Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews
Published on March 1, 2004
Candido & Graciela – Inolvidable; Chesky Records JD249 CD:
Much like the Buena Vista Social Club release, this disc has some interesting history behind it. Apparently, Graciela was known as the First Lady of Afro-Cuban Jazz and was the lead vocalist for a popular band from the 1940s through the 1970s. She went on to perform with Mario Bauza’s band. After the death of her brother-in-law in 1993, Graciela quit performing. Even though Graciela is 88 years old, legendary conguero Candido Camero asked her to join him to record the tunes on this CD. Everyone involved in the project seem fortunate and thankful to have had the opportunity to take part. If you have even the remotest interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, then this CD is a must get!
Recording quality on this disc is in the Chesky tradition, in other words, amazing! The recording was made in a Manhattan church, and sounds like a really good small venue. Songs included are: Si Tu Supieras; Cachita; La Vida Es Un Sueno; Amor Ciego; Conga Jam; Tu Mi Delirio; Quien Eres Tu; Esvelo; Tu Me Acostumbraste; Contigo En La Distancia; Iolvidable, Parte I; Iolvidable, Parte II.
Joel Frahm, tenor & soprano sax/Brad Mehldau, piano – Don’t Explain – Palmetto Records PM 2096:
I’ll try not to explain too much, but you should know this is a great album. I am always attracted to duos like this – not because I hate drummers and bassists (well, there’s few of the former I really like) – but because the duo structure exposes the creativity of the two performers so much more than a typical quartet or quintet situation. Mehldau is just about the hottest young lion of jazz piano today; while I admit I had never heard of Frahm before, he strikes me as a major talent on his horn. His sound is big, warm and emotional. The unaffected sincerity of his treatment of the Billie Holiday classic must be why that number was chosen as the title of the album. The saxist and pianist have known one another and played together since they were 15, so this is not your record label producer’s instant gimmick pairing up. And it sounds like they really know each other’s minds in these ten terrific tracks: Don’t Explain, Get Happy, Oleo, Round Midnight #3, Mother Nature’s Son, East of the Sun, Turnaround, Away from Home, Smile, Round Midnight #1.
- John Henry
Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion – Classic Meets Cuba – Sony Classical SK 93090:
As with so many releases nowadays, I was hard put which section to put this review into. The major labels seem to be always fooling around with trying to create crossover hits which will expand the paltry classical core audience of buyers. But once in awhile they hit on something that breaks all the boundaries, has really wide appeal, and doesn’t cause traditional classical audience’s scalp to crawl. The recent classical excursions by Bela Fleck and Edgar Myers would have to fall in this category. And so goes this new release. It began with three German musicians who met and made music with two Cuban percussionists during their first concert tour of Cuba. A new sound came out of the mix of European classical tradition with swing, Latin and the complex rhythmic underpinning of Afro-Cuban music. The group has already won the German equivalent of the Grammy for their first collaboration.
The German trio consists of bassist Kilian Forster, first bassist with the Dresden Philharmonic. Next is Tobias Forster, the pianist, who functions as the main arranger for Classic Meets Cuba. Third of the trio is drummer Tim Hahn, who has toured with Bocelli and Carreras. The Cuban members are Alexis Estevez on timbales and Elio Rodriguez on congas. You may have a completely feeling for some of these classical favorites after hearing the ensemble’s special emphasis on their rhythmic qualities. The classical composers given the Cuban treatment here include Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Haydn. What a kick!
Tracks: Mambozart, Cuban Dance, Danzon de la Trucha, Preludio, Afrolise, Air, Pathetique I, II & III (fr. Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 8), Salsa No. V, Czardas, Etude, Carmen Cubana, Flight of the Bumble Bee, Guten Abend, Anthem.
- John Sunier
Africa Straight Ahead – Compilation – Heads Up HDCD 3079:
From Afro-Cuban we move to plain African jazz, in a sampler following hard on the heels of this labels previous Smooth Africa series, Andy Narell in South Africa, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Narell is featured on one of the dozen tracks, and pianist Darius Brubeck plays with African cohorts on another. Other tracks are from McCoy Mrubata, Marcus Wyatt, Paul Hanmer, Bheki Mseleku and Sheer Allstars – a terrific quintet of guitar, piano, sax, bass and drums. There’s an infectious hook to all this music, and its more than just the catchy rhythms and accessible harmonic structures. Dig it!
Tracks: Owed to Bishop, The Moon in a Bowl, Celebrate Mzansi, Beautiful Love, Langery, Tugela Rail, Sweet Anathi, Lovers on Empty Corners, Amasabekwelanggeni, Dee Mwa Wee, Imbali, Shawn’s Uhadi Samba.
- John Henry
Eliane Elias, piano & vocals – Brazilian Classics – Blue Note 7243 84337 2 2:
Hadn’t heard from pianist Elias in a while, but this sampler from previous albums returns to her native country roots with a bossa nova compendium of 16 tracks. On a half dozen of them she also does vocals. Her ensembles – never bigger than a quintet – are rounded out by a number of different top sidemen, including Dave Valentin on flutes, Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson on bass, Oscar Castro-Neves on acoustic guitar, and percussionist/drummers including Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine, Cafe and Nana Vasconcelos. Several of the big bossa nova hits are here, broadening the collection’s appeal and making it an ideal starting point if the talents of Ms. Elias are new to you.
Tracks: Passarium, Chega de Saudade, Carioca Nights, Girl from Ipanema, Milton Nascimento Medley, Waters of March, One-Note Samba, Crystal and Lace, So Danco Samba, Brazil, Iluminados, Jet Samba, Wave, Black Orpheus theme, Dindi, O Polichinelo.
- John Henry
Percy Heath, bass & cello – A Love Song (with Jeb Patton, piano; Peter Washington, bass; “Tootie” Heath, drums & percussion) – Daddy Jazz Records (no #):
The acclaimed bassist from the former Modern Jazz Quartet ventures out on his own after five decades with this album on his own label, and with his drummer bro rounding out the quartet. It is his debut as a leader. Four of the seven tracks are his own compositions, including the previously-recorded Watergate Blues, on which he wails on cello this time. On most of the other selections the sound of the two bassists provides a welcome and creative change from the usual jazz quartet. John Lewis’ Django was a calling card for the early MJQ and many dozens of others have done this classic jazz gem; Heath gives the melody to his bass for a sound different from all the others. The longest work is a 13-minute suite for Percy’s late father, and the closing Hanna’s Mood honors the late jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna. Great playing, great sound, and a good test for those stereo subwoofers.
- John Henry
Willie Rodriguez Jazz Quartet – Flatjacks (Rodriguez, drums and Latin percussion; Seldon Powell, reeds; Barry Galbraith, guitar; George Duvivier, bass) – Milestone/Fantasy MCD-9331-2:
I saw immediately by the names of the guitarist and bassist on this session that it wasn’t a recent one. It’s one of the massive library of jazz gems from the various labels now owned and reissued by Fantasy Records and comes from l963. It represents the epitome of West Coast Jazz at the time – light, swinging, tuneful, a Latin influence on many tunes, and a number of flute and clarinet solos. But there’s nothing dated about the playing or the sonics. Galbraith was one of the greats of jazz guitar, and though I wasn’t familiar with Rodriguez, he propels the quartet along skillfully without calling too much attention to his beating and whacking.
Tracks; Moliendo Cafe, Serenata, Nanigo Soul, Mr. Yosso, Brasileira, One Foot in the Gutter, It Happened in Monterey, Flatjacks (Just a Minor Bass-A Nova), Seafood Wally, After Words, Tasty, El Sueno de Frances.
- John Henry
Peter Arthur Loeb and his One Man Band – Four of Me – PAL Music:
This is a CD-R, more of which seem to be crossing my desk lately (and unfortunately, my very best standard CD deck won’t play them). I don’t know if in this case that is because this is a promo copy or because Peter Arthur Loeb burns each one himself. Probably the latter – seeing as how the note booklet is a color xerox. All this is not to denigrate the album – it’s a very listenable collection of a dozen tracks, of which ten were composed by Loeb himself. But that’s just the beginning of the multi-talents displayed here. All four instruments of the jazz quartet are also played by Loeb – multi-tracking himself on drums, piano, bass and tenor sax! And he’s good – damn good! Especially as a tenor saxist. I find most of his tunes more interesting listening that half of what comes my way from top-name jazzmen. I doubt if you’ll find this in the stores, so if you’re intrigued, visit Peter’s web site at www.palserv.com
Tracks: Boo Hoo, Four of Me, Five in Three, Sarah by Sunlight, Boston Dover, Altered, B-B, You Know Who, TaF Blues, Camptown Drag, Rose the Riveter, Timeless.
- John Henry
University of Miami Concert Jazz Band/Whit Sidener – Romances – Summit Education DCD 368:
What’s happening today at the college level in jazz studies is really encouraging. This band from the University of Miami has long been acclaimed as one of the top such ensembles and have won awards from Downbeat Magazine and others. The “major work” on this disc from a subsidiary of Summit Records is the 26-minute Three Romances by German big band leader Maria Schneider. The suite for big band consists of three pieces – Choro Dancado, Pas de Deux, and Danca Illusoria – and is intended to create a dance-like feeling in the listener. The opening selection is also by Maria Schneider. The various brass and reed soloists on each of the tracks as well as on the suite are super virtuosi of their instruments. No excuses need be made for this terrific aggregation. If this sampling of their work isn’t quite enough for you, they’ve had a previous album on the same label titled JazzMiami. Tracks: Lately, Gregory is Here, Invitation, Divisi, Squiggle, Three Romances.
- John Henry
Tierney Sutton; Dancing In The Dark. – Trio & Orch./
Christian Jacob – Telarc CD-83592:
Tierney Sutton’s last album, Something Cool, made an implied comparison between her work and that of June Christy. This album’s cover art includes the note, “Inspired by the music of Frank Sinatra,” and that is setting the bar very high. June Christy sang with the Stan Kenton band in its heyday, as Frank Sinatra sang for Tommy Dorsey’s. Frank used to joke that he was best categorized as a “saloon singer.” I feel Tierney Sutton would best be considered the same, a café singer, or a swank hotel chanteuse. She is not truly a jazz singer on this album; she doesn’t improvise with her voice, or scat sing; doesn’t accompany herself on some instrument; nor does she “trade fours” with her side men. Emphasizing the lyric to convey the mood she takes a long, slow singing line with each of the ballads in this collection. I’m tempted to use the wonderful word lugubrious, but she is not mournful: rather, she is closely examining the lyric with intent to turn any musical phrase in a manner that creates or sustains her desired aim. In this regard she most reminds me of Shirley Horn, to whom Miles Davis once famously commented about her ballad singing, “You do ‘em awful slow,” then went on to copy her style with his trumpet. Tierney’s slow, deliberate style (on this album) puts her in good company.
With her previous releases, this CD leads me to feel Tierney Sutton is a work in progress. She has a seductive voice and a way with a lyric matched by few. She has the sense to surround herself with a good trio: Christian Jacob, piano; Trey Henry, bass; and Ray Brinker, drums; and Orchestra conducted by Christian Jacob on some cuts. I feel she would benefit largely with a horn player to also accompany her, as Bessie Smith had the young Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday had Lester Young. This might give her a chance to develop more vocal “chops” to pursue her art in that manner. That said, this album is great boudoir music.
[A review by Tom Gibbs of the SACD version of this same album appears in Pt. 1 of our Hi-Res Reviews this issue..Ed.]
- Max Dudious
Our last pair of CDs do not claim to be jazz, but they don’t fit in elsewhere this issue, and they share a connection with public radio…
Gunnar Madsen, piano – Spinning World, 13 ways of looking at a waltz (with chamber ensemble) – G-Spot Records GSR001:
This delightful CD is not a new release but has gleaned new attention due to being featured on both HBO’s Sex and the City and on NPR’s All Things Considered. Berkeley, California-based Madsen has penned 13 little excursions into 3/4 time with witty, tuneful, and deceptively simple sounds that seem to warrant hearing over and over again. The arrangements never involve more than seven players total and feature various winds and strings. Some of them reminded me of Alec Wilder’s Octets with piano instead of harpsichord, though the titles of the individual waltzes lack Wilder’s wit: Anna, Wedding Waltz, Far and Away, Five Lakes, The Old Vienna, Hans Is Happy, Eye of the Camel, Model A Waltz, Sentimental Rag, Greater Than the Earth, Iota, Tipsy Arabella, St. Agnes.
- John Sunier
Carla Lother – 100 Lovers; Chesky Records JD250 CD:
Lother is almost a Sara K. sound-alike. She has a Joni Mitchell style but with a softer smaller voice. Her style is rock ‘n’ roll, not really folk or country, but not really standard rock either. The title track is a catchy tune with good backing music and a nice poppy feel to it. On “Far Away” there is a violin playing through most of the song, and I started to have Kate Bush and Tori Amos flashbacks. Unfortunately, I doubt that Lother will ever get hit radio airplay. You might hear her on the local public radio station or as background music in some restaurant. If her music was around 25-30 years ago in the Rickee Lee Jones era, then you’d probably know her name, but these days, this type of music is just not all that popular. It’s a shame too, because the playing is more than competent, and Carla’s voice has an interesting/attractive quality to it. It’s great for easy listening, and worth checking out if that is what you like.
Sound quality is first-rate on this disc, and instruments just sound fantastic. It would make a good demo disc for auditioning speakers and components. No doubt it will become an audiophile favorite due to the recording quality. Songs included are: 100 Lovers; A Little Time; Far Away; Let’s Grow Old; Simply Put; False Fly; Hello It’s Me; You Never Can Begin It Too Soon; As I Rowed Out; Until I Met You; With You; Dream.