Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews
Published on February 1, 2004
An Anthology of Sexy Jazz – Various artists – Chesky JD 261:
The Chesky Records label has had its own history of trailblazing in good, clean recording engineering. Their latest are no exceptions. They get great performances here on Sexy Jazz from albums by artists in their stable. The tunes, followed by the artists, are: “Baby Talk,” by Dave’s True Story; “The Man I Love,” by Eddie Daniels; “The Touch Of Your Lips,” by John Pizzarelli; “Naima,” by Jon Faddis; “Insensatez,” by Rosa Passos & Ron Carter; “Green and Golden,” by Oregon; “Body And Soul,” by Christy Baron; “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” The Fred Hersch Trio; “ ‘Round Midnight,” by Kenny Rankin; “La vie En Rose,” by Chuck Mangione; “Remind Me,” by Peggy Lee, and “My Funny Valentine,” by The John Basile Quartet.
I particularly liked “Insensatez,” by Rosa Passos and the late Ron Carter, on which you hear why each of them became a fixture in jazz, she with her relaxed Bossa Nova singing style, and he with his just right accompaniment, all the time, with every note. I fell in love too easily with Christy Baron and Fred Hersch: if you are intrigued enough to want to know why, you’ll listen to their cuts. Kenny Rankin knocked me out with his version of the Monk anthem. And Peggy Lee, well what can I say except, it seems I’ve loved her all my life, and her phrasing is still as impeccable as mine isn’t.
This is an album whose title promises it is the kind of music lovers used to save for Sunday morning when others were in church, or the kids were off to Sunday School. Well, if not Sunday School, then slept over at their cousin’s. The kind of album that makes you feel the cool of the sheets when you listen to it in the den. The kind of album you and your old lady used to delight in, in that special way that old lovers and best friends understand. And it lives up to its promise. Each of the cuts is at least very good. You can play it over and over.
– Max Dudious
Michael Brecker Quindectet – Wide Angles – Verve B0000285-02:
I surmise that’s the appellation of a 15-piece group, because that’s how many are in Brecker’s band. Besides a string quartet (on some tracks) there is a fulltime flutist, a fulltime oboe/English hornist, and a French hornist. The best-known jazz name here besides tenorman Brecker is probably bassist John Patitucci. This is really a big band with just one sax and a string quartet. The addition of the more symphonic instruments adds a variety of interesting timbres to the orchestrations here, but this probably wouldn’t be defined as chamber jazz. All the ten tunes except one are either originals by Brecker or a shared credit. I dug the eight minute track Timbuktu for its catchy percussion rhythms. But in general the disc just didn’t grab me and tracks sounded too similar to one another. Tracks: Broadband, Cool Day in Hell, Angle of Repose, Timbuktu, Night Jessamine, Scylla, Brexterity, Evening Faces, Modus Operandy, Never Alone.
- John Henry
Kenny Barron & Regina Carter – Freefall – Verve 314 549 706-2:
Really sorry I missed out on this gem when it was first released, but better late than never. It takes real courage to do an entire album of such no-frills, no-sidemen duets – especially compared to the funky/bluesy backing violinist Carter has usually had for her albums. The whole thing was pianist Barron’s idea to begin with, and they convinced Verve that they should do the session without any rhythm section. They both contributed to the ten tunes but there are entries also from such notables as Wayne Shorter, Monk and even Sting. Carter gets more of a chance to show off her improvisational creativity here than on any of her pervious albums, to my thinking. A superb addition to the swinging discography of jazz violin! Tracks: Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, Fragile, Misterioso, Phantoms, What If, Squatty Roo, Freefall, Shades of Gray, Footprints, A Flower.
- John Henry
Lee Morgan – Sonic Boom (with David Newman, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins) Blue Note Connoisseur CD Series 90414:
Another of Blue Note’s reissues of classic Rudy Van Gelder recordings, this one dates from both 1967 and 1969. The 24-bit remastering of the original tapes allows Van Gelder’s recording prowess to be heard more fully. One seven of the 13 tracks the personnel behind trumpet star Morgan changes and increases by one: Julian Priester, trombone; George Coleman, tenor sax; Harold Mabern, piano; Walter Booker, bass; Mickey Roker, drums. The cover and inside of the booklet carry a few of those fabulous Francis Wolff black & white studio photos. This session was a few years after his big Blue Note hit in l963 with The Sidewinder. Six of the tracks are Morgan originals, including the opener with its catchy melody. David “Fathead” Newman makes a terrific front line with Lee’s trumpet on the first half of the album. The final Boogaloo track was an attempt to achieve a similar feeling to the hit Sidewinder. Just a few years after this session Morgan was shot and killed by his wife in a saloon argument.
- John Henry
Guitar and mandolin strummers up next on a pair of CDs…
Dave Askren Trio – Re: Bill Evans – String Jazz SJRCD1029:
Every Bill Evans fan and most jazz guitar fans will want to add this one to their collections. Los Angeles-based guitarist Askren is joined by only bass and drums on his first album as leader. What he has done is to re-do 11 classic Bill Evans piano trio favorites for his guitar trio. He pays close attention to Evans’ rhythms as well as his harmonic choices. On some tracks the match is so close that one forgets briefly that the solo instrument is guitar and not piano. Others go a bit further afield in adapting to the differently-expressive guitar style. If you don’t listen closely to Evan’s own recordings they sound almost like typical cocktail piano-playing; no danger of the guitar version of that here – these are swinging and creatively-fashioned versions in an unmistakable modern jazz style. Tunes are: Re: Person I Knew, Spring Is Here, Everything I Love, My Foolish Heart, Midnight Mood, Who Cares?, Time Remembered, Freddie the Freeloader, It Might As Well Be Spring, When Sunny Gets Blues, If You Could See Me Now.
Sam Bush & David Grisman – Hold On, We’re Strummin’ – (with four guitarists, two bassists and drummer) – Acoustic Disc HDCD ACD-54:
These two pluckers are considered at the top of the heap of mandolinists playing today, in bluegrass and otherwise. They first met at age 13 and 20 respectively and have wanted to record together for some time. Bush uses a unique slide mandolin technique incorporating dobro, slide guitar and blues guitar influences. Many of the 16 tunes are in Grisman’s own Dawg Music style but the project was dedicated to bluegrass pioneers Jethro Burns and Bill Monroe. The tunes are mostly Grisman/Bush originals created for the album. Each strummer plays at least a half dozen different types of instruments – including octave mandola, mandocello, banjo mandolin, banjo, fiddle and bass guitar. Great fun. Tracks; Hartford’s Real, Swamp Thing, Intimo, Jamgrass 741, Seae Breeze, Old Time Medley, Weeping Mandolin Waltz, Arachnid Stomp, Crusher and Hoss, The Old South, Mando Space, Ralph’s Banjo Special, ‘Cept Old Bill, Rhythm Twins, Dan’l Boone, Hold On I’m Comin.’
- John Henry
Wild Women Blues – Original Broadway Cast – Linda Hopkins, Maxine Weldon, Mortonette Jenkins – DRG 12997:
There’s short bios of the three blues singers featured in this show, but nothing on the history of the show itself or why this original cast recording was made in Cologne, Germany. It’s a straight-ahead concert by the three terrific singers with a great seven-piece band behind them. Hopkins is in her 70s and still knockin ‘em dead. The other singers are not exactly young chicks either, but the emphasis here is on keepin’ yo’ mojo workin’ right up til they put you away. Some of the lyrics are wonderfully double-entendre in the raunchy way only black blues singers could bring it off. If you have trouble understanding (or believing!) what Bessie Smith and some of the originals are singing on those scratchy 78s, here’s your chance to clearly hear every suggestive word and phrase. All three of the thrushes really know how to deliver a song, and there are two duets and five trio numbers. There’s no concerns about the 15 tracks sounding too much alike here, as with some blues albums. Of course part of that is due to there being a mix of blues, pop standards, novelty numbers and gospel. You might throw out your CDs of younger white women attempting the blues after hearing the gen-u-ine article herewith! The versatile pianist, synth player and arranger is Marty Jabara, and Robert Kyle shines on harmonica on some of the numbers. Tracks: Wild Wild Women, Blues Are Alright, Let the Good Times Roll, Always on My Mind, I Can Cook, Down Home Blues, Route 66, Night Time is the Right Time, Doing the Best I Can, Lady Be Good, My Romance, Made Your Move Too Soon, Nobody Knows You, Amazing Grace, Witness for the Lord.
- John Henry
Here are four very different pianists – all doing their very own thing…
Andrew Hill – A Beautiful Day (with 15-piece big band, recorded live at Birdland, NYC) – Palmetto Records PM 2085:
Pianist and composer/arranger Hill is in his late 60s and was a mainstay of Blue Note Records in the early days. His piano style is avant but accessible – its distinctive tone a mix of chants, gospel, street rhymes, boogie-woogie, blues, Basie, Ellington and the rest of the jazz giants. He studied early on with Paul Hindemith and his big band pieces are influenced by such as Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Don Ellis. The result is nothing like Basie but there’s no denying it swings like mad. I envy those cats who were there at Birdland in 2001 for this live taping. But next best is we sit down and take it all in – from the New Pinnochio piano concerto to the beautifully lyrical A Beautiful Day – also the CD’s title. The almost 12-minute track Faded Beauty reminded me strongly of the impressionistic chamber jazz classic of the 50s, Annotations of the Muses. Marty Ehrlich is in the band and one of the two flutists. This is music of great density that rewards repeated close listening for its riches. Tracks: Divine Revelation, Faded Beauty, Bellezza, 5 Mo, New Pinnochio, J Di, A Beautiful Day, 11/8.
- John Henry
Jean-Michel Pilc – Cardinal Points (with Sam Newsome, sop. Sax; James Genus, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums; Abdou M’Boup, percussion) Dreyfus Jazz FDM-36649-2:
Don’t know a thing about this evidently French jazz pianist and composer, but he’s well worth watching. All the music is his except for Ellington’s Mood Indigo. The last four tracks constitute a jazz Trio Sonata in the Baroque style and strikes me as one of the more successful classical/jazz fusions. Percussion M’Boup joins in on four of the tracks (must be fun to have a name that sounds like the sounds you make). Pilc’s title tune is a catchy one; all his music has a European sort of take on jazz about it – not sure how to describe that really, but it’s looking at jazz from a different vantage point. Tunes: Fred’s Walk, South, West, North, East, Ari’s Mode, Mood Indigo, Cardinal Points, Trio Sonata in 4 parts.
- John Henry
Larry Willis – Sanctuary (with Joe Ford, saxes; Ray Codrington, trumpet; Steve Novosel, bass; Steve Berrios, drums; The Rick Schmidt Strings; Artie Sherman, vocals) – Mapleshade Productions 09932:
Willis is the Music Director for this audiophile jazz label for over a decade and has participated in many of their acclaimed recordings. In this session he displays his compositional and arranging chops in several different musical environments – solo piano, quintet, with vocalist, and four of the eight tracks with a nine-piece string section. In common with albums recorded by several different jazz artists recently, Willis has chosen a spiritual renewal sort of theme here, as suggested by the album title tune. He wanted to convey the feeling of a place of quiet, solitude and healing. This intent will be clear in some of the tune titles, but specifically: the Maji is about the epic journey of the three wise men, Were You There is a Baptist church hymn, and Fallen Hero honors Willis’ late brother – a teacher who was killed by one of his severely deranged students. Willis’ spirituality theme seems somehow more genuine than some of those other similar CDs. He plays a Fazioli piano, which seems to have a more fitting tone for jazz than the typical Steinway. The sonics have great presence and realism, par for the course from Mapleshade. Tracks: The Maji, Sanctuary, Good Friday, Brother Ed, A Balm in Gilead, Thank You Lord, Were You There?, Fallen Hero.
- John Henry
Dr. John – All By Hisself (Live at the Lonestar) – 2 Discs – DVD-V and CD Skinji Brimm TMF 9317:
Another one of the recent spate of combo CD & DVD albums. Probably stemming from both the expanded sales of music DVD videos as well as the added video extras possible with DVD-Audio, these albums bring collectors much closer to their favorite performing artists via the video portions. The decision of whether to review this for our DVD-V or Jazz section was easy because in this case the video is the lesser part of the package. It is a 21-minute interview with the New Orleans Music man about just that – New Orleans Music. He does do a number of examples of what he’s talking about at the keyboard and singing, but this is not a video of the live performance at NYC’s Lonestar that was taped in l986 and is heard on the CD disc. This is also just the good piano professor (also known as Mac Rebennack) and his piano and vocals, but that’s a-plenty for a very entertaining hour, Ah gaaaaur-ahn-tee. Tunes: Swanee River Boogie, Stagger Lee, Average Kind of Guy, Sick and Tired, Such a Night, Qualified, Something You Got, Junco Partner, Travelin’ Mood/Let’s Make a Better World, Right Place Wrong Time, Iko Iko, Medley: Rockin’ Pneumonia/High Blood Pressure/Happy Times/Don’t You Just Know It/Don’t You Know Yockomo.
- John Henry
For the last set, we’re into not-quite-jazz again, but some good listening anyway…
The Klezmer Conservatory Band – A Taste of Paradise – Rounder Records 1161-3189-2:
This 12-piece ensemble was founded a quarter century ago and has traveled the world as ambassadors for klezmer – that celebratory Jewish music form which combines jazz, music hall items, Yiddish and various other Middle Eastern world musics into a melting pot of energy and spontaneous emotion. For example, there are tracks here coming from Turkey, Bessarabia and Bulgaria. The band includes the expected fiddle and clarinet, also two guitars and two accordions. There’s a frequent alternation of vocals with instrumentals. The note booklet has complete translation of all the Yiddish vocals, with some great quotes – such as; “As long as your feet can carry you and your stomach is still working, You can live it up!” Here’s a few of the 17 tracks to give an idea of the content of this fun CD: A Glass of Wine, My First Waltz, At the Hearth, Bessarabian Breakdown, Dance from Istanbul.
3 Leg Torso – Astor in Paris (Bela Balogh, violin; Courtney Von Drehle, accordion; Gary Irvine, percussion; Rob Lewis: xylophone, marimba, vibes, percussion; Skip Elliott Bowman, bass; Joe Janiga, drums; Gabe Leavitt or John Hubbard, cello; Paul Mazzio, trumpet on Tr.8) – Meester Records MEE002:
This CD is on the Top Ten List of albums by local groups according to the Portland Oregonian, and just one of the path-breaking musical groups coming out of the city (Pink Martini is another). The popular ensemble started out mainly with instrumental updates on Eastern European folk music of various sorts. Lately they have become more eclectic and in their new CD a jazz flavor is more and more apparent. The title tune refers of course to Astor Piazzolla, and it’s a tango created in his New Tango style. Except for a klezmer-inspired Yiddish dance number and the closing dance by Lecuona, all the eleven tracks are by group members. Both the violinist and accordionist throw off some great solos. Sound is excellent. Tracks: Ba Doum, Astor in Paris, Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddelach, Frog…Secret Agent; Giant Stomp, Bill’s Last Adventure, Elliot’s Dream, My level Water, Le Beau’s Hole, B & G’s, Danza Lucumi.
- John Henry