Jazz CD Reviews

Jazz CD Reviews


Published on June 1, 2004

June 2004
Newport Jazz Festival 50 Years set Various Artists – “Happy Birthday Newport: 50 Swinging Years!” 3CD box set – Columbia/Legacy C3K 89076 (release date: June 15):

What a package! This is really something unique. 28 tracks over a 50-year span, celebrating some of the major names in the world of jazz going all-out for enthusiastic audiences at Newport! All the selections were chosen personally by George Wein, who founded the festival in l954. He writes an introductory essay and notates each and every track in detail throughout the collection. Wein’s recollections add a welcome personal touch to each of the selections. Two never-before-released tracks are included: one by Miles and one by Chuck Berry. The booklet (they tell me, since I wasn’t furnished one with the advance discs) is full of rare and previously unpublished photos of the performers in action.

There were no jazz festivals in America at all before Newport and no annual jazz events elsewhere in the world. Jazz musicians were not an accepted part of society, especially Afro-American musicians. Today there are probably 1000 jazz festivals around the world and jazz players are beginning to get some financial and cultural respect. Newport was a beautiful place to hold the festival but it was a symbol of American wealth and privilege – the last location one would have expected for a jazz festival with mostly black musicians.

Since it began four years before the introduction of the stereodisc, the first of the three CDs and part of the second are just mono. But all the transfers are well done, and considering the many difficulties of obtaining good sound in a live concert situation – especially one where the mic setup has to be changed with each group – fidelity is quite good. Then of course there is the pizzazz of the live off-the-cuff performances, which few studio sessions can equal. Just a few of the tracks that stuck in my memory after a couple hearings of this superb set: Louis Armstrong singing Mack the Knife, the Ellington Band in Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue, Billie Holiday’s Lover Come Back to Me, Miles previously unreleased ‘Round Midnight, and The Thelonious Monk Quartet version of Blue Monk.

Tracks; DISC ONE: Armstrong: Tin Roof Blues, Mack the Knife; Eddie Condon: Bye An’ Bye; William the Lion Smith: Echoes of Spring; The Newport All-Stars: Just You, Just Me; Armstrong with Newport International Jazz Band: On the Sunny Side of the Street; Duke Ellington Orch.: Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue; Count Basie Orch.: one O’Clock Jump; Muddy Waters Band: Tiger in Your Tank; Chuck Berry: Sweet Little 16/Johnny B. Goode; DISC TWO: Buck Clayton All-Stars: Newport Jump; Ben Webster & Billy Strayhorn: Chelsea Bridge; Newport House Band: Undecided; Jazz at Carnegie Hall All-Stars: Avalon; Billie Holiday: Lover Come Back to Me; Dinah Washington: Back Water Blues; Ella Fitzgerald: Good Morning Heartache, I’ve Got a Crush on You; Mahalia Jackson: I’m Goin to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song; DISC THREE: Miles Davis: ‘Round Midnight; Jay & Kai: Lover Come Back to Me; Dizzy Gillespie Big Band: I Remember Clifford; Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jump for Joy; Sarah Vaughan: Black Coffee; Miles Davis Sextet: Fran Dance; Thelonious Monk Quartet with Pee Wee Russell: Blue Monk; John Coltrane Quartet: My Favorite Things; V.S.O.P. Quintet: Maiden Voyage.

- John Henry

Standards and Broadway showtune CDs from five songstresses …

Janis Siegel - sketches of B'day Janis Siegel – Sketches of Broadway – with Gil Goldstein, Keyboards / John Patitucci, Bass / Romero Lubambo, Acoustic and Electric Guitars / Antonio Sanchez, Drums / Stefon Harris, Vibes / Telarc CD-83597:

Janis Siegel is one quarter of the vocal supergroup Manhattan Transfer, and I’ve always loved her contributions to that quartet. With regard to this record – and regardless of how highly I hold her (and them) in esteem – and despite superb backing musicians and an excellent recording (as always) from Telarc, I can’t help but enlist the age-old adage of “the sum being greater than the parts” here. While I love the Manhattan Transfer, and I’ve even enjoyed some of her other solo releases of late, this one just strikes the wrong chord altogether. Her distinctive alto voice, which when combined with the remaining Transferees has always created such magic, just left me flat throughout this disc.

Even with the excellent supporting cast who play beautifully together on every track, the minute Ms. Siegel started singing, I found myself skipping to the next track, waiting for the magic to happen. It never did, and despite numerous attempts, I just can’t seem to get into this record. Recommended for diehard fans only.

Tracks: Show Me; Sorry-Grateful; It’s a Woman’s Prerogative; The Story of Lucy and Jessie; Born Too Late; Out of My Dreams/I Have Dreamed; I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning (And the Moon at Night); The Surrey With the Fringe On Top/Stoned Soul Picnic; It Never Was You; My Best Beau; Make Someone Happy.

- Tom Gibbs

Sally Stark sings Maxine Sullivan Sally Stark – Sings Maxine Sullivan – with Mike Abene, Piano / Chip Jackson, Bass / James Chirillo, Guitar / Dennis Mackrel, Drums / Michael Hashim, Sax / Warren Vaché, Trumpet / Sal Marg Records SS-001:

This first record from Sally Stark, whose background is predominantly Broadway and the cabarets, pays tribute to singer Maxine Sullivan, who enjoyed a number of hits from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s. Kudos to Ms. Stark for attempting to bring these rarely-heard songs to a wider audience.

The recording quality is superb – another first-class effort from a small independent label – and the backing musicians offer excellent support. The album starts off well, with swinging renditions of Someday Sweetheart and I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby. But when things start to slow down and we enter ballad territory, the albums greatest liability – Ms. Stark’s rather limited vocal range – comes into really sharp focus. While her voice is probably perfectly suited for the Broadway stage, there’s very little here to elevate these offerings above those of a host of other would-be chanteuses out there.

If you like the song selection, then by all means try and find the originals by Maxine Sullivan. Despite the age of most of the recordings, the sweetness of her voice adds so very much more to the listening experience.

You can sample this one at www.sallystark.com and then decide if it fits the bill – your mileage may vary.

Tracks: Someday Sweetheart; I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby; Restless; Spring Isn’t Everything; Massachusetts; Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now; Harlem Butterfly; It’s Crazy; A Hundred Years From Today; Loch Lomand.

- Tom Gibbs

Angela Hagenbach Angela Hagenbach – Poetry of Love – featuring Clark Terry, Trumpet / Jimmy Heath, Saxophone / Russel Malone, Guitar / James Williams, Piano / Amazon Records ARCD-2822:

This new album from Angela Hagenbach is without a doubt the most adventurous of any of the five vocalists reviewed here this month; both musically and stylistically, she at least (and more often than not, successfully) attempts to make the songs her own. And she cowrote the album’s three original tracks.

The stellar support from the likes of Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath and Russell Malone really helps lift this album. When it swings, especially on tunes such as Tell Me About It and Blues Are Brewin’, it really swings, and the first-rate accompaniment really complements Ms. Hagenbach’s smoky-sweet voice. Not everything works – credit Ms. Hagenbach for the effort on the three originals, but they really don’t fit the rest of the more straightforward jazz program and serve to disrupt the mood more than anything. Hey, even Diana Krall’s writing her own stuff nowadays, and the jury’s definitely still out there, too.

The album gets an A+ for recorded sound quality – Redbook CD just doesn’t get much better than this. Very impressive for a self-produced independent label, and very highly recommended!

Tracks: Tell Me All About It; I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me; Bittersweet; Never Let Me Go; Dark Dreams; Blues Are Brewin’; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; You Keep Calling Me; Watch What Happens; It Might As Well Be Spring.

- Tom Gibbs

Nicole Henry - Nearness of You Nicole Henry – The Nearness of You – with Mike Orta, Piano / Paul Shewchuk, Bass / Danny Burger, Drums / Banister Records BAN 2798:

Nicole Henry apparently is pretty well known around her native Miami area, and has done a fair amount of background singing for a variety of national acts and dance-music compilations. This disc is her first (and self-produced) solo effort; the recording quality is topnotch, and Ms. Henry sings with confidence and self-assuredness throughout.

Unfortunately, many of the standards presented here don’t really offer much that would give me a reason to reach for this disc over comparable offerings from a dozen other singers of the same oeuvre. So much of this ground has been covered way too often, so a new artist singing mostly standards better have something to say that distinguishes her from the crowd – and despite the good sonics, I just don’t hear much else here. A trip to her website, www.nicolehenry.com, yields mp3 samples of song selections – you can decide for yourself.

Tracks: Summertime; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine; Old Black Magic; The Nearness of You; Fly Me to the Moon; Get Here; You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; You’re Looking at Me; My Love; Somewhere Over the Rainbow; Cheek to Cheek; Imagine.

- Tom Gibbs

Karen Akers, vocalist Karen Akers – If We Only Have Love – with Don Rebic, Piano / DRG Records 91483:

Karen Akers got her start on Broadway (garnering a Tony nomination along the way), but more recently she’s been singing the cabaret circuit both here and abroad. Her song selection comprises mostly well-known showtunes, with a few personal favorites of hers from shows that didn’t spend much time on the Great White Way.

The recording quality is exemplary; Don Rebic’s piano sounds superb throughout the session – my problem with disc pretty much stems from Karen Akers singing. A trip to her website offers up quotes comparing her vocal instrument to Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s not too far from my impression – I just don’t think it works too well with the chosen material. Don’t get me wrong – I love both Piaf and Dietrich – I just don’t think there’s anything here that places Akers in the same company, vocally or stylistically. Unless you’re a diehard fan, I’d pass on this one.

Tracks: Patterns; A Sleepin’ Bee; Try To Remember; My Childhood; Send In The Clowns; My Husband Makes Movies; Be On Your Own; In A Very Unusual Way; I Know Him So Well/Anthem; Somewhere/I Have a Love; If We Only Have Love.

- Tom Gibbs

Greg Osby - Public Greg Osby, alto sax – Public (With Nicholas Payton, Trumpet; Megumi Yonezawa, piano; Robert Hurst, bass; Rodney Green, drums; Joan Osborne, vocal on Lover Man) – Blue Note CD 7087 6 18331 2 6: (Release date: June 1)

Osby is one of those young players who has experimented with angular, abrasive styles of jazz incorporating rap and hip-hop, but since signing with Blue Note has been working in a more conventional genre of acoustic jazz. He retains the edgy style and in fact is most loft-jazz-leaning saxist I can still listen to enjoyably. He’s played with artists with similar leanings, such as pianist Jason Moran and vibist Stefon Harris. The pianist on this new release is unknown to me but sounds like a voice to be reckoned with. Payton is one of the best younger trumpet players today and shines on four of the seven tracks here. Their sound strikes me as a sort of “bebop brought into the 21st century.” The meaning/derivation of the album title is unclear since no notes were provided with the advance disc. (The disc features “Copy Control Technology” – guess Blue Note no longer trusts its reviewers – but at least it played on most of my players.) Tracks: Rising Sign, Summertime, Visitation, Bernie’s Tune, Equalatogram, Shaw ‘Nuff, Lover Man

Jo Lovano, tenor sax - I'mAll for You Joe Lovano, tenor sax – I’m All For You (with Hank Jones, piano; George Miraz, bass; Paul Motian, drums & cymbals) – Blue Note 7087 6 18282 2 1:

Anything saxist Lovano would come out with after his unique Caruso album would seem of lesser interest, but this one proves good listening to some good bebop. With these three other longtime jazz masters at his side this nine-tune session simply couldn’t lose. When originally with the Mel Lewis Orchestra or with Carla Bley and Charlie Haden, Lovano used to play the entire gamut of reed instruments, but now he concentrates on tenor with his own groups. His duo sessions have been first rate and he’s working on a “third-stream” big band project with Gunther Schuller, but Lovano sounds super-comfortable in the familiar quartet environment. Tracks: I’m All for You, Don’t Blame Me, Monk’s Mood, The Summary, Stella by Starlight, I Waited for You, Like Someone in Love, Early Autumn, Countdown

- John Henry

Yoko Miwa Trio The Yoko Miwa Trio – Fadeless Flower (Miwa, piano; Greg Loughman, bass; Scott Goulding, drums) – Polystar P.J.L. MTCJ-3009: (Release date: June 15)

Another outstanding Japanese female jazz piano star is with us, hard on the heels of the phenomenal Hiromi (reviewed twice here last month). This is already the second album as leader for Ms. Miwa, who began her studies with the father of famed jazz pianist Makoto Ozone, and has served as accompanist to vocalist Kevin Mahogany. In 2001 she was a featured performer at the Kennedy Center’s “Mary Lou William’s Women in Jazz Festival.” All nine tracks here are her originals and each has a song-like sense about them that seem to perfectly fit the album’s titled Fadeless Flower – which is also a waltz-tempo tune on the album. She observes, “I’m always trying to sing when I play a solo, I mean sing through my piano phrasing.” Her trio members support her effectively by avoiding overstating their parts – especially the tasteful drummer. Not all the tunes are so lyrical however; some are straight-ahead swingers with some active bluesy left-hand chording. Her clean and singing sound is beautifully transmitted by the high quality recording on this new-to-me Japanese label.

- John Henry

Peter Malinverni, piano Pete Malinverni, piano – The Tempest (with Dennis Irwin, bass; Leroy Williams, drums) – Reservoir Music RSR CD 177:

Another exceptional jazz pianist who’s new to my ears although he has seven discs as leader under his belt. He teaches on the jazz faculties of both NYU and the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music. But his most unusual gig is being for a dozen years now the minister of music at the predominantly Afro-American Devoe Street Baptist Church in Brooklyn, where he composes for and directs the gospel choir and jazz ensemble. The album’s title tune and two other tracks are by Malinverni and his interpretations of the seven standards are varied and imaginative. With drummer Williams he drives Get Happy at a furious pace, and reprises his first version of Alone Together five tracks later with a totally different take on the standard. Altogether an apex of piano trio playing. Tracks are: The Tempest, My Heart Stood Still, Let the Sea Roar, Alone Together, Twelve, Get Happy, My Ideal, From This Moment On, Alone Together, It Could Happen to You

- John Henry

Stefon Harris & Blackout CD Stefon Harris & Blackout – Evolution (Harris, vibes & marimba; Casey Benjamin, alto sax; Marc Cary, keyboards; Darryl Hall, acoustic bass; Terreon Gully, drums) – Blue Note 97353:

Harris is the most interesting newer star on vibes. His albums have shown a fascinating balance of highly intellectual approaches together with strong blues and R&B influences. His quintet is rounded out with guests Anne Drummond on flutes on six of the 11 tracks, percussionist/vocalist Pedro Martinez also on six tracks, and Xavier Davis replacing his keyboardist on two of the tracks. Four Harris originals are in the set and tunes from Gershwin, Hall & Oats, Sting, and Bobby Hutcherson are among the others. I dig the sound of flute and marimba or vibes – in evidence on many of the tracks here. Tracks: Nothing Personal, For Him for Her, Until, Red-Bone Netti-Bone, A Touch of Grace, Summertime, Blackout, The Lost Ones, King Tut’s Strut, Message to Mankind, Montara

- John Henry

Jann Rutherford, piano - scented garden Jann Rutherford, piano – The Scented Garden (with Paul Cutlan, saxes; Roger Manins, tenor sax; Craig Scott, bass; Dave Goodman, drums) – Tall Poppies Records TP163 [www.tallpoppies.au.nu]:

This CD from New Zealand pianist-composer Rutherford has a very moving story behind it but that’s not the main reason you should hear this magnificent collection of lyrical and impressionistic jazz-flavored works. It is obvious from hearing the music that Rutherford comes out of a classical background. She later studied jazz and had her own trios and quartets. In l993 she was nominated for an award as Most Outstanding Australian Female Jazz Musician. This was her second album as leader and she recorded her 11 tunes with her quartet enlarged with saxist Manins on tenor. She summoned the strength and determination to make the album because two months later she died of cancer at age 38. This is generally gentle and beautifully melodic music, although a couple tracks do verge on harder bop style. A couple of the tracks are just duos for one of the saxes and piano, sounding like French classical music for sax and piano. The chamber music feeling is much stronger in this CD than the jazz quintet feeling. And most of the tracks are seven or eight minutes, allowing plenty of time for a feeling of improvisation and development. I was occasionally reminded of Alex Wilder’s Octets. Probably not easy to find this disc, so visit their web site.

- John Henry




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