Stan Getz & J.J. Johnson: My Funny Valentine

Back in the 1950s, some still thought that Stan Getz was a lightweight "cool school" player, and that J.J. Johnson's incredible fluidity could only mean that he, like Bob Brookmeyer, played a valve trombone. Those so misguided would have seen and heard differently if they had attended this 1957 Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Chicago.

"My Funny Valentine" starts with Getz and Johnson engaging in inventive counterpoint, while alternating on the theme. Getz has the first solo, basically silky smooth of tone, but deceptively so as his swift boppish runs are executed with an added bite. As Brown's resonant and forceful bassline propels him along, Getz uses exclamatory riffs, jabbing lower-register notes, and subtle alterations of reiterated phrases to flesh out a masterfully structured improvisation. Johnson's solo has a noticeably similar construction, also effectively relying on variations to repeated phrases. With a distinctive buzz to his timbre, as well as his utilization of expressive slurs and blats for coloration, Johnson's overall combination of power, dexterity and creativity is lethal. Getz and Johnson then improvise once again in tandem, a delightful intertwining that gradually returns to the melody and finally to a declarative ending evocative of a bugle call.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Freddie Hubbard): Blue Moon

Freddie Hubbard is a great balladeer. He grabs you from the very first phrase. Dynamics are in evidence, as is his use (or non-use) of distinctive vibrato. One can hear the influence of Clifford Brown (no trumpeter can escape that when playing a ballad), but Freddie is his own man. His second phrase at 2:35 into the tune is so memorable and literally breathtaking—it took big breath to play it! Great dynamics from the band and from Freddie. A fantastic, melodic out-chorus, all subtle twists and turns, with some great rubato phrases at the end of the arrangement (Cedar Walton’s arrangement is so inventive) and a wonderful and tasteful cadenza. In short, music wins over technique.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Russell: Manhattan

George Russell's album-length tribute to New York City remains a major work of the period and one of his most important projects. This track opens with Jon Hendricks and drums extolling the city, and then Russell begins his exploration of "Manhattan," the only explicit statement of the melody being his use of the song's first five notes. Solos are by Brookmeyer, Brookmeyer and Rehak alternating, and Evans (how wonderful to hear him in a large ensemble setting this early in his career). Then a most extraordinary thing happens. From out of a transition by the band, John Coltrane sings out in a solo so arresting that the rest of the track (which has a Farmer solo later) is almost anticlimactic. Coltrane requested a break in the session to go over the chord changes, and the result is gripping and powerful. Trane later told Russell that he didn't like this solo. Amazing!!! (For the musically inclined, the full story of this solo can be found in Russell's textbook Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization.)

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Anderson: Where or When

Anderson is perhaps better known by reputation - as a mentor and teacher to Herbie Hancock - rather than for his own piano work. This is a shame. But the record labels bear most of the blame here. Very little of Anderson's music was recorded. Try to find a copy of his 1961 trio recording . . . Good luck, my friend! This 1987 solo piano session is a little easier to obtain, and is worth the effort. No pianist of his generation had a more profound sense of jazz chord voicings, and this version of the Rodgers and Hart standard is a textbook of harmonic reconstruction. If you've got the ears for big, thick keyboard textures, this artist is for you. In an age in which harmonic minimalism was on the rise, Anderson was the king of the maximalists.

February 12, 2008 · 1 comment

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Art Blakey (featuring Keith Jarrett): My Romance

On this hard-to-find live recording from the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Art Blakey features the two young talents who had just joined his band: 20-year-old pianist Keith Jarrett and 25-year-old trumpeter Chuck Mangione. Neither would stay for long, and both would soon be selling more records than Blakey himself. But their stint with the Jazz Messengers left behind this outstanding LP, which is definitely worth a listen. Mangione takes leadoff solo on this standard, and contributes what would be a standout improvisation . . . if Keith Jarrett weren't taking the next chorus. Jarrett dishes out a perfect solo, with tasty ideas, angelic phrases and a very sweet touch. Jarrett wouldn't go anywhere near a Richard Rodgers standard for almost another two decades, but the newcomer showed here that he could play the old songs with great passion. On the basis of this tantalizing performance, one must conclude that the shortest-lasting group of Jazz Messengers -- it never made another record -- was also one of the finest.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: My Romance

This could be a fun thing to do: play McLaughlin's beautiful acoustic rendition of "My Romance" to someone unfamiliar with John's playing. Its harp-like chords and deep rich melody notes will enchant the listener. Then play the McLaughlin Mahavishnu Orchestra's head-jarring electric "Birds of Fire" immediately. After you resuscitate the now-shocked listener, try your damnedest to convince him or her that it was the same guitarist playing both songs. You will not be able to do it!

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Boyd Raeburn: Blue Moon

Raeburn began his career in the Midwest leading a functional Lawrence Welk-type band. By 1943, he switched gears and put together a jazz ensemble that by 1946 was one of the most admired and controversial in American music. But in 1945, his band reflected a Basie approach to music and attracted the top young musicians on the scene. Gillespie was not a regular member, but his "A Night in Tunisia" was part of the Raeburn book. Lang-Worth Transcriptions (recordings made for radio play) recorded most of the Raeburn library over several sessions and with numerous personnel changes. "Blue Moon" is an exciting dance arrangement with good solos by Bothwell, Gillespie and Carpenter. But the real stars are this powerhouse group, and a terrific arrangement by baritone saxophonist/arranger Milt Kleeb, still active as co-leader of an 11-piece band with Bill Ramsey in the Seattle area.

December 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: It Might As Well Be Sprng

In this debut trio recording, Mehldau stays in a straight-ahead groove. The later Art of the Trio recordings would take more chances, with their rhythmic pyrotechnics and the trademark left-versus-right-hand counterpoint that Mehldau does so well. But the trio swings with elegant drive on this Richard Rodgers' standard, and the pianist's improvised lines sparkle. Grenadier and Rossy support rather than challenge, and the whole performance stands out for its understated fluency. A promising debut with intimations of the riches to come.

December 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ron Carter: My Funny Valentine

How many different ways can a bass player handle a ballad in 4/4 time? Listen to this track and you will find Ron Carter demonstrating most of them. Scott plays admirably, but Carter steals the show with his feints and jabs, and the sheer creativity of his lines. More than one thousand jazz versions of "My Funny Valentine" have been recorded over the years -- including a classic Miles Davis performance at Lincoln Center in 1964 with Ron Carter in the band. But this new-millennium ensemble ignores the weight of history, and dishes out a fresh performance that both brings the standard up to date but also respects the mood of the Richard Rodgers original.

November 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Art Tatum: Have You Met Miss Jones?

Has Art Tatum met Miss Jones? By the end of this five-minute track, Art has taken her uptown, downtown, out back, and round the block twice. He can even tell you if she has any sisters at home, and describe that birthmark behind her knee. Yes, he knows Miss Jones, and relates every detail in this keyboard jaunt. Here are all the Tatum trademarks: the effortless stride, the rapid-fire runs played with machine-like clarity, the modulations into the stratosphere and back, the "Look, Ma, three hands!" pyrotechnics. All well and good. But, after this, there isn't much left of Miss Jones for the next pianist.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tony Bennett: Lover

Finally! After three decades of jazz "Lovers" streaking to shatter the 3-minute mile, Tony Bennett shows what an enchanting love song this was all along, just waiting for a master balladeer to rein in the tempo, lower the volume and try a little tenderness. It's the difference between leading an all-out, bugles-blaring cavalry charge and whispering sweet nothings in the ear. We can't document it, but we'll wager that down through history, strategically placed whispers have conquered more sovereign territory than any cavalry. And if you know a more seductive whisperer than Tony Bennett, please let us know.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Pass: Have You Met Miss Jones?

Joe Pass's Virtuoso LP on Norman Granz's Pablo label shook up a lot of guitarists when it was first released, and catapulted Pass from obscurity to the top ranks of jazz artists. Soon Pass was recording with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, among others, and following up with several more solo guitar releases under the Virtuoso imprimatur. Pass lived up to the big claims of the title - he was a true virtuoso of the six strings. The speed and clarity of his single-note lines was unsurpassed among jazz guitarists of his day, but one can also enjoy his performances for their harmonic ingenuity or their sheer unbridled swing. On "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Pass is all over the fretboard, spinning out basslines, rapid-fire licks, passing chords, moving from relaxed rubato to hard-driving swing rhythms, dancing through the "Giant Steps" changes in the bridge. And every note sings clear, every phrase conveys a confident sense of mastery. Pass is now gone, and only the recording remains. But a generation after this album's debut, it still captivates and impresses.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Lover

For the first 45 seconds of this 2-minute track, Anita O'Day treats her "Lover" as tenderly as, well, "Tenderly." Then arranger Billy May loses patience, and it's off to the races for a familiar sprint to the finish. Too bad. Anita was onto something. "Lover," a pretty Cinderella grown haggard from too many frantic pumpkin rides tempting midnight's last stroke, might indeed fare better as a ballad. But Billy May won't give her a chance. While Anita is certainly up to an up-tempo gallop, it's dismaying how a tried- and-true treatment can become a straightjacket for even the most creative interpreters.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: Hello Young Lovers

Few trombonists came anywhere near J.J.'s light-speed technique, and even those who did failed to match his tonal purity. The all-stars on this quintessential track rise to the leader's level, with former Johnson sideman Chambers, current sidekick Flanagan, and old bebop buddy Roach meshing masterfully. As a coda, J.J. quotes "March of the Siamese Children"—like "Hello Young Lovers," from Broadway's The King and I—slyly reminding us of his ungainly instrument's humble marching-band origins. In Johnson's hands, the sliphorn not only scaled the heights, it reached the summit. J.J.'s flag flies triumphantly alone at the peak of jazz trombone.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: My Romance

Tyner's style has mellowed with the passing years, and at time he floats over the changes rather than (as he might have done in the 1960s and 1970s) rip them apart at the seams. But he still shakes things up with characteristic piano licks, those ricocheting intervals that go up when you think they should go down, and vice versa. His crisp attack at the keyboard is always a joy to hear, especially when he is ably assisted in a trio setting with Ron Carter and Al Foster. This release is a notch below the classic Trident  session Tyner made with Carter and Elvin Jones back in the day, but it is still a welcome addition to the pianist's discography.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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