Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews, Part 1 of 2
Published on December 1, 2004
December 2004 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 – Columbia Legacy 2796-90840-2, (7-CD collectors’ package) ****:
This is the seventh in the Miles Davis Deluxe Box Series from Legacy – which has so far won nine Grammies. They have consisted of from three to seven CDs each. My personal favorite was the Complete Miles Davis and Gil Evans set, but other popular choices have been the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, the Complete In a Silent Way Sessions, and the Miles Davis & John Coltrane Columbia Recordings.
This new set from l963-64 covers the transition period from the quintet just after John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly left to just before the second great quintet. The very first CD is sort of a fill-in quintet, with British pianist-drummer Victor Feldman at the keyboard and George Coleman on tenor sax. The new bassist is Ron Carter, who stays with the quintet thru many changes now. Frank Butler is the drummer on his disc only, to be replaced by the very youthful Tony Williams – who like Carter also stays with the group into the great new quintet period. The eight tracks of this disc were also done in a studio whereas most of the rest of the tracks in the set were taped during live concerts, so that sets these tracks apart. There are many repeats of tunes in the set due to its nature – between discs one and two you will be hearing four iterations of Seven Steps to Heaven, which was one of Mile’s signature tunes at this time. The first session sounds fine until you progress thru the set to the last couple of discs and then you realize there’s a certain fire and spirit that is now heard, which was missing on the first disc’s session.
The set features eight never-before-released tracks and three of the tracks are heard in unedited form for the first time. The live concerts occur all around the world – Berlin, Tokyo, France, LA and New York. Bound with the sleeves holding the seven CDs is a 92-page booklet of notes and photos, including many not before published. Miles scholar Bob Blumenthal is the author of the extensive essay that follows Miles’ changes in the group and in his own solos from recording to recording. The notes and discs are bound with a lavish heavy brass binder that looks great, but I find it presents physical problems to reading the notes properly – it keeps wanting to spring shut! You’ll never accidentally rip any pages out, I can assure you.
The second disc, also a studio session, is the first appearance of another member to be part of the great quintet – pianist Herbie Hancock. He’s sort of feeling his way here but in later recordings shows his terrific chops and fine colors he adds to the group’s sound. Saxist Coleman remains with the group until the penultimate of the discs, when Sam Rivers replaces him. This concert from Tokyo has plenty of energy but Rivers doesn’t sound totally comfortable in the quintet. The last disc has him replaced by the superb Wayne Shorter, and now we have a quintet that really had it all together. Some of the tracks – such as So What and Milestones – sound right and tight for the first time. If you have the time and interest sample some of each disc you’ll have the same impression by the time you get to this point.
Sonically, the 24-bit remastering of the original tapes is a total success here. In comparison with some of the earlier Miles Davis stereo SACD reissues, I would say these CDs sound as good or perhaps better. There is great clarity and transparency, most of all on the studio dates but the concert recordings sound much better than most such live sessions. If you find a couple of the discs to have less impact and seemingly reduced clarity, it is probably because Discs 3 and 7 are entirely mono. The engineering credits say “Unknown;” perhaps if they knew who the engineer was they could inquire why six years after the introduction of the stereodisc they were still recording important concerts such as this in mono! (Although sometimes there was a stereo version, only in the intervening years it has disappeared; this happened to some of the masters in Fantasy Records’ vaults.) Still, this is another must-have for the avid Miles Davis collector (with $130 in the pocket to pay for it)..
- John Henry
Michael Davis – Trumpets Eleven (incl. Bobby Shew, Chuck Findley, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker, Eddie Henderson) – Composed, arranged & produced by Michael Davis – Hip-Bone Music 0103 ****:
And here we have another Davis – this one playing trombone, along with 11 friends who also call either trumpet or Flugelhorn their axe. I’ve always dug multiple-instrument aggregations such as this. Davis is a product of the Eastman School of Music and is a top sideman, both in the studio and with such stars as Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson. He currently plays in the horn section of the Rolling Stones. In addition to the 11 trumpets we have Davis’ occasional trombone, plus piano, bass and drums. Davis’ ten original numbers are a delight and that goes for his arrangements too. He created most of them especially as a fit for the particular personality of the trumpet player performing them. Some are surprisingly lyrical considering the heavy brass involved. The final tune is a duet for one trumpet and trombone – no rhythm section even; very nice. There’s photos of all the different trumpet players. The tunes are: Permit Required, C to Z, Blue Day, Brass Walk, Zona, San Jose, Big City, Cole Henry, Schapa, Family Tree.
- John Henry
Gerard D’Angelo Trio featuring Jay Anderson & Jeff Hirshfield – Not What My Hands Have Done – Mapleshade 08432 ****:
Pianist D’Angelo and his trio give us a program in the Bill Evans bag, though his style is also described as having echoes of McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Ravel. Those first two pianists are not among my favorites, but I liked D’Angelo’s thoughtful and sensitive interpretations – especially the Forlane – which if you know your French music is Ravel all the way. In fact the pianist is now working on an album entirely of jazz arrangements of classical tunes. Chopin is another influence on D’Angelo, which comes out a bit in the waltz-time I’ll Take Romance. Piano tone, as usual with Mapleshade, is very clean and present-sounding. Tunes: Who’s Kidding Who?, No Turn on Red, Heavy Blue, Forlane, I’ll Take Romance, One Shot Deal, La Pardida, Ballad for Frederick, Freshwater Girls, Funkalero, Mary’s Secret, Not What My Hands Have Done.
- John Henry
Bola Sete Live at Grace Cathedral, l976, San Francisco – Samba Moon Records 020401 ****:
Active in the San Francisco area during the 60s and 70s, Bola Seta is regarded by Carlos Santana as having been as important a guitarist as Segovia or Jimi Hendrix, and he was a major influence on Santana. He was heard on some of the most familiar melodies on the soundtrack to the film Black Orpheus, and recorded with Vince Guaraldi and others on the Fantasy label. He was one of the prime figures in disseminating bossa nova in North America. His widow Anne found this tape of a live solo benefit concert he gave in the wonderfully voluminous acoustics of Grace Cathedral in l976, and now others can appreciate his shining artistry. The CD is Enhanced and provides the sheet music to one of the selections (Guitar Lemento), as well as a photo gallery and the printed program for this concert. Just as he inspired Santana, Sete was inspired by Brazilian composer and guitarist Baden Powell, and plays two of his pieces in this concert. And quite a few of the titles are Sete originals: Program: Jongo, Gaucho/Meu Ogum, Carnival NIghts, Flamenco Fantasy, Ocean Waves, Jongada, O Astronauto, Vita Mondo Penba, Guitar Lamento, Tio George.
- John Henry
Joe Utterback, piano – Dr. Joe’s Jazz Gospel – JazzMuze CD204, 66:59 ****:
Another solo effort of a different sort. Utterback is an amazingly versatile pianist who has made many solo recordings. He grew up in Pentecostal churches and was music director for several evangelical churches in Kansas. He has written over 200 compositions, many of them based on spirituals and gospel songs. This program only has one of his originals, but all 16 tunes on it are terrific jazzed-up spirituals that will have your toe tapping. The notes say there was no editing or mastering. While I wonder how they got the CD pressed without mastering it, I guess the indication is that these are all super-fresh first takes! They are: Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, This is My Father’s World, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, Steal Away to Jesus, Precious Lord Take My Hand, The Old Rugged Cross, My Lord! What a Morning, Peace Will Come One Day, Deep River, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Savior Like a Shepherd I Lead Us, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
- John Henry
Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby – The Original Jam Sessions 1969 (with Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson, Eddie Harris, Les McCann, Ernie Watts, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander and others) – Concord Records CCD- 2257-2, ****:
These musicians were assembled and produced by Quincy Jones for the purpose of providing music for Cosby’s TV Show, which brought both Jones and Cosby to national prominence. Jones signed up some of the top artists in jazz and funk. The recordings were never intended for commercial release. They were taken from tape transfers copied from the originals which have long since been lost. One of the musicians describes how Cosby would walk into the studio, scat with some of the instruments and kid around with them. It was all very relaxed and loose.
There’s more gospel music here with Milt Jackson and Monty Alexander swinging the Hawkin’s Singers’ Oh Happy Day. The ten tracks open with the theme to Cosby’s Show, Hikky-Burr, and that tune closes out the tracks with Cosby doing the scatting. There’s a good feeling of fun about the whole scene. [There’s also a companion CD to this, issued at the same time - titled The New Mixes Vol. 1. Various mix-masters created new tracks from the Origin] Tracks: Hikky-Burr, Groovy Gravy, Oh Happy Day, Jimmy Colling on Top, Toe Jam, Jive Den, Eubie Walkin,’ Monty Is That You?, The Drawing Room, Hikky-Burr (vocals), Hikky-Burr Mix.
- John Henry
Enrico Rava – Easy Living (Rava, trumpet; Gianluca Petrella, trombone; Stefano Bollani, piano; Rosario Bonaccorso, doublebass; Roberto Gatto, drums) – ECM Records 1760, 54:44, ****:
Rava is one of the top trumpet players in modern music. Born in Trieste, he began on trombone in a New Orleans-tyle jazz band but after hearing a Chet Baker record switched to trumpet and Flugelhorn. He has performed on over 90 recordings, collaborated with avant classical composer Morton Feldman, and played with Gil Evans Carla Bley and Archive Shepp among others. In l993 Rava got much attention for an album arranging Italian opera favorites for a jazz band and symphony orchestra. He is adept at many different styles and even his most avant stuff is made more accessible by his rich and usually mellow trumpet sound. Lately Rava has been creating film scores, and although this is one of those frustrating ECM note booklets with great photos of the performers but absolutely no notes about them, it sounds as though a number of the eight original tracks here could be music for films. There is an introspective feeling about most of them. The exception to the originals is the most beautiful version I’ve heard of Lady Day’s classic Easy Living. A non-introspective treat is the tongue-in-cheek boogying of Algir Dalbuhi – makes you want to get out there and shake that burnoose. Tunes: Cromosomi, Drops, Sand, Easy Living, Algir Dalbughi, Blancasnow, Traveling Night, Hornette and the Drums Thing, Rain.
- John Henry