Louis Armstrong: Chinatown, My Chinatown

Louis Armstrong's path-breaking recordings from the 1920s get most of the attention from jazz experts. But the trumpeter's recordings from the early 1930s include many of the finest performances of his career, and deserve to be far better known. Satchmo starts off this track with some lighthearted banter, and he won't let you forget that he is an entertainer as well as a jazzman. But there is no shortage of artistry here for those who listen. He dishes out one of his finest vocals, relaxed and off-the-cuff, but also full of swing. Then he follows up with a bravura solo, spiced with plenty of high notes. He had just turned 30 a few weeks before this date, and was at the top of the jazz world, unchallenged by any serious rival. A great moment for Armstrong, and for us to savor years later.

April 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Five Peace Band

Floating Point is John McLaughlin's latest musical adventure. Recorded in India, it features many of that country's finest young musicians. McLaughlin affectionately calls them the "young lions of India." He is quick to point out that this is not an album of Indian music. It is a jazz-fusion production. Though certain Indian musical elements are present because of the nature of the cast, McLaughlin wrote Western music and that is what is being played. All the performances were recorded live in the studio except bassist Feraud's, which were later overdubbed.

"Five Peace Band" is introduced by the skittering organ sounds of Louiz Banks and the kinetic percussion of Barat and Sivamani. McLaughlin and zitarist Kumar double-up on the energetic theme. Kumar's zitar, an electric sitar, has a fascinating sound. He is able to stretch the strings past the limits of their tensile ratings. The electrification of his instrument also gives it a melodious sustain to die for. Feraud adds a long impressive solo in the tune's break. Throughout the piece Kumar and McLaughlin go at it toe to toe. Their volleys are explosive. "Five Peace Band" is an exhilarating jazz-rock rave-up that opens yet another door of opportunity in East meets West collaborations.

Meeting of the Minds is an elucidating companion DVD on the making of the album. Viewing it will give you much insight into the album's recording process and the social and cultural flow taking place as each Indian master is introduced to the material. It would be good to view it before you listen to the music for the first time.

April 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nicholas Payton: Chinatown

Nicholas Payton, hailed by some as a young lion of jazz trumpet, takes a fresh approach in this offering. Predominately blues-based, Into The Blue is true to its name. "Love Theme from Chinatown," as originally titled, was the centerpiece of Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score for Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) starring Jack Nicholson. The soundtrack featured a memorably haunting trumpet solo played brilliantly by the underrated studio musician Uan Rasey with orchestration.

Nicholas Payton unabashedly takes on this challenge and confidently navigates the song's bittersweet sensibilities, creating a sensuously delicious mood of sultry, slow-steamed blues blended with the mystery of a Raymond Chandler novel. Conjuring up a shadowy back alley, Payton luxuriates in the mood with a deeply evocative tonal range that remains sparse yet elicits great feeling. No technical gymnastics here, just a soulful sound reminiscent of Terrence Blanchard's best scores. The subtle rhythm backing is marvelously in keeping with Payton's sensitivity, a quality too rarely displayed by today's trumpeters. Payton shows great savvy in choosing such subtle but penetrating music that somehow has been overlooked by others. It makes a wonderful vehicle for his artistry.

April 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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Nicholas Payton: Fleur de Lis

After deliberately establishing the beat with Gilmore's clear and sustained cymbal and snare work on the opening, the liquid, languid lines of Nicholas Payton are featured on this self-penned composition. Payton creates an otherworldly feel by squeezing the barest breath of sound out of his sparse and deliberate trumpet musings. Hayes's lightly keyed Fender Rhodes adds to the ethereal quality as Gilmore, Archer and Sadownick effortlessly keep the rhythm moving. It is Payton's deliberately stylized sound that is spell inducing in its floating quality and lack of sensationalism. The music has a trancelike effect, keeping you in a groove that is both comfortable, lyrical and at the same time probing and textural. This laid-back approach by no means lacks appeal. The music coddles you into its own transfixing cocoon in a most enjoyable way.

April 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans (with Zoot Sims): Funkallero

This tune always brought out a different side of Bill Evans. Even Evans seemed to realize it. He would pull out "Funkallero" when he needed a gritty jam-session tune, suitable for horn players. He took pride in how tenorist Zoot Sims was inspired by these changes on this version, and Evans relied on "Funkallero" on several occasions when the pianist joined forces with Stan Getz. Sims's solo is masterful, but Evans follows in a driving, hard-bop groove that may surprise you. If you think that Bill Evans was only worth hearing on dreamy ballads, check out this track.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Don't Blame Me

This track may not be as well known as Bird's version of "Embraceable You," recorded a few days earlier, but it still ranks as one of Parker's finest ballad performances. Miles tackles the intro, but the altoist takes center stage with an opening chorus that barely touches on the melody. Parker handles this song with such effortless mastery and with so many melodic ideas flowing from his horn that anything the other musicians might add would be anticlimactic. Miles makes the smart decision, and follows the leader with an understated solo that looks forward to his cool stylings of the next decade. Somehow this track gets left off the "greatest hits" compilations, but it may be the closest thing we have to a definitive alto sax treatment of the Jimmy McHugh standard.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dick Wellstood: Fast as a Bastard

Exhibit A: A disturbing photograph on the back of this CD's jewel case. The tuxedoed Mr. Wellstood stands next to a piano, arms upraised, holding a baton in a conductor's pose, staring down at the tuxedoed Mr. Davern. Mr. Davern is on the floor, legs splayed, almost in a split, one hand tucked behind his head and the other holding a soprano saxophone to his mouth, said instrument pointed upward at Mr. Wellstood. Mr. Davern in this pose resembles a piece of garden statuary, or perhaps a snake charmer.

Exhibit B: "Dick Wellstood and His All-Star Orchestra" is in truth composed solely of Mr. Wellstood and Mr. Davern.

Exhibit C: "Fast as a Bastard" is a danger to other musicians, even though it is based on "Jubilee Stomp" by the esteemed Mr. Duke Ellington. The rapidity with which Messrs. Wellstood and Davern perform the melody and improvise is excessive, despite the technical dexterity and enthusiasm displayed. Other musicians could be injured attempting to duplicate this, and casual listeners could also suffer severe physical reactions. The title itself is crude, to say the least.

Summation: In conclusion, members of the jury, the prosecution asks that you find the defendants guilty on all four counts: drollery, frivolity, deception, and recklessness. Thank you, Your Honor.

Verdict: We the jury find the defendants NOT GUILTY on all charges. Mr. Wellstood and Mr. Davern are world-class musicians, and are only doing what they know best. Also, the Great American Art Form, jazz, is not so grave as to discourage a modicum of humor – it helps to keep the music fresh. Lastly, the title is an accurate depiction of what transpires during their impressive performance, although it is agreed that you should not try this at home. That is all, Your Honor.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Abdullah Ibrahim: Water From an Ancient Well

This CD's careless packaging is unfortunate. If not for the interior notes, you might not learn from the jewel case – except for a mention in mice print on the back – that this is Abdullah Ibrahim's "Ekaya" group, one of the most significant if short-lived bands of the 1980s. Nor would you glean from the personnel list that trombonist Dick Griffin, a forceful soloist and integral to Ekaya's overall sound texture, is even a participant.

All that aside, the CD features some of Ibrahim's most noteworthy compositions. Only on the title track, however – all of 12 minutes long – does the group get to stretch out and fully show what it was capable of in a concert or club setting. From Ibrahim's enclosed poem:

          water from an ancient well
          oh beautiful Africa
          that's where I'll always dwell

Ibrahim's piano leads off with a gospel-flavored solo meditation, followed by a beautifully harmonized treatment of the hymn-like theme by the horns and flute. The solos by Davis, Griffin, Ford, Ward, and Williams, in that order, are each highly expressive, emotionally charged and craftily developed. The reprise of the theme is elevated by Griffin's improvised commentary over the melody. Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder (so what else is new?) for faithfully capturing Ekaya's sound. LP or CD, Rudy was the undisputed master.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Hicks: Lush Life

Some believe that the only version of "Lush Life" they'll ever need is that of Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane. However, Strayhorn's early masterpiece is so elegantly constructed and exquisitely lyrical that it cannot help but inspire other memorable renditions. One such comes from John Hicks on his Strayhorn tribute CD. Although no stranger to solo piano (hear his "Live at Maybeck Recital Hall"), he usually fronted a trio, as elsewhere on this noteworthy session.

Hicks characteristically examines every nook and cranny of "Lush Life," exploring artfully its harmonic potential and unfailingly making the right choices regarding chords, embellishments and grace notes. His deviations from the melodic line are subtle, tasteful, and fresh, and his enhancements overall only further expose the rich beauty of the tune. Hicks was a brilliant pianist, eminently comfortable playing anything from a standard to a free piece, and deserved considerably more recognition than he ever received during his lifetime. "Lush Life" will forever remain a strong testament to his ability.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gene Ammons: Hittin' the Jug

There's nothing better than hearing Gene Ammons play a slow ballad, except perhaps for a slow blues like "Hittin' the Jug." Tommy Flanagan's lilting, if not particularly earthy, piano intro does not prepare you for Ammons's entrance. It's a deceptively simple blues line repeated several times, but the way Ammons slurs the drawn-out second note makes it all his own from the start. Then the tenorman's distinctive vibrato and big sound sweep you away. His long testifying solo combines both bluster and soft sighs, with short exclamations that gradually evolve into more extended outbursts. Bassist Doug Watkins somehow manages to follow Ammons with his own insinuating statement before the leader returns to definitively reiterate the theme.

This track is from the first of no less than 22 recordings Ammons was to make between 1960 and 1962. From 1958 to 1960, and then again from 1962 to 1969, Ammons spent most of his time in prison on drug convictions. The ardency of his blues performances in the early '60s no doubt reflects this rough period in his life. King Pleasure's lyrics for "Hittin' the Jug" (which he renamed "Swan Blues") may have said it best: "Goodbye, you know I hate to leave you baby, but I'm leavin' anyway."

April 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Meddy Gerville: Barmine

When you first hear Meddy Gerville, you are not sure exactly what to make of his music. His sound is a rare combination that at first seems familiar yet upon further listening defies simple categorization. His voice is in itself an accomplished instrument, a hint of Milton Nascimento with a touch of Al Jarreau. His compositions are both refreshingly joyful and surprisingly complex, with Joe Zawinul and Weather Report being a likely influence. A native of Réunion island, a French territory in the Indian Ocean with one of the world's most ethnically diverse populations, Gerville is a talented pianist, composer and vocalist, and has recently collaborated with such master musicians as monster drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez and former John McLaughlin bassist Matt Garrison, who have been drawn to Gerville's unique musical patois.

On "Barmine," Meddy Gerville's vocals are on full display. His ability to dancingly sing in his native Réunionnaise, a dialect of French, in such rapid Brazilian-style phrasing is most impressive. Accompanied by an able rhythm team, Gerville's piano solo is both inventive and steeped in the jazz tradition. This song keeps you tapping your feet throughout. The rhythms are Afro-Brazilian centric, but somehow that description doesn't quite do them justice. The Réunion islanders who are born of multiethnic backgrounds call themselves Creoles, just like the natives of New Orleans. Perhaps this is the new Creole music, but I believe it is more aptly described as true "World Music" of the highest order. In this worthy offering by a talented artist from a remote part of the world, Meddy Gerville has embraced the jazz idiom to create his own musical gumbo that deserves to be savored.

April 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Meddy Gerville: Di Amwin

As new CDs arrive in my mailbox almost daily, they are usually accompanied by promotional materials explaining the album, listing the personnel and in general giving the potential reviewer background material on the artist, his past work and the theme of this new project. Much to my surprise, Meddy Gerville's latest release came to me in a plain brown envelope with a sleeved CD that had minimal information and to top it off it was all in French! You might think this would be detrimental to the artist getting a fair shake from a reviewer not based in Paris or Montreal, and you would be right – except in this case the music was so unusual and distinctly talented that it forced me to find out exactly who this Meddy Gerville is and what he is trying to communicate with his music.

It turns out Gerville comes from Réunion island, an outpost that lies east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. If anyone doubts the far-reaching and amazingly uniting force the jazz tradition has around the world, they need only listen to this compelling offering from the talented islander. It turns out Réunion is a veritable melting pot of ethnicities mixing French, Portuguese, African, Malayan, Indian and Chinese. The native born are coincidentally called Creoles, and Gerville skillfully conglomerates the multiethnic influences of his environment with rhythmically based music that keeps the melodic and harmonic sensibilities of the jazz tradition firmly in its grasp.

On his composition "Di amwin," Gerville's silky and lilting voice traverses the changing complex beats, dancing effortlessly in time over the changes à la Milton Nascimento. His keyboard is both accomplished and tasty and in perfect sync with his formidable vocal talents. I have no idea what he is saying, but that is hardly the point. His music is joyful and entertaining, combining elements of fusion with the execution of a virtuoso. If ever anything could be correctly called World Music, then surely this is it. With the rhythmic center maintained by a talented group of collaborators, Gerville's piano and vocals create a musically delicious feast. This is a voice and talent that will surely be more widely heralded.

April 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert: Part I

Have you seen the YouTube clip of Keith Jarrett haranguing yet another of his audiences, in this case at Umbria in 2007 and for the minor infraction of daring to take his picture with their flashing little cameras? It is cringe-inducing just to view the video. I can't imagine being a member of that audience who has paid for a ticket and then has to be dressed-down like that. It is extremely rude. On the other hand, I think if I attended a show and Keith was perfectly behaved I would feel cheated in some bizarre way.

"Part I" is part one of a masterpiece of improvisation that took place in Köln, Germany. Any description of this music that does not contain the word "inspired" is a lie. Those people who complain about Jarrett's random vocalizations can go to hell. They are as much a part of his technique as are his hands. This composition, improvisation really, engages the mind and the spirit from the first note to the last. There is not much more that you could say about it.

In my own experience I have found most artists to be lacking in some other area of life. This could exhibit itself as a lack of common sense or business savvy, an inability to clean his or her house, balance a checkbook or maybe they can't chew with their mouth closed. Nature always seems to find a balance. It giveth and taketh away. It certainly blessed Keith Jarrett with a musical mind that is second to none. But nature decided to withhold couth from Keith. The result is that he can be an asshole to his own fans. I'll take the tradeoff.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carl Orr: Miles of Miles

Australian jazz guitarist Carl Orr has toured and recorded with Billy Cobham, among others. But he has many fine projects in his own name, including Mean It, his third outing as leader. He decided to focus on highly electric jazz-funk music filled with plenty of improvisation.

On the tribute cover "Miles of Miles," the rhythm section of Armstrong, Gander and Lincy lay down a neck-bending groove. Love's organ funks things up. By the time Orr shows off his considerable chops, we are already quite deep in the muck. Bikovsky's trumpet expounds Miles's late '60s period – just about the time Miles was leaving straight-ahead for fusion. Orr and Bikovsky participate in some melodic call and response as the tune fades. Their boots, now stuck in the mud, must be left behind.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louie Bellson & Clark Terry: Chicago Suite 1 – State Street Swing

When I was a kid, Merv Griffin and his aging buddies were always telling audiences that the Big Band era was coming back. I got tired of it. Who the hell wants to hear that ancient swing music again? Years later when I was in college and a bit wiser, I was invited to go see Duke Bellaire's big band at Bovi's in East Providence, RI. The drummer had such fine sidemen as Dick Johnson, Hal Crook and Ted Casher. To be truthful, it was really the first time I heard "swing." Damn. That stuff can lift you up and take you away! I didn't know what I was missing. Economics prevent a real comeback, but it is always a treat to hear a good big band. When that band is led by two legends, it's even better.

So I pick my favorite tune from this latest release only to discover that neither Louie Bellson nor Clark Terry plays on it. Bellson did write it, though, and Terry is there in spirit, so here goes. "Chicago Suite 1 – State Street Swing" is arranged by the old Tonight Show's sometimes bandleader, the late Tommy Newsom. It does indeed swing. Tenor man Steve Guerra is the main soloist with Kenny Washington's drums providing plenty of power. But, as with most jazz big bands, it is the ensemble playing of the horn section that really creates the full-blown swing phenomenon. You can almost feel the air come shooting out of the speakers.

Merv Griffin and guests such as Benny Goodman, Les Brown and Woody Herman were wrong. The big bands never came back. But now I don't blame them for wanting it to be so. Recordings such as this one are the next best thing.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: All the Things You Are

Bireli Lagrene could easily have been typecast as "that Gypsy guitarist who sounds like Django." After all, he was winning praise and international contests for his Django-like playing before he was even a teenager. But he was an artist who wanted to reach beyond his knowledge. After meeting such jazz greats as Larry Coryell and Jaco Pastorius, he went jazz-fusion. Yet another side of Bireli is heard on the standard "All The Things You Are."

While Lagrene is at home with the total jazz repertoire, his acoustic playing retains an undeniable Gypsy element. On this cut he goes acoustic, but thanks to Koono's electric keyboards the piece has a modern jazz-rock feel. Lagrene's swing and seamless improvising would sound great at the Hot Club or at any other club in any era.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg Group: Look

Never expect the expected from Hellborg. It is one of the reasons he is one of the more fascinating bassists from the last few generations. It is also one of the reasons he is not better known. You can't keep going against the grain all the time and expect commercial acceptance. It's tough enough to get publicity just being a bassist. But Hellborg keeps pushing beyond the parameters. "Look" is a perfect example.

Long before this album's release, Hellborg had been showing the listening classes that electric bass guitar could be put to more use than just for the basics. Stanley Clarke and other bass progenitors had proved the instrument could be a melodic center and carry a tune very well, thank you. But Hellborg took the bass into exotic locales. He was a gear head who tinkered with its sounds and harmonics to make his music Indian, Middle Eastern, Nordic … you name it.

On "Look," Hellborg decided there was not enough bass in the music! He added Anders Nord on a bass of his own. Twisted harmonics open the tune. Thudding machine-gun riffs come at us double-barreled. Hellborg plays a bass solo as fast as John McLaughlin plays guitar. Salazar keeps the ammo coming. We are transported for a brief moment to the pyramids. The bullets fly again. We must find a place to hide. Quick, behind the Sphinx!

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Dance of the Infidels

The presence of Bud Powell alongside Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter makes this an often-overlooked yet essential Jazz Messengers performance. After a suddenly starting, rough presentation of the melody, the soloists are off and running, and the jam-session nature of this recording makes these solo statements long, creative and intense. Fine, vigorous solos are played by Wilen, Morgan and Shorter, but the sure highlight here is the education Bud Powell provides the three aforementioned "youngsters" with an extended tour-de-force solo. Note how energized all the musicians seem, especially Morgan and Blakey, during the fours that directly succeed Powell's solo.

April 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Brubeck Brothers: Good Question

You already recognize the last name, but I would much prefer to play this track for you on a blindfold test. The first thing you would notice is the stellar rhythm section -- clean, crisp swing with great interaction between the players, and a very smart use of space. Sometimes guitar and piano clash in a small combo, but not with DeMicco and Lamb, who show how these two instruments are supposed to work together. And the same can be said for the Brubeck brothers. Dan Brubeck's drumming is a revelation, and not just with his solo at the end of the track. Some serious fraternal camaraderie is going down here. This song deserves a double dose of radio airplay.

April 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jon Irabagon: Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley was not only a great basketball player, but a popular interview subject too -- mostly because of his tendency to spout off frank and surprising things in front of a microphone. The same is true of Jon Irabagon's ensemble on this track named in Sir Charles's honor. The sound palette shifts unexpectedly at several junctures during the course of a 12-minute track. Sometimes the separate musical voices play at cross purposes, and at other moments they join together for dramatic composed passages. For most of the track, the band members maintain their allegiance to the Free Jazz aesthetic, but toward the end they offer up the biggest surprise of all: cool, steady swing in 4/4 time. This track is not for the fainthearted, but check it out if you are in the mood for some ear-stretching experiences.

April 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Marilyn Scott: Every Time We Say Goodbye

Jazz fans may find it hard to track down a copy of this recording, only available on Japanese import. But it's worth the effort. Scott has surrounded herself with a great band, and she is singing at top form. The rhythm section offers the gentlest of cushions to her heartfelt vocal, and Peplowski shows he could make his mark in the world if he just focused on tenor sax. We have heard many versions of this Cole Porter standard over the years, but this is a welcome addition.

April 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Jordan: A Place in Space

Stanley Jordan has always been difficult to classify. Depending on who you ask, he is a novelty act, a crossover threat, a guitar genius. . . . Take your pick! Probably the most common descriptor pegs him as the guy who plays guitar like it's a keyboard. Jordan's 2008 release State of Nature won't make it any easier to pigeonhole this artist. The opening track, "A Place in Space," starts with an easygoing trio groove and a melody reminiscent of "Milestones," then moves into a Zappa-esque interlude for contrast. The guitar solo is tasty, until the 4-minute mark -- when all hell breaks loose. The band shifts into double-time, and Jordan now dishes out everything from polytonal licks to jagged rock lines, stopping just short of free jazz pandemonium. If the label was hoping for airplay on the smooth jazz radio stations, Jordan just torpedoed those plans with this very anti-smooth attack. When he returns to the main melody, with its light swing, it's almost like he is commenting ironically on everything that came before. But the overall performance is nothing short of brilliant -- a wild ride from this mercurial player.

April 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stanley Clarke: Desert Song

Fusion fans have always been an open lot. While many jazz fans would never accept the new fusion sounds, fusion fans themselves were open to jazz from the very beginning of the jazz-rock movement. Sure they loved to have their eardrums assaulted and their insides vibrated to the loudest and fastest. But they were also quite patient and appreciative of musical virtuosity. And those fusion fans who took the time to learn where fusion was coming from started going back and listening to the old jazz records to obtain a foundation for what they were now digging. That's how I started. It is this open mindset that allowed fusion fans to enjoy a tune such as this.

Performed acoustically, "Desert Song" is the antithesis of a stereotypical jazz-rock piece. Clarke begins with some slow, low bowing atop McLaughlin's minor comping chords and circular arpeggios. As Clarke moves up the neck, the melody becomes more intense. McLaughlin develops a mantra-like riff that will permeate the rest of the song. The two take impressive solos, with Clarke now bowless and McLaughlin playing his scalloped fretboard guitar allowing him to bend notes as on an Indian vina. Clarke again picks up his bow as he and McLaughlin reprise the hypnotic riff, kept company by Holland's sparse percussion. "Desert Song" may not lift fusion-heads out of their seats screaming, but it sure would satisfy their need to be in communion with instrumental virtuosos.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mitchel Forman: Just Ideas

I wish I knew what it was like to take an instrument and create music from whole cloth that was able to move people to deep contemplation. It must be such a rush. I do know what it is to be one of those so moved. It is why I listen and why I write. Mitch Forman is one of those gifted musicians placed on this planet for me to listen to and write about … and for you to read about.

"Just Ideas" is a gentle investigation of the sadness and longing in people's lives. It is constructed simply with the ideas that come to Forman while seated before the keys he knows so well. The signals from his brain tell his fingers the right pressure to use and when and where to precisely use it. His finger memory already knows what his mind knows. There is no delay between thought and action. It is pen-on-paper stuff at a level so advanced and magical that it will never be understood. It isn't just Forman who has this wonderful and mysterious talent. And it isn't just musicians. But he is exceptionally good at it. This music tells us that everything will be all right in the end. This we know because Forman has reassured us with a depth of emotion that few artists possess and are able to convey.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mitchel Forman: Very Early

It's no secret that I consider Mitchel Forman one of the most underrated jazz pianists of the last 25 years. He has spent formative time playing with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter and other important artists. But his true musical worth is best found in his projects as leader. He is an extremely gifted technician, a wonderful composer and possesses a musical mind that produces some of the most interesting improvisation I have ever heard. He is also well aware of his influences and finds time to honor them.

Forman takes Bill Evans's lovely waltz "Very Early" on an aggressive jaunt. His block chords develop a substantive theme that leads to a swing approach of a tune that Evans most often played as almost a fragile lullaby. Importantly, Forman is joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both pivotal players in Evans's trios. This trio attacks the piece with an energy that connotes their true respect for Evans. They are putting out. At one point, Forman and the band do tone things down a bit to play with some of that fragility I mentioned earlier. But they quickly return to the faster tempo. I suppose these three could have played "Very Early" much in Evans's style. But what would be the point of mimicry? A better tribute is to take the man's tune and create from it. This they have done.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paco De Lucia: Alta Mar

In the early '80s, when Paco De Lucia started delving into jazz, many flamenco connoisseurs were unhappy with the latter music's most famous guitarist. Flamenco has a long and proud tradition. And just as classical aficionados don't like it when somebody messes with their music, flamenco purists perceived De Lucia as a traitor to their great traditions. But music must grow.

As part of the two Guitar Trio groups featuring John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and later Al Di Meola, De Lucia learned how to integrate more chord changes and improvisational jazz skills into his music. Flamenco's greatest guitarist became an even better-rounded player capable of taking a group on the road to play superlative music that covered the jazz, Latin and flamenco idioms.

The intro to "Alta Mar" was written by John McLaughlin based on the theme from his tune "David." De Lucia plays it with grace, as supportive comments from the enraptured crowd interrupt to provide an extra layer of texture. The playing that follows turns spatial for a measure or two before Benavent's echoing electric bass heats things up. Some impressive unison runs with the percussionist ensue. The transition to full ensemble elicits a great cheer from the crowd. Paco's fingers are going a kilometer a minute. Pardo's saxophone soars over the flamenco, jazz and funk mix. This music demands that you yell at it. A rousing finale thrills the transported audience.

Today we hear flamenco combined with jazz, reggae, blues and many other musical forms every day, and think nothing of it. It took musicians as curious and brave enough as Paco De Lucia to make it that way.

April 23, 2008 · 4 comments

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Brad Mehldau: O Que Será

If you see the title "O Que Será," and you start thinking about Doris Day singing "Whatever will be, will be" . . . well, maybe you're on the wrong web site. Mehldau always has a knack for heralding songwriters that other jazz musicians don't cover, and here he highlights a song from the great Brazilian tunesmith Chico Buarque. (If you haven't heard Buarque's version, you should check it out on the stellar -- if little known in the US -- release Meus Caros Amigos.) Mehldau's trio resorts to none of the stale samba or bossa tricks, but craft a comfortable, loping rhythm which underscores a probing piano solo. A solid effort from a seminal band.

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: The Very Thought of You

This 13-minute version of the Ray Noble standard, recorded at the Village Vanguard in October 2006, starts out as an introspective trio ballad. For the next six minutes, Mehldau and company stay close to the original harmonies and the pianist impresses with his fresh improvised lines. But midway through the track we encounter one of those surprising shifts that have become a specialty of this artist. Bass and drums fade out, and Mehldau moves outside the framework of the song's form and familiar progression. Although Mehldau has sometimes been compared to Bill Evans, this long interlude is almost the antithesis of Evans. Instead of long, loping right hand lines above crisp comping chords, we find booming, bellowing harmonies supporting a minimum of melodic development. The nexus of energy shifts to different points in the keyboard, and the level of intensity gradually rises. The last seven minutes are not really the same song as the first six – at least not from any precise musicological perspective. But there is a metaphysical linkage, a certain spirit that connects the two ends of the track. This is not just a novel approach to improvisation but a challenge to our very sense of jazz structure. You can't really compare this to jazz precedents. It sets its own.

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Remember Shakti: Luki

"Luki" is as close as John McLaughlin would ever get to playing on a pop song. Of course, the tune is an Indian pop song, so what else would you expect?

The core members of the group Remember Shakti invited many of India's finest musicians to join them for two evenings of concerts, one of which was preserved on Saturday Night in Bombay, Grammy nominated for best World Music album. Many of these performers had grown up in the Indian musical tradition but were quite influenced by McLaughlin's and Hussain's seminal '70s Indo-jazz band Shakti. This made them ideal for an Indian-jazz improvisational get-together.

"Luki" includes plenty of frenetic and catchy hooks. Shankar Mahadevan raises his expressive voice in unison with the melodic instruments. McLaughlin and Bhattacharya engage is some impressive calls and responses that represent the jazz element in this highly regimented piece. Mahadevan dominates the middle section with syllabic singing in counterpoint to the rhythms from a boatload of gifted Indian percussionists. The joyous opening riff, at home in any Bollywood movie, returns to bring the short tune to an end.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mike Stern: Swunk

"Swunk" is a lowdown swinging blues funk. "Swunk." Get it? Stern can really play the hell out of the blues, as confirmed by his manipulation of the slow blues-tinged opening notes of this piece. He squeezes every last drop out of them. After tastefully dispensing with the misleading theme, Stern plays a staccato run that leads to the funk aspect of the program. Brecker comes on like gangbusters. His funkiness comes in short bursts. Often he is doubling with Stern, which lends a swinging syncopation to his contribution. Stern eschews the basics in his fusion-driven solo. Stern and Brecker then go at it tooth and nail. Chambers provides a strong backbeat. (What else is new?) Of particular interest is Lee's walk-and-pause bass. It is as if he is walking, but every few beats has to stop to see who is behind him.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Drew Gress: True South

Just what the jazz world has been missing . . . more covers of John Philip Sousa's tunes. But you will be so busy listening to "True South" (loosely -- very loosely -- based on "The Stars and Stripes Forever") that you may forget to stand up and march. Taborn starts off with a solo piano melody statement that has more Ives and Monk moodiness in it than March King élan. But every couple of minutes this song shifts gears. In mid-performance, the band opts for an AACM free-for-all before switching, toward the close, into some unexpected electronics, courtesy of bandleader Drew Gress, sort of a soundtrack for Sousa as musical captain for the starship Enterprise. Most songs end up where they start out, but this one moves through about 100 years of musical history, without ever looking back.

April 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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Metro: Lolo Shuffle

"Lolo Shuffle" is the album's first cut. Mitchel Forman's minor block chords and Haffner's unrelenting thrashing get this show on the road precisely on time. Strangely, though, this performance is presented out of order from the actual live shows. In concert it was the last song of the first set, as evidenced by the band's announcement that they were taking a break. That live positioning is important because it gives you a sense of the nature of the piece. It is an upbeat driving number virtually devoid of any stretching out or exploration. It gets right to the point of making your head nod up and down to the waitress, informing her you want another drink. Forman's compositions are always engaging, and it doesn't hurt when they are being played by such a stellar outfit as Metro. These guys know how to get off the stage in style.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: In a Sentimental Mood

After Hours may finally have satisfied Sarah Vaughan's detractors. In an intimate setting with just guitar and bass accompaniment, Vaughan subtly embellishes the melodies throughout, with commandingly controlled tone and vibrato, limiting the glissandos that some saw as mere vocal tricks or acrobatics. Discerning listeners could still enjoy the way she emphasized certain words, or even just syllables, to enhance the meaning of the lyric and/or the beauty of the melody. In any case, in the early 1960s Vaughan was clearly coming into her own as a mature and complete jazz singer.

With the understated yet substantial support of the tasteful Lowe and Duvivier, Vaughan glides lovingly through "In a Sentimental Mood," picking her spots for improvisation, singing "every kiss" repeatedly to great effect, and toying with the word "divine" in each chorus, hitting a resonant bass note the first time around. She ends her interpretation with a wordless mini-coda, strikingly intoned. Vaughan's three short years as a Roulette recording artist were artistically superb, and After Hours may have been the high point. Whether she reaped much financial benefit is another story. She and other Roulette artists complained about the lack of royalties, among other problems.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Garzone: We Don't Know Why

The Fringe has been prominent on the Boston jazz scene since its formation in 1972. Garzone and Gullotti were founding members, while Lockwood joined in 1985. Although jazz educator Garzone now teaches in both Boston and New York, while fellow teachers Gullotti and Lockwood are based in the Boston area, they still manage a weekly gig in Boston, and sometimes play together in New York as well as internationally at jazz festivals. Despite Garzone being nominal leader here, this has always been a cooperative venture.

The Fringe freely tills the fertile soil between hard bop and avant-garde, but often with an emphasis on spiritual modal workouts inspired or written by John Coltrane, pieces they consistently perform with great emotion and flair. "We Don't Know Why" is evocative of late-period Coltrane, what with Lockwood's insistently strummed bass and Garzone's repeated exclamations and incantatory upper-register wails, the tenorman's staccato phrases interspersed with free-falling extended lines. Lockwood's concise solo is both fluent and passionate. Garzone returns with thrusting outcries before giving way to Gullotti's fiery solo, his crisp stick and bass drum patterns artfully combined. Garzone's provocative closing statement is spurred on by more of Gullotti's energized drumming, shades of Elvin Jones at his most intense. This is the kind of spur-of-the-moment improvisation that The Fringe performs live at double or triple its 5-minute length here, always totally captivating and a prime example of their outstanding musicianship and rapport.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Waltz for Debby

If you have not yet heard The New Crystal Silence, or have not attended one of their recent duet concerts, you might suppose that after 35 years of playing together, Chick Corea and Gary Burton could not raise their level of performance any higher. You would be wrong. Burton: "The performing we have done over the past year has been our best." Corea: "The tours we've done over the past year are my favorites." From their playing of Corea's tunes with the Sydney (Australia) Symphony Orchestra on the first of their CDs, to their duet selections on the second CD, these live recordings mark a significant milestone in their careers.

Recorded at a small concert hall during the 2007 Molde Jazz Festival, "Waltz for Debby" is given an extraordinary, flawless interpretation. Burton's incisive, quick-tempoed reading of the theme, and his unrestrained yet sharply defined improvisation, gushing with limitless creativity, are awe inspiring. Corea's nuanced support, and his own melodic, dancing solo, balance out this virtuosic, harmonically sophisticated masterpiece. A must hear!

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clifford Jordan: Arapaho

In the 1980s, one of the best bands to catch live in New York City was the group periodically led by Clifford Jordan and Barry Harris, which included the drummer on this track, Vernel Fournier. Those who didn't consider Jordan a bebop player were surprised by his skill and panache in the style, perfectly in sync with quintessential bop pianist Harris. "Arapaho," co-written by Jordan and Harris, is a thinly veiled takeoff on "Cherokee." Fournier announces the piece with a Native American war-drum pattern, and then plays imaginative fills as Jordan delivers the theme. Jordan's unique, always immediately identifiable sound, at once both breathy and throaty, is insinuating. He avoids the usual bop clichés in his solo, his swirling lines blended with deep honks, upper-register squeals and bluesy riffs. O'Connell, who was Jordan's regular pianist for six years, creates an intriguing solo of his own, with an appealingly light touch and assured, propulsive phrasing. As for Fournier, his delicate cymbal work contrasts with an otherwise aggressive attack in which he occasionally drops heavy bass-drum bombs. His lucid solo is typical of him, dominated by a workout on tom-toms and easily followed by the listener as Fournier sticks closely to the thematic material in his development. Jordan inserts part of the original "Cherokee" in the closing reprise, on the off chance that the audience at Ethell's might include some true squares.

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Aisha

In this haunting McCoy Tyner ballad, one of the surprisingly few that Coltrane ever recorded, we find him in his transitional period. He is moving from the Atlantic label to the new Impulse label, where he will realize unprecedented freedom to play in his extended modality. On this, his final Atlantic recording, he has an unusual lineup that includes the young and mercurial Freddie Hubbard – borrowed from Blue Note and playing some of his finest trumpet – and an incognito Eric Dolphy on fiery alto, under the mysterious pseudonym of George Lane. This provides Coltrane with two additional voices to punctuate any musical statement he cares to make, along with a solid rhythm team of bassist Reggie Workman and an unusually subtle Elvin Jones on drums. The probing, always searching Coltrane is uncharacteristically subdued, his moaning tenor lead setting up the memorable melody for a scant two minutes before yielding to Hubbard's solo. Freddie for his part can barely restrain himself, starting out slowly and gradually bursting into a soon-to-be-patented Hubbard flurry of notes with unleashed passion. An equally provocative alto solo from the sometimes jagged Dolphy shows a beautiful and lyrical side to his playing that is quite moving and perfectly in keeping with the piece. Composer/pianist Tyner then moves center stage, laying out the melody in a flutter of exquisitely executed runs that never fail to surprise.

When Coltrane returns to repeat the melody line, his restraint is admirable for a man who is quoted in the liner notes as saying, "I like to play long…" He seems to be following his instincts here, deferring to an inner awareness that, in the company of other voices with something equally intriguing and original to say, he doesn't have to say it all by himself. On this occasion, his instinct serves him well. His fellow musicians are allowed to shine and create a mood that is both sinuously sensuous and honestly heartfelt. Coltrane's lyrical mastery and his uncanny ability to evoke the sound of human longing from his horn capture the essence of this song in a tight and extraordinarily economical way. A subtle masterpiece!

April 21, 2008 · 2 comments

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Santana: Incident at Neshabur (live, 1973)

This album's Buddha artwork cover reflects Santana's immersion into what was then for him a new spiritual life. At the time, his friendship with John McLaughlin was leading him and his music in that direction. Both men considered spirituality and music to be one and the same. A month after this concert, Santana was on the road with McLaughlin, supporting their album Love Devotion Surrender.

"Incident at Neshabur" first appeared on Santana's 1970 album Abraxas, but this treatment is more jazz-fusion in character. It begins the way any Santana jam did back then. Ingratiating Latin-tinged guitar and organ riffs propelled by Latin percussion dominate the introduction. Kermode plays a pleasing and familiar Santana-band trademark B-3 organ solo, after which things get more interesting. Santana's new jazzier and more technical musical personality emerges. The commercial hooks are dispensed with. He is effusive, tossing in quotes from "My Favorite Things" and "Afro Blue" as nods to Coltrane. The Japanese fans evidently have no clue. When he quotes the Beatles' "Fool on the Hill" a few minutes later, however, in a beautifully quiet section, they erupt into applause. (The fans, not the Beatles.) For the tune's coda, Santana plays the theme from the beautiful traditional hymn "Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord," which appeared on Love Devotion Surrender. Lotus is a very successful album that marked the transition of a musician. "Incident at Neshabur" is its apex.

April 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rosey: Who Am I

When I looked at the advance copy of vocalist Rosey's new album, Luckiest Girl, my first thought was to quickly dismiss any music that may be on it. As a reviewer, I had been down this road many times before. You can't fool me by putting a beautiful woman on the cover and telling me she is a unique talent who has decided to try her hand at jazz. I know better. This was just another clever way to jam some Smooth Jazz down my throat. (Pardon me while I gag.) Then I played the CD. Oops. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was dead wrong.

Imagine a voice that is a mix of Fiona Apple and Rickie Lee Jones, and sometimes Astrud Gilberto, and you will have a close approximation of what Rosey sounds like. It is an expressive instrument that many singers would be jealous of. On top of that, she wrote much of the impressive jazz material on the album. At this point, I really am feeling ashamed of my preconceived notions.

The wonderful "Who Am I" is a bossa nova. Rosey possesses the ideal voice, inflection and attitude to carry this off, as if she were in the company of Jobim or the "father of bossa nova," João Gilberto. The beaches of Ipanema are strewn with the failed coronations of would-be bossa nova queens from over the years. Rosey is worthy of wearing the genuine crown if she wishes. In 1964, this would have been a hit. Let's see if today's music fans have enough taste to make it one now.

"Who Am I" represents only one of many jazz styles on the album. Rosey is among the freshest new jazz vocalists heard by these ears in quite some time, and appears to have great potential. We are lucky to have this Luckiest Girl.

April 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Refuge

This opening track from Andrew Hill's Point of Departure LP may not have made as much money for Blue Note as its other hits from the era -- such as "The Sidewinder or "Watermelon Man." But make no mistake, this is one of the defining moments for the Blue Note sound. Hill clearly understood the label's hard-bop tradition, as he demonstrates on this music, but his album was also (as its title states) a point of departure. It mixes old-style hard swing with an incisive probing attitude that seems to want to break free from the constraints of the music, but never really lets go. This paradoxical combination may be an even more powerful influence today than when this album first hit record-store bins. The front line of Dolphy, Henderson and Dorham share the bandleader's vision, and every solo on this 12-minute track furthers the composition's relentless, aggressive ambiance.

April 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Dusk

This project was initially spurred by Hill's re-creation of the instrumentation from his classic 1964 Point of Departure release for a 1998 jazz festival. However, when the band went into the studio, it didn't worry about resurrecting 1960s jazz -- instead it produced one of the finest examples of close-of-the-millennium American music. The tone on the 12-minute title track is dark and moody, but also leisurely and introspective. This is Andrew Hill at his best, and a perfect realization of the unique muse of an artist whose formative experiences spanned everything from [Earl] Hines to [Paul] Hindemith.

April 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Fran-Dance

Miles Davis's celebrated appearance at 1955's Newport Jazz Festival had marked his official comeback (meaning the jazz press finally caught up with reality) from what Miles himself called a "four-year horror show" of heroin addiction. Miles actually got his act together in 1954, as evidenced by his influential recording of "Walkin'." But taking center stage at Newport earned him jazz's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Now, three years later, the Approved Good Housekeeper returned, leading a sextet that many now consider the greatest small combo in jazz history.

Regrettably, when Bert Stern filmed his feature-length documentary of the '58 NJF, Jazz on a Summer's Day (released 1960), he shot no part of Miles's performance. "Personally," Stern explained, "I didn't like Miles Davis. He's too far-out for me." Yet while Stern's glib paraphrase of Arthur Godfrey's 1947 hit "Too Fat Polka" ("I Don't Want Her, You Can Have Her, She's Too Fat For Me") may have explained Miles's omission, that hardly excused it.

Certainly there's nothing far-out about "Fran-Dance," Miles's 4/4 reworking of "Put Your Little Foot Right Out," a childlike waltz from the Hollywood movie San Antonio (1945). Five weeks after the same group's better-known and frankly superior studio recording of this tune, Adderley and Evans solo to advantage, but Coltrane overloads his Sheets of Sound turn with pointlessly fleet finger exercises. Even so, wouldn't it have been wonderful to see this group on film? As missed opportunities go, Bert Stern's dismissal of Miles Davis as "too far-out" must rank among the most blockheaded decisions of all time. I'd like to Put My Little Foot Right Up Bert Stern's Arriflex.

April 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ray Charles: The Spirit-Feel

Ray Charles

In 1958, R&B demigod Ray Charles appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival among such other big-name non-jazz performers as Chuck Berry and Mahalia Jackson, all part of impresario George Wein's habitual attempt to attract customers who couldn't care less about jazz. Yet as shown in film- maker Bert Stern's feature-length documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day, neither Berry nor Jackson tried to blend in with any honest-to-goodness jazz artists who may have accidentally found their way onto the bill. Doing "Sweet Little Sixteen," Chuck Berry remained as oblivious to the Swing Era stalwarts reluctantly backing him as they were unhelpful to his rock 'n' roll. And the sole connection of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's reverential "The Lord's Prayer" to jazz was as an inadvertent reminder of trumpeter Harry James's famous quip that, appearing with Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1938, he felt like "a whore in church." Miss Jackson at the NJF must've conversely felt like an abbess in a brothel.

Ray Charles, by contrast, unwisely adjusted his act to suit his surroundings, which perhaps explains why he's not in the movie. "The Spirit-Feel," a jazz tune, was first recorded by its composer, vibist Milt Jackson, on Atlantic Records in early 1957, but was not covered on either of Milt's subsequent collaborations with Atlantic's superstar Ray Charles: Soul Brothers (1957) and Soul Meeting (1958). Nevertheless, Charles saw fit to present it at the Newport Jazz Festival, where presumably at least some infinitesimal segment of the audience might actually know how a jazz number is supposed to sound. In Charles's hands, "The Spirit-Feel" becomes a ragged warm-up exercise. Absent a trombone, the horns in Ray's R&B septet have no midsection, and it shows. The soloists, excepting tenorman David "Fathead" Newman but including Charles himself on alto sax, are at best amateurish. Simply put, this band had no business playing jazz. When you go to a hoedown, you oughta dance with the one what brung you.

April 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Prima Bara Dubla

Whole careers, it was said, could be rejuvenated with a single triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival. Case in point: Duke Ellington in 1956. Never mind that, far from languishing in the doldrums before causing a sensation at Newport that year, Duke had grossed, according to the ever-materialistic Time magazine, between $500,000 and $700,000 annually, with his sidemen collecting "the highest pay in the business." Despite its untruth, the myth of a faded star magically rehabilitated amidst Newport's sea air, trees, history and haut monde set journalists to salivating like Ulanov's dogs (not to be confused with Pavlov's pooches, who wouldn't have known Duke Ellington from the Duchess of Windsor).

Following Duke's 1958 NJF appearance, Columbia Records tried to make lightning strike twice by issuing mostly in-studio retakes, plus overdubbed canned applause, a technique with which they'd successfully duped consumers two years before. Thankfully, for the 2007 reissue of Newport 1958, Mosaic Records restored the undoctored retakes sans phantom audience, and coupled them with six live tracks actually recorded at Newport. Among the latter, "Prima Bara Dubla" stands out.

In 1958, jazz's two most significant baritone saxophonists were unquestionably Harry Carney, longtime heart of Duke's nonpareil sax section, and Gerry Mulligan, who'd helped Miles Davis give birth to the cool and subsequently spearheaded the early '50s West Coast Jazz phenomenon. Pairing the two saxophonists in a new Ellington/Strayhorn piece composed expressly for them was one of those inspired ideas not even Columbia Records could botch.

Ellington & Strayhorn wrote to each baritonist's strength, capitalizing on Carney's low-note majesty and Mulligan's upper-register mastery, although both men play equally well across the bulky horn's entire range. Guest stars didn't always mesh well with Duke's band, and one-off festival arrangements were too often throwaways. But throughout his career, Mulligan demonstrated not just an eagerness to play with jazzmen of earlier generations, but an uncanny ability to fit in with them without sacrificing his own essential modernism. And of course, even a one-off festival arrangement is likely to be memorable when the names Ellington/Strayhorn adorn the score.

"Prima Bara Dubla" is a droll, lilting, mostly two-beat treat that sinuously showcases Harry & Gerry but also makes deft use of the full band. It's a worthy addition to the discography of either Ellington or Mulligan. To the dual discography of Ellington and Mulligan, it is joyfully unique.

April 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Bennett: Nancy (With the Laughing Face)

When I was a young man I drove across the country and ended up in San Francisco. Just as I parked and started walking around, a buzzing crowd began to assemble. It turned out that my buddy and I had arrived at the very moment they were bringing the famed cable cars back into service. We were smack-dab in the middle of the dedication ceremony. The next thing I knew, Tony Bennett was on a makeshift stage about 75 feet away from us. Then, with the damn Golden Gate Bridge itself as a backdrop, the great crooner sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"! That was one surreal moment. Years later, I would have another opportunity to appreciate Bennett's greatness, sitting ten feet away from him and the Ralph Sharon Trio as they performed at a business event. These occasions hold a very special place in my memory, and based upon them I approach Bennett's recordings with the knowledge that, like any great artist, he is even better than you think he is.

Bennett worshipped Frank Sinatra. When he recorded Perfectly Frank, Sinatra was perfectly alive. The album is more thank-you note to his friend than homage. With one or two exceptions, Bennett covers some of Sinatra's lesser-known tunes. Without exception, he sings them like Tony Bennett. This is the highest compliment to Sinatra and the composers who helped make him a legend.

The touching ballad "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)" was written in 1944 by Jimmy Van Heusen and comedian Phil Silvers for the fourth birthday of Sinatra's daughter Nancy. Bennett could not have chosen a more meaningful and personal song from Sinatra's songbook. Tony's version is every bit as touching as the original. His dulcet voice cracks at times, but they are the right times. If this wasn't Sinatra's song about his daughter, it would belong to Tony Bennett.

April 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Jump for Joy

As part of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival's salute to Ellington, the Dave Brubeck Quartet presented six tunes associated with the Maestro, plus Dave's own tribute "The Duke" (1954). The younger pianist was a natural choice to honor his idol. As a student in the early '40s, Brubeck had finagled his way backstage to meet the Duke, but was so awestruck in the Maestro's presence that he couldn't utter a word. Ironically, by the time of this recording, Brubeck's fame rivaled Ellington's. Indeed, Dave's 1954 breakthrough on the cover of Time magazine predated Duke's belated appearance in that coveted spot by two years—much to the chagrin of Brubeck, who insisted Duke deserved the honor first.

Dave's set kicked off with the title tune from Ellington's flop 1941 musical revue. Considering that "Jump for Joy" was not in their regular repertoire, the Quartet's awkwardness is understandable. Desmond in particular seems ill at ease, producing an occasionally herky-jerky solo lacking the luster of silk-merchant Johnny Hodges on Duke's original. Brubeck, perhaps because of his deeper feeling for Ellington, better conveys the spirit of "Jump for Joy." Eugene Wright, by this time the Quartet's steady bassist, was for some reason replaced here by Joe Benjamin. Not to fault the latter, but he does not jell with drummer Joe Morello the way Wright did, much less the way Duke's rhythm team of Jimmy Blanton and Sonny Greer meshed. Overall, this track is a congenial tribute to Ellington, but unrepresentative of the 1958 Brubeck Quartet at its finest.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thom Rotella: Who Dat?

Close your eyes and listen to the first track on the new Thom Rotella 4-Tet album Out of the Blues. The single-line guitar opening followed by deftly played octave work brings you eerily back to the giant of cool, smooth, swinging jazz guitar Wes Montgomery. This is not Kenny G "smooth" by any means. It is almost what one would expect of Wes had he stayed with us. Guitarist Rotella is no stranger to Smooth Jazz, having plied his formidable studio chops on many a familiar if not immediately identifiable song; he has also worked extensively for various film and commercial endeavors. Here, however, he returns to his jazz/blues roots, backed by musicians who have in common once having worked with the great Nancy Wilson. Rotella's uncanny resemblance to Wes Montgomery is not mimicry but homage of the highest order. His rapid single-line attack also strongly suggests another clear influence, the young George Benson. While the blues format can sometimes lend itself to predictability, this music is thoroughly enjoyable, thanks both to everyone's obvious virtuosity and to Thom Rotella's inventiveness in saluting his influences while retaining his own voice.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thom Rotella: Bluze 4 Youze

The blues is an idiom that instantly attracts most people, despite a variety of musical tastes, by its inherently visceral pull on our emotional center. When a talented group evokes these feelings by playing the blues, most people empathetically swing their heads and tap their feet. That is how I respond to this track. Driven by the laid-back but always present saunter of drummer Roy McCurdy and bassist Luther Hughes, Thom Rotella easily maneuvers the mellow but bluesy sound of his semi-hollow guitar to extract just the right amount of heartfelt feeling. A nicely placed solo by Llew Mathews on the ivories is adroitly soulful. Rotella's single-line playing has fluidity with a touch of Benson to it. His octave playing is in this instance Wes-inspired but clearly all Rotella. Luther Hughes's bending basslines during his solo lend nicely to the funky nature of this blues bouncer. It's good to hear the cool school of guitar blues, so well represented by such elders as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, still alive and well with Thom Rotella.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rave Tesar: The Vision

When reviewing the endless stream of self-promoted new jazz releases, it's always rewarding to discover some previously unknown (at least to this reviewer) deserving talent. In You Decide, we have such a noteworthy event. Rave Tesar is joined by his brother Bill on drums and bassist Kermit Driscoll for this straight-ahead album of all-original material. Together these three make some beautifully thought-out and wonderfully executed music. Rave is apparently the trio's driving force, and his compositions are both interesting and kinetic. His playing is reminiscent of the underappreciated but extremely original Steve Kuhn. Tesar commands the entire keyboard. His sound has a classical flavor with a rhythmically driven core. He is firmly footed in the mainstream here, but with a difference. After carefully building tension through cascading keyboard work, he deftly releases it with dancingly lyrical lines, ably backed by brother Bill's driving drum and cymbal work and Driscoll's relentless bass. Driscoll also registers a nicely impassioned bass solo The group has a wonderful sense of synchronicity, and their music rewards repeated listening.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty: Indigo

It is especially satisfying to hear the fine guitarist Al Di Meola once again playing with his fellow Return to Forever bandmate Stanley Clarke. When Di Meola first joined Chick Corea's fusion supergroup of the '70s, after the departure of original guitarist Bill Connors, he needed the speed and dexterity to play the testosterone-infused music that was prevalent at the time. He also had to keep up with Formula 1 drivers Corea, Clarke and White who comprised that band. Di Meola proved in no uncertain terms to have chops to spare, but in his subsequent solo outings he was unfairly accused of having speed but no soul. In this acoustic setting with Clarke and Ponty, Di Meola's soul is exposed throughout with his tasty solo work, but particularly with his accomplished and deft accompaniment.

On this Di Meola composition, we are gently led into the tune by a beautifully finger-picked entry backed by Clarke's heartbeat basslines. Ponty's probing but silky violin plays the mysteriously flamenco-inspired melody line. Clarke's perfectly syncopated bassline leads into a sympathetic Di Meola chordal feast behind Ponty's melody-driven solo. Clarke takes a breathtakingly creative solo as Di Meola brilliantly comps behind him in masterful understatement. When Al finally solos, Stanley returns the favor with an equally accomplished bassline. Di Meola's limited use of his breath-actuated synthesized effect on his closing guitar solo evokes the sound of an Andean wood pipe and fits perfectly within the context of the tune's overall South American flavor. Stirring music.

April 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty: Topanga

In this all-acoustic outing, these three brilliant musicians weave an arresting tapestry of musical ideas from a skein of seemingly infinite colors. For his own evocative composition, Stanley Clarke's arco bass technique is used to great effect. Di Meola's penchant for dazzlingly impossible runs is deftly restrained, creating a pleasantly lyrical interplay between him and Clarke, as well as some intuitively inventive guitar work over his own overdubbed accompaniment. When Ponty's violin enters the mix, his naturally lyrical style meshes seamlessly with the guitarist's subtle chords and Clarke's complementary basslines. The string format keeps this soft and gentle tune appropriately sensitive without introducing a trace of syrupy sappiness. A pleasant musical excursion using an oft-neglected jazz format in an inviting and creative way.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty: Renaissance

A good song can often be rediscovered in a different format and transcend its original conception in new and exciting ways. As first recorded on his Aurora album (1976), this Jean-Luc Ponty composition's format was guitar, bass, drums and a young Patrice Rushen on piano along with Ponty's violin. In every sense a classic, the original is nonetheless redefined in this strings-only rendition. Ponty's solo playing, while somewhat restrained in comparison to the original, is nonetheless inspired by his equally talented bandmates. Di Meola's and Clarke's staccato playing provides the perfect counterpoint to Ponty's smooth and drawn-out lines. Di Meola's dazzling flamenco-inspired guitar lines are especially well suited in this piece, as are Clarke's equally accomplished peppered basslines. Its purely acoustic nature makes this a more subdued but nonetheless rewarding version of this heartfelt tune. It's good to see these fine artists reworking some of their memorable original compositions in such a creative and timeless fashion.

April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Avery Sharpe: Fly with the Wind

Avery Sharpe dedicates his Legends & Mentors CD to three artists he worked with over the years: McCoy Tyner, Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. His association with Tyner has spanned some 20 years, and although Sharpe was not on the original recording of "Fly with the Wind" in 1976, he probably has more experience with this tune than any other bassist on the planet. He digs into the familiar opening groove with aplomb, and drives the band relentlessly through the choruses and interludes. Onaje Allan Gumbs handles piano duties, and brings down the energy level a notch from the composer's approach. This is more a hot tropical breeze, rather than the Tyneresque hurricane. Sharpe may have learned from the masters, but he's ready to do some mentoring himself.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: Impressions

To celebrate the reopening of Manhattan's 5 Spot nightclub, Joey DeFrancesco's band featured an alternating all-star tenor sax lineup to showcase that instrument's great tradition in Hammond B-3 organ ensembles. On "Impressions," the B-3 maven was joined by tenorman Kirk Whalum. (On other tracks, Illinois Jacquet, Grover Washington Jr., and Houston Person appear.) Whalum starts right out of the gate with some fine blowing on this straight-ahead swinging number, more than justifying DeFrancesco's concept for this live recording.

DeFrancesco, playing basslines, and drummer Landham make a fantastic rhythm section. Guitarist Bollenback handles the speedy changes with style and aplomb. And of course DeFrancesco, the most renowned B-3 organ master of the day, does his thing. The band cleverly avoids clichés and plays the familiar melody only at the very last minute. These are pros at work. Their version of "Impressions" leaves a good one.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Bruno: Moonlight In Vermont

Intro like a dream
falling lines, Lucullan chords.
Lucid jazz guitar.

Nimble fingers play
riffs both swift and sensitive.
Bruno on guitar.

Holloway's brushwork is poised and responsive.
Craig's pensive notes shade the scene.
Jimmy excels in focused trio settings.
You'll soon realize he is one of . . .

the best on the globe,
stunning lexis – deep technique.
Maestro of guitar.

One great take of Moonlight in Vermont.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ben Webster & Billy Strayhorn: Chelsea Bridge

In his autobiography, Music is My Mistress (1973), Duke Ellington fondly recalls that in 1933, London became the first overseas city he and his band visited. "To me," he reflects, "the people of London are the most civilized in the world. Their civilization is based on the recognition that all people are imperfect, and due allowances should be and are made for their imperfections. I have never experienced quite such a sense of balance elsewhere." Ellington also loved the city's picturesque landmarks, including Chelsea Bridge across the River Thames.

In 1937 a sweeping new bridge replaced an earlier span on the same site, and in 1941 Ellington's protégé Billy Strayhorn composed a tribute despite never having seen Chelsea Bridge. Inspired instead by 19th- century English landscape artist J.M.W. Turner's painting of the nearby Battersea Bridge (also thereafter rebuilt), Strayhorn's pastel-shaded portrait was recorded that fall by Duke's Blanton-Webster band, as the now-legendary unit became known. Featured among others were tenorman Ben Webster, Strayhorn sitting in for Ellington at the piano, and drummer Sonny Greer. Seventeen years later, all three re-create the number live as part of the '58 Newport Jazz Festival salute to Ellington. They are joined by Duke's mid-'40s sideman Oscar Pettiford—the original "Chelsea Bridge" bassist, Jimmy Blanton, having died of tuberculosis in 1942.

This mature version is slower, more wistful and far wiser, as Strayhorn's Impressionistic chords and filigreed arpeggios float cloudlike behind Big Ben's sturdy-as-a-bridge balladry. Playing impromptu but tapping into reservoirs of experience, Ben and Billy achieve that elusive sense of balance that Duke extolled, like two great painters alternately adding brushstrokes to create a picture both inspired and inspiring. Anyone who thinks jazz is an insensitive art is directed hereto for proof to the contrary.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Metro: Express

This is the sixth album from jazz-rock unit Metro. From the beginning of their collaboration in the mid-'90s, the band has been on a mission to play the type of fusion music they grew up with and loved. So the influences are many, from Miles Davis, Mahavishnu, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock to Pat Metheny.

You can, however, play music in honor of your heroes without sounding like them. "Express" actually sounds more like the '80s fusion of the great Mark Egan/Danny Gottlieb band Elements – speeded up. In fact, its melody shares many similarities with the very fine Danny Gottlieb composition "Monterey" from his album Aquamarine.

The always-expressive Forman introduces the chugging title tune with some synthesis, piano and organ. His chords usher in Loeb's sustained notes for a very simple but attention-grabbing melody. Forman takes a solo that hints at Lyle Myles. (This could be because Haffner's drums, Lee's bass and the chord changes are Pat Metheny Group-sounding at times). Loeb's power solo, though, does not sound like Pat Metheny. The simple theme, now more urgent, returns and takes us down the tracks. "Express" gets us to our next destination in plenty of time.

Comparisons in this review are meant as reference points only. Each musician in Metro has a strong, distinct voice and sounds like himself. All aboard!

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nicky Skopelitis: Tarab

This is some far-out shit, man. The bass is vibrating my innards. I feel like I am sitting next to one of those cars in traffic that is really just a subwoofer on wheels. How do those people hear themselves think? The music is dub, Indian, fusion, African, etc. "Tarab," the word, seems to have various connotations in the Arabic world. The most compelling definition is that tarab is a higher level of consciousness that both musician and listener share during a performance. Perhaps that is an achievable state. I am certainly not thinking about anything else when I am listening to this piece. How could I?

Bassist Wobble is aptly named because that is what his bass does. It wobbles in the lowest discernable registers. Electronic noises, synthetic drum loops, the Indian beats of tabla player Hussain, the African strings of Suso and the sonorous violin of Shaheen all mix with whatever the hell Skopelitis is doing with his guitar. This stuff is on a different groove-plane entirely. When you realize that Skopelitis and his frequent collaborator, the ever-divergent composer/producer Bill Laswell, are behind the festivities, you will understand.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Liebman: India

Every modern jazz saxophonist owes something to John Coltrane whether he or she sounds like Trane or not. Liebman can really sound like him, though, especially when interpreting Trane's music. Liebman doesn't purposefully mimic lines or solos. It is more about the musical thought process. On "India," he plays the way he thinks Coltrane might have approached the tune had Trane still been around in 1987. Imagine John Coltrane surrounded by electric basses and synthesizers. If you are able to do that, you'll dig Liebman's take on "India."

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jason Kao Hwang: Cloud Call

Jason Kao Hwang explicitly refers to storytelling in the title and accompanying notes to his new CD Stories Before Within, but the music itself also puts me in mind of a narrative. I can almost imagine a mental film accompanying the shifting textures and moods of this 10-minute performance. If you were to listen to the opening, with its lovely rising bassline eerily reminiscent of the clarinet glissando at the start of Rhapsody in Blue, then jump ahead to the 2-minute mark or the 5-minute mark, you might think you had moved on to another composition. Only the sporadic recurrence of the main melody, throbbing like a migraine, tells us that our dream journey is not yet over. The interaction between the band members is exemplary, and the whole track is completely free of clichés or trite formulas. A fine offering from a first-rate ensemble.

April 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Willie 'The Lion' Smith: Echoes of Spring

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s is justly celebrated for its flowering of African-American artistic and intellectual accomplishment, in which white Eurocentric models were demoted in favor of black indigenous cultural expression. Jazz musicians, however, proved problematical to this movement. No less a dignitary than Duke Ellington labored on the Cotton Club plantation, catering to all-white patrons with jungle-themed floor shows that reinforced racist stereotypes of "darkies" in their native habitat.

Another gifted jazzman, with closer ties to the hoi polloi, was even more marginalized. Stride pianist Willie 'the Lion' Smith made the nightly rounds of rent parties, born of necessity in segregated neighborhoods where housing demand so exceeded supply that exorbitant rents were charged for squalid tenements. Given his talent and charisma, the cigar-chomping, derby-wearing Lion soon became a star attraction at such hat-passing events. But a piano player whose fee was $10 and all he could eat wasn't exactly the "New Negro" idealists had in mind.

Not that it mattered to Willie, for the Lion was blessed with abundant self-esteem. The only one who lionized Willie 'the Lion' Smith more than his fellow musicians did was Willie 'the Lion' Smith himself. He also possessed a wry wit, which he brandishes on this live track. Introducing what he jokingly calls "one of my latest tunes" (actually decades old), the Lion offers his audience in that 1950s bastion of WASP affluence—Newport, Rhode Island—a traditional Yiddish toast: Zei Gesund ("To your health").

His listeners laughed, but only at the incongruous language and not at the reference to his "latest tune," which to most festival goers probably was new. Following the Lion's own first recording in 1935, "Echoes of Spring" (then titled "Echo of Spring" ) was seldom covered by other pianists, commencing a neglect that persists to this day. Why such a fine composition is so rarely rendered is unfathomable. Like Ellington's "Black Beauty" (1928), Gershwin's "Prelude No. 2" (1926) and the same composer's "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924), "Echoes of Spring" is both a classic Jazz Age piano piece and an indispensable slice of Americana.

Admittedly, this particular performance, while charming, is far from flawless. At age 60½, the Lion was no longer King of the Cutting Contests, as he'd been 30 years before. Yet through his occasional sloppiness shines the loveliest and most enchanting obscurity in the jazz literature. If the Lion, who died in 1973, is reading this on the high-speed Internet in Jazz Heaven, we extend our salutations and offer a hearty toast: Zei Gesund, Leib.

April 16, 2008 · 2 comments

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Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House: Birdfingers

The Eleventh House was guitarist Larry Coryell's version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report. The hyperkinetic "Birdfingers" would have fit nicely into any one of those bands' repertoires. The musicianship in this pioneering unit was superb. Coryell's use of trumpeter Randy Brecker, and in later incarnations Mike Lawrence, was a departure in the sound formula from the early fusion bands mentioned.

The opening bars of "Birdfingers" sound like the 2025 theme from TV's Wheel of Fortune game show. Alphonse Mouzon spins the wheel with a snare roll and some heavily placed accents. The melodic intro is a cavalcade of scalar riffs played round-robin and then shared by trumpeter Brecker, keyboardist Mandel, and Coryell. Each musician is playing so fast that the new notes of H and I are created. Despite the speed, nobody gets in each other's way. Supersonic calls and responses ensue. No one loses a turn. Mouzon makes sure of this. Coryell's tone is somewhat north of treble. Brecker's provocative caterwauling is an effective fusion device. He is almost a synthesizer player. In conjunction with Mandel and Triffan, the band returns to answer the puzzle.

B_rdf_ngers. I'll buy a vowel, Pat.

Interestingly, Wheel of Fortune premiered shortly after the release of this album. This should be investigated.

April 16, 2008 · 1 comment

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A La Mode

This dynamic live version of the Curtis Fuller composition features fine solo work from the Marsalis brothers, Billy Pierce and pianist Donald Brown. After superb opening fills from Blakey, the group briefly struggles with tempo issues (I don't think the front line expected the melody to be quite so fast!), but they quickly settle in and perform the head and their subsequent solos flawlessly. Highlights include a brief yet first-rate solo statement from Pierce and a playful Wynton Marsalis, who alternates moments of displaying his virtuosic technique with witty chitchat among his bandmates.

April 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: I Can't Get Started

This fascinating version of the Duke/Gershwin standard is a somewhat rare departure from the classic hard-bop grooves that dominated the Jazz Messengers catalog. An inspired introduction featuring Cables on electric piano, Clarke on acoustic bass, and Shaw on trumpet is smooth and enjoyable. The most noteworthy aspect of this track, however, is Blakey's experimentation. He enters with a "Freedom Jazz Dance"-inspired Tony Williams groove at a faster tempo than the introduction, moves to a classic two-beat feel, and then slides into the signature Blakey groove. It is interesting to hear, but I would guess that Woody Shaw was (initially) a bit ill at ease. An atypical yet ultimately worthwhile performance.

April 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Pensativa

The addition of trombonist Curtis Fuller as a third member of the Jazz Messengers' front line allowed for some unique three-part writing and arranging in this chapter of the band's story. Hence the Latin-inspired, highly arranged "Pensativa," representing a calmer and cooler version of the Messengers. All three frontline players trade off sections of the lengthy bossa-nova melody. Blakey himself is subdued yet still strongly swinging throughout, and Cedar Walton takes the opportunity to perform an outstanding solo after fine Hubbard and Shorter offerings. A welcomed development to the Jazz Messengers sound.

April 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Bu's Delight

In 1961, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton joined the Jazz Messengers, with Shorter and Merritt remaining on board from the previous lineup. While the Morgan/Shorter front line released some of Blakey's most highly revered material, this group was up to the challenge of following, and at some points surpassing the high musical quality of previous Messengers lineups. Buhaina's Delight, Three Blind Mice, Mosaic, Caravan (now with Reggie Workman on bass), Ugetsu, Free for All and Kyoto all exemplify this fine version of the Messengers between 1961 and 1964. Freddie Hubbard is one of the few trumpeters who could have stepped into Lee Morgan's footprints and not make us think of him solely as Morgan's successor. Hubbard's muscular solo here declares his arrival in the band, and Blakey's extended solo stretches beyond his usual formula and flirts with moments of "free jazz" drumming.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: The Freedom Rider

"The Freedom Rider" is a 7½-minute unaccompanied drum solo from the final record made by the Shorter/Morgan/Timmons/Merritt installment of the Jazz Messengers. Blakey strictly adheres to his solo formula here, laying down his signature Latin-inspired ride cymbal/tom groove and alternating it with tom-and-snare based improvisations. One could almost imagine that Blakey is playing along to a Messengers track here and only the drums were recorded – his extended solo statement is essentially a song-oriented composition. For this reason, "The Freedom Rider" is an essential addition to the Blakey discography, giving listeners a glimpse into the entire range of Blakey's playing without distraction.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia

Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there? The Messengers absolutely tear through the head of this tune, replete with Blakey's blistering fills throughout the "pre-sax-break" vamp. Shorter offers up a fine solo, opting for a minimalist, harmonic approach to filling up Bird's revolutionary break of 14 years before. Morgan blazes through his solo space, and Blakey's energetic hi-hat and clever Latin-percussion-drenched background figures allow bassist Jymie Merritt to solo without sacrificing the tremendous momentum that has built up. The presence of Latin percussion underneath what would normally be Blakey's unaccompanied drum solo frees him to experiment with melodic rhythms that make this one of his finest and most unique solos. Cadenzas by Morgan, Shorter and Blakey top off this classic, intense, energetic performance.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: So Tired

This grooving AABA composition features a Latin/Boogaloo "A" section and a swinging "B" section – effortlessly executed by the Timmons/Merritt/Blakey rhythm section. Note how Blakey's "straight" ride-cymbal pattern over the Latin/Boogaloo sections still swings nearly as much as the actual swing sections do! Shorter and Timmons both produce fine solos here, but they serve as bookends to the true marvel of this track, the fiery Lee Morgan solo so brimming with energy and ideas that it often sounds as if Morgan is beginning another incredible line before ending his previous one. This is among the finest examples of a "mellow" Messengers track – from composition and arrangement to strong Blakey groove to soulful, exciting solos from all members.

April 15, 2008 · 2 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: The Drum Thunder Suite

While Art Blakey's earlier sessions with, respectively, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk were essential in developing the Jazz Messengers craft, Moanin' levitated the group to its true level of innovation. With the contrasting yet equally autographical gospel blues of "Moanin'" and the rapid-fire attack of "The Drum Thunder Suite," this record set the standard to which the Messengers sound would consistently adhere throughout much of its career. The arrival of longtime members Morgan and Timmons, and briefly tenured yet influential tenorman/composer Benny Golson, resulted in one of the more effortless Jazz Messengers grooves. Note the classic Blakey solo characteristics throughout this tune: the melodic call-and-response between the toms, the loud, multi-drum rolls, and the cymbals used as accents, all performed while maintaining the constant hi-hat pulse.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-A-Ning

One of the many strengths of Art Blakey's musical leadership was his ability to bring new musicians on board without sacrificing the overall sound or approach of the Jazz Messengers. Even when Thelonious Monk enters the picture, you may ask? Well, ultimately, yes.

The first half of the track is more like a Monk recording than a Messengers recording. Blakey is noticeably subdued, and although his signature pounding hi-hat pulse is still present, he lightly breaks the rhythm more like Roy Haynes than like Art Blakey. Blakey appears to be taking the backseat and allowing Monk to run the show. As the track progresses and the other musicians begin to solo, however, Blakey raises the intensity level, and the soloists take notice and answer the call. All of sudden, even though Monk's comping presence is felt throughout, the Messenger service is back in full swing – replete with Blakey's big rolls between solos and signature solo licks to conclude the tune. The presence of Monk and his tunes on this '57 session makes for a fascinating study of the collision of dominant jazz personalities.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers: Hankerin'

Even though just a year (nearly to the day) had elapsed between Art Blakey's classic recordings with Clifford Brown live at Birdland and this Horace Silver-led studio session, quite a bit had changed in Blakey's musical world. His co-op band was now officially "The Jazz Messengers," and their feverish bop influence began to succumb to a more subdued, gospel/blues-influenced hard bop. Dorham and Mobley were the perfect match for this early, transitional edition of the Messengers, able to blow at a blistering pace and also execute Silver's more graceful material. On this track, you can almost sense the group's early influences melting away as the classic hard-bop Messenger sound forms before our very ears. Of special note is Mobley's fine, complex solo and the Blakey signature of all signatures: the constant thumping out of beats two and four with his hi-hat foot that begins in the tune's opening measure and lasts until the final chord is struck!

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Wee-Dot

Art Blakey had led his own sessions from as early as 1947, when his collaboration with Kenny Dorham and Walter Bishop Jr., among others, was released as New Sounds (also released as The Thin Man and The Bop Alley). These February '54 performances, however, truly launched Blakey's solo career. It is out of this legendary lineup that the original, small-group Jazz Messengers would soon be formed. Note the classic performances by all band members here – the scorching Brown improvisation, the astoundingly Birdlike Donaldson offering, the soulful Silver comping, and the simple, sustained intensity of Blakey's groove. While no group may ever be able to swing as fast and with as much virtuosity as Diz/Bird/Roach, no group may ever be able to swing as physically hard and as deep as this bebop/hard-bop lineup. A classic introduction to the Blakey sound.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stu Goldberg: Morning Star

Stu Goldberg is truly one of the most accomplished and imaginative piano players we have. At home composing straight-ahead jazz pieces, classical, fusion, Indo-jazz numbers or music for television or films, Goldberg seems to know no boundaries. The same goes for his playing. He is just as likely to play classical piano, a Moog, organ or Indian percussion.

"Morning Star" is a swinging straight-ahead exercise. It finds Goldberg pushing the pedal down for a spatial piano introduction. He briefly plays a shuffle that paves the way for brother Kenny's skittering flute which exposes a lilting melody. K. Goldberg takes the first solo. Drummer Renick double-times it on him. K. Goldberg is very much up to the task. A blazing turn from S. Goldberg follows. Bassist Falkner gets his chance too and doesn't waste it. The theme returns. The morning star fades from view as the daylight has turned too bright. Let's listen again tomorrow.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jerry Goodman: Tears of Joy

After nearly a decade out of the jazz-rock spotlight, violinist Jerry Goodman made a welcome return with a series of albums for Private Music. Most of the music was third-gear fusion. Goodman relied more on space, texture and soaring lines than one would have anticipated from his past. Every once in a while you would worry that a tune was coming too close to what the Private Music label was best known for. And that would be that damned awful despicable genre called Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) Somehow Jerry would manage to not go over that cliff. A few times, I must say, he was hanging by his fingernails.

"Tears of Joy" is an ethereal ballad that morphs into a power anthem. Goodman plays pizzicato while guitarist McReary plays repeating arpeggios. Goodman then takes bow in hand and gently cuts through the morning fog with a penetrating beauty. Hines's backbeat kicks the song into full-steam ahead. Goodman and Vanston mimic lines as the tune fades for a reflective pause. Goodman's solo during this section is particularly productive. Hines's backbeat returns to amp things up to the end. While Goodman's playing is wondrous, he should compose more music.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Moto Grosso Feio

As Monty Python's Flying Circus used to say, "… and now for something completely different." That was pretty close to Wayne Shorter's premise for this recording. It is not even clear whether he had a record contract when he asked some musicians to pick up instruments they could play, but were not known for. Chick Corea plays the marimba. Bassist Dave Holland switches to guitar. Ron Carter performs on bass and cello. John McLaughlin brandishes a 12-string acoustic guitar. The drummer is a mystery person. Shorter himself cheated and played saxophone. Recorded in 1970, it went unreleased until 1974, when these musicians had all become big names (except, of course, the mystery drummer).

There may have been good reason to wait. It is highly doubtful much of this music would have been listened to at all if put out by a bunch of Joe Schmoes. It is as free as free can be. The Amazon Forest is the setting. "Moto Grosso Feio" is based on a pleasant riff that serves as a theme of sorts, but it certainly is not developed in any way. There is no doubt you are listening to highly creative musicians during an excitingly volatile time in jazz's development. In fact, in a situation like this where they are not playing their main axes, they tend to over-create and blend together. Solos are mostly short. You have to separate the wheat from the chaff here. There are plenty of both, believe me. Still, the album is full of goodies and is an important installment in Shorter's artistic growth.

Incidentally, the mystery drummer is one Michelin Prell. She seems pretty good, too. But it remains a mystery just who the hell she was. The theories are as follows: She is Michelin Prell, a 19-year-old Belgian prodigy. She is Tony Williams, former child prodigy changing his name for contractual purposes. She is Micheline Pelzer who claims a Moto Grosso Feio credit on her website. Come to think of it, weren't the Pythons forever cross-dressing to play women? Maybe that explains Michelin Prell. Nudge, nudge, say no more.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wolfgang Schalk: The Second Third Man

Writing reviews allows me to revisit music I have not listened to in a long time. In some cases, I forgot I owned it. Aside from the shock at how long a particular CD has been in my collection, such as this 12-year-old Wolfgang Schalk album, I get the opportunity to listen and rediscover with ears that are 12 years wiser. While the loss of hearing the past dozen years in the upper registers is something I need to talk to an audiologist and a doctor about, I still hear Wolfgang Schalk loud and clear.

"The Second Third Man" is indicative of the whole album. It is improvised music of originality and high performance. Schalk and Brecker are perfect foils as they tackle a complicated and relentless head arrangement. The momentum generated makes it sound as if the melody was spring-wound. The guitarist's solos are nothing less than fantastic, and what more can be said about Brecker? Feldgrill will need to change the transmission on his bass after this low-grinding performance. This is a high-caliber chops fest in the best tradition of the jazz-rock idiom. The fact I have not listened to it for so long is unforgivable, but understandable, if you could see the mess that is my office.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Bruno: PA Turnpike

Guitarist Jimmy Bruno is known for his monster chops and intricate interpretations. In this session, recorded in his house, he goes without a drummer. That requires a slightly different approach. The music is quieter than his normal material, but does not lack fire. Bruno asks bassist Pedraz to put an extra "slap" into his sound to help intimate the rhythm.

"PA Turnpike" is one of the more demanding pieces on the CD. Bruno and Miceli, the song's composer, play some pleasurable convoluted bars in unison. Bruno effortlessly plays some quick-paced blues lines spliced-in with some outrageously speedy arpeggios. Pedraz takes his bass on a healthy walk as Miceli puts his vibes through a workout of their own. Pedraz's solo leads back to the endless rolling hills of that damn turnpike. I once took a very wrong turn off that road, costing me several hours. If I'd had this music with me, I wouldn't have minded so much.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roger Davidson: Fabiana

Bom Dia, Portuguese for "good day," is aptly named. I can imagine getting a little breakfast together, taking out a good book and relaxing on my patio while the tunes from this very fine album fill the air. This music would cheer me up and get me ready to face another day of global warming, corporate greed, hypocrisy and Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.)

Bom Dia is full of creative approaches to the various samba rhythms Davidson so likes. "Fabiana" is a perfect example. The liner notes say it sits somewhere between samba and bossa nova. I'll take the writer at his word because I can't tell where one ends and the other begins. What I can tell is that Davidson is one hell of a pianist who knows how to turn those keys over. Finck's bass playing is also quite impressive. In this type of music the percussion is really what controls the final quality. Braga and dos Santos are hooked-in. This a top-drawer performance recorded flawlessly. Maybe a few more joyful albums like this would be helpful in getting me through a whole day without cursing the world.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Remember Shakti: The Wish

Shakti, John McLaughlin's acoustic Indo-fusion group of the mid-'70s, couldn't sell any records. McLaughlin's label Columbia was anything but happy about this. It had been used to making big money from his previous band, the commercially successful Mahavishnu Orchestra. It turns out that Shakti was a forerunner of the world music movement, which has been going strong since.

1997 marked the 50th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. In celebration, the Arts Council of England funded a short tour of a reformed Shakti, now called Remember Shakti, throughout the U.K. McLaughlin was now playing electric guitar. For this tour, the Indian bamboo flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia replaced the original member violinist L. Shankar.

Though it is Carnatic in nature, "The Wish" – introduced on McLaughlin's 1996 album The Promise – is actually the least Indian-sounding tune on Remember Shakti. A synthesized drone serves as the under- current for a long McLaughlin introductory exploration. The sustain offered by his electric guitar allows for more expressiveness in his improvisations than his acoustic did in the original lineup. McLaughlin plays some familiar and pleasing arpeggios inviting Hussain and the melody to join. After the uplifting theme has been stated, McLaughlin, Hussain and Vinayakram enthusiastically do their thing. They were born to play this music together. It is high-energy bliss. Hussain takes a solo turn that sets the stage for Chaurasia and the rest to restate the theme. The tune ends with a reverberating bang. Remember Shakti indeed!

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: What's New

When a superior jazz musician has played a particular standard as his ballad feature over many years, he can enhance and refine his approach until his performance becomes a thing of rare beauty and a privilege to hear. Such is the case with Terry Gibbs and "What's New," recorded live in the studio before a small group of invited guests. Tenorman Eric Alexander and guitarist Dan Faehnle sat this one out, and are probably heard applauding wildly at the track's conclusion along with everyone else.

DeFrancesco's silky intro and astute accompaniment, and the slick rhythmic support of Terry's son Gerry's brushes, offer Terry the perfect framework. The vibraphonist's vibrato and resultant sound reminds one of Lionel Hampton, who once asked Gibbs to join his band, an idea Hamp's wife/manager Gladys vetoed. Gibbs exhibits flawless technique, and his long phrases and harmonic development are both quite impressive, especially in the double-timed midsection of his solo, as well as in his dazzling coda. The ever-exuberant Gibbs was then 80, yet another jazz octogenarian aging like fine wine and not slowing down. The titles (and pace) of two of his originals on this session bear that out: "Smoke 'Em Up" and "Hot Rod." But "What's New" is undeniably the standout track.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Wheatland

When you listen to Oscar Peterson's eight brilliant compositions that comprise his Canadiana Suite, you may wonder why he wasn't a more prolific composer. It was no doubt his love of Canada that inspired him here, just as his father's career as a railway porter who traveled the length of that vast country guided the Suite's structure, crossing from East to West, vividly depicting unique locales and regions.

"Wheatland" is Peterson's view of Canada's breadbasket, and his finely crafted melody over a waltz rhythm presents a clear image of the majesty of giant wheat fields blowing in the wind, as viewed through the window of a passing train. As Peterson solos, with that perfect touch and his distinctive flowing lines, not a note wasted, one marvels at this trio's special rapport, with Brown's simple yet totally fitting bassline, and Thigpen's distinguished brushwork supporting the pianist with great sensitivity. Brown's long, lyrical solo is almost a separate composition in itself, structured so logically and alone worthy of repeated listens.

This was Peterson's second great trio, formed when Thigpen replaced Herb Ellis in 1959, and with Canadiana Suite they produced a masterpiece.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Christian McBride / Nicholas Payton / Mark Whitfield: Oliloqui Valley

With Herbie Hancock's celebration of Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters, receiving much recent acclaim, now is perhaps a good time to revisit a relatively unknown tribute to Hancock himself. Fingerpainting explored 14 Hancock tunes with the unusual instrumentation of bass, trumpet and guitar, and succeeded in capturing their spirit and essence. These three musicians were among Verve's top young recording artists at that time, but Fingerpainting was anything but a record company's self-serving, overproduced project.

"Oliloqui Valley" is a prime example, a composition originally on Hancock's 1964 Empyrean Isles. Beginning with McBride's repeated six-note bassline, you are irresistibly drawn in as Payton enters soothingly above Whitfield's tender chords, playing the simple yet compelling theme. Whitfield solos first, propelled by McBride's gorgeously intoned bass commentary. The guitarist blends chime-like chordal passages with glistening single-note lines, while also examining various tonal textures and note clusters. Payton's next, his expansive sound and formidable chops enabling him to evoke Freddie Hubbard (who played on Hancock's 1964 original), but filtered through his own musical personality. The trumpeter's extended phrasings are authoritatively constructed, with a glowing purity of tone. An enhanced replay of the melody leads to a gentle, understated conclusion. This trio should forever fondly remember Fingerpainting. It does them, and Herbie, proud.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: Slippery, Hippery, Flippery

"Some of the sounds I made with my horn. The rhythm section was playing free. Some of the tape sounds I got around the house – wind chimes, my voice amplified, the baby hollering. I slowed down some of the sounds, then played them all together. The head is written off a computer; I used the cycle of notes from a computer I once heard to make the line." That's pre-Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1965, describing this track. Yes, 1965. The elaborate packaging of the original Limelight vinyl release of Rip, Rig & Panic, with its foldouts and cutouts, and creative graphics, photography and artwork, made this music seem even more cutting edge when it came out. The title of this piece refers to "chicks" who are either hip to, or put jazz down, depending on the setting and "who they're with."

Kirk never again recorded with a rhythm section of this high quality. Kirk's modified sounds mix with his free-wheeling tenor to launch the tune, Jones' clanging cymbals and emphatic tom-tom accents competing for attention with distorted baby cries and wind chimes. The modal theme consists of two alternating sets of tone rows, each played twice in succession. Kirk's riveting, focused solo gradually builds in intensity, supported by Byard's careening lines and crashing two-handed sprays of notes, as Jones accelerates the pace and density of his attack. Byard's improv is typically exploratory, forging a path that borrows fruitfully from various styles of jazz piano. The masterful engineering of Rudy Van Gelder gives all this a distinctive, eerily seductive sound.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Piers Lawrence: Reza

Guitarist Piers Lawrence studied music in France. He worked with R&B and soul stars such as Wilson Pickett and Phyllis Hyman. He hosts an Internet jazz radio show called "Manhattan Jazz." He owns JazzNet Media, the company that produced this CD. So, if after all these years he wants to put out an album of straight-ahead jazz, what's to stop him?

Jim Hankins's bass and Sir Earl Grice's drums start the groove on "Reza" even before they play. Well, it seems that way as it takes about 1/100th of a second for them to be in the pocket. Lawrence's sophisticated blues-funk arpeggio-laden guitar lays it down. He is playing some nasty licks that demand distortion. Yet his tone is pristine. The listener has to imagine the dirtiness that composer Pastorius had in mind. This is an interesting exercise and adds to the enjoyment of the performance. Fowler fills in the spaces with some well-placed comping. In a nod to Jaco, the tune ends with a fading "goodbye" bass riff. This is great stuff. Lawrence should make another such album and bring the same guys along with him.

April 14, 2008 · 12 comments

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David Finck: Black Eyes

This is veteran sideman David Finck's first project as leader. Over his career, he has played with many important musicians, including André Previn, Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock. The rest of the band is quite accomplished at the jazz thing as well. Finck wanted to honor some of his influences over the years, so the band tackles both its own compositions and those that they consider of standard quality.

Ranier opens the Wayne Shorter tune "Black Eyes" with some minor block chords. Locke's vibes establish the melody and the fact he will be the dominant voice on the piece. He has the touch and the timing down. His runs are full of invention. Ranier is also a fine player as shown during his enjoyable interlude. La Barbera, an old pro who was in Bill Evans's last trio, plays just past subtle. Finck takes no solo turn but is well heard. This is pleasing, straight-ahead jazz, and Finck's arrangement is outstanding.

The album as a whole is an impressive leader debut for David Finck. I must also compliment recording engineer Darwin Best and master engineer Leon Zarvos. This is one of the better sounding recordings I have heard in quite some time.

April 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: George in Brazil

The producers of this CD faced a Hobson's choice. In Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, the sequence "George in Brazil" runs slightly more than two minutes. Even at that, it's only a fragment of the original performance. To make matters worse, the soundtrack's first 40 seconds contain voiceovers that for technical reasons could not be erased from atop the underlying music. The dilemma, then, was whether to retain the voiceovers, to which musical purists would surely object, or trim the track to a scanty 1½ minutes. The producers elected to trim.

Bad decision. Of course, the voiceovers are still in the movie. But missing from the CD is the delightful Donna Larsen, roving radio reporter. "What do they say," Donna asks her unseen listeners rhetorically, "the joint is really jumping? I think that's kind of passé by now." If not, it became so at that moment. She goes on to interview NJF co-director Elaine Lorillard, then married to a descendant of Pierre Lorillard, founder of the Lorillard Tobacco Company. Only a year earlier, Lorillard had introduced its best-selling Newport brand of menthol cigarettes. "I brought along a heavy leather coat," gushes chatterbox Donna, "and I don't think I'm going to need it at all." Mrs. Lorillard, her upper-crust baritone hinting that she may have already smoked a few too many packs of her family's products, readily concurs. "No, I don't think so, either." Naturally she pronounces it eye-ther. "I have a sweater that I've tucked away in my bag."

Believe it or not, this banal banter is actually more entertaining than "George in Brazil," which so belabors a simple vamp that you wish Elaine Lorillard had tucked away some extra chord changes in her bag, right next to that sweater she didn't need.

April 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahalia Jackson: The Lord's Prayer

According to British scholar Martin Halliwell's American Culture in the 1950s, most reports identified gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as the star of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In particular, Professor Halliwell cites "The Lord's Prayer," with which she closes Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the '58 NJF. "Jackson's contralto voice and religious devotion," Halliwell contends, "is a powerful spiritual counterpoint to the secular coolness of the Festival's jazz rhythms."

Miss Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as The Jackson Five (perhaps voters thought she was related?), seems to have been all things to all people. It's a stretch, however, to contrast her indisputably powerful spiritual force with "the secular coolness" of Newport '58. The NJF's marquee that year boasted such certifiably hot performers as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, and Maynard Ferguson (whom few would mistake for Chet Baker). Even such cool pioneers as George Shearing and Gerry Mulligan appear in the film serving hot fare—Shearing's Latin-jazz "George in Brazil" and Mulligan's frenetic "As Catch Can." Another '50s cool figure, drummer Chico Hamilton, is represented by "Blue Sands," an exotic drum feature more ethereal than secular. Among the dozen headliners in Jazz on a Summer's Day, only the Jimmy Giuffre 3 can legitimately be characterized as embodying "secular coolness."

In any case, Mahalia Jackson didn't so much contrast with preceding acts in Jazz on a Summer's Day as culminate a head-spinning hodgepodge running the gamut from Louis Armstrong's "When the Saints Go Marching In" and collegiate Dixieland from Eli's Chosen Six (which included future avant-gardist Roswell Rudd playing tailgate trombone) to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk." On the heels of this incoherent mishmash, a soothing gospel song was as welcome as the calm after a storm.

Yet without impugning Miss Jackson's devoutness, there remains a tinge of Show Business in all this, as if Jazz on a Summer's Day had been stage-managed by CBS-TV's reigning ringmaster of masscult entertainment, Ed Sullivan. Ending a jazz film with The Gospel According to Mahalia was equivalent to following an Alaskan dancing bear, a Catskills comic and a troupe of Chinese acrobats with an aria from some hefty coloratura soprano on loan from the Metropolitan Opera. This, we suspect, was NJF impresario George Wein's calculated showman's piety capping the secular crassness of a Really Big Shew.

April 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Rockin' Chair

The costliest part of Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's $115,000 documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, was Louis Armstrong's lofty $25,000 fee. Stern rationalized thus expending 20% of his budget because Louis was (a) the biggest star on hand and (b) the most important artist in jazz history. It's hard to quarrel with Stern's rationale. But as with Ken Burns's epic documentary Jazz (2001), devoting so much of one's resources to an overarching colossus necessarily meant skimping in other areas. (There is another, equally telling parallel between Bert Stern and Ken Burns. Each was a non-jazz fan who relied on musical advice from a single source—for Stern, it was Columbia Records executive George Avakian, and for Burns, Wynton Marsalis. At the mercy of one sage apiece, the filmmakers virtually guaranteed errors of omission.)

Still, it would take a heart of granite to deny the timeless and universal appeal of "Rockin' Chair" as rocked and chaired (no doubt for the umpteenth time) by Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. At $25,000, this was a bargain.

April 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea and Return to Forever: 500 Miles High

Before Return to Forever became an electric fusion powerhouse, they were a mostly acoustic outfit that presented a heavily Latin-flavored modern jazz. (Corea played electric piano). Light as a Feather was a wonderful outing, showcasing the musicianship of all five members, each of whom would play an important role in the development of jazz-rock. Even more so, it was clear evidence of Corea's compositional skills. Among other things, it was the album on which Chick's soon-to-become standard "Spain" first appeared.

"500 Miles High," though, is all about the voice of Flora Purim. After Corea opens with chorused runs and some tasteful chord play, the Brazilian Purim's breathless siren voice enters with transcendent loveliness. Her intonation, phrasing, and inflections are limpid. There has never been another jazz voice like hers. After her chorus, the band plays several minutes of fast-changes top-notch jazz. Corea blazes. Farrell is a monster saxophonist. Clarke impresses as expected. Purim and her husband Airto add percussion colors. But the whole time you are listening to this fantastic display, you can't wait to hear that voice again. When you do, it completes a magical performance.

April 12, 2008 · 1 comment

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Chico Hamilton: Blue Sands

"Blue Sands," composed by flutist/saxophonist Buddy Collette for the original Chico Hamilton Quintet (1955), was part of a long tradition of jazz exotica dating at least as far back as Ellington's "Caravan" (1936). In 1956, Collette recorded an especially insinuating "Blue Sands" with The Lighthouse All-Stars, featuring Bob Cooper's atmospheric oboe. In Chico Hamilton's band, however, "Blue Sands" became a set piece showcasing the leader's mallets on tom-toms, where he would tenaciously repeat a single rhythmic pattern, maintaining hypnotic interest merely by varying dynamic level. This display would go on at length and, like all drum solos, was fascinating to watch but less entrancing on a record, absent its visual flair.

By 1958's Newport Jazz Festival, where "Blue Sands" was preserved for posterity in filmmaker Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Chico Hamilton must have performed this tune hundreds of times, necessitating untold thousands of repetitions of that single rhythmic pattern. Amazingly, under the circumstances, the piece retains considerable excitement. Moreover, it served as an icebreaker for such later explorations of monotony as John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" (1960). Casually listen once or twice, and you won't get it. Put it on automatic repeat, and gradually—indeed, almost imperceptibly—you'll be as surely sucked in as a probe approaching a black hole. And we all know what lies at the center of a black hole. Blue sands.

April 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garbarek: Dunun Song

Building a recording project around sax and percussion, without bass or chords, is a dicey proposition, but these two artists are sufficient unto themselves. A timeless quality permeates the give-and-take between Garbarek and Mazur. Primal, throbbing, hypnotic . . . this is music more suitable for a ritual than a jazz club. Instead of ordering a drink from the bar, you want to join hands in a circle dance and start chanting. A great performance from two very deep artists.

April 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Delfeayo Marsalis, Branford's brother and the producer of this record, provides such studied liner notes you would think he was lecturing a class of Mensa students majoring in history and musicology. Such serious verbiage is usually reserved for the other Marsalis brother, Wynton. We all know that Branford is the fun one. After all, Branford co-starred in Throw Momma From the Train and kidded around with Jay Leno every evening when he led the Tonight Show band. But appearances can be deceiving. Branford has always been a serious musician above and beyond jazz and very capable of a broad range of expression, which has included a fair share of classical music.

"The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born" is not classical music. It is jazz. But there is no joviality in its playing. It is a somber ballad with a serious intent, and requires serious attention from the listener. Delfeayo writes that the tune has a "…free, yet structured harmony." I suppose that is an apt description. At its midpoint, Marsalis has a long expressive solo that builds in momentum. During his deep exploration on soprano sax, Branford sounds very much like Coltrane. This is not "sit back and relax" music.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise

This CD probably is less well known than it should be. I recollect that someone handed it to me on an airplane. It documents Freddie Hubbard live at Todd Barkan’s Keystone Korner, where he did many excellent live recordings. This extended up-tempo version of "Softly" is relentless. Freddie pushes himself to his outer limits; just when you think he’s going to come crashing down, he somehow reinvigorates himself and comes up with another bunch of choruses. This is how I remember Freddie live—simply mind-boggling.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point

Freddie Hubbard occasionally delved into more avant realms, and this track is a good example. A great tune—tune within a tune, actually—and arrangement by Freddie. Harmonically he takes it ‘out’ quite a bit, but the out-ness is always flawlessly executed. Unlike a lot of the free jazz trumpet players of the day, who would just blow air into the horn and move their fingers really fast, Freddie’s playing lines. Some nice collective playing on this one, too.

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Freddie Hubbard: Theme for Kareem

This track transports me right back to where I first heard it—my living room in 1978, the year it came out. I literally jumped to attention when I heard this track. It was kind of the culmination of everything Freddie Hubbard had done up to that point: improving his high register and smoothing out his sound (he’s playing flugelhorn on this one, I think, or a trumpet with a really dark sound), but also using all his devices—double time, single tonguing certain notes, just at the right moment, with great taste and to great effect. Freddie’s extended solo is so exciting and well thought out, right in there on top of the time—amazing. What a wonderful tune—a blues feel but ‘altered’ in true Freddie fashion. And, oh yeah, Jack DeJohnette swings his ass off!

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Caravan

Freddie Hubbard’s arrangement of "Caravan," with that impossible bridge, showcases his physicality and power as a trumpet player. The first declarative phrase sets the tone for the whole solo. Freddie played great with Art Blakey; he knew his style so well, and knew just when to either leave some space or play a phrase that would complement one of Bu’s patented fills. This solo has a real arc to it and yet remains fiery from the first note to the last.

By the way, another classic from this session is "Skylark." At 3:15 into it, listen to how Freddie comes back into at the bridge—another long and perfect ‘Freddie-phrase.’

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Freddie Hubbard): Blue Moon

Freddie Hubbard is a great balladeer. He grabs you from the very first phrase. Dynamics are in evidence, as is his use (or non-use) of distinctive vibrato. One can hear the influence of Clifford Brown (no trumpeter can escape that when playing a ballad), but Freddie is his own man. His second phrase at 2:35 into the tune is so memorable and literally breathtaking—it took big breath to play it! Great dynamics from the band and from Freddie. A fantastic, melodic out-chorus, all subtle twists and turns, with some great rubato phrases at the end of the arrangement (Cedar Walton’s arrangement is so inventive) and a wonderful and tasteful cadenza. In short, music wins over technique.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay

This album was a new direction for Freddie Hubbard. It starts with a rubato section where once again Freddie is his Nogento ("Stanky") self. Then into a great tune with (for the genre) a quite musical and developed solo; funky but he also takes it out a bit—this was the first time I had heard him do that ascending lip trill thing. Nice arrangement with backgrounds behind the soloists. Joe Henderson also plays some great stuff. My buddies and I were excited when this come out, because we played frequently with Lenny White at jam sessions, and it felt to us like he had really ‘made it’ with this release.

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Herbie Hancock (featuring Freddie Hubbard): Dolphin Dance

What can I say? Another classic album. Freddie’s solo is total music from beginning to end. Once again, difficult changes and he makes music out of them instead of just running the changes—this solo is so lyrical and melodic, it could be vocalesed by someone. Plus, Freddie is just ‘digging into the time’ like he’s carrying a shovel with him.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum

On this date, not only are the tunes classic, everyone’s solos stand out as some of the most classic of all time. After the first declarative phrase, Freddie Hubbard comes down a bit, using dynamics, then gets funky and bends notes as only he can. At 1:48 he takes a phrase, repeats it a little differently each time, and ends his solo definitively. It should be noted that these are not particularly easy chord changes, and Freddie effortlessly snakes his way through them.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Pensativa

This is one of my favorite records of all time, and every tune is a classic. I chose this track because it is the most swingin’ bossa nova ever recorded! What a great arrangement and flawless execution from all concerned! Freddie’s solo begins with a declarative statement and is filled with lyricism, and hip notes, the most swingin’ time. I love the way he anticipates the chords, his sense of dynamics, his wonderful ability to hold common tones through chords. There is a Brazilian Portuguese musician-slang word denoting a certain style of playing, Nogento, that doesn’t quite translate well into English…the closest I might come is “Stanky,” and this solo is Nogento like a m.f.!

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Freddie Hubbard: Byrdlike

Called ‘Birdlike’ on the record, this tune was actually written by Freddie for Donald Byrd, although everyone assumed it was for Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. But no matter. This tune is a staple for jam sessions and gigs; when you’re stuck on the bandstand for something to play and you call ‘Byrdlike,’ you know everyone will know it (except for the intro maybe). As far as the solo, there probably isn’t a young jazz trumpet player alive today who hasn’t learned it. It’s a continual wealth of ideas and hip phrasing that doesn’t stop. On his 11th chorus after a 10th really soulful (and diatonic) 12 bars, he suddenly switches to the key of A major, up a third from the root, and it makes you sit up straight!

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Black Orpheus (Take 4)

This early Freddie Hubbard solo really impacted me. What was interesting about it (and about the whole album for that matter) was that the record company must have ‘prompted’ Wayne Shorter to keep the tracks short (they average around 4:00 each), but every solo is a compact gem. In particular, Freddie’s fluidity and time grab you, yet he’s relaxed and you can tell he’s holding way back because he knows he has only one chorus. Still, the way he built that chorus really impressed me—as did everyone with their short solos on this record. Classic, understated, concise, but meaty solos from everyone involved; a real lesson in brevity. Elsewhere on the album, there are great early Wayne Shorter tunes and arrangements. Take your pick! And check out Freddie on "Powder Keg." Ouch! Burning.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: Stolen Moments

Based on a C-minor blues, this quintessential jazz standard embodies the finest elements of the lexicon, with Oliver Nelson’s evocative and haunting melody providing a perfect vehicle for the artistry of a truly stellar cast. Freddie Hubbard’s unusually soulful leadoff solo is followed by wonderfully aerodynamic flute flights from the inimitable Eric Dolphy. Nelson’s own delicately probing solo is perhaps one of jazz’s most eloquently understated tenor saxophone performances. Finally, Bill Evans's harmonically wistful piano turn serves as a beautifully thoughtful closing statement. All the while Paul Chambers's walking bass and Roy Haynes's steady, subtle snare work anchor this modern masterpiece, which Nelson himself considered the realization of his own true voice. We agree, and a timeless voice at that.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: Stolen Moments

This was my introduction to Freddie Hubbard as a young teenager. I was listening to WHAT-FM the jazz station in Philly, and I was in my father’s room—I remember that exact point in time in my life clearly because of his performance. From the very first declarative phrase of this classic solo he had a style all his own, not only an instantly recognizable sound and vibrato, but also the angularity of his solo, the way he used dynamics in it and laid back in the time caught my ear immediately. I could tell he listened to saxophonists, and when he ran up and down that Dmin7 chord I was simply amazed.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Hope

Where Fortune Smiles was not originally designed as a John McLaughlin release. The record came out under his name for commercial reasons as his star was rising. Yet it is really a group effort, as all five musicians contribute equally to this free-jazz album. The tunes, written by Surman or McLaughlin, have very strong head arrangements. But once these melodies are established, they are quickly replaced, for the most part with a bleating cacophony interrupted by some impressive guitar and sax solos. You hear the early McLaughlin here. The melody of "Hope" is actually a combination of several licks that would soon become Mahavishnu Orchestra pieces. Strangely, McLaughlin would compose another version of "Hope" for Birds of Fire that did not sound anything like this melody. In fact, the dominant introductory notes to "Hope" we hear on Where Fortune Smiles would eventually be used for Mahavishnu's "One Word." This music isn't for everybody. It is best listened to, perhaps only once, to get a reference point on McLaughlin and, to a lesser degree, the talented Surman. From a historical viewpoint, the album is quite interesting. But purely as music, maybe less so.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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V.S.O.P. The Quintet: Red Clay

A strange but predictable thing happened to fusion during the 1970s. Corporate know-nothings decided it should have a broader commercial audience. They believed that any complicated music or material that required even a modicum of thought was noncommercial. The only way to increase sales was to sign acts that would play watered-down fusion and to ask current roster members to do the same. Many artists were more than happy to oblige. Ironically, it was this business decision that eventually led to Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.)

Not all musicians succumbed to the industry pressure. But the nature of the jazz-rock business changed. People grew tired of the new fusion that now had a terrible sameness to it. Some even longed for acoustic jazz. Under these circumstances V.S.O.P. was formed by some of our finest jazz musicians. Each had also played an important role in fusion, but this was a back-to-basics jazz outfit presenting an acoustic mix of standards and new compositions.

V.S.O.P. (Very Special One-time Performance) was an outstanding band. Freddie Hubbard's seminal "Red Clay" – originally recorded on CTI with both Hancock and Carter joining leader Hubbard – is reinterpreted before a knowing and appreciative Japanese audience. This is a very fine arrangement and performance. Atop a rolling Tony Williams percussion pastiche, Hubbard and Shorter hint at the melody in an opening exposition. The tune's famous bassline riff enters to applause. Hubbard and Shorter double on the melody. Fantastic stuff! Hubbard's solo is high-pitched, punchy and energetic. He finishes. Major applause erupts. Shorter is more restrained at first. Soon he is yelping. Hancock is typically lyrical during his turn, eventually leading us back to those wonderful and unforgettable Carter bass riffs.

V.S.O.P. released its previous two records in the USA. This record was initially released in Japan only. Why they did that, I don't know. But I do know it was damn good music.

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tony Williams: Neptune: Overture

Tony Williams's post-fusion career proved more successful for him than his fusion years. Though he was one of the movement's founding fathers, he never achieved the commercial success he desired or probably deserved. For the most part, after his jazz-rock career fizzled, Williams turned to playing progressive jazz with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Wallace Roney and many others. His greatest success came as a member of the jazz group V.S.O.P., which also featured Hancock, Shorter, Ron Carter and Freddie Hubbard. They produced three wildly successful live albums. Williams was no longer the leader in this music, but his drumming continued to be one of the marvels of the jazz world. Over the years, he would lead many fine jazz releases.

"Neptune: Overture" is a modern jazz piece with a very slight Latin vibe. Its highly syncopated introduction, with Miller's staccatos dominant, is not Latin-sounding in any way. In fact, it would make a good newscast theme for some hip television station. Williams, Miller and Coleman develop the flow before Pierce plays a bit of counterpoint. Then he and Roney play their own unison theme. Williams's drum mastery is evident here. You can't take your ears off it. Miller's blazing runs lead into an expressive Williams solo that ends the overture. A good friend of mine once told me of a Williams set he caught in a nightclub in the late '60s. He swore he saw Tony Williams physically turn into his drum kit. All possible drug references aside, I have never been able to come up with a better description.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pepper Adams: Valse Celtique

After the beautiful solo piano intro, the entrance of the rest of the band sounds a bit like a pack of bulls charging into an arena. Well, hasn't Pepper Adams been nicknamed "the Knife" because of his way of soloing? That's what he does here, with vigor and stamina, and except for the mild Flanagan, his colleagues all sound more like fiery Celts than like waltz buffs. But who's afraid of a bit of roughness at the hands of such high-class improvisers?

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sam Rivers: Beatrice

This ballad (played here at a rather swift tempo) is one of Sam Rivers's most famous compositions, and its fame is deserved. In the sympathetic company of a French-British team that has long admired him, the horn player from Boston gives his best. His tenor has a suave, almost liquid delivery that will make many listeners wonder why Rivers is so often associated with free jazz and raunchy playing. Well, he can do both, but on this song dedicated to his wife, he obviously decided to show "the gentle side of Sam Rivers."

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Russell Gunn: Shiva

As the title indicates, there's an obvious Indian tinge to this tune, but nothing artificially exotic, nor nostalgic. The initial rhythm includes turntables, and launches us into present times. The thick interaction between acoustic and electronic instruments confirms this, even if the modal pattern of the tune may conjure up memories of Coltrane or Miles Davis. Russell Gunn was exploring new ways at the time, and Ethnomusicology, the name of this series of recordings, clearly shows that research was his main concern. Ten years after, one must admit that Gunn definitely opened some ears and cleared some paths, and that his music sounds as fresh today as it did yesterday.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gabe Baltazar: The Calm

This excellent alto sax stylist (who also plays all other saxes, clarinets and flutes) from Hawaii is best known for his 1960-'65 stint with Stan Kenton's orchestra, where he replaced Lennie Niehaus as first alto. Here supported by a great rhythm section, Baltazar shows that he continuously evolved since then, developing a personal sound and phrasing based on the post-Bird tradition. This goes along with a good deal of feeling. Far from the hordes of mere technicians of the horn, Baltazar always uses his huge know-how to convey emotion, particularly on a lush ballad such as this.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ian Shaw: Dearly Beloved

Not many singers can take a standard like "Dearly Beloved" at such a breakneck tempo. But Ian Shaw is not any singer – far from it. This British almost-veteran first sets his perfect time and expressive diction on the words with only the bass as support, then is boosted by a team of American instrumentalists. Great solos by Soloff and Alexander are also part of the success of this swift version that definitely stands apart.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Brecker: Brexterity

Here, for the first time in his career, Michael Brecker arranged for a large ensemble with strings and woodwinds, and we are lucky that he left us this testimony of another of his gifts. The tune is a complex construction in several parts, which he makes as fluid as possible so that one can hear it on different levels. The most obvious one is a concerto for tenor sax and medium band. But if you listen closely, on a deeper level, you may hear the many subtleties that Brecker put into these scores. Meanwhile his own playing, though impressive, is just what this virtuoso brought us to expect from him.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Big Satan: Rampe

At first this sounds like some kind of folk tune played by alto sax and guitar. Then comes Ducret's improv, supported by Rainey's drums, and we enter another dimension. This guitar (doubled through re-recording) is really a rhythmical and sonic searching head, whose accelerations always bring surprise. When the alto reenters and solos while the guitar serves a mere rhythmical function, we are closer to a usual post-free trio, except that its energy borrows as much from rock as from jazz.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andy Bey: Lush Life

Andy Bey's voice is unique, but so is his phrasing, his diction and the atmosphere he can conjure up on almost any song he decides to sing. "Lush Life" is a special case because of the special connection the singer feels with Strayhorn's compositions. Here, Bey concentrates on singing and leaves the piano to Geri Allen. The result is great. The verse is played as a slow, full-of-depth duet with Allen before the rest of the band enters. When Bey is through with the words, he scats or rather improvises sounds while the instrumentalists create a loose environment that seems to float randomly around the singer's voice.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tal Farlow: Taking a Chance on Love

This strange drum-less trio produces some of the most bouncing and joyous music of the 1950s. It's no wonder that Farlow formed such a group, having just left vibist Red Norvo's similarly drum-less trio. The guitarist delivers his clear, inventive, melodic lines with a drive and aplomb that would make them swing even without accompaniment. Costa's percussive approach and sense of contrast are a wonder, and Burke's bass is both strong and lighthearted. These three tackle this nice melody in a way that makes you miss the good old days. Indeed, who does play like this today?

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Long Ago and Far Away

The guitar/organ/drums combo, so fashionable in the 1960s, was revived in the '80, but no one gave a more personal version of it than Abercrombie, Wall and Nussbaum. The first two musicians definitely take an unconventional approach to their instruments. The guitar's long, almost liquid lines and subtle chords find in the organ's soft, yet firm phrasing a perfect companion. Nussbaum's drums help them find ways of swinging that take them far from the groovy clichés attached to the origins of this type of combo. The way they carry this timeless standard way beyond most other versions bears witness to the utter originality of this trio.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jean-Luc Ponty: Mam' Mai

Jean-Luc Ponty had made a very good living playing his electric violin through all sorts of effects boxes. He used specially made violins of varying string counts and non-standard tunings. Ponty would crank the reverb to 11 and soar away on a magic carpet. His virtuosity, taste and unusual sound helped him sell tons of jazz-rock records in the 1980s. He was also among the first to adopt the MIDI interface and sequencers, which allowed him to add even more synthetic sounds to his already impressive arsenal.

The Jean-Luc Ponty who showed up on Tchokola, however, was quite a different musician. On "Mam' Mai," based upon the traditional Senegalese "sabar" dance tradition, Ponty plays acoustic and electric violins sans reverb or any other major effects. Ponty was also playing a different kind of music. Bitten by the world-music fusion bug, he gathered a group of West African musicians to explore a quasi-Reggae jazz hybrid. As with most African-based music, the percussive rhythm dominates. The tune, replete with West African vocals, allows Ponty to show yet another side of his musical character. He does not play in the style of a West African violinist. (Is there any such thing?) Rather, he takes a European blues sensibility and sets it down right in the middle of the savannah.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Watts: Relaxin' at Camarillo

As kids, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and his friend David Green longed to play with jazz great Charlie Parker. This notion preoccupied their days and nights. What fun that would be! As he grew up, Watts continued to revere Parker. In 1964, he published Ode to A High Flying Bird, a slim, greeting-card style fable in which childlike watercolor drawings and hand-lettered captions depict a potato-shaped bird named Charlie whose life tragically parallels Parker's. So, 27 years later, why not reaffirm Watts's devotion to Parker's music? The drummer reunited with boyhood friend Green, hired a saxophonist-leader and recorded From One Charlie. The CD was then marketed with a new printing of the book at an exorbitant price. Fortunately, the CD (with one of Watts's original 1964 drawings on its cover) also became available as an affordable single unit.

"Relaxin' at Camarillo" (mistitled "Relaxing at Camarillo" on the CD) is a relaxed bebop number that has Watts using his brushes. Lemon plays a lightly swinging piano. Green offers a short standard bass solo. King and Presencer do their best Bird and Gillespie. This is a pleasing interpretation you'd be happy to hear in any nightclub. No one is trying to capture the brilliance of Charlie Parker. The lack of pretense and a desire to do something just for the fun of it are what make this work.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Williams Lifetime: Red Alert

This collection, a combination of the two releases Believe It and Million Dollar Legs, features what was known as The "New" Tony Williams Lifetime. Long gone were the original members of the trailblazing group: John McLaughlin, Larry Young, and eventually Jack Bruce. But it was six years later, and Tony was still pushing the concept. Many of his fusion contemporaries were already finding the commercial success that Williams was still searching for. For the most part, Tony was trying too hard to please, and it showed. The two "New" Lifetime records were uneven at best. Parts of Million Dollar Legs are simply unlistenable. But Williams's immense talent and the contributions of the young and exciting guitarist Allan Holdsworth provided a few outstanding performances, among them "Red Alert."

Composed by bassist Newton, "Red Alert" is anxious and compelling. In unison, Newton and Holdsworth open with urgent low-register lines. The players step into a higher register and then back again. Williams's insistent pounding is like a rapid heartbeat. Pasqua's electric piano serves as a bit of a salve, as he is not asked to be as demonstrative as his band mates. Meanwhile, Holdsworth lets loose with synthesizer runs. Of course, he was not playing synthesizer! Holdsworth was still in the early stages of his illustrious career, but you could hear in his solos that he was going to be different. "Red Alert" is both a demanding tune for the player and a warning to the listener. Be prepared to be knocked over.

April 10, 2008 · 1 comment

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Wally Schnalle: Shouldn't Be That Way

I have yet to hear anyone else use electric noise the way Wally Schnalle does. There have been many attempts to incorporate electronic effects into popular music. They almost always fall flat because electronic noise in itself is just not musical. But drummer Schnalle uses static, distortion, dissonance, reverb, and every sound you ever heard in a bad '50s science fiction flick to create compelling music that is part jazz-fusion, part jam band and part old broke-down capacitor. BBROYGBVGW

"Shouldn't Be That Way" is full of sonic anomalies that somehow form both rhythm and melody. The sound effects are a hundred times more evident than in the music of Medeski Martin & Wood. MMW tends to use such sounds, not all of which are electric, to shade its performances. Schnalle uses these sounds to shape them. On this tune, they provide the basis for a lowdown but high-voltage funk groove.

Static does not make music. That's where Schnalle, Massanari, Pittson and Barshay prove they are master electricians. They are superb players who can maneuver through fallen wires and solder their frayed ends. I would be disappointed to learn that the electronic components were added after the quartet recorded their parts. But I would still be impressed with Schnalle's engineering capabilities and imagination. This is 220-volt material.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Van Davis: Deek

The name "Van Davis" is a contraction of "Van Halen" and "Miles Davis," both great influences on this power trio. Other characteristics of the band's music may draw comparisons to ZZ Top or even the Flecktones. Van Davis goes at things full-bore from moment one. Occasionally the drill bit gets too hot and must be hoisted out of the ground to cool off. During this process, the band offers contemplative, textured music full of chorus and reverb.

The intro chordal riffs of "Deek" suggest the band has paid close attention to "Right Off" from Miles's Tribute to Jack Johnson. Drummer Carmichael, much like Billy Cobham, is the constant antagonist. Along the way, we hear thick power chords, funk grooves and ambient noise. Guitarist Ezra can jump from basic blues progressions to the most complicated and ear-splitting fusion. Like part of the band's namesake, he is also good at those Van Halen harmonic tricks. Carmichael and Price make for quite an able rhythm section. Price is also an expressive lead player. At its core, Van Davis is a fun fusion jam band. If they keep on drilling, they'll find their way to China.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ketil Bjørnstad & Terje Rypdal: The Sea V

This composition starts with booming tone clusters flying out of the bass end of the piano soundboard, more an aural earthquake than a melody. Then Bjørnstad shifts gears completely, offering up a dose of the 19th-century parlor music that apparently passes for jazz in his mind. But things get very interesting when Rypdal enters with a majestic solo on electric guitar, angry and wistful at the same time. The last three minutes of this eight-minute track are sublime, both players contributing to the potent mood. The Nordic wail, melancholy and transcendent, represents its own distinct jazz idiom, and it comes to the fore in the climax of this quintessential ECM performance.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chuck Berry: Sweet Little Sixteen

Impresario George Wein believed that if each major jazz style (traditional, swing, modern) could attract a small audience, then a festival presenting all those styles ought to draw decent numbers. Moreover, if the playbill were expanded beyond jazz, why, enough fannies to fill an outdoor venue might materialize! Accordingly, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, subject of Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), booked Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roller Chuck Berry. When the brown-eyed handsome man blew into town in a purple Cadillac with a pair of white girls at his side, he raised more than a few eyebrows. In tony 1950s Rhode Island, purple Cadillacs were considered inexcusably gauche.

Onstage, the Rock 'n' Roller was accompanied, more or less, by a pickup group of Swing Era jazzmen who mostly stood around with thumbs up their behinds looking bewildered and patronizing—the latter being especially unwarranted considering their ineptitude backing "Sweet Little Sixteen," Berry's sly variant of Nabokov's Lolita (1955). Journeyman clarinetist Rudy Rutherford at least tries to get in the spirit, but his strident solo is embarrassing proof that jazzmen were as clueless about youth music as Humbert Humbert was about the laws governing statutory rape.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Big Maybelle: I Ain't Mad at You

In a typically misguided attempt at crossover appeal, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival strayed far afield (and went far awry) with blues shouter Big Maybelle. Judging from Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), the personable performer pleased the crowd. But of course holiday jazz-fest attendees have never been notably discerning. The ad hoc backup band manages to swing without an arrangement, and Buck Clayton's trumpet solo is presentable enough. Yet there's no escaping the vocalist, who sounds like she'd gargled with Dr?no before stepping onstage. We'll never know how many moviegoers in 1960, or VHS and DVD viewers in subsequent decades, naïvely mistook "I Ain't Mad at You" for jazz simply because it's part of Jazz on a Summer's Day. But this track has less to do with jazz than snowballs do with July.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Catch As Catch Can

It takes cheek to show up in New England on the Fourth of July sporting a red blazer. Yet as shown by Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Gerry Mulligan had cheek aplenty. Less than two hours' ride from Lexington and Concord, the red-coated redhead charged in leading his pianoless quartet, a formation he'd commanded for most of the 1950s. Significantly, though, this edition was so raw that Farmer, Crow and Bailey had by then engaged in but a single rehearsal with the lanky baritonist. To make matters worse, Mulligan's musical material was as ill-chosen as his uniform color. Disdaining the sound advice of 1957's teen hit "Rock and Roll Music," Mulligan tries to play his tricky, up-tempo original "As Catch Can" too darn fast—Chuck Berry's only kick, after all, against modern jazz. Raggedness predictably ensues. Indeed, a short drum break following Farmer's leadoff solo so boggles the beat that the band sputters like an engine about to stall. Mulligan quickly takes charge, wresting the engine back on track through the sheer willpower of his playing. It's an impressive rescue, but doesn't absolve the redcoat general of under-drilling his green troops. To hear how "As Catch Can" was meant to be executed, check out the same group's spit-&-polish studio performance recorded five months later.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Chords

Rosenwinkel's debut release on ArtistShare finds him stretching out at length – two CDs comprised of just eight tracks total – in live performance at the Village Vanguard. He opens with "Chords," 16 minutes of high-energy jazz fueled by a rhythm section that supplies creative tension without firmly committing to either 6/8 or 4/4. Occasionally the players blend together, but more often they counter each other's moves in a series of engaging musical gambits. The composition is almost an "All Blues" from an alternative universe, reminding me of Miles even with the opening piano vamp and floating turnaround, but with everything topsy-turvy. Moods shift, textures change, rhythmic currents diverge. The jazz tradition haunts this track like a ghost hidden in the attic. Meanwhile Rosenwinkel presides above it all, with that new way of phrasing so popular with the current generation, the digital world replacing the analog, where you hit each note dead-center and send it flying out of the ballpark – pop, pop, pop! Pay attention to this release: it will give you a taste of the jazz zeitgeist of the moment.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andy Summers: Charis

As a fusion fan, I always get excited when a rocker or a straight-ahead jazzer puts out a fusion recording. Every fiber in my body wants the music to be great. I must admit, though, over the last 30 years, I have been disappointed about 90% of the time. In 1990, the Police's Andy Summers did everything right in Charming Snakes, surrounding himself with jazz-rock players of the highest caliber. Two decades later, I am still trying to make up my mind about some of the album's other material. Do I like it? Or do I like it a lot? But I am quite clear on "Charis," which finds Summers playing beautiful ringing jazz-tinged chords as Bill Evans (sax), ingratiating as always, glides and flutters evocatively all around them. Summers plays only chords. He takes no solos. In fact, he never takes a single-note run even when he doubles on the melody of this beautiful ballad. Yet this tune is proof positive that Summers has serious jazz chops at his disposal.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Swee-Pea

This recording took place during an interesting time in commercial jazz's development. Recorded just after Shorter had appeared on Miles Davis' groundbreaking In a Silent Way and using some of same players (minus Miles of course), Super Nova was Shorter's foray into the virgin land between the standard and the new way. It would turn out that he would be just as integral to the fusion revolution as Davis, McLaughlin, Hancock, Corea and a very few others.

Two years prior to this recording, the great composer Billy "Sweet Pea" Strayhorn died. Strayhorn was the talent behind much of Duke Ellington's talent. As composer and arranger of many of the Duke's greatest hits, including his signature "Take the 'A' Train," Strayhorn was the man with the melodies.

"Swee-Pea" is Shorter's tribute to Strayhorn, whom drummer Sonny Greer so dubbed because of the diminutive composer's resemblance to Swee' Pea, the comic-strip foundling left on Popeye's doorstep during the Great Depression. It should come as no surprise, however, that Wayne's "Swee-Pea" does not resemble anything Strayhorn himself might have written. Shorter's mind doesn't work that way. That would be too obvious. Instead, "Swee-Pea" is a variation of sorts on the open-ended conversational acoustic music that marked much of In a Silent Way. McLaughlin, Corea, DeJohnette et al. seem to have been left to their own devices, which was a brilliant move. Why try to dictate the rapport these players were developing at the time? Over the top of their free-jazz leaning soundscapes, Shorter's soprano plays heartache.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Condition Red

Multi-Grammy winner Wayne Shorter's importance to jazz is much more than being a part of seminal jazz-rock group Weather Report. He played with and was music director for the great Art Blakey band in the early 1960s. He was lured away by Miles Davis to join his quintet. Davis loved Shorter's playing and composing. Davis's bands performed and recorded many of Shorter's compositions. That was a seal of approval from a guy who didn't dole out too many of those. And then Shorter, along with Josef Zawinul, formed Weather Report, one of the most successful of all jazz-rock bands. To this day, his compositions and improvisations are of a deep and knowing nature.

Though actively touring and appearing on other peoples' albums, Shorter has released relatively few solo albums since his Weather Report days. Phantom Navigator is some jazz-rock ride. Its opening cut, "Condition Red," is a nuclear-powered super cruise liner. Forman's synthesizer provides the reactor fuel. Bassist Willis is ballast. Drummer Brechtlein is the steam-driven turbine. Shorter is the navigator plotting a course through troubled waters. His lines twist and turn, but always maintain course: straight-ahead. We get some interesting and unexpected entertainment on this cruise. Shorter lifts his voice to sing some nonsense syllables that you will be humming at the midnight buffet. The condition may be RED, but I am not worried with Shorter at the charts. Are you?

One of the best interviews of Shorter, a man of some depth and idiosyncrasies, was conducted by Jazz.com's Bob Blumenthal. Read it here.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dinah Washington: All of Me

It's easy to see why novice filmmaker (and non-jazz fan) Bert Stern picked "All of Me" instead of a different Dinah Washington number for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), his documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival. Having belted the opening chorus with customary gusto, Dinah steps aside for most of Terry Gibbs's ensuing solo, only to mischievously butt in near the end for some 4-handed vibes frivolity that's as visually entertaining as it is musically negligible. Strictly for listening, however, this track has less to recommend. Max Roach rushes the tempo as the second chorus begins, and Urbie Green's throwback trombone solo, while technically admirable, makes you wonder why J.J. Johnson wasn't at Newport that year.

Another track from the same day, though, shows Miss Washington at her brash best. "Backwater Blues," a tribute to its composer, Bessie Smith, is Dinah-mite with the fuse lit. Backed only by Roach, bassist West and the extraordinary Wynton Kelly on piano, Dinah does her precursor proud. If Bessie was Empress of the Blues, Dinah was the Doyenne of Delight.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Continuum

This was Jaco Pastorius's first record as leader. His phenomenal talent was already well known inside the fusion community, and he attracted the genre's top musicians for this recording. Soon, however, he would become a mega fusion star himself because of his new membership in the jazz-rock supergroup Weather Report.

"Continuum" is a showcase for Jaco's composing and articulation. He had been playing the melody, or a variation of it, since he was a teenager. Hancock, White, Darqui and Alias supply a sparing textured background for Jaco's simple, tender ballad, which the composer plays straight from the heart. The technique he used, and the fretless bass on which he used it, allowed him to show the bass could be a powerful lead melodic voice. His use of harmonics, on display often during "Continuum," was also quite revolutionary and has influenced scores of great bass players. Pastorius performances like this helped change the bass vocabulary forever.

Another impressive version of "Continuum" appears on the Trio of Doom live CD, which features Pastorius, John McLaughlin and Tony Williams.

To learn more about Jaco's art and life, I highly recommend Bill Milkowski's book The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker (with Phil Urso): To Mickey's Memory

Chet Baker's collaborations with Gerry Mulligan made jazz history. Baker's work with pianist Russ Freeman also are widely admired and still sell well more than 50 years later. But let's not forget Chet's work with tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, featured on this hot and swinging track from their Chet Baker & Crew LP. Urso was a Prez disciple with a knack for hard-bop phrasing, and his presence tended to prod Chet into a more aggressive frame of mind, a nice change-up from the more ethereal Mulligan sides. Bill Loughborough's contribution on his homemade "chromatic tympani" is another highlight here. Somebody should track down that contraption and bring it back into the studio! All in all, "To Mickey's Memory" is a great performance, one of the neglected gems in Baker's Eisenhower-era discography.

April 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Royce Campbell: I Want to Be Happy

Get Happy was the final recording of music educator and swing violinist Joe Kennedy. The CD's "happy" theme was conceived by producer/guitarist Campbell because he believed uplifting music of this type best represented what Kennedy's playing had always been about. Campbell also felt that Kennedy's career had been under-recorded. When Kennedy passed away shortly after these sessions, the CD became both a historical document and a tribute to him.

This track is a departure from the basic bow-to-string swing violin. Kennedy, Campbell and Langosch surely swing on this lighthearted number. But Kennedy's playing is all pizzicato. The swing accents are found in his note-bending and sustain. There is only so much of that you can get from plucking away on such short strings. But if you can do it the way he did, you could do anything and probably teach it pretty good too.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brian Auger: Listen Here

Brian Auger is much better known in Europe than in America. The keyboardist has been in the thick of the English jazz and R&B movement for 40 years. He was one of only a handful of musicians to successfully incorporate R&B, jazz, rock, soul and pop into a homogenized mix in the '60s. Luckily for him, much of it met with commercial success in Great Britain. It can rightly be said that Auger had a hand or two in planting the seeds of jazz-fusion. Auger wasn't just one of these guys who tried to sound like everyone else. He was a thinking man's musician. His take on Eddie Harris's hit "Listen Here" is a perfect example.

Auger wanted a unique sound to best express his version of the Harris pop-jazz piece. He wanted it to sound more like a rock record. That was a unique thought in 1970. So he augmented his popular group at the time by adding another bassist and three more drummers! That makes for one heavy beat and a deep groove. Auger plays a rolling Hammond organ and a pounding piano. Boyle's guitar pierces through the fireworks. Auger's solo is in your face. This is a Traffic jam on human growth hormone. The power of this performance is quite overwhelming. Auger says Eddie Harris told him it was his favorite cover of his composition. I have no doubt.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: Cosmic Strut

What a weird and wonderful world we live in. Here is Billy Cobham, an original member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, playing Mahavishnu music with a German big band over 30 years after the MO broke up! Until this live performance, Cobham had never revisited the music.

The original Mahavishnu Orchestra's complex time signatures, most obvious in Cobham's powerful and complex drumming, could overwhelm musicians and listeners alike. But if you learned to lock in, you'd find yourself caught in a riptide of grooves. Arranger Towns has very cleverly, and probably not too easily, taken the polyrhythmic thing a step farther and added even more sub-themes. At first, there is almost too much going on. But once you remember the spirit of the original band, you realize the big band has to play OUT. This is music in which you will hear something new each time you listen.

Cobham remains a domineering drummer in this context. It is not so much that he doesn't miss a beat, as lame as that metaphor is. But three decades have transpired. He is more into space and he is more reflective in his solos. The HR band is full of accomplished musicians who seem to understand the nuances – even if some of them are hidden in the din – of Mahavishnu's music.

"Cosmic Strut" is, ironically, a tune written by Cobham's replacement in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Narada Michael Walden. It is safe to say that Cobham never performed it before this concert! It is the kind of funk that the original Mahavishnu Orchestra never really played. That is what makes this cut so interesting. We get to hear Billy Cobham funk-out on Mahavishnu Mark II music and we get to listen to a really good big band do the same. Cobham rocks as the horns riff away. An aggressive straight-ahead saxophone solo enters as the riffs continue unabated. Following ably are the pianist and a trumpeter. The jazzed-up funk theme reenters and dissipates into the cosmos. It is three minutes or so of unbridled joy.

The music was the wonderful part. Also wonderful is that a year later, the HR-Big Band and Cobham got together again. But this time they were joined by Cobham's original band mate from Mahavishnu, violinist Jerry Goodman.

Now here is the weird part. Billy Cobham is playing Mahavishnu music again. And, weirder yet, Mahavishnu founder John McLaughlin wrote the liner notes for this album. But the weirdest part is that, unless some secret conversation has recently taken place, the two have not spoken to each other in many years. That is just plain weird. And sad.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Egan: After The Rain

Mark Egan first made his mark in the Pat Metheny Group. Since then he has founded, along with drummer Danny Gottlieb, the underrated jazz-fusion group Elements and released many albums of his own. He has also enjoyed a successful career in television music. Jazz fan Bill Cosby once named Egan as his favorite bass player.

Egan is a very lyrical bassist, known for his work on the fretless electric. His basslines tend to be powerful, while his melody and solos consist of long sustained notes that are nuanced to the nth degree. He seems to effortlessly bend those thick bass strings.

Don Alias's percussive sheets help make the perfect bed for Egan's sustained and somber exposition to lie upon. The opening strains are solemn and slowly drawn out. Egan's bass doesn't sound like Coltrane's horn, but his melodic approach to the master's composition sure evokes Coltrane's memory. At least, it does for the tune's head. The body of the piece is something totally different. It becomes samba-like. This solemn tune now takes on a light and relaxed feel. Egan plays soothing lines. The character of the piece changes again as the gifted and underappreciated Steve Khan adds some blues before the band descends back into the beautiful languidness of the opening theme. It is remarkable how fine musicians can change our perception of a tune no matter how indelible we thought it may have been.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Al Di Meola: No Mystery

Every few years Al Di Meola has put together a version of the World Sinfonia. Of all of his projects, this is the most honest and heartfelt. The music is international in scope, all-acoustic and totally noncommercial. Dino Saluzzi, who plays the bandoneon, is the other principal soloist. The bandoneon is an Argentinean instrument that somewhat resembles a complicated accordion. It has buttons instead of keys. The buttons themselves are not arranged in a typical scalar fashion, so you have to literally memorize the placement of each note. The notes are even different depending on whether you play the instrument closed or open. It is not easy to play. It is also an acquired taste to listen to.

Saluzzi is Chick Corea on Corea's classic fusion composition "No Mystery." Al Di Meola plays himself the same way he did in Return to Forever. Di Meola has written a nice arrangement here. The memorable and uplifting theme is stated first. Di Meola and Saluzzi then play off each other in a serene spatial section. The tune stays pretty close to the original. But Di Meola has made room for some slow movements for Saluzzi. These add a lilting gentleness to the piece not found on Return to Forever's version. Also of note is that Di Meola does not use his trademark "muffled" note style in his solos. This is welcome. The tune, propelled by the percussionists, turns full Latin for awhile before a series of more textured sections arise. The band slowly reprises the theme to great content.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jesse Davis: On the Sunny Side of the Street

Jesse Davis has not been as visible in this century as he was in the 1990s when he recorded seven CDs for Concord (this track is from the final one) and had a role in Robert Altman's film Kansas City. "On the Sunny Side of the Street," dedicated to Louis Armstrong, shows off his skills as both player and arranger, with the fine support of the Massimo Farao Trio, his touring group when in Italy at that time. A catchy riff launches this version, as a swaying, kind of delayed-reaction rhythmic pulse kicks in, reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal. Dall'omo's artful mallet work and Farao's sparse yet firm chords enhance the mood as Davis interprets the melody with his singing, lustrous tone, a laudable blend of Bird and Cannonball. As Davis solos, you are struck by his impeccable technique, great taste, and just the sheer virtuosic fluidity of his single-note lines. He can hold his own with any other altoist plying the hard-bop waters. Farao and Zunino acquit themselves well in their solos, with Farao exhibiting a ringing tone and confident two-handed attack, and Zunino sounding eerily like Paul Chambers. This track got a lot of airplay on jazz radio back in the day, and for good reason. Check it, and Davis, out.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Farmer: Soul Eyes

In the early 1960s, trumpeter Art Farmer took up the flugelhorn, attracted by its richer, woodier sound. With the flugelhorn, however, you must sacrifice some of the trumpet's range, sharpness of tone, and volume. So 30 years later, instrument designer David Monette created the flumpet specifically for Farmer, which afforded him the best of both worlds. "Soul Eyes," one of the most enchanting ballads ever written by a jazz musician, was also tailor-made for Farmer's trademark lyricism. This nine-minute track never drags as Farmer caresses the melody backed by Keezer's adroit comping and the sensitive support of Davis and Nash. Farmer's long solo is beautifully sculpted, and with his dreamy phrases and surging lines succeeds in capturing the tune's essence better than most others have. Keezer displays some of the best playing of his then young career in his following solo, his daring, intricate runs and freshly voiced chords making quite an impression, clearly inspired by Farmer's artistry. As Farmer reiterates the theme, you luxuriate in his distinctive sound and his refined grace notes and embellishments.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond: Battle Hymn of the Republican

Who else but frustrated Democrat Paul Desmond could come up with a title as witty as this? Besides being Dave Brubeck's longtime sideman, the altoist who strove to sound "like a dry martini" was known for such quips as: "I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness." This collaboration with Gerry Mulligan had long been desired by both men, and the result was well worth the wait. The track is really just straight improvisation on "Tea for Two" changes, but the co-leaders' remarkable rapport elevates it to a higher level. Desmond takes the lead initially with Mulligan providing inventive counterpoint, which then evolves into short, cogent exchanges before Mulligan solos, Benjamin's throbbing bass egging him on. Mulligan primarily takes mini-motifs and expands them with subtle alterations. Desmond solos next with a more biting attack than usual – definitely neither dry, slow nor quiet – his lyrical development containing more extended and intricate lines than Mulligan's. Near the end of Desmond's solo, Mulligan complements Benjamin's basslines with additional effective counterpoint. After Benjamin's deft solo, the two horns engage in an absorbing dual improvisation, their creative phrases intertwining in delightful harmony.

Apparently we owe it to sand that Desmond, the English major, became a musician instead of a writer. As he explained it, "I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter." Literature's loss was jazz's gain.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Zambia

In a 2006 interview by Ethan Iverson, drummer Billy Hart mentions that he once asked Lee Morgan about "The Sidewinder," and Morgan replied, "Yeah, man, ain't that a bitch? I played all this hip music, and we threw this other shit together just to finish out the record, and that becomes the hit. My first hit had to be some dumb shit like that." Of course, that "dumb shit" (which was actually quite good) helped pay the bills and enabled Morgan to record such less commercial tracks as "Zambia." This was one of many tunes with African titles on 1960s jazz releases, each acknowledging the drive towards independence throughout Africa that coincided with the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. The rhythmic content, however, is anything but African, as the swaying call-and-response theme is played with a Latin-flavored beat before going to straight 4/4 once the solos begin. Henderson runs the gamut, with slithery, sometimes funky lines, vocalized phrases, and high-pitched, dissonant shrieks. Morgan hits the ground running, his exclamatory riffs and swirling passages played with an exceptional, piercing yet rounded tone. Tyner's compelling short statement, and energetic exchanges between Morgan and Higgins are the remaining highlights of this invigorating performance. (For a different take, hear the Oliver Nelson-arranged big band version on the same CD.)

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis (featuring Philly Joe Jones): Gone

"The thing about Philly Joe's playing," said Paul Motian in a 1996 Percussive Notes interview, "was that somehow his ideas and his phrasing, when he soloed and played fours and eights, you really knew where he was in the tune. So I learned from that." As with all great jazz drummers, but especially with Philly Joe and Max Roach, instrumental composition was their priority, whether playing behind a famed soloist or improvising an individual statement of their own. "Drum Solo!!!" certainly did not equate to temporarily abandoning all remnants of the tune until the drummer counted the band back in. And like great soloists on other instruments, their improvisations can later be analyzed as instantaneous compositions, in which musicians who thoughtfully combined melodic ideas on a rhythmic instrument (or vice versa) often yield the most satisfying analytic findings.

One can hear this in "Gone," Philly Joe's feature from Porgy and Bess. Note how his drum breaks either act as responses to the calls previously played by the band, or how they occasionally predict what rhythm the band is about to play. There are no throwaway fills here – every drum break (and there are many) propels the song forward with vigor and sophistication. A highlight is the extended break from 1:16 to 1:25, where Philly Joe masterfully executes both swing and bop mainstays in nine seconds: advanced bop fills throughout the middle of the break are bookended by triplets that cleverly mark the band's exit and sets up its return. A master in fine form.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcus Miller: Blast!

This is Buddha Bar music with an extra dose of funk. The mixture of Western grooves with Eastern modalities is very effective, and is furthered by the clever incorporation of sitar into the mix. The structure is built off a simple call-and-response between Miller and the ensemble, but the whole piece turns on the rhythmic fire generated by the bandleader. It's great to hear Miller, who turns 50 next year, still playing with such youthful fervor.

April 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Tea for Two

Anita O'Day

Looking like a grande dame in Vogue, singing like a dame outa Down Beat, Anita O'Day walked away with Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). The documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival should have been called Jazz on a Summer's O'Day.

"I was scheduled for 5 o'clock in the afternoon," Miss O'Day recounts in her autobiography, "and I asked myself what to wear. 'It's teatime,' I told the Italian lady who ran a dress shop in Greenwich Village. She brought out this black dress, trimmed with white. We both knew it was right, but I asked what I could wear on my head. She went into the back room and came out with a black cartwheel, trimmed with white feathers. Both went with my see-through, plastic pumps and for a fun touch I added short white gloves."

After flicking mud from an earlier rain off her shoe, a tightly hemmed Anita wriggled on stage and squinted at the crowd. "Performing in the afternoon was a bonus," she recalled, "because I could see the audience. I spotted Chris Connor out there." Like O'Day, Connor had served a stretch as Stan Kenton's vocalist. "That was good," Anita thought, "because I can make my performance the way I want it to be when I know some of the audience digs what I'm doing and I can relate to them."

She related with what amounts to a clinic on jazz singing, in particular wowing the crowd with her up-tempo take on the 1925 chestnut "Tea for Two." Blazing through the lyrics, Anita treats both melody and rhythm to a complete makeover, exercising the unbridled flair of an interior decorator given carte blanche by a client with deep pockets. Following a short piano solo, Anita switches to scat, trading fours with Poole's wire-brushed drums. To conclude, Anita amuses the audience by exchanging wordless quotes with her trio from "Flip Top," a favorite '50s TV jingle. "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro," the original assured. "Filter, flavor, flip-top box." In those halcyon days, cigarette jingles were considered harmless fun. Fifty years later, coffin-nail jingles are thankfully a thing of the past. Anita O'Day, though, is as much fun as ever.

April 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans (sax): Jean Pierre

Bill Evans (sax) seems to have found a genre that is pleasing to him musically and offers some lucrative opportunities not usually afforded progressive or fusion sax players. He takes bluegrass music, mixes it with jazz, a little funk and a little bit o'soul to create a rich gumbo. The degree to which you accept this music is probably related to the proportion of bluegrass, jazz, funk and soul used in the recipe. The Grammy people seemed to like it. Soulgrass received a nomination. To me, the roux is a bit over-spiced with bluegrass. But perhaps it is an acquired taste. At any rate, there is enough good music coming through the aroma to try some extra sips.

"Jean Pierre" provides some jazz and bluegrass common ground. Evans (sax) played this tune many times with its composer Miles Davis. I am quite sure Miles never had a banjo player perform the opening bars. The sing-songy melody is evocatively captured by Evans (sax) the same way he did when he was in Miles's band. He is truly an impressive player. On this "Jean Pierre," he often doubles-up with fiddler Stuart Duncan. A contrapuntal section leads to a fluttering funk sax solo. Then short turns are given to fiddler Duncan and banjoist Leos. Wooten supplies a thick funk base. The tune is boiling over the pot now. Stir. Stir again. Take a spoonful. Blow it off. Have a taste. Miles would.

April 07, 2008 · 2 comments

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Elements: Quetico

Over the years, I have been a big fan of Elements, the band founded by bassist Mark Egan and drummer Danny Gottlieb. As a general rule, they have presented some very fine music. However, Liberal Arts is not one of their better records. There is still some good music to be heard. But the album pales in comparison to the band's fantastic Illumination.

The strongest tune is "Quetico." Its composer, Bill Evans (sax), is a frequent member of Elements' rotating cast and an avid fisherman. A peek at Wikipedia reveals that Quetico is a huge park in Ontario, Canada, famed for its fishing. I'd take a wild guess and say Bill Evans (sax) has spent time there. Egan's rolling bassline and Gottlieb's rhythms introduce Evans's syncopated melody. Carter and Evans (sax) play the fun-sounding but complicated lines in full unison. Samole cranks out an electric blitz. Evans (sax) returns with a screeching vengeance.

Quetico, the park, can't be this exciting. Then again, I don't fish, so maybe it is.

April 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Take the 'A' Train

Joe Henderson's melodic tenor sax shines brilliantly in a duet setting. He has certainly performed several such over the years, and creates a seamless flow of musical expressions in this format, especially when spurred on by talented younger players. On this well-worn Ellington/Strayhorn standard, two musicians, their ages separated by nearly 30 years, form a magical partnership, with elder statesman Henderson propelled by a young but sensitive drummer. The tune's instant familiarity allows the listener to easily follow their explorations and even anticipate their direction. Hutchinson, for his part, plays brilliantly behind Henderson, making the listener aware of his thoughts but never upstaging the tenor journeyman. Taking an economical approach to a staple for the big bands of yesteryear, this duo proves surprisingly lively and enjoyable. Respect for the man, respect for the music is very obvious in this fine performance.

April 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley & Paul Haines: Rawalpindi Blues

Escalator Over the Hill, an epic jazz-rock opera, was probably pretentious in 1971, and is definitely pretentious now. That being said, it was an important attempt at a full-length social statement. It doesn't really matter that the point was lost somewhere in Paul Haines's interesting but vague lyrics. Or that it is virtually impossible, despite a full LP-sized script, to keep track of the 100 different musicians and actors on hand. It was the naïve effort that counted. For its day, this undertaking was brave and grand of scale. Bley and Haines bit off more than they could chew, but there are gems among the cud.

While EOTH rarely had less than a boatload of musicians playing at once, "Rawalpindi Blues" begins with a simple quartet featuring Bley on organ, Cream's Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Paul Motion. Bruce raises his famous voice for the Beatles-Maharishi Mahesh Yogi trancelike introduction. McLaughlin then gives an early display of grunge jazz. His notes are splinters. Bley is pure accompanist as Motian and Bruce keep a heavy rhythm. Eventually other musicians join, and the rough blues-rock becomes a form of world music replete with Indian syllabic singing. Remember, this was before anyone recognized "world music."

A behemoth of inconsistency and brilliance, EOTH was perhaps the first album to combine so many disparate forms. Though only occasionally attaining transcendence, it was an important historical marker and deserves to be listened to at least once.

Reviewer's Note: I own the video of the making of this recording. At some point early on, Bley starts smoking a pipe. I don't mean a pot pipe. I mean the type your dad may have smoked in 1958. That was too much for me. I never watched the rest of the video. (The more I think about it, it may have been a corncob pipe. But I am afraid to go back and look.)

April 06, 2008 · 3 comments

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Grafitti: Moonshine

Take Return to Forever, replace Al Di Meola with Larry Coryell, add a taste of light groove funk, and you get Grafitti. (Yes, that's how they spell it.) Ulf Wakenius, the band's actual guitarist, is quite accomplished in his own right, and this comparison is no slight to him whatsoever. But that is what the music sounds like. Grafitti toured the U.S. in 1994 and wowed audiences with their tight fusion displays. As with many artists, their live performances were more impressive than their recordings. This album is no exception. Even so, "Moonshine" is a wonderfully catchy tune that has jazz chops to spare. Its head is one that you will find yourself humming days later. And of course any record that features Dennis Chambers on drums is not chopped liver.

April 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Medeski Martin & Wood: The Lover

Friday Afternoon in the Universe features Medeski Martin & Wood 1.0. This early incarnation starred Wood on acoustic bass rather than electric. In some ways, at least on this cut, it gave MMW a more organic sound. It seemed this "back-to-basics" movement would be the direction many jam bands would take. But in the end, the electric bass probably allows for a greater freedom and is easier to carry around on the road. In either case, it is Wood's choice of acoustic or electric bass that determines much of the character of each MMW piece to this day. Besides, in the hands of Chris Wood, a standup bass is more than a standup bass. He has enough tricks up his sleeve to create unique sounds. Many of them involve foreign objects not even allowed in the WWWF.

The jam music heard on "The Lover" has an unrelenting groove. Medeski's organ has no brakes. Martin's piston-like drumming and Wood's vibrating bass aren't very easy to stop either. The band finds one ingratiating riff after another and drives each into the ground. These aren't guys who don't know their jazz history, either. In the middle of the trip, Medeski takes a left-hand turn to quote "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." My guess is that the vast majority of the band's mostly rock fans at the time had no clue what the band was doing. So what? Sometimes it's best to get caught up in the ride and just ignore the map.

April 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Lungs

In the late 1960s, Abercrombie and his friend, fellow New York City resident Jan Hammer, were jamming companions. They even worked through early Mahavishnu tunes when Jan was first learning the new music. Abercrombie is probably given less credit than he deserves. His guitar-playing skills have always been acknowledged, but he was in the thick of things when the fusion movement thrust itself onto the scene, and has remained an important musician since.

Hammer's "Lungs" takes its first breath as a hyped-up B-3 organ trio. Momentarily winded, it is quickly resuscitated by Hammer's Moog. Abercrombie and Hammer then trade licks at breakneck speed. Hammer effortlessly switches between the B-3 and his synthesizer. Abercrombie's tone is dirty and distorted in this section, but his articulation is as clean as a whistle. The ambient midsection, interrupted by DeJohnette's drum exhortations, cools things down before a slow blues funk ensues. Abercrombie focuses on angular blues and rock riffs while Hammer does some bassline throbbing with the Moog. The tune ends as "Lungs" finally runs out of breath.

April 06, 2008 · 2 comments

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Miles Davis: Violet

Danish horn player and composer Palle Mikkelborg wrote the 10-part suite Aura in 1984 as a tribute to Miles Davis. That year Davis was awarded the prestigious Sonning Music Prize given out in Denmark. Later that year, Miles returned to Copenhagen to record. He was not alone. His old friend John McLaughlin came as the other principal soloist. Davis's nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn, also joined him. A score of other mostly Dutch jazz and classical musicians were utilized to play Mikkelborg's opus. Though recorded in 1984, contractual issues delayed the album's release for five years. In 1990, Aura won a Grammy.

Mikkelborg based his suite on the 10 letters of Miles Davis's name and the theoretical musical colors Mikkelborg heard when listening to Davis. Inventive and grand in scope, the piece actually calls for the entire pallet of tonal colors. But its primary success is owed to the tandem of Davis and McLaughlin. A quarter century earlier, Davis had used McLaughlin for the first time on In a Silent Way. Their rapport was evident from their very first traded notes. McLaughlin went on to become one of Davis's most frequent guest stars, adding indelible marks to A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, Get Up With It, On the Corner and other Davis albums.

"Violet" is the last of Aura's 10 parts. McLaughlin plays a jagged line reminiscent of his opening salvos in the suite's first section. Miles answers. "Violet" is an electric fusion blues slower than cold molasses flowing uphill. Two masters have an intense discussion. That is all you need to know.

April 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Zubin Mehta: Rhapsody in Blue – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Manhattan</i> (1979)

In 1924 bandleader Paul Whiteman, the reigning "King of Jazz," introduced his unruly domain to Gotham highbrows, premiering George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with its composer at the piano. Gershwin described his piece better than any reviewer could as "a musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, our unduplicated national pep, our blues, our metropolitan madness." True to its name, Rhapsody revolves thematically around the blues scale that is central to jazz. From its outrageous opening clarinet glissando—as instantly recognizable as the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony—to its final triumphant chord, Rhapsody in Blue exudes Jazz Age chutzpah. Here covered by the New York Philharmonic with piano soloist Gary Graffman, as conducted by Zubin Mehta especially for Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), Gershwin's crowning glory remains a vibrant, everlasting monument of Americana.

April 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie & Joe Williams: All Right, OK, You Win

From 1967-1987, Sooner State license plates bore the legend "Oklahoma is OK." This less-than-ringing endorsement was then truncated to "Oklahoma OK!"  Dropping the verb and appending an exclamation mark was scant improvement, but you knew what they meant. By contrast, singer Joe Williams, backed by the infectious shuffle-beat and thrilling brass of Count Basie's New Testament band, offers an unstinting testimonial. True, the song is about a guy throwing in the towel after being KO'd by love's roundhouse right. But the mood is downright celebratory. Never did a pug hit the canvas with a broader smile on his face than Joe Williams. So what say, Oklahoma state legislators? Can you fit "Alright, OK, You Win (I'm in Love with You)" on next year's plates?

April 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mike Melvoin: This Is the Place

"This," said a feverish Brigham Young upon glimpsing Utah's Salt Lake Valley in 1847, "is the place." Having led an exodus from religious persecution through a desert, the Mormon Moses recognized the promised land even from his sickbed in a covered wagon. Mike Melvoin's liltingly lyrical waltz "This Is the Place" aptly captures the quiet optimism of attaining a long-held goal, tempered by the sacrifices required to meet it. Although marred by an obligatory jazz piano-trio bass solo that sucks nearly 1½ minutes of air to no appreciable purpose beyond padding the bassist's résumé, this track is overall quite lovely.

April 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs & Buddy DeFranco: South Dakota

Jazz's Mount Rushmore

In the United States of Jazz, we'd revamp South Dakota's Mount Rushmore. Armstrong & Ellington are shoo-ins to replace Washington & Jefferson. But the other two slots are up for grabs. We'd nominate Terry Gibbs & Buddy DeFranco save for this track's unbecoming raggedness. By 1998, Terry & Buddy were in their mid-70s, having been musical pros for 60 years apiece and co-leaders of a quintet off and on for two decades. Yet their unisons sound like they were recorded in separate soundproof isolation booths left over from rigged 1950s TV quiz shows. So, to fill out Jazz's Mt. Rushmore, how about Billie Holiday and Miles Davis? Just picture Miles's "Shh" in granite 60 feet high!

April 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Whiteman: I'm Coming Virginia

Paul Whiteman, the 1920s' favorite bandleader, introduced jazz to millions. To critics and historians, however, popularity is anathema, and their backlash shredded Whiteman's reputation. Nowadays he's a joke. Online music provider Rhapsody, for example, while offering few of his tracks, sarcastically quips that Whiteman "could make Laurence [sic] Welk look like a crazed beatnik tripping the light fantastic on reefer and cough medicine." And since RCA has never shown Whiteman the comprehensive reissue respect accorded to fellow Victor artists Ellington and Waller, listeners are stuck with wisecracks. "I'm Coming Virginia" cannot by itself redeem Whiteman, but it trounces witless witticisms.

April 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina

Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina For a 60-mile stretch along North Carolina's southwest border, going a little bit south puts you in Georgia. Anita O'Day, however, leaves no doubt she's pining for South Carolina, where paradise awaits. This perky, pleasant track illustrates how close to the tree Gene Krupa fell when he left Benny Goodman to form his own band, which resembles a worthy edition of B.G.'s ensemble, right down to Sam Musiker's Goodman-styled clarinet solo. (Talk about being born into one's occupation: Musiker is German for musician!)

While just a little bit south of a Swing Era classic, this track is nonetheless cheerfully representative.

April 04, 2008 · 3 comments

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Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra: Texas Tex

Following World War II, during which Major Glenn Miller's plane mysteriously vanished over the English Channel, toothsome Tex Beneke led the authorized Glenn Miller ghost band before large and appreciative stateside audiences. A square-jawed, broad-shouldered Fort Worth native, Beneke starred with Miller's prewar outfit as singer and tenorman, but his new front-man role was musically undemanding. Which likewise describes this genial two-beat track, obliging as a longhorn steer loping off to its last roundup. The trumpet section rides high in the saddle, and altoist Lary lassoes a lone-star solo, but ghost bands give us the willies. May Maj. Miller RIP.

April 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mose Allison: The Tennessee Waltz

So what's a super-hip, former dyed-in-the-cotton Mississippi peckerwood doing singing about a state to his north (pardon the word) whose capital is the hipster's Heart of Darkness (read: capital of country music)? First, this ain't no waltz, y'all, but funky 4/4. (Pronounced: foe/foe.) Plus it's a powerful distance from, with all due respect, Miss Patti Page. Still, the storyline's the same: at dance, introduce old friend to milady; while they waltz, "friend" steals her heart away. Left high & dry, Mose conjures some piquant backroom piano licks, but his gal stays lost. Moral: when the band plays "The Volunteer State Waltz," volunteer yo' gal to nobody, friend nor foe.

April 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Glenn Miller: Pennsylvania 6-5000

In ancient times, telephone prefixes were mnemonic, not numeric. PE 6-5000 in Manhattan, for example, rang up the Hotel Pennsylvania, in whose Café Rouge the Glenn Miller Orchestra nightly performed. That such minutia became grist for Miller's mill of pop hits presaged the pretzel logic of Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" (1974), in which seven digits assume talismanic importance. Glenn Miller goes Steely Dan one better, though, by incorporating a tinkling bell, the prehistoric ringtone so compelling to primitives. Miller's dynamics, encasing straitlaced solos by trumpeter Hurley and tenorman Beneke, are calculated as usual to produce prissy room-service Swing.

April 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Harry "The Hipster" Gibson: Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?

In 1946 Time magazine identified Harry the Hipster Gibson as "the bigwig of be-bop." Absurdly conflating bop and hipsters, Time latched onto Harry because he was a zany, zoot-suited caricature. Yet, unlike his occasional sidekick Slim Gaillard, Gibson was no good-natured naïf. Rather, Harry made it hip to get high. His song about spiking a popular children's drink with amphetamine might be some fool's idea of good clean fun, but by the mid-1940s public health officials were warning that such drug abuse wasn't hip, it was dangerous. Even so, it might've been a good thing if Harry had been the bigwig of bebop. As Gene Wilder demonstrated in Young Frankenstein, it's easier to Just Say No to Ovaltine than to the lethal junk the true Bigwig of Bebop was hooked on.

April 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Eager Beaver

In 1943, Stan Kenton vied for personnel with the military draft. Kenton was a formidable presence, but no match for Uncle Sam. Uncle Stan decided a trademark tune à la Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" would help him survive the war even with raw recruits. Thus was born "Eager Beaver," a term that had lately gained currency to describe raw recruits anxious to please their drill sergeants. This track, Drill Sgt. Kenton's 1956 remake, boasts musicians and recording quality superior to his 1943 original, but in either case "Eager Beaver" is a fitting tribute to the industriousness of North America's largest rodent (and Oregon's official mammal).

April 04, 2008 · 2 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Triple Chase

Only distortion on the original recording detracts from this up-tempo showcase for the Wilson orchestra's tenor saxophonists. With an introduction by electric pianist Land, the saxes play the melody (somewhat reminiscent of Coltrane's "Impressions") with high-voltage brass punctuations. Wilson, who loves being surrounded by good musicians and letting them play, must've had a ball listening to the contrasting styles of Watts, Land Sr. and an old colleague from his San Francisco days, Jerome Richardson. The track also features a solo by Conti.

April 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Boston T Party: Last Trane

Four of the most accomplished jazz and progressive players on the planet got together for this rebellion. Fittingly, Boston T Party was recorded in Massachusetts, epicenter of the colonies' fight for independence and to this day the greatest and most patriotic of all the 50 states. Most of the music is based upon key- boardist T Lavitz's compositions, but the other three add some of their own music as well.

F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i's "Last Trane" is, of course, an homage to John Coltrane. Nobody sounds quite like F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i on guitar. The fact that he plays several uniquely built and sounding guitars makes this even more so. But on this cut he plays a normal fretted neck and uses a whammy bar to slur the notes. The tune is a slow power ballad. The melody, played over a dramatically less speedy and reworked "Giant Steps" chord progression, has an eerie "Naima"-like vibe. Lavitz takes a solo turn on organ. The band drops a few final depth charges to the bottom of Boston Harbor to finish off their anti-tax protest.

If you exchange F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i's guitar for a saxophone and make him John Coltrane, one can easily envision these guys hanging out at Trane's house jamming away. Chambers would be Elvin Jones. Jeff Berlin would be Reggie Workman. T would be Larry Young. Or we could go another apt metaphorical route. T Lavitz could be Sam Adams, etc.

April 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miguel Zenón: Camarón

This composition was inspired by the great flamenco singer El Camarón. Indeed, Zenón reminds me of El Camarón's frequent accompanist Paco de Lucía, famous for his winning combination of speed, power and musicality. Zenón is a delight to hear. His solos are brilliantly constructed, and his execution of fast, double-time passages is especially impressive. These don't sound like memorized licks, just incisive improvisation played at a very high level. In a perfect world, where sales were driven by sheer talent, this one would be a gold record. On my scale, it already is.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Russ Nolan: Naima

When I see a Coltrane cover on a self-produced CD, I usually want to run and hide. I would rather listen to the Nicholas Slonimsky thesaurus of scales played on kazoo. At least that would be a change. But wait, these guys can play, and they don't just imitate old Impulse records. Kenny Werner and cohorts mesh brilliantly in the rhythm section, achieving a light swinging sound that serves as an effective underpinning to Nolan's fluid sax work. No copycats here, just smart playing by a top-notch quartet.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tobias Gebb: How Deep Is The Ocean?

Judging by the name Trio West, you would think that Gebb's band had honed its craft in Hollywood and near various L.A. beach haunts. Not so fast . . . this group got its name from the Upper West Side, and made the CD in Brooklyn. But a cool jazz ambiance permeates the tracks on An Upper West Side Story, helped along by the leader's exceptional drum work. Gebb reminds me of Vernell Fournier and Chico Hamilton in his ability to swing hot with a light touch. This version of the Irving Berlin standard is a gem, with the band alternating between 5/4 for the first half of each chorus, and 4/4 for the last half. But this odd meter doesn't sound odd, just fresh and spicy with plenty of momentum. Won't somebody give these guys a ticket to a Hollywood?

April 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Gerald Wilson: Viva Tirado

It was inevitable that someone would ask Gerald Wilson to record many of his classic arrangements with an all-star New York big band. Happily, Stix Hooper made it happen and even played on one of the sessions. "Viva Tirado" was dedicated to bullfighter Jose Ramon Tirado, and has become a jazz and Latin standard since Wilson first recorded it in 1962. Solos are by Rosnes, Jones, Heath and Wess trading, and Davis. This performance may be a bit laid back for some, but you can feel the love for the leader in every track on the album. Try to hear the SACD version of this CD, which is not as dry and constricted as the stereo mix.

April 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Gerald Wilson: Lomelin

Gerald Wilson's band had not made an album for 12 years when Albert Marx asked him back to record for his new label, Discovery. By then, Wilson had had his own radio program and was teaching jazz history at universities in California. His orchestra of the 1980s was filled with old and new faces and was as good as any ensemble he'd fronted. "Lomelin" continued in the tradition of "Viva Tirado" and "El Viti," other Wilson portraits of great bullfighters he has admired. Wilson's art had deepened since his '60s recordings: varied tempos and additional reeds make this a powerful concert work blending Mexican and jazz threads. Oscar Brashear delivers an emotional solo at the beginning and the end, with additional solos by Land (sax) and Wofford. The maestro was back where he belonged.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Out of This World

It says quite a bit when an arrangement written in 1945 sounds just as contemporary today. Gerald Wilson wrote his version of "Out of This World" for a concert in the earliest days of his band's career. The arrangement runs the gamut: several tempo changes, unusual re-harmonization and rhythms certainly show that Wilson was as modern and musically skilled as George Handy, Pete Rugolo and Ralph Burns. Bobby Bryant is the trumpet soloist who plays into the stratosphere, Ortega solos on alto sax, and during a slow Latin section, Hutcherson plays a lyrical solo. What other striking compositions and arrangements from that era of Wilson's career haven't we heard?

April 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Gerald Wilson: Paper Man

Charles Tolliver had played with Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins before moving to the West Coast and joining Wilson's band. "He thinks a little different," was how Wilson introduced Tolliver's modal rock blues, once again delighted to introduce another new talent through his ensemble. The composer, Caliman and Moore get solo space. Tolliver, of course, has gone on to lead his own small and large ensembles, and has continued to make powerful musical statements.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Watermelon Man

Gerald Wilson always included new compositions of artists he respected. His was the first big band besides Duke Ellington's to play "Come Sunday."  "Groovin' High," "Miles" (the correct name of the tune most know as "Milestones"), "So What" and "Freddie Freeloader" were also part of Gerald's book. "Watermelon Man" was Herbie Hancock's crossover Latin/rock hit that quite a few ensembles played, and which Wilson was smart enough to include for younger listeners. Soloists Hill, Amy, Moore, Ortega (on both piccolo and flute) and Edwards really get down and funky.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Nancy Jo

Named for one of Gerald Wilson's daughters, this track is a blues with a major difference: every chord change is an alternate harmony. To this writer's knowledge, this is the only Wilson score that has ever been made available to the public (it was published in an issue of Down Beat), and many arrangers studied it carefully to understand Wilson's harmonic sensibilities as well as the boppish sax section soli in the middle of the arrangement. Jones, Land and Pass solo. Doug Ramsey points out that this recording came a full year before Joe Pass's landmark Pacific Jazz album Catch Me, when the jazz public began to take notice of his solo skills.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Blues for Yna Yna

Gerald Wilson led bands on and off during the 1950s, but except for a group of recordings for the King label in '54, could not get a record contract. Dick Bock, president of Pacific Jazz, was interested but did not have the money. Albert Marx signed Wilson and put up the money for Gerald's recordings that Bock released. Assembling a powerhouse group of established studio men and younger soloists (some of whom Wilson discovered), the maestro went into the studios with guest organist Holmes. This minor blues waltz got a lot of airplay all across the country, and was a great start toward reestablishing Wilson's band. Solos are played by Jones (one of his earliest recordings) and Land.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Dissonance in Blues

Gerald Wilson's band was beginning to reach the highest rungs of popularity and stardom when the leader decided to disband and study music intensely. He purchased scores by Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartok and other modern composers so that he could write anything for any media. This recording reflects his studies and shows his fascination with alternate harmonies and unusual instrumental voicings while serving as a feature for virtuoso bassist Callender, who also shows off his bowing technique at the end of the track. Even with a flawed ending on the final chord, this is an important statement by Wilson. Even though he would take a hiatus as a recording bandleader, he would stay busy writing for Ellington, Basie and Gillespie for the next three years.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Et-ta

This track is a showcase for tenor saxophonist Eddie (not "Lockjaw") Davis, although the composition itself also has interest. After a brass fanfare, the simple melody is accompanied by a two-beat rhythm à la Jimmie Lunceford, then the saxes and brass roar in parallel chromatic chords before the melody returns in 4-beat rhythm. Another modern touch is in the tune's "B" section, where Wilson throws in a rhythmic displacement of 3+3+2 while the band plays flatted fifth chords. During the solo, the listener is reminded of Illinois Jacquet with Lionel Hampton's band, but only Gerald Wilson could have written these unique and exciting sounds.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Warm Mood

Melba Liston was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and moved with her family to Los Angeles at the age of 11. A professional trombonist since she was 16 and a regular contributor to the Gerald Wilson book, she was 20 when she wrote this lovely alto feature for Floyd Turnham. A solo by Bunn is also heard before a modulation and dissonant ending, making the mood a little less warm and more uncertain. Liston was to have a major career writing and playing for Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Randy Weston, and even at this early stage had something beautiful and profound to say.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Cruisin' with Cab

This exciting up-tempo tribute to Cab Calloway is the sort of thing Calloway's band would play in its prime, although Gerald Wilson's harmony has distinctly modern touches. Solos are by Bunn, Davis, Dotson and Evans. The band really smokes on this track, one of the most exciting this ensemble ever played.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerald Wilson: Groovin' High

Gerald Wilson's arrangement (the tune is based on the chord changes of the standard "Whispering") was the first-known big band setting of one of the anthems of the new music called bebop, and proved that his was one of the most modern bands at that time. Recorded for a small label named Excelsior Records, this didn't get much distribution, but was certainly heard by many listeners who embraced the most up-to-date trends in jazz. Solos are by Dotson, Davis and Bunn, the most boppish of the soloists. Wilson even includes a reference to "A Night in Tunisia" before the shout chorus.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jean-Luc Ponty: Imaginary Voyage

French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty is among a handful of jazz violinists who have been both musical pioneers and commercially viable. All commercial success is relative and most often temporary. This is especially true when you play an unpopular instrument. How many gigs can a jazz violinist find? This makes the accomplishments of such trailblazers as Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Stéphane Grappelli, Jerry Goodman and Ponty all the more impressive.

Ponty has played all styles of music, but his greatest contribution has been to the fusion genre. "Imaginary Voyage" is a jazz-rock suite in four movements. Part 1 is heavy on swirling keyboard runs and quickly played unison runs. Ponty makes a statement of his own in Part 2. His fusion playing has always been a combination of soaring blues-like lines infused with European sophistication. During Part 3, Ponty stretches out in a happy-go-lucky way. In Part 4, we get down to the interstellar stuff for which Ponty is best known. His violin, recorded with a sustained echo, attempts to communicate with the cosmos. This rapprochement leads to a guitar-driven blues-funk-rock jam that gives way to a mad fusion dash. Finis.

These long multipart excursions were once a staple of fusion performances. But somewhere along the line – probably when lesser musicians tried them – the form fell out of favor as being too pretentious. But in the hands of someone as talented as Ponty, these suites were well worth sitting through.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Isfahan

In this Ellington/Strayhorn tune, purportedly inspired by the beauty of the Persian city of the same name, we hear the symbiotic pairing of bassist Christian McBride and Joe Henderson on tenor sax creating a beautiful and intimate musical conversation. The song, according to the liner notes, was originally written for Johnny Hodges as a result of influences absorbed while Strayhorn toured Iran with Ellington’s band in 1963. Whatever the inspiration, this exotic-sounding piece is played to perfection utilizing Henderson’s luxuriously deep and throaty sound and McBride's deft accompaniment. Henderson explores the melody's twists and turns in an adventurous solo sprung from his mind’s fertile imagination. McBride supports the master’s endeavors with accomplished walking basslines. When McBride does solo, he leads the tune through his own slightly funky landscape – a hint of a New York meets Baghdad adventure – that for a time takes the Middle Eastern-sounding melody to a more cosmopolitan place. This detour could for some break the spell of exotica, but surprisingly it leads Joe to a subtle call and response with McBride and a satisfying ending.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Johnny Smith (featuring Stan Getz): Moonlight in Vermont

No jazz instrumental better evokes unsung lyrics than this magical track. As Johnny Smith's icy fingers strum shimmering chords, we visualize moonlit ski trails winding down a mountainside of freshly fallen snow. In time, spring is sprung, and telegraph cables sing valentines down each bend in the back-country road. Summer summons Stan Getz's incomparable tenor, wafting as serenely as a meadowlark warbling across a gently stirring evening breeze. Finally falls a postcard-perfect autumn, with sycamore leaves floating protectively above wishfully strewn pennies in a crystal-clear stream. We understand Vermont's chief export is romance. Must have something to do with their moonlight.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke: There's a Cradle in Caroline

If this song about a homesick Tar Heel lacks sincerity, perhaps it's because the singer was born in Syracuse, New York, and the musicians were Easterners and Midwesterners whose cradles never moseyed within 400 miles of North Carolina. But note the recording date: precisely one week before Al Jolson's burnt-cork "My Mammy" in Hollywood's The Jazz Singer swept America's infatuation with a mythical Dixie to its nadir. Sans blackface, bandleader Sam Lanin and singer Irving Kaufman follow the same script of Jewish immigrants assimilating through minstrelsy. Fortunately, they're joined by someone practiced at transcending mediocrity. Only Bix could rock this rickety "Cradle."

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blossom Dearie: Rhode Island Is Famous For You

When Jack Haley (Wizard of Oz's Tin Man) inventoried the best-known products of 21 states for Broadway's Inside U.S.A. (1948), time travelers from 30 years thence might've sworn "Rhode Island Is Famous for You" was a Dave Frishberg song. David, however, was but 15, and couldn't claim credit for this witty ditty by Shubert Alley veterans Dietz & Schwartz. Yet whoever wrote it, Blossom Dearie was born to sing it. No matter that Russ Garcia's needlessly cutesy xylophone/accordion/clarinet-laden arrangement is akin to topping an éclair with a chocolate fudge sundae. Thanks to this track, Rhode Island's fame will forever Blossom.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Charlap: Ohio

After saying goodbye Columbus, hello New York in Broadway's Wonderful Town (1953), the youthful Sherwood sisters have second thoughts. Despite reminding themselves how bored and lonely they were back home, they still wonder why, oh why, oh did we leave Ohio? Here, Bill Charlap wistfully captures the ambivalence of simultaneous homesickness and sickness of home, evoking the melancholy that gradually succeeds a mad rush to the station, tossing luggage at full sprint to the redcap and boarding breathlessly at the last moment. Settling in your seat as the train pulls out, you wonder where, oh where, am I going? And why?

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke: Jerusalem

Welcome back, Stanley Clarke! The antiwar The Toys of Men is the best thing he has put out in years. It reestablishes him as one of the premier bass players and musical minds in the business. There are 13 cuts on the album, 12 of which are very good.

Though Clarke's own composing is compelling on The Toys of Men, "Jerusalem" was written by keyboardist Sirota. Various ambient effects and a far-away disconnected electronic voice usher in this lovely ballad. Clarke plays the lead melody with a patient understanding of space and texture. It is an eloquent display of the emotion his mastery can elicit. Landau and Sirota generously provide the backdrop for Clarke's jaw-dropping virtuosity. In the hands of a lesser musician, this tune would come off as Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) But the complex dexterity and musical knowledge Clarke exposes would make musicians of that genre feel bad about themselves.

Here's hoping the lucrative years Clarke spent writing soundtracks and Smooth Jazz will afford him the luxury of making more music like this.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Coryell: Variations on Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat

In 1969, Larry Coryell gathered together future fusion superstars John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea and Miroslav Vitous to record Spaces. Released in 1970, the album was one of jazz-rock's landmark recordings. Within two years after its release, McLaughlin and Cobham were in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea had founded Return to Forever, and Vitous was in the first incarnation of Weather Report. In 1973, Coryell formed his own fusion unit, the Eleventh House.

The original Spaces did not fully integrate the rock sound into its milieu. However, the energy generated provided more than a hint that true fusion music was just around the corner. It was all very exciting. It appeared that Coryell would be one of the new music's leading exponents. But personal problems and addictions haunted Coryell for many years. This unfortunate situation made it virtually impossible for him to be a consistent musician or to choose a career path and stick to it. Coryell speaks very openly of these problems in his autobiography, Improvising: My Life in Music.

"Variations on Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat" is quite varied. It begins as a slow swing with Cobham's cymbal work leading the rhythm. Then Cobham kicks the piece into an odd meter for some crafty guitar work. Variation #3 is a slow section featuring a series of tasty blues and jazz licks expertly performed by Coryell and Lagrène. Bassist Bona is also a reliable contributor. The band falls-in to bring back the head arrangement to end yet another version of this ode to Lester Young. All in all, the tune is impressive and pleasing, if maybe a little too diverse.

Coryell is a wonderful and important jazz guitarist, and his personal problems seem to be a thing of the past. I'm still not sure he makes the right choices, though. Take the title of this album. Maybe his management suggested the name Spaces Revisited to lend it a little extra commercial appeal for fans of the original Spaces? Maybe it was Coryell himself. Either way, it was false advertising, which is too bad because this is a good straight-ahead jazz outing. But in no way does it resemble or even remotely refer to the earlier groundbreaking release. Many people were disappointed. The hook was that Billy Cobham and Larry are on both recordings. But please, where is John McLaughlin, Chick Corea or Miroslav? It is hard enough living up to high expectations. Why set yourself up for a fall by raising them yourself?

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carlos Santana: Swapan Tari

The Swing of Delight was one of the fusion albums rock superstar Carlos Santana recorded back in the days when he was known as Devadip Carlos Santana. He surrounded himself with such jazz luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams. Jazz fans tended to like these albums. His record label and legions of his rock fans did not. Santana's fusion records still sold well for fusion records. But compared to the multimillions his rock albums sold, it was no contest.

"Swapan Tari," which translates to "dreamboat" from Bengalese, is a hard-driving jazz-rock anthem that devolves into a straight-ahead blues-rock jam that has Santana wailing away. Hancock mostly supports while Tony Williams supplies a strong backbeat. A little Stevie Wonder funk finds it way into the mix before the tune goes cosmic. Tubbs's reverberating sax solo postulates there is sound in the vacuum of space. Tubbs restates the theme, which is an open invitation to the rest of the band to bring this thing back to earth.

The composing credit for "Swapan Tari" goes to Sri Chinmoy, Santana's spiritual advisor and also the man responsible for giving him the extra first name "Devadip," which meant "light of God." Chinmoy wrote the original melody several years before. Santana added some new lines and extra melodies, increased the tempo and jazzed it up. Much of the chordal and harmonic structure was arranged by Russell Tubbs.

Jazz and fusion fans liked this side of Santana. Meanwhile, many others who had followed his pop-rock career considered this music to be an act of heresy. Over the years, Santana has smartly segregated these two groups by releasing material suitable for both.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: J.S.

Like Claude Monet’s use of colors, John Abercrombie makes musical statements throughout his album November that are only hinted at through the careful use of his palette. In this wistful ballad, the poignant baritone sax of the impeccable John Surman leads us to a tale of calm searching and beautiful discovery. In such a texturally subtle piece, Abercrombie’s masterful use of his hollow-sounding chording perfectly complements the flawless tone of Surman’s deep-throated horn, whose soulful sound is the ideal carrier of the song’s haunting melody. Despite his ability to shred, Abercrombie’s restraint here is a testament his remarkable musicianship. His solo is at once imaginative and yet brilliantly understated. Marc Johnson’s bass is equally moving in its deft, economical contributions to the delicately balanced canvas of these marvelously intuitive musicians. The song is almost invisibly motivated by the superb brush and trap work of the telepathic Peter Erskine, whose ability to be subtle yet clearly present is almost without peer. The more one listens, the more one can visualize the elegant pictures so inventively painted by these sonic artists. This is a tour de force of musical imagery.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Handy: Spanish Lady

Mingus at Monterey 1964. John Handy at Monterey 1965. Charles Lloyd at Monterey 1966. In those years, the Monterey Jazz Festival was the place to be, if only for these three sensational performances. Handy, on tenor, was there with Mingus the year before, and in 1965 it was his turn to bring the house down. His group played two long tunes: the 26-minute "If Only We Knew" and the 19-minute "Spanish Lady," at the end of which the audience was applauding and whistling ecstatically. The latter track has an intense flamenco-flavored ambiance from beginning to end. Handy's hypnotic unaccompanied opening statement, brimming with vocalized exclamations, stirring tremolos and effective upper-register phrasings, leads into a remarkable section driven by Hahn's propulsive strummed guitar and Clarke's unrelentingly creative and supportive drum work. Handy's swift and compelling riffs build things to a rousing climax, after which White solos on his amplified violin with a sound evocative of his own cited influences, Stuff Smith and Ray Nance, but much more modern and harmonically challenging in approach, with endlessly varied effects played with great passion and invention. Hahn's backing of White, and his own subsequent solo, are both astonishing, especially his convoluted and often surprising runs. Handy returns with more of the same, his alto sounding almost guitar-like, with Hahn, Thompson, Clarke, and finally White going full-throttle as they help Handy bring the piece to its highly dramatic resolution.

April 01, 2008 · 2 comments

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Lew Tabackin: I Surrender, Dear

Lew Tabackin has always been a fascinating jazz musician, one who for many years was the featured soloist in the Jazz Orchestra led by his wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi. On flute, he is a fresh and highly original master, with a wide-ranging approach that can jump from European classical to Far Eastern in sound and texture. Yet on tenor sax, his influences bubble to the surface and he joyfully and deftly celebrates them while still retaining his own personality. The ever-appealing 1931 tune "I Surrender, Dear" has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Thelonious Monk and beyond. Tabackin plays the melody with a Ben Websterish tone, at a lingeringly slow tempo, but suddenly the pace accelerates and Tabackin is soaring, his fleet-fingered single-note lines laden with tasteful arpeggios. After a quick reprise of the theme, he reignites for part two of his solo, his darting, acrobatic phrasing and tonal quality placing him somewhere between Don Byas and Sonny Rollins. After Green's varied, two-handed driving solo, Tabackin and Nash engage in a delightful dual improvisation. Tabackin then restates the theme for a final time, but with Green taking on the bridge in an appropriately Monkish manner. Sounds too derivative, you say? No, this is musicianship of the highest order – try resisting its allure.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Toshiko Akiyoshi: Cleopatra's Dream

Bud Powell's final Blue Note session as a leader (1958) featured several memorable originals, including the minor cooker "Cleopatra's Dream." His performance was notable for its octave unison passages, and possessed a steady, inexorable momentum. Akiyoshi, who considers Powell her mentor (a photo of them sitting together in New York in 1964 is reprinted within the CD notes), creatively rearranges the piece. Bowed bass and reflective piano notes lead to an étude-type interlude, followed by an alluring vamp that flows directly into Powell's theme, played in a stop-and-start fashion with a punchy, almost Latin rhythmic pulse. Toshiko then shifts into overdrive, with fluid, dancing lines played with a light touch, some of her phrases executed with considerable technical flair. The always brilliant Nash takes a series of fiery solo breaks as he interacts with the pianist, succeeded by Drummond's deeply intoned, compelling bass improv. Akiyoshi provides still more elaborately woven runs before returning to the boppish melody. Toshiko's piano skills were largely deemphasized during her many years of writing outstanding arrangements for her Jazz Orchestra, which featured her husband, Lew Tabackin. This track is a reminder of what she can achieve at the keyboard.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thomas Chapin: Drinkin'

Thomas Chapin was an essential figure in the experimental downtown New York music scene of the 1990s, centered around the Knitting Factory, but he relished playing in any context from free jazz to mainstream. His early stints with the bands of Lionel Hampton and Chico Hamilton, and his studies with Jackie McLean and Kenny Barron (among others), gave him a solid foundation from which to expand. "Drinkin'" is a track from one of his two excellent, more straight-ahead Arabesque CDs, a tune meant to profile, as he put it, "a reeling kind of drunk." Chapin's alto opens with a vociferous shriek, then some gutbucket, high-pitched bluesy exclamations, unaccompanied except for scattered bass-note punctuations from Drummond. Chapin smoothly segues into the convoluted theme, which combines enticing riffs with a gliding, almost tongue-in-cheek extended line. After Mathews's pleasurably diverse solo, Chapin takes over with a tone possessing a wide vibrato similar to Arthur Blythe's, blending brisk lengthy runs and expressive tremolos, exultant yet in control. Johns then delivers a fine solo that skillfully adds bass-drum accents to his emphatic stick work. One can only marvel at Chapin's proficiency and passion, and wonder what might have been if his life had not been cut short by leukemia at the age of 40.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Petite Blonde: Two Price Hit

Ostensibly, Bill Evans (sax) led the band for this live outing. The players have all been part of a revolving fusion ensemble that has recorded many albums since the mid-'80s. Keyboardist Gil Goldstein may replace Forman on one album while Jim Beard replaces Goldstein on another. Darryl Jones and Victor Bailey seem to trade off. There are two or three different drummers who play musical chairs. The bottom line is that these players have virtually created a troupe, allowing them to become intimately familiar with each other's musical styles. This makes for some really tight playing.

"Two Price Hit" hits the ground running. Chambers's in-the-pocket drumming provides the impetus for Forman's swathing keyboard chords and boisterous soloing by Evans, who can blow up a storm. Forman's synthesizer work is always creative and informative. His solo is furiously circular in nature. Loeb closes out the solo trips with some classic fusion guitar to help the tune lift the roof. Outrageously paced unison lines are played out en masse and abruptly discarded to end the piece. The unbridled energy let loose in this performance overrides the rather unmemorable composition.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tal Wilkenfeld: Serendipity

The world just isn't fair sometimes. You want to become a great musician. You spend years learning and developing a style. You pour your heart and soul into it. Every waking and sleeping moment is spent breathing music. After a decade or two, you become an OK player. But over that time you have wisely determined that you will never be good enough to make a living playing music no matter how much luck found its way to you. So you hum tunes on your delivery route every day and pick up your axe every now and then wondering what may have been if you only had the extra talent needed.

Meantime, in Australia there is this 16-year-old musician who plays the guitar so well that she quits high school and comes to America to become a star. Here only a short while, she realizes there are too many guitar players. So at 18 she switches to bass. Faster than you can say "Koala," she finds herself playing with some of the world's greatest musicians, including Chick Corea, Jeff Beck and the Allman Brothers! Now, at only 21, she releases her first CD.

This is not to say Tal Wilkenfeld didn't work hard to become great. She did, but she took 20 years less to do it. Certainly she started with a strong belief in herself. Imagine quitting school at 16 and traveling to another country to become a star! And her talent is as outrageous as her self-confidence. One cannot rule out some sort of divine intervention, yet in any case this is talent to be admired and enjoyed. The petty jealousies of failed musicians are unjustified.

Wilkenfeld is more than just an awesome player. "Serendipity," a fine example of her composing skill, is contemporary jazz with a few nods to mid-'80s fusion. Its opening measures sound a bit like The Flecktones, but soon a melody of its own develops, led by Blake. Wilkenfeld's bass playing is a full-throttle attack. She finger-plucks those strings with authority. I can only imagine the calluses. Her bandmates are a great help as they joyously do their comping and take their impressive solo turns. The tune's midsection is especially a showcase for Keezer's piano chops. He turns a few scales inside out over Wikenfeld's and Carlock's locked-in rhythm. But in the end, it is Wilkenfeld who holds her own and the fort down.

Is she going to switch to piano next year? Will we be hearing the saxophonist Tal Wilkenfeld soon? If it weren't all so ridiculously unfair, it would be funny.

April 01, 2008 · 4 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Dracula

Medeski Martin & Wood is the quintessential jam band, known for its highly developed improvisational skills and for creating grooves deeper than the Grand Canyon's. Medeski's over-modulated organ dominates the music. But it is just one element of a complete sound experience. The opening bassline and death- march beat make it clear that "Dracula" is one tired Count. He is slowly making his way back to his coffin before the deadly sunrise. The groove is as dragged-out as any exhausted 400-year-old prince's would be. Along the way, you can hear the slowly opening iron gates creak as Vlad breathlessly leans against them, letting his almost dead bodyweight do all the work. His cape occasionally becomes entangled in the latch closing behind him. Sometimes you can hear it rip as he ploddingly makes his way to beddy-bye. He has only a few more 200-pound doors to open and torture devices to trip over before he catches his 40 winks. That still gives Medeski the time needed to play some haunting chord changes. At last, all that is needed is a lift of the lid. Its hinges need to be oiled. But that can wait a few hundred more years. The top battens down on yet another night of bloodletting and some serious jamming.

April 01, 2008 · 1 comment

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John Abercrombie: To Be

John Abercrombie always finds a way to draw you in with his ethereal guitar work. The trademark ever-so- slight echo of this era's ECM recordings is equally effective. In this particularly moving ballad, the timbre of John Surman's beautiful baritone sax on his opening statement pulls the listener in with its gut-wrenching emotional appeal. These phenomenally in-tune musicians demonstrate a remarkable ability to create a mood that somehow transports the listener to a place of peaceful solitude and reflection. Climbing a wall of notes that are perfectly placed and sparingly used, Abercrombie's penchant for haunting melodies is once again on display. The title "To Be" is a statement of gratitude for life and all of its wonderful mysteries, and the music evokes those precise emotions with all the power that music can provide. The song is at once uplifting, promising and a celebration of what it is to be.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Come Rain or Come Shine

In a loosely defined structure based on the melody of the Arlen/Mercer standard, John Abercrombie and cohorts harmonically reconfigure this song into an almost unrecognizable pastiche of tonal explorations. Marc Johnson's wonderfully dancing bass serpentines around the probing guitar work of the always surprising Abercrombie. Peter Erskine's wonderfully subtle touch on the snares and cymbals smoothly keeps the pace. To categorize Abercrombie's playing is to pigeonhole it and is perhaps an exercise in futility. He has produced some of the most daringly interesting music of any guitarist performing today. An accomplished musician of tremendous lyricism and Evans-like harmonic complexity, his work with these musicians is particularly sympathetic. To say that this tune has been played many times before but never so uniquely is to state the obvious. Abercrombie's beautifully conceived ending is a wonderful testament to this classic song's enduring appeal to jazz musicians.

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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