Nat King Cole: I Know That You Know

Although Cole was an influential jazz pianist, it was his vocals that ensured his popularity, and around 1950 he became essentially a pop balladeer who no longer accompanied himself on piano. However, two mid-'50's albums for Capitol, Piano Stylings and the much better-known After Midnight, reminded those who still cared of what they were missing. While the After Midnight tracks all featured a Cole vocal and a guest soloist, there's also enough Cole piano improvisation to whet one's appetite for more.

Cole's vibrant piano style, derived from Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, and which in turn inspired Oscar Peterson, is particularly evident on the up-tempo "I Know That You Know." The piercing violin of Stuff Smith adds further impetus, as does the robust rhythm section. Young sets the frantic pace, Smith exchanges brief whirling passages with Cole's piano, and then Cole sings the lyrics in a relaxed and assured manner. Smith captivates in his solo, and Cole follows and more than holds his own, lucid and nimble with not a note wasted or out of place. He and the violinist resume their dialogue, showing great rapport and spirited invention before Young's boisterous drum break launches Cole's vocal reprise. A final buoyant Smith-Cole instrumental interaction seals the deal on this memorable track. Forget about "Nature Boy" and "Mona Lisa." This is Nat Cole the jazz singer-pianist.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments


Quincy Jones (featuring Lars Gullin): Sometimes I'm Happy

Jazz Abroad presents the first recording sessions led by, respectively, Roy Haynes and Quincy Jones. Don't be confused by the album cover: the two sessions were separate, and the two artists do not appear together. Haynes, while on a European tour with Sarah Vaughan, recorded in Stockholm in October 1953, while Jones, who was on tour with Lionel Hampton, combined some of his fellow Hampton bandmates with the top Stockholm musicians for this November '53 date.

Scandinavian cool baritonist Lars Gullin begins the soloing on "Sometimes I'm Happy." Given his penchant for floating, experimental lines, it's easy to see how he hooked up with American cool and/or Tristano school musicians such as Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. Gullin has a well-defined cool jazz aesthetic under his fingers here, only months removed from the seminal Mulligan/Baker quartet sessions. He and Art Farmer play the finest solos, backed by Alan Dawson's crisp, clean brushwork.

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: More Than You Know (Live)

Tenorist Sonny Rollins is the closest thing the jazz world has to a force of nature. And like tornadoes and earthquakes, this artist is both powerful and unpredictable. His finest moments usually come in the heat of a performance, rather than in the sterility of a recording studio, and the privileged audience, on these occasions, can sense the saxophonist feeding off their rapt attention as he delivers a solo that is both the culmination of a lifetime of horn-playing, and a Zen-like celebration of the present moment.

Rollins's Road Shows, Vol. 1 CD captures this rapturous side of the tenorist at work. It surveys more than a quarter century of performances and culls out seven tracks, including this titanic version of "More Than You Know," recorded in Toulouse in 2006. Rollins is a master of this type of "power ballad," where instead of introspective vulnerability we get grand statements from the mountaintop. One could easily trample the sentiments in a love song with such powerful outbursts, but instead Rollins manages to amplify the emotional qualities of the song, expanding their scope without losing any of their rawness. He seems paradoxically to be both in total command of the material, but also letting go and allowing the music to take him to its own chosen destination. His solo is a fascinating combination of motivic development, reworkings of the melody, and rhapsodic flurries.

In the midst of this inspired saxophony, you might neglect the contribution of guitarist Bobby Broom, which would be a shame. He counters Rollins's grandiloquence with a sharply etched solo, mostly in the higher register, in which each note glistens, almost like those shimmering phrases you hear from African harp masters. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the performance, and is all the more effective for its unexpected delicacy.

November 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: Without a Song

Sonny Rollins is remarkable because of the effortless way his ideas flow and develop. The interplay between him and Jim Hall on this album is truly great to hear. And his story of self-imposed exile is provocative. This album marked his return to public performance.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Teddy Wilson: More Than You Know

Teddy Wilson had already recorded this song as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and also under his own leadership with Billie Holiday handling the vocals. But it is a real treat to hear him, at the peak of his powers, tackle it in a solo piano format. We can enjoy his crisp touch and strong keyboard conception, still rooted in the stride piano style. A short while after this recording was made, Wilson's approach to the piano would seem old fashioned, at least to some younger fans, in the face of the mordant modernism of the boppers, but on these Keystone recordings he is very much at the forefront, ranking with Hines, Tatum and Waller as the defining keyboard stylists of the era. Here he opens with a leisurely ad lib chorus then falls into tempo with a confident two-handed conception, marked by the logic of its vertical construction and the stately momentum of his attack. I especially like the surprising harmonic movement in the coda, which was quite daring for the period.

June 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Martial Solal: Tea for Two

At age 80, Martial Solal exhibits more energy and youthful enthusiasm in his playing than most pianists half his age. He is at once a stylist who plays in a disjointed, unpredictable manner that can be disturbing to the ear of some. His keyboard proficiency is phenomenal, and his exploratory probing is inventive and challenging to the listener. On the standard "Tea for Two," Solal removes all but the barest of identifying melody lines and creates a vehicle where he can deconstruct and then reconstruct to his own liking the essence of the tune. His attack approaches a level of vivaciousness that can sound at times almost angry, but he manages to strike a delicate balance between that emotion and manic unleashed exuberance, ably assisted by the symbiotic playing of twin brothers bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Louis Moutin. You have never heard this old familiar song played like this, and perhaps it is too far explored for those who like to follow a melody, but make no mistake Solal is expanding the boundaries of both time and space, and it is interesting to hear what comes out of this still fertile musical mind. Always engaging in his own unique way, Martial Solal shows why at any age he is still a joy to listen to. Bravo to the maestro.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Royce Campbell: I Want to Be Happy

Get Happy was the final recording of music educator and swing violinist Joe Kennedy. The CD's "happy" theme was conceived by producer/guitarist Campbell because he believed uplifting music of this type best represented what Kennedy's playing had always been about. Campbell also felt that Kennedy's career had been under-recorded. When Kennedy passed away shortly after these sessions, the CD became both a historical document and a tribute to him.

This track is a departure from the basic bow-to-string swing violin. Kennedy, Campbell and Langosch surely swing on this lighthearted number. But Kennedy's playing is all pizzicato. The swing accents are found in his note-bending and sustain. There is only so much of that you can get from plucking away on such short strings. But if you can do it the way he did, you could do anything and probably teach it pretty good too.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Anita O'Day: Tea for Two

Anita O'Day

Looking like a grande dame in Vogue, singing like a dame outa Down Beat, Anita O'Day walked away with Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). The documentary of 1958's Newport Jazz Festival should have been called Jazz on a Summer's O'Day.

"I was scheduled for 5 o'clock in the afternoon," Miss O'Day recounts in her autobiography, "and I asked myself what to wear. 'It's teatime,' I told the Italian lady who ran a dress shop in Greenwich Village. She brought out this black dress, trimmed with white. We both knew it was right, but I asked what I could wear on my head. She went into the back room and came out with a black cartwheel, trimmed with white feathers. Both went with my see-through, plastic pumps and for a fun touch I added short white gloves."

After flicking mud from an earlier rain off her shoe, a tightly hemmed Anita wriggled on stage and squinted at the crowd. "Performing in the afternoon was a bonus," she recalled, "because I could see the audience. I spotted Chris Connor out there." Like O'Day, Connor had served a stretch as Stan Kenton's vocalist. "That was good," Anita thought, "because I can make my performance the way I want it to be when I know some of the audience digs what I'm doing and I can relate to them."

She related with what amounts to a clinic on jazz singing, in particular wowing the crowd with her up-tempo take on the 1925 chestnut "Tea for Two." Blazing through the lyrics, Anita treats both melody and rhythm to a complete makeover, exercising the unbridled flair of an interior decorator given carte blanche by a client with deep pockets. Following a short piano solo, Anita switches to scat, trading fours with Poole's wire-brushed drums. To conclude, Anita amuses the audience by exchanging wordless quotes with her trio from "Flip Top," a favorite '50s TV jingle. "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro," the original assured. "Filter, flavor, flip-top box." In those halcyon days, cigarette jingles were considered harmless fun. Fifty years later, coffin-nail jingles are thankfully a thing of the past. Anita O'Day, though, is as much fun as ever.

April 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: Tea for Two (1952)

Tatum recorded this tune several times, often as a solo performance. With his trio, he arranges the original melody by adding small riffs to announce each solo—Stewart's being, of course, both bowed on the bass and hummed—and the final return to the theme. The swing is infectious all the way through, and the counterpoint between the three instruments and between Tatum's hands can make you wonder what is written and what is improvised in this awesome tour de force.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Blossom Dearie: Tea for Two

Strangely enough, Blossom Dearie (accompanied by only herself at the piano) sings the verse of this song at a swifter tempo than the rest. Easy, since the rest is sung and played at a very, very slow tempo. But what's not easy is to swing at such a slow tempo—unless one has Ray Brown's burnished bass sound and Ed Thigpen's delicate brushwork by your side. And in this setting listeners can fully enjoy Blossom's exquisite phrasing of the words to a song they may well rediscover, thanks to her.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Mel Tormé (with Marty Paich): The Carioca

Whoever doubts Mel Tormé's skill as a jazz singer should listen to the first 25 seconds of this track, where he sings first with only bass, then bass and percussion, before the orchestra enters. Perfect, relaxed time, great pitch, superb inflections, fantastic phrasing… the “velvet fog” had it all! And his association with master arranger Marty Paich was a miracle. The song is rather corny, granted. But the magic of it all is that the Tormé-Paich team makes the best of it, from the valve trombone and alto sax solos to the clave, not to mention the lush voice of Mel Tormé surrounded by his deeply empathic pals from the Marty Paich Dek-tette.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Rosemary Clooney: More Than You Know

While the lyrics of this 62-year-old standard show their age, its lovely melody is untarnished, and the vocalist, one year older than her song, is younger than springtime. Although she was by this time a well-established jazz singer, Rosie's reinvention as such was as farfetched as, say, Patti Page tackling the Thelonious Monk songbook. As a 1950s pop star, Clooney may've been, as her friend Bing Crosby declared, "the best in the business," but that business wasn't jazz. And indeed, this sensitively arranged ballad is to jazz tangential. Still, if you fancy a beautiful song beautifully sung, Rosie is riveting.

December 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Tony Bennett: Sometimes I'm Happy

FLASH: Tony Bennett scats! True, it's scarcely four bars, but that's the least of what makes this track remarkable. Here's a Ring-a-Ding workhorse at Carnegie Hall just as his all-time biggest hit was breaking (something about forgetting his luggage at SFO). Yet instead of the expected oodles of strings, mountains of floral arrangements and molehills of musicality, Bennett joins a jazz sextet, trading fours with Kenny Burrell and giving solo space to the underappreciated Eddie Costa (whose rattling vibes break up the band if not the house). Tony Bennett is a gas. We sure hope he got his luggage back.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: Tea for Two (1939)

Listening to the first half of Tatum's 2½-minute "Tea For Two," you might think you're hearing a cocktail pianist with the fleetest right hand in history, but still a cocktail pianist. When he shifts from rubato to up-tempo stride, however, hold onto your hats! To say this man could play jazz is like saying Aristotle could philosophize, Euclid was good at math, Rembrandt had a gift for portraiture, or Nixon could lie. Tatum's rapid-fire modulations require a mind as quick as his right hand, which was faster than a cardsharp anxious to catch the next riverboat. Dazzling.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: I Want to Be Happy

Stan Getz formed a working relationship with Oscar Peterson during his participation in Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) tours, and their meeting for this record date was only natural. Peterson’s drummer-less trio format (which was derived from the classic Nat “King” Cole trio) provided the unique opportunity to showcase Getz’ warm-toned appeal. The saxophonist’s abilities to spin out endless variations of dynamically charged, almost verbal phrases continue to provide an amazing listening experience today. The group swings easy and breathes new light into this evergreen.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments


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