Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald: A Fine Romance

It's hard to be disappointed when two of the greatest jazz singers in history share the same recording studio. But this is more than just another all-star date. Louis and Ella left us a masterpiece with their timeless version of the Jerome Kern standard. No grandstanding here or sly games of one-upmanship, just delightful music-making exuding the joie de vivre that helped define these two larger-than-life musical personalities. They treat each other with respect, spiced with coyness and the lightest dose of sensuality -- just what we expect from two courting lovebirds. A fine romance indeed!

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: A Fine Romance

So, is Marian McPartland, best known for hosting NPR's long-running Piano Jazz, a radio personality who plays jazz well, or a pianist whose personality plays well on radio? Listen to this track, and you'll think of her first and foremost as a musician. While the occasional walking bass might imply a traditionalist, her modernist harmonies and boppish right hand dispel the allusion in Dorothy Fields's unsung lyric to "old fogies" who "need crutches." Two months shy of her 73rd birthday, Marian McPartland was spry as a kitten, and just as playful, suggesting NPR stood for Never-ending Piano Radiance.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: All the Things You Are

This is an impressive polyrhythmic exercise by a path-breaking jazz trio. I'm not sure non-musicians will savor all the twists and turns of the Mehldau trio in action. But anyone who has played in a rhythm section will be dazzled by this jumpy, jittery 13-minute performance. The trio's cohesiveness in navigating through a fast 7/4 reworking of this standard is especially impressive. In the liner notes, Mehldau complains about the "constant comparison of this trio with the Bill Evans trio." And he has a valid point. Mehldau's work here moves beyond the orbit of his influences—in particular, check out the dialogue between his left and right hands. Grenadier and Rossy also play at top form.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: Look for the Silver Lining (1954)


  Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds

Chet Baker was to singing what Marilyn Monroe was to acting. His vocals had the same naturalness, limited range, vulnerability and come-hither charisma as early Marilyn. If you remember the long-running (but alas now retired) intro to Turner Classic Movies' Sunny Side of Life features on cable that carried Chet's "Look For the Silver Lining" on the soundtrack, then you already have a soft spot for this track. Admittedly, considering the heroin-gorged shambles of Baker's personal life, his singing “A heart full of joy and gladness / Will always banish sadness and strife” is a tad more irony than the market will bear. Nevertheless, his wistful optimism carries the day. Forget Chet's backstory. Relish the music.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall & Pat Metheny: All the Things You Are

Throughout his prolific career collaborating with Bill Evans, Ron Carter and Sonny Rollins, guitarist Jim Hall has influenced nearly every modern jazz guitarist through his masterfully selective harmonic note choices. The often-minimalist Hall solo might be thought of as clashing with the rapid-fire pacing of Pat Metheny, but that is what makes this collaboration such an interesting listen. When they play together (Jim panned left and Pat panned right), Hall’s influence on Metheny becomes immediately evident, and the two bounce ideas back and forth creating an interplay that is representative of Hall’s major impact on modern jazz guitar.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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