Patricia Barber: Miss Otis Regrets

This story song is one of the strangest tunes in the Cole Porter songbook. Its macabre tale of an unhappy, murderous lover who is eventually killed by a mob reminds me of those tragic Old World ballads that Francis Child once collected. Patricia Barber brings out this old-fashioned element in the song by tackling the opening unaccompanied, much like the folksingers of yore. Yet when Neal Alger enters on electric guitar, backed by a throbbing drumbeat, he makes this performance even darker and more unsettling. Barber's delivery is stark and sober, and the end result is an eerie recording that likely would have surprised Cole Porter (who originally wrote this song for Ada "Bricktop" Smith) but which cuts to the essence of his troubling lyrics.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Patricia Barber: Just One of Those Things

Patricia Barber tackles this Cole Porter standard at a rapid-fire pace, but never loses the meaning of the words even when the changes fly by like fence posts along the highway. The opening half-chorus is driven by voice and bass, but when Chris Potter enters on tenor, he takes charge of the track. His solo is a blazing patterns-from-hell workout that beats the song into total submission. By the time Barber returns, ready to paint the town, we have almost forgotten where we were. But the vocalist wisely avoids trying to match the tenorist note for note—heck, Potter sounds like he is revving up to go another 12 rounds—and instead steers the band into a comfy coda. Phew!

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Erroll Garner: It's All Right with Me

Partly attributed to his well-documented inability to read music, Erroll Garner's pianistic voice is one of the most distinctive in jazz history. On this, his most famous live recording, we hear how his individual style projects from his very core—his grunting sub-vocalizations are so audible that they could be considered another instrument in the ensemble! As in most performances, Garner runs the gamut of emotions and musical techniques: soft, smooth and subtle at one turn, and aggressive, insistent and even rough at the next. He is ultimately self-assured and driven as leader of this classic trio. Truly an inspired performance.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz (featuring Elvin Jones): You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To

Lee Konitz and Elvin Jones at first might not seem like a match made in heaven. Konitz's spacious, cerebral choices certainly contrast in style with Jones's sustained intensity. Yet after listening to just the first minute of this 10-minute track, it all makes perfect sense. Konitz presents his lines and leaves room for Jones to respond to the point where solo sections sound more like trading fours and eights than a single musician's statement. It is also quite interesting to compare Elvin in this pianoless trio setting with Sonny Rollins's likewise-pianoless trio from four years earlier. In the interim, 1957's exciting, new, rough-around-the-edges ideas have become a masterfully refined personal style. Notice the addition of another Jones feature here: the doubling of certain parts of triplets between his snare drum and bass drum (01:25-01:30).

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments


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


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


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


Bud Powell: Just One of Those Things

Bud Powell, like most of the first generation of bop keyboardists, tended to favor bass and drum accompaniment, and rarely recorded in a solo piano setting. But Powell's February 1951 session for Norman Granz finds the pianist on his own, and the results include some of the finest playing of his career. On "Just One of Those Things," Powell has eliminated all the Tatumesque trappings and cocktail piano mannerisms that sometimes bog down his solo work. Instead, he plays with a slashing right hand supported by sporadic left-hand voicings. The sound is stark and hollow, almost as if Powell follows an imaginary bassist and drummer in his head that the rest of us are not allowed to hear. It would be easy to pick out the flaws in this performance -- Powell's execution is a little sloppy -- but the pianist's intensity and sense of urgency demand our attention. This is bop in extremis, completely purged of the slightest sentimental tendency. Even today this music presents a prickly, avant-garde exterior that has not been dulled by the passing years. This is not jazz for casual listeners. But those who want to appreciate how the modernists shook up folks back in the day may want to check out this track for a sense of the revolutions promised by the bop pioneers.

June 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Taylor Eigsti: I Love You

You can't call Taylor Eigsti 'up-and-coming' or 'promising' any more. He has arrived, and demands our attention as one of the finest pianists of his generation. If you haven't heard this musician yet, don't wait any longer. I have been following his career since he was an adolescent, and there are no weak points in his arsenal at this point, only strengths. On this reworking of a Cole Porter standard, everything clicks. The harmonies, the phrasing, the dynamics, the interaction with the rhythm section, the sheer technical command of the instrument . . . they're all happening. And not in some dated, imitative way. This is the way the old standards should sound today, not like stuffy museum pieces, but as living, breathing music. I still meet jazz critics who haven't heard of this artist -- but, trust me, they soon will.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Marilyn Scott: Every Time We Say Goodbye

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

April 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Stéphane Grappelli: Night and Day

Although a number of Stéphane Grappelli CDs were released after his death in 1997, the music on most, if not all, predated this 1995 live recording. On this track, Grappelli begins with the verse in a pensive manner and then subtly embellishes the familiar melody, enhancing it with aptly placed upper-register asides. Burr's aggressive, resonant basslines are in stark contrast to Pizzarelli's laid-back rhythm guitar. Bucky solos next in his inimitable style, strummed passages mixing with delicately picked phrases and rich chords. He and Stéphane then improvise in tandem, weaving their enticing lines to a dramatically descending resolution that elicits a burst of applause. Grappelli ends the piece much as he started, softening his attack as he comes to a clever, yet unexpected conclusion utilizing just a small segment of the theme. Even at age 87, Grappelli was still an undiminished master of the jazz violin.

March 26, 2008 · 1 comment


Charlie Parker: I Get a Kick Out of You

Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter was Bird’s last studio date—and his only concept album. There was one composer (Porter) and one theme packaged in an LP rather than a series of singles. But the project was only partially realized. Parker recorded four Porter tracks in March and another two in December, leaving four more to be done. But Parker was never fully committed to the sessions—either because of drug distractions, declining health or pure disinterest. Before Parker could complete the LP, he died on March 12, 1955. What’s interesting about the master take of "I Get a Kick Out of You" is Bird’s love affair with the Porter melody, Roy Haynes’s spot-on drumming, and the quirky Jerome Darr guitar solo that remains oddly appealing, despite its limitations.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Kenny Garrett: Night and Day

Kenny Garrett's 1986-1987 stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (he was concurrently a steady member of Miles Davis's group) was documented on two recordings: Feeling Good and Hard Champion. Combine Garrett's experience with Blakey and Miles with his earlier work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and Garrett was well on his way to solidifying his reputation as his generation's leading altoist. Garrett's playing on this track is evidence enough, with one phenomenal idea after another arising from his improvisation. Blade anticipates Garrett's every move and supports and pushes him along throughout this standout track.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Curtis Fuller: What Is This Thing Called Love

Curtis Fuller was the first and longest standing trombonist featured in the Jazz Messengers, and was a member of some of that band's most famous front lines. He shared the bandstand most notably with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter on recordings such as Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight, Caravan and 3 Blind Mice Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. On this pre-Messengers track, Fuller and Hank Jones overshadow Red Kyner and the solid yet imperfect Latin-to-swing transitions by the rhythm section over the head of this classic tune. A fine Doug Watkins solo is answered by Fuller's brief yet exceptional second improvised statement at the tune's conclusion.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Faraò: What Is This Thing Called Love

Antonio Faraò's dry touch and brisk, authoritative phrasing suggest that he's not really interested in the melody of this standard. His right-hand single-note lines played at medium tempo are impressive, and the rhythm team feeds him dense support. After more than two minutes, the left hand comes adds harmonic relief and the tempo slows down a bit, giving way to some feeling. But the virtuoso mood – with two hands this time – soon takes over again. One can admire the performance from a technical point of view, but it's a bit frustrating for those who are looking for "... this thing called Love."

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments


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