This is essentially a rearrangement of the score that Gil Evans wrote for Miles Davis's Porgy and Bess
(1958). But Evans has updated it to the electric '70s, and assigned the lead to guitar to emphasize the blues tinge of Gershwin's song. Ted Dunbar's solo may not be the greatest ever taken on these familiar chords, but it's surrounded by a maze of details that widen the sound spectrum and bear Evans's mark, from the sweet jungle of cymbals and miscellaneous percussion to the daring contrast between tweeting flutes and roaring tubas.
Organ and piano duets are infrequent in jazz. But when it comes to musicians like Louiss and Petrucciani, the choice of the instrument is less relevant than the pleasure of the dialogue, and music flows so naturally from their fingers that it can almost be frightening. This is especially obvious on "Summertime," which has been played by almost everybody. Louiss's and Petrucciani's freshness and lack of over-sophistication return the song to its roots as a vehicle for improvisation. Moreover, in their hands these instruments make a gorgeous blend. Dialogue, pleasure, gorgeous blend … these musicians wouldn't be French, by any chance?
Giacomo Gates has a big
baritone voice in the tradition of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Hartman, and with his rich, chocolaty tones, he could set up shop as a specialist in late-night ballads. But this is not that
type of "Summertime." Instead, Gates has an endless supply of tricks at his disposal -- bits of banter, instrument imitations, vocalese, scatting, stories, sound effects; he even lets loose with a whistling solo on this track that will bring a smile to your face. He builds here on the classic Eddie Jefferson arrangement
of the Gershwin standard, one of the more irreverent and spirited tributes to Porgy and Bess
in the jazz pantheon. But this is not just another Jefferson Monument. Gates establishes his own distinctive voice and attitude. Ray Drummond's outstanding bass work is also worthy of note.
No surprises in this smooth jazz version of the Gershwin standard. Kenny G keeps fairly close to the sheet music chord changes, and relies on a tinkly piano background floating in a heavenly cloud of pseudo- strings. Mr. G. gets in a few good sax licks, but his solo is little more than an embellishment of the melody. George Benson makes a very brief cameo appearance, but doesn't even stay around for a solo. If this is summertime, I can hardly wait for school to start.
Summertime . . . and the fish are jumpin' in 5/4 time. From Sidney Bechet
, saxophonists have delighted in rebuilding Gershwin's plaintive lullaby into various jazz configurations. But this is perhaps the most ambitious transformation I have yet heard of the popular standard. Mehldau has proven in other settings
how skilled he is at unusual time signatures, and this recording is no exception. Check out the close of his solo where he quotes Gershwin's melody in the lower register, while pushing an insistent figure in the treble -- a great example of jazz multitasking. And Redman shows once again why he is considered one of the best soloists on the current scene. Grenadier and Blade also shine.
Sidney Bechet's "Summertime" wasn't the initial jazz recording of the vocal soprano's plaintive aria from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
—Billie Holiday got there first (1936). But Bechet's was more authoritative, with its growling soprano sax, bluesy acoustic guitar and stately march-time harkening to his fin de sičcle
New Orleans roots, and evoking an authenticity missing from the white New York composer's would-be Negro "folk opera." Obviously, the jazzman who triggered a Parisian gunfight over how to play a song was not to be trifled with in matters of musical interpretation. Nobody could've conjured a hotter "Summertime."
In 1959, Shelly Manne led his L.A.-based Men (why not Menne?) north to Frisco's famed Blackhawk for a multi-album live set. Since their regular pianist couldn’t make it, Victor Feldman filled the piano chair. All temps should be so spectacular. With an architectural sense worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright, Vic's solo here builds from delicacy to powerful flourishes. And as always, Shelly shines. Voters in 1950s jazz popularltiy polls didn’t always make the most informed choices, but they got it right when they voted early and voted often for Shelly Manne. Hizzoner was the blue-collar drummer who carried every precinct.
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