Johnny Griffin: The Way You Look Tonight

During the 1950s, Johnny Griffin built a reputation as "fastest horn in the West," and his rendition of this standard on his first album as a leader exemplifies that aspect of his playing. On the theme, the "Little Giant" sets a pace that's not much faster than average for this tune, but when it comes to improvising he dashes through the chord changes with supernatural speed. And this doesn't hinder the utter relevance with which his imagination produces bop and blues patterns one after another. Of course the Kern & Fields love song doesn't retain much of its original meaning during this vigorous treatment. But if one accepts the idea, one can only be impressed by the tenor stampede that charges through Kern's chordal corral with such youthful exuberance.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Lennie Tristano: Yesterdays [Glad I Am]

Here is one CD that you can't judge by its cover. The song is listed as "Glad I Am," but is actually "Yesterdays." Tristano is credited as composer, when Jerome Kern should get the nod. The cover of the CD promises a quintet live at Birdland in 1949, but this track is a solo piano selection from Chicago in 1945.

Ah, these are quibbles. Don't let the phony factoids stop you from checking out the music. This track is an inspired exercise in harmonic reconstruction, unlike anything else in jazz, circa 1945. Tristano takes the song at a leisurely pace, and the chords move slowly enough for us to savor the wry dissonances and the curious progressions, unexpected changes sometimes unfolding with four-surprises-to-the-bar. I have heard Tristano's protégés play standards in a similar manner, without ever resolving into a tonic key—an odd and unsettling philosophy when applied to a sentimental old ballad. Lennie stops short of such in-your-face atonality here . . . but just barely. Everything fits together, and resolves, but the games he plays in the process are fascinating to observe.

Yet pick up another Tristano CD and you will probably hear him play in a completely different manner. It's to this pianist's credit that he was able to forge such an identifiable sound, while making so many changes in his approach. I wish he had recorded more music in this vein—heck, I wish he had recorded more music in any vein—or perhaps had attempted to translate this approach into a combo or big band concept. As it stands, the 1945 solo piano tracks are just more outliers on the elongated Tristano bell curve, idiosyncratic performances that give little sense of where this artist would be a few years later, but still stand out as essential listening for anyone with a deep interest in piano jazz.

June 22, 2008 · 0 comments


David Leonhardt: Yesterdays

David Leonhardt is an accomplished and lyrical pianist, and though he tackles some interesting choices on this album, he seems most comfortable and most vibrant on the tried and true standards. On this Jerome Kern classic, he and his able trio swing with an easy, dancing and playful swagger. Garnett lets loose with an explosion of cymbals and some penetrating rim shots adeptly placed. Parrish plucks in and around the time, and Leonhardt has a light airy touch that traverses the keyboard with a dance-like quality. His explorations are tasteful and driving, and his rhythm section responds accordingly as he builds to a climax. He ends in a crescendo of chords punctuated with a nice roll by Garnett at the end. A solid piece of straight-ahead piano trio work.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Moods Unlimited: All The Things You Are

These sessions must have been a dream come true for the young Bill Evans (sax). He was only 24 at the time, and here he was performing with two jazz giants. The best fusion players, as Evans (sax) is, have always had strong musical foundations that allowed them to effectively play from the standard jazz repertoire. Evans is outstanding on "All The Things You Are." His intonation and phrasing are perfect. His improvising is full of nuance. Jones and Mitchell knew the kid was good. Why else would they agree to be part of a trio named Moods Unlimited with the youngster? Jones and Mitchell play off each other in the midsection. Their timing is impeccable. Who needs a drummer? Their wonderful interplay is a true delight. And the solos are no chopped liver either. If I was a betting man, I would say that although Bill Evans (sax) comes off as an equal on the recording, he went to school for a few days playing with these fellows.

May 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Bireli Lagrene: All the Things You Are

Bireli Lagrene could easily have been typecast as "that Gypsy guitarist who sounds like Django." After all, he was winning praise and international contests for his Django-like playing before he was even a teenager. But he was an artist who wanted to reach beyond his knowledge. After meeting such jazz greats as Larry Coryell and Jaco Pastorius, he went jazz-fusion. Yet another side of Bireli is heard on the standard "All The Things You Are."

While Lagrene is at home with the total jazz repertoire, his acoustic playing retains an undeniable Gypsy element. On this cut he goes acoustic, but thanks to Koono's electric keyboards the piece has a modern jazz-rock feel. Lagrene's swing and seamless improvising would sound great at the Hot Club or at any other club in any era.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Ian Shaw: Dearly Beloved

Not many singers can take a standard like "Dearly Beloved" at such a breakneck tempo. But Ian Shaw is not any singer – far from it. This British almost-veteran first sets his perfect time and expressive diction on the words with only the bass as support, then is boosted by a team of American instrumentalists. Great solos by Soloff and Alexander are also part of the success of this swift version that definitely stands apart.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


John Abercrombie: Long Ago and Far Away

The guitar/organ/drums combo, so fashionable in the 1960s, was revived in the '80, but no one gave a more personal version of it than Abercrombie, Wall and Nussbaum. The first two musicians definitely take an unconventional approach to their instruments. The guitar's long, almost liquid lines and subtle chords find in the organ's soft, yet firm phrasing a perfect companion. Nussbaum's drums help them find ways of swinging that take them far from the groovy clichés attached to the origins of this type of combo. The way they carry this timeless standard way beyond most other versions bears witness to the utter originality of this trio.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Jack Reilly: All the Things You Are

Pianist Jack Reilly continues to delight with his intelligent piano playing. This version of the Jerome Kern standard served as the final encore from a performance by Reilly's trio recorded in the UK last year. This music comes out of the rich Tristano-Evans tradition, which Reilly understands at a very deep level. This trio doesn't jump on any bandwagons or try to impress with its trendiness. Rather, they deliver thoughtful, linear improvisation handled with consummate skill. The recording quality is a mixed bag, with the drums getting lost in the mix, but Reilly's keyboard comes through loud and clear. If life were fair, this artist would not be building his discography with low-visibility indie releases, but would have an ECM or Verve behind him. Maybe we need to get a "musical taste" transplant from the savvy jazz fans in the UK, who have hosted Reilly on three visits since 2002.

March 20, 2008 · 3 comments


Patricia Barber: Yesterdays

Among the wave of new female singers that came to prominence in the last decade of the 20th century, Patricia Barber is certainly the most original. First because she's a great pianist, second because she's a unique singer. Her piano influences are easy to trace, at least to Bill Evans, but her voice is so deeply personal that it stamps its own mark on whatever she sings, from a timeless standard, as here, to a pop tune by the Doors. In a trio setting, she creates a haunting atmosphere with lush chords and hushed voice while bass and drums softly dance around her piano until rising to dramatic heights during her intense solo.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: The Way You Look Tonight

This version of the standard is close to ideal, from its contrapuntal opening by Getz and Raney to the melodic and rhythmic fluidity of the up-tempo sax solo, incisively punctuated by Jordan's piano. Getz is obviously the main focus, but his improvisation is totally devoted to enhancing the song's natural beauty. So much so that his highly inventive embroideries on the chord pattern sound like natural extensions of the original melody. "The Sound," indeed, but the ideas, too.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Lennie Tristano (with Lee Konitz): All the Things You Are

In the annals of jazz history, the Sing Song Room of the Confucius Restaurant will never be confused with Birdland or the Village Vanguard, but Lennie Tristano recorded one of his finest live dates in this unlikely setting during the summer of 1955. This excellent version of "All the Things You Are" was originally released by Atlantic on their Lennie Tristano LP in February 1956, but a larger selection of recordings from the Confucius Restaurant has occasionally been made available (currently they can be found on a poorly produced Spanish import with sound quality inferior to the old LP release). Both Konitz and Tristano were improvising at top form on this gig, which finds them thriving in a low-key setting, seemingly playing as much for their own enjoyment as for the audience. Somehow I think that if this same crew had been featured at Carnegie Hall that evening, the musical results would not have been half so fun.

Konitz would later move away from his cool jazz sound, but here he reminds us of the long lineage of cool sax playing going back to Lester Young and Frank Trumbauer. Imagine a bebop update on Prez (circa "Lady be Good") translated to alto, and you have some idea what this track sounds like. Tristano plays with great relaxation and inventiveness here, and offers up a smart linear improvisation. His lines at the turnaround at the close of his first chorus and the bridge of his second chorus are absolutely choice—demonstrating a way of accenting complex long phrases across the barlines that sounds twenty years ahead of its time. Remember this was recorded long before those types of interval choices or rhythmic dislocations were common currency. Then again, this artist always had an uncanny knack for anticipating the future history of jazz.

"All the Things You Are" was a familiar friend to the Tristano school, played at many of their gigs; but they never got stale playing it. Rather its performance was like the repetition of a ritual, finding deeper meanings with each new encounter.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Paul Desmond & Gerry Mulligan: All the Things You Are

If “All the Things You Are" is not the most played standard, it must be close. So, what is so special about this version by Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan? First, the fact that they begin by sharing the melodic line, playing long notes in turns, which gives the tune a brand new color. Then they push the originality one step farther when the alto plays the bridge while the baritone plays counterpoint over the melody. Each solo, supported by an excellent rhythm team, is a little gem, as one should expect from two improvisers like Desmond and Mulligan. But again it’s the latter’s art of counterpoint that makes this version unique among a thousand of others.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton: All the Things You Are

Kenton admired Gerry Mulligan, but didn't like his attitude or his insistence on everything played his way. Yet for a time, Stan not only bought Mulligan's original compositions such as "Young Blood" and "Limelight," but he assigned Gerry to write arrangements for the dance book, which Mulligan later called "dog work." Mulligan used the opportunity to experiment; his setting of this classic standard is a study in counterpoint and alternate harmony. Childers solos beautifully in this live performance taped in early stereo, but the arrangement is the star. Mulligan would later adapt this setting for a recording of his own big band in 1957.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Frank Sinatra: The Way You Look Tonight

This update of a Fred Astaire number from the 1936 film Swing Time doesn’t glide across the ballroom floor—it struts. Riddle opens the tune with jaunty reeds and sizzling muted trumpets echoing each other’s lines. Sinatra comes in tough and is cocky throughout, but there’s also a subtle tenderness between the lines. After the first run-through, the song’s pace picks up, with trombones punctuating Sinatra’s staccato lyrics— “And that laugh, wrink-le-s your nose/Touch-es my fool-ish hearttt.” The chart’s crescendo occurs on the bridge and features a hip trumpet dragging the final note. Cool touch. Sinatra returns to provide a warm wind-down and finishes remarkably in ballad tempo.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Anita O'Day: Yesterdays

Decades before recycling became fashionable, Russ Garcia was doing his part, reworking an arrangement of "Con Alma," written for Oscar Peterson's Swinging Brass (1959), into a chart for another Verve album, this one by Anita O'Day. Thus did yesterday's Garcia arrangement become Garcia's arrangement of "Yesterdays." O'Day, however, had a tougher row to hoe, since she was stuck with the preposterous 1933 lyric by a former English professor. "Joyous, free, and flaming life," it goes, "forsooth was mine." Forsooth? Get thee uptown, Otto! Somehow, out of this emerges a hip and highly enjoyable track. Please recycle.

December 07, 2007 · 0 comments


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