Mildred Bailey: It's a Woman's Prerogative

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." Cliché but funny and tongue in cheek. Mildred Bailey at her sly best, and still swinging.

September 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Erroll Garner: That Old Black Magic

Mambo Moves Garner was Erroll Garner's first recording with a conga player. For this arrangement of the popular Harold Arlen tune, Garner trades his "four on the floor" left-hand accompaniment for variations on a 3-2 Cuban son clave, while bassist Ruther's lines suggest a tumbao pattern at times. While conguero Candido's role is clearly one of accompaniment, this piece is far from kitsch novelty. Rather, it reflects an effective fusion of styles, with Garner's indelible musical personality shining through in a new, refreshing context. As a result of this album's success, Garner revisited the piano trio + conga configuration throughout his career.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments


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


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


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


Steve Grossman: Over The Rainbow

This is exactly the kind of song that suits Steve Grossman's deep, lyrical tenor sound. He tackles it in a basically old-fashioned way while playing the theme, but when it's time to improvise he shows that his inspiration is rooted in the art of such modern elders as Sonny Rollins. When he's in top form, as he is here, Grossman delivers some of the most satisfying interpretations you can hear on standards in the mainstream to hard-bop styles. His reputation as a former alumnus of the "electric" Miles Davis shouldn't fool anybody about that aspect of his playing. Surrounded as he is on this track, Grossman sounds like one of the '50s masters who didn't matriculate from jazz schools, but had their own style that attracted countless followers and admirers.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Gerald Wilson: Out of This World

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

April 03, 2008 · 1 comment


John Abercrombie: Come Rain or Come Shine

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

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Jordan: Over the Rainbow

Stanley Jordan was Mr. Ubiquity in 1990. It would not be unusual to see the jazz guitarist on The Tonight Show on Monday and on the David Letterman Show on Friday. He was probably even on Oprah. He was the flavor of the year. But the unusual aspect was that he was a jazz guitarist. If you don't have a pop song with vocals, you don't get on these shows in America. But Stanley Jordan had something else going for him. He had a unique approach to playing his electric guitar. He would set the amplification gear in a certain way and tinker with his guitar controls to allow his (touch) tapping of the fretboard to ring loud and clear. He was able to play a bass line, melody and add chord shadings simultaneously by using this method because he created a special tuning that facilitated such. It was fascinating to watch, and because of his virtuosity, entertaining to listen to. He wasn't the first to employ this tapping technique on the guitar. But Jordan certainly took the art up about a hundred notches. He is the Jimi Hendrix of this technique.

It didn't hurt Jordan's popularity either that he would choose to play many standard tunes. He would perform tried and tested oldies such "Autumn Leaves," "Stolen Moments," and in this case "Over The Rainbow." He would do so with the taste and aplomb of two seasoned jazz guitar pros. This version of the oft jazz-interpreted "Rainbow" soon became among the most popular in his tapping arsenal. The chord shadings are beautiful. The arpeggios are delicate yet performed with the speed of a 78-rpm record. His use of harmonics is nothing short of brilliant. He hits all the right musical and emotional notes of this touching ballad. At song's end, the live crowd at the Blue Note sighs.

Technique, no matter how well developed or unique, will only get you so far. So after the initial thrill of watching Jordan play, his career took a noticeable downturn as fans got use to his style. This wasn't a disastrous downturn by any means. Jordan still has a loyal fan base, but it is more in keeping with a jazz star following than a rock star. I think this is a good thing. I went to a concert in Los Angeles in the early nineties and was surprised to see that Stanley Jordan was the opening act. He had two guitars set up on special stands on stage. I was expecting an hour of "Over the Rainbow"-type ballads. I expected he would be good and entertain me. But I also expected to become bored at a certain point. Instead, he played one of the hottest jazz-fusion sets I have ever heard! The guy is a monster! NO! Make that a wizard!

March 26, 2008 · 2 comments


Tierney Sutton: Get Happy (version one)

Tracks like this are perhaps a sign that postmodern jazz has run its course. When we start interpreting lyrics to evoke the exact opposite of their meaning . . . hmmm, this is where the shallowness that underlies many of the postmodern musical games goes just a bit too far. Yes, let's take Harold Arlen's bright, optimistic "Get Happy" and perform it as if it were a lugubrious dirge. What's next? "Lush Life" as a polka? "Take Five" in 3/4? When cleverness becomes an end in itself, almost anything is possible.

I sense that Sutton has been listening to Patricia Barber, who also takes great chances with her songs. But where Barber aims for a pleasing ambiguity, this track is heavy-handed and obvious; as is, for that matter, the idea of recording 13 songs about happiness, many of them quite melancholy. If this performance were a person, I would send it to a shrink. But barring that, my advice is to leave it shrink-wrapped.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Over the Rainbow

During his announcement to the audience, Art Pepper says that his producer Lester Koenig asked him to do this solo number, and he adds with some humor that it is going to be "one of these Anthony Braxton trips," but "a short thing." Well, it lasts more than seven minutes and, whether you like Braxton or not, I'm not sure you'll see the connection. Lyrical, though sometimes impaired by a hissing reed; dramatic, even if he often fills in with virtuoso licks; adventurous, though respectful of the melody—such is Pepper's solo vision of this song. The vision of a man and musician who, during his lifetime, obviously went several times "over the rainbow," and came back with a different point of view on our world.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Katie Melua: Blues in the Night

Melua sold three million copies of Piece by Piece - over one million in the United Kingdom alone. Her biography is a compelling tale of rags to riches. Raised in poverty in Kutaisi in Georgia, she moved (at age 8) with her family to Northern Ireland in the aftermath of civil war, then settled in England at age fourteen. At nineteen she was a star, her debut release, Call of the Search, hitting the top of the UK charts. Success made her into a thrill seeker - she has jumped from airplanes, off a skyscraper, and made her way into the Guinness Book of World Records by giving a concert 300 meters below sea level. If only her voice were as exciting as her life story! True, she could win a Norah Jones impersonating contest, but without the microtonal subtleties of Ms. Jones. She occasionally offers a nice turn of phrase, and her voice has a pleasant, winsome quality. But the smart money bets that her career will have peaked before her 25th birthday.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


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