Diane Schuur (with Stan Getz): A Time for Love

Stan Getz prided himself on his skill as a talent scout—a role spurred both by his genuine interest in new sounds and stylists as well as his need to compensate for his personal indifference to composing, which forced him to seek out others who could provide him with fresh material for his interpretation. Over the decades, he helped advance the careers of Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gary Burton and others, and they in turn inspired him to some of the defining moments in his oeuvre. Late in life, he continued to look for emerging talent, and was especially excited by Diane Schuur, a vocalist whom he first heard at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979 when she sat in with Dizzy and Stan and received a standing ovation from the audience. In the following months, Getz found opportunities for Schuur to perform with his band, and in 1982 brought the vocalist with him to the White House—an event which led to Schuur's signing with the GRP label, and her subsequent Grammy awards.

Getz joins Schuur on this track from her Timeless album, and his every contribution is perfectly matched to the emotional temper of the song, from his plaintive solo introduction to his moving solo to his austere coda. "Ballads intrigue me," Getz once told a journalist. "I let the mood do what it wants. I never intend to do anything, it just comes as the piece dictates." His obbligato accompaniment behind Schuur's vocal inspires comparisons with Getz's role model Lester Young, whose sax lines underscoring Billie Holiday's classic recordings are the gold standard by which all other such musical partnerships are measured. The singer, for her part, is more controlled than usual, and mostly avoids the shrillness that sometimes mars her work, except for a unfortunate lapse at the 4:11 mark. The arrangement is sweet without becoming saccharine, and the accompaniment is handled thoughtfully. But Getz is so creative, from start to finish, that he become de facto leader of the date.

September 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown-Monty Alexander-Sam Most: Too Late Now

There's plenty of Ray Brown and Monty Alexander to be heard on numerous CDs, but most of flutist Sam Most's work is hard to come by. Most was both a pioneer and innovator on the instrument in the '50's, a bop flutist who may have been the first to utilize a humming or singing technique. Charles Mingus once told Most, "You're the world's greatest jazz flute player." He was an admitted early inspiration to many other jazz flutists, including Herbie Mann, James Moody, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hubert Laws, and Joe Farrell. Mann, in the liner notes to Most's 1976 Mostly Flute album (on which Sam also played clarinet), was quoted as saying, "The order of jazz flutists is Wayman Carver with the Chick Webb band, Harry Klee with Phil Moore, and Sam Most. Then the rest of us followed." Although Jerome Richardson actually recorded flute solos with Lionel Hampton in 1949 and 1950, and fellow multi-instrumentalists Frank Wess, Bud Shank, and Buddy Collette were among those to emerge on flute soon after Most several years later, none (except Mann) became as dedicated to it as did Sam. Most largely disappeared into the studios and pit bands in the '60's after touring with Buddy Rich, and was coming off a wonderful series of "comeback" albums for the Xanadu label that began in 1976 when he joined Brown and Alexander for this 1982 session.

Alexander's tender intro to "Too Late Now" is followed by Brown's expertly bowed rendering of the melody, with the pianist providing highly sympathetic support and Most lithely handling the bridge. Alexander's extravagant solo is full of sleek arpeggios and other flourishes, but exudes a great deal of warmth as well. Most's concise improvisation grabs the listener's attention from its very first notes (as does Alexander's superb comping), playing his flawlessly executed runs and tricky, creative phrasing with an appealingly breathy tone. His overall command cannot be questioned, and reveals all you need to know about the reason for his high status amongst all jazz flutists. Search out the rare Xanadu releases, if you can, for further confirmation.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: I Thought About You

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz was living in Menlo Park, California—famous for start-ups and high tech, rather than jazz—just down the street from 3000 Sand Hill Road, that exclusive high-rent enclave of venture capitalists. Getz was in start-up mode too, reinventing himself from the ground up, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and associating with professors and community leaders who were a much more stabilizing influence on him than many of his jazz connections from the past.

But it was a hard place to find a rhythm section that lived up to his finicky standards. Getz was difficult to please as a bandleader, and wanted the right pulse, and no rushing, the proper dynamic range, and a rich harmonic palette underpinning his solos. Stan could co-exist briefly with West Coasters in the band, but for the important gigs he typically preferred to fly in a rhythm section from the East Coast if the money were available to do so. He was especially happy with the line-up on this project (Kenny Barron on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums) and invariably played at a very high level when they were on stage with him. Fans of this artist will never agree on which period of Getz's career produced the finest music, but it would be hard to top the tenorist of this period—sober, alert, impassioned, confident.

Yet, maddeningly, Getz hadn't been in the studio for a leader date in ages, and many fans had no idea of how well he was playing at this point. As strong as the Concord releases of the early 1980s were, Getz seemed even more commanding now. Those who heard him live wondered when he would make a record to document this period of intense music-making. We are fortunate that Dr. Herb Wong managed to reach terms with the tenorist and bring this band into the Music Annex in Menlo Park when the group was on the West Coast for performances. Take after take demonstrated Getz's brilliance and the band's chemistry, but perhaps especially so on this heartfelt ballad. Getz would sometimes make fun of this song in concert, sharing an off-color witticism based on its lyrics ("I turned a trick on a train..."); but this was standard practice for the artist, and the jokes often merely indicated some self-consciousness at how much emotion he was channeling into his playing. Perhaps his comment about the Voyage session, that this was the "first date that my head was completely clear," is an exaggeration (or perhaps not), but it is hard to argue with the results. In a career filled with outstanding ballad performances, this one ranks among the finest.

The good times would not last. A year later, Getz was diagnosed with cancer. And though he would continue to perform and record at a very high level for some time to come, this record will always remind me of a glorious period of poise and promise in the life and times of this complex, intensely creative artist.

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tito Puente: No Pienses Asi

On this mellow jazz inspired bolero, Tito Puente shows a more sensual side with his Latin Orchestra, playing a relaxing number that features Puente playing the melody on vibes with the horns and Sonny Bravo on piano. There's not much to say about this song that can't be gathered from listening to it. It's got a nice swing section after the A section and shows Tito's affinity for jazz music. And I think that this is an important aspect to note. Tito Puente was a jazz musician regardless of what some people might say about it. His contributions to music are strong and I think "No Pienses Asi" shows his diversity along with the rest of the songs off of this album. Do yourself a favor and listen to some Tito Puente and I think you'll understand what I'm talking about. "Oye Como Va" doesn't count!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tito Puente: Pick Yourself Up

One thing you can always count on from Tito Puente is a steady mix of solid percussion, blaring horn lines and driving rhythms. No exception here as Puente lays back for his horn section to get some love on the solo section. Mario Rivera plays a bop solo filled with lines and phrasing from the old days while Ray Gonzales plays an inspiring flugelhorn solo. The real steal showing moment on this song though is pianist Sonny Bravo. He penetrates the sound spectrum with bop fueled montuno licks that spiral in and out of octaves with his right hand. This is another good song from a great album. Go get this one if you're into Tito and his spicy blend of salsa. Oh wait, they called it mambo long before they called it salsa. It's like Tito said once, salsa's something you eat. I play mambo!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tito Puente: Mambo Diablo

Tito Puente doesn't seem to get as much love from the jazz crowd as I would like to see. On his stellar 1985 album Mambo Diablo, Puente shows his grace as both the timbale master and as an accomplished vibraphonist. The title track features Puente playing both timbales and vibraphone and he takes a wonderfully, tasteful solo on the vibes on top of stating the main melody. The song doesn't start to live up to its namesake until the ensemble breaks out into a nice section of stacked fourth hits. Another nice feature about that section is the response of the trumpets, which hit those high notes that you only hear in Latin music. Pianist George Shearing plays some very thoughtful montuno figures as well, showing his versatility. All in all, I think that this song is a shining testament to the often underrated musical strength of Tito Puente after the mambo craze died down.

It baffles me why more jazz artists aren't using percussion in their recordings because the group interaction heard in Latin jazz is uncanny, heard no where else. This song adds to that statement with fire and fury as the percussion ensemble behind Puente and company provide an almost supernatural backdrop and cohesive rhythmic execution.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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James Newton: Cotton Tail

James Newton's tribute album to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, The African Flower, is memorable largely because, as did Ellington, Newton wisely used musicians with distinctly individual sounds to help make his arrangements both personalized and unique. You might say that altoist Arthur Blythe is Newton's Johnny Hodges, cornetist Olu Dara his Bubber Miley or Cootie Williams, and violinist John Blake his Ray Nance, with Sir Roland Hanna at times simulating the Maestro at the piano. On top of this, Newton's own vibrant flute and Jay Hoggard's incisive vibes add instrumental colors rarely present in the Ellington harmonic palette.

"Cotton Tail" was introduced in 1940 by the celebrated Jimmy Blanton-Ben Webster edition of Ellington's orchestra, and featured Webster's famous tenor solo and a riveting unison interlude for the saxophone section. The combination of Rick Rozie's persistent bass line and Hanna's spiky keyboard clusters precede the ensemble's theme reading, with Newton and Blythe energetically splitting the bridge. Blythe's extravagant solo is pumped by Rozie's race-walking bass, playing the Blanton role. The altoist's wide vibrato accentuates the high-pitched squeals and shrieks that pepper the many riffs and subtexts that he succeeds in assembling into a coherent whole over the composition's "I Got Rhythm" changes. Hoggard and Hanna follow in a sparkling duet that gravitates from call-and-response mode to contrapuntal engagement, with modernistic Hanna here sounding very little like Duke. Newton's flute solo is one of his best on record in a straight-ahead, no-frills context, his marvelous tone and ample technique bringing to life his inventive, lucidly streaming lines. The theme's recurrence ignites brisk fills from Blythe and Newton, and then a concluding exultant flurry from the band.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Etta James & Eddie Cleanhead Vinson: Please Send Me Someone To Love

No truth in advertising here. James and Vinson sing together on just one track on each of the two CDs drawn from a live club date in 1986. Perhaps that was for the best, because Etta is in magnificent form and Eddie, through no fault of his own, can't quite match her. In their careers, both artists proved comfortable performing R&B, blues, and jazz, and here they unite for a priceless version of Percy Mayfield's R&B classic, "Please Send Me Someone to Love." The live atmosphere is electric, as the supper club crowd is obviously psyched.

After a transfixing blues guitar intro by Shuggie Otis, James and Vinson alternate verses, and Etta's more intense style contrasts nicely with Eddie's much more laid-back delivery. James' quavers, melismas, and biting inflections seem to elicit a greater reaction from the audience than Vinson's vocals, which sound like a combination of Billy Eckstine and Arthur Prysock. Unfortunately, "Cleanhead" doesn't play his boppish alto on this track, but Red Holloway's tenor solo more than makes up for that, offering a soulfully unrestrained lesson in blues saxophone eloquence. For two nights in May of 1986, James and Vinson gave those in attendance at Marla's Memory Lane Supper Club a time to always remember, even if they only rarely shared the bandstand.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby McFerrin: I Hear Music

Bobby McFerrin has been part of the American music scene for over 25 years, so it’s easy to take him for granted and, in the process, overlook his considerable accomplishments. To start, there is the whole concept of solo singing that McFerrin developed for himself. With his amazing range and the ability to make rapid-fire changes from the top to the bottom of his voice, he created the illusion of a continuous walking bass line under his falsetto improvisations. Add the frequent slapping of his hand on his chest and the illusion of the rhythm section is complete. But McFerrin did more than just creating his own one-man band. He found a large audience that was not only interested in music for its own sake, but also in making music. He encourages his audience to sing along (and comically chastises them when they don’t) and he makes the whole experience of making music a great deal of fun. The concert from which Spontaneous Inventions derives was also recorded for video. The hall is packed (and this, I remind you, is before “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”). On “I Hear Music”, McFerrin sings a line or two of the lyric before taking out the words. On earlier live recordings, McFerrin was somewhat lax on staying within the unheard harmony, but on this track, he outlines the harmony for most of the solo. When he brings the audience in, McFerrin’s goofy choice of scat syllables makes the performance lose its focus. Yet, to hear the audience sing back McFerrin’s musical ideas with considerable accuracy makes up for the temporary suspension of time and harmony.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Carmen McRae: Suddenly (aka In Walked Bud)

While she was plagued by poor health in her final years, Carmen McRae produced several fine recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Carmen Sings Monk” was one of her best recordings and it included lyricized versions of Thelonious Monk’s compositions (but not his solos). Some of the tunes were included in live and studio versions, and this live version of “In Walked Bud” featured Monk’s tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in one of his final performances. The words were originally written by Jon Hendricks on short notice for a recording session with Monk. Hendricks describes a mythic jam session with Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Monk and of course, Bud Powell. McRae’s performance begins as she scats the melody, followed by a full chorus of Hendricks’ words. Rouse takes the first solo, followed by Mraz and Willis, each of whom starts his solo with a quote, Mraz citing the song’s harmonic base (“Blue Skies”) and Willis acknowledging the Basie standard “Topsy”. McRae continues the parade of quotes with a phrase from “Louise” then goes into a short scat solo where she develops a small motive into a longer idea, then takes the end of the long idea and develops it into another phrase. When she goes back to the lyrics, she nearly stretches the song’s syncopations to their breaking point before bringing it back into sync with the band.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Claude Williams: Cherokee

Claude Williams was the 85-year old senior member of the orchestra for the Black and Blue revue on Broadway when he was recorded live at J's jazz club in 1989. His first recordings, on both violin and guitar, came in 1929, and he won the Downbeat poll as "Best Guitarist" after playing on Count Basie's first Decca recordings, only briefly preceding Freddie Green's long reign in that chair with Basie, with whom Williams was also featured on violin. Williams worked frequently with Jay McShann in the '70's, and in 1980 began playing the violin exclusively. The taped Monday night sessions at J's showcased his distinctive Kansas City swing style on the instrument. This is jazz violin as "fiddle," more in keeping with the earthy, rawer approaches of Stuff Smith or Ray Nance than the more romantic, classically polished presentation of a Stéphane Grappelli. Williams had come a long way technically by 1989 from his earliest recorded violin solos some 60 years prior in 1929 with Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy, which were described by Gunther Schuller in his The Swing Era as either "country-ish" or "rather tortured, uncertain."

Al McKibbon's relentless thumping bass, Akira Tana's prodding drum rhythms, and Ronnie Mathews' more laid-back, sparse comping provide Williams with the cushion he needs to navigate the changes of "Cherokee" with genuine feeling and vivacity. His long, smoking solo is both fleet and authoritative, packed with dissonant inflections, breakneck breezy lines, and rapidly bowed, almost boppish, riffs and modulations. Guitarist James Chirillo plays several fresh and nimble chrouses with a twangy, appealing sound. Mathews' melodious solo is equally well-executed, and unwavering in its development. McKibbon and Tana say their piece as well before Williams sails lustily through the familiar theme once again.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: The Ways of Love

Marsalis's evocative writing for the score of the 1990 film Tune in Tomorrow was a further indication of his progress as a composer and arranger, which would soon be emphatically affirmed on the CDs Blue Interlude, Citi Movement, and In This House, On This Morning. This soundtrack also marked the recorded debut of the trumpeter's core septet (plus additional musicians). Based on the novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa, which was set in the early '50's in Lima, Peru, the screenplay transferred the location to Marsalis's hometown of New Orleans, a place and time that Marsalis deftly brings to life in his music.

Whereas much of the score rejoices in the multifaceted traditions of New Orleans style polyphonic jazz, from its midst emerges a winsome Marsalis ballad with lyrics by Joel Siegel, a sort of less subtle "Teach Me Tonight" involving the relatively inexperienced film character Martin (Keanu Reeves) and Julia (Barbara Hershey), the older woman that he woos. The band plays a poignant vamp preceding Marsalis' limning of the graceful, floating theme, as the horns waft gently in and out. Then Shirley Horn enters to tenderly express, with her usual masterful understatement, the essence of the lyrics. "Cradle me in your embrace / and soothe me until you hear me sigh / pleasure me in all the secret places / teach me all the ways of love." Marsalis lush writing for his augmented septet, in support of Horn's vocal, is warmly articulate and radiantly colored.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Carl Fontana: I Thought About You

Carl Fontana's unique post-bop personality is on full display on this track, one of the signature songs of his career. His performance of “I Thought About You” demonstrates a deeply personal and innovative approach to improvisation. His relaxed, playful trombone voice is apparent from the first presentation of the melody. He ducks out of the spotlight, however, in the second "A" of the melody, delicately improvising a countermelody behind Al Cohn's soft tenor saxophone. Fontana lets Cohn take the first solo, then comes in with his own personal approach for his choruses--always in the pocket and fully in control. He slowly works in a few impeccable double-time inflections, fitting them into the restrained tone of the solo. After a brief chorus by pianist Richard Wyands, Cohn and Fontana trade eights before sliding into a loose and interactive final presentation of the tune.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chuck Mangione: You're The Best There Is

Chuck Mangione's "You're The Best There Is" is sublime. The playing is hot all around and, on a simple chord chart, the instruments are spaced out well in the mix. As guitarist Grant Geissman's fingers lead the way toward major seventh heaven, a round of inspired solos shows that the entire group works together well.

An organic sound is conveyed by what occurs, and the players do not have to force their playing to get the strong melody across. Actually, the tune is probably more recognizable than "Feels So Good," Mangione's most enduring hit, and, regarding the production, the cut's disco drumming does not detract from the actual jazz playing elsewhere. The percussion is mixed low enough to ensure that the track would not sit side-by-side on the radio with cuts by the likes of Chic and Donna Summer and, thus, suffer misinterpretation.

Earthenness prevails, and, even though a surefire energy stamps this tune, the fact remains that the musicians keep it relatively laid-back while still exuding a feel that is commiserate with the album title Fun and Games. The track ebbs and flows in intensity and the music lifts spirits as it plays.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Voyage

During this extraordinary 1987 Copenhagen concert, the man we have come to know as “The Sound” pauses to request that a particularly annoying television light be turned off the stage. As the light dims, someone makes an offstage quip about docking his fee. Getz pithily responds, “Bull____ you’ll lower my salary,” to the delight of his audience. That exchange didn’t make it onto the album, but the dazzling performance which followed fortunately did.

Kenny Barron’s harmonic minor hard bop masterpiece is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the intensity smoldering just below the surface of this legendary tenor man. At times Getz reaches into the lower octaves, pulling snarling, bearish phrases from the depths, throwing them in the air, suspending the lines in Edvard Munch-like screams; at other times he thinks, points and shoots, a musical marksman hitting his target every time. Given the near-perfection of this cut, you would think it was a studio take, but for the applause. Even now, it’s still amazing to remember that this was done live, under the intense heat of television crew lighting.

Getz’s body of work with Barron remains a paragon of pure energy and intuitivism and that synergy is evident here. The warm, deadly accurate support of Reid and Lewis help elevate this track to the status of must-have recording in any jazz lover’s library.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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