Terry Gibbs: What's New

When a superior jazz musician has played a particular standard as his ballad feature over many years, he can enhance and refine his approach until his performance becomes a thing of rare beauty and a privilege to hear. Such is the case with Terry Gibbs and "What's New," recorded live in the studio before a small group of invited guests. Tenorman Eric Alexander and guitarist Dan Faehnle sat this one out, and are probably heard applauding wildly at the track's conclusion along with everyone else.

DeFrancesco's silky intro and astute accompaniment, and the slick rhythmic support of Terry's son Gerry's brushes, offer Terry the perfect framework. The vibraphonist's vibrato and resultant sound reminds one of Lionel Hampton, who once asked Gibbs to join his band, an idea Hamp's wife/manager Gladys vetoed. Gibbs exhibits flawless technique, and his long phrases and harmonic development are both quite impressive, especially in the double-timed midsection of his solo, as well as in his dazzling coda. The ever-exuberant Gibbs was then 80, yet another jazz octogenarian aging like fine wine and not slowing down. The titles (and pace) of two of his originals on this session bear that out: "Smoke 'Em Up" and "Hot Rod." But "What's New" is undeniably the standout track.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: What's New

Do you prefer to take your Holiday earlier or later? Hard choice . . . The early Billie Holiday sings with more pop song panache and surface polish. Take a later Holiday, and the terrain is rougher, the emotional landscape dangerous but perhaps even more alluring. I tend to give the highest marks to the early collaborations between Billie and Lester Young, musical gems that will delight listeners a hundred years hence. But you could make a good case for the later Holiday on the basis of this poignant ballad. "What's New" was a perfect vehicle for Billie Holiday, circa 1955, a love song meant to be sung by a world-weary woman looking back on her past. Lady Day delivers a raw and beautiful performance, full of dark shadows. Benny Carter's fine sax solo, a sweeter take on the changes, offers just the right contrast.

December 07, 2007 · 0 comments


J.J. Johnson: What's New

Rightly renowned for his incomparable technique, J.J. Johnson is often wrongly overlooked as a balladeer. Here, using a cup mute, J.J. displays a tonal purity matched by no other jazz trombonist, and a lyricism second to none. J.J. often expressed admiration for Billie Holiday, whose haunting 1955 recording of this song may be reflected in J.J.'s own heartfelt soliloquy two years later. Johnson, though, was always his own man, and this urbane interpretation is in no way derivative. With sensitive support from a stellar cast, J.J. justifies the title of Columbia's compilation: not "A" trombone master, but The Trombone Master.

December 05, 2007 · 0 comments


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