harpist who deserts wife and home for foreign adventure. During his travels he acquires Wife #2 and a fortune. When he returns, everyone rejoices, including Wife #1, who's retained a shrewd divorce lawyer and reduces hapless Harpo to his musical souvenirs, notably the "Song of India." Plugged with a Solotone mute to render this melody in a freakish sopranino register approximating a muted trumpet, TD's trombone is as pretty and as phony as the fixed smiles at a debutante ball. The only jazz here is Berigan's real trumpet, standing out grandly like a moonlit Taj Mahal.

November 12, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jimmie Lunceford: For Dancers Only

Sometimes history reflects its target like binoculars turned back to front. Objects, instead of appearing closer, seem more distant. The Swing Era illustrates this phenomenon. Whereas the biggest stars— Goodman, Shaw, Ellington, Basie, Glenn Miller—remain in telescopic close-up, lesser figures such as Jimmie Lunceford have receded to infinity. This is most regrettable because said lesser figures were not all that lesser. As shown by "For Dancers Only," the musical difference between Goodman's and Lunceford's band, each at its best, requires a micrometer to measure. Sy Oliver's bouncy chart and Eddie Tompkins's flamboyant trumpet should turn anyone's binoculars right-way-round.

November 12, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lionel Hampton: Flying Home

Jazz's most indefatigable showman, legendary vibist Lionel Hampton, routinely whipped "Flying Home" to such a frenzy that one such performance climaxed with his entire sax section jumping fully clothed off a cruise boat and into the Potomac River. For this exciting studio version of his clamorous closer, Hamp keeps everyone on board, energetically deploying such familiar Swing Era devices as call-&-response patterns, riffing saxes, upward-smearing trombones and ear-piercing trumpets (led by Ernie Royal). Tenorman Illinois Jacquet, though, steals the show with a roguish proto-R&B solo guaranteed to leave you as wringing wet as a late-night dunk in the Potomac.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans & Jim Hall: My Funny Valentine

Bill Evans and Jim Hall set the standard for duo playing with the release of Undercurrent. More than four decades later, their understated masterpiece continues to astound with its unadorned beauty. In contrast to the ballads that follow, “My Funny Valentine” is taken at a surprisingly brisk tempo and features some of the most exciting playing on the disc. Evans states the melody before providing a syncopated pulse for Hall’s snaking lines. The guitarist reciprocates by strumming infectiously swinging rhythms behind Evans, whose palpable effervescence is carried over into Hall’s buoyant restatement of the melody.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Betty Carter: 'Round Midnight

Betty Carter wasn't as acclaimed as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn during her career, but that’s certainly not through any fault of her own. Her vocal flexibility and musicianship are second to none, and are on full display on “‘Round Midnight.” Exploring every nuance of Monk’s haunting melody, and reveling in Oliver Nelson’s spacious arrangement, Carter’s pacing is impeccable, leading up to the samba-inspired interlude and breathtaking conclusion.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Dearly Beloved

It’s difficult to overstate the effect that Ornette Coleman had on Sonny Rollins. The always-critical Rollins was in self-imposed exile from the scene within months of hearing Coleman’s “New Sound,” only to emerge three years later with a new approach and a band featuring Coleman alums. On “Dearly Beloved,” he pulls all the stops in a performance that exudes the spontaneity and intensity that mark all of his efforts from the period. Spurred by Rollins’ infectious tenor, Higgins and Cranshaw segue from up-tempo swing to jaunty waltz-time at the subtlest turn of phrase, pushing Rollins and Cherry to breathtaking heights.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: White Christmas

Two turtle doves (an indecisive species; are they turtles or doves?) happened to perch one Christmas night at Manhattan's Royal Roost, a 1940s jazz joint known to aficionados as the Metropolitan Bopera House. Having satisfied themselves that "Roost" referenced fried chicken, with neither turtles nor doves on the menu, the turtle doves cooed politely at the emcee's joking introduction of "White Christmas" as a turkey that a magician promisingly named Bird would raise from the dead. Sure enough, the sublimely sax-tooting Bird soon had Irving Berlin's terminally overdone song trotting about like a gobbler Lazarus. Talk about miracles of Christmas!

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

Eight maids a-milking aptly describes Santa's Christmas Eve pace when he's on schedule. With all the world's children awaiting his visit, you'd think it would get pretty hectic. But Mrs. Claus & the elves have computerized everything down to the nanosecond, what with their little Gantt charts, PERT networks, SCADA systems and critical path methods. Mrs. C. is a stickler for scientific management. So Brubeck's no-nonsense tempo here is apt. Besides, recorded amidst the far-out metrics of Time Further Out, this chance to relax in familiar 4/4 was no doubt welcome. Only the diatonic door chimes ring untrue.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa with Roy Eldridge & Anita O'Day: Let Me Off Uptown

After leaving Benny Goodman to front his own band, drummer Gene Krupa adopted Goodman's policy of circumscribed racial integration. Krupa showcased Roy Eldridge just as Benny presented Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton—as featured soloists, not full-fledged band members. (Eldridge later insisted on joining the trumpet section.) Here, Roy costars with Anita O'Day in a skit about a white chick cluing a black guy on the uptown delights of rib joints, juke joints and hep joints. Once Anita authorizes him to "Blow, Roy, blow," Eldridge raises the roof faster than carpenters fastening rib, juke and hep joints. Implausible but good-natured.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jamie Cullum: London Skies

And you thought Gershwin said it all with "A Foggy Day"? Well, Jamie Cullum finds new inspiration in the London fog 70 years after the famous standard from A Damsel in Distress. Cullum apparently tried to convince his Brazilian girlfriend of the romance and beauty of the overcast skies of London. For my part, I'll never forget the sun-drenched azure over Ipanema, but this performance at least brings me back, again and again, to Cullum's marvelous Catching Tales CD. This artist continues to develop with each new release. On this 2005 performance, he handles vocals and four different instruments, and shows his talent as a songwriter for good measure. But this is more than just flashy versatility - Cullum is an impressive artist with his own style and something to say.

November 11, 2007 · 1 comment

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Red Nichols: Buddy's Habits

The sanitized Hollywood biopic aside, Red Nichols was a tremendously gifted trumpeter and bandleader. There were usually more than five Pennies, but this great early edition with Miff Mole, Eddie Lang and Jimmy Dorsey was spot-on. No tuba or string bass in this lineup. “Buddy’s Habits” typifies Nichols’ brand of hot jazz. This is one of the jauntiest, most danceable melodies in the Pennies’ book, with fine solos all around. Dorsey turns in two of them, on spicy clarinet and warm alto. Lang’s guitar is exceptionally audible, and listen to his firm command of blues inflection.

November 11, 2007 · 1 comment

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Serge Chaloff: The Goof and I

A study in tragedy, Serge Chaloff’s life was cut short just as a promising career was taking off. A tremendously gifted baritonist who was championed by Stan Kenton and George Wein, Chaloff struggled to kick a heroin habit that held him back for several years. Blue Serge was only the second session Chaloff led before being knocked down by an inoperable tumor. His version of Al Cohn’s “The Goof and I” vividly illustrates Chaloff’s technical brilliance, easily on a par with Gerry Mulligan for creativity and facility. The all-star rhythm section ably backs the baritonist through some fairly heinous bebop twists.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson & Milt Jackson: On Green Dolphin Street

Film music composer Bronislaw Kaper wrote this tune for the 1947 movie Green Dolphin Street, and it became a warhorse for jazz players during the ‘50s. Here the Peterson trio, augmented by Jackson’s vibraphone, treats the tune with subtle architecture and relaxing groove. A solo by Jackson full of characteristically nuanced phrasing is followed by Peterson’s exploration of melody as he restricts himself to a very uncharacteristic pianissimo touch. The whole group seems to build an instant rapport as Jackson breathes with light hipness and Peterson warmly finesses the changes.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tom Harrell: The Mountain

Although he has continually battled against paranoid schizophrenia since his twenties, the troubled and inward-looking Harrell makes no sacrifices in his musicianship. On this tune, a sleek, muscular melody is at one with an edgy groove. Harrell’s flugelhorn solo is both tender and lyrical while maintaining a power typical of his playing during the 1980s. His breath and execution are immediately felt by the listener, as is the heartfelt pathos in this afflicted artist’s clean and darkly-hued blowing.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: India

Coltrane began researching various world music sources around the time of his first leader dates, and culling certain melodies for his own exploration. His own philosophical ties brought him closely in touch with a rich musical heritage from the East. Inside the basement club set in Greenwich Village, the band journeys through sun-parched lands to an even more sacred place within themselves. The soprano sax-bass clarinet duet creates sensual pictures of a humid and dusty Indian landscape. The ascetic Coltrane moans and squeals his raw and blissfully un-manicured phrases with his characteristic depth.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Li'l Darlin'

The “New Testament” Basie band that began during the 1950s retained all the buoyant swing of the early group from the 1930s. But the new configuration called for more polished ensemble writing, a task which Neal Hefti could accomplish in spades. The laid-back “spooling out” of the melody makes this the warmest and classiest ballad on the album. Wendell Culley’s muted-trumpet solo is as relaxed and moody as the entire chart is simply enjoyable. This original by Hefti remains a mainstay of the Basie band’s legacy to this day.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Azule Serape

This crystal-clear live recording from the long-running West Coast Lighthouse club puts the listener up close to the musicians. The recently formed Quintet wrapped up a successful month in the Los Angeles area with the new addition of Englishman Victor Feldman. This up-tempo tune by Feldman shows off his virtuoso pianism, particularly with fast block chords in the intro. The vibe of soul and groove which made the group famous quickly becomes the “hip thing” of this tune, but only after teasing Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Cannonball’s funky growl is thoroughly present, as are his generous and always suave comments to the audience.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: April in Paris


        Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                        Photo by Marcel Fleiss

This recording is a view into the unorthodox and dramatic piano style of one of the greatest imaginations in jazz. From the rumbling orchestration of the preface to the melody, we know the sophisticated Garner is poised to deliver his trademark romance. The melody rolls like pearls from the stage where the diminutive man is perched on top of a phonebook. A natural musician who never learned to read a note, Garner developed a synthesis between understated cocktail phrasing and the rich harmonic flourishes of Art Tatum.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Steamboat Stomp

Morton succeeded with his early Victor recordings in having his compositions played with his original conception by an ensemble. He found the perfect musicians for the job; players schooled enough to balance the reading of his orchestrations with looseness and improvisation. The opening comic hokum, charmingly accompanied by St. Cyr’s banjo, gives way to an arresting ensemble, unfolding into this multi-themed Morton original. Mitchell and Simeon are virtuosic while the more rudimentary Ory, solidly and in tune, shores up the sonority’s lower end. Perhaps it sounded a bit old-fashioned to 1926 ears, attuned to the latest dance hits, but today (sans comedy) it seems bright and ageless.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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André Previn: Night and Day (2007)

André Previn has been recording jazz for more than fifty years. But it’s still hard to pin him down. Sometimes he seems content to dig into a funky ebony and ivory bag, à la Horace Silver. At other moments he follows gingerly in the large footsteps of Leonard Bernstein or George Gershwin. But, strange to say, for all of his renown in classical music (only two of his ten Grammies are for jazz), Previn’s improvisational work hardly reflects the influence of his symphonic career. Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor – both born within a few months of Previn – often sound more inspired by classical music than the great conductor and composer from Berlin. But on “Night and Day,” from his recent solo piano recording Alone, Previn puts aside the blues licks and cocktail piano runs, and mounts a full-scale attack on Cole Porter's venerable standard. Previn's conception is artsy with a European flavor, and his reharmonization is nothing less than brilliant. Recordings of this caliber show why – in the age of Mehldau and Moran – this elder statesman of the keyboard still commands our attention.

November 10, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bennie Moten: Moten Swing

It is difficult to believe that this recording was made on the cusp of 1933. Basie’s later spare style (complete with Page’s driving bass) is easily recognized and the recording quality is sensational – crisp, clear, even McWashington’s brushes are quite audible. The bridge of the first chorus, cleverly truncated, features spine-tingling, shouting brass played into metal derbies and sounding like they are in the room with the listener. The arrangement cleverly builds with the saxophones first sketching out Walter Donaldson’s hit “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (the chords of which form the basis here) before essaying the famous riff (with Barefiled’s obbligato) known by many as a swing era anthem. A sudden key change introduces Hot Lips Page who solos in a coolish un-Armstrong manner. Finally the full compact ensemble plays the familiar riff melody, bridge and all. Notice Basie doubling his left hand on the studio celeste which, along with Page’s beautifully registered bass, brings to a close a record that has it all.

November 10, 2007 · 1 comment

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Glenn Miller: In the Mood

During the Big Band era, jazz and America's popular music converged. Why? The answer's between your ankles and toes. Big Band jazz was dance music. Moving souls was all well and good, but moving soles meant money in the bank. Nobody grasped this principle more firmly than Glenn Miller. Here he fashions a simple blues riff into an irresistible invitation to no-holds-barred jitterbugging. After tenormen Beneke and Klink trade licks for kicks, and trumpeter Hurley's solo is solidly sent, Miller cagily lowers the dynamics to soft, softer, softest until a Trumpet-Section Flourish leads to A ROUSING FINALE. Calculated but thrilling.

November 10, 2007 · 1 comment

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Louis Armstrong: Heebie Jeebies


     Louis Armstrong 
Photo by Herb Snitzer

“Heebie Jeebies” is a typically rambling Hot Five performance with pedantic ensemble, some wrong notes and chord problems. So why is it a must for any introductory course on jazz and why the high ranking here? The answer is: Armstrong’s pioneering scat singing during his second vocal chorus, of course. But Armstrong's first chorus is equally striking -- he sings with such naturalness that this alone would ensure the disk's reputation as a timeless performance. He sails from one chorus into the other and it is all of a piece; the scat-singing is just one more delightful ingredient. He is accompanied solely by St. Cyr’s rhythmic six-string banjo and without competing chords the performance really takes off. Incidentally, the first known scat singing on record was done by vaudevillian Gene Greene in 1909.

November 10, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: One O'Clock Jump

With his customary sparse piano, wily Bill B. sets the stage for this easygoing anthem of the Swing Era. Big-toned tenorman Herschel Evans takes the first solo, followed by slurry-toned trombonist George Hunt. Next, light-footed tenorman Lester Young weaves among muted trumpets with the grace of a pickpocket at a Fraternal Order of Police convention. After suave trumpeter Buck Clayton takes the final solo, wily Bill B. cues the sectional soli that served as a model for every big band west of Long Island and east of Catalina: riffing saxes, pinpointing trombones and punctuating trumpets. When one o'clock jumps like this, there's no bedtime for Basie.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Scott Joplin: The Maple Leaf Rag

From 1899-1917, as jazz gestated in uterine New Orleans, ragtime (contraction of "ragged time") was America's liveliest music. Near the end of its reign, but before the coronation of acoustic recording, Scott Joplin committed his sheet-music bestseller "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) to piano roll, whereby perforated paper mechanically reproduces a musical performance. To modern ears, the noises of this toilsome contraption are distracting, rather like a milkman's horse-drawn wagon clopping through deserted cobblestone streets at dawn. But when the delivery includes "Maple Leaf Rag," who's complaining? Combining stately rhythms with irreverent syncopation, Joplin made jazz inevitable. A landmark.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet: Summertime

Sidney Bechet's "Summertime" wasn't the initial jazz recording of the vocal soprano's plaintive aria from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess—Billie Holiday got there first (1936). But Bechet's was more authoritative, with its growling soprano sax, bluesy acoustic guitar and stately march-time harkening to his fin de siècle New Orleans roots, and evoking an authenticity missing from the white New York composer's would-be Negro "folk opera." Obviously, the jazzman who triggered a Parisian gunfight over how to play a song was not to be trifled with in matters of musical interpretation. Nobody could've conjured a hotter "Summertime."

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Glenn Miller: Moonlight Serenade

19th-century composers reoriented classical music around emotional appeal, dramatically expressing their innermost feelings, often attaching programmatic titles so audiences wouldn't miss the point. Declarations of love were surpassed only by intimations of melancholy. A century later, Romanticism reached jazz. True, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (1801) had been around longer, but Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" sold more records. One glance at vintage black-&-white photos of starry-eyed juveniles thronging the bandstand where an immaculately attired Miller held sway, ramrod stiff next to his trademark clarinet-led sax section, explains his popularity. "Moonlight Serenade" was as rapturously romantic as Moonlight Sonata, and twice as good for dancing.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Céu: Rainha

In the old days, you made your name on the Ed Sullivan show. Today singers dream about counter space at Starbucks. But Céu (pronounced Sayou) has achieved an even higher level of stardom - her photo was plastered on a huge freestanding display for Starbucks' Brazilian Ipanema beans. No tiny countertop case for this singer. Perhaps the fact that she looks like a fashion model played some small role in this marketing decision. Céu also has lots of caffeine in her songs, which capture a nice, danceable groove. I would listen to this track just for the percussion part, which is a real delight. True, the irresistible rhythm is a bigger draw than the vocals; but this is an impressive performance, nonetheless, for Céu's debut release in the U.S.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Philippe Saisse: Riviera

Ah, the Riviera. Casino-bound continentals alight from limos to win or lose vast fortunes with equal savoir faire. The Riviera, where Coco Chanel opened her villa out of season so that poor, defeated Winston Churchill could write his last, sad memoirs. Where Jean Cocteau drank F. Scott Fitzgerald under the baccarat table, and Brigitte Bardot slapped Joan Collins for calling her … well, discretion forbids. Soon we grow weary of Monaco, Nice and Cannes, and motor to Saint-Tropez. Merci, Philippe Saisse, for reminding us with your plush, luxurious musique that the good life goes on. Qui, le Riviera. C'est magnifique.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lee Ritenour & Larry Carlton: Closed Door Jam

"Closed Door Jamb" might sound like an episode of This Old House, but the carpenters in this case are the leading L.A. jazz guitarists of their generation. Their styles are really quite different. Carlton is more bluesy, bending and sliding à la B.B. King, whereas Ritenour favors crisp, precise runs. Even so, they complement one another splendidly. Nobody gets cut, and all the rough edges are neatly smoothed off. Moreover … excuse us, the phone just rang. Hello? Yes, we're reviewing "Closed Door Jamb." What? It's "Closed Door Jam." Well, that's different. Never mind. Good music, though.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Sample: The Sidewinder

The 1994 Northridge earthquake so unsettled Joe Sample that he temporarily shelved his smooth jazz ministrations in favor of a full-frontal funk foray on an album titled, appropriately, Did You Feel That? Here he shakes up Lee Morgan's churning 1963 Blue Note classic "The Sidewinder" just enough to rattle dishes without breaking anything. Sample's soul by committee registers a 7.0 on the funk Richter scale. Granted, remakes are almost never as good as the original. But sometimes they're fun in their own right. Here's a case in point. First listen to Lee. Then sample Joe. You will feel that.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Crusaders: Greasy Spoon

Before McDonald's and Starbucks, there were greasy spoons. You didn't need a menu; one look at the counterman's apron gave you the bill of fare. What they lacked in hygiene, though, greasy spoons more than made up for in atmosphere. On this track, The Crusaders evoke said ambience better than an Edward Hopper painting viewed through a plate-glass window unwashed since the late 1940s. Sample's funky piano, Carlton's wah-wah guitar and Felder's R&B-flavored tenor sax season Stix Hooper's hotplate special more pungently than Tabasco sauce. And be sure to hang for the self-congratulatory finish. It's fall-on-the-floor funny.

November 09, 2007 · 1 comment

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Weather Report: Birdland

Birdland, the midtown Manhattan nightclub, opened in 1949 with namesake Charlie Parker as headliner. During its first five years, the self-styled Jazz Corner of the World tallied 1.4 million paid admissions, but by 1965 the nest was empty and Birdland flew the coop. Reopened in 1986, the club thrives to this day. In the midst of its 21-year hiatus, ex-Birdland musicians Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter led their pioneering fusion band Weather Report's eponymous tribute to the shuttered shrine. "Birdland" sounds like nothing formerly heard there, but so what? It's a boldly conceived, brilliantly executed monument to a monument.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Alabama


     John Coltrane, 
photo by Herb Snitzer

John Coltrane recorded back-to-back takes of his work-in-progress "Alabama" two months after the racist bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls (ages 11-14) and injured another 22 children and adults. Yet, when asked if his piece related to "today’s problems," Coltrane hedged. "It represents, musically, something that I saw down there translated into music from inside me." Why the evasion? "Alabama" is stirring, and would make a noble elegy to the victims. But if unrelated to "Bombingham," there’s no shame in saying so. Coyness should be left to politicians and other courtesans. They get more practice at it.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Williams: Alright, Okay, You Win

Blues shouter Joe Williams recorded his classic "Alright, Okay, You Win" with Count Basie in 1955. But Ring-a-Dings are born headliners, not bored second bananas, and Joe's break from Basie was as inevitable as Dean Martin's split from Jerry Lewis. Here, fitting as comfortably into Harry Edison's station wagon as in Basie's Greyhound bus, Joe finds room aplenty for his lusty baritone without trimming his style, including insistently pronouncing terminal g's (morning, going, etc.) when that was strictly outré. Plus there's his ever-so-adorable slight lisp—but if you think we're implying Joe Williams was unmanly, you're zanier than Jerry Lewis.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: Lullaby of Birdland

In 1952, inspiration struck George Shearing just as he was biting into his char-broiled steak. "What's wrong?" asked his wife, afraid he didn't like her cooking. George dashed to the piano and, within 10 minutes, finished a theme song for midtown Manhattan's "Jazz Corner of the World." The royalties kept him in gravy for decades. His tasty tune was char-broiled >400 times by jazz artists, with countless warm-overs by non-jazz chefs from Pérez Prado and Bill Haley to The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic and The Muppets. Early birds may get the worm, but latecomers can still enjoy steak.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Poll Winners: When the Red, Red Robin

In an odd leap from ASCAP to NASDAQ, the Red Robin gourmet burger chain took its name from the founder's 1940s barbershop quartet singing of this 1926 song. (You'll thank us if ever there's a Tin Pan Alley Edition of Trivial Pursuit.) Here, perennially popular 1950s jazzmen Kessel, Brown & Manne use the same vehicle to summarize their their generation's accomplishments. Just as robins are the last birds left singing at dusk, these three superlative musicians were the final, triumphant standard-bearers before Wes Montgomery, Scott LaFaro and Tony Williams changed the playing field for their respective instruments.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Eat That Chicken

Many 1950s jazz modernists considered such forebears as Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller old hat. Not Charles Mingus. Here he sets aside the bass in favor of piano and vocalizes his homage to Waller, with whom he had much in common. Both were overlarge men, virtuoso instrumentalists and topflight composers; each had a devilish sense of humor. But don't overdo the similarities. If Waller had sung "Eat That Chicken," his tongue would've been firmly in cheek. Mingus, by contrast, doesn't so much invite us as dare us to touch his chewy morsel. With Mingus, danger lurks even in parody.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Black Beauty

Duke Ellington is revered for his suave showmanship, his prodigious output of timeless compositions, and his knack as a bandleader to herd cats. Central to the legend is his unparalleled mastery of orchestration. How many times have you heard it? Ellington's true instrument was his band. Yet there remains something deeply affecting about Duke, alone at the piano, playing one of his loveliest tunes—a portrait of Florence Mills, the internationally adored African-American musical comedy star who'd died at 31 less than a year before. He's technically no James P. Johnson or Fats Waller, but Duke as solo pianist lets us access one of the 20th century's keenest intellects and grandest charmers, unfiltered by interpreters. Ellington's true instrument was his mind.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Bill Evans: Night and Day

The inclusion of Elvin Jones on this recording may seem odd, and though it has some stimulating moments, it is certainly not a perfect fit. The execution of the arrangement—extended solo breaks and alternating Latin and swing grooves—is far from flawless. Evans, used to subtler drummers, has difficulty comping with Jones and their playing is at times discordant. However, this sloppiness is partly due to experimentation outside of musical comfort zones, and that alone is intriguing and makes the successes more enjoyable. Getz relishes in Jones’s presence. His playing is more pressing than normal, rhythmically animated, and altogether edgier. An interesting experiment in small group jazz.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thad Jones & Mel Lewis: Tiptoe

Thad Jones was arguably the most consistently interesting big band arranger of the 1960s and 1970s, and “Tiptoe” is one of his masterpieces. The childlike staccato saxophone melody bounces playfully on top of tasteful swing, humorously complimented by Roland Hanna’s piano interjections. After a surprising trombone and bass unison, the horns return for some frantic conversation with Lewis’s drums. The drummer’s classy, laid-back brushwork calms the band and leads the way into a toe-tapping chorus by altoist Jerry Dodgion. The band enters with characteristic backgrounds—crisp, complicated, yet perfectly subtle—before strolling through a tight shout chorus led by lead trumpeter Marvin Stamm. This is the Jones/Lewis Orchestra at its peak.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michael Brecker: Song for Bilbao

Listeners should expect transcendence from a lineup like this, and even the highest expectations are exceeded. Brecker’s pop sensibilities do not detract from the sophistication of his playing, but give it an accessibility not easily achieved by Coltrane-inspired tenormen. The song powers along like a tidal wave with Tyner’s heavy chords, Holland’s booming bass, and the complex, polyrhythmic wall of sound courtesy of DeJohnette and Alias. Metheny astoundingly soars above it all on his synth guitar; as he climbs higher and higher the group grabs onto his tail, climaxing with an intensity that is nearly impossible to duplicate.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Fiddler on the Roof

An album of Broadway hits could easily become a lackluster commercial concession, but Adderley’s Fiddler on the Roof is far from boring. Recorded less than a month after the show opened on Broadway, the title tune fits surprisingly well into the group’s hard-bop style. Cannonball eloquently embellishes the theme and Zawinul weaves a clever countermelody behind the altoist’s lead. The brothers exhibit that exuberant and soulful Adderley bounce, Lloyd ventures into Coltrane-like territory, and Zawinul shows he had something to say on the acoustic piano years before he famously went electric. Brown and Hayes’s engine churns and their persistent prodding moves things along nicely.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: And the Angels Sing

Ziggy Elman ranks high on the list of shamefully overlooked jazz trumpeters. Great section players aren't always the best soloists, but Elman was both. His self-composed feature with Benny Goodman's big band is actually back-to-back pieces. First, Martha Tilton sings what seems like a fairly innocuous 1930s pop song. Then, out of the blue, the band breaks into a riotous klezmer dance (upon which, it turns out, Elman's melody is based). The intended effect is as jarring as a staid goyish wedding reception suddenly overrun by high-spirited Jewish party crashers. This is so unabashedly good-humored, political correct- ness does not apply.

November 09, 2007 · 1 comment

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Mike Gibbs: And On the Third Day

When “Sweet Rain” became the title track of a Stan Getz album, everyone wanted to know who composed it. It was Mike Gibbs, and this, his debut album marked him out as a major talent. “And On the Third Day” is the album’s highspot, with its wonderful legato phrasing, lazy rhythmic feel and superb solos from Pyne, Surman and a “final melee” where Skidmore and Osborne join Surman. No big band had sounded like this, thanks to a combination of masterful orchestration and sensitive interpretation. Gibbs would go on to great things, but like a novelist with a celebrated debut, would not top this maiden voyage. But then, neither would anyone else.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mike Westbrook: Hooray!

This album led trumpeter and author Ian Carr to say that Westbrook had “emancipated British jazz from American slavery” in his book Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain (1973). What he meant was British jazz had found its own voice – identity again. This potent antiwar protest is about national pride, pomp, patriotism, death, destruction and the ruined lives in war’s aftermath. “Hooray!” conveys the self-righteous patriotism of a country preparing for war. Over three decades before “freedom fries” came onto the menu, Marching Song still has powerful relevance today. Somehow we just don’t learn.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michael Garrick: Troppo

Despite being overshadowed by the Beatles, the Stones et al., the 1960s and early 1970s were a golden period for British jazz. As Garrick has written, “What began to surface and receive attention were those doing something fresh and home-grown.” Identity of course. Norma Winstone’s incredible virtuosity is here put to instrumental ends alongside Lowther’s elegant lyricism, all framed by Garrick’s highly imaginative writing. Deleted after selling just a couple of hundred copies in 1974, Troppo had been described as “a lost masterpiece” until its reissue on CD in 2004.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Krzysztof Komeda: Astigmatic

Long regarded as a bona fide pioneer of European jazz, Komeda’s day job until his death in 1969 was writing music for films, in which capacity he was closely associated with Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Rosemary’s Baby). Astigmatic has become a bellwether for European jazz, with critics pointing to how this album marked a shift away from the dominant American approach with the emergence of a specific European aesthetic. In terms of structure (ad hoc song forms that had a lot to do with Komeda’s film writing), its improvisational and rhythmic approach, Astigmatic represents a fresh approach and a different way of hearing and playing jazz.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jan Johansson: Visa från Utanmyra

The best-selling jazz album of all time in Sweden is neither Kind of Blue nor A Love Supreme, but Jan Johansson’s Jazz på Svenska. It’s an album of Swedish folk tunes adapted to jazz by the visionary pianist to whom space, clarity and meaning was all. Even today, you can put a hotel radio or TV on in Sweden and hear this performance. It’s a classic example of “local” musicians outside the USA asserting their cultural identity within the music in a way that has immediate relevance to their own musical community. Jazz going from global to glocal.

November 09, 2007 · 1 comment

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Lester Young: Just You, Just Me


         Lester Young
Photo by Herb Snitzer

This track includes Slam Stewart's usual shtick—singing wordlessly in unison an octave above his bowed bass solo—which has the cartoonish appeal of Popeye serenading Olive Oyl during Symphony in Spinach (1948) by literally sawing on a bass fiddle. Everyone must hear Stewart's shtick at most once. The main attraction here, however, is Lester Young playing the tenor sax with his customary sublime nonchalance. On the cusp of 1944, Guarnieri's Teddy Wilson-style piano sounds dated, especially when he resorts to steady left-hand comping. And Catlett's drumming is likewise mired in the Swing Era. But Pres, angelically unconcerned, glides above it all.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Lover Man (1944)

According to her autobiography, Billie Holiday begged Decca Records to let her record "Lover Man" with strings. "People don't understand the kind of fight it takes," she wrote, "to record what you want to record the way you want to record it." She got her way, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. What ever made Billie think that she and schmaltz would be well matched? Her singing is amazing as always. But Toots Camarata's syrupy fiddles and lugubrious tempo diminish Billie's dignity, not enhance it. "Sometimes," Billie conceded, "it's worse to win a fight than to lose." Amen to that.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nat King Cole: Straighten Up and Fly Right

"That's the filthiest song I ever heard in my life," declared comedienne Lucille Ball, rejecting this track for one of her movies. While Nat King Cole's lyrics are indeed suggestive, his song is coolly within the trickster tradition. All cultures recount tales in which an anthropomorphized animal (e.g., Bugs Bunny) outwits a more powerful adversary. In African-American folklore, the trickster is often a monkey, as in Nat's sly narrative. Cole wasn't above double entendre, but the Baptist preacher's son was no pornographer. Lighten up, Lucy! This is good clean fun. (Well, good fun, anyway. Two out of three ain't bad.)

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Black, Brown and Beige (live 1943)

Preserving Duke's Carnegie Hall debut (attended by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, no less), this 3-part, 45-minute masterwork is subtitled "A Tone Parallel to the History of the Negro in America." Only Ellington would dare such epic ambition, for only he could pull it off. With customary aplomb, Duke introduces each movement. Black, echoing familiar themes ("Just A Sittin' & A Rockin'," "Jump for Joy"), is highlighted by Nanton's plunger-muted trombone. Brown showcases Betty Roché's authoritative vocal. Beige provides a wide-ranging, uplifting conclusion. Audio is awful, but musically and historically this is an American cultural landmark. There's no tone parallel to Duke Ellington.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bengt-Arne Wallin: Ack Värmeland du Sköna

Stan Getz recorded this tune in Stockholm in 1951 (released in the USA on the Roost label). Miles Davis liked it and recorded it on Blue Note as “Dear Old Stockholm.” He recorded it again on his Columbia debut ‘Round About Midnight. It had a profound effect on Scandinavian musicians, who saw it as a green light to incorporate their own culture and folkloric heritage into jazz. Encouraged by Quincy Jones (with whom he shared an apartment in Stockholm at the time), Bengt-Arne Wallin came up with Old Folklore in Swedish Modern, an album of Swedish folk tunes for a large jazz ensemble from which this imaginative arrangement is drawn.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Dinah

A concert on the 2nd December 1934 at the Ecole Normale de Musique marked the definitive arrival of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Imagine how it must have sounded to 1930s jazz fans – no drums, no brass, no saxes! Twenty-six days later Reinhardt showed what a short step the campfire extemporizations of a Manouche gypsy guitarist were from jazz improvisation. The group stood out because their jazz was so quintessentially European at a time when everyone else’s was so quintessentially American. Their boulevardier brio convincingly suggested that jazz could reflect “local” culture without sacrificing the elements that made Afro-American jazz so compelling and subversive.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Djangology

The first Continentals to play le jazz Américain on a par with Yanks, Le Quintette du Hot Club de France was inspired by the late-1920s Eddie Lang/Joe Venuti tandem. Reinhardt and Grappelli, however, made world-class swing with the odd instrumentation of violin, bass and three guitars (perhaps booked by practical Joe-ker Venuti, who once engaged 20+ bassists for the same nonexistent gig). Grappelli was a fine fiddler, but Django reigned supreme. When not firing off explosive volleys of single-note solos, Django's rhythm guitar could power a transatlantic crossing of the Ile de France. "Djangology" is dje-lightful, it's dje-licious, it's dje-lovely!

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Minor Swing

What am I going to say to criticize this record? Would I complain about the 1937 technology’s failure to adequately capture the sound of this historic ensemble (the Quintette du Hot Club de France)? Nah. There may be several angles to view this work but as is often the case with these sorts of things my gut and emotions win out. The beauty of the melodic lines laid down by the two soloists, Grappelli and Reinhardt, says it all. This is buoyant, fun, mature music that harkens back to such a different time. It bears witness to an era that poets would speak more accurately of than historians. If you don’t have this in your collection, please seek help, fast!

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Nuages

One of Debussy's Nocturnes (1899) is subtitled "Nuages" (French for clouds), but this composition is unrelated. The track does, however, reunite Grappelli & Reinhardt, who had separately survived World War II—Stéphane in Britain, Django in Paris (a rare European gypsy to avoid Nazi extermination, thanks to his jazz-loving Luftwaffe patron). Joined in London by two English guitarists and a Jamaican bassist, Grappelli & Reinhardt rekindle their prewar friendship with more sweetness than swing, which is especially poignant considering the recent horrors. Indeed, their melancholy strikes just the right tone. Nuages de guerre had passed, but the world's skies were anything but clear.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Ostrich Walk (1917)

After recording "Ostrich Walk" annually from 1917-1919, the ODJB did so again in 1936, 1943, 1945 and 1946. It took an Act of Congress to make them stop. This track, from record-making's infancy, introduced a tune that's remained a revivalists' favorite into the 21st century. Yet even through the gauzy swaddling of primitive technology, the ODJB's original commands our attention as forcefully as a newborn's wails. This band unashamedly made music for the moment, and the moment demanded novelty. If Shields's plucky clarinet, presiding over sundry stop-time breaks, resembles a large, flightless bird strutting forgetfully— well, isn't that the point?

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nina Simone: I Loves You Porgy


      Nina Simone, photo by Herb Snitzer

Nina Simone's first hit coincided with a full-blown 1958 fad for Porgy and Bess, including a Broadway revival and numerous jazz versions, most notably by Miles Davis & Gil Evans. This track, however, in the aftermath of the Montgomery bus boycott and Little Rock desegregation crisis, carried a special subtext. Whereas Bess in the original 1935 libretto begs Porgy to rescue her from a pimp, Simone transfigures an individualized black-on-black threat into a universalized saga of Black Woman exploited by (if you listen between the lines) White Man. Even Billie Holiday's 1948 model lacked the shivers of this somber drama.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: How High the Moon (live in Berlin, 1960)

We're still trying to make sense of the Grammy Hall of Fame jazz wing. In 2002, the Recording Academy inducted Ella Fitzgerald's "How High the Moon." But which version? Grammy identified Decca, the label of Ella's 1947 single. However, Grammy also specified 1960, the date of Ella In Berlin on Verve. We normally prefer an original, but if the Hall of Fame has room for only one of Ella's honeyed "Moons," we'd vote for 1960. If this isn't the most virtuosic scat vocal performance ever, please don't tell us what is—our old heart can't take more excitement that this.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: This I Dig of You (alternative review)


Hank Mobley
Artwork by Michael Symonds

Soul Station may sit atop Hank Mobley's impressive collection of records made for Blue Note in the 1950s and 1960s. As a member of the original Jazz Messengers from 1954, Mobley's warm and mellow tone offers something different from the more influential tenormen of the time like Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane. Maybe best described as powerfully casual, Soul Station is often overlooked despite the all-star rhythm section and superb playing by Mobley. The ascending and descending "This I Dig of You" features superb solos by Kelly, Blakey and Mobley that handle the deceptively bright tempo with ease.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall

Often considered the last great sideman of Miles Davis, Garrett emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a definitive voice of the alto saxophone. His 2006 release, Beyond the Wall, is inspired by Garrett's journey through China and has the feeling of an album that was a lifetime in the making. With East vs. West underpinnings and a pairing of old (Pharoah Sanders) against new (Garrett), the title track explores these contrasts, yet is still bound together by Coltrane-like spirituality and McCoy Tyner-like musicality. Garrett's intensity might overwhelm some, but his playing on this track exhibits his style at its most inspired level.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michael Brecker: Midnight Voyage

Before recording in an acoustic setting, Brecker was best known for his fusion dates with brother Randy, his work in the group Steps Ahead and his experiments with the electronic wind instrument (EWI) on his own albums. This mid-90s release, his third on Impulse!, may seem more conventional and mainstream than previous dates, but the music still has fire. Sounding anything but rushed on "Midnight Voyage," Brecker purposefully eases into his solo, letting his sense of melody guide the way rather than his technical prowess. This track offers something different from the typical higher/louder/faster playing that Brecker does as well as anyone.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Peri's Scope

The first album featuring this groundbreaking trio opens up like a window into the future. By freeing up the traditional roles of piano, bass and drums, Evans created a distinctive group sound that redefined the art of the piano trio. With a bouncy melody and a strong sense of forward momentum, listen for the implied cross-rhythm in the melody and Evans's ability to swing using just a single note. LaFaro's bassline is two parts melodic and one part functional, even though he plays only quarter notes. A startling display of style if one listens below the immediate surface.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Prime Directive

Participating in the rich historical tradition of the jazz quintet, Dave Holland and his group are anything but subtle about their wide number of influences. Seamlessly mixing aspects of European tradition, such as odd meter and metric modulation, with a serious commitment to the improvisational language of jazz, "Prime Directive" is a tour de force for Eubanks and Potter. The dense and complex texture created by the pair's simultaneous improvisation counterbalances well with the groove-like texture of the rhythm section. Even as the music winds down, another musical twist keeps the surprises coming until the very end. Recommended.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kurt Elling: Nature Boy

In an age where the category of jazz singer has become increasingly inclusive, Kurt Elling is able to walk the fine line between commercially viable male vocalist and serious jazz musician. Altogether, he sings like a horn player rather than a typical jazz vocalist and draws more from Jon Hendricks than from someone like Frank Sinatra. As the arrangement moves from silky rubato to a fast Latin grove, "Nature Boy" highlights both Elling's powerful melodic sensibility and his virtuosic scat singing. With a memorable piano solo by Hobgood, this track provides many dramatic moments that jazz lovers of all kinds will appreciate.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Tea for Two (1939)

Listening to the first half of Tatum's 2½-minute "Tea For Two," you might think you're hearing a cocktail pianist with the fleetest right hand in history, but still a cocktail pianist. When he shifts from rubato to up-tempo stride, however, hold onto your hats! To say this man could play jazz is like saying Aristotle could philosophize, Euclid was good at math, Rembrandt had a gift for portraiture, or Nixon could lie. Tatum's rapid-fire modulations require a mind as quick as his right hand, which was faster than a cardsharp anxious to catch the next riverboat. Dazzling.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Avishai Cohen: Madrid

Bassist Avishai Cohen wrote this song while stopping on a tour in Madrid. The song, however, is more evocative of his native Israel, and, in fact, Cohen joins two melodies together, one Israeli and one Arabic, as a political statement. The rhythm trio, with Barsh’s warm piano and Guiliana’s passionate drums, provide a rock-steady foundation in the 6/4 time signature. The layering of horns by Drummond and Urcola presents the floating melody in a delicate and brooding fashion. Later, they heat up for some edgy solos and exchanges.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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Kenny Dorham: Una Mas

“Una Mas” is a testament to Dorham’s singular approach to mixing bossa and bop. His breathy articulations also add spice to an already infectious melody. This was Joe Henderson’s first recording session. Just shy of his 26th birthday and already mature in his conception, Joe would become one of Blue Note’s most celebrated mainstays. In the rhythm section are Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams, two future anchors of the Miles Davis Quintet. Handfuls of groove rise up from Hancock’s fervent and uncharacteristically soulful comping. The spirited cymbals of the 17-year-old Williams complete the package.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Taylor Eigsti: Get Your Hopes Up

This rightfully heralded 22-year-old musical prodigy brings all his intuition along with taste on his first album for the Concord label. The group, consisting of Eigsti and his longtime friend Lage coupled with the veterans McBride and Nash, can maneuver and shift between true swing and subdued modernity. Eigsti’s gift for understatement shows itself in the melody, but he pulls out all the stops with his improvisation, building each bright phrase upon the next with class and elegance.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: Danny's Dream

Gullin is notably the first Swedish jazz musician to compose with an authentically Nordic accent. During the year his quintessential composition “Danny’s Dream” was recorded, the Down Beat Critic’s Poll voted him Best New Star on his instrument. As the first foreigner to get this recognition, he showed fans that there was more to foreign jazz than Django Reinhardt. Some critics later grumbled that Gullin’s work was “goatherd’s jazz,” but musicians like Stan Getz and Lee Konitz, among others, acknowledged him as a uniquely gifted artist.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)

Suffering from a bacterial infection that caused chronic fatigue, Keith Jarrett, one of the most popular and sensitive figures in jazz since the 1960s, took to his home studio in order to reflect. The collection of love songs originally intended as a gift to his wife became this album. “I Got It Bad” features Jarrett’s most impressive skills—his touch and lyricism. The interpretation he delivers here is a probing departure from the harmony of the Ellington/Webster standard, and differs greatly from the solos on other selections from this remarkably enjoyable album.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Quincy Jones: The Midnight Sun Never Sets

Jones spent a couple days in Stockholm hurriedly writing music for a performance with the Harry Arnold Radio Band. He wrote this ballad on the cab ride to the home of his friend Bengt-Arne Wallin just before the show. Ever since Arne Domnérus, Sweden’s greatest altoist, performed “The Midnight Sun” on that night, it has remained a part of his repertoire, for better or worse. At the tune’s end, you can hear Jones say of Domnérus, “That’s what you call ‘Soul.’”

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: Volunteered Slavery

As the man who breathed fire into the eclectic jazz scene of the late 1960s, Kirk stood out by using a multitude of saxes and homemade instruments simultaneously. His visceral, full sound delivers the catchy, free-form melody that churns with zeal. The tambourine and vocals emanating from the band lend a chain-gang quality to this track, which became a song of praise for the Black Nationalist Movement. With a touch of humor, Kirk flirts with the politics of the day.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Green Chimneys

“Green Chimneys” was a new composition on this date, named after the school Monk’s daughter attended. At nine minutes in duration, this track is the longest on a Grammy-winning album, which is made up of three remarkable quartet sessions. Monk, already winding down his career at the helm of modern jazz, brought in his partner Charlie Rouse for the final time. The love and admiration for each other’s style is apparent, as is Monk’s undying fascination with jagged and exploratory comping.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: Jazz Crimes

The exploration of swing within funk and funk within swing created by Redman’s Elastic Band is something to witness live. However, the rapport of this working band is just as apparent on record. The terrain of “Jazz Crimes,” with its serpentine melody, is split wide open for some of the most well-constructed improvisation heard in jazz today. Yahel is first to lay down some deep, bluesy phrases, and Redman takes that ball and runs with it. Blade is all groove and then some. For the total experience of development and interplay, this record is a must-have.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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Joe Pass: They Can't Take That Away From Me

Even the finest jazz guitarists rarely record live and unaccompanied. First, standing alone on a nightclub stage—especially in Hollywood, where the audience is bound to include other guitarists, possibly topflight pros—is intimidating. Second, even if you've been assured all fellow guitarists will be barred at the door by brawny bouncers, flying solo demands serious chops. So, you ask, did Joe pass the test? You gotta be kidding! With consummate ease, the man swings everything: chords, basslines and single-note runs, all carrying the clarity, confidence and conviction of an undisputed master. Call off the bouncers. Artist at work.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson: In a Sentimental Mood

"All music is folk music," observed Louis Armstrong. "I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." Without contradicting Satchmo, we might also say that all music is mood music—not cocktail-hour Easy Listening or waiting-room New Age, but art with the emotional depth to transform a listener's state of mind. While Coltrane’s Ascension (1965) may incense us, another Coltrane track may soothe us. Certainly the group known as Quadrant here captures Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" with a bluesy wistfulness that's as calming as a gentle summer rain on a lazy afternoon. It's enough to make even a horse sing along.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joni Mitchell: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Non-jazz artists flirting with jazz are usually slumming. Not so Joni Mitchell, whose respect for the art led her to collaborate with a dying Charles Mingus. Financially, Mingus was for Mitchell a paean in the ass, shooting down her high-flying popularity faster than a surface-to-air missile. Artistically, however, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" hit the moon. Mitchell's ode set to Mingus's 1959 instrumental is, fittingly under the circumstances, more about him than about the song's nominal subject, Lester Young. Her reference to "dangerous clowns, balancing dreadful and wonderful perceptions" is a haunting epitaph for a dreadful and wonderful giant of jazz, who died on January 5, 1979, a few months prior to Joni's recording.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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Sonny Rollins: Asiatic Raes

An early leader date by the unpredictable Rollins produced some of his most in-the-pocket playing on record. Drummer Philly Joe Jones handles the intricate polyrhythms of this song with his usual skill and distinctive magic. Rollins improvises over the polyrhythms, instead of “straightening out” the structure with a more conventional 4/4 meter. Composed by Kenny Dorham, this tune also reveals a striking similarity to his own “Lotus Blossom.”

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michel Petrucciani: Caravan

"Caravan," its carcass chewed over more than leftovers from the Donner Party, had by 1997 accounted for >1000 jazz recordings. Our hero Michel Petrucciani, determined to restore life, was undeterred. As deep bass clusters rumble like thunder over Castle Frankenstein on a dark and stormy night, Herr Doktor resumes his mad experiment, summoning elemental forces to reanimate matter that conventional minds deem dead. Assaulting his piano's monstrous hulk, Petrucciani administers CPR, frantically defibrillating with ever-accelerating tempos, tirelessly charging up and down the keyboard until at last the Creature pulses anew. "Caravan" is one scary tour de force.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mindi Abair: Make a Wish

Correction: In previously reviewing Mindi Abair's "As Good As It Gets," we said she makes Art Deco/ techno-pop/electronica/adult-alternative-crossover/titanium-trendy/trip-hop/nouveau-club jazz records. It has come to our attention that this taxonomy is mistaken. Abair actually makes adult-electronica/pop- art/nouveau-alternative/trendy-techno/crossover-Deco/titanium-trip club-hopping jazz records. Sorry for any confusion. Also, we thought "As Good As It Gets" was just that. But "Make a Wish" is even better. Abair, producer Matthew Hager and co-writer Ty Stevens create not mere background for her winsome alto sax, but an aural American anime. Bish?jo bebop, anyone?

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mindi Abair: As Good As It Gets

Gray-bearded geezers prattling about the old days are insufferable bores, especially to young people. But we can't resist. In the old days, for Blue Note album art, co-owner Francis Wolff would unobtrusively snap a close-up black-&-white unposed photo of the artist at work or pensively pondering a playback (e.g., John Coltrane's Blue Train), which graphic designer Reid Miles later cropped and often creatively tinted (did someone mention Blue Train?) for album art that is now considered classic. Nowadays, things are more complicated. This CD boasts, besides photography, separate credits for wardrobe, hair styling, hair color and make-up. We can only imagine what poor baggy-raincoated Lou Donaldson might've achieved given such pampering. Anyhow, besides looking as glamorous as a hotel heiress, Her Hairness Mindi Abair makes terrific Art Deco/techno-pop/electronica/adult-alternative-crossover/titanium-trendy/trip-hop/ nouveau-club jazz records. "As Good As It Gets" is just that.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Walk on the Wild Side

Unrelated to rocker Lou Reed's raunchy 1972 hit of the same name, Jimmy Smith's cover of Elmer Bernstein's movie theme from Walk on the Wild Side (1962) was a smash in both single and album incarnations. Oliver Nelson's swaggering arrangement—once past a bewildering sleigh-bell intro—seduces us with the seedy allure of forbidden fruit minus the consequences. Smith doesn't enter until midway, but from that point on it's dynamite. This track made Jimmy Smith an overnight sensation after years of schlepping his Hammond B-3 around the Chitlin’ Circuit in a secondhand hearse. Good things come to those who wail.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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George Russell: 'Round Midnight

During Thelonious Monk's lifetime, jazzmen widely admired but seldom braved his tunes. "'Round Midnight" was the exception because it resembles a conventional ballad, which allowed musicians to honor Monk without having to cope with his strange melodies and weird chords. Turning this wisdom on its head, George Russell approached "'Round Midnight" unconventionally. During a ghostly one-minute intro, Russell strums inside his piano à la composer Henry Cowell’s The Banshee (1925), while Ellis and Baker manipulate plunger mutes to mimic nightmares at a livery stable. All this resolves into an astonishing 5-minute Eric Dolphy solo, lyrically teetering on the precipice of Free Jazz without plunging into the abyss. A startling and unforgettable performance.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: You Took Advantage of Me

In 1960, when Gerry Mulligan and his former longtime sideman Bob Brookmeyer assembled a 13-piece band, economics rendered 13 unluckier than usual. "We didn't want to make money, we wanted to prove a point," Brookmeyer said later. "That there could still be a great big band." On this track, Brookmeyer's arrangement takes advantage of the CJB's superb ensemble, and the trombonist himself delivers a droll, choked-valve cornucopia of smears, burrs, sputters and gusts evoking the lowdown delights of gutbucket jazz but with modernist flair. Point proved. The CJB made no money, but was a great band.

Note: Do not be misled by the album art showing Gerry Mulligan playing tenor sax. For some reason, when PolyGram Records devoted its Jazz Masters 36 CD in 1994 to musical history's most famous baritone saxophonist, they chose said photograph for its cover. Nowhere on the CD does Mulligan play tenor sax. Instead, he excels on his customary baritone, and on a couple of occasions switches to piano or clarinet. PolyGram ought to have deferred picking its album covers until Bring Your Kid to Work Day; a child wouldn't have made such a stupid selection.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Buddy DeFranco: Scrapple from the Apple

During the late 1940s, Buddy DeFranco earned the sobriquet of “the Charlie Parker of the Clarinet” for being among the first to play bebop on the instrument and to do it with a facility that rivaled Parker’s own. Amazingly, at age 80, DeFranco plays Parker’s up-tempo “Scrapple From The Apple” with virtually the same technical wizardry and mastery of bebop phraseology as in the old days. His hard-swinging colleagues are the John Pizzarelli Trio plus former Count Basie drummer Butch Miles.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ray Anthony: The Peter Gunn Theme

When Peter Gunn premiered on NBC-TV in 1958, it was a breath of smoky air. Suave leading man Craig Stevens breezed through the title role of a hip private eye with a sexy, jazz-singer girlfriend. Naturally this clicked with trumpeter Ray Anthony, who knew all about sexpots, having married Mamie Van Doren and costarred onscreen with Jayne Mansfield. Ray's quickie cover of "Peter Gunn" beat Henry Mancini's original to the punch. Oh, Hank gussied his up with French horns, but jazz criminologists weren't fooled. Ray's grittier Gunn had more pop. Maybe it came from hanging out with blonde bombshells. Gussied French horns were no match for Ray Anthony's gleaming trumpet.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Elmer Bernstein: Frankie Machine

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) was the squalid story of a junkie card dealer and wannabe drummer played by Frank Sinatra. Even non-moviegoers made the connection between narcotics and jazz, thanks to this hit single in which Elmer Bernstein's trumpets evoke an urban seediness as unforgiving as a junkie's need. Plus, how's this for spooky synchronicity? Golden Arm was released the same year as Charlie Parker's death, leading to the irony (if that's the right word) of clean-armed Sinatra being nominated for an Oscar, and tracks-aplenty Bird winding up on a slab at the morgue. Man, sometimes crime jazz is just plain criminal.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: J Mood

Even as a teenager, Wynton Marsalis dazzled audiences with the sureness of his technique and the power and beauty of his tone. But the suppleness and variety of his rhythmic phrasing only came in his early twenties. By the age of 24—when he recorded J Mood—the young trumpeter was pushing beyond the conventional boundaries of hard-bop phraseology, slicing and dicing the beat in ways few of his predecessors had attempted. He would continue to push ahead in this vein with a series of releases from the late 1980s, but we can hear an early example of these advanced explorations in this track. The performance begins with a quirky theme—like a Blue Note head with extra beats tossed in hither and thither—before settling into a 12-bar blues, which Marsalis dissects with surgical skill. The rhythm section—which, on its own, must rank as one of the finest trios of the decade—provides a supple cushion for the proceedings.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Lounge Lizards: The Punch and Judy Tango

John Lurie's Lounge Lizards were known for injecting their unique brand of humor into their compositions – adding elements of surprise and sideways logic to 'normal' jazz contexts. On “The Punch And Judy Tango,” a fairly basic tango is taken 'out' with bursts of squeaky horns, film noir percussion, an argument between the sax and the trombone, and a piano solo that slowly dissolves into a mere shell of the tune's motif. All of this is supported by the song's heart & soul: the surfy guitar of Marc Ribot. From his twangy statement of the head to the skronky outbursts to the busted arpeggios, Ribot plays with attitude and abandon. You can almost imagine the red rose clutched between his teeth.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Emphasis

With the opening phrases so full of angular passages from Giuffre, and with all of those clattering chords from Bley, the listener can be diverted from the truth: this is a blues. It's not until Steve Swallow's bass begins to walk does the structure make itself known. Even with that in place, this trio avoids the conventional. Though there are little bits of call & response, they take decidedly odd forms: Giuffre plays an ascending arpeggio and Bley replies with a harpsichord-like clang, Swallow uses the bow to form a rising & falling moan and Giuffre Evan Parker-esque clusters. Unusual? Yes. Beautiful, too.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: A.R.C.

This selection is less about Chick Corea and more about a group capable of frightening levels of interplay. The main theme is an extension of Holland's brisk, ascending solo introduction. What follows is just a bit over five minutes of the trio attempting to stave off chaos. Corea vamps and throws arpeggios on the floor. Holland splits his time between fingered and bowed passages. Altshul glues it all together while tossing in comments. Even with the rising intensity levels giving off extreme levels of musical centrifugal force, the communication never breaks down. “Like minds” might be a cliché; this music is anything but.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Phil Woods: A Beautiful Friendship

Since the 1950s, altoist Phil Woods has been one of the leading descendents of Charlie Parker. Indeed, in 2001, alto titan Benny Carter called Woods “the alto saxophonist in jazz today.” The teaming of the still potent elder statesman with the fine Bill Charlap Trio during the Floating Jazz Festival aboard the Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 resulted in superior playing by everyone involved.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jazz at the Philharmonic: Leap Here

Beginning with a concert at Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Hall in 1944, Norman Granz produced a long-running series of tours, both in the United States and abroad, that often consisted simply of crowd-pleasing all-star jam sessions. The personnel on this 1949 Carnegie Hall recording of Nat Cole’s “Leap Here,” with the exception of the long-forgotten trombonist Tommy Turk, is indeed the cream of the crop. It is especially interesting to hear altoist Sonny Criss follow his model, Charlie Parker, with both of them reiterating many of the phrases that Parker created years earlier.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brent Jensen & David Sills: 317 East 32nd Street

Aside from its inherent worth as an excellent performance by two superior saxophonists, “317 E. 32nd St.” is also interesting for its influences and inspirations. Brent Jensen and David Sills are among a handful of contemporary saxophonists whose playing reflects the values of such antecedent modern sax men as Lee Konitz (still active at this writing) and Warne Marsh, who developed personal styles not directly modeled on Charlie Parker’s. Emphasizing the connection, Jensen and Sills sail through a composition by Lennie Tristano, a cool school icon in whose groups Konitz and Marsh were often featured.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis: Intermission Riff

The gruff-toned tenor saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis combined elements of modern jazz phrasing with mannerisms of the Swing Era tenor players, and his full-throated earthiness helped make him a star in the Count Basie Orchestra. But during the late 1950s, Davis co-led a combo with the Hammond organist Shirley Scott, whose soulful sound and approach complemented his own. They and trombonist Steve Pulliam dig in on the Stan Kenton classic “Intermission Riff.”

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ernie Krivda: Irv's at Midnight

Cleveland-based tenorist Ernie Krivda possesses a non-Coltrane-derived style all his own. Although Krivda’s playing often exhibits a staccato articulation and perpetual motion-like continuity, here his long lines are more smoothly articulated, yet still highly melodic and rhythmically vital. The other members of the band are excellent players, but 20-year-old trumpeter Dominick Farinacci is especially impressive for his prodigious ability to improvise adroitly in the manner of such former Blue Note trumpeters as Lee Morgan.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eliane Elias: Jazz 'n' Samba

Brazilian-born pianist Eliane Elias is not only adept at the music of her native land, but she’s also well known for proficiency in the jazz of her adopted country, ever since her time as a member of the first-class jazz-fusion group Steps Ahead. On Jobim’s “Jazz ‘n’ Samba (So Danço Samba),” she combines the music of both cultures, offering a gentle vocal duet with guitarist and bossa nova pioneer Oscar Castro-Nueves before breaking into some funky, straight-ahead jazz over a sizzling samba beat.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Holman: Donna Lee

The veteran arranger Bill Holman is considered by many to be the best in the business, whether writing for Stan Kenton or for the Fifth Dimension. So it’s always a treat when he puts together a big band of topflight Los Angeles musicians to play his charts. At this live performance, he introduces an arrangement of Charlie Parker’s classic “Donna Lee” that’s arguably the most innovative and imaginative in the jazz repertory. And it swings like crazy.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bennie Wallace: The Nearness of You

Bennie Wallace owns one of the most distinctive styles in jazz. With a full sensuous tone that harks back to earlier tenorists like Ben Webster and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and arpeggiated, leap-filled phrasing suggestive of modernist woodwinds player Eric Dolphy, Wallace is instantly recognizable. Accompanied by longtime colleague bassist Eddie Gomez and the quintessential hard bop pianist Kenny Barron, Wallace gives a quiet, reflective reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s lovely “The Nearness of You.” Barron and Gomez improvise fascinating double counterpoint behind Wallace’s opening phrases.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: What is This Thing Called Love

This lengthy, minimally arranged track provides an opportunity to compare and contrast the improvising styles of three popular trumpet players of the day, the veteran Clark Terry and younger stars Clifford Brown and Maynard Ferguson. Brown’s superbly crafted solo illustrates why he was one of the most influential trumpeters of all time. All the others get extended solos as well, including pioneering bebop drummer Max Roach and two hard-driving West Coast saxophonists, altoist Herb Geller and tenorist Harold Land.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bob Mintzer: March Majestic

Bob Mintzer is one of the contemporary breed of jazz composer-arrangers who are comfortable integrating elements from other genres into their work. Indeed, some of Mintzer’s big band charts on Old School, New Lessons reflect the influence of the contemporary jazz group Yellowjackets, of which he is a member and who also appear on the recording. This big band arrangement of “March Majestic,” which the Yellowjackets recorded earlier, projects a strutting New Orleans flavor due mostly to its infectious march-shuffle beat. The track also features outstanding solos by tenorist Bob Malach and trombonist Larry Farrell.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: The Wild One

Hollywood's first great biker flick told the semi-factual story of a small California town terrorized by rival motorcycle gangs. Marlon Brando, in black leather jacket with skull & crossed pistons on back, was Johnny, laconic leader of one such pack. To enhance verisimilitude, veteran composer Leith Stevens retained Shorty Rogers, the goateed doyen of West Coast jazz, for an exciting drum-driven title track as unstoppable as rolling thunder—an effect heightened by opening and closing sound effects of actual MC revving. VROOM-VROOM!!! Outraged, one jazz critic demanded, "Hey, Shorty, what are you rebelling against?" To which Rogers mumbled, "Whadda you got?"

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: Honey Bee

Wilson hails from Jackson, Mississippi, and on this track she digs deeply into the blues tradition of her home state. Muddy Waters's original "Honey Bee" was a top ten R&B hit back in 1951, but this song is just as gritty and powerful a half century later. Wilson's voice is perfect for the blues, rich in the lower register and penetrating into the lyrics rather than glossing over them. A solid performance from one of the finest vocalists of her generation.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chicago Rhythm Kings: There’ll Be Some Changes Made

There is a good bit of sophistication here, albeit carved somewhat rudely . . . as was intended. The rhythmic drive is aimed more downward rather than sailing forth. The emphasis of four beats per measure with a wallop on beats two and three may have seemed a bit unsettling to some more used to a lilt to their jazz. But this makes the occasional sudden accent on beat four all the more fun. Red McKenzie, an underappreciated vocalist sounds suave and assured. Notice the emphasis on beat 2, every other measure behind his vocal. Teschemacher, often thought of as an unschooled and out-of-tune player reminds us here that behind the somewhat out-of-control vibrato is a musician very close in concept to Bix Beiderbecke. Despite what critics may have said about it, this disc was a good seller and a great influence on budding jazz musicians.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines: Weather Bird

This remake of the 1923 “Weather Bird Rag” startles by its freewheeling looseness and subtle restraint; the thrilling duo looks towards the future making much of scant instrumentation. Brilliant invention abounds as does the timbre of a well-knit ensemble. Hines evokes both rhythm section and a second horn, supplying trombone-like lead-in phrases (first strain) and motifs recalling Armstrong’s second-cornet work with King Oliver (second strain). Louis’ trumpet, rife with overtones, and Hines’ use of the middle register add aural depth, as does the slightly out-of-tune piano. Notice too the complex rubato of the 4-bar transition just before the third strain. Armstrong’s ascending finish brings to mind his trademark rallentando endings from the 1950s All Stars period. A landmark performance . . . but the record company execs may have thought “Weatherbird” too avant-garde as it was not issued until 1930.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Gordon: A Song for Richard

In The Jazz Reviewer's Handbook of Essential Clichés, Joe Gordon's placement among the "underrated" is secure, as is sideman Jimmy Woods's spot beneath "unrecognized." Each recorded only twice as leader before Gordon's accidental death at 35 and Woods's baffling disappearance from music soon thereafter. Both deserved better. Gordon's sound, pinched even on open horn, fit the Harmon mute as precisely as if it had been machine-tooled at the factory. Woods's warm, congenial alto complemented Joe's buttoned-down reserve through contrast. Surprisingly, in our Harmon-ized Dozen, sad ballads—the Harmon's native habitat—are outnumbered by optimistic swingers. This track joins the majority.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Sorta Blue

Conte Candoli was Superman's sibling. Pete Candoli, lead trumpeter in Woody Herman's mid-1940s First Herd, would charge onstage costumed as the comic-book hero for high-note shenanigans. Kid brother Conte's cool was closer to mild-mannered Clark Kent. By concentrating on note selection instead of huffing and puffing to blow the house down, Conte became the most interesting West Coast trumpeter following Chet Baker. Here, ensconced in the bathysphere of Victor Feldman's marimba (played with felt-tipped rather than rubber-tipped mallets) and with Shelly Manne's typically splendid support, Conte shows why he could be counted on for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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Lee Morgan: Bess

At first glance, Lee Morgan seems an odd inductee to the Harmon Hall of Fame. A hard-bop stalwart, Morgan's style derived from Clifford Brown, not Miles Davis, meaning extrovert not introvert. But Lee didn't compromise his approach merely by inserting a mute. After blending with the too-little-heard Clifford Jordan in stating Lee's jaunty tune, the trumpeter softens the rough edges of his hard-bop solo just enough to suit the happy occasion. Plus, wonder of wonders, the actively volcanic Mt. Blakey simmers down with wire brushes instead of his customary giant sequoia sticks. This track is worthwhile if only for that!

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Steps Ahead: Pools

Steps Ahead was one of the best of the fusion groups in part because all its members were outstanding jazz players. On Don Grolnick’s “Pools,” vibist Mike Mainieri and bassist Eddie Gomez create scintillating solos over the slow-moving harmonies and the infectious drumming of Peter Erskine, but it is tenorist Michael Brecker who steals the show. On his second solo, he starts out softly, then slowly builds to an electrifying climax before gradually bringing the tension level back down. Erskine is right with him all the way.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charlie Rouse & Red Rodney: Social Call

How can you go wrong with a hard bop session that stars Thelonious Monk’s longtime tenor saxophonist and a former Charlie Parker trumpet man? It might be possible, but Social Call more than meets its high expectations. Bolstered by a seasoned, compatible rhythm section, the two veteran boppers glide through Don Sickler’s arrangement of Gigi Gryce’s lyrical up-tempo melody and follow up with gently swinging solos. Pianist Albert Dailey has a chorus of his own before the horn men engage in a series of friendly exchanges.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Blood Count

Billy Strayhorn wrote or co-composed with Duke Ellington some of the best-loved pieces in the Ellington band’s repertoire. “Blood Count,” written while Strays (as his mentor called him) was hospitalized with terminal cancer, is one of his most beautiful and poignant works. The smooth, expressive alto sax of Johnny Hodges, one of the most revered altoists prior to Charlie Parker, is the ideal vehicle for its realization.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sue Raney & Bob Florence: You Must Believe in Spring

Although Sue Raney has recorded lots of commercial jingles, she has also performed with Supersax and others, including recordings with Michel Legrand and Henry Mancini. On what was basically a series of recording sessions with Raney and a trio of piano, bass, and drums, “You Must Believe in Spring” features a poignant rubato duet by the singer and pianist Bob Florence. Raney’s pure voice, precise pitch, and impeccable phrasing are framed by the consummate accompaniment of Florence, who also conceived and arranged the album.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: Lester Leaps In (1939)

Lester Young was the major influence on a generation of tenor saxophonists who preferred his relatively light, pure tone and agile swing to the husky heaviness of the once-dominant Coleman Hawkins. Even some alto players, such as Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond and Art Pepper, reflected Young’s musical values. Recorded with a small band extracted from the Count Basie Orchestra, “Lester Leaps In,” an up-tempo line over “I Got Rhythm” harmonies, was among the performances that so inspired his followers. Many of Young’s phrases heard here have shown up in the improvisations of saxophonists ever since.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Land's End

The Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet was one the premier hard-bop ensembles, with both trumpeter Brown and drummer Roach ranked among the top exponents of their instruments. But the group also had at one time a hard-swinging, soulful tenor man in Harold Land. Although Land was not especially known as a composer, his mournful “Land’s End” is a melodic gem that the quintet, and especially Land and Brown, imbue with great feeling.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Karrin Allyson: All You Need To Say (Never Say Yes)

Imagine Einstein theorizing on jazz: “Physics/Jazz constitutes a logical system of thought which is in a state of evolution, whose basis cannot be distilled, as it were, from experience by an inductive method, but can only be arrived at by free invention.” In 1961 Nat composes a logical system of thought called, “Never Say Yes” which he and Cannon record. Evolution ensues and 44 years later chemist Caswell augments the formula, and voclear physicists Allyson and King interact through free invention, energy, and light-speed improvisation with a Nobel Prize-worthy ensemble, replete with kinetic bassist. The result? E=mc hipped.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Karrin Allyson: Follow the Footprints (Footprints)

Buddha Shorter tossed this pebble into the pond and each ripple embraced a new set of lyrics. Its re- incarnations include African ancestry, ecology, musicians, and love, yet Chris Caswell’s lyric of loss and hope transforms “Footprints” into the ultimate theme. Combine the polished stone of Karrin’s earnest voice, muted trumpet, waterfall piano, and ethereal concord, and the effect dwells in the mind like a Zen question. While contemplating the greatest unknown, what better soundtrack than the Satori of jazz, and what better Nara-Narayana than Karrin to gracefully guide us to shores where losses are recovered and music might be exponential.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Karrin Allyson: Something Worth Waiting For (Con Alma)

I've always admired Dizzy Gillespie's composition "Con Alma" for its clever chord progression - a good transposing assignment for students -- but its melody bores me with its simple half notes and held whole notes. But Allyson's reconfiguration of this piece into "Something Worth Waiting For," with lyrics by Chris Caswell, was a revelation. I never envisioned that this quirky harmonic exercise was capable of such emotional depths. Some singers are storytellers, others are entertainers, many are just poseurs; but Allyson is a psychologist, probing inside the lyric for the song inside the song. Highly recommended.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Buddy Collette & James Newton: Flute Talk

Excavated flutes fashioned from a mammoth's tusk or swan's bones have been dated to >35,000 years. Imagine the shock of hearing that first flutist! And how long did it take before a second joined in? "Flute Talk," improvised by modern masters playing state-of-the-art instruments, obviously cannot be compared with cave art. But at its heart is the same impulse that motivated the prehistoric duet of tusk and bone, namely to make sounds that interest not just one player and listeners, but multiple players whose conversation may have been an entirely new human experience. "Flute Talk" preserves a profound tradition. Beautifully.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Moe Koffman: The Swingin' Shepherd Blues

As Canadian flutist Moe Koffman's 2-minute "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" swung for three months on the U.S. pop charts, he and his swingin' shepherds flocked their hit on TV robed as Franciscan friars, cowls and all. Although the connection between flutes, shepherds and Franciscans was never explained, Moe's follow-up "Little Pixie" sold well enough to make him a 1½-hit wonder. As for why "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" became the token totem of late '50s jazz, it was probably the reverb. This track appears to have been recorded deep in the echoic catacombs of Carlsbad Caverns. Maybe the cowls were protection against bats.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Horn: Mirage for Miles

The exceptional versatility of jazz flutists transcends the fact that most were primarily saxophonists. Even fulltime flutists such as Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws were discontented with a single genre. Nobody encapsulates this restless eclecticism better than Paul Horn, who spent two years with Chico Hamilton, graced Roger Corman's beatnik flick A Bucket of Blood (1959), performed a jazz mass, took up tran- scendental meditation, recorded unaccompanied solos at the Taj Mahal and Egypt's Great Pyramid, and played duets with killer whales. With this stylish allusion to Miles Davis's "So What," Horn shows his killer jazz chops and wails without whales.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: You Did It, You Did It

Among the portable pawnshop of strange instruments slung around Roland Kirk's neck was an ordinary transverse flute. Ordinary, that is, until he played it. Not even the Marquis de Sade could have more thoroughly debauched this genteel staple of 18th-century Parisian salons. Under the roguish Captain Kirk's aegis, the celestial flute beamed down to earth faster than a photon torpedo. Throughout this slow, accusatory blues, the Captain spits, snarls, grunts through, and otherwise gutturally accosts his flute for 2½ wrenchingly expressive minutes. Oh, and lest we forget, it's funnier than a Marx Brothers movie. A fabulous track by an incomparable jazzman.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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Herbie Mann: Comin' Home, Baby

Herbie Mann's 1957 decision to flute exclusively was an unprecedented risk. Hard as it was to earn a living playing only jazz, fulltime fluting would be a fluke fit for a flake. To his lasting credit, Herbie Mann-aged this feat, establishing himself as jazz's most popular flutist for over a decade, and in so doing also solidifed the flute's rightful place in jazz. Recorded live, "Comin' Home, Baby" demonstrates Mann's appeal as he nimbly hang-glides above a steady 12-bar blues vamp anchored by two bassists and three drummers. (Pretty hard to miss the beat with that crew.)

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Gazzelloni


Eric Dolphy, artwork by Michael Symonds

Summer 1963. Manhattan. Avant-garde composer John Cage is performing his Variations III, in which individually amplified Slinkies suspended above the stage go BOING-BOING. Great stuff. Anyhow, during intermission, whom do we meet in the audience but Eric Dolphy! Introducing ourselves, we tell him how much we admire his work and ask whether Cage's sonic experiments might apply to jazz. "I don't know," Eric replied. "But I like what I'm hearing." The next year, his atonal tribute to Italian avant-garde flutist Severino Gazzelloni reinforced our wonder at the borderless map of Eric Dolphy's imagination— adventurous, uncompromising and, for listeners, relentlessly rewarding.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Valenin: Mountain Song

Armed with flutes of various nationalities and sundry construction, Dave Valentin adds sequencing and other electronic effects for a crowd-pleasing live display of what promises to be god-awful gimmickry. This promise goes spectacularly unfulfilled. Instead, Valentin's self-described "mind painting" is a vivid tropical landscape exploding with exotic colors and unclassifiable species, a too-brief travelogue of a solitary summer vacation in the rainforest. "Mountain Song" is 3½ minutes of aural artistry. Book your passage now.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hubert Laws: Muchacha Extraña

As a recording artist, Hubert Laws has amassed an extraordinary body of dreck. Is there another jazzman considered the most accomplished ever on his chosen instrument whose output less justifies said claim? Laws cannot be solely blamed for the 1970s, but he played a big part. In 2002, however, revisiting "Strange Girl" from Flute By-Laws (1965), Laws showed with a simple, born-again bossa nova how far both he and jazz have come. When this lovely, wistful track concludes, he remarks, "That's the one." No argument. The only thing Extraña about Hubert's Muchacha is how long it took her to arrive.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan (featuring Zoot Sims): Come Rain or Come Shine

Tenor sax ballads typically feature the lineup most conducive to intimacy, a single horn with rhythm section. Yet here the inveterate swinger Zoot Sims simmers down for a big band ballad as exposed and personal as any quartet. Gerry Mulligan's arrangement reminds us how even the finest gems are enhanced by an exquisite setting. And make no mistake, this is among the finest gems of Zoot's 45-year career. True to the song's title, Sims is alternately cloudy and clear, downcast and uplifting, delicate and robust. Whether it rained or shined, Zoot Sims invariably did the latter.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kid Ory: Ory's Creole Trombone

This pioneering recording of the first African-American New Orleans jazz band on record both stands on its own merit and confirms the authenticity of Ory’s 1940s recordings. Much is the same: the joyous, uncluttered ensemble work and Ory’s familiar swagger (notice his delightful anticipatory attacks, often a full beat ahead) are present. Carey’s impassioned sweet-hot lead is also heard, just as it would be 23 years later. Notice the excellent clarinet work by “Dink” Johnson, a pianist and drummer who admired Larry Shields of the ODJB. He plays a sensible arpeggiated style, avoiding the de rigueur swooping and squawking effects. The band sounds relaxed despite the vigorous 220 beats-per-minute. With careful listening, one may hear glimpses of Ed Garland’s string bass–an instrument that did not record well during those pre-microphone days–during the first strain at measure 12 and similar spots.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Little Church

The wonders of this piece are many. You can listen two different ways with contrasting results. The focused vantage yields a fascinating amalgam of instruments combined in a very unique voice. Sure, Miles stands out, but he's mixed to serve the tune rather than any usual star turn. There are no solos, and at 3:17 it’s on a short list of Davis recordings of this duration. The second listening perspective would be from the impressionistic angle. The individual players melt into a sonic palette that sketches some faraway place in the listener's mind where the landscape is difficult to discern.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé: The Way You Look Tonight

For a certain kind of jazz at a certain point in history, this may be a pinnacle. "West Coast Jazz" with its occasional clichéd slickness (among other positives or negatives, depending what side of the fight you fall on) doesn’t sound much better than this. Tormé, the child prodigy, drummer, pianist, songwriter (“The Christmas Song”!), arranger and one of the great jazz singers, never sounded so in his element as he does here. From the opening fugal setting of the melody, the brisk tempo and great solos from alto sax and valve trombone, this track has a frantic exuberance that just won’t quit. It’s a peerless arrangement with the French horn doubling the vocal line on the last verse for the final icing on the cake.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Casa Loma Orchestra: Casa Loma Stomp

It's hard to believe anything this frantic could've been considered dance music. "Casa Loma Stomp" ought to be retitled "Casa Loma Gallop." With a tune suggesting "California, Here I Come," the musicians break from the gate faster than forty-niners answering the Gold Rush. What's the house-on-fire hurry? Was the band bus double-parked? Or had the CLO returned from its Mexican tour with a nasty collective case of Montezuma's Revenge, lending the performance its gastrointestinal urgency? Whatever the explanation, anyone foolhardy enough to try dancing to this 6-minute chart compressed into 2:42 would collapse of exhaustion long before the finish line.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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New Orleans Rhythm Kings: Weary Blues

Whereas the Original Dixieland Jazz Band scrolls across history's stock ticker as a nondescript ODJB, their contemporaries New Orleans Rhythm Kings suffer the maladroit acronym NORK, suggesting a merger of nerds and dorks. This band deserves better. Their solos on "Weary Blues" (the title is a misnomer) reveal cornet, trombone or clarinet essentially continuing what each would play during ensembles, only with the other instruments laying out. Those ensembles, though, epitomize the civility of early jazz, where collective expression attains a considerate clarity, thoughtfully avoiding the din of shouting matches. This track should be required listening for present-day talk-show denizens.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tommy Dorsey: Jammin'

“Jammin’,” an undeservedly obscure offering from Dorsey’s pre-Sy Oliver band, opens compellingly with Dorsey’s gruff, hot tone essaying the workmanlike melody. He is answered after eight measures by an extremely compact-sounding ensemble highlighted by a clarinet-led sax section, lending the kind of attractive reed countermelodies common to Bob Crosby’s and (a few years later) Jack Teagarden’s orchestras. Wright chants the rather silly lyric with flatfooted charm, aided and abetted by Dave Tough’s outstanding drumming. The clincher is the third chorus where Dorsey’s band within, the Clambake Seven, takes over, building to a marvelous peak sparked by Tough and the arm-swinging bass of Gene Traxler. The full ensemble, back for the final chorus, returns us to that peak again before nearly screeching to a halt, bringing “Jammin’ and the listener to a well-earned rest.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Vince Guaraldi: Linus and Lucy

"Twelve drummers drumming?" suggested Linus. "Don't be ridiculous," snapped Lucy, his older sister. They were choosing a gift for her unrequiting sweetheart, Schroeder the toy pianist. "I've got it!" exclaimed Linus, passing Lucy an LP from the stash in Charlie Brown's garage. "Vince Guaraldi?" she hesitated. "Is that classical?" Linus, anxious to finish before Charlie Brown returned from the fool's errand upon which Lucy had sent him, replied, "The classiest!" And that's how Schroeder came to supplement his devotion to Beethoven with a love of jazz. Alas, he still ignored Lucy—one more thing for which she'd never forgive Linus.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry 'Red' Allen: It Should Be You

After a brief cadenza, Allen launches into the first chorus of this 32-bar original (no bridge) accompanied by a righteous-sounding ensemble that evokes a gospel choir. Anchored by Foster’s booming bass and Barabarin’s sly drumming (accenting at delightfully unexpected moments), this performance imparts a “rolling” ensemble sound reminiscent perhaps of Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Mahogany Hall Stomp.” Higginbotham tackles the brisk 230 beats per minute with fire, articulating on the trombone as no other–fast and loudly without blasting. Allen presages bebop using frequent and deliberate “off-chord” tones, suggesting alternative harmonies. Also “modern” are his rhythmic alterations, particularly a dazzling episode of syncopation towards the end of his second solo. The unrelenting energy typical of this band and of this performance was well summed by Pops Foster: “We really had a romping band.”

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Tin Tin Deo (1956 live version)


                Dizzy Gillespie at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Although Chano Pozo’s conga drums are missing from the ensemble (he died in 1948), this live performance tells of the legacy he and Gillespie fostered—grafting Afro-Cuban rhythms with straight-ahead jazz. This State Department tour brought the killer big band to South America. Baritone saxophonist Marty Flax played a significant anchoring role with his percussive attack, keeping the deep groove of this “chant” infused with vitality. His solo is gruff and heavy, but also lyrical. The delayed phrasing by Gillespie on the melody is offset by the pyrotechnic showcase he and the brass section display throughout.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: I Want to Be Happy

Stan Getz formed a working relationship with Oscar Peterson during his participation in Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) tours, and their meeting for this record date was only natural. Peterson’s drummer-less trio format (which was derived from the classic Nat “King” Cole trio) provided the unique opportunity to showcase Getz’ warm-toned appeal. The saxophonist’s abilities to spin out endless variations of dynamically charged, almost verbal phrases continue to provide an amazing listening experience today. The group swings easy and breathes new light into this evergreen.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Capricorn

Constellations and mythical creatures—these are but a few of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s varied interests. The “Second Great” Miles Davis Quintet featured the compositions of various members, but primarily Shorter, who spawned a variety of enigmatic works. The infectious, rolling theme gives way to a Davis trumpet solo that shines out with phrases that seem to reach higher and higher into a night sky. Shorter’s urging and angular solo statements are followed by one trademark of this monumental band—a one-handed piano solo by Hancock.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Sambo

During his decades helming jazz's most overpopulated band, through whose ranks trooped hundreds of musicians, Stan Kenton hired so few Negroes they could've fit comfortably in a phone booth with room to spare for Jimmy Rushing, Count Basie's corpulent blues shouter ("Mr. 5×5"). In 1956, Kenton's prejudice boiled over. Miffed at losing to Basie in the Down Beat Critics Poll, Stanley whined about being part of "a new minority, white jazz musicians." He didn't recognize the chickens coming home to roost. After besmirching this track's excellent work by Shank, Pepper and Ferguson with the reprehensible title "Sambo," Kenton deserved ostracism.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: You Stole My Wife, You Horsethief

"Every generation of blacks since slavery," asserted Dizzy Gillespie, "has had to develop its own way of Tomming, of accommodating itself to a basically unjust situation." No white person would dare claim that all blacks since slavery have been Tomming, but perhaps Diz meant by this signifyin'—a thinly veiled Afro-American put-on. Through such expedient, it's arguable that Tomming is an adaptation whereby wily blacks outsmart the Man through subversive playacting. Even so, this out-of-tune farce replete with whinnying trumpet makes us side with Miles Davis: "I love Dizzy, but I hated that clowning shit he did for white folks."

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Coleman Hawkins: Honeysuckle Rose

This arrangement of Thomas “Fats” Waller's classic opus is the unmistakable work of Benny Carter; the opening saxophone ensemble beautifully reflects his sensibility as an alto saxophone soloist. Also striking is his use of the tune’s original chord changes creating sonorities now long gone from the performance practice of standard tunes. Hawkins’s solo presages his earthshaking 1939 “Body and Soul” recording –- for example, measures nine through thirty-two. Another nice Carter touch is the sax background during Hawkins’s second chorus that sustains the opening G minor 7th chord without resolution during measures one through four (and similar places) -- adding a subtle tension of delight. The closing riff (decorated by Reinhardt’s well-recorded jaunty guitar), like the opening chorus, bears Carter’s timeless touch of brightness and class.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian): Solo Flight

During the Swing Era, as bands swelled in size, acoustic guitarists turned to amplification to avoid being buried alive by ten brass and five saxes, even though most big-band guitarists played rhythm only, not solos. In 1938 George Barnes and Eddie Durham began exploring the electric guitar's solo possibilities, and in 1939 the instrument took flight when Benny Goodman hired Charlie Christian. As "Solo Flight" shows, Christian projected gloriously—or, put another way, stood out like a sore thumb. As marvelously as Christian played, the electric guitar fit a big swing band the way blue suede shoes complement a tuxedo.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Humoresque

Classical recitalists consider Dvo?ák's 3-minute "Humoresque" an ideal encore—a short, familiar piece appended to a concert when, by mutual agreement, the artist is coaxed back onstage with tumultuous applause from an audience pretending it can't get enough. Jazzmen, though, don't require such egotistic pretense. Commanding his usual arsenal of taunting trills, rococo runs and aerodynamic arpeggios, Art Tatum sails through "Humoresque" as glibly as an orator debating an orangutan. Fortunately, midway through the piece, he leaves off impressing us and plays some much-needed jazz, humorously para- phrasing "Humoresque" in stride style. It makes us wish he'd started in the middle.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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Art Blakey: Crisis

This standout edition of the Jazz Messengers was stocked with not only fantastic improvisers but fine composers as well. Their compositions were often tinged with Eastern modalities, though Blakey’s big beat and ever-present drive kept them groovy. Hubbard’s “Crisis” is powered by Merritt’s funky repetitive bassline and the leader’s volcanic drumming. The difficult descending harmonies are navigated convincingly by all soloists and colored with many emphatic, soulful exclamations. Hubbard displays his distinctive fiery confidence, Shorter takes a more thoughtful approach, and Fuller, while forced to deal with overzealous comping from Walton, adds some well-phrased lyrical blowing. A highlight in the extensive Jazz Messengers discography.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Spelling the Alphabet

Ornette Coleman has worked with a handful of guitarists during his career, including Jim Hall, Bern Nix, Charlie Ellerbe and Pat Metheny. Given his more roots-oriented past, Jerry Garcia might appear an odd choice. Ah, but when the tumbling runs of “Spelling The Alphabet” are let loose, it seems that Ornette made the right decision. Playing a game of musical “Tag, you're it!”, the musicians take turns linking together their parts of a very long melody line. Some phrases are delivered solo, others in unison. All of this builds up to a short Ornette solo tended only by Denardo's drums. As the head is restated at breakneck speed, it's fun to hear Garcia flying along beside Ellerbe and Nix. Coming in at only 1½ minutes, it's hard not to wish that Ornette had stretched this idea a little farther.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Come Rain or Come Shine

By 1950, the finest singer of the bebop era had done her best to put bop behind her. Since bop was primarily instrumental music dominated by male eccentrics, there wasn't much room for female vocalists, no matter how skillful. After her mid-1940s record sessions with Diz, Bird, Bud, et al., Sarah Vaughan shunned such company and avoided their material. During the 1950s, Sarah's singles were often on the pop charts, but her relationship with jazz was skittish. So it's good that we catch her early in the decade for "Come Rain or Come Shine." Sarah, mannerisms at a minimum, shines.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dinah Washington: There is No Greater Love

Forget the frills. Dinah Washington would just plant her feet and belt a song, lustily and often tongue in cheek. Here, before an appreciative studio audience, Dinah rattles the rafters with a normally tranquil ballad. When Dinah declaims (with diction as precise as Nat King Cole's) "There is no greater love / Than what I feel for you," it's plain that if you dare doubt her, she'll come smack you upside the head to prove her affection. Dinah was a delight.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hugh Masekela: Grazing in the Grass

In 1961, Hugh Masekela fled his native South Africa's apartheid to graze in America's greener grass. By the summer of 1968, he was leading the hit parade. Is this a great country or what? Replete with 4-alarm cowbell, "Grazing in the Grass" pastured 13 weeks among the Top 100, chewing its way to #1. Contentedly masticating an endlessly regurgitated 2-chord vamp, "Grazing" made the perfect party music for urban cliff-dwellers who wouldn't know a cow pie from a Big Mac. As approving teenagers liked to tell Dick Clark on American Bandstand, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Mann: Memphis Underground

A year after Mann, Ayers and Coryell moseyed south to record with the house rhythm section at Stax Records, renowned for its Southern-fried soul groove, “Memphis Underground” surfaced among the Top 100. Thanks to Eddie Harris's "Listen Here" and Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass," a monotonous 2-chord vamp was now obligatory for crossover jazz, and “Memphis Underground” obliged. (Jazzmen once put down rock 'n' rollers for using only three chords!) Combining fuzz-tone, B.B. King-style blues licks and Hendrix-type feedback, Coryell's trendy guitar was a jazz novelty but tame by rock standards. This dated track is more interesting historically than musically.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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Mark Murphy: You've Proven Your Point (Bongo Beep)

No jazz vocalist has surpassed Mark Murphy at evoking the bohemian, beatnik sensibility of the 1950s in song form. His 1981 theme album Bop for Kerouac is a classic of the genre, a must-have for listeners who look to jazz as a pathway to a hipper lifestyle. Here Murphy relies on a Charlie Parker composition to pay homage to another great saxophonist, Sonny Stitt. Dave Lahm’s lyrics are clever, and Murphy delivers them with panache. Richie Cole maintains the lighthearted, humorous tone on his alto solo. Stitt was still around to enjoy this peculiar tribute, although he would be dead from a heart attack a year later.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Shank: Here's That Rainy Day

In 1957, West Coast alto star Art Pepper recorded Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, one of his most successful albums, using Miles Davis’s New York rhythm section. Nearly four decades later, altoist Bud Shank, a 1950s Los Angeles contemporary of Pepper, issued his own By Request: Bud Shank Meets The Rhythm Section, also with a New York-based trio. As its namesake did, Shank’s CD demonstrates that home base is irrelevant when superior musicians get together. The quartet’s bracing up-tempo rendition of “Here’s That Rainy Day” is just one case in point.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Art Pepper earned a reputation as one of the top alto saxophonists on the West Coast in the 1950s. So it was a highly unusual occasion when he made an album with the hard-bop rhythm section of Miles Davis’s East Coast-based quintet. The collaboration was advantageous, however, as it brought out the best in the intensely emotional altoist and his hard-swinging colleagues.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Bernie's Tune

1950s West Coast jazz often got a bum rap for being overly arranged and effete. Tracks like this one put the lie to that claim. Although the blistering “Bernie’s Tune” boasts a clever arrangement, both the band’s reading of it and the subsequent improvisations are hot and muscular. Shelly Manne was one of the hardest-swinging drummers on either coast, and trumpeter Stu Williamson and altoist Charlie Mariano could trace their lineages back to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Opus de Funk

This mid-1950s version of Woody Herman’s big band was known as the Third Herd and featured a number of fine improvisers as well as arrangements by such top writers as Ralph Burns, Bill Holman and Nat Pierce. Pierce’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s catchy blues tune “Opus De Funk” features several excellent solos, including one by Cy Touff on the rarely heard bass trumpet and one by Lestorian tenorist Richie Kamuca that begins with a memorable, perfectly timed two-bar break.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Only Trust Your Heart

A leading Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist during the 1950s, Stan Getz’s career had begun to falter before he discovered the Brazilian bossa nova. He made several records in the genre, including some that became hits and revived his career. On this track, Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto’s charmingly accented, vibrato-less voice caresses Benny Carter’s lovely “Only Trust Your Heart,” accompanied by a soft-toned Getz and a rhythm section that substitutes the attractive sound of Gary Burton’s vibraphone for the piano. Getz inserts a typically melodic, emotion-laden improvisation in the middle.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bob Florence: Bebop Charlie

Bob Florence’s tuneful, swinging arrangements for his Limited Edition ensemble provide solid evidence that the modern-day big band is far from artistically moribund. “Bebop Charlie,” recorded before an appreciative live audience, exhibits Florence’s expertise as a composer-arranger as well as the superior performance skills of his band members, who were among the top players on the West Coast. In addition to fine solos by tenorist Bob Hardaway and trombonist Charlie Loper, the chart features the extraordinary lead trumpet of Buddy Childers and the propulsive beat of drummer Nick Ceroli and bassist Joel DiBartolo.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: When Joanna Loved Me

Paul Desmond may have possessed the most beautiful alto saxophone tone in jazz since Johnny Hodges starred with Duke Ellington. And Desmond’s improvisations were intelligent and highly melodic. Here, away from his customary setting of the Dave Brubeck Quartet and with a superior trio of likeminded colleagues, his lovely sound and lyrical phrasing accent the poignancy of the beautiful and melancholy “When Joanna Loved Me.”

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eddie Daniels: Just Friends

Although it was popular in premodern jazz styles, the clarinet has had few top-level performers since the beginning of the bebop era. But Eddie Daniels, who is also a fine tenor saxophonist, concentrated exclusively on the clarinet for a time starting in the 1980s. To Bird With Love is Daniels’ tribute to Charlie Parker. “Just Friends” was the best-known track on Parker’s 1949 strings album. Daniels’ facile bebop honors Parker’s classic performance.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo (1930)


Duke Ellington, photo by Herb Snitzer

"Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand musicians and make a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger will nod his head and say, 'Oh, yes, that's done like this,'" remarked André Previn, who knew all about orchestration. "But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don't know what it is!" Previn was probably thinking of "Mood Indigo." No other orchestrator ever accomplished more with less. Backed by a four-piece rhythm section, Duke's three horns make a sound fit for nirvana. Only Whetsol's and Nanton's occasional imperfections remind us that humans are at work.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines: Four or Five Times

During the Roaring Twenties, jazzmen didn't try to live down their profession's red-light legacy; to the contrary, they played it up. On this track, everyone has a gay old time (well, that's the co-composer's name) spreading mayonnaise (the other co-composer's name) about how heavenly it'd be, even "if I die," to do it four or five times. Mind you, this was decades before performance-enhancement drugs, so obviously numerical standards have changed. Nevertheless, with inspired playing from Noone and Hines, this classic of wishful thinking is as insouciantly promising as a wink from Mae West. Honestly, ma'am, we're just happy to see you!

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fletcher Henderson: Whiteman Stomp

Like an ace reporter, Fletcher Henderson always got there first. Three months before self-crowned "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman could wax Don Redman's arrangement of Fats Waller's tribute, Fletcher scooped "Whiteman Stomp." Henderson's charts such as "King Porter Stomp" later helped crown Benny Goodman "King of Swing." Scoop himself, though, was never coronated. Sometimes it's better to arrive late, after things settle down. This track, for instance, is a fascinating but ultimately bewildering kaleidoscope, as artistically ambitious as another Whiteman commission, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (1924), yet so insistently unpredictable it's scary. "Whiteman Stomp" must be heard to be disbelieved.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Potato Head Blues

In the 1890s, architect Louis Sullivan perceived that switching from masonry to steel-frame construction required an equally transformative aesthetic. The new methods and materials of modern high-rise skylines rendered historical design styles obsolete. In the 1920s, also in Chicago, another Louis similarly redrew America's musical landscape. Whereas Sullivan's triumph was the skyscraper, Armstrong's was the solo. This track finds him in mid-revolution, before his less visionary accompanists could adjust. With strumming banjo, oompah tuba, and strident, herky-jerky clarinet as flimsy foundation, Armstrong's trumpet rises as prodigiously as a gleaming girder amidst the crumbling masonry. Jazz would never be the same.

November 06, 2007 · 2 comments

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Louis Armstrong: All of Me


                          Louis Armstrong, photo by Herb Snitzer

In 1932, slugger Babe Ruth hit .341, with 41 home runs and 137 RBIs, helping the Yankees to a pennant. During their World Series sweep of the Cubs, Ruth signaled to Wrigley Field's deepest recess and swatted a 490-foot homer to cement his legend. That same year, jazz's Sultan of Scat also cemented his legend, but with a distinctly less stellar team. Backed by antiquated plunking banjo and whiny saxophones, Louis Armstrong leads off with terrific muted trumpeting, advances to an effectively offhand vocal, then scores with his smashing, Homeric open horn. But why was he playing with bush leaguers?

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb: A-Tisket, A-Tasket


     Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Ella Fitzgerald's breakthrough hit was based on a 19th-century nursery rhyme. At age 21, she plays a girlie who lost her itty-bitty basket, resorting as the track unfolds to increasingly childish vocal inflections, as if undergoing hypnotic regression. It's spooky coming from a grown woman. What redeems this track from dated novelty is the Chick Webb band, one of the Swing Era's finest. The trumpet and sax sections are particularly potent, and Webb could swing a big band with less exertion and fewer theatrics than his better-known competitors. Not even the ensemble's hoary call-&-response vocalizing diminishes their excellence.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Here's Diz & Gang back in Manhattan but minus Charlie Parker, who jumped ship after their holiday engagement at Billy Berg’s Hollywood nightspot. Bird hoped to score some Mexican dope but wound up tending lettuce at the loony farm for six months. Anyhow, this 3-minute take of Dizzy's finest composition is brilliant even without Bird, thanks to great solos by Diz and tenorman Don Byas. The only drawback is the clatter of Milt Jackson's vibes—like empty glass milk bottles accidentally knocked down a cement staircase. Otherwise this is Diz at his best, and that's as good as bebop gets.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin' High (1945)


Dizzy Gillepsie, photo by Herb Snitzer

For his second recording of "Groovin' High" within three weeks and with similar instrumentation, Dizzy Gillespie stays cup-muted until the bravura finale, when he unleashes the open horn with which he soloed on his earlier session. Perhaps Diz's different approach stemmed from Charlie Parker's presence on this track. No need for Diz to emulate a 50-megawatt generator with the incandescent Bird on hand, and Bird's solo here is one of his brightest. Even so, "Groovin' High" remains Dizzy's showpiece, with a less ear- splitting but equally exhilarating solo. Aside from Slam Stewart's annoying hum-along arco bass shtick, this track is tremendous.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charlie Parker: Billie's Bounce

Bebop's breakthrough came in 1945, when it arrived on Manhattan’s 52nd Street, and Diz & Bird made its first great recordings. This fall track doesn't rival that spring's "Salt Peanuts," "Shaw 'Nuff" or "Hot House," but is nevertheless valuable. "Billie's Bounce" features bebop's best trumpeter (playing piano only), its premier saxophonist, and on trumpet a 19-year-old newcomer who, despite showing promise, never amounted to a hill of beans in the jazz world. (Just kidding! We love Miles.) Miles's flubbed notes and Bird's squawking reed are distracting, but Bird's 4-chorus blues solo shines as brightly as a long-extinguished, infinitely distant star whose light continues to reach us.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Embraceable You

Her autobiography is entitled Lady Sings the Blues, and her most endearing performance is her blues "Fine and Mellow" on CBS-TV's The Sound of Jazz (1957). Yet Billie Holiday wasn't a blues singer. Her repertoire came not from the Mississippi Delta, but predominately from lower-Manhattan tunesmiths. To wit, this 1930s Gershwin standard. With the band kept strictly in the background, Billie languidly entices us, "Don't be a naughty baby—come to Mama, do." Much as we adore Lady Day, we can't promise to not be naughty. As she herself observed, "Love will make you do things that you know is wrong."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Moment's Notice


John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds

John Coltrane had already made folks sit up and take notice as a member of Miles Davis’s quintet, but the album Blue Train established him as a first-rate leader and composer. The title track is the classic cut, but “Moment’s Notice” would be the standout on any other album. The melody is bright yet blue, and the band is tight. Everybody but Jones takes a solo, and everybody has something to say. These are what would become known as the early years, but Coltrane’s expressive, enveloping sound has already developed. His first solo swerves all over the place but stays on track, arriving at its destination right on time.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Equinox

“Equinox” is a simple enough composition – after an intro that nods to “Star Eyes” as performed by Charlie Parker, it’s just a 12-bar blues built on the simplest of melodies and employing four basic chords. A child could have written it. But the devil is in the details, and Coltrane’s quartet digs up a myriad of them over these eight minutes. The atmosphere is one of mystery – Elvin Jones tap-tapping on his cymbals, Steve Davis plucking meditatively, and McCoy Tyner comping with those thick chords of his before taking the tune’s climactic solo. Coltrane stays close to the melody here, but with him it’s all about feeling.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Naima

1959 was jazz’s magical year – with Trane, Ornette, Evans, Mingus, and Miles issuing their clarion calls – and here is one reason why. First, it’s a gorgeous piece of writing – how many times has “Naima” been covered over the years? – and, second, it is played with great patience and restraint. The tune runs only 4 minutes 21 seconds, but the quartet is in no rush to get there. In mood, “Naima” shares traits with Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue album, on which Coltrane played a key role just months earlier, but this is a very different piece of work, because there’s a real melody here. The rhythm section holds back while Coltrane blows simple, unadorned passages that haunt, and pianist Wynton Kelly delivers a touching solo of his own. Once while listening to this song, pay attention only to bassist Paul Chambers’ thump-thump- thumping. It’s quite revealing.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Acknowledgement

Those first bass notes, those first pleas from the saxophone – so begins Coltrane’s love letter to God. He offered up A Love Supreme as a gift to his Creator, as words of praise and as a confession. His playing is the embodiment of a quest; you can hear him searching for something, seeking guidance, as the chords move up and up, and the horn lines keep reaching higher. On musical merits, A Love Supreme – particularly the first movement, “Acknowledgement,” where Coltrane chants “a love supreme” with his vocal cords when he had said it enough with his horn – stands as a singular achievement in the history of music, an album that belongs in every collection of American music. But Coltrane was also seeking spiritual fulfillment when he recorded A Love Supreme. For the rest of us, it is itself spiritually fulfilling.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost


  John Coltrane, photo by Herb Snitzer

Coltrane was definitely listening to Albert Ayler – the evidence is not only in the title but in the folk-like theme that opens and closes “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,” which was recorded the year after Ayler made his big splash. No matter who did what first, this is a glorious, original piece of art. Coltrane added a second tenor and a second drummer to his quartet for this overtly religious work. Meditations is hardly descriptive of this outing – “Bombasts” would be more like it. Yet, like A Love Supreme and Ascension before it, this is not caterwauling for caterwauling’s sake. A search and a conversation unfold before us, and it is perhaps no stretch to suggest that the tune is a metaphor for the manner in which Coltrane thinks we ought to live – with reverence for a higher power that can guide us and help us find our path through the chaos of the everyday.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: I Want to Talk About You


   John Coltrane, photo by Herb Snitzer

“I Want to Talk About You” is a pretty little Billy Eckstine ballad through which Coltrane weaves an increasingly daring solo, splashing a torrent of notes onto the backdrop provided by his nonpareil rhythm section, which was particularly hot on this night at the club Birdland. The real magic, though, begins five minutes into the tune, when the rhythm section drops out and Coltrane is left to blow unaccompanied. His lines are so fluid, so majestic, that it is easy to forget that a quartet was ever there. The drums and bass are gone, but the beat remains. The piano is gone, but the melody is right there behind Coltrane’s harmonizing. These three jaw-dropping minutes rank among the most blissful of Coltrane’s career.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Ascension - Edition II

It’s difficult (and maybe pointless) to choose between the two 40-minute versions of “Ascension” that are included on the CD release, so let’s go with the Edition II, which for some reason appears first. In any case, we recommend you listen to only one version per sitting, because this is difficult, trying music. Some would call it chaotic. “Ascension” can go into the same category as Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun. Yes, there is structure beneath all this, but it is impossible to ascertain exactly how much direction Coltrane gave the cast of musicians he assembled here. The seven saxophonists and trumpeters seem to blare away without much regard for what they’re hearing, if they’re even listening. So why the 89 rating? Because these moments of zaniness are mere bridges that link the high points of this performance – namely, the intensely focused improvisation that occurs when most of the ensemble sits back to let the individuals solo with the rhythm section.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Mars


        John Coltrane
    Photo by Herb Snitzer

Coltrane stripped his musical ideas to the bone with his final great album, Interstellar Space. A series of duets with the free drummer Rashied Ali, the record would become the sacred text for all other sax-drums pairings. Nothing resembling melody or rhythm exists here – just pure sound and thoughts, free of structure and constraints. Pure emotion, pure energy, pure reactions. For the open-minded, a song – song? – like “Mars” can be an enlightening experience. When he’s not honking away, Coltrane blows circular, repetitive phrases while Ali strikes skins and cymbals with little regard for their intended uses – a ride cymbal becomes a snare drum, a snare becomes a hi-hat. What was going through Coltrane’s mind when he came up with this? We’ll never know.

November 06, 2007 · 1 comment

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The Manhattan Transfer: Soul Food to Go

"We got cool and hot," they sing, "just for you—the pleasures of the soul." For Tim, Janis, Cheryl & Alan, soul food means music. "This bebop's too much," they savor. From Kansas City to Brazil, jazz "gets you hot in your home." For four decades, The Manhattan Transfer has been our Art Nouveau flagship, steaming tirelessly from port to port, carrying the banner of smart group singing, beseeching, "Do you believe in jazz?" Hey, we not only believe in jazz, we believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and The Manhattan Transfer—all bringers of bliss.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Swingle Singers: Prelude #9

Bach was big in the '60s. No, not the 1760s—the 1960s! Before Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967) rocked Bach and Walter Carlos's Switched-On Bach (1968) plugged the old gent into synthesizers, The Swingle Singers set wordless vocal transcriptions of the Baroque master's keyboard pieces to jazz. Forgoing improv, four female and four male vocalists stick faithfully to his notes, but apply a thoroughly assimilated jazz rhythmic sensibility. The basic character of Prelude No. 9 (1744) is deemed "rather lively" by Bach scholar Siglind Bruhn. True to their name, the Swingles swing it very lively. Kapellmeister Bach would have approved.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Double Six of Paris: For Lena and Lennie

I have a shocking confession. I flunked high-school French! How, then, can I review a track sung in a language I don't understand? Well, I have seen all the Inspector Clouseau films at least twice. So here goes. After Count Basie recorded Quincy Jones's tribute to singer Lena Horne and her husband, pianist Lennie Hayton, Mimi Perrin supplied French lyrics and covered Q's chart with six gorgeously harmonized singers, each overdubbing a second part to create l'illusion d'une douzaine. I have no idea what that means, but they won Down Beat's poll as best vocal group four years running in the mid-1960s, so they must've been très magnifiques. (How'd I do?)

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Cotton Tail

Vocalese, invented by singer Eddie Jefferson in the early 1940s, sets words to preexisting instrumental passages, usually note for note—in contrast to scatting, which consists of independently improvised nonsense syllables. In this case, Jon Hendricks combines Duke Ellington's 1940 romp "Cotton Tail" with Beatrix Potter's 1902 children's tale of Peter Rabbit and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail. After Hendricks verbalizes tenorman Ben Webster's solo, LH&R thrillingly re-create the headlong momentum of Duke's sax section. "If I hadn't been part of that group," Hendricks later reflected on LH&R, "it would be my life ambition to have been part of that group."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Nancy (With the Laughing Face)

On an album of beautiful balladry, the closer, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” is the crème de la crème. It’s only three minutes long, and Coltrane solos through all of it. By no means is this a wild solo. Anyone could play these notes, but it’s hard to imagine them being played with as much feeling as Coltrane infuses. He’ll bend a note downward when you think the passage is over (listen to what he does at the 49-second mark), or he’ll add a few upturned notes onto a phrase (listen again at 1:03). He’ll rush ahead of the beat and then wait as it passes by and he falls behind. You hear the emotions he feels, and it sounds so perfect.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: One Down, One Up

Unearthed, cleaned up and released 40 years after it was recorded, this performance stands among the Coltrane quartet’s most rewarding. The opening number, which runs nearly half an hour, is a tour de force of creativity and stamina. This would be the final year the legendary group remained together, and they play like they were aware of that fact – with immediacy, urgency and audacity. Elvin Jones bashes away at his kit, Jimmy Garrison plucks with great speed and dexterity, and McCoy Tyner plunks down powerful, well-spaced chords that threaten to break the piano strings and shatter the ivories. Coltrane himself blows so fiercely he must have been gasping for air, ready to pass out, by the end of it all. A meteorologist would call it hurricane-force improvisation with intermittent tornadoes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Recovery

"Recovery" is a rest-stop between two strenuous movements of Denny Zeitlin's suite "Slickrock," which depicts the rigors of mountain biking. Besides playing an unmodified acoustic piano from the keyboard, Zeitlin attacks the innards of his instrument directly and even employs a prepared piano with metallic objects inserted between the strings. Altogether, the effect is daunting. And appropriately so, since Zeitlin is not only a pianist, but a psychiatrist, for whom recovery also means guiding a patient up the sheer cliffs of mental health, which can be more grueling than mountain biking. In either case, recovery is hard.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Ebony Concerto

Emigrating to the U.S. during World War II, the world's foremost composer found himself financially strapped. Grateful for whatever commissions came his way, Igor Stravinsky accepted one from Woody Herman's Herd, renowned for raising musical hell. Stravinsky met this manic opportunity with unexpected restraint. "He wrote the quietest piece he ever wrote in his life," said Herman, disappointed. The elements are characteristically Stravinsky—undercurrents of throbbing, choppy syncopation; a short, keening clarinet/trombone duet urged on by tom-tom and trumpets. His circumspection, however, failed to satisfy the overheated demands of postwar jazz. Too bad. Ebony Concerto is a fascinating, enduring curio.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Nellie Lutcher: He's a Real Gone Guy

Nellie Lutcher defies pigeonholing. Her brother Joe Lutcher was a jump blues artist, but Nellie's musical skills weren't minimalist enough to suit that genre. Nor did she affect the hoity-toity refinement of Hazel Scott. One of 15 siblings from Lake Charles, LA, Nellie was down-home as a simmering pot of jambalaya, and just as spicy. Her zest is contagious, as on this track during a unison scat-vocal/piano chorus; that her vocal range doesn't extend to the keyboard's upper reaches only makes her game attempts to get there more delightful. "Gone," in 1940s jive talk, meant superlative. Nellie Lutcher was a real gone gal.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Red Garland: He's a Real Gone Guy

"He's a Real Gone Guy" was a jumpin' 1947 R&B hit by singer-pianist Nellie Lutcher. In those days, "gone" meant superlative. Twelve years later, jive talk was archaic, but Red Garland's lively cover shows why he was one of the 1950s' classiest keyboardists—a worthy successor to his role model Nat King Cole. With single-note lines bubbling like champagne and block chords as tasty as caviar, Red was the Fred Astaire of jazz piano. He never missed a step. If you're after adventurous, go elsewhere. But if you savor warmth, wit, swing and soulfulness, go Garland. A real gone guy, indeed.

November 05, 2007 · 3 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Blues for Big Scotia

Putdown master Miles Davis once said Oscar Peterson "had to learn to play the blues," as if other jazzmen sprang from mother's womb crying “Now’s the Time.” Besides, whether his blues was innate, studied or bought for $1 at W.C. Handy's garage sale, most pianists would trade their autographed picture of Meade Lux Lewis to play like Oscar on "Blues for Big Scotia." Less obsessively decorative than usual, Peterson is no less impressive. His powerful, 2-handed rolling tremolos are oceanic, crashing onshore with tsunami force. At the end, one expects Count Basie to float by, cheerfully exhorting "One more time!"

Caveat: In 1996, Verve reissued Bursting Out with the All-Star Big Band! (1962) and Swinging Brass (1959) as a CD twofer, using the same Bursting Out fireworks cover art as their 1990 CD reissue of Bursting Out by itself, and thus confusing consumers looking for Swinging Brass. Both albums featured the Oscar Peterson Trio in a big-band context, and each contained a respective version of "Blues for Big Scotia." The 1962 track is longer (nearly six minutes), but this review relates specifically to the shorter (<4 minutes), and we think superior, track from 1959.

November 05, 2007 · 2 comments

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Maynard Ferguson: Oleo

Some people detest Maynard Ferguson. These are mostly dog-owners whose canines cower whenever Maynard assaults the ozone layer with his stratospheric trumpet. For the rest of us, it's impossible not to stand and salute this flag-waver recorded live at Birdland. Slide Hampton's arrangement is dynamite, and the band's performance is explosive. Dunlop's drums overly dominate the mix, but that's an audio not a musical blemish, which actually increases excitement. As a precaution, have the nurse check your pulse after you listen to this. And please DO NOT download Maynard's "Oleo" to your pooch's iPod. Doggie ears are just too sensitive.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Desafinado

“Desafinado” first appeared on the 1962 Jazz Samba album that launched the bossa nova craze and stayed on the charts for 70 weeks. The song was created to mock the off-key singers in Rio (“Desafinado” means “out of tune”), but its famous blue note made it jazz. Like the album, the single became a massive hit, and brought Stan Getz a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance. Getz swings hard over Charlie Byrd’s insistent rhythm, while maintaining a sexy tropical feel. Always elegant and fresh, this remains the definitive version of the tune.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Corcovado

What do Perry Como, Miles Davis, and James Galway have in common? They’ve all covered Jobim’s “Corcovado” -- only “Ipanema” and “One Note Samba” have been recorded more often. This version features the exquisite blending of Astrud and Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz and Jobim on a sensuous melody. This winning formula, repeated throughout the LP, kept Getz/Gilberto on the charts for 96 weeks; nearly 40 years later, the album entered the Grammy Hall of Fame. Also known as “Quiet Nights,” this track was the epitome of relaxed bossa nova cool.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: Lover Man

Sonny Rollins’ avant-garde period – culminating in East Broadway Rundown – was in full bloom when the 33-year-old recorded with his boyhood idol, Coleman Hawkins. On “Lover Man,” Rollins’ boisterous tenor is at its most expressive – jarringly rhythmic in the low end, feeding off the more subdued statements of Hawkins. The two trade inspired choruses before Hawkins restates the melody under Rollins’ screeching, sustained altissimo counterpoint. A thrilling performance.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Easy Living

While there is much injustice in the world, the death of Clifford Brown reads like a truly bad dream. Twenty-five years old, known for rejecting the inclination towards substance-abuse practiced by some of his contemporaries, a family man and a real giant of the jazz trumpet, Brown had everything going for him. He died on a wet highway with Richie Powell on the way to the next gig less than three years after this session. This track shows a certain ease of execution that shows up on Brown ballads. The solo playing here is mesmerizing, and while the ensemble work by all is well done, the spotlight is on "Brownie”—as it should be.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: Poet

Oh, how I love those low notes! Most vocalists reach into their upper register to grab the audience's attention, but Wilson has always been best when singing below the accompaniment, when blending in with the bass, guitar and drums. "Poet" has lots of those, you may have noticed. (I'm still not sure what a distorted bass is - they didn't have those when I was studying music.) The rhythm section is really just a soupy mixture, but the whole affair has that warm, humid feeling of a walk in a tropical forest at twilight. A very sensuous performance.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Kush

Kush, an early civilization centered in North Africa's Nubian region (today's Sudan), flourished from 2000 to 1500 BC. Dizzy Gillespie, an early bebopper in North America's New York region (today's Harlem), flourished between 1917 and 1993 AD. These two monumental forces converge on this track recorded, significantly, at the Museum of Modern Art. Nobody did more than Dizzy Gillespie to make jazz a modern art. It's doubtful the Kushites would've appreciated Dizzy, but what matters is he appreciated them. This 6/4 tribute is more exciting than an unexpected encounter with the Kushites' worst nightmare, Conan the Barbarian. Dizzy kicks tush.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sun Ra: The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters

After World War II, pianist Sonny Blount moved from Alabama to Chicago, where he pursued Egyptology, which had captivated him since childhood. Identifying with the sun-god Ra of Heliopolis (well, why not aim high?), Sonny changed his name to Sun Ra. His music, however, remained surprisingly devoid of Arabic influence. Instead of the distinctive Arabian scales, rhythms or instruments that evolved from ancient times, Sun Ra dishes out cheesy electric organ to inept accompaniment. If teenagers played this in your garage, you'd swear they have no talent, and you'd be right. These "Pharaonic Jesters" ought to be called "Moronic Gestures."

November 05, 2007 · 2 comments

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Chick Corea: Brazil

With the care of a fine-art restorer, Chick Corea rescues “Aquarela do Brasil” ("Watercolor of Brazil") from Disney's Saludos Amigos (1943), where—for the edification of one Donald Duck—Brazilian composer Ary Barraoso's samba-exaltação exalted the Technicolor glories of Latin America's largest nation. Quickly recognizing the tune, Chick's Swiss audience chuckles affectionately. "Brazil," covered by everyone from Django Reinhardt to The Coasters to João Gilberto, reinforces music as universal language. Chick Corea, born in Massachusetts of Italian and Spanish ancestry, speaks that language as fluently as anyone. This lovely 3-minute track does more for international amity than a corps of diplomats.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sara Gazarek: And So It Goes

Gazarek has a beautiful voice and she digs deeply into this ballad - an unusual transformation of a Billy Joel song into a jazz mood piece. There is no fuss or pretense to this performance, just a complete commitment to the feeling state of the song. In my ideal jazz universe, singers would feel emotions more deeply than mere mortals - after all, they symbolically carry the torch of love for the rest of us. Gazarek achieves that rare level of expression on this track.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Wes Montgomery: Besame Mucho

The Latin ballad “Besame Mucho” is taken at a very quick 6/8 here. Jimmy Cobb starts with his brushes, pauses for two bars, and then picks up his sticks, which alters the complexion of the piece at the same time organist Melvin Rhyne intensifies his own playing, which is the current that carries the tune along. It’s nothing fancy, but it gives Montgomery exactly the underpinning he needs to showcase his own lyrical ability. At 4:05, Montgomery and Rhyne engage in eight measures of tandem counter-rhythmic attack that forces the listener’s fingers and toes into an involuntarily tap-along. As the tune comes to a close, Rhyne – not exactly a household name among organ players – slips in an effective solo that displays his imagination.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Old Folks

Many of the finest organ trio recordings were actually made under the guitarist’s name as leader. Guitarist Grant Green played in many formats, and he was at the top of his game with just an organist and a drummer supporting him. The four-minute take of “Old Folks” puts him in the driver’s seat right away, setting the tone with a shimmering melodic introduction that leads to a pretty solo. Jack McDuff comps as lightly as an organist can before he offers up his own solo contribution. Then Green takes command again and concludes the tune with a delicate little coda.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Talkin' About J.C.

Larry Young, an original voice who approached the organ more like a piano, seldom recorded in a trio setting, so it is a delight to hear him performing his John Coltrane tribute “Talkin’ About J.C.” with Grant Green and Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones. Young is a different sort of a foil for Green, eschewing the typical B-3 tricks – held notes, repeated phrases – in favor of pure harmonic counterpoint. The dynamic interplay between guitar and organ crescendos as the song gradually heads toward its climax, spurred by Jones’s volcanic drumming. Just three musicians, but there is a heck of a lot happening here.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Un Poco Loco

"Un Poco Loco" can't be autobiographical because Bud Powell was more than a little crazy. Bopped on the noggin by, respectively, nightstick-wielding cops and a pistol-whipping bouncer in the mid-1940s, Bud was later assaulted by psychiatrists brandishing electroconvulsive therapy and repeated institutionalizations (one lasting a year). If Bud hadn't been loco before, he'd sure be post-"treatment." All of which makes "Un Poco Loco" even more redoubtable. Applying the Afro-Cuban approach that fellow bebopper Dizzy Gillespie had previously explored, Powell solos over Roach's relentless cowbell with the brilliant clarity of a cosmologist describing far-off galaxies as if he'd been there. Maybe Bud had.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: 'Round Midnight (1947)

Monk's initial cover of his best-known song came three years after Cootie Williams first recorded it with majestic trumpeting amid a big band and with nary a hint of bebop. Yet as Monk shows, a small group better befits "'Round Midnight." Using trumpet and sax to help establish haunting atmospherics, Monk carries the melody by himself (except for a 5-note phrase strikingly harmonized between piano and alto) and is the sole soloist. Listeners sometimes mistake Monk's deliberate fractures—by 1947 fully developed both instrumentally and compositionally—as mistakes or hesitation; they are neither. They're the probings of a visionary sculptor radically reshaping modern jazz.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Ornithology

Charlie Parker's 1946 Hollywood stay was personally disastrous, culminating in arrest and six-month commitment to a state mental hospital. From the perspective of his music, however, the months before his meltdown stand out as an unforgettable period. "Ornithology" (based on the chords to "How High the Moon") is a bebop high point. Bird is in fine fettle, and a cup-muted Miles shows increasing self- confidence. Lucky Thompson is an overlooked and under-recorded musician who helped budge the tenor sax from its Swing Era complacency. As for guitarist Garrison, he plays a mere 22 notes on the entire 3-minute track. Not a bad deal: immortality for 22 notes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: If You Could See Me Now

A year after recording with Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker, the finest singer of the bebop era had already turned her back on bop. This track, written by bopper Tadd Dameron, backed by such bop luminaries as big-toned trumpeter Freddie Webster, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke, is musically aloof from bop. Rather, it anticipates the gooey ballads that made Miss Vaughan a staple of the 1950s hit parade. Technically the most gifted vocalist ever associated with jazz, the Divine One kept the genre at arm's length, going so far as to apprise Down Beat in 1982: "I'm not a jazz singer." Hearing this track, we wonder if she ever was.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny G: Songbird

Seldom has a jazz track ignited such firestorms. Songbirding, as it's now known, gained notoriety during the 1989 overthrow of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who, fleeing the U.S. invasion, took sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature. Since assaulting the Holy See's embassy would've violated international law, U.S. troops surrounded the compound with loudspeakers, volume cranked to 11, from which they directed an around-the-clock barrage of Kenny G's hit. After enduring 72 hours of this unspeakable torture, Gen. Noriega emerged, hands clasped to his ears, and meekly surrendered. Although songbirding remains a controversial tool in the war against terror, no one doubts its effectiveness.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Disco Monk

Sonny Rollins has always delighted in the mundane as a means of challenging himself. Lurking behind his penchant for unlikely sources is a trenchant wit that recalls pioneering political cartoonist Thomas Nast. As decisively as Nast lampooned bloated grafters of American politics, Rollins skewers lame ducks of American popular music, simultaneously ridiculing and rising triumphantly above his sources. One is left to wonder, though, as Sonny discos the night away, why a great artist would ruminate on such dross. Satire goes a long way, but enough already, Theodore—we get the point. As for Monk, this silly track's only connection to Thelonious is its title.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chuck Mangione: Feels So Good

Flügelhorn is German for turkey. The cornet's klutzy cousin, despite sonorous middle and lower registers, has notoriously weak upper reaches. Miles Davis and Shorty Rogers wisely kept to its natural range, but less savvy players insist on attempting higher notes that'd be a cinch on a trumpet but break miserably on the F-horn. Leading the pack of miserable breakers is Chuck Mangione, whose cracked tones have impressed gullible hordes as emotionally freighted—analogous to a human voice rent from overwhelming feeling. Far be it from us to spoil anyone's angst, but Mangione is closer to weak-lipped Herb Alpert than to Edvard Munch.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gabor Szabo: Walk Away Renee

Gabor Szabo was a brilliantly original jazz guitarist who longed to be a pop star. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) Even on Spellbinder (1966), his finest album, he covered hits by Sinatra and Sonny & Cher, and worse yet insisted on singing. Here Szabo revives a Golden Oldie from 1966, a Top 5 hit by Baroque rockers The Left Banke. Melvoin's organ, however, sounds lugubriously like Procol Harum, and Kabok & Cierly, who aren't accountants but dual bassists, provide more depth than the Mariana Trench. The only good thing about 1969, besides Neil Armstrong's small step/giant leap on the Moon, was that it mercifully put an end to the Sixties.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hodges: Don't Sleep in the Subway

"Everybody knows Johnny Hodges," went Duke Ellington's standard introduction. By the mid-'60s, it was no longer true. Record-buying kids didn't know Ellington, much less Hodges. They did, however, fancy singer Petula Clark, who made this song a Top 5 hit in 1967. Verve Records missed Miss Clark, but prospered by merchandizing jazz masters Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery as trendy schlockmeisters. Alas, what worked for them did not work for Hodges, who sounds like a refugee from a halfway house, wandering dazed and disoriented in the subway, where, hounded by Hank Jones's clattering harpsichord, Johnny can't even catch some z's.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Watch What Happens

By 1967, Pop Jazz was staler than last night's butts, as shown by an ashtray's contents on this track's close-up album photo. Sure enough, that musty aroma emanated from jazz's grandest guitarist, who squandered the mid-'60s covering, with all the chintzy blandishments of elevator music, hits by such bantamweights as The Association, Kingston Trio, and Brothers Four. We can 't begrudge success to someone who worked hard, waited years for recognition, and gave more to music than he ever got back. But 12 months after sleepwalking through this Muzakical morass, that man was dead at 45. Wes, we hardly knew ye.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Astrud Gilberto & Walter Wanderley: So Nice

How do you say "turkey" in Portuguese? That's easy: Astrud Gilberto. Bossa nova's answer to Mrs. Miller, the campy suburban Los Angeles matron who graced mid-'60s pop charts with timely but gloriously awful covers of favorites such as Petula Clark's "Downtown." Here, to invoke a chewing-gum commercial of that era, we "double our pleasure, double our fun" by pairing off-key Astrud with Walter Wanderley's cheesy cocktail-lounge organ. And the hits just keep on coming. We must admit, though, this track would make an ideal soundtrack for a time-capsule video of the Swinging Sixties directed by Federico Fellini. Ciao, Marcello!

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Jazz in the 1950s survived Elvis by ignoring him. Miles Davis did not apply his moody Harmon mute to "Heartbreak Hotel." The Modern Jazz Quartet didn't cover "Hound Dog" with one of their elegant rococo arrangements. Yet in the '60s, that lesson was lost. Instead of playing hard to get, jazzmen lusted after the pop charts, with dismal results. Here, as altoist Marshall Royal ladles out more vibrato than Carmen Lombardo on New Year's Eve, the Basie crew shows how clueless jazzmen were to what made mid-'60s rock so appealing: its freshness, irreverence and youthful exuberance. Hey, waiter! Set the fellas in the band up with a round of Geritol on my tab. On second thought, better make those doubles.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Four Freshmen: Day by Day

Among 1950s' male vocal quartets, The Four Freshmen manifested the foremost multiple personality disorder. They might be the White-Bread Frosh purveying such senior prom tripe as "Graduation Day," or the Blackface Frosh perpetrating the most slanderous Negro mockery since Al Jolson, as in the indictable offenses "Mr. B.'s Blues," "Stormy Weather" and "Mood Indigo" (the shame! doing this to Ellington). This track, modeled on Perry Como's hit "Papa Loves Mambo" (1954), finds the Freshmen in their bouncy Los Cuatro Latinos incarnation. "Day by Day" spent 15 weeks on the pop charts, but for us is mercifully over in less than two minutes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé: The Hut-Sut Song

Although Mel Tormé's musicianship made him one of jazz's finest singers, on this track the Velvet Frog (well, Tormé is a French name, isn't it?) seems to have temporarily taken leave of his senses. The mock- Swedish doubletalk "Hut-Sut Song" was an annoyingly ubiquitous novelty hit in 1941, but there was no excuse for continuing to inflict it upon the American people, especially in a collection improbably dubbed Mel Tormé's Finest Hour. It might cop an award in the "What Was He Thinking?" category, except there's no evidence of thought anywhere, from Billy May's growling brass mindlessly lifted from Glenn Miller to Tormé's witless recitation. It ain't even dumb fun. Just dumb.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: I Should Care (1948)

At a historic session where he first recorded his stunning originals "Evidence," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy" and "I Mean You," Monk was asked to perform something, umm … recognizable. The hermetically self- contained pianist reacts like an exterminator faced with rampant infestation, transforming a harmless ditty from an MGM musical into obstreperous cacophony recalling composer Charles Ives's 1890s' polytonal experiments pitting two brass bands blaring opposing marches in a New England town square. They couldn't have been more at odds than Monk and his hapless vocalist. With bop's high priest dispensing such low comedy, could Jonathan & Darlene Edwards be far behind?

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: The Gypsy

Bop's proudest soloist never forgave producer Ross Russell for releasing this exercise in self-humiliation (self-immolation?) that, with its session-mate "Lover Man," tests our bounds of compassion. While pathos can produce moving artistic experiences, Bird's abject ballad, recorded by a desperately sick man in a haze of competing intoxicants, is merely pathetic. We cringe at the performance, pity the performer, and ultimately forgive Ross Russell. After all, the strung-out soloist spent his entire life in extremis, so why not hear him at his nakedly revealing worst? As music, this 3-minute track is atrocious. As autobiography, it's in a class by itself.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: Jungle Nights in Harlem

"The grotesque spectacle of Harlem nightclubs for all-white audiences," historian Ted Gioia believes, "served to mitigate, however clumsily, the currents of racism that were running rampant in other social institutions. In America, music was the first sphere of social interaction in which racial barriers were challenged and overturned." The Cotton Club—an oasis of glamour in Depression-era Harlem—provided grotesquely spectacular context for Duke Ellington's "jungle music." Maintaining his dignity in this racially compromised setting made Ellington a star. Creating works of musical genius in the same setting, Duke exposed the inherent obscenity of relegating civilized people to imaginary jungles.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ethel Waters: Black and Blue

April Fool's Day, 1930. Ethel Waters covers a self-pitying song from Broadway's Hot Chocolates (1929) that Louis Armstrong had recorded with lyrics reworked to universalize the plight of being black in a white world. Waters, however, restores the original complaint of a dark-skinned woman shunned by "all the race fellows" who "crave high yellows" (pale-complexioned Negroes). Since "gentlemen prefer them light," Waters laments, "I'm just another spade who can't make the grade." An accomplished actress as well as a first-rate vocalist, Waters puts this across with conviction. But did she mean it? Let's hope she announced, when finished, "April fool!"

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Shine

Historians still debate what turned a 1920s Jazz Giant into a 1930s vaudevillian. Did profiteering white gangsters convert him at gunpoint into Uncle Tom? Was Louis's lip ruined by too many high C's topped by an F above the melting point of tungsten? Or did Armstrong, heady with success and coveting super- stardom, willingly conspire? Whatever the explanation, Satchmo's "Shine" so cheerfully catalogs sundry "chocolate drop" stereotypes—curly hair, pearly teeth, shady color—that Hollywood rewarded him with leopard-skin livery in A Rhapsody in Black and Blue (1932). Evidently Uncle Tom's tuxedo had been repossessed. But Louis at least set the fashion standard for Fred Flintstone.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Louis Armstrong: West End Blues

"I felt," said trumpeter Max Kaminsky after hearing Louis Armstrong's leadoff cadenza, "as if I had stared into the sun's eye." He wasn't alone. Two weeks before, Louis's mentor Joe Oliver had waxed this tribute to a cherished venue along New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain. Nobody was blinded. But when the King's heir apparent traded his trusty cornet—better suited to traditional ensemble jazz—for the more penetrating trumpet, 26-year-old Armstrong's clarion call set off a solar flare that dazzles to this day. By itself, either Earl Hines's piano solo or Louis's wordless vocal obbligato behind clarinetist Jimmy Strong would make this track memorable. The trumpeter makes it immortal.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World


Louis Armstrong, photo by Herb Snitzer

Aside from Satchmo singing throughout, this track has nothing to do with jazz. But that's like saying, "Aside from the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor has no towering monuments." The single exception is a tad conspicuous. And certainly jazz has no monument more towering than Louis Armstrong. Here he transforms a platitudinous ditty that, done by any other singer, would make us cringe, and instead makes us rapturous. What other voice so embodied dignity, heartache, humor, compassion and downright love of life? By the mid-'60s, Louis Armstrong was the world's most endearing and uplifting American. This song shows why.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Paul Bley: Syndrome

The words "lyrical" and "Free Jazz" rarely appear in the same context. Indeed, perhaps only in a Paul Bley review. An early Free Jazz convert, Bley gigged in 1958 with Ornette Coleman & Don Cherry at L.A.'s Hillcrest Club, where crowds milled outside an empty house waiting for the band to stop playing so they could go in and have a drink in peace. Here, Bley and bird-of-a-feather Swallow from the similarly Free and unpopular Jimmy Giuffre 3 are joined by the remarkably musical LaRoca for an intriguing composition by Paul's then-wife Carla. Their inventiveness and, yes, lyricism, are extraordinary.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Woods: Not Yet

In L.A. during the mid-1950s, Jimmy Woods worked as a stock clerk at the same Bullock's department store where Ornette Coleman ran the elevator. In the early '60s, Woods recorded a few albums, then vanished from the scene as quickly as he'd appeared. "Not Yet" shows the elusive force of the illusion that was Jimmy Woods. As both composer and performer, Woods simply glowed. Jazz had lots of passionate altoists during this period—Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Ornette, Eric Dolphy—but none more inviting. Sadly, "Not Yet" was also the response of jazz's declining audience to Jimmy Woods. Our loss.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Elsa

During the final studio session by a short-lived but long-loved trio, Evans and LaFaro were reportedly so miffed at one another they weren't speaking. At least, not verbally. Musically, however, they (and Motian) were sublimely in sync, and nowhere more so than on drummer Earl Zindars's lovely waltz tribute to his wife, "Elsa." Beautifully recorded by soundman Bill Stoddard, Evans's piano simply sings, from delicate single-note passages to masterfully subdued block chords. With LaFaro mercifully keeping his monstrous technique in check, and Motian providing his customary sensitive support, the piece belongs to Evans, and his performance belongs to the ages.

November 04, 2007 · 1 comment

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Conte Candoli: Mambo Diane

The West Coast style that easterner Horace Silver vilified in 1956 as "faggot-type jazz" had by 1960 wilted as submissively as one of Tennessee Williams's faded Southern belles, making way for virile displays by many of the same musicians. Indeed, this track's West Coast mainstays sound like a road-show Horace Silver Quintet. Even Buddy Collette—charter member of West Coast jazz's most effete ensemble, the Chico Hamilton Quintet—has turned manlier than an aftershave commercial. Embracing another bracing New York import, the Cuban mambo, Candoli & Co. forcefully remind us how childish the bicoastal rivalry was all along. Cha-cha-cha!

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Jazz Makers: The Real Funky Blues

In 1959, a British quintet billed as The Jazz Makers toured the States packaged with such luminaries as George Shearing, Lennie Tristano and Thelonious Monk, and were rewarded with a record date. The Jazz Makers broke no new ground, but plowed familiar modernist soil with fertile results. It might seem cheeky for five paleface Brits to proffer "The Real Funky Blues," but deuced if they don't pull it off, with a jolly- good tune, making smashing use of Ross's Mulligan-esque baritone. The Jazz Makers dutifully returned to England, but the music they made on this side of the pond still sparkles.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chick Webb: If Dreams Come True – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Stardust Memories</i> (1980)

Just as Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave" flaunted jazz's naughty influence on 1920s pop culture, "If Dreams Come True," with straight-muted brass, sugary saxes and two-beat shuffle, reflects the less-ballyhooed embrace of white dance music by black jazz bands. During the 1930s, Chick Webb and His Orchestra were the house band at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, where whites and blacks danced, if not necessarily together, at least side by side. Three decades later, the inclusive spirit of "If Dreams Come True" would achieve its oratorical apotheosis in Dr. King's eloquent "I Have a Dream." Regrettably, into the new millennium, such dreams have still not come true.

November 04, 2007 · 1 comment

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Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life ensemble avoided the “supergroup” moniker (and associated bad karma) by presenting compositions that allowed melodic invention and interplay to rule over runaway displays of chops. This title track from Metheny's debut release finds the guitarist running lines that are clearly inspired both by the inventive drumming of Moses and the muscular drive of close friend and jazz force of nature, the late Jaco Pastorius. Many artists shun their early work, finding it underdeveloped and embarrassing. It's a commentary on the strength of this performance that “Bright Size Life” remains in Metheny's live repertoire to this day, over thirty years after its release.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hal Russell: Ayler Songs

For the Albert Ayler portion of this autobiographical album, Russell and Mars Williams evoke the spirit of the late, great Ayler by engaging in a festival of free blowing. With power, fury, extended technique, and humor (this is Hal Russell, after all), Russell and Williams unleash those tenors. Sadly, Russell passed on only five weeks after this recording was made. What a swan song. Never one to hold back, his narrative introduction to the piece began: “Then along came Ayler ... Holy Shit!!”

November 04, 2007 · 1 comment

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Danilo Perez: Evidence and Four in One

Monk's music can make a person uncomfortable. Even with the most basic blues forms, his off-kilter phrasing had that “patting my head while rubbing my tummy” kind of thing going on. Ugly beauty indeed! Danilo Perez takes the role of “stunt pianist” here, playing “Evidence” with the left hand, and “Four In One” with the right. Cynics might scoff at such a trick, yet the results are anything but gimmicky. With the center section swinging like mad on the double-composition hybrid, Perez cleanly illuminates the brilliance of Monk's music.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Zorn: The James Bond Theme

Jazz, surf, rockabilly, jump blues, punk – all served up in one blistering take on this classic spy movie theme. Zorn's penchant for the musical equivalent of Burroughs' “jump cut” style is perfectly illustrated by this whirlwind tour of genres. As the introductory theme is laid out by Frisell's barely contained guitar, Zorn unleashes short squalls that are only a diversion: the main theme is actually well-behaved and swings like mad. Ah, but that diversion foreshadowed a free play section where the entire band does, well, whatever it wants...only to drop back perfectly into the head. An exhilarating display of both athletic thought and performance.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cássia Eller: Partido Alto

This impassioned Brazilian singer might have enjoyed tremendous success in the United States and overseas markets, but she was dead at age 39, only a few months after making this landmark recording. Eller rips into the Chico Buarque song with a fury that seems oddly out of keeping with the acoustic setting. How to describe the Eller sound? A favela version of Janis Joplin with a double dose of soul? Brazilian pop on steroids? Call it rock, call it world music, call it jazz - but whatever the category, track down Eller's work and introduce yourself to an extraordinary singer.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Better Git It In Your Soul

Three 1959 Mingus albums begin with the same Pentecostal pandemonium. February's "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" (Blues & Roots) becomes, in turn, May's "Better Git It In Your Soul" (Mingus Ah Um) and November's "Slop" (Mingus Dynasty), each in fast 6/8 meter with tension-and-release stop-time choruses and verbal exhortations from Mingus enacting the Holy Roller role. Of the three iterations, "Better Git It," with a phenomenal solo by tenorman Ervin, is the most exciting. It's possible that Rev. Charles's religiosity stemmed more from commercial calculation than bedrock conviction—his true bedrock conviction might've been that Holy Rolling helped to sell his records. Whatever, this is bedrock Mingus, not to be missed.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Hi-Lo's: The Lady in Red

The Hi-Lo's were a peppy 1950s male vocal quartet whose name was self-descriptive: one guy sang high, another sang low. (The other two were Republicans.) They made few forays into jazz, but if you're going to foray, hitch thee to Marty Paich's Dek-Tette, matchless in backing vocalists. Here, Paich and The Hi-Lo's make musical mischief and madcap merriment with "The Lady in Red," who turns out to be a generic femme fatale, not the floozy who fingered Dillinger to the Feds outside Chicago's Biograph Theater in 1934. "A bit gaudy," the lyrics admit, "but lawdy—what a personality!" A perfect description of The Hi-Lo's.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: So What / Impressions

Listeners expecting stylistic imitation (as in many past tributes) will be disappointed, but those who welcome a fresh interpretation of the Davis and Coltrane concepts will love this record. “So What / Impressions” is more introspective and melancholic than 1960s performances by the respective composers, allowing each improviser to reference the styles of their masters, but not be bound by them. Hargrove’s solo is astounding—contemplative and brilliantly paced, eventually reaching a rousing climax. Hancock’s comping is busy and detached at times, but more often faultlessly complementary. Blade adds powerful rhythmic dialogue throughout, especially at the end of Brecker’s inspired chorus. Spectacular playing all around.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eddie Harris: Listen Here

In the tumultuous half-decade since Eddie Harris's hit "Exodus" (1961), much had changed. Musicians were electrifying with a fervor unseen since the 1880s Edison-Westinghouse "War of Currents." In 1965, instrument-maker Selmer introduced its Varitone sax, which (Gimmick Alert!) sampled and synthetically doubled each note an octave lower. The summer of 1968 brought the first Varitone hit: "Listen Here" spent 6 weeks in the Top 100, peaking at #79 and fueling the scurrilous rumor that Selmer secretly bought those singles to stimulate Varitone sales. Not true. With its monotonous 2-chord vamp, James Brown-type yelps, cowbell and tambourine, "Listen Here" sold itself. It was soooo '60s!

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: I Didn't Know What Time It Was

You may not know what time it is either. But count along, you will pick up the 5/4 groove—very nicely played by the Mehldau trio. A punning reference to the name of the song, perhaps? And while we're talking about names: how daring to call your recording the "art of the trio"! — especially for a 26-year-old performer still at an early stage of his career as combo leader. But the Mehldau-Grenadier-Rossy triumvirate lives up to the claims of the name. This trio would continue to expand its musical vocabulary over the next several years, but even in 1996 it demanded respect as one of the finest bands in jazz. All the right ingredients are here: precociously smart but also swinging and emotionally aware. Highly recommended.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Jesus Maria

After his evocative folk-jazz signature piece "The Train and the River" graced both The Sound of Jazz telecast (1957) and the film Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958), Jimmy Giuffre grew restless. Supplanting accessibility with abstraction, Giuffre symbolized jazz's final, fateful segue from popular entertainment to niche art. Carla Bley's gentle "Jesus Maria" is a transitional piece, taking Giuffre near the avant-garde's precipice without plunging over. (Free Fall would come soon, both as album title and career description.) Lovely, lyrical, yet at times skirting atonality, "Jesus Maria" is a snapshot capturing an artist's past and future in one fascinating moment.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michel Legrand: A Night in Tunisia

In 1958, when Michel Legrand landed stateside to conduct American all-stars playing his arrangements, some participants must've wondered what this Frenchman was up to. His mid-'50s international success with easy-listening travel-themed albums hardly bode well. Not to worry. For a fiery "Night in Tunisia," Legrand pits four trumpets against hard-blowing altoists Phil & Quill, and everybody wins. It's a special treat to hear back-to-back trumpeters Joe Wilder, who had the prettiest tone in the business, and Art Farmer, also with the prettiest tone. (Okay, so sue us. We can't make up our minds.) In any language, Legrand Jazz is Le Grand Jazz.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Rosolino: Frank 'n Earnest

Frank Rosolino emerged during his 1952-'54 stint with Stan Kenton as one of jazz's most exciting trombonists. Here the livewire sliphornist fronts a sizzling sextet extracted from the Kenton band and arranged by Kentonite Bill Holman. A friend of ours once asked, "What's the swingingest track you got?" Not necessarily our favorite or most admired, he explained, just the swingingest. We knew exactly what he meant, and played him "Frank 'N Earnest." Catapulting out of his chair, our friend spilled his drink, knocked over an ashtray and emitted an undignified yelp. We didn't mind. Frank Rosolino does that to you.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Klemmer: Touch

According to the science of haptics, interpersonal touching varies from culture to culture. Latin countries, Italy and the Middle East exhibit significantly higher rates than Japan, the UK or USA. Small wonder, then, that the touchy-feely 1970s met a mixed reception in traditionally low-touch, high-tech America, whose ambivalence made John Klemmer both victor and victim. Plugging his sax into an electronic echo chamber, backed by phase-shifting electric piano and exotic percussion, Klemmer struck a goldmine of what he calls "primal urges." Yet this archetypal hotline, he now concedes, blinded us to his artistic depth. We mistook his aboriginal masterpieces for suburban make-out music.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment

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Weather Report: A Remark You Made

Just as mid-'70s jazz electronica struck rock bottom with Return to Forever's facile superficiality and the Head Hunters' headlong pursuit of the Almighty Funk, along came this incredibly beautiful ballad. With Zawinul's lush keyboards gently enveloping Shorter's yearning sax, and the extraordinary melodicism of Jaco Pastorius—was ever there a bassist with a more distinctive sound?—this track by itself nearly redeems the entire dreck-drenched decade, standing like a pristine tropical island in a sea turned murky by pawed-over dollar bills. "A Remark You Made" is as deeply moving as one of John Coltrane's Ballads (1962). There is no higher compliment.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Chameleon

Get down tonight! Set your K-tel Time-Travel Device to the 1970s and prepare to boogie! Naturally you'll need platform shoes and polyester bell-bottoms, with an Aubrey Beardsley peacock shirt open to the navel. Now add 19 necklaces with garish pendants, topped by a Pam Grier Autographed Afro. I'm talkin' about Shaft! Or rather about Herbie Hancock giving jazz the shaft. "Chameleon" shows his career-long adaptive advantage in camouflaging appearance to fit the environment. With jazz's audience shrunk to the capacity of a Volkswagen Bus, heeeere's Herbie alchemizing trendy electronic gadgetry and monotonous funk into fool's gold. Act now! Supplies are limited!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: As Time Goes By

After a long expatriation, Dexter Gordon came home during the height of 1970s fusion confusion, and helped restore jazz to its senses. Forget the electrified gimmickry of Varitones and Echoplexes; all Dexter needed was an acoustic backup trio and his trusty tenor sax. Plus, of course, an unforgettable standard. Bogie, nursing a drink and broken heart in Casablanca (1942), muttered through gritted teeth, "If she can take it, I can take it." But Dexter, the ever-superior balladeer, makes us adore this tune even sober. "Moonlight and love songs," goes the lyric, are "never out of date." Nor is Dexter Gordon.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bunny Berigan: I Can't Get Started

When Hollywood needed a hyperlink to the nostalgically seedy 1930s for Save the Tiger (1973) and Chinatown (1974), this track filled the bill. Ranking high among Swing Era trumpeters and even higher among jazz's legendary lushes, Bunny Berigan here displays both attributes, playing brilliantly and singing with a wistfulness achieved through years of marinating in bathtub gin. With Prohibition repealed, bootleg drinking's urgency had slackened to laid-back, law-abiding alcoholism. Bunny's slightly woozy vocal exudes just enough vapors to make us root for the deluded braggart and romantic flop of Ira Gershwin's lyric. Fine song; classic performance.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Cherry: Art Deco

Channeling the quieter side of the early Ornette Coleman Quartet, Cherry's ensemble provides more solid evidence as to the absolute magic of the Haden/Higgins rhythm section. Both Cherry and saxophonist Clay benefit tremendously by that connection. Cherry takes a long solo broken roughly into two sections: at first more tender and muted but then followed up by some gorgeous full-on swing with Haden walking as only he can. Clay follows with a gutsy, blue-soaked solo that has many echoes of both Ornette's and his own Texas past.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: Snoopy's Search/Red Baron

Fusion music has often been accused of being overly serious, of being more concerned with athletic displays of chops than the craft of composition. Don't tell that to Billy Cobham. Though he remains one of the kings of the fusion movement (electric Miles, Mahavishnu Orchestra), his Spectrum ensemble had enough of a sense of humor to funk out on this classic recording. Following the bizarre “Snoopy's Search,” essentially a Jan Hammer synthesizer freakout, the band sets out on a low groove (thank you Lee Sklar) and just burns. The great Tommy Bollin is the star here, alternating between a soulful rhythm chop and a bluesy lead squall. All of this is held down by Cobham, who sits solidly in the pocket.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: Killer Joe (1960) -- alternate review

“Killer Joe” closes “Meet the Jazztet,” an album co-led by trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Benny Golson. A pop-song-length statement of West Coast cool, it became a jukebox hit, thanks to a killer melody and a soulful, laid-back rhythm punctuated by the thick chords of pianist McCoy Tyner. You know this theme, which the horns never stray far from. You’ve heard it in the movies and on TV. The question is: Would the song have ever made it into the broad public consciousness were it not for its gimmick: the spoken-word introduction that informs us the song is in fact about a “hip cat” named Killer Joe who “likes to play the horses” and is “most certainly a ladies man”? It’s doubtful. Still, no complaints here. A great tune is a great tune.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jaco Pastorius: Portrait of Tracy

The brilliance of Jaco Pastorius is fully evident in this short track from his debut recording under his own name. Just an electric bass guitar and his searching virtuosity herald the arrival of a major talent. While his ability to lock into a groove and speak so independently in a rhythm section is well known, his solo turns often show a more probing and soulful side. His revolutionary use of false harmonics makes this much more than a low-end showcase as his compositional abilities really stand out. It is not a stretch to imagine this piece scored for wind ensemble, solo piano or in a cinematic context.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jessica Williams: I Remember Bill

No other jazz pianist of the mid-20th century more profoundly influenced his instrument than Bill Evans. Although he died nine years before the Maybeck recitals began, Evans's presence is palpable throughout this moving 4½-minute tribute, which is so engrossing, you're startled when it ends. Jazz, normally the extroverted denizen of nightclubs and bustling cities, doesn't readily lend itself to Walden Pond's quiet introspection. Thankfully, Maybeck gave Jessica Williams an unexcelled setting for looking inward, and her audience raptly follows. Some listeners may dismiss this as New Age dinner music. Let them eat fast food. We'll take caviar by candlelight anytime.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Hide and Seek

Jim Hall's compositions can appear deceptively simple. With the sparse trio instrumentation on “Hide And Seek,” the angular set of staccato passages trace out a descending path through a harmonic structure beefy enough to provide ample room for the Steve LaSpina solo to follow. Hall tours the opening theme's geography with a series of ascending, unresolved chords before dropping back into his trademark whispery comping role. LaSpina then tells a long story that proves “Hide And Seek” is no child's game.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Flaherty: Compassion Lost And Found Again

To witness saxophonist Paul Flaherty in the creation process (the concert hall) is to see a man enter into a kind of death match with his muse. Frankly, it's both inspiring and frightening. A large man with a shock of white hair and beard, Flaherty remains motionless on stage for a minute or so before launching into a high-intensity clinic on extended techniques. Running the scale from softly romantic to passionate squall, the ideas flash into the air and then explode out of his horn. It's as if his saxophone is alive. Maybe it is!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marc Ribot: Cocktail Party

Marc Ribot, guitar polymath, has a knack for dropping his twisty lines into just about any context. Whether it's rock (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), jazz (Lounge Lizards), or full-on avant sound architectures (John Zorn's “Book of Heads”), Ribot turns out work that makes it seem like the compositions were made for his guitar lines instead of the other way around. “Cocktail Party” provides a perfect distillation of his angular, funky attack. Set against a loping beat and some poppin' bass, Ribot's guitar alternates between tangled single-note passages and choppy rhythm work. Is this instrumental rock? Jazz with a pop hook and an attitude? Its own thing? Yes, on all counts.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Bemsha Swing / Lively Up Yourself

Medeski Martin & Wood, with the help of a simpatico horn section, put an extra twist on the jazz-does-pop thing with “Bemsha Swing.” Just as Steven Bernstein's trumpet solo begins to lift off, the entire band takes a left turn into Bob Marley's “Lively Up Yourself.” With that deep groove left intact, the shift into pop music feels like a completely natural extension. Leave it to this trio to find a crossroad between these two worlds that makes so much sense, the only 'correct' response is just to keep on dancing.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie & Joe Williams: Every Day I Have the Blues



                             Joe Williams by JC Jaress

In 1955, after economics had reduced him to a small combo, Basie bulked back up to 16 pieces. His so-called New Testament band, however, did not radically differ from his late-'30s Old Testament outfit, except now he had no star soloist comparable to the incomparable Lester Young. Instead he had Joe Williams, a Chicagoan with the manliest baritone since Billy Eckstine and who, unlike Mr. B., could convincingly belt the blues. With Big Joe lustily yodeling "Every Day I Have the Blues" over the band's shuffle beat, Basie at last found the elusive crossover success that would thereafter sustain him.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chet Baker: Summer Sketch

Not to be mistaken for The Rippingtons’ guitarist of the same name, pianist Russ Freeman was a mainstay of 1950s West Coast jazz. He was also a composer of small but splendid output. "Summer Sketch," among the loveliest original ballads in modern jazz, was his masterpiece. It's mainly Freeman's showcase, but Chet's fragile open horn is haunting, and Manne's restraint is telling. If you believe jazz "don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," skip this track. If, however, your jazz encompasses as much pathos as the other great arts, then this pensive, plaintive track must be heard.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Lewis: Love Me or Leave Me

How would two East Coasters (the MJQ's Lewis & Heath) match up with three West Coast jazzmen? Perfectly, thanks to most of them having Lester Young in common. Tenorman Bill Perkins was a Pres disciple, Hamilton gigged with Young in 1946, and Lewis was Lester’s early-1950s accompanist. No surprise they resurrect the laid-back swing exemplified by Pres's 1938 Kansas City Six. Bassist Heath even plays slightly on top of the beat à la rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, and Chico gets in some passable Papa Jo Jones licks near the end. Here are modernists affectionately in touch with their roots.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: Alfie

Yet another great movie theme from my youth evoking melancholy and ennui addressed by one of the great musicians/characters of his day. While Kirk may be better known for his persona and extended techniques (circular breathing and playing multiple instruments at one time), down deep his poetic take on this Bacharach/David piece is awe-inspiring. As is often the case with artists of this caliber, you hear the history of the jazz saxophone interspersed with the unique voiceprint of the individual. The band’s sensitivity is top-notch throughout with Boykins standing out in particular. Dig the trick ending!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Dream of the Elders

Starting with the opening riff presented by the leader, through the first reading of the theme from alto and vibes, this somber, understated piece grabs you. Holland’s ostinato figure leads the way, but as is often the case with this ensemble, the cooperative nature of the playing eliminates the whole idea of a "star." What soloing there is seems less like improvisation than commentary on the melody and the general atmosphere of the work. It’s a good thing!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian: My Heart Belongs to Daddy

Once again the magic of Cole Porter is transformed into a vehicle for quality jazz players to blow. This ensemble (not always with Haden) has been convening, from time to time, for over 25 years. This early outing (relatively speaking) confirms what Sonny Rollins has always known about taking on some of the less well-known gems of the Great American Songbook. Not only is there gold in them there hills but great springboards for jazz improvisation, which all these participants take on with a vibrant playfulness as well as probing the ‘outer’ edges of the tune.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Cats and the Fiddle: Killin' Jive

Here's "the pot smoker's anthem," according to Bill Milkowski's Swing It! An Annotated History of Jive (2003). Of course, we can't say, having never inhaled. But The Cats & The Fiddle's flair for twirling tiples (swollen ukuleles) and whirling bull fiddle hooked hepcats faster than they could roll reefers. "Everything will seem so funny," The Cats purr in "Killin' Jive" with a stage wink, "darkest days will seem so sunny." Given the evolution of jazzmen's preferred intoxicants from 1920s booze to 1940s heroin, the 1930s cannabis cult seems mellow as Jell-O. "Killin' Jive" is a jumpin' joint. Pass it around.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Peter Cincotti: I Changed the Rules

Cincotti opened his eponymous debut CD with a song he composed (featuring lyrics by his mom!) called "I Changed the Rules." But Mom is not the best judge of her son's talent. Truth to tell, Cincotti follows the rulebook down to the most slavish detail. He adopts the pretty boy look, the retro stylings, the slick demeanor, and the musty repertoire - everything you would need to play a jazz singer in a period movie. This is what rock-pop moguls think jazz should sound like - unfortunately they expect us to go along for the ride. We recommend that Cincotti, in his future recordings, try changing the rules.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Scott Hamilton: The Goof and I

It’s something of an anomaly for a tenor saxophonist born in 1954 to reflect the musical values of Swing Era players Lester Young, Ben Webster, and Illinois Jacquet more than those of the modernists of his own generation. But that describes Scott Hamilton, one of the most proficient tenorists around. With a superb English rhythm section, Hamilton takes Al Cohn’s “The Goof and I,” made famous by Woody Herman’s Second Herd, at an exhilarating tempo, spinning nonstop phrases with unrelenting momentum.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: Killer Joe (1960)

At the beginning of the 1960s, The Jazztet was one of the leading hard bop ensembles, due not only to its outstanding personnel, but also to the appealing compositions of tenorist and co-leader Benny Golson. Along with such Golson compositions as “Stablemates,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty,” and “Whisper Not,” the strutting “Killer Joe” has become a part of the standard jazz repertory. This first recorded performance of the tune is among the best of many.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pete Christlieb & Bob Cooper: Passion Flower

Duke Ellington’s celebrated alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges set the standard for the performance of Billy Strayhorn’s elegant ballad “Passion Flower.” Here two tenor saxophonists a generation apart, Bob Cooper, who rose to prominence during the so-called cool period of the 1950s, and Pete Christlieb, a big-toned player of more recent vintage, honor the alto master and complement each other in a bright Latin version of the classic.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Coleman Hawkins: Body and Soul

Historian Ted Gioia calls this "the most celebrated saxophone solo in the history of jazz" and "a landmark, breakthrough performance" that's been "studied by generations of musicians and is loved by countless jazz fans." Of course, not every listener will care to analyze pedagogically a musician's chordal navigation. Moreover, what Gioia describes as Hawkins's "ponderous tone" and "baroque arpeggios" assembled in "rigidly logical" construction may strike today's ears as mechanistic and old-fashioned. Even so, "Body and Soul" deserves its due. No trailblazer in tenor sax balladry cut a wider swath than Coleman Hawkins.

November 02, 2007 · 3 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Autumn in New York

During the 1950s, Dexter Gordon spent most of his time behind bars, and not the kind where drinks are served. Busted for heroin possession, Gordon appeared with other actual inmates in a Hollywood prison flick, Unchained (1955). Adding insult to injury, his sax was dubbed on the soundtrack by an anonymous studio musician. Upon his release, as if in revenge, Dexter recorded one of his most relaxed, self-assured sessions. And nobody dubbed his sinewy but sensuous sax. "If I had the wings of an angel," jailbirds have forever daydreamed, "over these prison walls I would fly." Dexter had wings.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: I Cover the Waterfront (1946, take two)

Musically, Lester Young was Coleman Hawkins in a funhouse mirror. The stolid muscleman, taking a break from harmonic weightlifting to admire his brawny reflection, sees instead a lithe minimalist doing tai chi. More conceptualist than technician, Pres liked to "tell a little story" instrumentally. "Lester sings with his horn," remarked his pal Billie Holiday. "You listen to him and can almost hear the words." Here he waits alone at the edge of the sea, scanning the horizon for his intended's return. That much is in the song. The melancholy wisdom that hoping will not make it so is in Lester's horn.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Tickle Toe – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Stardust Memories</i> (1980)

Lester Young grew up in a carnival, where he played in his dad's band and learned from the geeks it was okay to be different. Coming of age, Lester departed from the tenor sax's prevailing masculinity. With his lighter, cooler tone, he hovered angelically above the Swing Era's insistent rhythms with gliding, melodious solos that left him and his listeners poised, observes musicologist Scott DeVeaux, “to savor the pleasant ambiguities of the moment.” This track—half corny big-band clichés, half serpentine forays anticipating bop—is a fascinating glimpse of 1930s jazz dipping a toe in the ticklish uncertainties of modernism.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: You're Mine, You

Benny Golson's passionate but never blustery tenor styling was overshadowed in the mid-1950s by his compositional flair. That changed during stints with Art Blakey (1958) and The Jazztet (1959-1962), each of which gave Golson wider exposure as a player. Yet even in The Jazztet, Benny usually left the ballads to trumpeter and co-leader Art Farmer. Sometimes a musician just has too much talent to fit it all in. In any case, "You're Mine, You" proves that Benny as balladeer took a backseat to no one. A tender, touching tenor treat.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Blue and Sentimental

A year before his untimely death from heart disease at age 29, "tough Texas" tenorman Herschel Evans revealed his gentle side with Count Basie, whose band was not renowned for ballads. Herschel Evans changed that. Stepping closer to the mike than customary, Evans wraps his big, warm tone around a listener the way an affable uncle dispenses hugs, convincing each little niece or nephew that she or he is Uncle's special favorite. "Blue and Sentimental" leaves us forever grateful for the too-short visit of Uncle Herschel.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Skip Martin: Riff Blues

Man, that Mickey Spillane. Talk about your hardboiled crime scribblers! Mickey turned trash to cash faster than the mug what invented landfill, and spent it, too. Never spotted in public without which a flashy dame was draped around each arm. "Riff Blues" gets it right, with brassy bluster and silky saxes followed by a romantic interlude of flute and tinkling piano to keep the girls interested, then a big swell with kettledrums to wake up the goodfellas, all done with the slow sway of a savvy stripper sashaying down the runway. Highbrows call this ambience. Lowbrows, knowing better, call the ambulance. Either way, it's made music.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: No Happiness for Slater

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) was the best heist film since The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Singer Harry Belafonte plays a hip, blues-singing vibist who's also a compulsive gambler and aspiring bank robber. In other words, your typical modern jazzman. John Lewis's music is more pensive than pandemonium, as in this 16-bar blues tailored to Milt Jackson. It's telling that whenever Hollywood hacks ran the show, crime jazz was loud and blustery. When sophisticates such as Miles Davis, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan called their own shots, crime jazz turned as calmly calculated and coolly effective as a heist with a clean getaway.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Buddy Morrow: Staccato's Theme

Staccato (1959-60), starring John Cassavetes, eliminated the middleman between jazz and TV gumshoes. Based in a Greenwich Village nitery, pianist Johnny Staccato, like so many real-life musicians, doubled as a streetwise private eye. Elmer Bernstein's theme, recalling his earlier crime jazz classic The Man with the Golden Arm, is déjà vu all over again. Same bunco-squad tempo, jailbird shuffle beat, stiletto-in-the- eardrum trumpets and oversexed saxes. Given Hollywood's passion for formulas, which exceeded Mme. Curie's, crime jazz became so self-referential that everything started blurring together. What are you watching, dear? Mickey Spillane's Wild One With the Staccato Golden Gunn. That's nice.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Au Bar du Petit Bac

As director Louis Malle projected scenes from Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958), his film policier (released stateside as Elevator to the Gallows) about the perfect crime, foiled by imperfect luck, Miles Davis and four Parisian jazzmen sat in a darkened studio, watching Louis's loops and improvising per Miles's deliberately sketchy instructions. Most film scores take weeks to prepare and days to record. This took four hours. Trusted to work his own way, Miles repaid Malle's respect tenfold with a sparseness that accentuates the film's starkness. Most crime jazz blows you away with a bang, but Miles's hit-man silencer is equally deadly.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Russell: Bent Eagle

Jazz in 1960 was at a crossroads. Which way to go? Follow Ornette Coleman down the newly opened expressway of free jazz, sandblasted clean of musical tradition, or hazard George Russell's toll road inconsiderately littered with such obsolescent obstacles as theory, individual discipline and group cohesion. At 22, composer Carla Bley chose Russell's route. Her irresistible "Bent Eagle," at once deceptively simple and structurally complex, propels Russell and his unrenowned accomplices to a graceful liftoff and soaring flight. Sadly, most jazz artists ignored Russell's direction, careening instead down the One Way, Dead End alley of unconstrained cacophony. We prefer "Bent Eagle."

November 02, 2007 · 2 comments

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John Coltrane: Giant Steps

Jazzmen call improvisation based on underlying harmonic progressions "running the changes." Coltrane doesn't just run the changes, he dashes through, sprints past, hurdles over and vaults across them. "Giant Steps" is Coltrane's apex, the point at which all ascending lines converged. Never before had anyone played the tenor with such urgency. Yet Coltrane knew he'd reached the limits of this approach. When physicists declared light speed was an absolute, science fiction authors invented warp speed. Likewise, after "Giant Steps" Trane would go down a new track. Verily, as Genesis tells us, "There were giants in the earth in those days."

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: So What


Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

Miles Davis's 1959 sextet is widely considered the greatest musical group in the history of the universe. Yet neither the scariest lineup since the 1927 Yankees' Murderers Row nor the novelty of modal jazz can explain the enduring mystery of "So What." Derived from Morton Gould’s American Symphonette No. 2 (1938) via Ahmad Jamal’s “Pavanne” (1955), "So What" wasn't this band's first foray into modality; they'd recorded "Milestones" a year before, making "So What" a sequel, and we all know what turkeys those usually are. "So What," though, has attitude. This is the coolest hipster's shrug of all time. So what.

November 02, 2007 · 2 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Bebop

When record collector Robert Sunenblick purchased seven acetate disks from a dealer in 2004, he found – to the delight of jazz fans – that he had uncovered a previously unknown recording of Parker and Gillespie’s 1945 Town Hall concert. And, unlike most of the live bebop recordings from the period, this was a professional job, with good sound quality and no gaps in the performances. “Bebop” was the opening song of the night, and Parker characteristically shows up late, but he makes up for it with five blistering choruses. Gillespie, Haig and Byas are also at top form, while Roach stokes the fire at a breakneck pace – a 330 beats per minute tempo. Performances of this sort, which aimed to break the land speed record for jazz, scared off many swing musicians from trying their hands at the new bebop idiom. While other artifacts from the 1940s seem like quaint reminders of a bygone era, this music has not lost its edge.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray: The Chase

Bebop was an East Coast innovation, but much of the early bop tenor sax idiom was developed on the West Coast – shaped by the contributions of Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and others. “The Chase” offers the best possible introduction to the state of the tenor in the postwar period. This heated battle between Gordon and Gray evokes the late-night jam sessions of Central Avenue. Who wins? The listeners, of course, who are treated to one of the classic jazz match-ups of the era.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment

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Ella Fitzgerald: How High the Moon

This 1940 Broadway show tune became so ubiquitous in jazz that, just before Christmas 1947, Ella Fitzgerald recorded it with a small combo; the next day, June Christy covered it with Stan Kenton's big band; and Anita O'Day quickly completed the trifecta. Yet even after Les Paul & Mary Ford's 1951 #1 pop hit, "How High the Moon" was for jazz fans from 1948 onward most closely identified with Fitzgerald. Effortlessly adopting bebop's musical vocabulary to her Swing Era sweetness, Ella interpolates Charlie Parker's 1946 "Ornithology" (based on the same chord changes) and Ella-vates scat singing from novelty to high art.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano: Fort Worth

Fort Worth was the birthplace of Ornette Coleman, and this recording is an exultant birthday tribute for the avant-garde master who turned 64 a few days before it was made. “Fort Worth” is one of Lovano’s most memorable compositions, and the saxophonist shows his rare ability to combine the tartness of ‘free jazz’ with the sweet swing of the mainstream tradition. His lines push and pull against the drone harmony, and engage in a telling dialogue with Harrell’s horn. Many great performances have graced the stage of the Village Vanguard, but this top-notch outing by the Lovano quartet ranks among the finest.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: Conception

The luminous Shearing Quintet of 1949-51 shone most brightly on refashioned standards taken at medium or slow tempos, but George's penchant for boppish originals such as "Conception" provided a welcome change of pace. This group was as remarkable demographically as musically. For one thing, it was racially integrated (40% black) in an era of few mixed groups. For another, its vibist was female, and no slouch; dig her swinging turn abetted by drummer Best, whose brushwork rivaled Caravaggio. Shearing, though, was his own star soloist, masterfully at ease with both single-note and block-chord techniques. Fans loved this group. Rightly so.

November 01, 2007 · 1 comment

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Max Roach: Valse Hot (1957)

Max Roach waltzes with Sonny Rollins again a year after they'd twice recorded "Valse Hot" at more plodding tempos. At first glance, the antiquated waltz form seemed as out of place in modern jazz as a plushly appointed, horse-drawn carriage clopping around the Indy 500. But this combination of hip and hoary proved surprisingly compatible. The band is thoroughly at ease with the metrical mutation, for which the leader gets special credit. Roach's timekeeping is steady as a grandfather clock and as swinging as its pendulum. Bright and tuneful, "Valse Hot" sparkles like the blue Danube following a spring rain.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: La plus que lente

During the mid-1950s, Gerry Mulligan expanded his famous pianoless quartet to a pianoless sextet, allowing a return to the Birth of the Cool chamber orchestral ambience for which Mulligan had been largely responsible. The sextet's pièce de résistance was a transcription of Debussy's waltz for piano "La plus que lente" (1910). Gil Evans's arrangement, however, is neither waltz nor "more than slow" (title translation), but a tango, which was all the rage in 1910 Paris. True to the French Impressionist spirit, Mulligan and Evans make "La plus que lente" a ne plus ultra of modern jazz. Monsieur Claude, meet Messrs. Cool.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ray Bryant: Splittin'

Miles Davis, who took credit for everything, claimed he originated "trading fours" (4-bar exchanges between soloist and drummer) as Charlie Parker's sideman in order to keep the oft-nodding Bird awake. Apocrypha, however, suggests a nonmusical, 19th-century origin. Traveling salesmen, called drummers because they beat the drum for their merchandise, engaged haggling customers in spirited, often jocular exchanges called "trading-for's" that were relished by participants and onlookers alike and first set to music by Jelly Roll Morton, who really did invent everything. Anyhow, with Specs Wright nimbly closing the deal, Ray Bryant's "Splittin'" has the most irresistible trading fours we know.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: The Preacher

"I can't stand the faggot-type jazz," Horace Silver fumed to Down Beat in 1956, "the jazz with no guts." He didn't name names, but insinuated West Coast jazz, then at high tide. Homophobic Horace's alternative was funk, which to hipsters meant earthiness. Despite its title, "The Preacher" was funk incarnate, a down-to-earth, backslapping, goodtime Reverend with fire but no brimstone. Surprisingly, given his missionary masculinization, Horace was born not in a barrelhouse but in Norwalk, Connecticut—founded in 1640, rebuilt after the British torched it during our Revolutionary Unpleasantness, and renowned for oysters. Horace Silver was Norwalk's funkiest pearl.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cy Touff: Keester Parade

In addition to its witty title and hummable melody, Johnny Mandel’s “Keester Parade” offers a full-sounding small-band arrangement and laid-back blues solos by cool tenorist Richie Kamuca, a veteran of the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton orchestras, Harry “Sweets" Edison, a former Count Basie trumpet star, the peripatetic West Coast pianist Russ Freeman, and the leader himself, who performed on bass trumpet as a member of the trombone section of Woody Herman’s Third Herd. Leroy Vinnegar’s booming bass anchors the proceedings.

November 01, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charlie Parker: Now's the Time

One of my favorite moments teaching musicians at the annual Stanford Jazz Camp was a longstanding workshop tradition: the “Now’s the Time” communal jam. At a preordained time, classes and instruction stopped and all the participants – no matter where they were inside the hallowed halls of the Department of Music – played or sang Parker’s “Now the Time.” I’m not sure whether program founder Jim Nadel saw this as a tribute to Bird, or just a grand joke on everyone else in the music building – probably a bit of both -- but he maintained the peculiar tradition every year. Nadel could not have picked a better song. This timeless riff sounds like a primal blues, as old as the hills. Forcing the students to learn it – which we did, every year -- was an important part of their jazz education. Parker’s recording remains a classic, and his playing here demonstrates that his modernism did not involve a rejection of the past, but rather a return to first principles, which Bird respected in shaping his own novel vocabulary and musical structures.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder

From his 1961 debut with Chico Hamilton, Hungarian émigré Gabor Szabo was an iconoclast. At a time when most jazz guitarists used hollow-body electrics with conventional tuning, Szabo played an acoustic instrument with open tuning and pickups for amplification. This enabled his distinctive style built around drones or pedal points—a single tone (usually the tonic or dominant) sustained or repeated in the bass— above which he layered solos of exotic, raga-like entrancement. Backed by Latin percussionists, Szabo's Hungaro-Cuban "Spellbinder" suggests Columbus may have found a short route to India after all. This benevolent spell fades away much too soon, but is binding to this day.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

During a 1964 Playboy panel discussion, Cannonball Adderley contemplated jazz's economic predicament. "There is an audience out there now, a sizable audience. But you have to play for it." As good as his word, Cannonball never failed to reach an audience with his urbane but populist funk. His biggest hit, recorded boisterously live in 1966, was "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," a deep-dish, down-home gospel tune surprisingly written by Adderley's white pianist. "When Joe plays on a record," said Cannonball, "I defy a layman to determine his race." When Cannonball plays on a record, we defy anyone to resist his grace.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Blossom Dearie: I'm Hip

"I'm too much," proclaims Blossom. "I'm a gas." We wholeheartedly agree, but the subject of her song is another matter; the lady doth protest her hipness too much, we think. Her fate is sealed when she pleads, "Bobby Darin knows my friend." Recorded live before a swinging '60s London audience, "I'm Hip" is proof that most would-be hipsters lead lives of hilarious desperation. It's also proof that lyricist Dave Frishberg is in a class with Ira Gershwin. As for Miss Dearie, she concludes this loving lampoon with a scatted quote from Birth of the Cool's "Budo." How hip is that?

November 01, 2007 · 1 comment

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The Puppini Sisters: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

The Andrews Sisters' chirpy WWII hit about "a famous trumpet man" drafted into the Army to "blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam" is here redone by a London-based non-sibling retro trio who sing rings around poor LaVerne, Maxene & Patty, may they rest in peace. The Puppini Sisters, their record label assures us, "have earned quite the celebrity following," including "members of The Royal Family." We had no idea English royalty was that hip; they certainly weren't back in King George III's time. The intentionally funny and seriously talented Puppini Sisters may lure us back into the British fold after all.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Ventura: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Charlie Ventura's late-1940s "Bop for the People" campaign featured smooth unisons blending tenor sax and trombone with the voices of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. Here a relic waltzed by World War I doughboys with gals who loyally waited for them is bopped in the aftermath of World War II. "I'm forever blowing," sing Charlie's angels Jackie & Roy, "be-de apa-da boo-ba-da bub-bles." If this sounds like Porky Pig's "That's all, folks!" so it was. In 1949 Variety reported that "Bop is a flop." To regain an audience, 1950s jazz vocal groups would have to scrap the scat and revert to, of all things, words.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker & Russ Freeman: Love Nest

On radio during the 1940s and TV in the '50s, comedians Burns & Allen closed each show with cigar-toting George telling his ditzy wife, "Say goodnight, Gracie." To which she'd respond, "Goodnight, Gracie." You hadda be there. Anyhow, Chet Baker crisply swings their theme song as proof that Miles Davis's closely miked, Harmon-muted trumpet style worked at fast tempos as well as on ballads. Pianist Russ Freeman (no relation to The Rippingtons’ guitarist) steadfastly insisted to naysayers that, uneven as Chet Baker could be, when he was on there was nobody better. In "Love Nest," Baker was ON. Say goodnight, Chet.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: There is No Greater Love

In 1955, Miles Davis made the Harmon-muted trumpet his signature. Too bad a sound cannot be patented the way John Stratton (inventor of the mute in 1865) did his brainchild. Miles would've made a mint. Of course, Miles made a mint anyway, so let's not get softhearted. As for reconciling Miles's Harmon-muted romanticism with his misogyny and pugnacious persona, a phalanx of psychoanalysts commanded by Doktor Freud himself would shrink away with their diplomas between their legs. Miles's 1969-1971 pianist Keith Jarrett asked him why didn't play more ballads such as "There Is No Greater Love." Miles replied, "Because I love them too much." So do we.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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James Blood Ulmer: Lonely Woman

Before James Blood Ulmer turned himself over to the blues (which admittedly was a strong part of his playing all along), he was the man of guitar harmolodics. On this track from Ulmer's Ornette tribute album, Ulmer takes that winding Coleman melody and discovers all manner of unexpected side turns. This is especially true toward the end of the piece when Ulmer's increasingly frenetic guitar excursions become commingled with Jones' basslines. Surely not surprising for a tune driven by harmolodic theory, but still a fine example of what this unconventional approach has to offer.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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James Blood Ulmer: Revelation March

It's difficult to find a good textual definition of harmolodics. Maybe that's because it's best described without words. On “Revelation March” the collective improvisation takes several forms. Tacuma and Denardo Coleman's rhythm section launches into a double-time sprint while Ornette is content with a more solemn pace (though not without the occasional burst). Ulmer's guitar, with both knotty chords and twisty solo passages, provides a bridge between the two. When all three quartet components suddenly veer off in the same direction, it becomes apparent that there are some like minds camouflaged beneath the chaos.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Babs' Three Bips and a Bop: Oop-pop-a-da

First, Newark-born Lee Brown morphed into turban-clad Ram Singh to chauffeur matinee idol Errol Flynn around Hollywood. Then, as zoot-suited Babs Gonzales, the ex-driver authored his scholarly Be-Bop Dictionary and History of its Famous Stars (1947). Finally, hoping to become one such Famous Star, the loony lexicographer formed Three Bips & A Bop, whose "Oop-pop-a-da" includes the immortal refrain "Ye-didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'dudily-a'didily- a'dudily-a'la-d'la-la." Babbling Babs's cheerful wackiness never quite caught on, and his book is long out of print, but as far as we're concerned, Babs Gonzales is one of bop's Famous Stars. Besides, are there any other kind?

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Either/Orchestra: Red

Let it never be said that Russ Gershon's Either/Orchestra plays it safe. From suites infused with the spirit of Ethiopia to covers of pop standards, this modern ensemble brings new meaning to the word 'eclectic.' This version of the King Crimson classic preserves the atmosphere of the original while actually expanding on some of the emotions – the brooding center section seems even darker with coloration provided by all of those extended chords. When guitarist Michael Rivard turns it up during the transformation back to the main theme, the collision of the horns and electronics gives more than proper due to the Crimson gestalt.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie & Stan Getz: Exactly Like You

This all-star session brought together two of the period’s leading performers, who normally ran in different circles. Although tenor saxophonist Stan Getz was associated with the 1950s cool school, he always played with a hearty sense of swing, so he and hot bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie go together well. The superb Oscar Peterson Trio, augmented by pioneer bebop drummer Max Roach, constitutes their nonpareil rhythm section.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Rowles: Lullaby of the Leaves

In addition to playing in the bands of a who’s who of jazz, pianist Jimmy Rowles served as accompanist for such singers as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee, and Mel Tormé. Rowles was known for great sensitivity and harmonic sophistication as well as for a comfortable sense of swing. His personalized harmonization of the standard “Lullaby Of The Leaves,” accompanied by bass alone, is a treat for the ears.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Crazeology

In 1946, after strolling naked through his L.A. hotel lobby, then igniting a fire while smoking in bed, Charlie Parker was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for six months. In 1954, following two suicide attempts, he was evaluated at New York's Bellevue Hospital as an "evasive personality with manifestations of primitive and sexual fantasies associated with hostility and gross evidence of paranoid thinking." Who better, then, to explicate "Crazeology"? There's just one problem, Doctor. This track shows an engaging personality with manifestations of advanced, fully contextualized creativity associated with camaraderie and refined evidence of audacious thinking. Sometimes even paranoids have enemies.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anthony Braxton: Composition 67 (+147 +96)

"Composition 67 (+147 +96)" comes from the majestic (yet out of print!) Willisau set. Beginning with a "sound environment spiral," the listener might be reminded of Steve Reich as the tightly wound group ostinato slowly devolves with the players shifting away from unison. What follows can almost be thought of as an aural parlor trick. The composition unwinds, layers are added – and things make more sense. By the time Braxton has switched from flute to contrabass clarinet to sopranino, with Crispell and Hemingway simultaneously maintaining the pulse while adding commentary, and with Dresser framing everything in - the complexity that has taken over makes perfect sense. Amazing stuff.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joey Baron: Scottie Pippen

Does humor belong in music? Sure, in Frank Zappa's world, but what about jazz? When a unique trio of drums, tenor, and trombone is doing the talking, the answer is an enthusiastic “yes.” This high-spirited romp of tangled lines and jaunty rhythms starts out with Baron laying down an athletic Hawaii 5-0 groove over which Eskelin and Swell squawk at each other like two angry birds of prey. Loads of fun. Also, the perfect counterexample to the idea that free play must be overly serious and academic.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: Main Stem

DC's Duke Ellington and Brooklyn's Terry Gibbs deserve to be honorary Mainers. After all, Maine's motto Dirigo ("I lead") fits Ellington and Gibbs in excelsis, albeit in different ways. Whereas Duke herded cats— finicky, skittish, unreliable—Terry was an Iditarod musher, pointing his team of slavering dogs through gale-force winds across icebound trails. Their objective, however, was the same: to swing you madly. Reviving Duke's "Main Stem" (1942), Gibbs spotlights Ms. Moran, himself, Perkins and Candoli in a riffing blues as relentless as lobstermen fishing off the Georges Bank. Do not get in their way. (And remember: no clams allowed.)

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: Nose Cone

At first, a rocket ship's nose cone contained only scientific instrumentation. Later, small laboratory mammals, gradually increasing in size and intelligence, rode into orbit. Finally, realizing the age-old dream of human spaceflight, Al Cohn's "Nose Cone" blasted off with none other than Terry Gibbs and his 16 Swingers aboard. A decade before being tapped by Francis Ford Coppola to play The Godfather's Michael Corleone, lead trumpeter Al Porcino (that's not him?) boosts Terry's crew into the stratosphere swifter than an Atlas rocket. Maini's manic alto, Lewis's state-of-the-art drumming and Gibbs's feverish enthusiasm ignite a band as combustible as liquid oxygen.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ben Webster: In the Wee Small Hours

Nobody's balladry differed more from his up-tempo style than Ben Webster's. On jump tunes, Big Ben growled and snarled like a ravenous rottweiler mistaking your leg for lunch. On ballads, he turned as breathy and fluttery as a butterfly's sigh. (They don't?) Anyhow, this pensive late-night plaint introduced in 1955 by Frank Sinatra is best heard as you lie awake alone with an antique clock quietly ticking in the background while the rest of the world is fast asleep. "When your lonely heart has learned its lesson," goes the lyric, "that's the time you miss her most of all."

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stanley Turrentine: Someone to Watch Over Me

Nowhere is nonpareil audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s renowned "Blue Note sound" more distinctive than on ballads. Besides its fundamental tone, every musical pitch resonates higher sounds called overtones. When you hear the aura of overtones crisply radiating around Stanley Turrentine's tenor, you understand what made Van Gelder unique. No non-musician played a greater role in birthing so many stellar jazz recordings. That said, Turrentine's tenor is still the star. It's just that Stanley's star shone brightest among Van Gelder's galaxy in far, far away New Jersey.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Walkin'

Following his Birth of the Cool obstetric triumph, Miles Davis ceased to be a factor in jazz's development. The sharp-as-a-tack hipster became a sprawled-in-the-gutter junkie who disgusted even his own father. In 1954, having kicked heroin, Miles returned, determined "to take the music forward into a more funky kind of blues." Soundman Rudy Van Gelder's reverb adds to the back-alley ambiance of this leisurely 13½-minute stroll, which had a twofold importance. Funky blues gave East Coasters a visceral alternative to cerebral West Coast jazz, and "Walkin'" heralded the resurrection of a charismatic figurehead. Our hero was back in the game!

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Four Freshmen: It's a Blue World

Recognizing Americans' notoriously weak math skills, The Four Freshmen were among many 1950s male vocal quartets to helpfully provide a headcount in their name (e.g., Four Aces, Four Coins, Four Knights, Four Lads, Four Tunes). The Freshmen never more than flirted with jazz, but added occasional jazz flavor to the pop charts when that was rare. Still, nothing in their earlier output predicted this celestial serenade, the first and finest of their hits, with harmonies recalling mentor Stan Kenton's trombone section. Does hair grow in Heaven? We ask because, at their best, The Four Freshmen sounded like Heaven’s barbershop quartet.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Fallout

On his two albums of Peter Gunn music, Shelly Manne's streamlining was to Henry Mancini's hulking originals what California hot rods were to their Detroit assembly-line progenitors. Not merely an esthetic improvement, but reconstituted vehicles for individual expression. Manne doesn't just redo Mancini's material, he rethinks it. "Fallout" is a salient example. Victor Feldman's mallets were all over Mancini's music, but always on vibes. In those days the marimba was a rara avis, being spotted only on field trips to exotica. But Feldman's playing is striking (ouch), as he interlaces with Shelly's trademark melodic tom-toms for a crime jazz safari to Shangri-La.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: I Could Have Danced All Night

Five months after My Fair Lady's Broadway premiere, André Previn was tapped to turn the Edwardian-era musical into modern jazz. He'd moonlighted for years playing jazz piano, but Previn's day job scoring MGM soundtracks demanded meticulous preparation and split-second timing. Now he'd have to fashion on-the- spot arrangements of material he'd never before touched. Not to worry. Just as Professor Henry Higgins transformed a Cockney flower girl into a duchess, Previn, Manne and Vinnegar transmuted Broadway's common metal into jazz gold. Manne even effectively uses his tambourine, an instrument normally banned by statute from modern jazz. By George, they've got it!

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Stella by Starlight

"Stella by Starlight" is from Victor Young's film score for The Uninvited (1944), about a music critic and wannabe composer who takes a cut-rate house in the English countryside only to find that it's haunted. The female poltergeist trails a scent of mimosa, a plant whose leaves fold out when touched—much as Miles Davis let down his guard when touched by the Harmon muse. Here, Miles, Trane and Evans shadow Young's haunting melody the way mimosa trailed the specter, with goose bumps guaranteed as Davis's lead-in dissolves to Coltrane's solo. "Stella" is as spine-tingling as any cinematic ghost story.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: I'll Never Smile Again

Like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard did not make Harmon a habit, but when he used the mute his affinity was apparent. On this Swing Era leftover (a #1 hit in 1940 for Tommy Dorsey courtesy of Frank Sinatra's vocal), Hubbard shows his familiarity with Harmon's history via an uncanny resemblance to Chet Baker on "Love Nest" (1956). Freddie also displays admirable adaptability for a 24-year-old, jelling with musicians a decade older and vastly more experienced. Neither Evans nor Hall was renowned for hard swinging, but here everybody cooks with gas thanks to firebrand Philly Joe. They make us smile again and again.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Conception

Covering George Shearing’s original for his debut as a leader, Bill Evans incorporated the extended structure by which Miles Davis had disguised "Conception" (1949) for Birth of the Cool's "Deception" (1950), yielding an adroit composite that might've been called "Con/Deception." Evans would not win the Down Beat Jazz Critics New Star Award for another two years, but with this track alone blew past about 4,000 competitors on the jazz piano roster. Unfurling long, intricate contrails of single-note runs that turned abruptly to spiral off on alternate headings, Evans combined a deft touch, dazzling technique and vigorous swing. Essential Evans.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry Mancini: Peter Gunn

For TV's hip private eye Peter Gunn (1958-1961), its producer demanded a “distinctive element to invest the series with something extra.” Enter the Klepto Kingpin of Crime Jazz, composer Henry Mancini. Just as Willie Sutton robbed banks because "that's where the money was," Mancini pilfered jazzmen such as Count Basie because he saw dollar $igns. For the show's theme, Mancini also filched Claude Thornhill's French horns and rock 'n' roller Duane Eddy's twangy guitar. In turn, Eddy himself had a hit cover of this tune, but for a truly smoking "Gunn," check out blues-rocker Roy Buchanan's six-string live-wire act.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Harold Land: The Fox

This may be the hottest hard-bop track ever recorded on the West Coast. Butler drives a blistering tempo at close to 400 beats per minute. At this pace, Elmo Hope’s chart is almost impossible to play. Yet the band clings together for dear life and charges ahead fearlessly. Land, who helped define the hard bop sound while with the Brown-Roach Quintet, offers up one of his most driving recorded solos. But then comes Dupree on trumpet sounding like the Angel Gabriel announcing Judgment Day. On the Scoville intensity chart for jazz solos, this one ranks somewhere north of the habañero. Can you play hotter than this? Not without melting the grooves on your LP.

November 01, 2007 · 1 comment

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Otis Taylor: My Soul's in Louisiana

Otis Taylor has been claimed by the blues world, but jazz fans should not miss this dynamo performer who works a groove like a man possessed. Taylor's great recordings of the last few years were almost lost to us. He retired from the music scene in 1977, shortly before his 30th birthday, to focus on selling antiques. But his return to the studio a quarter of a century later resulted in the acclaimed release White African (2001), and set the stage for sold-out concerts and follow-up recordings. This is potent music, one foot in the swamp and another giving you a kick in the pants. Don't pass on this artist - Taylor is the real deal.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Theme from <i>I Want to Live!</i>

I Want to Live! (1958) is the true story of three lowlifes who, after murdering a disabled widow during a botched robbery, are executed in San Quentin's gas chamber. This intentionally ugly film about the sordid lives of revolting people in seamy settings is the cinematic equivalent of being dunked in a vat of slime for two squirmy hours. Moviegoers must've begged I Want to Leave! The only reprieve was an all-star jazz combo smokin' onscreen in a smoky Frisco bar and, for a standalone album, reprising the bluesy theme featuring Shank's atmospheric flute, Mitchell's lyrical bass and Mulligan's fulfilling baritone. Great jazz; grim movie.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Festive Minor

Received wisdom has long held that Gerry Mulligan's 1958-1959 quartet with Art Farmer was superior to his original pianoless quartet with Chet Baker because Farmer was a better trumpeter than Baker. Certainly Art's assurance on 1959's "Festive Minor" puts to shame Chet's fumbling on Gerry's 1957 "Festive Minor." What this overlooks, however, is Mulligan's maturation as a baritonist. Never a threat to musclemen such as Harry Carney and Pepper Adams, by the late '50s this lanky redhead was no longer a 98-pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face at the beach. Now Gerry did his own quiet kicking.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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