Fred Hersch: My Funny Valentine

Put simply, Fred Hersch is one of the world's finest jazz pianists, and every day that he can share his musical vision with us is a blessing. This version of "My Funny Valentine" shows how he and his trio bring fresh light to a familiar standard. Hersch shifts from the song's usual key of C minor down to A minor, giving the entire performance a different feel. Gress and Rainey provide an unusual and subtle beat that lightly pulsates rather than swings. Hersch's ultra-lyrical lines float above the time through most of the performance until near the end, when he picks up an insistent rhythmic motive hinted at earlier in his solo and builds it to a peak. Gress contributes a lovely solo based on a single melodic idea, and Rainey's brushwork is tasty throughout.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker with Stan Kenton: My Funny Valentine

Yes, Charlie Parker actually recorded with Stan Kenton! And unlike the electronically created collaborations that are released today, the only "electronic miracle" in this case is that someone had the good sense to record the concert. In 1954, Kenton presented a package tour with Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Candido and Lee Konitz as featured soloists with his orchestra. While Konitz's performances from the tour have not surfaced, a week after this concert, he recorded the same Bill Holman arrangement of "Valentine" in the studio that Bird had performed live with the band. Konitz's cool, detached performance pales in comparison to Bird's white-hot intensity. Set to an aggressive Latin beat that later gives way to a powerful 4/4 swing, Parker stays close to the melody at first, using his searing tone and flawless melodic sense to accent the important notes. When he starts to improvise, things really heat up as he builds to an astounding climax, where a stutter-tongued figure tied to a descending idea moves up in pitch and intensity until he's wailing over the Kenton brass section. One of Bird's best.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Bill Evans & Jim Hall: My Funny Valentine

Stripped of any sentimentality, this fast aggressive version of the Rodgers & Hart classic shows Bill Evans and Jim Hall—two of the best-matched musicians in the history of jazz—engaged in a sprightly give and take. As they intensely listen to one another, there seems little either can play without the other finding a pithy and entirely appropriate answer. To cite just one example, near the end of the solos, Evans plays a fiercely rhythmic three-against-four pattern and Hall picks it up instantly; it turns out to be the climax of the recording. On the alternate take included on this CD, Evans merely hints at the pattern and not much happens. We don't know how many unissued and undocumented takes may have transpired between those we have, but there's little doubt that the two musicians had intensified their listening by the time the master was made.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Keith Jarrett: You Took Advantage of Me

This trio's reputation for delivering well-worn standards with the utmost reverence and professionalism is richly deserved. Sometimes they make some surprising, nifty little moves, such as the delightful ragtime rendering of "Honeysuckle Rose" from My Foolish Heart: Live At Montreux. Here Jarrett recalls another early jazz style, playing unaccompanied stride at the beginning and end of the tune. In between he reverts to his more modern, single-note manner. With Peacock's heavy encouragement, though, the tune swings, and swings hard. His big, bouncy basslines sync up with DeJohnette's hi-hat taps like a well-oiled rhythm machine. As performed here, "You Took Advantage of Me" epitomizes what is great about jazz, spanning eras and resurrecting the best parts from each.

January 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz (featuring Astrud Gilberto): It Might As Well Be Spring

This Rodgers & Hammerstein gem from the 1945 film State Fair has long made the rounds as a jazz standard and receives a beautiful reading here. The leader and Gilberto play off each other right from the top with Getz weaving obbligatos in and out of her fairly straight reading of the melody. Getz plays a fine, though somewhat disjointed solo, which is almost anticlimactic following the lithe intertwining he performs with the singer. Given the light and smoky tone of both Stan and Astrud, the ensemble sounds like the archetypal jazz group laboring away in some bohemian Greenwich Village nightclub. Indeed, the album purports to have been recorded in just such a setting. The problem is, it's not true. The live tapes were deemed unusable by Verve and the band was sent to the studio for retakes. The results were issued with ersatz applause, and—all things being fair in war and the record business—everyone lived happily ever after. Although the liner notes credit guitarist Kenny Burrell as playing on this track, for the life of me I can't hear him (unless he was one of those providing ersatz applause in the studio).

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Aside from John Coltrane's work with Rashied Ali on Interstellar Space in 1967 (and occasional isolated instances with Elvin Jones prior), not many sax/drum duets have attained "essential listening" status. It remains an esoteric and obscure pursuit, practiced mostly—when practiced at all—by free jazzers. Therefore, Sonny Rollins's duet with Philly Joe Jones on this classic performance of "Surrey" is in all ways a rarity—a sax/drums duet that maintains the form and structure of the standard tune upon which it is based. Listeners familiar with such Rollins trio works as Way Out West and the Village Vanguard sets can be forgiven for imagining a bassist filling out the bottom, yet upon closer inspection they'll find only Philly Joe's toms and bass drum. Rollins invests the sprightly tune with his usual joie de vivre and an endlessly elastic way with improvised melody. More than usual, Philly Joe interacts directly with Rollins's statements; and, of course, he never compromises his trademark drive. Finally, as an example of what Rollins can do with simple harmonic materials, this can hardly be surpassed. An entire album of this might grow old, but as an inspired variation on traditional bebop performance practice, this small gem can't be beat.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments


John Pizzarelli: This Can't Be Love

John Pizzarelli is a jazz guitarist born in 1960. His father Bucky Pizzarelli is a jazz guitarist born in 1926. But John may be even more old-fashioned than dear old dad, crafting a style that is distinctly retro and with no pretensions to keeping up with the times. Here the younger Pizzarelli resurrects a song that was composed before his father even started his professional career, and plays it with perfect sympathy for the words and music. Don Sebesky contributes a simple but very effective chart, and the band plays it with a jaunty swing groove that is as comfortable as a first-class seat on an old Pan Am Clipper. This is not the next new thing, just the old tried and true. But Pizzarelli is a charming performer, and has pulled it all together on this solid track.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Harry Allen: I Didn't Know What Time It Was

Harry Allen was born around the time John Coltrane gave up playing changes. But you would never guess it from listening to this artist, who seems to have bypassed all the post-WW II developments in jazz, instead delivering sweet and swinging solos that sound as though they are channeled straight out of a bygone era. But sax playing this solid is timeless. Allen has it all: a rich, multifaceted tone, clear and forceful ideas, and unflagging rhythmic drive. Above all, he brings great patience to this track, never overplaying. There is a certain approach to swing that, if you capture it just right, actually intensifies the energy when you play fewer notes. Allen has got that groove here, and it's a joy to hear him coast along the chords of this Rodgers & Hart standard.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck (with Paul Desmond): Blue Moon

At the start of this 1953 track, Brubeck actually plays "Blue Moon" straight, sticking to the original chords and not engaging in any of his usual games. Ah, but we know this won't last for long. Brubeck and Desmond always had some tricks up their sleeves, especially during this early period, when no standard was given the standard treatment. Midway through Desmond's solo, the band moves from major to minor, and the altoist starts playing unexpected variations on "Lullaby of the Leaves," which another famous West Coast quartet had recorded five months earlier. Brubeck is not to be outdone, and kicks off his solo with some off-the-wall counterpoint, before showing that he can also play the major-to-minor switcheroo. Before they have called it a night, this band has played "Blue Moon" and "Red Moon" and "Tangerine Mood" and every other shade they could muster on the fly. These early Brubeck-Desmond sides are always a delight, and sound very spontaneous. You can hear the fun these two creative minds had in playing off each other's wildest flights. A winning moment from a historic band.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Eddie Daniels: Falling In Love With Love

Eddie Daniels's welcome return to New York for the first time in 15 years for this live recording brought back memories of his holding down a tenor chair with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra on Monday nights at the Village Vanguard from 1966 to 1973, when he was fresh out of the Juilliard School of Music. Who knew then that such an exciting tenor player would essentially abandon the instrument in the early '80s to instead become one of the greatest clarinetists in jazz history.

For the IPO label, Daniels has recently begun to reestablish his credentials on tenor, and "Falling in Love with Love" is a shining example of his impressive capabilities on that horn. Daniels is in high gear from phrase one, with sizzling hard-bop lines and an urgent propulsion that keeps his solo flowing from one long, inventive passage into the next. His command is evident throughout, and his personalized inflections and swirling circular phrasings lend added zest to his creation. Locke's nimble solo is also inspired, as one hears him humming intensely along with his lengthy, undulating single-note lines. The underappreciated Rainier follows in contrastingly serene fashion initially, but soon ups the pace with some Oscar Peterson- influenced flourishes and deftly executed two-handed unison runs, with La Barbera booting him along insistently. Tenor, vibes and drums then trade off one another before Daniels's prancing theme restatement and a slickly worked out ending.

June 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: We Kiss in a Shadow

This 1966 date has long been a favorite Rollins recording. The title track includes Freddie Hubbard, but the remaining pieces feature this trio format – and what a rhythm section! Garrison and Jones set up the head right from the start with the bass playing it straight and the drums providing substantial interest. Rollins enters with that majestic tone, caressing this famous melody with the concentration and care one expects from his playing of this period. The short improvisation is all Sonny, but even a cursory listening to the simmering accompaniment provided by his coconspirators reveals the great ebb and flow these fellow travelers are capable of.

June 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Ahn Trio: My Funny Valentine

Those Ahn sisters sure look great in their Vogue magazine feature. Wow, check out the Ahn sister in GQ. Did you see those Ahn gals in People? Their clothes are first rate. I wonder who picks out their wardrobe.

Oh, here I see in the liner notes: makeup by Elaine Madelon, hair by Christaan, jewelry by Marie Lee and wardrobe by five different designers! And further contributions by stylist Aeri Yun. They really pulled out the stops, and it shows in every snapshot. You go girls!

Ah, I see there is a CD that comes along with the photos. Hmm, pleasant background music for my perusing of Vogue magazine. And not too loud or noticeable, nothing to shake me out of my fashion reverie. Maybe a little schlocky and Muzak-ish. But who cares. These photos are hot!

June 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Mark Levine: I Didn't Know What Time It Was

In recent years, Mark Levine has gained increasing renown as a jazz educator. His jazz piano method book is one of the most widely used works of its kind. But his success in teaching should not distract attention from Levine's skills as a performing pianist. This 1997 recording showcases Levine's talent in a solid trio setting. I especially like his harmonic sense, which invariably works some interesting reconfigurations of the old standards he tackles. But this track is also noteworthy for the pianist's percussive sense, which seems to take inspiration from the presence of Eddie Marshall. Wiitala is also featured in a fine solo.

June 01, 2008 · 0 comments


Eric Dolphy: Glad to be Unhappy

On this Richard Rodgers song, Eric Dolphy's fiery brand of alto sax is replaced by his equally wistful virtuosity on flute. Accompanied by the delicate comping of the unheralded Jaki Byard, the suspended basslines of George Tucker, and the barely perceptible accents of the tasteful Roy Haynes, Dolphy starts his melodic intro with dreamily languishing gentleness. After lulling us into a cocoon of warmth and calm, he lets loose a crescendo of fluttering notes that could easily be part of a classical piece. He then leads into his rapidly developing and extremely creative solo where he demonstrates unquestioned instrumental mastery. His unerring ability to create harmonic interest on an instrument of limited possibilities is remarkable, as is his pure and uncompromised tonal quality. Here he is neither atonal nor free of melodic restraints, which would later become his mantle. Yet within the confines of this pretty, melancholic tune, Dolphy conveys the true pathos of its composer's intention. In my opinion, this is one of the finest representations of what can be achieved on jazz flute when played by a creative master.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments


J.J. Johnson: My Funny Valentine

The great trombonist J.J. Johnson's engagement at New York's Village Vanguard in July 1988 was a major jazz event. Finally he was returning to active touring with a working band after nearly two decades in Hollywood, primarily writing for film and television. Those in attendance who heard him play "My Funny Valentine" may have thought back to his 1957 recording of it with Stan Getz, but there is really no comparison. While in 1957 Johnson's boppish improvisation exhibited a staccato, wide-ranging and multi-noted attack, in 1988 Johnson delves into trombone's lower depths and dwells there for the duration. He plays the theme in a deliberate, halting fashion, extending each deep note with astonishing tonal control, hitting some notes with a timbre that resembles that of a foghorn at sea. His embellishments and progressions are fresh, dramatic and occasionally eerie. He concludes with an emotionally searing coda-like summation, rather than a conventional reprise. A true masterpiece, and a bold declaration by J.J. that he was back stronger than ever.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments


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