Scott Hamilton: Young and Foolish

Scott Hamilton emerged in the 1970s as a polished mainstream pre-bopper at a time when most players of his generation were exploring hard- and post-bop, fusion, or free jazz. He has been a consistently tasteful saxophonist ever since, with a style that contains elements of Zoot Sims, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Don Byas and, as evident on this track, Stan Getz. Never an innovator, never very adventurous, Hamilton can frustrate those who wish he would let loose a little more, especially when he unexpectedly veers towards more modern (for him) boppish phrasings. Since he's an authoritative and moving ballad player, his With Strings CD, especially thanks to Alan Broadbent's lush arrangements, stands out for the grace and clarity of his theme readings and improvisations.

If Hamilton's interpretation of "Young and Foolish" doesn't grab you, then none of his work ever will. Broadbent's enchanting string writing for the opening verse has the flavor and impact of a memorable movie theme, perfectly setting up Hamilton's purring articulation of the poignant melody, with shades of Webster's breathy vibrato peeking out at times. Hamilton's solo is most often remindful of Getz, especially in his hurtling runs, phrase construction, and occasional rasps that supplant his primarily lustrous tone. Overall, a solo that is sensitively conceived and detailed, and totally absorbing. The finale is an exquisitely realized dual coda for strings and then sax.

January 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: Nature Boy

Charlie Parker (and producer Norman Granz) really started something when Bird got his wish to record with strings. The critics and some fans weren't pleased, but Clifford Brown soon followed suit, and since then, every saxophonist (or trumpeter) worth a split reed has to confront his violins at some point: Hawk, Sonnys Criss and Rollins, Chet, Al and Zoot each, Arts Farmer and Pepper, Ornette, Joe Lovano … the list just goes on. Some, like Stan Getz, were strung out—so to speak—several times.

Getz's improvisations over Eddie Sauter's tunes and arrangements for the brilliant album Focus garnered the praise, but Stan had already recorded a ballads-and-strings LP for Verve; and anchoring Cool Velvet is his solo over Russ Garcia's chart for the fanciful song "Nature Boy" by odd cat Eden Ahbez. This melody has lured jazzmen from Nat King Cole to John Coltrane to Grover Washington, but none has given it a more anguished and passionate reading than Getz. The cry of his "voice" is more of a cri de coeur. Whatever was haunting him that day is right there in his horn and immediately in the hearts of all who hear, a precursor to the stripped-down "Blood Count" registered three decades later. Sax-and-strings albums are for life's Romantics. In that vein, one might say that "Blood Count" was to die for ... while "Nature Boy" demands that you live through and overcome.

December 10, 2008 · 0 comments


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


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


Art Pepper: Winter Moon

Art Pepper's 1980 session with strings may not be as well known as those of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Stan Getz, but it's at least their equal in terms of accomplishment and impact. By 1980, Pepper was in the midst of a successful 7-year comeback that would unfortunately end with his death in 1982. His playing during this period was rawer than ever, openly displaying all the torment and anguish he had lived through. Pepper begins this track pensively, but soon Cowell's emphatic comping and the soaring strings unite with him as he ups the emotional content. His jumpy, staccato phrases culminate in a charged peak that is perfectly timed with the strings' swelling crescendo. Pepper's reprise of the theme is a mournful, haunting cry. Bill Holman's sensitive, uncluttered arrangement and Pepper's passionate style mesh beautifully.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Willow Weep for Me

Clifford Brown doesn't even have to take a chorus to be one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all times. Here, arranger Neal Hefti chose to feature him "against" two registers of strings that open up with a high riff and a lower countermelody. In this context the horn acquires a strongly dramatic quality simply by playing the melody with a phrasing and timbre all its own. And now and then a short foray out of the written line reminds us how inventive Brownie can be whenever he improvises.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Yesterdays

Those who don't like brass with strings (and that includes many jazz buffs) should be assuaged: Clifford Brown with Strings is an exception. And "Yesterdays" is the opening piece of this beautiful record that nobody should listen to without a box of tissues within reach. Indeed, the intensity and emotional quality of Brownie's sound and phrasing on this track and on the other ballads he tackles here as sole improviser are sometimes breathtaking. And even the purists will admit that Neal Hefti – himself a trumpeter – did a great job with the small string orchestra that, along with Brown's usual rhythm section, surrounds one of the greatest geniuses of the instrument.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments


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