John McLaughlin: Are You the One? Are You the One?

Only the absent Larry Young (who would tragically die that March at the age of 37) prevented this from being a full reunion of the second version of Tony Williams Lifetime. John McLaughlin was coming off a couple of years of playing acoustic music with Shakti. Record label Columbia was anxious for McLaughlin to plug in again so they could start drinking anew from the money stream that John once kept flowing with his electric fusion work. Despite the all-star cast and some great music, the album failed to sell the numbers Columbia wanted. Over the years the album's importance has grown as a greater appreciation has developed for its wildly diverse material. For this reason, the criticism that the album lacked focus has faded away.

"Are You The One? Are You the One?" refers to a vocal pleading the original Lifetime would offer up during its performances. On this cut each player screams the phrase out in exultation and/or exasperation. Or they whisper it in desperation. This is a hard-driving, in-your-face jazz-funk assault. McLaughlin's electronically processed guitar sounds like a damn tuba coming down after a speedball. Williams has a different musical relationship with McLaughlin than Billy Cobham did. Cobham and McLaughlin almost fuse into one performer. It is a phenomenon that is remarkable to hear. Williams and McLaughlin, on the other hand, complement each other in the way two spatial bodies orbit each other. There is a constant pushing and pulling as John fills spaces Williams vacates and vice versa. The end result is perfect equilibrium. Bruce is a very good if not flashy technician. He simplifies things a bit for his solo turn. But in its way his solo includes every bit as much funk – even if is European funk – as the other two. What a treat it is to hear this trio in a fantastic rave-up!

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris Europlane: I Concentrate on You

Italian pianist Roberto Magris is consistently good. Here he leads an aggregation augmented by guest star saxophonist Tony Lakatos on a take of the Cole Porter classic "I Concentrate on You." The performance really speaks for itself. It is presented in a straightforward way. If anything distinguishes it from other fine attempts, it is a bit higher tempo and brighter than most efforts. It is beautifully interpreted by everyone involved.

When I hear Europeans or other international musicians play American jazz with this type of feeling, I have conflicting emotions. I am proud that the music is honored in this way and that others around the world treat it with such an obvious reverence. Listening to great musicians is about listening to great music wherever it comes from. At the same time, I wonder why so many Americans can't seem to find the same enjoyment for music that came from their own American culture. Ah well, that is their loss. I can't change the world with a comment in a review. I'll just enjoy listening to anyone who can play.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Ellis and & Double-Wide: All Up in the Aisles

The various New Orleans jazz sounds are not usually my cup of tea. I appreciate the tradition and all, but for some reason the music rarely moves me. At the Newport Jazz Festival, I saw the Dirty Dozen Brass Band do its thing by coming out into the audience to stir things up. It worked for most in the crowd. Sorry to say, I stayed seated in my lounge chair. There have been exceptions to my attitude caused by a brilliant performance here or there by, say, the likes of Pete Fountain. But these have been very few and very far between.

My non-interest in New Orleans styles may be my big blind jazz spot. But traditionalists can sue me. That is just the way it is. For any music to break through my apathy in this matter, it has to be damned good. "All Up in the Aisles" meets that criterion. It is soulful and celebratory at the same time. Saxophonist Ellis, who almost moans through his instrument, made it a point to record music that featured the sousaphone, a more portable, rewound tuba best known for being carried around by marching bands. The sousaphone holds down the bottom end of the tune. In ways, it is more expressive than a string bass. Matt Perrine makes it speak in tongues in both a melodic and rhythmic sense. Sousaphone aside, the band comes across as a standard sax and organ jazz quartet playing some feel-good New Orleans gumbo. Organist Gary Versace and drummer Jason Marsalis find a rut big enough for a groove and jump in it. Even if you don't get up in the aisles and dance yourself, this music can make you visualize other less-inhibited people doing so.

Reviewer's Note: I should be fair to Dirty Dozen. It was an awfully hot day and I may have had a few too many beers. Maybe I should have mentioned that before.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: Exit

"Exit" is an interesting, almost free-form performance. Bassist Davis starts things off with a textured solo. Pianist Goldstein offers some reserved noodling. He is followed, in fits and starts, by Martino's staccato runs. Hart maintains a steady beat as Martino continues punching at air with impressive scalar runs. Davis returns but in the much more formal walking-bass mode as the tune turns pure jazz. Goldstein's solo is a mix of speedy single notes and big block chords. "Exit" takes another turn and becomes a slow blues ballad. I know the cut just ended, but it does not end with a resolution. It is as if the guys couldn't find the exit. Get it?

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Coryell: The Dragon Gate

The idea behind Spaces Revisited was to produce music that echoed Coryell's landmark jazz-rock album Spaces from three decades earlier. Spaces featured Coryell, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham and bassist Miroslav Vitous, plus Chick Corea on one cut. As often happens with such projects, intentions are one thing and results are another. Coryell admits this in the liner notes. But to him this was a positive development allowing the band, using the same two-guitar lineup, to produce new music that kept nonetheless in the spirit of the original even if the music itself was not similar.

"The Dragon Gate" opens the album. The introductory guitar section has some bebop qualities. It is a catchy melody. With the opening statement out of the way, the tune heads into straight-ahead territory. While not a fusion piece, this is a high-caliber jazz performance. Coryell and Lagrène are clear, clean and crisp, playing wonderfully off each other. Cobham also has things working as he pounds away propelling the affair. Several minutes of impressive trading ensue until the hypnotic melody returns and fades out.

Coryell took this band on the road after this recording. Their live performances were just as enjoyable as this great cut.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pierre Moerlen's Gong: Downwind

Vibes player Pierre Moerlen gathered quite an interesting crew for this fusion recording. In addition to Didier Malherbe, one of the founding members of the original Gong lineup, and regular Gong member Hansford Rowe, Moerlen is joined by rock hero Steve Winwood. This time out the part of "rotating guitarist" is played by Mike Oldfield, the same award-winning, platinum record seller and composer responsible for the highly successful Tubular Bells from several years previous. Mike Oldfield's brother Terry Oldfield, who has since gone on to become a prolific composer in his own right, plays the flute.

The vibes gave Gong a sound separate and apart from its jazz-rock contemporaries. The instrument's warm tones lack the hard bite that jazz-rock fans almost always demand from any lead instrument. But Moerlen wisely uses his axe's rhythmic qualities as a framework for his compositions, which take full advantage of both the melodic and rhythmic aspects of the instrument. Plus there is always an electric guitar or saxophone or synthesizer around to help supply some drama.

"Downwind" is a syncopated piece relying on a somewhat understated African beat. Strangely, or perhaps in honor, Moerlen plays a cycle of vibraphone riffs that sound very suspiciously like certain sections of Oldfield's Tubular Bells. When Oldfield enters, the resemblance becomes more than suspicious. Someone should be charged. But the point is that this is Oldfield's bag. He is good at it. Does he improvise? I am not quite sure. I know Malherbe is improvising, so I can call this jazz. Winwood is lost somewhere in the mix. Terry Oldfield's flute sounds Olde English. A very impressive percussion midsection leads us up the castle steps and toward the incessant ringing of those bells – I mean vibes.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jason Seizer: All the Things You Are

No need to ask who German tenor player Jason Seizer was influenced by: Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh are the obvious answers (probably through Mark Turner, by the way). Here Seizer not only tackles "All the Tings," a frequent warhorse of Tristano alumni, but does so without quoting the written melody until the last few seconds of the track – another a trademark of cool school musicians for whom paraphrasing standards and carving countermelodies to their themes was a daily exercise in creativity. How does that way of playing work with this basically unknown German musician? On the one hand, it is quite refreshing compared to all the post-bop addicts roaming the international jazz scene. On the other hand, Seizer's sound and phrasing are not distinctive enough yet, and his efforts might not sound quite as interesting without Marc Copland's challenging chordal support. So we have a personality worth taking account of but that needs competition and a stimulating surrounding on a regular basis to better develop its budding potential.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcin Wasilewski: Diamonds and Pearls

On their preceding record for ECM, they were simply called The Trio. Now the three young Poles who first gained international attention as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's rhythm section have evolved to become the pianist's group. He obviously is the main composer on this record, though half of the tunes were penned by Carla Bley, Ennio Morricone or Prince. This shows The Trio's wide-ranging influences, borrowing like most jazz musicians of their generation from both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the former Iron Curtain. It also shows their ability to drag any tune they like, be it jazz or pop, into the orb of an aesthetic defined during several years of playing together. In this respect, they are still essentially a cooperative trio, as attested by their distinctive sound and interplay. What's more, with a repertoire from both the old and new continents, they elected to record in New York – apparently showing they are unconcerned with the USA vs. European jazz issue that has often attached to recent ECM productions.

July 31, 2008 · 2 comments

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Philip Catherine: Lendas Brasileiras

For his second solo recording in years, Philip Catherine has chosen to play most tunes with two guitars, using the rerecording technique. On this one, a Brazilian song played on acoustic guitars, he displays an impressive technique in both rhythmic and solo aspects. But, as always with Catherine, virtuosity is not the main goal. On the one hand he has nothing to prove and is long past the stage of technical feats for the sake of showing off. On the other hand, he is mainly a lyrical musician; the sound he produces on his guitars clearly demonstrates his concern about melody. Few musicians can make a guitar "sing" as Philip Catherine does. Even on a tune from Brazil, there are moments when you can obviously trace the singing quality of his fingerings and touch to his main models: Django Reinhardt and René Thomas, whose influence Catherine has absorbed to develop his own style.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Omar Sosa: D'Son

Omar Sosa carries on with his attempt at blending his native Cuban musical breeding (which included both piano and percussion) with the rest of the Black Diaspora's culture in an all-embracing syncretic perspective. In the process he has borrowed from Northern and Black Africa as well as from the whole of South America, and from jazz improvisation as well as from European classical music. This tune is based on the Cuban danzon tradition, but is treated more in a composer's way than in a performer's. Sosa refrains from extrovert Latin licks, and confronts the poised soloing of the flute, then the flugelhorn, with the intricate rhythmic maze of the percussionists. Then his own piano soars and slowly builds a climax with few but beautifully phrased notes. Indeed, Sosa is a searching musician who will get trapped in neither his own multi-instrumental virtuosity nor the clichés of his Cuban origins.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gilad Atzmon: In the Small Hours

On this track, multi-reed player Gilad Atzmon displays a beautiful, huge alto sound that exudes feeling on a lush ballad built in a most classical and efficient way. One often thinks of Cannonball Adderley as an obvious influence, both as far as alto tone and articulation are concerned, but also because of the use of the Fender Rhodes to provide both harmonic background and atmosphere. Some mainly see Atzmon as an artist who frequently expresses his provocative political opinions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (which he fled by emigrating to London). Others are not too sensitive to his world-music oriented compositions. A track like this should simply convince everyone that Gilad Atzmon can also be a deeply rooted jazz stylist.

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Streng Saxomble: Empty Room

Ignore the scary album cover. Those who long for the heyday of jazz-funk horn bands such as Dreams or Tower of Power will find much to like on the CD within. Best of all, it was recorded live, in a Michigan nightclub.

After a dreamy, languid sax-section intro reminiscent of Don Ellis, Saxomble's tight, competent rhythm section lays down a solid Latin-funk groove propelling the horns through a fairly standard head that somehow manages to keep itself above the cliché waterline. It's an energetic, polished live performance. Michael Hiemstra delivers a solid tenor solo, fueled by spirited comping from Jonathan Ovaltie, the locked-in drive of Henniger's electric bass and Nick Adams's crisp drums. But the ensemble really takes flight with Mark Rieme's intense soprano harangue, which builds to a lofty, explosive conclusion.

Back in my salad days on the road in the '70s, I found that the Detroit area had the best jazz radio in the country and some of the best musicians to be found anywhere. These young players are living up to that legacy.

July 31, 2008 · 1 comment

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Charlie Haden & Hank Jones: Wade in the Water

Hank Jones's father was a minister who was suspicious of jazz as the Devil's music. Clearly his sons Elvin, Thad and Hank had different views. Even so, pianist Jones has tried to bridge the gulf between jazz and religious music on more than one occasion. (Check out, for example, his solo recording Tiptoe Tapdance from the late 1970s.) Here he joins with bassist Charlie Haden on "Wade in the Water," an old spiritual associated with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Golden Gate Quartet, among others. Jones surprises us on this track, adopting a much heavier touch than usual, and playing more forcefully on the beat. Haden goes along for the ride . . . but with the piano playing in such a traditional manner, a bassline is hardly necessary. Don't look for any rootless chords or hip bebop licks -- they have been locked away for the day. There is more spiritual than jazz here, and this track is more likely to inspire you to jump up and testify, rather than order another drink from the bar. Hipsters can lament, but Minister Jones would be quite pleased.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano & Hank Jones: Alone Together

Seldom was a CD more aptly named. This is truly a Joyous Encounter. I would be hard pressed to name a tenor saxophonist of the current era who constructs better solos, phrase by phrase, than Joe Lovano, as he demonstrates again on this track. It is sheer aural pleasure to hear him in such an under-produced yet well-conceived setting. And if anyone knows how to accompany a reed player and contribute his own estimable solos, it is Hank Jones, who has backed (to name a few) Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Zoot Sims, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Johnny Hodges, over the years. What higher praise could one offer than to say that this new-millennium collaboration is worthy to stand alongside these earlier classics?

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberta Gambarini & Hank Jones: Lush Life

About a half century separates the ages of these two artists, but you wouldn't guess it from this collaboration. Jones is always youthful, no matter what the date on his birth certificate might tell you. Gambarini, for her part, performs with great maturity in this setting, eschewing skiddle-dee-doo scat pyrotechnics, which she so often delivers with great (too great?) ease, and instead digs deeply into the psychological state of this strange ballad.

You need maturity to pull off this song. Some may think that these lyrics were an example of overreaching by Strayhorn, who was still a teenager when he began work on this world-weary lament. After all, how much could he know about getting "washed away by too many through the day 12 o'clock tales." But these precocious lyrics still bowl me over. Has anyone written a more vehement denial of the whole ethos of the love song -- daring to proclaim that "romance is mush stifling those who strive." The pathos and self-duplicity of these words transcend pop tune sentimentality, just as Strayhorn's harmonies reach to the heights of art song.

Gambarini rises to the occasion here. Jones's accompaniment is very stark, but further serves to anchor this performance and contribute to its high drama. Fans will also want to check out a memorable live recording of this same song by Gambarini and Jones (with bass and drums) from the 2006 Umbria Jazz Festival.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jane Ira Bloom: Nearly Summertime/Summertime

Recorded during a summer in New York City, Jane Ira Bloom's version of "Summertime" is quite evocative of the season, and a brilliant example of the saxophonist's approach to standards. The recording opens with Jane's angular composition "Nearly Summertime" played in unison by saxophone and trumpet. Next the rhythm section enters with drum color, a bass solo and a piano vamp in dotted quarter notes (2 notes over 3 beats) that presages what will come later. Gradually, Werner, Priester and Bloom join into the ensemble before Bloom launches an ascending scale to introduce the Gershwin melody, set in 6/4 time. Behind the melody, the horns play long, hypnotic chords at half the speed of the piano vamp, and when Bloom takes over for her solo she leads with another ascending scale based on the same rhythmic pattern. Her sound grows more impassioned as she climbs higher in register, and as the performance grows in intensity you can almost feel the heat generating from the ground. The intensity doesn't let up until the end of the theme, when the horns suddenly dissipate and Hersch plays a rippling triplet figure that might signal a much-needed summer rainstorm.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gunther Schuller: Summertime

The recording dates above are rather misleading, as it is the premiere performance of an arrangement written by Gunther Schuller in 1949. It was written for the Miles Davis Nonet but never recorded or broadcast by that group. Gil Evans famously described the Claude Thornhill sound (which he helped originate) as hanging "like a cloud," and Schuller's arrangement opens with hypnotic seesawing chords that create the same effect. An ominous countermelody in the tuba and baritone sax leads to the theme statement with cup-muted trumpet fronting a dance-band style background that maintains the chords from the opening for awhile, then gradually moves into more complex counterpoint. Then the mood breaks with a double-time chorus (with another double-time passage placed on top!). While the harmony remains Thornhill-esque, the overall style turns into straight-ahead bebop. And this passage, which seems completely unnecessary, probably did more to take this chart out of contention for recording by Miles than anything else. Still, for all it achieves, it is an amazing effort from the very talented Mr. Schuller.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddie Jefferson: Summertime

In the mid-'70s, Eddie Jefferson was starting to get overdue recognition as "the Godfather of Vocalese," and his fame continued to rise until he was murdered outside a Detroit nightclub in 1979. The Main Man was one of Jefferson's finest albums, featuring definitive versions of classics like "Jeannine" and "Moody's Mood For Love." "Summertime" is unusual in Jefferson's repertoire in that it does not appear to stem from an instrumental solo; rather, it is Jefferson's loose interpretation of the Gershwin standard. Interestingly, it is sung in the same key as John Coltrane's groundbreaking version - D minor - and like Coltrane, Jefferson seems interested in stripping away all the sentimentality of the original song. The tempo is medium fast and the performance is quite aggressive. On the second time through the song, Jefferson takes great liberties with the lyric (for example, "Fish are jumpin' about on the lake, flop, flop, flop, tryin' to give the fishermen a break") and strongly accents the asides (the "flops" above). However, the recording does not entirely break with the past, as Slide Hampton lifts Gil Evans's famous background riff and uses it to back Jefferson.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Connor & Maynard Ferguson: Summertime

Chris Connor and Maynard Ferguson worked together while in Stan Kenton's band, and when they both became jazz stars a few years later, they recorded two separate albums together, one for Ferguson's label, Roulette, and the other for Connor's label, Atlantic. Their version of "Summertime," which kicks off the Atlantic LP, starts with a highly rhythmic duet between the nearly slapped bass of Sanders and the tight snare of Jones, and things just build and build from there. Connor's opening theme statement sounds defiant and rhythmically sure, holding back just slightly in the opening chorus and building as the trombones, trumpets and saxes all join in with riffs that add to the growing intensity. Ferguson's trumpet solo continues the upward climb until the climax of the arrangement where trumpet and band exchange improvised ideas and written shout chorus passages. Then suddenly the volume comes back down for Connor's return. The gradual decrescendo from there to the end doesn't work nearly as well as the crescendo that came before, but the fadeout (usually the bane of jazz fans and critics) actually gives this arrangement a needed balance.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Summertime

From the first note of this recording, you can tell that Coltrane's version of "Summertime" will be unique. Without any introduction, Coltrane kicks off the tune in D minor. While jazz versions of "Summertime" are played in a variety of keys, D minor sounds higher than the keys we usually hear for this song. When the rhythm section enters two beats later, the effect is complete, with Elvin Jones's slashing rhythms and McCoy Tyner's syncopated quartal harmonies. As on the album's title tune, Coltrane and Tyner reduce "Summertime" to a minimal modal harmonic base and focus on building emotional intensity. Dating from early in the Quartet's existence, this performance is not as intense as later recordings, but it shows that the group already knew which direction it would travel.

July 30, 2008 · 2 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Summertime

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded two relaxed, swinging albums for Verve before Norman Granz had the inspiration to use them in a deluxe 2-LP set featuring 16 songs from Porgy and Bess. While not the first Porgy and Bess concept album, Ella & Louis's version is one of the best. Both were in top vocal form at the time of the recording, and while Louis's trumpet chops were not as strong as they had been in years past, he could still perform stunning solos. On "Summertime," Russ Garcia's arrangement adds a few subtle touches to the original orchestration. Armstrong plays a majestic first chorus on trumpet, followed by Ella's smooth and creamy vocal. After a subtle key change, Louis takes a solo vocal chorus. When Ella returns, she spins a beautifully conceived variation on the melody while Louis supports her with some of the tenderest scatting he ever recorded.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Summertime

Erroll Garner's Columbia version of "Summertime" sounds like a playful romp, but there is a lot of musical substance beneath the surface. Garner's introduction is in straight eighth notes. While doubtlessly shortened for recording time considerations, it still makes an effective contrast to the sinuous Garner strut tempo that follows. In the theme statement and his ensuing solo, Garner uses triplet patterns both as further contrast to the introduction and to add a sassy quality to his interpretation. Garner's mastery of dynamics is on full display with the pianist bringing the group's volume up and down through his touch at the keyboard. And as a balance to the introduction, the closing chorus uses a simple quarter-note pattern (in more or less straight time) as a shout chorus, which replaces the restatement of the original theme. At the end, all that is left of Gershwin's original is the opening phrase, which Garner plays over the final held chord.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Summertime

Although Charlie Parker was proud of playing with a string section, this version of "Summertime" shows why the venture was an artistic failure. Using an adaptation of the original orchestral score as background, Parker does little more than ornament the Gershwin melody. The only compelling part of this recording is Parker's acidic tone, which is quite different from the polished sound of opera divas who use the same basic arrangement on "classical pop" albums or in staged versions of Porgy and Bess. Even then, Parker barely holds our interest through this recording. If Parker had used more improvisation on this side (as on his classic version of "Just Friends" also recorded at this session), his version of "Summertime" might rank as one of the greatest. As is, it's just a disappointment.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Summertime

Billie Holiday was not the first jazz artist to record "Summertime" (Bob Crosby recorded a transcription version five months earlier) but hers was the first recorded for 78s and probably did more than any other version to establish the song as a potential jazz standard. For any listener of the time who had heard "Summertime" in its operatic version, Holiday's rendition was a shock—raw and dirty with the rasp of Bunny Berigan's trumpet echoed in Holiday's voice. Holiday jettisons nearly the entire melody, flattening out the melodic contour to fit her voice and her artistic sense, and behind her, Berigan and Artie Shaw jam away, sensing even then that this new Gershwin song with its easy harmonic sequence would be a natural for the jazz repertoire.

July 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Raymond Fol: The Four Seasons (Spring: First Movement)

In the mid-'60s the fine French pianist and arranger Raymond Fol had the audacity to record a big band arrangement of Vivaldi’s bestselling set of concerti. And for that he chose Johnny Griffin as main soloist on most tracks, beginning with the universally famous initial one: Le Printemps, 1st Movement (Allegro).

Fol was a great admirer of Duke Ellington (who returned the favor by performing one of Fol's compositions with his own orchestra) and had a strong classical background. On the other hand, as a pianist he played with Sidney Bechet as well as with Dizzy Gillespie. For this session, he arranged every movement of the four Vivaldi concerti in a jazz style, each differing from one another. This loud Afro-Cuban opening must have been a shock to classical music buffs of the time, even though Fol’s writing is so intelligent that anyone with open ears should admit that he did a great job.

But another musician played a key role in the success of this recording: Johnny Griffin. He hadn’t yet chosen to live in Europe for good, but was familiar with the French jazz scene. No wonder, then, that Fol used his fiery, powerful tenor sax to express the exuberance of spring. After all, wasn’t the “little giant” born a Taurus, at the end of April, and wasn’t he best adapted to bridge the gap between Vivaldi’s Venice, Fol’s Paris and his own Chicago, regardless of stylistic barriers?

July 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Shelly Manne: Summertime

In 1959 producer Lester Koenig had the good sense to record Shelly Manne & His Men for four nights at San Francisco's Blackhawk. It was an audacious move: none of the sidemen was particularly well known, and the band was in transition, using Feldman as a temporary substitute for Russ Freeman. The resulting four LPs (later expanded to five CDs) are beloved in the jazz community because the musicians played in peak form throughout and the arrangements were fresh takes on familiar material. "Summertime" opens the first album and sets the stage for the 5+ hours of remarkable music to follow. Starting with Budwig's double stops and Manne's light cymbal touches, Gordon intones the theme while the rhythm section creates a mood rather than states the beat. Gordon, in Harmon mute, uses a pure straight tone and his ideas are pointed and direct, with no extraneous notes or terminal vibrato to soften the edge. Kamuca's warm tone and flowery ideas contrast Gordon's, and Feldman builds and releases tension in his solo without sacrificing the overall mood.

July 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet: Summertime

Sidney Bechet's version of "Summertime" is one of the great recordings in jazz history. Bechet takes the Gershwin song's 16-bar form and simple harmonic structure and treats it like an extension of the 12-bar blues. With Teddy Bunn providing single-string commentary on his guitar behind Bechet's soprano, it is as if Bechet and Bunn were playing the parts of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong from a classic blues recording. Bechet solos throughout the 4-minute recording (certainly one of the longest jazz solos recorded to that time), utilizing much of his unique musical vocabulary, including rasps, growls and various speeds of vibrato. Bunn's responses are almost all from the blues vernacular, except in one spot where he quotes the familiar countermelody from the original opera score.

July 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Summertime

One of the many wonders in the Miles Davis/Gil Evans album of Porgy and Bess is how Evans was able to remain faithful to the spirit of Gershwin's opera without using the original orchestrations. There is no better example than "Summertime." As originally presented in the opera, "Summertime" is a lullaby (a fact seemingly forgotten in the full-voiced performances of certain divas). Gil uses a gently swinging riff that easily adapts to the harmonic changes of the song, while in front Miles plays a solo that strays off the melody more than you think, but always stays connected with the contour of the original tune. And it's all so quiet! Even when Miles builds the intensity of his solo, he never loses sight of the overall context.

July 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Rossi: Fatwa In Carbondale

A fulltime professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Marc Rossi's major influences have included George Russell and Jimmy Giuffre (with both of whom he performed), and he has also studied Carnatic and Hindustani Indian music. The selections on Hidden Mandala are all intriguing fusions of jazz and South Indian music, except for "Fatwa in Carbondale," which is a rousing Afro-Cuban jam with a melody based on George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept. For sheer entertainment value, "Fatwa" is the go-to track. The incongruous title was inspired by Rossi's facetious idea that American-born Sufi leader Sheik Din Dayeni (aka Dean Greenberg), "whose spiritual precepts I admire, might issue a fatwa [stern religious edict] to his community."

Rossi's modal vamp intro sets up Van Lenten's breezy flute reading of the enticing theme. Van Lenten's richly intoned and commanding solo is propelled by Rossi's forceful montuno. The pianist follows with a stirring solo of his own that is bolstered by his superbly executed left-hand Latin-rhythm patterns. Urmson's expressive electric bass improv comes next, before the deck is cleared for Zottarelli, who, aided by another insistent Rossi montuno, delivers a splendidly developed, variegated drum solo. Rossi proves here that he is just as comfortable frolicking in Latin America as elsewhere he is in South India, but this composition deserved a better, or more appropriate, title.

July 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Nichols: Love, Gloom, Cash, Love

Countless songs have been written about the relationship between romance and money, from "Money Honey" and "Romance Without Finance (is a Nuisance)," to "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Can't Buy Me Love," to name but a few that quickly come to mind. Herbie Nichols's bluntly titled "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" was inspired by his own personal experience, and although he recorded it as an instrumental, he did write poetic lyrics for it to show to the woman in question, as in the bridge:

          The gloom is the thought
          That everything's naught;
          The passionate, rapt'rous display;
          The grubbing and staking each day
          To help keep you fickle and gay, dear.

As Nichols told Nat Hentoff, "I'm a guy who's been broke all my life, and music is a release for me." Unfortunately, to try to make ends meet, he usually had to play with Dixieland or R&B groups, as there were few gigs for his own highly individualistic music. "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" is from his last recording session, only six years before his death at age 44 in 1963. A relaxed, loping waltz rhythm prevails throughout this track, as Nichols plays and embellishes the carefree theme that contains an almost ragtime quality, even at times sounding like something you'd expect to hear from a music box, except for the somber (gloomy?) bridge. A prancing, irresistible left-hand motif appears periodically. Some of Nichols's runs immediately remind one of Monk, but some of his darting phrases also bear a similarity to Duke Ellington's piano style in both their rhythmic character and touch. Although such influences may be evident, Nichols's unique approaches to melody, rhythm, and harmony dominate as always.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Ellis & Double-Wide: Tattooed Teen Waltzes With Grandma

While listening to this track, you may not visualize a tattooed young man dancing a waltz with his grand- mother, but you will be charmed nonetheless. After a church-organ intro by Versace, Ellis plays the sweet, nostalgic theme, a waltz that possesses a rather quaint, small-town America flavoring. Perrine's sousaphone takes the first part of the bridge and Ellis the rest, before the leader begins his soulful, heartfelt solo, the tenor's vibrant tone enhancing his soothingly flowing lines. Organ, sousaphone and drums provide a perfect foundation for Ellis's musings. Versace solos gracefully and nimbly, with an attractively subdued sound. After the reprise, the waltz tempo is slowed to a crawl as Ellis bows out, and Versace, Perrine and Marsalis together create an effectively understated closing interlude. This is a beautifully arranged and performed piece.

The delightful John Ellis & Double-Wide has the unusual kind of instrumentation you might expect on a stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and indeed that's where the band performed this past May. Ellis first played with polished Perrine in New Orleans in the mid-'90's, and first hooked up with the distinctive Versace in New York. Marsalis completed the group that played together for the first time while recording this CD. Hopefully they can remain a working unit for some time to come, as they certainly deserve to be heard.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles From India: All Blues

Miles had a cool period, and a fusion period, but the Prince of Darkness never went through a Carnatic phase. Even so, his music, especially from the modal period, is well suited for the multicultural angle of the Miles From India project. For my part, I give high marks to any session that puts the great ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram in a rhythm section alongside Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb, and mixes sitar and alto sax in the front line. (Front line? Perhaps I should call it the front half lotus position.) Producer Bob Belden gets high marks just for the bravado of his vision. But the fun doesn't stop there. The band tackles "All Blues" in 5/4 just to add some more curry into an already spicy mix. In an age of tribute projects that are as tasty as last week's leftovers, this one delights the palette.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Terry Adams: Hilda

Long-time NRBQ fans know that the name is short for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, and that from day one in 1968, irrepressible keyboardist/composer Terry Adams was the eclectic group's creative linchpin. Their first (self-titled) album included Sun Ra's "Rocket Number Nine," and they would play just about anything from rockabilly to country, from wacky covers of TV and movie themes to, of course, R&B. Sun Ra sidemen such as Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick would frequent NRBQ's horn section. All the while, Adams would engage audiences with unpredictable keyboard solos that could evoke both Jerry Lee Lewis and Thelonious Monk. Adams's long-awaited instrumental "jazz" recording finally saw the light of day in 1995, and was well worth the wait.

For the track "Hilda," Adams is reunited with trombonist Roswell Rudd, with whom he first played in the Carla Bley Band (European Tour 1977). Rudd plays the sparse, Monkish melody as Adams's piano aptly fills in the open spaces, Previte all the while keeping an out-of-kilter Latin beat. Rudd's rough-toned, vocalized sound and pungent, darting phrases make his solo a compelling listen. Adams responds with rich chords and tumbling runs, punctuated by urgent ostinatos and dissonant scatterings of notes. Cohen solos briefly before Previte's clanging, whirlwind drum break, which brings us back to the catchy theme. (Adams, Cohen and Previte, by the way, were on-screen members of singer Annie Ross's backup band in Robert Altman's film, Short Cuts.)

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gunther Schuller: Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra

Jazz history moved too fast in the middle decades of the 20th century. Developments that had played out slowly in the history of classical music, unfolding leisurely over 30 years or more, hardly had that many months to strut their stuff in the jazz world, before being ushered off center stage to make room for the next new thing. Jazz critics and fans wanted transcendent breakthroughs, and moreover wanted another one every year.

As a result, Gunther Schuller's Third Stream -- a merging of the two preexisting streams of classical music and jazz -- is now seen by many as some passing fad that came and went. Yet the principles of Third Stream are as valid today as when Schuller coined the term back in 1957, and the potential of an ongoing rapprochement between these two musical perspectives is undiminished. Moreover, the music the Third Stream produced during its first blossoming, such as this Concertino from 1959 (recorded in this version in 1999 and released on a 2008 CD), continues to serve as eloquent testimony to Schuller's vision.

Schuller's Third Stream compositions sometimes veered more closely to the classical side, while other of his works took on a more pronounced jazz perspective. The Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra emphasizes the jazz side of the House of Schuller. This is also the household of Schuller to some extent, with sons Ed and George contributing their considerable talents to the ensemble, alongside pianist Bruce Barth and vibraphonist Tom Beckham. The music offers wide scope for improvisation, and these players rise to the occasion. But the underlying structures are full of interesting twists, such as the fresh take on 5/4 from the opening movement or the unconventional 13-bar blues of the "Passacaglia." All in all, this performance demonstrates the ongoing health of Third Stream, not just as a label or theory, but as a body of inspired music that merits our attention to this day.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz & Grace Kelly: Alone Together

Few saxophonists are more adept at horn counterpoint than Lee Konitz. I cherish the classic recordings of Konitz crossing saxes with Warne Marsh with the dash and verve with which action-movie stars cross swords. It was almost a new genre: cool jazz swashbuckling. Shiver me timbers, those were the days! But venerable duelists need to defend their territory when each new combatant comes to town. In this instance, the new face is teenager Grace Kelly, one of the most touted young saxophonists in jazz. She matches Konitz line for line in this unaccompanied duet. But there is more "alone" than "together" in this version of "Alone Together," and more respectful horn conversation than parry and thrust. The two altoists wait until the final 30 seconds of the track before matching wits in counterpoint. The moment is potent, but all too brief. I demand a rematch.

July 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grace Kelly: Just Friends

No, not that Grace Kelly. Even so, there might be a movie angle in this alto prodigy, the child of Korean parents, born in Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1992, and already gaining recognition for her jazz playing in her mid-teens. On this CD, she shares the front line with Lee Konitz (who doesn't appear on this track), and shows off the maturity of her conception. Konitz has also been one of Kelly's teachers, and his influence can be seen in her oblique manner of solo construction. She never takes the obvious angle, and appears to be quite fastidious in her avoidance of the banal and predictable. By the same token, she is not given to showy demonstrations. In short, this is unostentatious playing, driven by a quest to find fresh melodic lines for old chord changes. Malone is the sole accompanist here, and is sensitive to the mood of the performance. But I was disappointed that the duo didn't push this song a little bit more. At under four minutes in duration, this version of "Just Friends" sounds like it could be the intro to a much longer, deeper performance.

July 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary Burton Quartet: Blue Comedy

Because of all the diverse music Gary Burton has recorded for almost 50 years, and since the vibraphone is not exactly an instrument that jumps up and down asking for attention, we often forget that even before he achieved his role as jazz vibe icon, Burton was an important member in the early days of the jazz fusion movement. Burton's quartet isn't exactly playing fusion on "Blue Comedy." But he is performing in the early days with three gifted players who would in one form or another join him in the soon-to-be burgeoning jazz-rock movement. Coryell and Moses were already playing in Coryell's post-fusion group Free Spirits at this time. Swallow was a permanent member of Burton's quartet and would go on to perform with Carla Bley, among many others. For that reason, "Blue Comedy" is significant because it displays Burton and his bandmates just before the jazz-rock movement really took hold.

"Blue Comedy" is a modern jazz blues number. Burton opens the proceedings with a forthright straight- ahead melodic mallet run. Swallow's walking bassline steadily propels the piece. Coryell plays some choppy comping chords before he takes a restrained tasteful solo off the basic blues scales. There is little of the speed demon Coryell can be. But it is tasteful playing in the context of the number. Burton swings during his foray, occasionally leaving enough space for Moses's effective accents. The obligatory bass solo follows. Swallow is able to maintain the forward motion of the piece without much difficulty before he is joined for the wrap-up. "Blue Comedy" is real good jazz worthy of the venue in which it was presented: Carnegie Hall. From a historical perspective it is further evidence that all good fusion players had a foundation in traditional modern jazz before they started playing fast and loud. The best of them feel right at home in either style, and all of these players have proved that over time.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brand X: Nightmare Patrol

Drummer Phil Collins is replaced on this recording by Kenwood Dennard. The easiest way to describe much of Brand X's music is by comparing it to the sounds of their jazz-rock influences of the day. You could always count on part of a song, or the whole song, to sound like it was coming from Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Larry Coryell. However, this live performance recorded at either the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's, The Hammersmith Odean or the Marquee Club (the liner notes name all three venues without delineating what happened where!) has its own style and sound and is a better representation of what the band could really do.

"Nightmare Patrol" at times does have a slight hint of Billy Cobham from his Spectrum and Crosswinds days, but most would not hear it. At any rate, the tune's character is darker than anything Cobham did. The cosmic introduction is buoyed by a mysterious melody that holds the piece together. Jones's throbbing bass is a leading actor in the presentation. He even doubles the melody. Toward the end, a spacey Goodsall arpeggio is accented by Dennard's cymbal work and Jones's harmonics. The song fades away as the audience reacts. As time went on, Brand X began to find its own voice. "Nightmare Patrol" is a fusion work the band should be rightly proud of.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brand X: Malaga Virgen

Many Brand X fans thought the band really found its groove with the release of Moroccan Roll. Brand X, founded by guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Percy Jones, was becoming one of the most important European fusion bands in the genre. The band would never attain the notoriety of its American predecessors Mahavishnu, Return To Forever, Weather Report or even Eleventh House. But following in those footsteps was quite hard.

"Malaga Virgen," Spanish for "Malaga (Spain) virgin," is notable for how Robin Lumley makes his synthesizer sound like a combination of violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and keyboardist Jan Hammer in a feverish riff that is the tune's beginning and end. In between, a driving semi-Latin rhythm is established by Collins and Pert. In an explorative midsection, Jones has an impressive solo and Lumley turns into Chick Corea on piano. The Return to Forever motif is completed by Goodsall on acoustic guitar sounding every bit the equal of Al Di Meola.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oscar Pettiford: Nica's Tempo

Though Oscar Pettiford is well remembered as one of the fathers of modern jazz bass playing, his unique, short-lived big band and the two fine LPs they made for ABC Paramount are virtually unknown to the jazz public today. This reissue combines both albums on one CD. The distinctive instrumentation provides a dose of welcome relief from the usual "wall of sound" approach of most big bands, without sacrificing power or rhythmic intensity. The charts – by Gigi Gryce, Lucky Thompson, and Benny Golson – are quintessential examples of a post-Tadd Dameron style of writing that lives on today in the work of Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, and Slide Hampton. On this track Flanagan, Farmer and Gryce contribute sparkling solos on one of Gryce's finest compositions.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: An Esthete on Clark Street

Bill Russo recorded this composition with his own orchestra for the Dee Gee label, and later created this setting for the Kenton ensemble. The piece reflects his study with Lennie Tristano, as it sounds like a written improvisation over a set chord sequence. If Bach had written for the Kentonians, this is probably what the result would sound like; this has a very baroque-classical feel with near-even eighth notes over Levey's metronome-like brushes (fellow Tristanoites Konitz and Warne Marsh would open up gigs by playing Bach Two-part Inventions). Later on, the band breaks out into counterpoint, which is beautifully balanced. In fact the entire track shows how the band could play with precision and the kind of contained excitement needed for much of Russo's writing during this era. Soloists are Russo, Burgess and Rosolino on this live performance. It is a pity that this piece was not commercially recorded by the Kenton Orchestra.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Eighthundred Streets By Feet

Already having an excellent knack for creating song titles, Magnus Öström can claim even further credit for his ingenuity as a drummer. His approach is to shape the contours of the music, without sacrificing the need for consistent groove. The gravity of his trancelike playing helps give the trio a punch and fullness that in turn allows Svensson and Berglund to dig further into their own improvisations. This song, with its minimalist repetitions, also has more typical pop progressions with some added twists. Listen to the use of effects and layering from Svensson's piano, creating an opaque wash of sound.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Where We Used To Live

Tuesday Wonderland is a concept album, and was first conceived as a collection of preludes and fugues for a jazz trio. As the music developed in rehearsal, it evolved out of its initial inspiration from J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier to be a more diverse exploration of various flavors. Here, the trio takes another page from the Bill Evans style, with a murkiness and looseness in their own interpretation.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Goldwrap

A gorgeous and uplifting journey through the collective mind of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio! The cycles of changing frequency coming from the drum set effects pedals fit the melody perfectly. The playing here is as relaxed and full as it gets, while maintaining a characteristic churning movement from the piano arpeggios. Svensson's inspiration from Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier is no longer apparent. There is a uniqueness in this man's music that shines on.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Viktoria Tolstoy: The Morning of You

In keeping with his training as a pop and R&B tunesmith, Esbjörn Svensson wrote this song to have a soulful groove and a more pop-influenced hook, on which Viktoria Tolstoy's powerful voice soars. Adding to her poise and comfort delivering the vocals is dexterity in the short guitar solo by Wakenius. The background vamp is accentuated by Jacob Karlzon's distinctive power at the piano.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable

A rolling sea of arpeggios coming from the piano lays a bed for the elegiac melody. The subsequent bass solo is vocal-inflected and thunderous, something Berglund has come to be known for. Drums and bass lay out while Svensson delves further into a free territory of elegance and purity, harkening back to the pianist's admiration for Keith Jarrett's earlier solo work. This song has moments of relaxation, followed by an energizing push to the finishing coda.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Tide of Trepidation

First in a series of concept albums, Viaticum blends musical adventures and humanistic ideals. The title is a Latin word meaning provisions for a journey, and in Catholicism denotes the premortem Eucharist. In this case, Esbjörn Svensson articulates his belief that music is spiritual nourishment for people from all walks of life. "Tide of Trepidation" has bawdiness in its groove, yet conveys a somber, inward-looking sentiment.

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Viktoria Tolstoy: Dialogue

There is warmth to this pretty ballad duet written by Esbjörn Svensson. The clear-voiced Tolstoy and the raspier-toned Landgren have a kinship that is immediately felt in the performance. During his early career, Svensson left the jazz community to work as a freelance pop songwriter and synth player for groups appearing on Swedish television. This one has some of the accessibility and, dare I say, catchiness that aren't found in much of the music written for the instrumental adventures of e.s.t.

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: When God Created the Coffeebreak

An off-kilter left-hand bassline that is doubled by Dan Berglund shows off the skills of these instrumental experts in one of the few straight-up classical references in this album. Svensson himself was criticized for not being a virtuoso at times, but he understood the value of studying Bach just like Bill Evans did. In fact, the link is closer than one might think due to Svensson's trio gaining a wealth of knowledge in their early days by "trying to play in the sound of Bill Evans," which meant not to copy the style, but the mood of tunes such as "Nardis" and "'Round Midnight."

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nils Landgren & Esbjörn Svensson: Höpsi

This traditional folk song is not as eclectic a choice as many jazz fans might think. To be honest, Swedish musicians play folk music more now than ever before. Many people link Esbjörn Svensson to one of the creators of this trend, Swedish pianist Jan Johansson (1931-1968), due to the fact that both had tragically short lives whose impact will live on indefinitely.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Dodge the Dodo

With a prepared piano, Svensson delivers the rollicking melody, doubled by Berglund's arco bass. An effects pedal evokes the influence of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Berglund's own pushing solo. Then there is a departure into another dimension as Svensson draws upon Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert of solo improvisations to great result. Never a fan of transcribing licks, Svensson here details his own approach to playing within the mood or flavor of a jazz master, while not being a copier. Jarrett himself told Japanese concert promoter Toshinari Koinuma to book e.s.t. in 2002, and that's a cat who only a few years ago said in a Down Beat interview that no one was doing anything original anymore.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Untitled Hidden Track

Keep the CD going at the end, and you'll hear a hidden track for 4 minutes and 44 seconds of raucous, thrashing metal vamps and a wild solo by Berglund, where he engages his customary guitar pedals. This track demonstrates the "hybrid identity" of e.s.t., as do Svensson's own words in Stuart Nicholson's book Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To a New Address): "We want to hear stuff that bites us, we try to find that music. It's not a question that the only good music you can find is classical music or jazz, the problem is to find it and hear music and get inspired. I don't know how it works really, the creative filter or whatever, but it's fun."

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: From Gagarin's Point of View

The melody here is as serene as the Swedish night sky, but there will always be a brooding quality to the "Nordic tone" in jazz that is just as vital. Creating imaginative characterizations of a murky world that exists maybe only in fantasies, the trio plays with sensitivity and a style all their own.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nils Landgren Funk Unit: You Dig

The groove of Bernard Purdie is distinctive, and bassist/vocalist Price has a lot going on as he delivers a fresh, flowing rap verse. This album was a tribute to Cannonball Adderley, and is accordingly less innovative than many other things Esbjörn Svensson did. Nonetheless, it is fun music and everyone seems comfortable executing it, especially with the addition of the Brecker brothers. Nowadays, The Funk Unit drives the tempo much faster on this party tune.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Swedish Radio Jazz Group: Sorrow Is the Birth of Joy

Hearing the fluidity and touch coming from Esbjörn Svensson at this fledgling stage in his career, one knows there will be much more inspired playing to come. The pianist has a long opening cadenza and accompanies the melody from Nilsson's briny bari sax with lush voicings and arpeggios. Although Riedel writes in the notes that this piece is designed to build like Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," this is an odyssey that spans territory ranging from "Sophisticated Lady" through "Tourist Point of View" and back.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Murray & Mal Waldron: I Should Care

So many great pianists have put their stamp on this standard over the years: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Bill Evans, to name a few. Monk's solo piano versions of "I Should Care" (especially the Riverside version) could serve as case studies in how to remake a standard in your own image. Hence I was disappointed to hear Mal Waldron, a very inventive and daring pianist, stick so close to the conventional chord changes here, and settle so comfortably into an old-fashioned groove. I hoped for something more surprising. David Murray, for his part, offers up a very inventive solo, and gives us a taste of fireworks. But Waldron seems content to let the tenorist do all of the heavy lifting. In short, there is not enough here to hold the listeners' interest for the full duration of this 12½ minutes of ballad musing. Waldron fans would be better served by checking out the dramatic version of "Soul Eyes" from this same date.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Murray & Mal Waldron: Soul Eyes

"Soul Eyes" is Mal Waldron's most famous composition, recorded by John Coltrane on Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors from 1957, and given a quasi-definitive interpretation by the same artist on the 1962 Coltrane LP. Here, a year before his death on December 2, 2002, Waldron collaborates with David Murray on a rich and wide-ranging exploration of "Soul Eyes," which is featured as the concluding track on the 2008 Justin Time duet release Silence. Over the course of 14 minutes, Murray and Waldron create a wondrous ebb-and-flow, moving from restrained lyricism to four-to-the-bar swing to pointillistic introspection before concluding with wide, sweeping bass clarinet lines over Waldron's aggressive pedal-point comping. A fitting memorial to a much missed artist.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian: Light Blue

It's hard to make a song like Monk's "Light Blue," with its short repeated melody, sound right. By the way, who does play it on record or onstage nowadays? But this is not a problem for Paul Motian. With his atypical trio, he can imprint his personal mark on almost any type of song he chooses, since they will never play it in the usual way. Here, the trio repeats the melody six times with only slight changes before it starts improvising in a "theme-and-variation" kind of way, with Lovano and Frisell taking turns as lead voice, then accompanist, or going back to the melody in unison. Motian's light cymbal touch works as a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint to his partners' playing, and the whole illustrates beautifully one of the veteran drummer's great principles about music (which could also have been Monk's motto): less is more.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Trio Sud: Renaissance

On this ballad written by Sylvain Luc, Trio Sud shows that it has acquired an awesome maturity over the years. On their previous records one could be stunned by their choice of a very acoustic sound – specifically that of the Godin electro-acoustic guitar played by Luc – or by the virtuosity of the same Luc, alternating finger and pick techniques at breathtaking speed. Here one is just delighted by a trio sound that is fresh and full, by a song that unfolds its melody and harmonies in a most natural way, and by a guitar sound and phrasing that need no effects or licks to convey their message. It takes great confidence to play in such an unsophisticated way, and Trio Sud has reached that level of self awareness and humbleness where they can simply concentrate on playing music.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Francesco Bearzatti: Why?

With this quartet, Francesco Bearzatti has arguably reached the peak of his creativity. Still in his 30s, this fiery clarinet and tenor player has had an interesting career as a sidemen in Italy and France. He also led his own organ combo and "Sax Pistols," a loud trio with Stomu Takeishi and Dan Weiss reflecting his interest in Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. But with this consistent suite dedicated to an Italian-born adventuress who died in Mexico during the 1940s, Bearzatti finds not only a theme but also a format. Sound-wise, this quartet could be a rock band as far as power and tightness are concerned. Jazz-wise, they display a variety of attributes that goes back several decades — from early New Orleans music to now, a range that can seldom be heard nowadays — and their joy in playing and improvising is absolutely breathtaking. Could such a band come from anywhere but Italy? Why not, of course, but since Enrico Rava or Gianluigi Trovesi many musicians from the Peninsula have displayed an ability to feed on any period of jazz history not to imitate but to fuel their own creativity. Bearzatti and his mates are definitely wild improvisers with a vivid past and no fear of the future. May they spread the message as far beyond their native country as possible.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stefano Battaglia: Our Circular Song

Stefano Battaglia is exactly the opposite of a stereotypical extroverted Italian musician. In fact he says he was unsurprised when Manfred Eicher invited him to record for the ECM label, since he was already deep into the aesthetic of the German producer renowned for his so-called "Nordic sound." But in fact, though he was born in Northern Italy, Battaglia can hardly be called a Viking, and even though Jarrett was among his early influences, he now is closer to, for example, Marilyn Crispell. Battaglia is highly concerned with the interaction between his piano and the other instruments in his trio (characteristically the drummer's seat is held by a percussionist, for the sake of color rather than steady pulse). The group never resorts to the theme-solo-theme pattern, since Battaglia and his partners are more interested in building sonic miniatures in the moment than in fitting into pre-established formats. Their composing most of their tunes together relates to these options. Still, their playing is never abstract and, in the sound of each instrument as in the short melodic phrases that occur under Battaglia's fingers, one often finds the singing quality that devotees of stereotype may attribute — not without cause — to the Italian origin of these fine musicians. In their musical tradition this singing quality is called cantabile.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paolo Fresu: Si Dolce è il Tormento

The Monteverdi madrigal that Paolo Fresu tackles here was composed more than three centuries before any member of Fresu's Angel Quartet (plus 1 on this track) was born. This may lead the listener to meditate on the fact that Italian musicians definitely have their own treasure of melodies and have no problem dealing with it in whatever idiom. Indeed, when Monteverdi was alive none of the instruments played here existed in its actual form, except for the bass. Still, the vocal quality of Fresu's trumpet fits the melody so neatly that he hardly needs to improvise on it. Lê's guitar sound is obviously far from the baroque lute, but his playing is totally relevant to the emotional quality of the music. Behind them, the support that Di Castri and Gatto bring (the latter with subtle and highly melodic brushes) is just perfect, and Salis's accordion adds its voice in a most discreet manner. If this is the sweet (dolce) torment (tormento) that Monteverdi talked about in his title, let's pray that these "angels" may inflict it on us as long as possible. By all means!

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gianluigi Trovesi: Now I Can

Gianluigi Trovesi is not only a great saxophone and clarinet player and one of the main historical figures of Italian Jazz in the last 40 years, he is also a consummate composer and arranger, and a fine humorist. This track bears witness to all the above in its dramatic construction (with a melodic theme hidden in the middle of a riff-based structure), its instrumentation (with the percussion and toys playing a high-pitched humoristic punctuation to the ensembles and solos by low-register instruments), the way it all swings in an infectious slow dancing manner, and finally the hilarious intrusion of Pino Minafra, grumbling some indescribable babble which might be the closest you can get to Southern Italian rap. Trovesi has had several midsize ensembles since '92 with rock, folk and baroque influences to them, but this one best shows the joyous side of his music. Some musicologist may trace this trend back to the old Italian musical tradition of scherzo, which literally means "joke" – a tradition that today's non-Italian musicians often seem unaware of.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gabriele Mirabassi: Madrugadero

Some will argue that Gabriele Mirabassi is not really a jazz musician, and to a certain extent they are right. His straight sound and tone still bear the mark of his breeding as a classical virtuoso, and he doesn't show any influence from such historical players as Barney Bigard or Benny Goodman. But then, his instrument has played such a small role in jazz's evolution over the past half century that it has allowed strong individuals with few strings attached to appear, at least in Europe. Indeed, Mirabassi mostly plays with Europeans, except for Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil, who by the way lives in Germany. On this record Mirabassi mostly plays his own tunes with his own group, an unconventional Italian-French quartet. This track sounds like a folk tune, and some purists may again doubt its qualification as jazz. But the way the four players carry this tune from a linear melodic unison between accordion and clarinet to a free rubato exploration around the tuba's growls has definitely more to do with jazz improvisation than with any other musical genre. This bears witness to Mirabassi's open mind and to the Europeans' open vision of today's jazz.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stefano Bollani: Giroconlon

Stefano Bollani is an atypical musician, and it would be totally irrelevant to reduce him to his Italian origins, first because the melody is rarely the primal ingredient of his music. When it is, whether he pens it or plays a Beatles song or a jazz standard, he often makes it sound like an old-fashioned song used as a basis for rhythmic and harmonic invention. Here he starts with a strong left hand and a brisk right one, and the rhythmic interplay between the two caries on until a pop-songlike harmony emerges. Bollani has studied classical music thoroughly (he often borrows from Prokofiev) and has often supported pop singers before jazz took over. He is one of the young virtuosos who, mostly on the European side of the Atlantic, have a huge classical, pop and jazz culture and feel free to draw from it to shape new forms. In a country where the bop influence is still very strong, his evolution follows a very personal and unpredictable path.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brand X: Nuclear Burn

Unorthodox Behavior was Brand X's first album and was performed by what most consider the original lineup. This is actually a misnomer because Collins was not the band's original drummer but had come in as a replacement. Brand X was following in the steps of Mahavishnu, Return to Forever, and Eleventh House. The band became known to the fusion community as a quality group. Although they had a few high-profile gigs, most notably opening for John McLaughlin in Central Park, they never quite ascended to the top step. Despite this, they left behind some important jazz-rock music and introduced some important fusion players in Goodsall, Jones and Lumley. Collins was good as well, but it is arguable that Brand X was as important to his music and career as Genesis was.

"Nuclear Burn" features the elements all jazz rock fans wanted to hear at that time, including power drumming, lots of quick thematic changes, a wailing guitar player, a bassist who does more than help keep time, and a wild synthesizer player. "Nuclear Burn" is a full-out assault. The song's guitar riffs sound like something you might have heard come from Al Di Meola in Return to Forever. There are sections of the tune that could have been lifted right off a Mahavishnu record as well. These guys were capable of playing music of the highest caliber. They were not ripping off those bands by sometimes sounding like them. They were honoring them. Over time Brand X's sound would diverge from its influences. Sometimes this was for the good … sometimes not. But music is all about finding your own way.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brand X: And So To F…

Phil Collins and Robin Lumley are back in Brand X for 1979's Product. The band's changing lineups were a product of two things. Collins in particular was a busy guy with his success in the rock group Genesis. So he wasn't always available. The record company also wanted music with more commercial appeal from the band. In a strange way Brand X actually became two bands, or more, by rotating musicians who had an affinity for playing either hard fusion or more accessible material. This album falls mostly into the last mentioned, but does contain some vocals.

"And So To F…" is a superior fusion number. A slow jazz-rock anthem introduction is presented. An energetic rolling rhythm and layered background is quickly developed over which Goodsall squeezes out some sustained guitar lines. Somewhat jarringly, and a bit off key, Goodsall presents some power chords. They serve to amp up the proceedings. Collins goes into overdrive. The bassist Giblin gets busy. Goodsall, the dominate voice on the piece, starts cranking out violin-like screeches. The song escapes into oblivion. This is Brand X proving that they deserve a page in the fusion encyclopedia.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brand X: Earth Dance

Keyboardist Peter Robinson replaced Robin Lumley and drummer Chuck Burgi replaced Phil Collins for Brand X's Masques. Record executives were pressuring the band to play more commercial music. The quasi-jazz instrumental music of acts such as Spyro Gyra, Chuck Mangione and even Herb Alpert were actually charting at this time. The black ties were salivating over the possibilities.

"Earth Dance" was written by percussionist Morris Pert. It is expectedly heavy in rhythms. The song's introduction is a passel of ambient Asiatic themes. This soon gives way to a semi-Latin percussion vibe that dominates the rest of the piece. The melody almost becomes a bystander. When the melody is present the band sounds like a cross between a poor man's Eleventh House and Return to Forever. What tune there is, is full of ingratiating hooks and comes quite close in character to Spyro Gyra's hit "Morning Dance" released that same year. I am not suggesting anyone copied anyone. I don't know which tune was released first. But this was the type of music that the commercial types wanted fusion to start turning into. In the end, they had their way. My guess is that the record company was probably pleased with this cut. It is a good song. But it is not up to the standards of the band.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: Visions

In Italy, jazz musicians and connoisseurs alike call Enrico Rava "maestro," and there are reasons for that. Beside his impressive career, both inside and outside Italy, Rava has always enlisted younger musicians to form new groups and explore new grounds, as with this pianoless quartet that refers more to the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker band than to the Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry association. Of course, the presence of Argentinean-born baritone saxophonist Javier Girotto is instrumental in this comparison. Some songs even sound almost as if they could belong to the Mulligan/Baker repertoire, but the most interesting ones are those, such as this track, that both bring the cool aesthetic into the new century and decentralize it towards the Old Continent. Apart from being a great musician, Rava has always been a true lover of the jazz tradition, from Bix Beiderbecke to Don Cherry. No wonder he can help himself whenever he wants to the heap of stylistic influences he has absorbed over the years, yet always sound like today, and like himself.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pietro Tonolo & Danilo Rea: Ah, cosa non è stato sotto la luna

They are not well known beyond the borders of their native country (although Tonolo has played with the likes of Gil Evans, Paul Motian and Gil Goldstein, and Rea with Lee Konitz, Chet Baker and Aldo Romano), but Tonolo & Rea are celebrities in Italy. It doesn't take more than a few bars played by this duo to hear why. Where do you find a tenor player with a mellower yet still powerful sound? Where do you find a pianist with such touch and harmonic sensitivity? What's also fascinating is that, as with many other Italian musicians, lyricism seems to come naturally to this pair. They can pen a tune with all the characteristics of a popular Italian melody, such as this track, yet never sound corny when they tackle it, whether playing the theme or improvising countermelodies. That's what one calls good taste. And, even if it also exists in other spheres (cooking, wine, clothes, etc.), you've got a good chance to find it aplenty within a triangle that encompasses Turin, Naples and Venice.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Franco D'Andrea: Old Jazz

It's hard to find a European musician who's absorbed the history of jazz piano — and jazz at large, for that matter — as thoroughly as Franco D'Andrea. His recent renditions of Ellington's or Monk's works are top-rank recordings, and he has managed to express his own personality both within and outside the boundaries of the classic-to-bop style. One can then understand that the title of this witty tune he penned is partly ironical, as are the quotations of bop clichés that spring here and there from D'Andrea's fingers. These may in fact be the only clues, during a blindfold test, to the fact that this trio is composed entirely of Europeans, all Italian in fact. Actually they have played with so many American musicians residing in or touring through their country that they have learned to speak the standard jazz language without accent. They even often prove more inventive in that idiom than some native speakers, and don't hesitate to foray beyond its borders when they feel restricted by them. Besides, all three are top-level instrumentalists and highly creative improvisers. Who can beat that, on either side of the Atlantic?

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maria Pia De Vito: Eucharisto Soi

Born in Naples, Southern Italy, a crucible of Mediterranean folk and classical influences, Maria Pia De Vito is one of the Peninsula's great voices and has frequently worked with such other European musicians as British pianist John Taylor, Belgian singer David Linx or Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger. Here she uses lyrics from an apocryphal gospel to build a song that sounds more Indian than Italian, polytheist than Christian. But phoné — the voice in ancient Greek — has always and universally been used to communicate with the divine, and De Vito certainly isn't one to restrict her vocal abilities to the Mediterranean orb. Supported mainly by tabla, bass and the very vocal-like sound of Trovesi's alto clarinet, she creates an utterly original mood, beyond the borders of tradition and modernity.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Italian Instabile Orchestra: Il Maestro Muratore

Italy, which is often noted for its inability to achieve political unity, has nevertheless managed to produce an 18-piece orchestra whose members are almost all leaders of their own bands. No ordinary orchestra, then. The Italian Instabile Orchestra (whose personnel, as the name suggests, is liable to swell and evolve) was from its inception one of Europe's most stimulating large modern bands. This track ("The Master Mason" in English) shows the Instabile Orchestra at its arguably best period, displaying typically Mediterranean melodic inspiration on a modal 3/4 vamp arranged in a simple, efficient way. Another of Instabile's assets was that most of its members were potentially raunchy, free improvisers, be they veterans such as Gaslini, Schiano and Trovesi or younger musicians such as Rossi or Actis Dato. Nowadays the Instabile seldom plays, but this album (whose title clearly alludes to Ornette Coleman's Skies of America) is a milestone, set by master builders not only in the history of Italian jazz, but of European jazz at large.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonello Salis: Graffio di Costa

Once you've recovered from listening to Antonello Salis for the first time (it's stunning on record, but it's killing in concert), the thing that will finish leaving you dumbfounded is to learn that he doesn't even have a piano at home. But Salis, who was born and still lives in Sardinia (an island off the Italian Mediterranean coast) and also plays accordion, is so full of music that he hardly needs to practice on any instrument to exude musicianship. This short, athletic, dark-skinned man is so replete with energy that he may sometimes look and sound restless. But on this CD where he devotes himself to the piano, he displays an appalling mastery of the instrument's many nuances and a huge sense of construction, melody and rhythm. Listening to this track, it's easy to understand why so many other musicians, from his fellow Sardinian Paolo Fresu to Joey Baron, French accordionist Richard Galliano or German pianist Jens Thomas, have wanted to perform with him. Salis is definitely unique and, both as a musician and as a person, larger than life.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Strozier: Runnin'

Frank Strozier was one of a group of up-and-coming young musicians on the Memphis jazz scene in the early '50's, which included George Coleman, Harold Mabern, Phineas Newborn and Booker Little. So it was fitting that Little would join Strozier for the altoist's first date as leader in 1960. No one could have predicted what lay ahead for these two very talented artists. Little, who would undoubtedly have joined Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan as one of the new trumpet stars of the '60's, would die tragically of uremia the following year at the age of only 23. Strozier's career would stagnate, despite a brief stint with Miles Davis, to the point that by the '70's he had taken a job teaching science in the public schools of New York. When he landed a recording date in 1976, it was his first in 15 years, and with perhaps a touch of bitterness, it was titled Remember Me. In the mid-'80's, he tried a futile comeback on his first instrument, the piano, and has been little heard from since.

"Runnin'" is an aptly titled finger-busting, up-tempo hard-bop vehicle, the kind used to eliminate pretenders from bandstands during jam sessions, and both Strozier and Little eat it up, backed ably by none other than Miles Davis's rhythm section at the time. Strozier's leadoff solo possesses an urgent intensity comparable to that of Jackie McLean, with biting staccato phrasing, bluesy shouts, and an overriding sense of restless exploration. Little's spirited solo contains spiraling lines impeccably executed, interspersed with almost melancholy interludes and insistent wails. Cobb gets a brief but authoritative drum break before the intriguing call-and-response theme returns.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Emiliano Salvador: Una Mañana de Domingo

Emiliano Salvador never achieved the international success of other top Cuban jazzmen such as Paquito D'Rivera, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdes. In 1992, at age 41, Salvador died in his sleep of a heart attack. Valdes called him "the best pianist of his generation," and the words "Cuba's Jazz Legend" on the front of this CD's packaging are not mere hype. An accomplished drummer and percussionist, Salvador's piano playing could be intensely rhythmic and driving, and he was a diverse stylist overall, as likely to perform jazz versions of more traditional chachas, sambas, mambos, and danzons as he was to stretch out and burn on straight-ahead Latin jazz tunes.

"Una Mañana de Domingo," from his last recording, is a nearly 9-minute tour de force that encapsulates all of Salvador's power, grace and romanticism. The pianist unfurls the yearning melody slowly, veering off into tinkling embellishments complemented by resounding left-hand figures. A more reflective section ensues, before his pace intensifies and he moves into an energetic modal mindset, ingeniously adding tantalizing montuno passages here and there, his profound touch and intricate lines consistently captivating. He then plays the theme straight through before offering more brilliantly textured variations, leading finally to a dramatic and emphatic two-handed conclusion. Mix together Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Chucho Valdes, and you might approximate what Salvador achieves in this stunning performance.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Zdenko Ivanuši?: Four Odd

The 41-year-old Zdenko Ivanuši? is based in Zagreb, Croatia, and is equally proficient on alto, tenor and soprano saxes, besides being an excellent composer. He heads the Donna Lee Saxophone Quartet, was lead alto for the HGM Jazz Orchestra Zagreb, and has performed with several symphony and theatre orchestras located in Croatia. Zivaldo is his own label, for which he has recorded two CDs by the Donna Lee Saxophone Quartet and Lost in HTML with his own small group. Judging from this release, Ivanuši? appears comfortable performing all across the wide spectrum of jazz, be it mainstream, hard bop, progressive, funk or fusion – all styles handled with great competence and flair.

"Four Odd" allows him to stretch out impressively on alto. A loping waltz-like bassline and martial drum rhythm sets up Ivanuši?'s playing of the ethereal, mystical-sounding theme. His somewhat dry timbre is remindful of Greg Osby and/or Steve Coleman. He develops his absorbing solo at a deliberate pace to start, but his singing lines gradually accelerate and are soon interspersed with passionate, dissonant cries, and he concludes his narrative with some well-crafted circular phrases. Dedi?, who had provided the altoist with assured and sympathetic backing, now creates an inventive solo that also begins reflectively, before sonorous chords jumpstart his more heated concluding segment. After Ivanuši? repeats the theme, he gives way to Domiter, who takes the piece out with deft bass-drum figures and tasteful, polished stick work.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Carter: Blue Star

Much like J.J. Johnson, Benny Carter virtually disappeared from the active jazz scene for a number of years in order to write for film and television. The King (the nickname given to him by Ben Webster), was his first jazz record date in ten years, and was a superb reminder of his prowess as both a player and composer. From this point, at age 68, to his death in 2003, Carter would record prolifically and memorably in various contexts. Producer Norman Granz wisely suggested that Carter, for the first time, do an album devoted exclusively to his own compositions.

Of the eight Carter tunes performed, "Blue Star" is a standout, quite simply one of Benny's finest melodies. A version featuring Coleman Hawkins had appeared on Carter's acclaimed 1961 Further Definitions, and it receives another exquisite treatment here. Flanagan's lovely intro precedes Carter, whose alto sings the romantic theme with a sultry/sweet tone, backed by both Jackson's cascading single-note lines and Flanagan's more austere chording. Jackson hits the ground running as his fervent, moving solo maintains a relentless pace from beginning to end. Pass, in contrast, is poignantly melodic during his concise improvisation, only to be answered by yet another exuberant, cascading statement by Jackson, who is in top form. Carter finally takes center stage, and solos with a considerably more biting tone than he displayed on the opening, his attack contradicting his somewhat exaggerated urbane or genteel persona, and his lines more legato and modern sounding than some might have expected. For the final reading of the melody, however, Carter reverts to a more elegant, less stylish tone.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris Europlane: No Sadness

Italian pianist and composer Roberto Magris is a veteran of countless European jazz festivals, has played in more than 30 countries and recorded 16 albums. He has collaborated with many of Europe's finest musicians and served as sideman to such notables as Kai Winding and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. He is a favorite of jazz critic Ira Gitler, from whose liner notes much of this information is gleaned. Magris formed the Europlane Orchestra in 1998, and in one form or another that name has been placed on some of his projects since.

According to Gitler, "No Sadness" started its life as a rock ballad and had been recorded that way on an earlier album. This version is certainly not that. This interpretation is a jazz ballad featuring a lovely melody supported by a quasi-Latin beat. Magris is a gifted player blessed with a subtle touch. He is matched in tone and purpose by guest saxophonist Herb Geller, known for his West Coast leanings developed in the vortex of the late-'50s movement. Guitarist Darko Jurcovic's playing also fits perfectly into the mix. These are professional players performing traditional jazz with taste and skill. You could do much worse than spending your time listening to them. No sadness heard here.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Ciacca: Prince of Newark

When you are the Director of Programming at Jazz at Lincoln Center, you better be good! Antonio Ciacca spent years touring and playing with the likes of Art Farmer, Dave Liebman, Mark Murphy, Steve Grossman, Wynton Marsalis and others proving just that. Surprisingly, given all his international experience and new professional position, Ciacca here offers his very first U.S. CD release, comprising a cross selection of finely crafted standards and originals.

"Prince of Newark" is a tribute to Wayne Shorter, who greatly influenced Ciacca. The piece begins with saxophonist Dillard and trumpeter Magnarelli playing a unison intro. Once the rhythm section enters, the piece becomes a relaxed, straight-ahead excursion full of harmony and space. Ciacca's piano plays a minor part until his solo. Even then it is clear that Ciacca's focus is on the arrangement and ensemble, not the individual player. He makes no effort to overwhelm. Dillard and then Magnarelli approach their turns in the same manner. This piece is about Shorter's way. Mood and structure are the masters.

Good thing that Ciacca and his band are good. It would be real embarrassing if they were not.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc McDonald: It Doesn't End Here

When I receive a new CD for review, I usually listen to the entire disc to choose what I think would be the best representative cut to write about. I use my own criteria for this. More often than not I choose a tune that in some way sets itself apart from the others. This is the contrarian in me, though I do think this gives listeners a better idea of the scope of the music. Other times I just select the best performance. This album was an exception. I listened to the first tune only. It was clear to me that "It Doesn't End Here" deserved my immediate attention. It is a wonderful composition played beautifully. I didn't have to hear anything else to judge how good McDonald and his crew were.

After years in the business, saxophonist Marc McDonald now offers his debut album as a leader. His playing style is in the more powerful undertows of the mainstream, influenced a bit by outside cultures and a bop sensibility. For the title cut, McDonald wrote a simple melody. Sometimes simple is best. It is catchy from the start. Particularly effective is Steve Cardenas's guitar. His tone has a hint of Pat Metheny, though his lines are less esoteric. Saxophonist, guitarist and pianist take solo turns, each making the most of a melody that offers much. Even the best compositions need proper follow-through. When given riches you still need to know what to do with them lest they be squandered. This is music I would stay for the second set for. And the third… It is my guess it doesn't end here.

Reviewer's Note: I will listen to the rest of the album. I have already started in fact. It continues to be good.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bryan Beninghove: Adam's Apple

Count me in as one of those who likes to hear a dirty B-3. Anything that changes the purity of that instrument's sound is a plus in my book. On Wayne Shorter's "Adam's Apple," organist Kyle Koehler employs distortion to great effect. His sound, not style, harkens back to Larry Young circa 1970. Style-wise the trio, under the leadership of saxophonist Beninghove, rocks out the number à la Medeski Martin and Wood. The trio is more into the blues than MMW and has a broader melodic component because of its two lead instruments. But the vibe is the same. This is music that should resonate with the same audience. Beninghove is John Klemmer on steroids. He is a powerful and expressive player. Drummer Williams played with the great Jimmy Smith. He knows how to play behind and push an organ trio. This is high-octane music that will lift you out of any malaise. It sure got a raucous cheer from the crowd it was performed for.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Organissimo: Groovadelphia

You can't kill the Hammond organ with a stick. In recent years its signature sound is becoming once again a familiar voice in modern music. This is beneficial for the Hammond factory but not necessarily great for the rest of us. The instrument has a tendency to become monotonous if not played in the most creative ways. A Hammond organ does not an organ trio make. But if you have a player with monster chops and the right attitude, nothing can beat the groove from this machine. Jim Alfredson fits that bill. On one tune after another on Groovadelphia, he and his bandmates jump in the pocket.

Named after the band's home away from home, "Groovadelphia" is a choppy blues number. Marsh's churning drums propel a funky back-and-forth between Alfredson and guitarist Gloss. From time to time the two pleasingly double. Alfredson takes a grinding solo. Gloss's blues-funk turn suggests distortion without playing it. Once these guys lock in, a crowbar is needed to disengage them. The vibe is magnetic. Head bopping is not a choice in this matter. The music makes it mandatory.

Score: Hammond organ 1. Stick 0.

July 22, 2008 · 2 comments

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Jakob Bro (with Bill Frisell): Sound Flower

It's a mystery to me why this song isn't available in your local record store. Nor will you find it at Amazon or the other web music retailers. Even CD Baby has apparently thrown it out with the bathwater. Copenhagen-based Bro has put together a stellar band for this date, but they must be confiscating the CDs at the border. Or perhaps customs agents are bringing these disks home for their private enjoyment. Yet even fans who haven't heard of guitarist Bro may want this CD if only for the sidemen -- some of the other tracks on The Stars Are All New Songs feature Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner, and rhythm sections don't get much better than the one assembled here. You owe it to yourself to make Mr. Bro's acquaintance too. This CD opener is a compelling example of atmospheric jazz, with strong contributions from Frisell, Motian and company. Bro has crafted a floating rubato performance with great sensitivity to silence and space. Take my word for it, you won't be able to find a copy within a thousand miles of your home. Write your congressman and get the Bro embargo lifted.

July 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adrián Iaies & Michael Zisman: 'Round Midnight

The keyboard-based accordion has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, but we still hardly ever see its cousin, the bandoneón, on jazz CDs. What a shame. The latter instrument, associated with tango music, has the right personality for jazz. Even at its most romantic, the bandoneón possesses an acerbic, ironic attitude lurking just below the surface, and this tension between warmth and distance has long been a productive formula for great jazz. Michael Zisman is a young master of the instrument, having taken first place in the bandoneón category at last year's international accordion competition. Zisman joins Adrián Iaies here, and completely transforms "'Round Midnight" from the moment he enters. The interaction between the two players captures the perfect balance between jazz and tango sensibilities. Iaies's solo piano intro takes on a moody cast, but Zisman makes this midnight setting seem positively dangerous. Someone might be lurking around the corner with a knife, and the couple strolling toward you may be lovers or thieves, who can tell? In an ocean of Monkfish covers, this one is a real catch, standing out for its fresh take on a familiar standard.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Todd Herbert: Look Into the Abyss

Todd Herbert is a native Chicagoan who, as the liner notes tell it, had a mind-blowing experience when first hearing John Coltrane's Live at Birdland. After a stint with organ master Charles Earland and subsequent time with veterans Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Cobb, Herbert ventured onto the New York jazz club scene as a leader in his own right over the last few years, and deserves a listen from any straight-ahead fan. "Into the Abyss," a driving tune in a minor key, evokes the late-'50s Coltrane influence that is unmistakable in Herbert's playing. Herbert can swing and wail with authority as well as play with endearing sensitivity when appropriate. His tone is pure and deep-throated, and his delivery demonstrates some of Trane's searching quality. Pianist Wonsey's appealing Bobby Timmons-like feel retains its blues tinge, and the rhythm section effectively drives the beat, with a nice break by Brown. Herbert, a fine technician whose music is derivative in nature, seems perfectly content to be a torch carrier rather than a daring innovator. His work is passionate, vastly entertaining and very well executed.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Karen Ristuben: Day Dream

Consider a small roadside bar with a blonde chanteuse singing to a bunch of beer-drinking flyboys and their molls on break from the nearby desert Air Force base that is home to that rare breed called test pilots. Some are dancing, some are simply enjoying the music. It could be a scene from back in the '50s where these classic rugged individualists, who would soon populate NASA's astronaut program, found respite from their hair-raising daily escapades through music that mixes the soft sleepy delivery of a laid-back era with embellishments of steel guitar and a twangy Fender telecaster, giving this Ellington composition its own unique western flavor. Ristuben's monotonic voice and her accomplished musical partners trigger this scene in my mind, with their oddly effective combination of sounds and approach. It's maybe not jazz per se, but certainly evokes a time past and a musical hybrid that combines elements of jazz, western instrumentation and torch singing.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Emilio Solla: Remain Alert

Argentinean-born Emilio Solla, having grown up abroad and trained classically, now resides in Brooklyn, a mecca for upcoming jazz musicians of many diverse cultural and musical backgrounds. On his wonderfully evocative "Remain Alert," Solla borrows from the tango rhythms of his native country's passionate dance music. His uniquely eclectic but grounded style is strongly influenced by this dance component, as the varied instrumentation of flutes, saxophone, bandoneón and piano all joyfully prance through this tune with lithe synchronicity. With a nod to Astor Piazzolla and his Tango Nuevo style, Solla creates an engaging piece of music, ably assisted by reedman Gorka Benitez and a flowing rhythm section that astutely accents his every move while maintaining a deft pulse. In the liner notes, Solla comments on the genesis of this tune's title, a post-9/11 sign on a New York City subway beckoning us to "Remain Alert." His arrangement cleverly builds the appropriate tension the title evokes, and Xirgu's drum sequence is particularly worthy. The composition never loses its dance feel. As Solla states on his MySpace page, "I tend to be suspect of musicians that don't dance…" Clearly he and his Conversas colleagues have little problem in this area.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Rossi: Hidden Mandala

Pianist Marc Rossi is onto something here. That is not to say that he hasn't been onto something for quite some time during an impressive career. A respected Berklee faculty member, Rossi is himself a devoted student of Hindustani and Carnatic music. That is a rarity for a Western keyboard player. I am aware of only two established jazz pianists who have decided to follow in any way the precepts of Indian music (which lacks a piano history) to influence their composing and playing. The other would be Stu Goldberg. That being said, Goldberg, though not exclusively, seems to focus more on the traditional sounds of India. Rossi tends to play a Western keyboard style in the context of Indian music's cycles. But a single listen to this album makes clear that Rossi and his band are not tied down to any rules of any music. As a result, much of the music on Hidden Mandala has nothing to do with Indian tala cycles or ragas.

"Hidden Mandala" is a totally modern straight-ahead jazz piece frameworked within the traditions of the raga. Rossi's piano plays the introduction. The bass and then the sax enter. The rhythm starts. The vocals of Geetha Bennet double the melody. A very strange and wondrous thing happens at this point. Despite the undoubtedly sonorous Indian sound of Bennett, her voice in combination with the instrumentation and rhythms makes the tune sound like a Spanish and Indian hybrid, which is something I have not heard before. It is like Flora Purim and Airto meet Shakti. This synergy is counterintuitive. The song is somewhat circular in nature, returning to Indian structure and Western tones, and features several outstanding solos, until an Indian orchestrated final section. These players are definitely in touch with their hidden mandalas. This music is high energy, high concept and high culture.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Teddi King: How Long Has This Been Going On?

"How Long Has This Been Going On" was recorded 4 weeks before Teddi King's death, yet despite her suffering from Lupus, her voice sounds young and strong. King's rhythmic variations are sublime, especially on the words "what a dunce I was before," where it sounds like she's shaking her head in disbelief. Dave McKenna's accompaniment sparkles as usual, and after King's death, he completed this tribute to Ira Gershwin with solo versions of the songs King was planning to record. Now reissued on CD, this is highly recommended.

July 21, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bill Henderson: Please Send Me Someone To Love

"Please Send Me Someone To Love" was one of Bill Henderson's last recordings for Vee-Jay. Although recorded in a studio, it feels like a reflective after-hours session from a deserted nightclub. Henderson's voice has a scratchiness that lends vulnerability to the song, and his unique terminal vibrato sounds almost like a cry. His spoken "Please" at the end of the first chorus could break your heart. The slightly off-mike contributions of tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris add to the late-night mood.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Debashish Bhattacharya: Gypsy Anandi

Lately this strange and wonderful recording keeps finding its way back to my CD player. Everyone I share this music with is just as captivated as I am. Debashish Bhattacharya plays Indian slide guitar -- imagine Elmore James growing up in Calcutta -- and the end result is a music so fresh and different that you too will keep coming back for more. The cultural ingredients on this track will defy your best efforts to separate and identify. Yes, there are the expected Indian and blues elements, and a dose of Romani traditions (as the song title implies); but I also hear a Celtic lilt and echoes of bluegrass. But don't try to figure it out, just sit back and enjoy the finished product. Debashish Bhattacharya is a remarkable artist, and this CD is one of the most creative releases of the year.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Biosphere

This piece kicks off with a skittish, funky display of virtuoso playing from Moffett, followed by a similarly playful yet somber statement from Geri Allen. While repeated listening exposes a relationship between both of these episodes and what is to come, they do stand oddly apart as well. I don't know which planet this tune would be a hit single on, but I want to go there. This is one of Coleman's short tunes that really define the iconoclastic nature of his art. At any given moment the casual listener might think the music has no rhyme or reason, only to hear the group touch down in a complex ensemble section. I found my ears totally engaged throughout this performance, and marveled as the layering of the four instruments makes it sound like much more is going on.

July 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Scolohofo: The Dawn of Time

Jazz Supergroup? Well, that's always a difficult branding, and I'd like to think that the music stands apart from such marketing strategies. I'm a fan of all these players' individual works, and they bring plenty of jazz pedigree to the proceedings. So what's the problem? There's a lot of good playing here, but there's also a sense that the performance was phoned in. Solos from Holland and Scofield don't seem to shine through with their usual brilliance, and Lovano fares no better. Maybe the shortness of the track didn't give them enough room to stretch out, but to my ears this composition just doesn't excite. I really don't hear the kind of sparks I expected from this ensemble.

July 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Soul Eyes

This Classic Quartet tour de force packs an emotional wallop while exhibiting great restraint throughout. Coltrane first recorded Mal Waldron's jazz standard with the composer at the ivories in March 1957. The band was the Prestige All-Stars, and it was also done at Van Gelder Studio but back in the original space in Hackensack. This session, some five years later, yielded this issued take after two unreleased passes in April. The sensitivity of this band never fails to move me, with the rhythm section in particular always threatening to boil over, then returning to that tasteful simmer.

July 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Barone: I Hear Music

There's a guilty pleasure in listening to a swingin' B-3 combo, that stylistic poor relation long relegated to the back bays of jazz respectability. Most listeners fall into two categories: those who dig the sound and those who don't. Either way, this particular group sails well through these waters on Ron Oswanski's solid Leslie-hulled vessel, the perfect vehicle for Jeff Barone's decidedly old school, in-the-pocket technique.

Jack Wilkins, renowned for his eruptive, free-flowing guitar work, produced this effort, and that alone would intimidate most up-and-coming guitarists. In spite of that, Barone sounds comfortable in his own skin, rolling out a series of potent, tasty bop phrases that fit the groove like well-worn gloves, saying more in a few droplets of notes than many others could say with tsunamis of sound. Plus he definitely swings, with flawless timing and a strong, precise attack. Yet for me, his playing is almost too reserved and disciplined. It would be nice to hear this guy go wild and spread a bit more sail, but perhaps that's not his way … or he may just be holding back. Captain Jack, would you mind leaving the bridge for a few minutes?

July 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Catembe

In Miles: The Autobiography, the book Davis wrote with Quincy Troupe, Miles said "amandla" means "freedom" in Zulu. Wikipedia says it means "power." That's the same thing.

Amandla was actually one of the lesser records Miles made in his '80s comeback. This was the third album on which he was produced or co-produced by rising star Marcus Miller. There are different ways to look at these recordings. Many felt Miles surrounded himself with great young musicians and let them do the heavy lifting. Those taking this view point out that Miles did something similar in the early fusion days with Hancock, Williams, McLaughlin and so on. Others who dug this music believed Miles knew this was where the new music was going and wanted to be part of it. Miles was always cool like that.

"Catembe," a town in Mozambique, is similar in form to pieces found on the earlier and superior Miller- produced Tutu. Much of the sound is layered synthesizer, ambient echo and electronic funk. Miles takes an interest in the tune from the start as part of the chorused trumpet introduction. The melody is deep and somewhat murky. Electronic drums are ever present. After some Milesonian flourishes, the tune becomes a rather basic jazz-R&B number even as Garrett starts to funk it up a bit. Some jazzier call and response is introduced over the synthetic background. The tune has a strong beat. It has a groove. It has a brooding melody. It is just not everyone's cup of tea.

The fact is that whether you get into this music or not, two decades later it is still recognizable as Miles Davis music even if it is partly Marcus Miller music. To create music that maintains its own identity is a credit to both Miles and Miller.

July 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: Nina Never Knew

Except for an instrumental midsection with solos by Travis (muted) and Harris, this recording features Joe Mooney backed by an all-star studio vocal group, all of whom had sung with top big bands during the 1940s, and were singing all over radio and television for commercials and live shows in 1952 and for many years afterward. Mooney originally had an act with his brother named The Sunshine Boys back in the '30s, went on to become a pianist and arranger for various big-name bands, and then led a quartet which only lasted a few years but has recently been rediscovered via reissues of its Decca Records and surviving air checks.

"Nina Never Knew" was a new song back in 1952, and the fact that it was given to Sauter and Finegan shows the confidence that A&R director Dave Kapp had that they could turn it into a hit. This may be the most popular S-F recording among average listeners, as the record got a lot of airplay as late as the '60s. The record is also the source of a story still told by veteran group singers. At the very end of the record, for effect, the singers individually whisper "Nina Never Knew" with overlapping entrances. Inadvertently, the final appearance of this phrase is whispered "Nina Never Heard." It is unclear who made this mistake, but up until these last few seconds, the recording is near perfect. After the tape recorder stopped, the room exploded in laughter and the offender was understandably embarrassed. Eddie and Bill saw no reason to remake the side, and the error stayed.

July 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Harry Allen: I Didn't Know What Time It Was

Harry Allen was born around the time John Coltrane gave up playing changes. But you would never guess it from listening to this artist, who seems to have bypassed all the post-WW II developments in jazz, instead delivering sweet and swinging solos that sound as though they are channeled straight out of a bygone era. But sax playing this solid is timeless. Allen has it all: a rich, multifaceted tone, clear and forceful ideas, and unflagging rhythmic drive. Above all, he brings great patience to this track, never overplaying. There is a certain approach to swing that, if you capture it just right, actually intensifies the energy when you play fewer notes. Allen has got that groove here, and it's a joy to hear him coast along the chords of this Rodgers & Hart standard.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tango Argentina (Original Cast Recording) La Cumparsita

Broadway is not where one usually hunts out authentic World Music. But the hit 1980s show Tango Argentina stayed true to the traditions of Buenos Aires' great gift to the world, and showed (once again) the fluidity with which the tango adapts to different settings and audiences. Here the directors resurrected perhaps the most famous tango of the early days, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez's "La Cumparsita." The composer sold the rights to this song for a mere twenty pesos (although he later mounted a successful legal battle to secure royalties). In truth, everyone fought over this song, with Uruguayans and Argentines claiming it as their own, and a host of leading tango artists trying to put their stamp on it. You are encouraged to check out versions by Firpo, Gardel, Lamarque and others. The song captures the high drama of tango from the glory days—a power that is not diminished when transferred to a Broadway stage.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aníbal Troilo: Quejas de Bandoneón

Aníbal Troilo

Troilo was the preeminent bandoneón player of mid-century Argentina. Although he performed with many of the greatest tango singers of the era, his instrumental works rank among his most beloved recordings. Here he demonstrates his incisive bandoneón sound, sharply staccato and slightly anticipating the beat. When Troilo died, his widow gave his bandoneón to Piazzolla, who expressed reluctance to try to make music on the instrument that the master had once played so caressingly. Yet Piazzolla (and others) could not escape so easily the influence of this consummate artist, who was able to balance the sentimentality of the tango with a certain macho energy and assertiveness. This track reflects the intensity of Troilo's musical vision as well as his fastidious care with arrangements and dynamics.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Susie Ibarra: Drum Sketches

Don't be scared off by the personnel listing. Yes, this is a 10-movement solo percussion work, almost 40 minutes of thumpin', bangin' and plunkin'. But Drum Sketches will not remind you of that bad experience you had in college with mushrooms while listening to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." This is one of the most musical CDs of the year, and will help you get over your fear of solo percussion. Ibarra shows her mastery of a range of instruments, but I am especially impressed by her exploration of her Filipino ethnic roots, demonstrated here by extracts from field recordings and her masterful use of the Kulintang, a variant of the xylophone made of eight tuned gongs placed horizontally on a wooden rack. This is a CD you could easily miss that will surprise and delight.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ada Falcón: Yira Yira

Ada Falcón led one of those dramatic, surprising lives so typical of the great tango artists. Born in 1905. Falcón began performing on stage at age 11, and made her motion picture debut two years later. But her greatest fame would come in her 20s, when she recorded a series of memorable tango songs. This version of "Yira Yira" was recorded a month before Carlos Gardel entered the studio to make his own famous version. Yet Falcón's spirited rendition stands out as a classic statement of disappointment and despair. "Everything is a lie," the singer declares here. Falcón's life would eventually become pervaded with this same sense of disillusionment. After 1942, la joyita Argentina (or "little Argentine jewel'), as she was known, refused to allow her photo to be taken, and she eventually entered a convent where she led a withdrawn, ascetic life. She lived another six decades after her departure from the entertainment world, but her renunciation of a celebrated past has done little to dim the legend of the emotionally charged performer featured on this track.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jackie McLean: Fidel

Ten days before 27-year-old Jackie McLean's first Blue Note recording session as a leader, another first-time leader made his own mark, as guerrilla forces commanded by 32-year-old lawyer-turned-rebel Fidel Castro triumphantly entered Havana, consummating their overthrow of Cuba's military dictatorship. During the brutal 7-year reign of General Fulgencio Batista, the tropical island had become the Las Vegas of the Caribbean, home to lavish casinos, mobster Meyer Lansky, widespread corruption, government- censored media, protest demonstrations, general strikes by workers, riots in the streets, police terrorism, and the suspension of such constitutional niceties as free elections. (See The Godfather, Part II for picturesque milieu.) Naturally Castro's ragtag but victorious army was welcomed by jubilant crowds, relieved to be out from under the dictator's iron thumb yet little suspecting what lay ahead.

As charismatic leader of the Cuban Revolution, the scruffy, full-bearded Castro instantly became a folk hero to hemispheric militants from Havana to Harlem, cementing his appeal in the latter community during an eventful September 1960 visit. In town to address the U.N. General Assembly, the Third World's newly anointed apostle of the proletariat—perennially clad in combat fatigues—felt a chill of inhospitality amid the gracious 19th-century brownstones of midtown Manhattan's Shelburne Murray Hill hostelry, and with characteristic antibourgeois panache relocated himself and his retinue to Harlem's storied Hotel Theresa, where he received such solicitous dignitaries as Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X, the latter proclaiming his Cuban host the only white person he ever liked. Meanwhile that month the CIA, less in accord with Malcolm's sanguine assessment than with President Eisenhower's denunciation of Castro as an international troublemaker, commissioned Sam Giancana, boss of organized crime's notorious Chicago Outfit, and his Miami counterpart Santos Trafficante to assassinate Castro upon the Bearded One's return home. And speaking of returns, Jackie McLean was again in Van Gelder Studios to complete his album Jackie's Bag. (As we said, it was an eventful month.)

Having grown up in Harlem, where he still resided, McLean must've felt vindicated when his tribute's namesake checked into the Hotel Theresa, presumably confirming McLean's prescience in recognizing Castro as one of history's good guys. In any case, Jackie's tune "Fidel" is exceptionally attractive, and McLean puts his familiar off-kilter intonation to expressive solo use. The overall performance, however, is far from Blue Note's best. In particular, trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Sonny Clark seem out of sorts, justifying producer Alfred Lion's decision to keep this session in the can until more representative McLean albums could be released (to wit New Soil, Swing, Swang, Swingin' and Capuchin Swing).

As for Castro, he went on to outlive Batista, Khrushchev, Eisenhower, Meyer Lansky, Malcolm X, Sam Giancana, Santos Trafficante, Alfred Lion, Sonny Clark and even Jackie McLean. Must be something about those fine Habanos cigars.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ted Heath: Henry IX

Ted Heath's Sunday Night London Palladium concerts gave him a chance to introduce new members of the band (vocalists Lita Roza and Dickie Valentine were first heard at these Sunday night bashes), try out new material and play concert music not appropriate for dancing. In particular, these evenings were a way to showcase his soloists, and such musicians as Lusher, Pratt, Horrox, Gilbert and Verrell were regularly featured.

Based on Henry Mackenzie's fabulous solo on his feature "Henry IX," he could go head to head with any of the top American clarinetists active, including Benny Goodman. Mackenzie's gorgeous sound and clean technique combined with a band clearly on fire playing for their diehard fans is an unbeatable combination.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ted Heath: Ladybird

By this time in its history, the Heath band's schedule was made up of tours, BBC broadcasts, recordings for U.K. Decca, and a series of sold-out concerts at the London Palladium. Heath wanted the most versatile band in England, and this recording is one of the band's first to embrace the new jazz called bebop. Shearing was already well known as a pianist, but he was an experienced big band arranger as well, playing his arrangements on the piano and having them transcribed for the instruments. An American bandleader of stature would have been thrilled to have had this creative, exciting arrangement in his band book. The trumpets have stunning Gillespie-esque figures, played as if they are the simplest parts in the world – typical of the Heath band's discipline. Armstrong and Simpson are the soloists; Simpson has clearly heard a few bop recordings. Reportedly Dameron liked this arrangement very much, and would contribute to the Heath book as well later in the year.

July 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: Hit the Road to Dreamland

This version of the Mercer-Arlen gem is a gem itself, issued as the 'B' side of a single and forgotten until Collector's Choice dug it out of the vault. Eddie and Bill had the pick of the New York musicians' pool on their sessions, and when someone couldn't make a date, there were any number of other excellent players who could fill in. Even the singers were the best in the business: Sweetland had been a busy vocal dubber in Hollywood, Lillian Clark was a member of the Clark Sisters and Mrs. Sy Oliver, Malvin and Steck were members of Glenn Miller's AAF Orchestra during the war. Mooney's participation was icing on the cake; Bill's first wife Kay was a big fan of the pianist/accordionist/arranger/singer, and would manage him during the mid-'60s.

The arrangement is clearly Finegan, as he seemed to immerse himself in the manifold colors of the band more than Sauter (most of the time anyway). Amidst the imitation of bells by the singers and a lot of woodwind and percussion colors, the intro ends and the band swings in medium tempo. The singers take over in continued hip fashion; one nice touch occurs when Mooney sings ".... in the land of Nod," and the singers fire back, "and Wynken and Blynken," not part of the original lyric. After the vocal, almost the entire first part of the record repeats, returning to the bell imitation. The singers return speaking "Sleep?.....Sleep" with a run on the celeste in the background. The record is clever without being gimmicky, welcome sounds in the morass of the pop music of the early '50s.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Back-Woods Song

Abercrombie, Holland and DeJohnette have enjoyed deserved long and influential careers. All have been, and continue to be, strong and important voices connecting the worlds of straight-ahead jazz, jazz fusion and even occasionally experimental jazz. As a trio they create impressive and provocative music.

"Back-Woods Song" is part folk song, part blues and part jazz-rock. Holland, who penned the piece, supplies a circular bassline that is so precise it almost sounds like an Indian drone box. Abercrombie plays wavy blues lines over it as DeJohnette chugs along. Abercrombie takes the first solo, employing harmonics and strangely bent chords. He leaves the reservation during a few measures. Holland is then given time to establish a head-nodding motif. This is all very engaging. "Back-Woods Song" is a fusion number that focuses on mood rather than power. In that sense, and aside from the trio taking things out a bit from time to time, the music is typical ECM fare. All good fusion didn't have to be right up in your face. Good stuff.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: Horseplay

Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan were asked to write 6-minute compositions for release on extended-play 45-rpm records to promote the EP medium. (Perhaps RCA Victor was still smarting from the 45's failure to win the competition with 33-1/3 LPs.) Giving an extra three minutes per side to these particular two composer/arrangers was a gift to them, and ultimately a gift to listeners. While some still argue whether the music was jazz or even jazz-influenced, the sheer virtuosity and compositional brilliance of Sauter and Finegan makes the argument moot.

"Horseplay" is Sauter's show all the way. Making the most out of few compositional materials and showing a mastery of form, the piece is based on the melody of a children's song, repeating and expanding to a climax – a favorite Sauter compositional device. This is a subtle piece, not as flashy orchestrationally as other works in the S-F book, but certainly one of the gems in their catalog.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Kids Are Pretty People

Don't dare call the Vanguard orchestra a ghost band! That said, some powerful spirits from the past float around the bandstand on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. This ensemble took life in the mid-1960s as the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and the 2008 edition of the VJO pays homage to one of the great Thad Jones groove ballads from back in the day, "Kids Are Pretty People." The kids who were pretty people when Thad was around have grown up . . . shucks, they now run the band. But the parents can look on with pride. The VJO performs this testament to intergenerational goodwill with relaxation and warmth. The section work is a joy to hear, and top solo honors go to trombonist John Mosca. A new bunch of kids are around these days. Let's hope they give this track a listen.

July 17, 2008 · 2 comments

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Gary Burton & Stéphane Grappelli: Blue in Green

One of the greatest joys of jazz is unexpected collaboration. In no other genre do artists of varied ages, cultures and musical backgrounds meet to play as often. To be honest, not all of these get- togethers end with successful music. But in almost every case, these attempts are to be admired for the effort. Luckily, when legendary Gypsy jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli met with one of jazz's greatest vibists, Gary Burton, things worked out just fine. Grappelli is ostensibly a guest star on this recording, which features a variation of the classic Gary Burton Quartet.

Conventional wisdom would say that an interpretation of "Blue in Green" would be more suited to the modern jazz that Burton was known for. And indeed Burton plays the introduction and the first solo over Swallow's slow, throbbing bass with a comforting ease. His confidence is even more impressive when you realize that this Gary Burton was only 29 years old. Meanwhile, his iconic melodic foil Stéphane Grappelli was 64. How would Grappelli approach the tune? Would he give it a bit of European swing? No. A bit of the Gypsy? Well, maybe a little. But what he mostly delivers is a thought-provoking and touching display of what jazz interpretation is all about. The collaborative process requires players to fully understand the music and the varying dynamics in play. Musicians of this quality can perform any type of music because they respect it. And they can perform it effectively together because they listen to and respect each other.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Akkerman: Angel Watch

Dutchman Jan Akkerman was the gifted guitarist for popular progressive rock group Focus. The band had a huge international pop hit with the song "Hocus Pocus" in 1973. It was a novelty song of sorts featuring skillfully performed nonsense vocals. But behind the hoopla a great instrumental band stood. This is best exhibited on the group's masterpiece progressive rock and fusion album Moving Waves. Somehow, at least in America, the band never quite caught on after its initial splash. Fame is fickle.

Akkerman's guitar prowess is evident for all to hear on his 1977 release Jan Akkerman. "Angel Watch" features his rock guitar infused with jazz, blues and a certain European elegance. The tune's opening sequence is convincingly beautiful. Long sustained notes reverberate above a string background. Much in the Focus tradition, a fusion opus is underway. Akkerman turns to speed runs after the introduction. The cut does have a weakness amplified by the passage of time. It becomes a little too funky for its own good in a short cheesy outdated synthesizer section. The disco beat doesn't help either. Thankfully that wrong turn ends soon enough and Joachim Kuhn and Cees Van Der Laarse do some high-level jazz playing. Akkerman returns in full force as the tune plays out its tight and impressive string.

Though Akkerman's career slowed down since – much of that his own choice – in recent years he has been more visible and regularly plays the European jazz festival circuit.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Berger Octet: Jeepers Creepers

I can't remember the last time I heard such a dance-able big band chart. David Berger's version of "Jeepers Creepers" will get everyone out on the dance floor. But your Charleston skills will be seriously challenged when Harry Allen and Joe Temperley get into their sax battle. These two soloists fly over the changes, but never lose the swing. This piece perfectly captures the jazz ethos of the glory days. I wish my late father, who won many dance contests back in the Swing Era (only to have his disapproving mother throw away the trophies), were still around so I could play this for him. Heck, even grandma might have started snapping her fingers to this track.

July 17, 2008 · 1 comment

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Lennie Tristano: Don't Blame Me

Charlie Parker was in the studio the day this was recorded (as part of an all-star band assembled by Barry Ulanov), and Bird had just recorded his definitive version of this ballad earlier in the week. Sad to say, the altoist stays on the sidelines during this track. But Tristano does not disappoint. He constructs an ethereal sound collage above the harmonies of "Don't Blame Me," sometimes getting so far away from the tonal center that he appears about to sever the umbilical cord and drift away into another song. It's catch-as-catch-can for Billy Bauer, who has the unappealing task to trying to match his guitar chords to Tristano's mind-bending solo. Anticipating the moves of this pianist is like trying to predict the navigational patterns of a butterfly. Wherever you go, Tristano just left. But the band somehow holds together, and delivers a diaphanous version of this 1932 standard.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hot Club of Detroit: Django's Monkey

Dr. John meets Django in the 2008 release from Hot Club of Detroit. This Nawlins-flavored twist on "Django's Tiger" forswears the swing of the original Reinhardt-Grappelli session for a decidedly "Jock-A-Mo" bounce sprung from the Mardi Gras favorite "Iko Iko." Lead guitarist Evan Perri's competent jazz Manouche chops and Julien Labro's fluid accordion anchor the arrangement in the past, while Carl Catagna's soprano sax adds a contemporary flavor to the mix. So why am I not more excited over this track?

Those who want their Django straight up, raw and burning on the way down, may want to stick with the original. Perri's finely crafted lines flow smoothly enough; his guitar has a gorgeous tone and the ensemble sounds comfortable. That aside, I find myself wishing he had taken a few chances, and have to say I miss the reckless, free-for-all swing of Django's 1946 recording. With players such as these, the Hot Club of Detroit could afford to turn up the heat a bit.

July 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gene Harris: Misty

Gene Harris died in 2000. This recording of a 1996 live performance was released 8 years after his death with the reassurance from his loving wife that it represents Harris at his best. Janie Harris has even written a book about the great jazz pianist. That is true dedication from a wife and a music fan. Who is to argue with her?

The first thing that stands out is the recorded sound. It is vivid and crisp. You do feel like you were there amongst the clanging of forks and knives. Guitarist Mullin's sound is over-modulated at times creating some unintended distortion. But that makes things all the more real.

Harris interprets the classic "Misty" with light-fingered high-register runs executed with great speed and aplomb over the molasses-slow rhythm spilled expertly by Cleyndert and Drew. The pianist takes some solo time. His playing is flashy without any cloying showboating. The sense of the tune is clearly implanted in his brain. Mullen takes a fine solo turn only muddied a bit by that issue I mentioned before. Folks, Harris is not reinventing the wheel here. But he does make sure there is enough air in the tires for a safe and enjoyable trip and a smooth turnaround to end things.

Resonance Records claims it is "creating jazz legacies." Certainly they are speaking the truth with this recording.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Myriam Alter: Was It There

Though it does happen, it is not too often an album comes out under the name of someone who doesn't even perform on it. In this case that someone is Belgian composer Myriam Alter. It is an interesting story, really. Alter had been outside the music business for years studying psychology, overseeing a dance school and even working for an ad agency. At age 36, she decided to get back into the fray and formed a jazz band with herself on piano. But beginning in 1997 she focused on composing, eschewing playing, and has put out three albums using this model. For Where Is There she gathered a cast of international musicians to interpret her latest works.

The album is thematic in nature. However, individual tunes may be listened to without any loss of effectiveness. "Was It There" offers an empathetic piano as introduction. Arabian scales and percussion runs soon dominate and create the framework of the piece. An unmistakable "Caravan" vibe takes over. The tune is calmer than that classic, but it is a slower trip to the same place. John Ruocco and his clarinet enjoy the most space. The clarinet's deep and alluring sounds beckon us to come along. This music is a successful attempt at melding world music, folk and jazz.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Robin Nolan & Friends: Clair de Lune

Rare is the moment when the stars and planets align perfectly for musicians in the creative process, allowing authentic spontaneous combustion to occur. If we're extremely lucky, the moment is captured for posterity for all to enjoy. One such moment is a guitar duet by Robin Nolan and Jimmy Rosenberg playing Django Reinhardt's "Clair de Lune," recorded in real time simultaneously on both audio and video – the former released on Robin's latest album, Organized Crime, and the latter posted on YouTube.

Mere words do not do this track justice. Though the video is ample evidence of the spontaneity and raw energy, it's necessary to hear the CD to experience the rich timbre of the guitars and subtle interaction between these two players. And what interaction! Robin states the head with taste and economy before soaring high on his trademark bluesy, soul-baring solo work, modulating up a step for Jimmy's explosive, lightning-bolt improvisations. Returning to earth and the original key, Jimmy hands it back to Robin, who takes it out with a satisfying flourish. No bells and whistles, no retakes, no artificial sweetener – just plenty of heart and fire, caught live in a living room somewhere in the Netherlands.

As of this date, fewer than 14,000 people have viewed the video, although hopefully more have bought the CD. That would still leave over 5 billion on the planet who have yet to experience this extraordinary track. What's the matter with you people? Can't you tear yourselves away from the Pussycat Dolls for six lousy minutes to hear some real music?

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Beasley: Chan's Song

With the exception of a reworking of sorts of "Maiden Voyage," John Beasley stayed away from the most iconic of Herbie Hancock's pieces on this tribute recording. This is both a wise and brave thing to do. Beasley gets points for this approach.

"Chan's Song" was written by Hancock for the soundtrack of Round Midnight, and though Stevie Wonder ended up writing lyrics for it and some jazz players have covered it, it still remains outside of iconic status. In the liner notes Beasley says he approached the tune as if Hancock's "Head Hunters were playing it." This can best be heard in McBride's ever-so-slightly funk electric bassline. Though to this listener, the piece comes off sounding more like what you might hear from Lonnie Liston Smith's "Quiet Moments" period without the strings. I like that Lonnie Liston Smith period, so that is a good thing to these ears.

One thing that is not quite fair, and Beasley alludes to this in his notes, is to be compared to the original performance. Unluckily for Beasley, I have the Round Midnight soundtrack. My rating is thus delineated: Beasley and crew receive 88 points for a fine arrangement and professional performance. Three points are removed because of Bobby McFerrin's wonderful trumpet-like vocalese on the original Herbie Hancock performance. It would have been nice to hear Roy Hargrove, who is also on Letter to Herbie, give that a whirl. I know that is unfair. Life is unfair.

Upon some further reflection, I have decided that life should be fair after all. Right here and now I give the three points back.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mike Garson: Conversations With My Family

I don't think I have come across a more personal recording than this one. When I receive CDs to review, I spend the first few minutes reading the liner notes. This is an old habit I acquired from when there used to be real liner notes. Their inclusion is becoming less and less a part of modern releases. Conversations With My Family is packaged in such a beautiful way that I wonder how the record company could make any money on the release. I may investigate that at a later time. (BTW: There is also a bonus DVD included featuring Garson along with Lori Bell, Dave Carpenter and Peter Erskine.) The Garson family photos and Garson's own words inside the sleeve touched me before I even heard a single note of the music. Even his in-laws are pictured. You don't see that type of affection very often.

Keyboardist Garson, who has spent three decades collaborating with David Bowie, has been writing music about his family for just as long. Some of those tunes are presented here, along with the help of some fine players including drummer Gary Novak. The music is a hybrid of jazz improvisation and classical flourishes. It could very easily be performed as a suite.

The title cut is a piano solo. It is a resonating piece loaded with heartfelt sentiment. Its introduction is a deep and slow acknowledgement of the blessings Garson has received from his family. Midsection to end is Garson's statement of joy. Emotion rings out from every key strike.

One of the quotes inside the CD package comes from David Bowie. In so many words, he says it is pointless to talk about what a great piano player Garson is. He is correct. You can be a tremendously skilled player and still not be able to tell a story. And music is all about telling stories. The tale being told here is Garson's musical equivalent of his family tree. Hearing the pianist in this context is a revelation. Ironically, it makes me have more respect for David Bowie for hanging around with the guy!

July 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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Joel Harrison: In Memoriam: Dana Brayton

Guitarist Joel Harrison, aided by grant money, composed and recorded a suite and one additional tune for The Wheel. The suite is string-heavy and multilayered. His goal was to combine the properties of jazz improvisation inside the framework of a tightly constructed, written-out composition. Imagine Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman and Yehudi Menuhin reading charts and trading-off visual cues. It is a serious piece of work deserving attention. The additional cut is a tribute to Harrison's friend, the late composer Dana Brayton.

The introductory passage serves as a formed and ordered requiem. Lindsey Horner's acoustic bass invites individual eulogies. The music becomes free in the jazz sense as each instrumentalist is given a moment to talk. Harrison joins in with a plaintive electric guitar. The musicians (mourners) join and gain strength from each other. They produce a strong tribute of ever-building power. The music always lives on.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carmen McRae: Still We Dream

Ralph J. Gleason once wrote of McRae that "Carmen occupies a place in the hearts of jazz musicians that is a very special place...." He quoted Miles Davis, who, upon seeing a billboard crowning Ella Fitzgerald as The Queen of Jazz, "grunted and then growled 'If Ella Fitzgerald is The Queen of Jazz, what the fuck is Carmen?'" McRae's sophisticated approach to singing had more than a little basis in her schooling as a pianist; one of her own piano accompanists, Norman Simmons, said that her soloing style on the keyboard was like Thelonious Monk's. Her idea to sing lyrics set to Monk tunes was a natural, her edgy, laid-back and world-wise voice a perfect complement to Monk's own unique voicings.

Of the 13 Monk tunes on the recording, Mike Ferro's lyrics to "Ugly Beauty" and McRae's interpretation of them are among the standouts. (The intricacies of music publishing necessitated that each newly lyricized Monk composition be given a new title.) "Still We Dream" deals with the end of a love affair and the resulting regret and resignation. Carmen sings it as if bravely trying to hold back the tears and emotion, while also honoring every odd interval and note of Monk's melodic creation. Her subtle variations in dynamics and vocal inflections are enticing, such as after Gunnison's lilting piano solo, when she returns by repeating a word with a timbre that intimates the sound of a trumpet. Ferro, who has also written lyrics to many Django Reinhardt tunes (Django by Ferro), is brilliant here, his lines both moving and in keeping with the mood and spirit of Monk's lovely ballad.

          Dim the light and let's go on pretending
          That this time it's real
          So round and round
          The carousel is winding down
          And still we dream of love

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy & Mal Waldron: House Party Starting

Compared to Herbie Nichols's evocative original version, this Lacy-Waldron rendition should be called "House Party Ending." The host is starting to think about how to get that wine stain out of the carpet, designated drivers are helping some of their friends to the door, the slickest dancer of the night has passed out under the coffee table, and while music is still playing, those partygoers remaining – now coming down from their respective highs – are at this early morning hour more entranced by melodies than by rhythms. Welcome to the self-contained world of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron.

Lacy's and Waldron's long association includes an album each of compositions by Monk (1958's Reflections) and Ellington/Strayhorn (1985's Sempre Amore) before this more diverse program that included Nichols's "House Party Starting." Lacy essays the theme almost mournfully, sounding like a more polished Pee Wee Russell. Aided by Waldron's sparse but effective backing, Lacy's deliberate pace brings to the fore all the graceful, idiosyncratic beauty of Nichols's melodic line. Lacy's solo takes on more urgency, his tone becoming sharper, and his attack venturing into the upper register and including occasional overtones, in addition to bluesy inflections that warm the room. Waldron responds with a solo that features resonant left-hand figures contrasting with harmonically rich block chords from his right. Lacy ends the piece with another finely crafted delineation of the theme. Party over.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Hargrove's Crisol: Afrodisia

Invited by pianist Chucho Valdes, Roy Hargrove took his quintet to Havana, Cuba, for a jazz festival in 1996. For 11 days the trumpeter immersed himself in musical engagements with top Cuban musicians, and learned quickly and enthusiastically. Back in New York, Hargrove gradually transformed his big band into an Afro-Cuban powerhouse, and during the Umbria Winter Jazz Festival in Orvieto, Italy, he recorded Habana at the empty Teatro Mancinelli opera house. Crisol included musicians he had played with in Cuba – Valdes, Quintana and Diaz. This project, and the regrettably short life of this stirring ensemble, will always be considered a high point in Hargrove's career.

Kenny Dorham's vibrant "Afrodisia" is skillfully arranged by Don Sickler. The appealing theme is alternated with a provocative contrapuntal vamp. Then Hargrove solos with zesty flurries of notes and ascending exclamations, followed by the raw-edged sure flow of Sanchez. Bartz heats things up even more with his highly expressive, rhythmically intense improvisation. That killer vamp returns preceding the reprise, and the exciting out-chorus interweaves passages and riffs by the saxes with jabbing punctuations by the brass.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Ciacca: Squazin

The 39-year-old Ciacca has an interesting résumé. German born, raised in Italy, and classically trained, he took up jazz at age 20 after hearing Wynton Marsalis. Ciacca has worked extensively with both Steve Lacy and Benny Golson, and was the pianist, arranger and producer for the Detroit Gospel Singers. After moving to New York in 2007, he became the Director of Concert and Programming Administration for Jazz at Lincoln Center. "Rush Life" is his fourth CD as leader.

Ciacca's original "Squazin" is dedicated to his associate at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis. (Squazin is apparently one of Wynton's nicknames.) This track comes across like a Horace Silver tune as played by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. A loping waltz-like rhythm sets up the engaging theme, taken in unison by Dillard's tenor and Magnarelli's trumpet. Dillard solos first with a swaggering, gruff tone and enticing fluid lines, ending on an audaciously swooping run that triggers Magnarelli's entrance. The trumpeter displays a richly glowing tone and submits an expertly paced and enjoyably varied solo. Ciacca's improv shows off his glistening touch and soulfully melodic and lucid phrasing. Drummer Green contributes Blakey-flavored support throughout, with forceful stick work, an insistent cymbal ride, and appropriately placed drum rolls. "Squazin" should get a lot of jazz radio airplay.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gene Harris: Misty

Fans of Gene Harris will welcome this new addition to the discography of the consummate keyboardist, who passed away in 2000. This 1996 live date at Pizza Express in London captures Harris in a relaxed mood with sympathetic sideman. This pianist demonstrates his crisp, clean touch and sure dynamic control on Erroll Garner's "Misty." For most of its 9-minute duration, this performance stays in tinkly, cocktail-piano territory. Just at the end, Harris begins digging into the funky, gospel-ish vein that was one of this artist's calling cards. For a moment, it sounds as if the pianist intends to shift gears into a rough-and-tumble double-time chorus. But this is just a tease, and Harris wraps up the performance, leaving us wanting more. Fans who haven't heard this artist before may want to make his acquaintance via his earlier work, notably his sideman efforts with bassist Ray Brown, before sampling this London date.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ray Bryant: Little Susie

Ray Bryant's "Little Susie" spent 6 weeks among the Cash Box Top 100 singles in 1960. No kin to "Wake Up Little Susie," a #1 hit by the Everly Brothers in 1957, "Little Susie" peaked at #81, far behind 1960's #1 hit "The Theme From A Summer Place" by Percy Faith & Orchestra. Yet even this relatively modest success was remarkable for a jazz piano trio. The tune, dedicated to Bryant's young daughter, had been recorded twice previously by Ray and his bassist brother Tommy under the leadership of ex-Count Basie drummer Jo Jones, once for the Vanguard label and again for Everest, neither of which made a splash. Still, Bryant's simple medium-tempo 12-bar blues was catchy, and in the fall of 1959 the brothers Bryant covered it twice again, with a different drummer each time, first for entertainer Steve Allen's Signature label and three weeks later for major label Columbia. Moreover, as if four "Little Susies" recorded within two years were not enough, Signature released a 45-rpm single with "Little Susie (Part 2)" as its A side and a slightly shorter alternate take, "Little Susie (Part 4)," on its flip side, sans explanation of missing Parts 1 and 3. Then, to further glut the marketplace, Columbia released its own single to compete with Signature's, which by then was gaining traction. When "Little Susie" charted the following spring, Cash Box (clueless as to which version was selling more) threw up its hands and credited both Signature and Columbia.

Like Signature's "Little Susie (Part 2)," Columbia's "Little Susie" was distinguished from "Little Susie (Part 4)" by in-studio handclaps added on beats 2 and 4 for part of the take. Columbia's audio is better, as expected; but the performance seems a tad calculated compared to Signature's livelier version. For this 2007 EU import CD, which includes both Signature takes, "Little Susie (Part 2)" appears as "Little Susie (2)" and "Little Susie (Part 4)" as "Little Susie (1)." (Confused yet? Welcome to the club.)

Bryant's 2-handed funk may remind listeners of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (1962), and the clapping, while contrived, foreshadows such festive piano-trio party favorites as Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd" and "Hang on Sloopy" (both 1965). But "Little Susie" has its own identity and, as one of the few jazz hit singles of its day, a place in history.

July 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gonzalo Bergara: Some of These Days

There's no shortage of Hot Club swing groups covering this antique chestnut of a tune; it's fun to play and audiences never seem to get tired of hearing it. Improvising through these changes with any degree of freshness is quite another matter. From stage left, enter Gonzalo Bergara.

Perhaps this Argentine guitarist, composer and teacher isn't such big news to West Coast jazz Manouche fans, who have had the opportunity to hear him in venues around his current California stomping grounds, but his playing was quite a shock to this East Coaster when I heard him at the 2008 Django in June event in Massachusetts.

Here's the thing: it's not just the chops, which are considerable, or the speed and dexterity of his execution, impressive though it may be. It's the attack – rarely have I heard a right-hand technique with more nuance. On "Some of These Days" (the album's only non-original tune), pearlescent lines rapid-fire from the fretboard as if his fingers are kissing each note with lapidary precision, bringing fresh sparkle and polish to a priceless old jewel. Don't miss these kisses.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington & Ray Brown: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

This recording, made 18 months before Ellington's death, aimed to recapture the magic of the Duke's 1939-1941 collaborations with bassist Jimmy Blanton. The selection of Ray Brown for Ellington's sparring partner here is inspired. Brown exemplified the Blanton tradition on bass, demonstrating it on a nightly basis with his big tone and solidly swinging walking lines. On "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Brown fills up the soundscape, and provides so much rhythmic momentum that Ellington can cruise. I picture the pianist smiling, as if he has been given the chance to take the most turbocharged vehicle in the showroom out for a test drive. You could listen to a hundred piano-and-bass duets and struggle to find another example of two musicians locking together so completely in their groove. Hats off to Ellington and Brown, and also to producer Norman Granz who enticed Duke outside of the fortress of his big band and into a new setting where something fresh and different could happen.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzier and Dizzier (Katy)

Under the name "Katy" (probably in honor of Mrs. William Basie), this composition was initially recorded in April 1949 by the Count Basie Orchestra. Not a very good performance, it stayed in the vault until 1955. Meanwhile, renamed "Dizzier and Dizzier," essentially the same arrangement was recorded 3½ weeks later by Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Not one of Gerald Wilson's better efforts, one wonders why it was recorded a second time, unless someone at RCA Victor thought it had hit potential. The performance is halfhearted and the disc is forgettable. It should be noted that this is Gillespie's show until about halfway into the recording, when a trombone plays a written solo – no clue who it might be.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Happy-Rose Orchestra: Get Happy

Hit of the Week was a flexible one-sided record sold at newsstands for 15¢ beginning in early 1930. By summer, sales were over 500,000 units a week, an amazing success at a time when such major labels as Columbia, Victor and Brunswick were hardly moving any records. Most of the HOW fare consisted of new songs chosen by committee, and performed by popular dance bands led by Vincent Lopez, Bert Lown and Donald Vorhees. In its first year of operation, HOW also recorded such jazz bands as Ben Pollack and Duke Ellington, but the track under consideration was perhaps the hottest in the company's history. It was made to advertise an orchestra for hire, was never offered for sale, and the band's personnel is unknown (although it is generally agreed that Tommy Dorsey is the hot trombonist). It certainly deserves to be heard.

The disc raises several questions: Who was the leader? Who are the musicians besides Dorsey? (Red Nichols, Mannie Klein and Bunny Berigan have been suggested as the trumpet soloist; my vote is for Klein.) Is this a pickup group or a regular working band on the recording? These questions and others remain unanswered and are not likely to be so at this late date. It doesn't make the recording any less exciting or enjoyable.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alphonso Trent: Clementine

The Alphonso Trent band worked mostly in the South and Midwest during the 1920s and early 1930s, disbanded during the Depression, and reformed during the Swing Era. Trent's bands included many musicians who later became world famous – besides Holland, Edison and Mosely, Stuff Smith and Charlie Christian were Trent alumni. The band made a handful of recordings (of which "Clementine" was one of the last) during a very bad period for live music; the band struggled to stay on tour for fewer and fewer gigs. This last session was for Champion Records, a subsidiary of the once-prominent Gennett label. Hardly anyone was buying records of any type during this time, so few people heard this recording. Gennett would soon be out of the pop and jazz business and would transform into a label supplying sound effects!

Heard now, it is clear that "Clementine" is a pioneering souvenir of the very early days of the Swing Era. Within seconds, the loose rhythm and clever harmony draws us into this excellent arrangement by Gus Wilson, Teddy Wilson's brother. Brief solos and clever arranging touches (a two-bar modulation based on whole tones is a standout) are overshadowed by the fire of the ensemble; if you listen closely, you can hear one of the musicians (perhaps Trent himself) yell "Hey," further telling us how the band enjoyed making this side. It reminds us of the excellent bands that were heard only in rural parts of the country, who were as good and sometimes better than well-known ensembles that recorded for major labels, broadcast and made stage appearances in important theater chains. Thanks to specialist labels, these so-called territory bands will continue to be rediscovered.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: Wendy

If cool jazz got any cooler than this, you would need to wear parkas to the gig. This is the perfect realization of a certain type of jazz, purged of macho aggression and grandstanding, and luxuriating in the taste of each phrase. Desmond, at this point, had nothing to prove to anyone. He would never be "king of the cats," since he had committed to an aesthetic vision that ran counter to the hot intensity that has always dominated (and always will dominate) the jazz idiom. Paris may be for romantics. Niagara Falls may be for romantics. But not the jazz bandstand . . . where a certain type of athletic combativeness invariably comes to the fore. When Darwin conceived of "survival of the fittest," he must have just come back from watching a jam session. Yet every once in a while someone like Desmond slips through the cracks, and demonstrates the possibility of a different way of soloing. "Wendy" is one of his most endearing compositions, in a similar vein to his lovely "Audrey." Desmond imparts a loving nudge to each note, and delivers one of the most perfectly realized solos of his career. Bickert maintains the delicacy of the mood with a very introspective chord-based solo. This is late-period Desmond at his very best.

July 12, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ron Carter: Tamalpais

Ron Carter and this great ensemble assay Oscar Pettiford's composition with the kind of élan and impeccable verve we've come to expect from the leader. The arrangement vacillates between Latin and swing feels, and all hands move easily about, fostering robust solos from Golson, Locke and Hanna. While the bassist is technically the star of the show (it is his album after all), he navigates this track in his usual humble way. But if one listens closely, there is so much music to be heard in the rhythm section alone.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Desmond's live recordings at Toronto's Basin Street club, made less than two years before his death, rank among my favorite post-Brubeck performances by the altoist. He stretches out lazily over the songs -- the tracks from Basin Street all range from 7 to 12 minutes -- and plays with great relaxation and melodic inventiveness. Professor Desmond offers a textbook in thematic improvisation, playing without reliance on memorized licks or patterns, no scales or technical grandstanding. But you will be having so much fun you won't even realize that jazz school is in session. Desmond is the anti-Coltrane here, creating solos that are so lovingly constructed, phrase by phrase, that they literally serve as new melodies to old changes. On "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," as on many of the Toronto tracks, Desmond takes two solos, one immediately after the opening melody and a second following the bass improvisation, and it's hard to say which wins top honors. Both are taut and clever, without wasted energy. In between, listeners are treated to a lengthy excursion by the underappreciated Ed Bickert, a tasteful soloist who never disappoints. Ah, I wish we still had this band around to enjoy, but things truly ain't what they used to be.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: Lonely Woman

I have mixed feelings about this recording. The Modern Jazz Quartet comprised solid, assured performers who made some great music in their time, but the problem is getting Ornette Coleman's original recording out of my head. The mannered, pensive way that the MJQ takes on this standard of free jazz totally changes the flavor of the piece for this listener. In this setting it becomes a multi-movement suite showcasing the melody, then leading to some mundane transitional ensemble work followed by short highlights from bassist Heath and vibraharpist Jackson. This is more of a study of the 1959 classic, and while the band does what it does well, it's a tough tune to cover.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Teo

This session marks the last of Coltrane's work with Miles Davis. Eleven months earlier, the tenor sax giant had left the jazz innovator's quintet to fully devote himself to his solo career. Davis convinced him to return to the fold for this date, and the results show the continued progression in both men's passionate musicianship. The melody statement at the top of the tune sounds like a formality quickly dispatched so the soloing can commence. Both Miles and Trane individually execute modal flights rippling with the language of the future of jazz. I would be sadly negligent if I didn't mention the stellar accompaniment of one of the greatest rhythm sections ever, with Kelly in particular standing out.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard Twardzik: I'll Remember April

Richard Twardzik would have been one of the most important jazz artists of the late 1950s and 1960s, had he lived longer. Instead he died in Paris at age 24, victim of a heroin overdose. His style was already fully developed, invigorating and iconoclastic, at the time of his death. No doubt he would have played differently had he survived, but it is hard to imagine Twardzik playing much better than he did on this 1954 session for the Pacific label. Now here comes the tritest blurb in the critic's lexicon, but I need to resort to it . . . . Twardzik was ahead of his time. It's a banality, but one struggles to find a more succinct way of describing this pianist's dramatic style. His textures, his brittle attack, his cyclonic bursts of energy, his chords thicker than a Manhattan musicians union directory . . . these all sound like the keyboard vocabulary of 1974 or 1984, not 1954. You can try to link him up with Monk or Brubeck or Tristano, and other artists of the era, but a true genealogy of his sources would probably take you to the thorny terrain of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Schoenberg and other non-jazz influences. But the rhythmic excitement here is distinctly jazz-oriented -- check out how Twardzik handles trading fours at the conclusion of this track. A dynamic performance by an unheralded genius.

July 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Beckers: Shooting Colours

In the early '80s Dutch guitarist Chris Beckers was looking for a way to have complete control over the creation and distribution of his music. To that end he started Criscrazz Records, which was quite an unusual thing to do back in those days. Over the years he has attracted some of the best jazz and rock musicians to play with him, and has produced for many others. In 1993 he produced and played on the album Wild Kingdom which featured fusion superstar Billy Cobham.

The comparison between the cut "Shooting Colours" and anything the Pat Metheny Group ever did cannot be ignored. Beckers's tone and melodic approach in the introduction are identical to Metheny's. Pianist Van't Hof even sounds like Lyle Mays. And yes, believe it or not, Billy Cobham sounds like Danny Gottlieb. Only bassist Schimscheimer (spell that fast once!) does not come off like his PMG counterpart Mark Egan. But all of this is true only for the first half of the song. From midpoint on, Beckers's tone and attack change drastically. He is his own man. And man, can he play! Cobham performs with the expected Cobham power. The tune catches a fusion wave that takes us for a ride. The Pat Metheny-like moments sound good and serve as a fine jumping-off point for the more original stuff that follows.

July 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Astor Piazzolla: Milonga Del Angel

Piazzolla is one of those distinctly modern artists of the late 20th century, who could combine the depths of romanticism with an acerbic sense of irony. His playing possesses both immediacy and distance, passion and a biting indifference, and the tension between these extremes is responsible for much of the power of the music. Perhaps only Sinatra had a surer touch at combining the paradoxical, love and its opposite, into a single song.

But on "Milonga Del Angel," the masks are down, the pretenses put aside, and Piazzolla offers us one of his most direct, heartfelt performances. "This has absolutely been the greatest record I've made in my entire life," Piazzolla commented about the CD, Tango: Zero Hour, where we find this track. Certainly he had reason to be happy with this music. Piazzolla never fronted a finer working band, and it was well seasoned by the time of this project. In particular, pianist Ziegler brings a jazzier sensibility to the quintet, and he clearly inspires the bandleader. Piazzolla also had hopes that this would be the recording that would finally earn him a large audience in the United States, where he had spent much of his youth, but had never received the acclaim he found in other parts of the world.

The recordings from this period brought Piazzolla new admirers, and in 1987 he performed to a sizable crowd in New York's Central Park. Yet Piazzolla's greatest fame would come posthumously. Four years after making this recording, he suffered a debilitating stroke, and in 1992 he died at the age of 71. His passing coincided with a the increasing commercialization of so-called World Music, a trend that has kept his recordings in print and widely heard long after his death. This late-vintage track is one of his finest performances, and a good introduction to a seminal artist.

July 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Guarachi Guaro

Out of the studios for over a year due to a recording ban, Gillespie's band came back with a roar, starting with this Machito-like collaboration written by Diz and Chano Pozo. The percussionist was murdered earlier in the month, and it is Sabu Martinez who leads the singing while the band answers him. The montuno that follows is built by orchestral layering, finally exploding in swing. Gillespie used this as a concert opener during 1949, beginning the piece with extended trumpet and percussion solos, and Gerald Wilson later recorded this with a pickup orchestra in California, taking up two sides of a single record. An excellent example of what was called Afro-Cubop, a piece that has equal elements of bop and Latin big band music.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Barnet: Over the Rainbow

Norman 'Tiny' Kahn was a prodigy who was self-taught on piano, drums and vibraharp. He became a mainstay of 1940s modern jazz as a drummer and composer, and it is Johnny Mandel's opinion that Kahn would have become an important composer had he lived. But Kahn had a weight problem and passed away of a heart attack at too early an age. He left several Basie-inspired original pieces for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra, and this gem for Charlie Barnet's short-lived bebop band. Even Barnet wrote that this arrangement was one of the best items in the book at the time.

While this version of "Over the Rainbow" was clearly written to be danced to back in 1949, it offers a valuable musical experience for the listener. After an introduction of two muted trumpets playing moving lines against each other and an unusual cadence by the full band, the trumpet soloist (I believe this to be Wetzel, although it could be just about anybody in the section) plays the melody against a contrapuntally based reharmonization of the song. Barnet's soprano lead introduces a six-man reed statement of the melody, and he continues while the remainder of the section plays pyramid-type figures under him. Full brass takes over (Dick Kenney has a lovely solo here), and there is a short transition to a key change. At 2:07, there is a cut of eight bars; the original score continued with the bridge in the new key, which included a written baritone sax solo. The recording picks up with another key change, a statement of the last part of the song, and a repeat of the beginning of the arrangement to tie things up.

The arrangement is a lovely original statement of a standard which continues to speak to us. Even college students raved about it when my college jazz orchestra played my restoration of it some years ago.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gotan Project: Tríptico

How odd that the most popular tango band of the new millennium is a Paris-based ensemble founded by a French DJ. Yet Philippe Cohen Solal, composer of this track and driving force behind Gotan Project, presciently understood that tango could serve as an ingredient in an electrified, groove-oriented world fusion sound. Heck, how many tango bands dare cover a Frank Zappa tune? When the producers of the hit film Shall We Dance looked for a tango for a sensual dance scene featuring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, they didn't pick Piazzolla, but rather a sultry number from this band. La Revancha del Tango has sold more than a million copies, and has ushered in a new era of electro-tango, where the programmer is as important as the bandoneón player. Sometimes this band gets too close to background music for my tastes, but this edgy track, the longest performance from the group's debut CD, has a jazzy feel and relentless groove. Will Gotan Project have staying power? The verdict is still out. But no matter what the future holds for this band, tango music will never be the same.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gotan Project: Chunga's Revenge

You know tango has arrived in the postmodern age when the bandoneón player starts up Frank Zappa's "Chunga's Revenge." Sacrilege? The fans don't think so. Paris-based Gotan Project has been the biggest-selling tango act of the new millennium, and the band has brought its iconoclastic music to enthusiastic audiences everywhere from Tokyo to Tel Aviv. After listening to Gotan Project, it's hard to remember why tango purists got so worked up about Astor Piazzolla. This band long ago went outside the gravitational pull of Carlos Gardel and Aníbal Troilo, crafting a new tango sound that is consciously looking beyond the tradition for different sources of inspiration. Gotan Project is especially skilled at crafting chill-out music with a piquant Argentinean flavor. So long, Buenos Aires, welcome World Fusion!

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paradox: Subwayer

This is subterranean fusion at its best. "Subwayer" is a mix between Funkadelic and Black Sabbath without the subtlety. Paradox is even more in the groove on this cut than on "Shoes in Seven" from the trio's first album Paradox. Bickford is playing a killer jazz-funk-blues rock guitar. His solos are full of a distorted passion. Cobham is kicking ass over Bickford's twisted chords. Bassist Schmid is given a showcase in opposition to Cobham in the tune's slowed-down midsection. While Cobham is flailing away, Schmid takes his time and eases into a deep funk. He had to wipe his hands off after this exposition. The sinister theme and balls-out performances from all three musicians make "Subwayer" a track you must hunt down and foist upon yourself. You will thank me later. I would like to know, however, why this aggregation made only two albums.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paradox: Shoes in Seven

Paradox was one fine power fusion trio. Bassist Schmid is a known quantity in Germany. His first marks were made in Klaus Doldinger's group Passport. He has won many German music awards. New York guitarist Bill Bickford spent a decade in the band DeFunkt. Billy Cobham is Billy Cobham.

The rhythm section of Cobham and Schmid start "Shoes in Seven" with a rocking beat similar in sound and purpose to Cobham's previous turn in the historic "Right Off" from Miles Davis's Tribute to Jack Johnson. Bickford goes with the flow by throwing in some very effective funky minor 9th chords. As Bickford solos it appears he is indeed paying tribute to "Right Off" as he mimics John McLaughlin's guitar sound. His chord knowledge seems to be very advanced. Cobham has engaged in many guitar/drum "duels" over the years. There is one of those on this cut as well. However, Bickford arms himself with only chords. It would seem he would be outmanned as Cobham usually goes into battle against single-note gunslingers who can shoot faster than the speed of sound. Instead Bickford matches every drum beat with every chord change. (Or is it the other way around?) It is quite an impressive feat either way. It is musical, too. Who knew that Billy Cobham was rocking things out again in a fantastic jazz-rock trio in the middle of the somewhat fusion-stale 1990s?

July 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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John Beasley: Bedtime Voyage

Everybody from Ayler to Zappa has a tribute band. We love to pay our respects to the masters of the past. But how do you get traction on a Herbie Hancock tribute recording, when Herbie is still active and just released one of the finest CDs of his career? Beasley starts with ambitious plans for personnel. Christian McBride and Jeff 'Tain' Watts electrify the rhythm section, and Roy Hargrove shines on trumpet. Clever arrangements help too. Hancock never wrote a song called "Bedtime Voyage," but Beasley does a 'mash-up' of "Maiden Voyage" and "Tell Me A Bedtime Story," two of Herbie's finest compositions. This mash is a real banger, and I would go back for second helpings. Beasley is quite effective, especially as a rhythm section pianist, and has mastered a number of Hancock's signature devices. Some of his most interesting work here comes in easily missed passages tossed off while comping. All in all, this is a strong performance and a notch above your typical tribute project.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Coffin Mu'tet: Al's Greens

A decidedly funky backbeat by Futureman (aka Roy Wooten) starts the proceedings on this sauntering steamer. Kofi Burbridge plays the melody line on his soulful-sounding flute before he and Coffin match notes in a replay of the melody in duet. When Burbridge takes his turn on solo flute he adds his own brand of funk to the mix. His intonation is the highlight of the cut. Coffin gets his time to turn a phrase, and he does so with a waterfall of notes. Then Felix Pastorius takes a nice bass lead inspired no doubt by his namesake. Flecktones bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten trades licks with Pastorius in a nice exchange of rapid lower-register runs before the tune returns to its flute-based melody line. With all but Béla present, the problem I have with this material is that it sounds too close to the Flecktones to be considered an independent effort. Still entertaining and certainly proficient, it lacks originality for me.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bryan Beninghove: Tape Side Up

Recorded in the hometown of "Old Blue Eyes," a tight little trio of working musicians who are keeping the organ trio format alive and well has produced an independent offering worth a listen. With a familiar but funky sound on "Tape Side Up," Beninghove has a Maceo Parker raspiness to his deep-throated tenor. He wails with gusto. Meanwhile, Koehler follows in the tradition of such Hammond B-3 heavyweights as Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco with his own brand of funk on this versatile and seemingly resurgent instrument. The beat is pushed along nicely by Williams, an alumnus of organ masters Smith and Jimmy McGriff, and the group shows it can really groove. What is it about New Jersey and organ trios? It seems to be a local thing, but as a born-and-bred Jersey boy I relate with no problem. This is not groundbreaking music or for that matter overly inventive, but for those of us who are drawn to that B-3 sound when we hear it, the music grooves.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: Red & Yellow Cabriolet

The opening statement of "Red & Yellow Cabriolet" sounds dangerously close to a 1980s theme song for some Robin Leach Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous special. It doesn't help that the passage of time has made the synthesizers sound now as cheesy as a jar of Cheez Whiz. (Though I thought they sounded cheesy even then.) But in those days a lot of fusion was cheesy synthesizer happy. I suppose the multi- layered effects were somewhat cool. Everyone was trying to sound like Jan Hammer from the soundtrack of Miami Vice. And there are some good lines played over them. But I don't hear the fine guitarist Dean Brown at all through the layers. I just assume he was one of them. Of course, anytime you can hear Billy Cobham at work, it is worthwhile to invest a few minutes of your time. But this piece is important only in the historical sense, being representative of what this great fusion hero was putting out at the time.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: On the Inside Track

After a rather formless 1980s, Billy Cobham began the long process of returning to form in the '90s. This was a welcome trend. Sadly, I am among the many Cobham fans who couldn't stay the course through the 1980s, so I missed his comeback. But it is never too late to discover.

"On the Inside Track" is a good 1990s fusion anthem. It has a pulsating power beat, supplied by two drummers, that the bravest, or drunkest, among us could even attempt to dance to. Guitarist Wolpl and keyboardist Joe Chindamo are locked in. They create a large and driving sound that is a prerequisite for any jazz-rock anthem. At mid-tune Cobham and the young Gary Husband have a battle of sorts on the skins. Despite fine playing and the cool drum duel, this performance – like much fusion music from that period – does not include enough rough edges. This is a detriment. Yet there is still enough melodic interest and skill on display to warrant further listening. This is closer to the Billy Cobham I always want to hear!

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Coffin & Charlie Peacock: Rice Dice Mice

The dual talents of multi-reed artist Jeff Coffin of Flecktones fame and pianist/composer Charlie Peacock strut their creative stuff on this interesting jazz hybrid. The composition begins with a synthesized somnambulistic rhythm by Miracle and Peacock that borders on a techno-dance beat and captures your rhythmic sensibilities. A wonderful backbeat by Philips accompanied by Marc Ribot's tasteful guitar riffs adds a nice dimension to the piece, complete with an array of complementary synthesized sounds. Coffin contributes a repetitive saxophone chorus backed by Peacock's droning piano chording. The tension builds with a cornucopia of musical colorations. Around three minutes in, the tune veers off into more esoteric explorations, changing direction like a switchback on a Wild Mouse ride, and becoming more exploratory as Peacock and Coffin play off each other's ideas sans rhythm section. The mood gradually morphs into a vehicle for synthesizer, saxophone and piano until Coffin's expressive horn ends the piece in a reflective way. Interesting music.

July 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: Flight Time

Beginning in the late '70s and lasting a decade or so, Billy Cobham seemed somewhat adrift looking for the magic he had lost from his early fusion days. He got farther away from his killer groove of jazz and rock, and mined the funk and R&B veins. Occasionally you would discover a gold nugget among the material, but you had to be good with the pan to find it. It got to the point where you didn't know what you would get when you picked up a new Billy Cobham album. Were you going to hear vocals on this one? Say it ain't so, Joe.

Thankfully "Flight Time" has him in a straight fusion mode from his Spectrum days. This impressive quartet would only play together on the European tour from which the performances for this record were culled. A glorious Cobham fusillade opens the piece. The energetic vibe is so similar to the Spectrum band from 7 years earlier that you think you are going to hear a reprise from that rocking album. The vibe may be the same, but the tune ends up going in other melodic and sonic directions. Guitarist Finnerty sounds more like Larry Coryell than like Tommy Bolin. That's not a bad thing in any way, just different. The arrangement does allow for some texture during a slow interlude. But the no-nonsense power that was so much a part of Cobham's playbook back in the day had returned full force. The question after listening to this album, which was also strewn with funky numbers, was where would Cobham's music head next? Almost three decades later, we know the answer. Let's just say that the '80s would prove challenging to Cobham and to his fans.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Emilio Solla: Conversas

Emilio Solla y Afines is a talented international musician combining jazz, classical music and traditional ethnic music into a pleasing casserole. In his case, the tango tradition figures greatly in his playing. Much of this album takes its identity from bandmate Carlos Morera's playing of the traditional Latin American instrument the bandoneon, which sounds somewhat like an accordion. The trick is to not make the music so Latin that the other elements are hidden. For the most part, Solla and his band accomplish this task with ease, skill and taste.

The title cut, however, is actually a Solla piano solo. It is miles apart from anything else heard on the album. I find it a good exercise to choose an outlier to review. To me, it is always best to listen to a musician playing outside the box of the expected. It gives you more understanding of the player's range. Despite its Spanish name, "Conversas" is not Latin-heavy. Instead, it is a series of lush and gentle arpeggios built on each other. The sparse melody is slow and subtle. Solla is in no hurry to impress you with his chops. Thoughtfulness and storytelling reign. In some ways, his inventiveness reminds me of the wonderful Mitchel Forman. He tends to use more space and his fingers are not quite as light. But the feelings he conveys put him in the same class. In my book, that class has very few students.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bing Crosby: The Last Roundup

Despite his enormous fame, Bing Crosby has still never received the recognition he deserves as a jazz singer. He has sometimes been called "the first hip white person" -- a not inappropriate label. But Bing's credentials as a cowpoke are less credible. His delivery of "Git 'long little dogies" on "The Last Roundup" sounds like it was delivered by an Ivy Leaguer in a tweed coat with patches on both elbows. Crosby tried his hand at down-home fare many times during his career, and sometimes with reasonable results. (He does a decent "Home on the Range" and an acceptable "Clementine.") But don't let the cattle hear this song . . . they might stampede!

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Yellowjackets: Double Nickel

Mike Stern performed with the Yellowjackets at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival, and on this CD becomes the first guitarist to record with them since Robben Ford 15 years ago. Stern admiited that some of the Yellowjackets' tunes "were a challenge for me … I don't usually play in odd time signatures." But one of the two compositions Stern brought to the session, "Double Nickel," is a funky, straight-ahead vehicle tailor-made for jamming, and the quintet attacks it with a vengeance.

Stern's jumpy, serpentine theme is handled in rousing fashion by him and by Mintzer's tenor, enhanced by Haslip's throbbing bass and Baylor's kicking backbeat. Stern solos with his usual deceptively light tone and fleet, crystalline single-note lines, a potent combination that ensures the success of his seamless fusion of jazz and rock elements. Mintzer follows forcefully with fresh and arresting phrasing, finally yielding to Ferrante's stimulating piano solo, which builds to Baylor's dynamic drum break and a scorching repeat of the opening theme by guitar and tenor. Stern will be touring with the Yellowjackets during the second half of 2008, and maybe it's time for the Yellowjackets to consider permanently adding a guitarist to the group once that tour is over. The instrument fits their concept to a tee, and adds a welcome new dimension.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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René Marie: Bolero / Suzanne

       surrender to the ancestors within while rhythms strain at the leash – feral, domestic, hypnotic.
       i sing fractured, spent, pulsating. live.


This conclusion to René Marie's poem, enclosed in the packaging of her Live at Jazz Standard CD, comes close to describing the feeling you get while listening to her 10-minute tour de force combining Ravel's "Bolero" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." What Marie may lack as a singer in terms of power and range, she more than makes up for in expressiveness, risk-taking and overall inventiveness. (For further proof of this, view Marie's recent controversial rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" – set to the melody of "The Star-Spangled Banner" – prior to the State of the City address by the Mayor of Denver, Colorado, where she was mistakenly introduced as René Martin.)

Marie's wordless solo incantation of "Bolero" begins the piece, with beguiling embellishments achieved through subtle vocal slurs, slides, and ardent outcries. The drummer enters first with a march-like rhythm, followed shortly by ponderous walking bass, as Marie segues seamlessly to the lyrics of "Suzanne," sung with enormous grace, sensitivity and emotion. Marie builds the tension and dynamic level as she proceeds, the tempo accelerating gradually, until her reprise becomes an all-out ecstatic release. The audience erupts in exhilarated applause after this transfixing experience, as well it should.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: New San Antonio Rose

Musical schizophrenia . . . the first four bars sound like a big band record from the Swing Era; then we make a sudden U-Turn into down-home cowboy music. But at the end of the intro we switch back to jazz. Welcome to the crazy world of Western Swing! Yet this record sold a million copies and made Bob Wills into a national star. For a time, Western Swing was a big money-maker . . . and Wills needed a bundle of cash to support a touring band that sometimes boasted as many as 23 members. In truth, he needed to have the equivalent of two bands -- a country unit and a jazz ensemble -- to pull off this strange hybrid. But even jazz cats paid attention. (Bing Crosby quickly released a cover of this song which scored even better on the charts than Wills' version.)

Western swing never really disappeared, but its force as a commercial style was mostly exhausted by the late 1940s. Wills, for his part, had only one top ten hit after 1950. Yet for a short period, jazz and country seemed to have found a fertile meeting ground. One wonders what prodigies might have seen light of day if later jazz players had focused on jazz-country fusion with the same energy that they brought to, say, jazz-rock fusion. We will never know. But at least we still have the Texas Playboys to give us a glimpse of how cool and swingin' cowboys could get.

July 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Todd Herbert: I'm Down

This CD's notes claim that Herbert "takes John Coltrane as a point of departure in presenting his own music," but Herbert seems to have not yet left the station marked "Late-'50s Trane." The track "I'm Down," for example, is a slow blues reminiscent of "Blue Train." With a deep, mournful sound, Herbert repeats the theme once before initiating his solo. His lines are languid for the most part, with an occasional spark that never really ignites. Herbert's phrases flow, his attack is varied, but it all comes across like secondhand Coltrane—above average technically, but not at all original. Pianist Wonsey's contribution is two-sided. His comping for Herbert is stiff and sounds like it's being played on an out-of-tune piano, yet his bluesy, vigorous solo holds one's interest. Bassist Burno's improv is just adequate, while Brown's statement on drums is more engaging. All in all, Herbert, who toured with Charles Earland and worked with Freddie Hubbard, has a long way to go before anyone can definitively say that he has developed into a saxophonist with an individual style or approach.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Armen Donelian: Oasis

Armen Donelian is not a familiar name in jazz, although those who have heard him play might wonder why. "Oasis" is his 11th release as a leader, and his impressive sideman credits include Mongo Santamaria, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Paquito D'Rivera, and Thomas Chapin. The medium-tempo title track, "Oasis," is a gracefully structured and thoughtful Donelian composition. His creative phrases are lucidly articulated, and his ample technique is used only to capture the harmonic essence of his theme, not to mindlessly hide any lack of inspiration. Donelian has an appealingly delicate touch, and his classical training and early studies with Richie Beirach helped develop his sensitive, reflective and openly expressive approach to tunes such as this. Clark and Schuller, his rhythm team for the past four years, support him skillfully and sympathetically, and Clark contributes a finely crafted solo of his own. Now in his late 50s, the New York- born pianist of Armenian descent is a rewarding listen. Sample Donelian – you won't be disappointed.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmie Rodgers & Louis Armstrong: Blue Yodel #9

Can jazz and country music coexist? If these two divergent styles of music ever find a happily-ever-after relationship, they can look back nostalgically at this first serious date. Certainly there were sparks in the air when Louis Armstrong joined Jimmie Rodgers in a Hollywood recording studio back in 1930. Armstrong was then the most exciting trumpeter on the planet -- it's a shame his recordings from the early 1930s are not better known. Jimmie Rodgers was 32 years old and at the peak of his abilities, too -- his yodeling blues performance here is first rate; yet he would be dead less than three years later, a victim of tuberculosis. In a all-too-brief career, Rodgers would change American music and earn his reputation as "the Father of Country Music." But there is another 'Pops' on this date, and he surprises us on his solo. Instead of the pyrotechnics and high-note hi-jinks, characteristic of his work at this time, Armstrong digs back into a King Oliver bag, reminding us of his New Orleans mentor's classic "Dippermouth Blues" solo from 1923. How odd that one of Armstrong's truest evocations of the old New Orleans style would take place on a country music recording. Louis no doubt wanted to avoid a grandstanding solo that might usurp the spotlight from the singer. Yet this understated contribution still risks stealing the show. What a strange and beautiful moment in 20th-century music!

July 08, 2008 · 3 comments

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Miles Davis: There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York

Although this song is actually sung in the opera's penultimate scene, it makes a fine ending for the album. Clearly in a celebratory mood, Gil Evans begins with a quasi-New Orleans small band sound which breaks out to a roaring ensemble as Miles improvises away. Evans even ties things up by musically referencing "Gone," perhaps a sly joke since Bess has left Catfish Row by the end of the opera. Stereo allows us to hear trumpets and trombones on the right side of the listening stage, reeds and French horns on the left. On a note of excitement and triumph, both song and album end.

It should be mentioned that by the late 1950s, Gil Evans clearly had no use for the standard five-man sax section, and the only saxophonist on both this album and the previous year's Miles Ahead is an altoist, either Lee Konitz or Cannonball Adderley. The remaining reeds are three in number, mostly two flutes or clarinets and bass clarinet, but there are passages of three alto flutes, Danny Bank being lead.

It is well known that the Davis/Evans projects went over budget because of the difficulty of the music, hence the splicing mentioned in other reviews of tracks on this album. However, it is also true that all four of their albums (Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain, Quiet Nights) have never gone out of print. Great art sometimes pays off well!

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: I Loves You, Porgy

One of the most beautiful songs in Porgy and Bess, the music during the entire first part of this track seems to float, as alto flutes and brass play shimmering figures against Miles's muted trumpet in steady tempo, but sounding rubato thanks to the background figures Gil has written. Evans reharmonizes the song's bridge with horns and alto flutes prominent, with part writing that stresses counterpoint over chord changes. While it is too bad that this song fades and might be unsatisfying for some, Evans is clearly using it to set up the album's final song.

If one hears this casually, it almost sounds like mood music. But repeated listening reveals many layers of sound under Miles's improvisational singing. In the history of music, few composers could weave such a web of sound as Gil Evans, and few soloists could be so inspired by it as Miles Davis.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Coffin & Charlie Peacock: Beautiful Beggar

What defines jazz? When talented musicians get together for forays that don't follow conventional and familiar routes, must we turn a blind eye and stubbornly refuse to see where things lead? Here multi-reed player Jeff Coffin, of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones fame, ventures into Grammy Award-winning pianist/ composer Charlie Peacock's Nashville house to experiment with controversial themes. The result is a fascinating series of explorations that some will say go beyond the boundaries of jazz and transgress into the realm of musical soundscapes. No catchy melodies here. At times it borders on riding through a carnival fun house in the dark; you never quite know where it will take you, but are titillated by the possibilities of something new and different at every bone-jogging twist and turn. Coffin's sound is very probing, while Peacock's piano, which runs the gamut from delicately lyrical to jagged and hard in attack, lays the groundwork and sets the direction. On this duet, Coffin's contemplative tenor is in perfect sync with Peacock's Jarrett-like voicings. This "Beautiful Beggar" is short, meditative and inspired.

July 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Sherman: Trust

On his 2008 European tour, vibraphonist Mark Sherman captured some rare moments with his quartet playing in a groove that often only comes during live performances. In this case the setting was The Bird's Eye jazz club in Basel, Switzerland, before a receptive and enthusiastic crowd. Having played together for the past four years, Sherman's group has annealed into a formidably potent vehicle for straight-ahead jazz, with vibes and piano being the focal points. Sherman is a facile player who can play both expressively in the Gary Burton mode as well as cook with the best of them. He and pianist Farnham take turns making points on this moody, bluesy piece, ably backed by the intuitive rhythm section. Sherman's tubular timbre is smoky and warm as he plays with the tune's time. Farnham adds some brilliant keyboard touches, his style romantic with just the right hint of melancholy. It's good to hear talented musicians performing enjoyable music to an appreciative audience.

July 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Al Foster: The Chief

Starting with an almost Middle Eastern feel to the lead-in melody line, Al Foster's composition "The Chief" fully exposes the talents of his formidable quartet. The tasteful Kevin Hayes plays a captivating solo to begin this gem of a tune. His harmonic inventions are inspired, and he has one of those sounds that draw you in. Hayes is a master storyteller on the keys, weaving an interesting mood with his use of carefully executed runs. Eli Degibri plays soprano sax with invigorating zest, his tone accentuating the tune's exotic and nomadic feel. Driven by a crescendo-building Foster, Hayes and Weiss, Degibri whips up a frenzied display of passion complete with requisite moans between breaths. Foster subtly mixes things up and, when appropriate, quickens the driving tempo to stir the pot, adding dashes of crashing cymbals or pinches of punctuated snares to bring this musical stew to a boil. The crowd is obviously pleased by the exuberant display of musical camaraderie, and the musicians are in turn driven to ecstatic heights to please their receivers. This recording well captures the inspired playing and gratifying responses from a grateful audience. It's good to see the veteran Foster leading his own group and making meaningful compositional contributions to the art. You go, Al!

July 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Coffin Mu'tet: Bubble Up

If your nightmares came with slick funk soundtracks, they might sound like this. The high-steppin' beat underscores an opening melody built on almost unhummable intervals. But your strange dream gets stranger when Béla Fleck's banjo enters, dispelling the '70s fusion attitude with a double dose of creative anachronism. Just when you think this song can't get any odder, Jeff Coffin pulls out the "Q-Tron Envelope Filter" from his bag of tricks. I'm not sure what that contraption looks like, but the resulting sax solo sounds like a cross between a duck quacking in syncopated phrases and your mom nagging you over a bad phone connection. By the time "Bubble Up" has bubbled out, you will need two aspirins and a day of Vivaldi on the CD player.

July 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Fried Bananas

After being cast against everyone's advice, Dexter Gordon was nominated for a "Best Actor" Oscar for his performance in Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight. It was the story of Dale Turner, an expatriate American jazzman loosely based on Bud Powell and Lester Young, who finds more acceptance in Europe than in his own country. Despite a new life with less racism and more promise, the character is a helpless alcoholic who cannot be saved from his addictions no matter how much anyone cares.

In real life Dexter Gordon also had a drug problem and dealt with racism. He went to France in 1962 and did not return to New York for good until 1976. Acknowledged by this time as one of the great bebop saxophonists, his return was an event of some magnitude among jazz fans. After getting a few gigs under his belt, Gordon played a week's return engagement at the Village Vanguard, where recording equipment was set up for his "homecoming."

"Fried Bananas" is a bonus cut on this two-CD set and did not appear on the original album. It is not the strongest of compositions, but the musicianship mostly makes up for any weakness in melodic structure. Gordon was perhaps at the height of his powers in 1976. The same can be said for trumpeter Woody Shaw, the remarkable but ultimately tragic figure who joined Dexter's band upon Gordon's return from Europe. (This was really Louis Hayes's group with Gordon added.) The musical simpatico between Gordon and Shaw is an absolute wonder. Drummer Hayes is a man possessed as he leads the rhythmic charge. Gordon takes an extended and provocative solo, characteristically throwing in a barely recognizable popular quote here and there. He is followed by Shaw's fine turn. Fantastic playing! Shaw remains one of the most underappreciated jazz musicians ever. The impressive force that dominated much of what Dexter played around this time might be called "power-bebop." This band was a killing unit. Sadly, as I write these words 32 years after the recording; it has been just a few days since the death of pianist Ronnie Mathews, who also contributed an engaging solo to this piece.

Many have called Round Midnight the greatest of all jazz films. It says volumes about the attitude in the USA toward jazz that it was not produced by an American. Gordon's acting was excellent. There was some outstanding music played as well. But in the end, to me, it was just another downer jazz movie. I wish someone would make an uplifting jazz movie for a change.

July 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary McFarland: On This Site Shall Be Erected . . .

Following The Gary McFarland Orchestra – Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans and The October Suite, the third of Gary McFarland's recorded masterpieces, America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance, is a series of musical portraits of a country in the midst of vulgarization—as meaningful a statement now as it was when recorded 40 years ago. It's at times elegiac, at other times satiric, and always deeply felt. "On This Site Shall Be Erected …" captures these varied moods perfectly.

July 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Dave Brubeck: Perdido

"This is incredible music, jazz or whatever," a reviewer wrote in Down Beat when Jazz at Oberlin first hit the stores. To which I respond: "Whatever!" and turn up the volume. You are advised to do the same. Brubeck and Desmond recorded live in many settings during the 1950s and 1960s, but this 1953 concert ranks among their finest moments.

An odd dynamic imparted a piquant flavor to the proceedings: the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, founded in 1865, was a magnet for talented instrumentalists, but no jazz was studied within its walls back in 1953. Even Milhaud or Bartok would have been dicey, but bringing Milhaud's eccentric student Mr. Brubeck to campus was close to heresy. Nor were jazz concerts on college campuses common back in this era -- indeed, Brubeck did more than anyone else to pioneer this concept with events such as the Oberlin date. As a result, Brubeck & Co. had an audience packed with aspiring musicians who must have felt they were witnessing some aural samizdat that had somehow been smuggled into Finney Chapel. This serene Romanesque building had once featured Rachmaninov, but now it was "Man, you can't rock enough!"

More than 50 years have elapsed, but you can still pick up the powerful vibes on this recording. The audience is energized and the band feeds off their enthusiasm. Desmond is very loose yet also keyed up, and he stretches out with an electrifying solo. Brubeck follows with a wild improvisation, teasing with bits of polytonality, full of allusions to other standards, sometimes tinkling, more often booming with grandiose two-fisted chords. When Desmond returns to engage in counterpoint with the pianist, the chemistry between the duo is magical.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Zoot Sims: Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?

This is one of my favorite jazz-soloist-with-strings albums, despite certain flaws. The usually impeccable Sims plays a bit sharp at times, and there's a decidedly out-of-tune oboe player. Regardless, Gary McFarland's scoring is gorgeous, and Sims's playing is consistently direct and moving in his best Lester Young/Ben Webster manner. "Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?" is one of three McFarland themes on the recording, and is among the composer's best melodies. The gifted British jazz harpist David Snell adds some unusual ingredients.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary McFarland: Theme from <i>13</i>

Gary McFarland's main theme for the 1967 film 13 (later retitled Eye of the Devil) is one of his most recorded pieces, though under several different titles (e.g., "One I Could Have Loved," "Eye of the Devil," "Death March"). Here we hear it in a relatively straightforward version with strings, voices and rhythm (the former two overdubbed in London). Many of McFarland's recorded efforts later in the '60s reflected his interest in current pop-flavored music, often with him singing wordlessly in unison with his vibraphone. We hear a sample of that here. In a sense, it's unfortunate that his efforts to reach a wider audience went mostly unfulfilled—he was a charismatic, strikingly handsome figure, a natural for pop stardom.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn & Gary McFarland: Childhood Dreams

The second half of The October Suite was written for piano trio, four woodwind doublers, and harp. It's a wonderful contrast to the three piano-trio-and-string-quartet pieces on the album. "Childhood Dreams" was originally written by Gary McFarland (as "Jacques' Theme") for the score to a 1967 film called 13 (later retitled Eye of the Devil); the mood here is bittersweet—almost heartbreakingly so.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn & Gary McFarland: St. Tropez Shuttle

This is one of my "desert island" records—I've loved it for 35 years. It's the second of a triumvirate of Gary McFarland's recorded masterpieces, bookended by The Gary McFarland Orchestra – Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans and America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance. The first half of the album comprises three pieces for piano trio and string quartet, and "St. Tropez Shuttle" is my favorite of these (though reluctantly so—it's a hard call). Kuhn and McFarland were good friends, and McFarland wrote with deep understanding of the pianist's gifts—particularly his often austere lyricism. Carter and Morell (the latter subsequently with Bill Evans for six years) complement Kuhn beautifully throughout. What's amazing about the writing on this album (and I've looked carefully at the scores) is how simple the individual parts are, and yet how dense the music sounds collectively.

July 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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J.J. Johnson: Winter's Waif

One of two Gary McFarland contributions to this album, "Winter's Waif" shows a tougher side of bossa nova. And a darker side, as the title would lead one to expect. After a solo alto flute introduction (by Estrin?), J.J. Johnson sets up the melody and then soars over an extended vamp by the band. An eat-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out rendition.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)

This section of Porgy and Bess was never well known by the general public. In the opera, Bess goes with other residents of Catfish Row to a picnic on a small island, where she meets up with her former lover Crown. By the time she returns to Porgy, she is quite ill (the implication being that she has overdosed on drugs). The character Serena sings a prayer for her recovery, with Porgy and Lily singing responsively. In the world of Miles and Gil, Miles prays for Bess's soul as if he were a preacher, and the congregation responds. These responses build to a powerful climax before everything dies down. Listen closely for the subtle orchestral colorings, such as the tremolo in the string bass and bass clarinet, exemplifying how the Davis/Evans collaborations reveal many layers the more one listens to them.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Summertime

This is a straightforward rendition of the Gershwin classic, with Miles playing the melody, then improvising against a simple background. The background repeats and is heard in different instrumental groups upon each repeat. Gil Evans was a master of orchestral color, and even these simple instrumental groupings are interesting because he shifts them unobtrusively. While the casual listener may not hear anything very different from chorus to chorus orchestrally, the attentive listener will appreciate the subtle changes in sonic tone. This same basic setting was later reused for one of the last dates Evans recorded, 1987's Collaboration with singer Helen Merrill.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Buzzard Song

Miles's and Gil's Porgy and Bess opens with a loud chord, proceeding to Miles's take on a song cut from the opera's original New York production in 1935; Evans no doubt learned it from Columbia Records' near-complete recording, released in 1951. But the track takes a left turn as it continues with a written bebop solo played by Barber and Chambers in unison, with brass as background. Only Gil Evans would have written such a solo to open an album of songs from a major theatre score, and the pairing of bass and tuba, not a very safe thing to do because of possible intonation problems, is near flawless here because of the virtuosity of the musicians themselves. This track also reminds us of the many musicians and arrangers who often said that Evans could notate excellent solos as if they were being improvised on the spot. The track is over before the listener realizes.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Entre Amigos (Sympathy Between Friends)

A follow-up to Stan Getz's remarkably successful Jazz Samba album, Big Band Bossa Nova is a frequently inspired partnership between the saxophonist and Gary McFarland. It contains four bossa nova mainstays and four McFarland originals, and the arranger gives Getz room to explore the subtleties of this idiom. "Entre Amigos" is my favorite of the McFarland pieces—an invigorating performance by Getz and an equally "up" ensemble.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary McFarland: Hello to the Season

Here is a band that one wishes had lasted longer. As it was, Gary McFarland gathered some of his favorite players and constructed a whole greater than the sum of its considerable parts. "Hello to the Season" is one of the album's best tracks, with a customarily memorable McFarland melody that is skillfully developed in his arrangement. The group sounds bigger and more orchestral than six pieces—not surprisingly.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Ghost of a Chance

This song has been around a while, and was approaching it 75th birthday when Brubeck recorded it. But at 86, Brubeck had more than a little seniority. Yet this artist has never been one for nostalgic acts. Brubeck immerses himself totally in the spirit of the musical moment, and the result is a moody, introspective "Ghost of a Chance" where the listener feels the emotional truth of the lyrics, the rawness of a love affair that never was. The thick chords, a Brubeck trademark, take on a floating, misty quality -- in particular, check out how Brubeck handles the turnarounds -- and the performance shifts dreamily in and out of tempo. This relaxed, understated performance may surprise listeners who only know this pianist from Time Out and his classic quartet.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary McFarland: Reflections in the Park

There are three Gary McFarland albums that I regard as his masterworks, and this is the first. (The others are The October Suite and America the Beautiful: An Account of Its Disappearance.) It's a collection of original pieces for an unusual chamber jazz instrumentation, featuring soloists Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and McFarland. (McFarland was a capable vibraphonist who worked well within his technical limitations.) "Reflections in the Park" captures the gentle mood of the album as a whole. Evans, around whom McFarland built this project, plays beautifully, delivering masterly interpretations of music that he reportedly saw for the first time in the recording studio.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary McFarland: I Believe in You

Gary McFarland's first album as a leader was a collection of Frank Loesser songs from the then-hit Broadway show How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. That McFarland was able to put a distinctive stamp on material not especially conducive to jazz treatments proved a major boost for his career. "I Believe in You" is the show's song that came closest to becoming a standard, and McFarland made it a perfect vehicle for Clark Terry's lyricism and humor. Hank Jones is also heard to (as usual) fine advantage.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: I Want to Sing a Song

After Gary McFarland's debut with Gerry Mulligan, producer Creed Taylor began giving album projects to the young arranger—one of the first being with Anita O'Day. The repertoire was an interesting mixture of non-hackneyed standards and a few originals. This song by McFarland and lyricist Margo Guryan should be better known—once you hear it, it sticks with you. The band tracks were recorded in New York, and O'Day later overdubbed her vocals in Los Angeles, but that's not at all apparent. (The singer and arranger met for the first time several years later.) Overall, this album is widely regarded as among O'Day's best.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band: Weep

After Gary McFarland arrived in New York City in the fall of 1960, he met Bob Brookmeyer, who invited him to a rehearsal of Gerry Mulligan's new Concert Jazz Band. "Weep" was McFarland's entrée into the CJB and, as it turned out, the New York recording scene. It has all of the elements of McFarland's best work: lyricism, harmonic sophistication, orchestral colors reflecting the influences of Ellington and Gil Evans, and a trace of melancholy. The ending is unforgettable.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me

Jazz players often perform this song in a glib, jaunty manner. But this Ellington standard needs to be handled with care. The equivocal lyrics, which seem to suggest the admission of an infidelity ("some kiss may cloud my infidelity"), present a psychological labyrinth. They allow the singer to adopt a pose or dig in deep. Ella takes the harder path and chooses to probe the pathos behind the words -- a decision all the more commendable given the fact that this artist often slides along the surface of her songs. Here Ella shows how acute she could be as an interpreter of brokenhearted ballads. Of course, no vocalist of her generation had greater technical command than Ella, and when she marries her prepossessing skill to a deep penetration into the inner meaning of the material, the results are magical. All that said, Ben Webster plays a perfect solo that is every bit as brilliant as the vocal. This ranks among the finest of songbook performances.

July 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock & John McLaughlin: It's About That Time

The 50th Anniversary concert of Verve Records was celebrated at Carnegie Hall in 1994. It contained many high moments. One of these was a revisiting of Miles Davis's "It's About That Time" from the legendary In A Silent Way album. This performance of the tune is noteworthy because Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin, who appeared on the original sessions, reprise their roles. Earlier in the evening, at least judging from the DVD order of the concert, the two had played a gentle Bill Evans piece in duet. In a true indication of their broad capabilities the two then turned on a dime to lead a stellar group of well-versed modern players in this fusion rendition. The song is really one movement of a larger piece from In a Silent Way. For this event, the movement was plucked out as a standalone piece. Hancock is now on synthesizer. He and McLaughlin take sharp jabs punctuating the infectious jazz-funk rhythm. Saxophonist Gary Thomas takes a star turn over the ingratiating groove. Herbie, John and the entire band are smiling and laughing as they dig deeper into the gritty underpinning of the composition. (You'll have to see those smiles on the DVD.) Finally, after several minutes of fascinating but purposely directionless motion, the rave-up closing theme is introduced. The band plays it in full unison building tension with each pass until it's about that time to end the thing with a sudden thump.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock & John McLaughlin: Turn Out The Stars

In 1994 the Verve jazz label celebrated its 50th anniversary with a shindig at Carnegie Hall. The historic venue was crammed with wonderful jazz musicians that evening. The event was filmed and portions were later broadcast on PBS. The program was composed of various musical aggregations, each celebrating a historic jazz figure. Pianist Bill Evans was saluted by two of his greatest admirers, pianist Herbie Hancock and guitarist John McLaughlin.

"Turn Out The Stars" was one of Evans's most esoteric pieces. It was heard on the Bill Evans and Jim Hall record Intermodulation and even earlier at Evan's Town Hall concert. Evans and Hall formed a compelling bond over several recordings. so it makes all the sense in the world for the tune to be performed in duet by Hancock and McLaughlin – two musicians who formed their own bond in their formative years with Miles Davis. Hancock's style is slightly heavier-handed than Evans was. But this is just an indication of his power and not a detriment to his lovely presentation. McLaughlin's tone on this performance is warm and processed. In the group he was playing with at the time, The Free Spirits, this was bit of a problem because its sound would get lost beside Joey DeFrancesco's B-3 organ. Here, however, placed against a piano, the tone is quite pleasing. Each master musician plays lush chords as the other presents seamless and meaningful improvisations. The duo's interplay is telepathic. Evocative single-note runs eventually join to bring this moving tribute to Evans's legacy to an end.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Maramoor Mambo

Cal Tjader fell in love with Latin music early in his career, and from 1954 to his death in 1982 primarily led Latin jazz groups, with many of his fans assuming understandably but incorrectly that he must be Latino. The authenticity of Tjader's style, and his use of such top Latin percussionists as Ray Barretto, Willie Bobo, Armando Peraza, Poncho Sanchez and Mongo Santamaria, placed him at the forefront of the Latin jazz scene, and his music even influenced the later Latin-rock creations of Carlos Santana.

The short title track of his Soul Sauce album was as close as Tjader ever came to a hit record, but the longer "Maramoor Mambo" from the same session better highlights his distinctive metallic sound on the vibes and his relaxed, flowing and rhythmically engaging improvisational approach. Peraza's catchy mambo opens with hearty conga accents and firm piano chords as Tjader navigates the buoyant melody before surging into his driving solo, where Hewitt's montuno backing is a perfect complement. The pianist, a veteran Tjader sideman, follows the vibraphonist with his own dancing solo, displaying an appealing delicate touch and a spirited percussive attack.

"I'm not an innovator," Tjader once said. "I'm not a pathfinder. I'm a participant." Entertainer would be a better word, as Tjader left behind a body of work consistently joyful, unassuming and ingratiating.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Red Norvo: Night and Day

Red Norvo was a fascinating jazz musician. On the one hand, he primarily played the out-of-fashion and limited xylophone up until 1944, and even after completely abandoning it for the vibraphone, basically clung to the style he'd developed on his old wooden-barred instrument. On the other hand, his playing was always hip and advanced, and he naturally embraced and fit in with the bebop movement, recording with Bird and Diz in 1945, and in 1950 forming one of the greatest of all small jazz groups – the boppish Red Norvo Trio with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus.

Norvo's trio was a perfect blend of creative improvisation, group interaction through their telepathic responses to each other, and intricate and flexible head arrangements. The medium-tempo "Night and Day" begins with Farlow's simulated bongo pattern, utilizing the body of his guitar. Norvo plays the well-known theme in his vibrato-less style, with Tal cleverly feeding him chords on the bridge. The guitarist then solos imaginatively with Norvo comping sensitively behind him and also contributing some effective melodic counterpoint. Red's own solo typifies his approach. Since he preferred to play the vibes with the motor shut off to preserve the more natural sound he felt he got from the xylophone, he uses tremolos, rapidly repeated single notes and artful arpeggios to compensate for the lack of vibrato, while using the pedal to sustain notes. It's the harmonic sophistication and melodic ingenuity one hears on this track that made his unique improvisational concept so successful. Norvo and Farlow then inventively split the thematic exposition to take the piece out. This is a rare selection where the usually dominant Mingus remains largely in the background. This edition of Norvo's trio lasted about two years, after which the leader tried to duplicate the magic with Jimmy Raney and Red Mitchell, but it was never quite the same.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sandra Luna: Che Bandoneón

While prominent bands such Narcotango are updating the tango sound, Sandra Luna stays true to its traditions. On "Che Bandoneón" she resurrects a song by 1940s tango master Aníbal Troilo, and performs it in a stark, understated arrangement that contrasts markedly with her impassioned vocal work.

This remarkable artist began singing tango at age 11, but did not reach the international market until this release recorded in her mid-30s. Luna was raised in Mataderos, the slaughterhouse and stockyard barrio on the west side of Buenos Aires, and her music is permeated with what Unamuno called "the tragic sense of life." There is no softening irony here, just emotional fervor and a hard-won wisdom.

Listeners looking for easy-listening tango background music are advised to steer clear of this release, which is full of high drama and rhapsodic intensity. But if you want a soul-shaking immersion in tango canción of the modern day, check out this take-no-prisoners artist.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Nelson: New Beginning

Steve Nelson has been quite visible as the vibraphonist in Dave Holland's Quintet and Big Band since the mid-'90s, yet has had surprisingly few opportunities to record as a leader. Having paid his dues as a sideman going back to the 1970s, perhaps now with his most recent well-received release Sound-Effect Nelson will, in his 50s, finally get to move center-stage for good.

When Nelson performed with his group at the 6th Acireale Jazz Festival in Italy in 1989, it appeared that the sky was the limit for him and his saxophonist Bobby Watson, both hot up-and-comers at the time. Their high-energy sets (there is a Live Session, Vol. 2) did not disappoint. The nearly 12-minute "New Beginning" starts with Nelson's and Watson's unison delivery of the alluring, upbeat theme. Nelson's extended solo is expertly paced and structured, one of his most outstanding recorded improvisations, jubilant and absorbing throughout. His swift, gliding lines and supercharged liftoffs on the turnarounds are particular highlights. Watson follows in his usual extroverted manner, his boppish phrases executed with flair through his piercing tone. His exuberant playing here comes out of the Phil Woods and Richie Cole school of intense bop/hard bop. Brown's rousing solo keeps up the pace, spurred on by Lundy's rock-solid basslines and Lewis's propulsive accents. Brown's superb comping, it must be added, along with the uplifting support of Lundy and Lewis help inspire Nelson and Watson to the heights during their respective solos. This was a tight band for the short time it lasted, probably assembled just for the European festival circuit that summer.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mike Mainieri: Straphangin'

As vital and inquisitive a musician as Mike Mainieri has been over the years, best known as leader of Steps Ahead, it's hard to believe he is turning 70 in 2008. Yet at age 15, he played on Paul Whiteman's radio show with his own trio, and was a Buddy Rich sideman from 1956 to 1963. He also won the New Star Award in the 1961 Down Beat Critics Poll. Rich, in fact, urged him to Americanize his Italian name to Mann, and therein lies a tale. His first An American Diary release in 1995 (with Joe Lovano), Mainieri wrote, "was a project that put me in touch with the dichotomy of musical tastes in my family." The second project, The Dreamings with George Garzone, he "dedicated to my family who introduced me to the art of storytelling, which they drew upon through their nomadic Italian and Sephardic wanderings and enriched my American heritage."

The track "Straphangin'" is described by Mainieri as "inspired by subway folklore. As a child, I would observe the body motions and facial expressions as my fellow straphangers would dance and bounce their way through the city." This led to a "fascination with puppets," which he would make and dress and "then attach their feet to vibe mallets and stage shows over the front of my instrument." He calls drummer Peter Erskine "the motorman of this particular ride." Erskine initiates a swaying subway car rhythm before Mainieri and Garzone play the choppy, staccato theme. Garzone's long breakneck tenor solo is intensely creative, with hurtling lines, slurred notes, dissonant wails and even a simulated train horn at one point, rhythmically exciting overall and relentlessly paced. Mainieri is less hurried but sizzling nonetheless, expertly on xylophone at first before switching to vibes, where only his vibrato differentiates his precise extended runs and expressive percussive attack. Erskine solos with great command and feeling before vibes and tenor ride the train to its final destination. Although nothing like "Take the 'A' Train," "Straphangin'" is just as invigorating in its own unique way.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Locke: Saturn's Child

Joe Locke has become one of today's most prominent jazz vibraphonists due to his technical mastery, versatility and composing ability. There is also a spirituality to his playing that sets him apart. The notes to Slander (and Other Love songs), for example, include the text of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi's "In the Arc of Your Mallet," as well as a quote from Mark Twain: "Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work." Seen in live performance, Locke physically appears to be a coiled wellspring of energy as he navigates challenging harmonic pathways at urgent tempos or reflectively amplifies the essence of slow ballads. "Saturn's Child" falls in the latter category; it's one of Locke's most beautiful compositions, which he frequently performs and has twice recorded.

Billy Childs's electronic keyboards (although he is listed only as a "pianist" on this session) set the soothing mood. Locke plays the contemplative, ethereal theme in unison with guitarist Juris, as Childs evokes a string section's highly sympathetic support. The underappreciated Juris solos movingly with crystal-clear lines and a warm, rich tone. Locke's improvisation is played with a ringing tone reminiscent of Cal Tjader. His phrases, like those of Juris before him, are vibrant and lucidly delineated, delivered soulfully and with understated passion. The reprise lets us indulge once again in the exquisite grace of this superior melodic creation.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paco De Lucia: Convite (Rumba)

Before the worldwide commercial success of the Guitar Trio of Paco De Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, there was the Super Guitar Trio featuring De Lucia, McLaughlin and the great jazz-rock guitarist Larry Coryell, who together had just completed their European tour when De Lucia and Coryell recorded "Convite." The performance is historically important. Though their tour had ended, they were still learning each other's genre's musical vocabulary. Flamenco giant De Lucia was struggling, and would for several years, to grasp the chordal and improvisational aspects of jazz. Fusion player Coryell, who'd never really paid that much attention to Spanish guitar, was now playing with one of its most famous practitioners. The meeting of the two traditions would henceforth become important parts of the music these two trailblazers performed for the rest of their careers.

"Convite" aptly translates to "invitation." The tune is based upon the flamenco rumba style which was influenced by the rhythms of Africa and Cuba. Notwithstanding their claims that they were still struggling to make it all jell, De Lucia and Coryell sound like they have been playing together for years. Coryell is a little more daring. He uses a good deal of harmonics and his chord playing is fuller. His improvisational runs are sharper as well. Those skills would naturally come from his bag. De Lucia is a more rhythmic player. The constant patterns of his forefathers assured he was a master of time. De Lucia was also adding to his arsenal of chords. Traditional flamenco used about four chords and that was it. His improvised solos do not approach the speed with which he would play in the ensuing years. Part of this was probably due to the fact of flamenco rumba's traditional slower tempo. But De Lucia was still learning the ropes as well. The superlative call and response heard from both sides is a true indication that the two styles were well on their way to finding common ground.

When it came time for the Super Guitar Trio to tour the U.S. after this recording, Coryell's personal problems prevented him from staying with the group. He was replaced by Al Di Meola. The rest is world-jazz acoustic guitar history.

July 02, 2008 · 1 comment

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Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis: Basin Street Blues

Wynton Marsalis's credentials as an exponent of New Orleans jazz are well known. But Willie Nelson sounds like he has spent a fair amount of time on "Basin Street" too. His relaxed, behind-the-beat delivery is very jazzy, and the whole band gets into the mood on this track. I am favorably impressed by Mickey Raphael's harmonica contribution here, and elsewhere on this live date. But Marsalis threatens to steal the show with his stop-time solo. I wish he had taken another chorus, or maybe two or three. In short, this meeting of the reigning monarchs of jazz and country turns out to be a celebration of mutual respect and brotherly love. Visitors to Basin Street today are often surprised to see monuments to Simón Bolívar, Benito Juárez and Francisco Morazán. Maybe it's time to add Willie and Wynton to the mix.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson & John Coltrane: Be-Bop

There was more to Milt Jackson than putting on a tuxedo with the Modern Jazz Quartet and performing what some perceived as soulless, overly refined and restrained jazz, usually in distinguished concert halls rather than smoky night clubs. Yet even with the MJQ, Jackson never lost his bluesy edge and found plenty of challenges in the music. Away from the MJQ, he'd enter the recording studio to enthusiastically engage outstanding musicians such as Lucky Thompson, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Wes Montgomery and, last but not least, John Coltrane. Jackson had first played with Coltrane in Dizzy Gillespie's Sextet in the early '50's, but of course this was a much different Trane in 1959 – the tenorman was just three months away from his breakthrough Giant Steps session.

Probably their past Gillespie connection led them to play Dizzy's "Be-Bop" amidst a repertoire of standards and blues. Coltrane takes the theme, then gives way to Jackson's bracing improvisation ably supported by Jones's assertive comping, Chambers's pulsing bassline and Kay's insistent cymbal beat. Jackson's brisk single-note lines speed by almost in a blur, and his rhythmically emphatic attack is accentuated by his characteristically pronounced vibrato. Coltrane solos with beseeching runs, slurs, wails and intervallic leaps, his momentum maintained confidently for the duration, although a bit of repetition in his then- characteristic "sheets of sound" approach becomes apparent near the end. Jones's concise solo is bop at its most thoughtful and engrossing. Bags and Trane then trade fours, Jackson's sparse phrases seemingly intended to provoke Coltrane's fertile imagination, which they succeed grandly in doing.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis: Stardust

This Hoagy Carmichael song may be a venerable jazz standard, but country star Willie Nelson has recorded a version that has probably outsold all the covers by living jazz artists put together. Yet Wynton Marsalis is no stranger to this territory, having put his own mark on this song in previous studio and live dates. (Check out a memorable version here.) But can these two visions of "Stardust" coexist in the same galaxy? I am happy to report that no destructive supernova resulted, although the gravitational pull in contrary directions must have been palpable on the stage when these two stars crossed paths. I'm not sure whether a 20-something Wynton would have known how to match up with Willie Nelson to such good effect, but it is a sign of his maturity as an artist that he fits so comfortably into this setting, supporting his illustrious guest visitor to Jazz at Lincoln Center, while also making such a strong statement of his own musical principles. This is a fun and fanciful performance proving that country cousins and city slickers can, at least for a brief interlude, make beautiful music together.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Hutcherson: I Am In Love

The 1968 Monterey Jazz Festival presented a concert entitled "A Generation of Vibers" (a nod to Philip Wylie), featuring Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader, and the two emerging vibraphone stars of the 1960s, Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson. The latter's Blue Note recordings during those years revealed an individual stylist and prolific and accomplished composer. His distinctive chime-like sound, and his adventurous and technically proficient improvisations, which displayed effective use of space, attention to dynamics, and a creative way of sustaining and damping notes, all combined to give jazz one of its next major players. Hutcherson continued to refine his style to the point where every note seemed essential and every phrase and flight of fancy seemed to fall in place perfectly, and his interpretation of beautiful melodies both old and new became unbeatable. (He has also proven to be a masterful marimba player.)

On Mirage, his first-ever encounter with the distinguished Tommy Flanagan, Hutcherson chose a rare Cole Porter tune, "I Am in Love," for the diverse program, and his performance is an example of, and testament to, his brilliance. He offers an ardent reading of the theme and a soaring, exciting and spellbinding solo before Flanagan and bassist Peter Washington add their own impressive statements. Hutcherson has the last word, a priceless, highly embellished exploration of Porter's melody that differs vastly, due to its greater amplification, from the vibraphonist's more deliberate opening run-through.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Just a Closer Walk

Don't get too close or the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble might bite you. I got bitten, and now I can't stop playing this crazy CD over and over again. Doctor, is there an antidote? I can't help falling into a second-line march to the beat of this infectious band, and I am having visions of Mardi Gras parties out of control. Did I say infectious? Did I tell you I am having visions? This song is giving me chills, and when they double the tempo, I get the sweats. They call it a brass band, but there must be some voodoo in this music. It's all over for me, but not too late for you. Stay away from snakes, and definitely keep away from the Snake Ensemble!

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jay Hoggard: The Fountain

Vibraphonist Jay Hoggard began his career straddling the worlds of avant-garde and mainstream jazz, but gradually focused on straight-ahead fare. On his 1978 debut recording, the otherwise progressive Solo Vibraphone, he dropped in a version of "Air Mail Special" as a salute to one of his idols, Lionel Hampton. And Hoggard's most recent release, Swing 'Em Gates, is a full-CD tribute to Hamp.

On Hoggard's 1991 The Fountain, the title tune is an abstract, spiritual piece, the freest selection by far amongst worthwhile renditions of standards and jazz classics. Hoggard's vibes open the track tranquilly with cascading runs and a shimmering soundscape, accompanied by McLaurine's vivid arco bass. The vibes-bass textures intensify until drummer Israel finally enters the fray. Hoggard then introduces his first truly extended lines thus far, which add melodic substance to the piece, as the bassist bows an insistent ostinato. The next section commences with Israel's forceful mallet vamp, until Hoggard reemerges with a pulsing, circular motif over which the drummer improvises. Pianist Weidman now unexpectedly joins in, playing dissonant note clusters, urgent chords and then delicate tremolos. Hoggard returns to his earlier riff, and Israel to his previous vamp to bring satisfying closure to a compelling performance.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris: Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta

While Stefon Harris was in a Brooklyn studio during the last three days of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. How differently might Harris have arranged the three selections from Ellington's and Strayhorn's New Orleans Suite, which he recorded at that time, if he'd had the chance to observe and reflect upon the destruction of New Orleans by Katrina, and the disastrous aftermath?

Regardless, Harris produced moving and stunningly realized interpretations of these pieces, and the appropriately titled "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" is a prime example of his skills as both vibraphonist and arranger. His mix of clarinet, flute, viola and cello, with an additional trombone vamp, opens the track, sounding like a much larger orchestra. Harris plays the prayerful, proud melody over this evocative backdrop, his reading fervent, uplifting and blues-tinged. His reflective solo follows, in which his glistening lines, crisp articulation and gorgeous tone combine to stunning effect – there is such majesty and intelligence to his playing, with equal traces of Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson for good measure. Tardy's subsequent clarinet solo is both technically impressive and emotionally charged. The reprise, if anything, improves on the already memorable opening.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lionel Hampton: Flying Home

"Flying Home" was Lionel Hampton's signature tune, composed on his first-ever plane trip in 1939, as he, Benny Goodman and the rest of B.G.'s band flew one morning from L.A. to that night's gig at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. Years later, Hampton claimed to have cashed the thousandth royalty check for the song in 1964. The 1942 big band version featuring Illinois Jacquet was Hamp's big hit, but this intoxicating 17-minute track is his longest recorded version.

Hamp solos first after his and DeFranco's unison romp through the theme. The vibist's trademark metallic, chime-like tone and percussive attack are in full evidence here, as he moves from short repeated phrases to more intense, lengthier lines. By now the tempo has moved from medium to up, and Brown and Rich are in a tight, compelling groove, as Peterson comps animatedly. DeFranco launches a technically assured, highly expressive solo, the heat of it belying as usual the notion that he was a coolly unemotional player. The clarinetist is riffing à la Hampton when not ripping off winding runs, and he also brings to mind Benny Goodman throughout his improv. Peterson follows with a bluesy relentlessness and joyful single-note lines. The tireless Hampton returns at about the 10-minute mark with a second, even more impressive solo, his phrasing and momentum simply mesmerizing. DeFranco joins Hamp for some spirited riffing as Rich starts hammering away even more earnestly than before. DeFranco soars through his own second solo at this point, with Hamp's and Rich's enthusiastic encouragement, the leader's vocal exclamations adding to the excitement. Hamp executes a spectacular run around 16 minutes in, as the band "flies home" to a satisfyingly smooth landing back on terra firma. You'd be hard pressed to find another 17-minute piece that flies by more quickly and entertainingly than this one.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Four In One

Charlie Rouse said that when Thelonious Monk first hired him in 1959, the leader taught him all Monk's tunes by playing them on the piano, except for more difficult ones like "Trinkle Tinkle," "Played Twice" and "Four in One," which Monk wrote out. On Corea and Burton's duet CD Native Sense, they saved the best for last, a rollicking performance of the tricky "Four in One." This was their fifth duet recording to date, and their first in 12 years, but their uncanny rapport made it seem as if they played together on a daily basis.

Corea's jagged, verging-on-dissonant intro sets up his madcap trip through the serpentine theme in loose unison with Burton, or, if you will, off-kilter counterpoint, accentuated by the pianist's sporadic smashed chords. Burton solos first, his trademark four-mallet intricate lines and warm vibrato on keen display, his playing, as always, both technically impeccable and openly lyrical. Corea's response is totally unpredictable, his swift, tumbling runs interspersed with jolting single notes and chords, as well as distorted allusions to stride, but somehow always keeping the melodic line in clear sight. He and Burton next exchange short passages in highly responsive and inventive fashion, before another refreshing, harmonically slack treatment of the theme, concluded by Corea's one last exuberant, Monkish "trinkle tinkle."

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Black Fire

In the mid-1960s, pianist/composer Andrew Hill was testing the waters of the avant-garde while keeping one foot planted on hard-bop ground. On his first album for Blue Note, after he and his mainstream colleagues introduce the quirky but lyrical melody of "Black Fire," they create rhythmically complex improvisations that often disguise its three-beat waltz meter and conventional form. Although Hill’s tune and his improvisational style are highly original, the other players adapt expertly to the setting.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Original Faubus Fables

In 1957, as a defiant white mob at Little Rock's Central High School chanted "Two, four, six, eight; we don't want to integrate," Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus marshaled the state's National Guard to defend segregation. In response, President Eisenhower dispatched the U.S. Army to enforce court-ordered integration. Ike won. In 1959, Charles Mingus recorded "Fables of Faubus" for Columbia, which forbade his verbal mockery of the racist governor. In 1960, Candid removed the muzzle, and Mingus dedicated an uncensored "Original Faubus Fables" to "the first or second or third all-American heel." Mingus won. Harrowing, hilarious and historic, this is protest jazz at its finest.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: In a Sentimental mood

The early 1960s was a controversial time for John Coltrane as fans and critics tried to keep up with his evolving music. In response to negative criticism, Impulse producer Bob Thiele decided to feature Coltrane on several albums in a more accessible setting. Paired with Duke Ellington, the result was an extraordinary meeting of musical minds. From the very first note, Ellington sets the pensive mood as Coltrane flexes his melodic muscle, morphing the Ellington melody into something uniquely his own. Ellington's solo fits together like a beautifully constructed puzzle, while the overall performance captures the song title perfectly.

July 02, 2008 · 1 comment

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Oscar Pettiford & Max Roach (from Freedom Suite): There Will Never Be Another You

Sonny Rollins showed up late for the Freedom Suite session, and the result is this curio: a duet between bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach on "There Will Never Be Another You." The project was already following a less-is-more philosophy by roughing it without chords, but this track is about as sparse as 1950s jazz ever gets. Yet what a joy to hear these two masters in such a relaxed and creative mood! Pettiford and Roach probably assumed that this performance would never get released, and this no doubt accounts for the loose and uninhibited atmosphere of the proceedings. Of course, this song didn't show up on the original LP. Ah, the unquenchable demand for "bonus tracks" for CD reissues now reunites this track with the rest of Freedom Suite. Pettiford, who passed away in 1960, did not survive into the era of "anything goes" mega-solos; so this is one of the best places on record to hear him stretching out at length.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roland Al and The Soul Brothers: Dr. Ring-A-Ding

Ska was heavily influenced by American jazz and R&B, and Roland Alphonso brought a coolness and sophistication to many ska sessions in the mid-1960s. I listened to a lot of ska back in high school, at a time in my life when I had not heard much jazz. So you could say that in a roundabout way, it was through Roland Alphonso that I was first exposed to some of the concepts and sounds of jazz saxophone.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Homecoming

I'm a huge fan of Dave Holland as a bassist/composer and bandleader. To me, he exemplifies what can happen to musical statements when they're guided by a bassist. There's a lyricism that evokes a folk-like quality in much of the playing on this album. Hugely influential to me in my formative years as a bassist/ composer.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden: Turnaround

This recording was my first exposure to Hampton Hawes, who, in my opinion, was one of the most swinging pianists of all time. Here Hawes plays in an uncharacteristically free-groove way, but he's still steeped in the blues. As so often, it's about interplay. Charlie and Hampton reach a special place on this cut.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Without a Song

Sonny Rollins is remarkable because of the effortless way his ideas flow and develop. The interplay between him and Jim Hall on this album is truly great to hear. And his story of self-imposed exile is provocative. This album marked his return to public performance.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Black Fire

Andrew Hill ranks among the most original composers and pianists of his day and, indeed, the 20th century. Like so many of the great jazz composers, his playing and compositions are completely intertwined, one being an extension of the other.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Tony Williams Lifetime: This Night This Song

This is the kind of weirdness I love. It's a great statement by polished, highly skilled musicians, including Cream's Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. McLaughlin and Young, alumni of the first Tony Williams Lifetime recording, Emergency!, complete this influential fusion lineup. This is a great example of fine musicians stepping out and getting strange with an aggressive rock sensibility. I feel liberated listening to this album.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Original Faubus Fables

Everyone on my "Desert Island Dozens" list (Ellington, Coleman, Jarrett, Haden, Davis, Monk, Hill, Holland, Rollins) is a bandleader and composer who focused on original music and expanding his vocabulary, often pushing the boundaries of the jazz language in the process. Mingus is certainly no exception. In the way that Jarrett built off Coleman's music, I hear Mingus as taking cues from Duke Ellington and spinning out his own brand of multifaceted music, well suited to the sophisticated urban jungle of New York City.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: In a Sentimental Mood

Duke Ellington was one of the most influential composers and bandleaders of the 20th century. In this small group setting, you really get to hear his incredible piano playing, for which he is sometimes not given due credit. Always the arranger, Duke's piano motif at the beginning, with Aaron Bell up high, is one of the most stirring intros of all time.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Helen Butte / Mr. Freedom X

Miles Davis reinvented himself with each new group that he led. I hear On the Corner as a distillation of the funk and rock music of the day (Sly Stone, Beatles, etc.) as seen through the lens of a restless experimentalist. For some Miles fans, this was a throwaway album at best, a rude "#$%@ you" at worst. I hear it as a celebration.

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alyssa Graham: America

Alyssa Graham gives a standout performance on her debut CD, Echo. Like many of the more promising younger jazz vocalists on the scene, Graham adopts an earnest, forthright style of singing that is quite appealing. There are no dark shadows or hidden emotional creases here. She projects herself completely into the psychological space of Paul Simon's song, singing with total honesty and directness. 1960s-era "America" is suddenly transformed into a harsh modern landscape, although you might very well be counting gas-guzzling SUVs on the New Jersey turnpike these days. The band helps with a simmering arrangement and clever reharmonization. Gregoire Maret makes the most of his harmonica solo slot. But Graham is the star here. Okay, she's not a star yet. But just wait and see . . .

July 01, 2008 · 2 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-a-Ning

Monk had a huge influence on me as a composer and player. This album gives us some insight into what it might have been like to hear him play live. I never had the chance. Although not one of my favorite tunes (considering the depth and genius of his catalog), this track highlights some of music's most brilliant artists throwing down in a little club. A treasured peek into jazz history.

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Rotation

To my ears, Keith Jarrett's American Quartet, which featured Jarrett, Redman, Haden and Motian and played throughout the first half of the 1970s, took some of the musical concepts pioneered by Ornette Coleman and brought them to new places. There's a free-flowing, organic quality to this music that had a huge influence on my approach to composition and group improvisation.

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: What Reason Could I Give?

Ornette Coleman's groups in the 1960s and early '70s that included Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Dewey Redman and others were pivotal to me as a musician in that they seemed to bridge the gap between my early love of folk and rock with the more abstract and highly improvisational elements of jazz. There's a folksy quality to Ornette's music that seems to reflect the early days of jazz – when the music was guttural and instrumentalists played lyrical melodies with voice-like tones. On Science Fiction, he used the studio as an instrument, more so than on many of his previous albums. This tune incorporates vocals (from Asha Puthli) in a seamless way. It takes guts to envision this kind of music.

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Back to the Island

If you like vintage Ahmad Jamal, you will not be disappointed by this track from his 2008 CD It's Magic. Here are all Jamal's signature moves: roller coaster changes in dynamics, kick-in-the-pants vamps, more space than a foreclosed McMansion. Through it all, the pianist tosses out incisive phrases, booming two-handed chords and passing flurries of notes. Of course, Jamal knows that he has his own traditions to uphold. At one point he interpolates a quick reference to "Poinciana," and at another juncture he goes even further back in the past with a nod to "Hot House." But this not a dry history lesson. The whole performance is infused with an attractive Caribbean flavor. Jamal with jerk sauce . . . very spicy!

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Pharaoh's Dance

It is lucky for jazz-rock and fusion fans that Miles Davis had the power he did at Columbia Records. For a decade he had been a proven winner for the label. Somehow I think if he were any other jazz performer, he would never have been given the money to record the double-album Bitches Brew. The recording certainly would not have received the huge promotional blitz that went along with it, either. Its release was a sea change that provided jazz-rock music a wave on which to ride.

Those familiar with my views know that I believe from a fusion music standpoint, A Tribute to Jack Johnson was actually a more pivotal Miles Davis album. But it cannot be denied that from a commercial angle, Bitches Brew is one of the most important albums in jazz history. It sold tons for a jazz album, although many jazz fans never accepted the music as jazz. Yet love it or hate it, people talked about it, and still do.

In some ways, despite its kinetic electric drive, "Pharaoh's Dance" is primitive in nature. The scales used bring to mind Africa more than Egypt. The tune is jungle-like, in fact. Each individual voice becomes lost in the dense underbrush of rhythmic activity. The traditional solo sections are eschewed. When a musician is briefly featured he stays within the borders of the camp. In an ensemble creation such as this, it is difficult to say who is playing off whom. It just becomes a huge organic creation. On this cut we have some of the future greats of fusion. Even though no one stands out, it is obvious that a rapport is being developed. This collective creation is the sonic equivalent of trying to put a square peg into a round hole. You just try to squeeze it in even though you know you can't. It is that conundrum that makes it all so exciting. It is really about trying to find a way even if you think none may exist. This was jam-band material 20 years before there was jam-band material.

July 01, 2008 · 1 comment

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Miles Davis: Selim

For some reason I always get a kick out of famous people who reverse the letters in their names or songs to have a little fun. Frank Sinatra painted under the name Artanis. Oprah Winfrey's production company is named Harpo. My favorite, for obvious reasons, was the business use of Retlaw by Walt Disney. But when someone really cool like Miles Davis took it a step farther, the simple little clever act became even cooler. Live-Evil is one of the hippest palindromes ever created! Besides its title, the album also includes the reverse-lettered tunes "Sivad" and "Selim."

Live-Evil is a very important recording and you need to hear it. But be forewarned: there is no middle ground. You either hate the album or it scares you to death. It is the biggest muddle of electronic short circuits and musical dead ends you are ever likely to find. It makes the disjointed music of someone like James Blood Ulmer sound almost lullabyish. Live-Evil is a 97% free jazz wank-fest lacking structure.

I chose to review "Selim" because it is the other 3%. Fusion players are always wise to put a beautiful, slower and less complicated cut on their records. "Selim" fits that bill. It is a lovely, spacey, Latin-tinged ballad dominated by the serene vocals of percussionist Hermeto Pascoal, who sings wordlessly in tandem with Davis's horn. If you could play the theme from the TV show Star Trek at 16 RPM you would get a good idea of what this tune sounds like. Retlaw rates "Selim" as very doog.

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: One Phone Call/Street Scenes

Ken Burns's PBS documentary Jazz (2000) implied that Miles Davis sold his soul to commercialism when he began to play fusion and jazz-rock in the late 1960s and early '70s. The fact that In a Silent Way and A Tribute to Jack Johnson sold squat meant nothing to those who put forth this argument. It is true that Bitches Brew sold a lot of records. But Miles was helping to create this new market, not exploit it. Then in one of the most arrogant and foolish acts in jazz history, the documentary's producers ignored the entire fusion movement. Mark me as bitter to this day over that unforgivable slight.

Now, if the pundits had said Miles Davis made You're Under Arrest with the purpose of appealing to the commercial sector, that would be true. Miles covered pop hits from Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper. In 1985, you couldn't choose two more popular mainstream artists. The album is good because it is Miles Davis. But it marked a distinct change in his musical direction, which would last the rest of his life. From here on, Davis tried to reach the youth market that trailed him by one or two generations.

"One Phone Call/Street Scenes" is the bastard son of "Right Off" from A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Guitarist Scofield spends a good deal of his time playing the actual famous guitar chord riffs John McLaughlin had developed during the Jack Johnson jams. Scofield plays them a little lighter and with less of a growl. Before Davis plays trumpet, we hear him as a police officer using his raspy voice to arrest some juvenile delinquents. Davis eventually punctuates the busy crime scene with some short bursts. A repetitive but enjoyable funk beat takes over. Davis goes outside the box for a minute, as does Scofield. These sections are also reminiscent of Jack Johnson. When Sting appears as a French policeman, it further evinces Davis's new circle of friends and latest musical desires. Not that this was a bad thing. While "One Phone Call/Street Scenes" is an interesting exercise for its nostalgic references and indication of a new direction for Davis's music, it does not live up to the earlier material from which it was born (legitimately or not).

July 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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