Jazz CD Reviews

Jazz CD Reviews


Published on April 1, 2004


JOHN SURMAN Selected Recordings 1976-99 = Druid’s Circle, Number Six, Portrait of a Romantic, Ogeda, The Returning Exile, Edges of Illusion, The Buccaneers, The Snooper, Mountainscape VIII, Figfoot, Piperspool, Gone to the Dogs, Stone Flower – ECM :rarum XIII B0001803-02:

EBERHARD WEBER Selected Recordings 1974-2000 = Nimbus, The Shopper, Oasis, Silent Feet, Fluid Rustle, Maurizius, Gesture, Closing Scene, Her Wild Ways, French Diary – ECM :rarum XVIII B0001804-02:

While cynics might see the :rarum series is a thinly-disguised ploy to re-release old recordings from the ECM catalog without having to spend anything on new recording sessions and thereby cleaning up, they would be wrong. That’s the sort of thing the major labels do all the time. Manfred Eicher, who started this unique modern jazz label over three decades ago, didn’t dictate what selections were to be on each disc. Instead the artists involved chose the tracks themselves to represent what they felt was their best work over the years. The versatility and breadth of each musician is displayed in the very best light, using the latest mastering techniques for best possible fidelity. 20 artists from the ECM catalog are surveyed in this series so far – players who have left their highly individual mark on modern jazz/contemporary music today. Keith Jarrett is probably their biggest seller but others in the series I didn’t sample in this form include Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and Dave Holland.

New matching and very simple artwork has been selected for the series. A new booklet accompanies each disc, usually with notes by the performer and new photos. There is also a detailed list of all performers on each track, when it was recorded, and which ECM album includes it. Most of the discs run 70 minutes or more. Surman is an amazingly versatile composer/performer. He excels on every possible red instrument, plus recorder, synthesizer and keyboards. His work with the lower-pitched instruments such as baritone sax and bass clarinet have long caught my ears. In his self-chosen collection he is heard solo, with his trio, with the Nordic Quartet, The Brass Project, with Bley/Peacock & Oxley, with Miroslav Vitous’ group and the John Abercrombie Trio. He can be heard in various guises on over 30 discs in the ECM catalog. My favorite on his :rarum CD is probably the ten-minute unaccompanied display of his prowess on various clarinets, saxes and synthesizers dubbed Edges of Illusion.

Eberhard Weber is one of the most imaginative and resourceful bassists around, and he also plays cello. He often plays an electric upright bass and his first big ECM album was The Colours of Chloe, which he bypassed selecting from for this collection. He felt his Silent Feet better represented the period of the late 70s and early 80s. It is 12 minutes long and he says it demonstrates a quality of patience performers and listeners then had which is disappearing today. Among Weber’s cohorts on the anthology are soprano saxist Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Ralph Towner and Pat Metheny.

CARLA BLEY Selected Recordings 1961-99 = Baseball, Major, End of Vienna, Chicken, On the Stage in Cages, Fleur Carnivore, More Brahms, Walking Batteriewoman, Silence, Shy, Ictus – ECM :rarum XV B0001795-02:

Carla Bley is another original in the ECM stables; she also records for her own sub-label of ECM, WATT. Now in her 60s she still maintains the wild mop of blondish hair that is her trademark. She’s a whiz of a pianist and B3 player and self-taught as a composer, which probably helps in her highly individual sound. She has led many different ensembles, ranging from duos to very big bands. I was surprised to find that she was the composer of some of the unique chamber jazz pieces for clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre in the early 60s – one closes this collection which she chose. Giuffre’s pianist at the time was Carla’s first husband Paul Bley. Present husband Steve Swallow is a mainstay on bass in all her ensembles. Trumpeter Michael Mantler (hubby No. 2) was heard on earlier Bley sessions; the lead trumpet lately has been Lew Soloff. Bley helped found the watershed Jazz Composers Orchestra and was the co-composer on their l971 album Escalator Over the Hill. My fav track on the anthology is the 1998 Fleur Carnivore, which emulates some of Gil Evans’ instrumentation with the presence of French horn, tuba, and baritone sax in the ensemble. Her daughter Karen Mantler plays B3 on this track. Some ECM artists occasionally get dinged by critics for sounding creative but somewhat bloodless. Not Carla.

- John Henry

A pair of pianists to watch/listen to…

Bill Charlap Trio – Somewhere [The Songs of Leonard Bernstein] (with Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums) – Blue Note 94807:

Pianist Charlap’s last Blue Note disc was all Hoagy Carmichael tunes, and for this outing he’s selected the wonderful legacy Bernstein left to the pop and show-music worlds. He says “Bernstein represents the theater, the classical establishment, America, and – more than anything else – New York.” This ties in perfectly with the pianist’s own background, because his father Moose Charlap was a Broadway composer who contributed to, among other shows, Peter Pan. It’s difficult to fall flat doing new arrangements of such great Bernstein tunes, just as with the many different takes on Lennon-McCartney tunes. However, it does take a great deal of sensitivity and respect to come up with something really original on these familiar tunes. Charlap and his cohorts have done it. For example, the big number for the soprano in his operetta Candide – Glitter and Be Gay. Instead of pointing up the humorous contrast between the singer’s lament and the gaiety part, Charlap stress the strong lyrical side for the whole of the tune. Of course there are several West Side Story songs but Wonderful Town and On The Town garner a half dozen tracks between them. Tracks: Cool, Lucky to Be Me, It’s Love, Lonely Town, Jump, Some Other Time, Glitter and Be Gay, A Quiet Girl, Big Stuff, America, Ohio, Somewhere

- John Henry

Brad Mehldau Trio – Anything Goes (with Larry Grenadier, bass; Jorge Rossy, drums) – Warner Bros.48608-2:

In his latest effort Mehldau shows why he has been called the most interesting younger jazz pianist around today. He’s had Grammy nominations, and Jazz Times readers named him Best New Artist. He doesn’t do anything wildly different, but somehow brings a fresh and original sound to the standards from the Great American Songbook and an even fresher view of the offbeat tune choices that spice up his repertory. (That’s probably the meaning of the album’s title.) There’s a Radiohead song here, a Paul Simon song, a nearly unknown Monk tune and the exotically Latin Tres Palabras by Osvaldo Farres. One of the three ballads in the album is the closing heartfelt version of I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
Tracks: Get Happy, Dreamsville, Anything Goes, Tres Palabras, Skippy, Nearness of You, Still Crazy After All These Years, Everything In Its Right Place, Smile, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face

- John Henry

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – Masterpieces by Ellington – Columbia Legacy CK 87043:

This is one of a series of three new Ellington reissues which bring back for the 30th anniversary of his passing great recordings he made early in the era of the LP. This one was issued in l951 with the same title, and the original liner notes pointed out that not much in the pop music world gets referred to as being a masterpiece, but there are many selections in the output of this jazz immortal which easily qualify for that name. The recordings were all made at Columbia’s 30th Street studios in NYC and of course are just in mono. These new remasterings are a revelation – both musically and sonically. For me the 12-minute-long The Tattooed Bride was an exotic new item in the huge Ellington catalog. The LP furnished an exciting opportunity for Ellington to show off his full-length concert arrangements, which heretofore had been truncated to eight minutes or less to fit on both sides of a 12-inch 78rpm disc.

However, I have to correct the booklet and publicity liner notes which say that this allowed the composer and his orchestra to take full advantage for the first time of the possibilities of extended high-fidelity performances. Ellington had already taken advantage of that – in fact in even higher fidelity: in stereo! (that’s another story with no space to tell right here) – back in l932 when RCA debuted their short-lived long play records. The original four long tracks are rounded out with three short bonus tracks recorded about the same time. Following these sessions there were some major staff changes in the band, so the recordings preserves an important part of the Ellington saga. Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Cat Anderson and Ray Nance were among the top personnel. Tracks: Mood Indigo; Sophisticated Lady; The Tattooed Bride; Solitude; Vagabonds; Smada; Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note

- John Henry

A couple of other big bands on the bandstand next…

The Mike Vax Big Band featuring Alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra – Live…On the Road – Summit Records DCD 356:

They were only on the road for two weeks, but then this is 2004, not 1946. Things have changed a bit. The love and admiration leader/trumpet/Flugelhorn player Mike Vax and his retinue have for Stan Kenton hasn’t changed, and that is what fuels this hot big band playing in the Kenton style. How close to the original Kenton sound? Well, one observer stated of the trumpet section: “They could peel off that old wallpaper you need removed in your home.” 14 tracks here, many arranged by such as Bill Holman and Dee Barton. Their version of MacArthur Park reminded me of another past band which emulated the Kenton style in many ways – Don Ellis. The live performances were recorded at five different locations on their tour, but the sound is consistently excellent and full of that hot brass impact. Tunes: Speak Low; Here’s That Rainy Day; Nada Mas; Stompin’ at the Savoy; Everything Happens to Me; Sunrise Lady; Theme & Variations; Big Sur; Circe; MacArthur Park; I Remember You; Espania; Fall Ascending; Eager Beaver.

The Bob Florence Limited Edition – Whatever Bubbles Up – Summit Records DCD 360:

Nope, no Laurence Welk re-creations here, whatever the associations of Bob Florence title tune on this CD. Just some swinging and original-sounding music and arrangements from a multitalented musician who has been a composer, arranger, bandleader, keyboardist, accompanist and jazz educator. Five of the eight tracks are Florence originals and they are not diminished one bit by being cheek-and-jowl to a pair of Billy Strayhorns and the strong Livingston & Evans song Never Let Me Go. He wrote the opening Dukeisms to honor the 100th anniversary of Ellington’s birth. Bob started his career with Harry James, worked for Louis Bellson and Si Zentner, plus arranged and accompanied for Julie Andrews and Vikki Carr. They may not be playing all that many one-night stands anymore or touring the U.S. for months on end, but the musicians in this band are obviously here because they love it and the results do sound like it. Tracks: Dukeisms, Nerve Endings, Chelsea Bridge, Running With Scissors, Kissing Bug, Never Let Me Go, Q & A, Whatever Bubbles Up

- John Henry

We travel to Montreux, Switzerland for the source of most of the next pair of discs…
Gary Burton – Alone at Last – Atlantic/Collectables COL-CD-6360:

Having just heard Burton live from the front row a few months ago it was a pleasure to hear this reissue of his 1971 solo effort. It really puts the spotlight on his versatile vibes talents. He plays not just vibes but also piano, electric piano and organ on some tracks. The initial three tracks were taped at the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival and the rest in a NYC studio. the opening medley of two tunes is by Keith Jarrett, there are three tunes from bassist Steve Swallow (now with Carla Bley) and only one original by Burton. The number Hullo Bolinas remembers the quirky little West Marin village north of SF that kept getting in the news for its insular residents stealing the signs identifying the road that led to it. Solo piano can be a challenge, but solo vibes even more so; yet one never feels anything is missing here. I don’t recall many solo vibes releases in the past. It’s a kick to have this one available again. Should be in the stores, but if not try the label’s web site at www.oldies.com Tracks: Moonchild/In Your Quiet Place; Green Mountains/Arise, Her Eyes; The Sunset Bell; Hand Bags and Glad Rags; Hullo, Bolinas; General Mojo’s Well-Laid Plan; No More Blues

- John Henry

Ray Bryant Alone at Montreux – Alone at Montreux – Atlantic/Collectables COL-CD-6364:

We visit the jazz festival of the following year sonically for another great musician who is featured all alone. Pianist Bryant has a wonderfully rich and swinging style with just the right amount of soul and the funky for my taste. He can play with both hands and gets a lot of sound out of those 88 keys. He reminded me on several tunes of Les McCann Jr. Two of the 11 tracks start out with folk and classical themes respectively – Greensleeves and a rousing closing boogie-woogie on Liszt’s Liebestraum, and five are his originals. His original Cubano Chant was a favorite of Dizzy Gillispie’s. The audience is clearly supportive in these live recordings (in fact they wig out!) and the sound is fine; Ah guess ya could say I really take a cotton to the collectable. ‘Spect to be digging it often. Matter of fact I’ll listen to it again right now… Tracks: Gotta Travel On, Blues #3/Willow Weep for Me, Cubano Chant, Rockin’ Chair, After Hours, Slow Freight, Greensleeves, Little Susie, Until It’s Time for You to Go, Blues #2, Liebestraum Boogie

- John Henry

Nestor Torres, flute – Sin Palabras (Without Words) – Heads Up HUCD 3081:

Torres is a Florida-based Puerto Rican jazz/latin flutist who has recorded many albums previously. One reviewer dubbed him a meditative, post-New Age player. Some of these 11 tracks are not quite so meditative but they’re all first rate. Besides flute and alto flute, Torres does the vocals on some tracks. For those fans of jazz flutists of the 50s and 60s, these arrangements will sound richer and more influenced by soul music and electronics. There are three different guest musicians contributing to the keyboards and synth programming, led by James Lloyd of Pieces of a Dream. Jimmy Haslip of Yellowjackets guests on two tracks on bass and vocals. Tunes are: Sin Palabras, Labios Dulzes, Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere, Pura Brisa, Maybe Tonight, Contigo Aprendi, Gypsy Dancer, Crystal Raindrops, Stop Staring, Piper Dance, No Worries

- John Henry

OK, not jazz but we’re got to cover this great album someplace, right?…
Gipsy Kings – Roots – Nonesuch 79841-2:

Everybody in popular and folk music seems to be getting back to their roots lately. The Gipsy Kings are part of the movement. They left their primary base in Paris and moved into a stone villa in a small village in the south of France, where they set up a stripped-down recording studio and worked on this album. It’s an acoustic album, leaving behind their drum kit, synths and electric bas and going back more strongly to the cante jondo Flamenco origins of their birthright. (They hail from gypsy settlements in Arles and Montpelier.) They brought in two guests – percussion Cyro Baptista and the Band’s former accordionist Garth Hudson. Guitarist/singer Andre Reyes says “We played just like we do in gypsy camps, improvising around a fire in a circle with the guitar player, palmas (hand claps), and singers.” The lead singer Nicolas Reyes is a cousin of Manitas de Plata – who sold millions of Flamenco recordings in the 60s and 70s. The New Flamenco of Paco de Lucia is a big influence in the special sound of the group. Another famous guitarist’s influence is reflected in the inclusion here of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages.” The Gipsy Kings are the best-selling French band in history and have sold more the 14 million albums worldwide since their hit single “Bamboleo” came out in l987. If you think you can make sense of the French lyrics forget it; they sing in the Gypsy dialect of gitane.

Tracks: Aven Aven, Legende, Fandango, Bolerias, Rhythmic, Como Siento Yo, Amigo, Tarantas, Fandango, Boogie, Nuages, Como Ayer, Soledad, Tampa, Hermanos, Petite Noya

- John Henry




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