Jazz CDs, Pt. 2 - April 2003

Stefon Harris, vibes - The Grand Unification Theory - Blue Note 32498:

Harris has made quite a splash with his earlier small-group recordings, showing plenty of promise as the leading young upstart vibist. Which is nice since we’re lost some of the oldest-generation masters such as Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson. This is his first large-group effort, with a dozen players and entirely original music from his own pen. Harris certainly can’t be accused of thinking too small - his 11-movement suite is based on the Big Bang Theory of physics. It asserts that the four major forces in the universe - gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear - are actually all the same force but acting at different energy levels. Harris says the various movements express varying elements of his life.

One listening shows that Harris’ life doesn’t consist of sitting around thinking about arcane theories: For example, The Velvet Couch is a down and-dirty soul-jazz excursion - with a catchier melodic hook than much of the rest of the suite, which sometimes ventures into dissonance. Some sections are in a Latin bag, while others partake of African chants and drum rhythms, and there’s a few really wailing blues. Harris’ orchestration talents may be more advanced than his compositional acumen - there are splendid textures of brass vs. woodwinds behind his soaring vibe solos. Contributions to the often sensual sounds come from Harris switching occasionally to the marimba, the presence of a flute in the ensemble, and the percussion lineup including a symphonic tympani. Listing the tracks won’t mean much, what with titles like “Morph,” “Rebirth,” and “Intro to Epilogue.” Purchase Here

- John Henry

Jane Bunnett - Cuban Odyssey - Blue Note 41992:

Toronto-based flutist-saxist Bunnett and her trumpeter husband Larry Cramer have been carrying on a continuing cross-cultural musical exchange with Cuba for 20 years now - oddly without the media attention that Ry Cooder’s recent efforts have received. Bunnett has a strong affinity for the folk melodies and rhythms of the island and has been recording with both legendary and new Cuban musicians. Her album of some years back soloing on flute: “Jane Bunnett & The Cuban Piano Masters” (World-Pacific) is one of my personal favorites. The new CD differs from her previous explorations of Cuban music because they ventured outside Havana into the various provinces, which each have their own styles of son, danzon, bolero and other folk forms. Even though the musicians are from outside of Havana, the level of musicianship is high - probably due to there being 25 music conservatories around the country. The 11 tracks are less jazz-flavored than her previous albums; closer to the Buena Vista Social Club sound but more diverse. One of the three ensembles with which she performs is just bare-bones drums and voices. Purchase Here

- John Henry

John Pizzarelli Trio - Live at Birdland - Telarc Jazz 2CD-83577:

I have to admit when Bucky Pizzarelli’s son first began to concentrate on being a vocalist I decried the loss of a terrific family jazz guitar duo, just as I had wished George Benson never started singing and fans of the unique jazz piano stylings of Nat Cole were probably sorry he became a singer. Now after spending two hours and 12 minutes with John and his Trio I take it all back - he’s wonderful, quite an entertainer. I was amazed to see this album celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of his Trio, and he’s obviously got both his singing - and on the several instrumental solos his guitar-picking - honed to high perfection. Not to mention his running commentary and stories between tunes, which really is a delight and not the usual Vegas-style stuff. Finding some original Gershwin scores at the Library of Congress, Dizzy Gillespie and Rosemary Clooney are among his story subjects, and he does some short and effective impersonations of fellow singers. His sparkling pianist is Ray Kennedy, who does some fine arrangements, and I presume bassist Martin Pizzarelli is his brother. Piazzarelli’s light, casual, and non-theatrical singing style has echos for me of Michael Franks, Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg. But the ladies will probably find him sexier than any of those. He doesn’t write a lot of tunes though, as do the above; a long paean to New Jersey and a short one to Rhode Island are his major works here.

Including the tracks for the frequent stories, there are 36 tracks on these two CDs. The tunes are: Just You Just Me, The Frim Fram Sauce, The Song is You, Isn’t It a Pity?, Rhode Island, Gospel Truth, Tea for Tatum, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Mean Old Man, Manhattan, Moonlight Becomes You, Will You Still Be Mine?, Three Little Words, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Oh How My Heart Beats for You, The Day I Found You, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Better Run Before It’s Spring, Headed Out to Vera’s, Medley, I Like Jersey Best, My Castle’s Rockin,’ Baby Just Come Home to Me. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Brother Jack McDuff - The Best of the Concord Years - Concord Jazz CCD2 2171-2 (2 CDs):

B3 giant Jack McDuff died at the age of 74 a couple years, and Concord has put together this collection of 18 of his best sides as tribute. They range back to l992 and include not only his own hot little band but such guest lights as George Benson, Gene Harris, Red Holloway, Pat Martino, Grady Tate and fellow B3-er Joey DeFrancesco. McDuff always strove to keep it simple and funky - James Brown was one of his heros. The blues was the strong element of his style and the basic B3 combo of organ, guitar, and drums was at the heart of his bands. DeFrancesco is greatly influenced by McDuff’s approach and one of the tracks, from the l996 Concord Jazz Festival, is a battle of the B3s with both keyboardists. Some tracks show a strong gospel music influence and McDuff didn’t rule out pop music such as the Mission: Impossible theme. With the many different session sources, this album has a much more varied sound than his previous complete albums. And the sonic quality of CD mastering has improved in the past decade as well. Well-recorded B3s prove that it isn’t only pipe organ that can rattle those home theater subwoofers! Purchase Here

- John Henry

The Dixieland Ramblers - Live and Lighting It Up in New Orleans - Summit Records DCD 350:

While the Dixieland Ramblers specialize in concise ensemble interplay on the traditional New Orleans favorites, they branch out on this live session into more straight-ahead jazz circles. Actually it wasn’t even recorded in New Orleans proper but across the river in the town of Algiers, LA, following a recording session in a N.O. studio earlier that same day. Just like the heyday of trad jazz in the river city, these musicians just can’t stop. And this sextet is good! The larger framework adds a lot of interest; tunes such as the classic bit of exotica Hindustan take on more of a small group swing sound than Dixieland, which is fine with me. The band obviously had a ball and so will you. Tracks: Hindustan, Milneburg Joys, Chinatown My Chinatown, I’m Confessin,’ Muskrat Ramble, That’s-a Plenty, Royal Garden Blues, Clarinet Marmalade, Basin Street Blues, Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? Purchase Here

- John Henry

Hiromi - Another Mind (piano - with Mitch Cohn, bass; Dave DiCenso, drums; guests: Anthony Jackson, bass; Jim Odgren, alto sax; Dave Fiuczynski, guitar) - Telarc Jazz CD-83558:

This wasn’t at all what I had expected. I failed to notice it was a Telarc Jazz release and from the cover art expected some typical Japanese New Age piano meanderings that I would probably be pressing the Open button on halfway thru. Was I wrong! Hiromi Uehara is an important new jazz keyboard prodigy of great originality. She entered the Yamaha Music School when she was only six and doesn’t look much over 16 now. He has already toured the world and been mentored by both Oscar Peterson and Ahmed Jamal, and she deserves it. The nine tracks here are all her originals, and they range from lightly swinging tuneful numbers thru driving straight ahead jazz to Cecil Taylor-like keyboard fullscale attacks. Wow! I’m floored. Tracks: XYZ, Double Personality, Summer Rain, Joy, 010101, Truth and Lies, Dancando No Paraiso, Another Mind, The Tom and Jerry Show. Purchase Here

Here are reissues of two favorites of Marian McPartland’s long-running NPR radio series Piano Jazz...

Dave Brubeck, guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz - the Jazz Alliance TJA-12043-2:
Dizzy Gillespie, guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz - the Jazz Alliance TJA-12042-2:

McPartland, probably the premiere female jazz pianist playing today,has been hosting her weekly Piano Jazz radio series for over 20 years now and has had as guests just about all the well-known keyboardists and many newer names. Some time ago she also branched out into other instrumentalists and singers. Many of the best broadcasts are available from the Jazz Alliance, which is associated with Concord Jazz. These recent reissues have been re-mastered and the sound is cleaner than on the original series.

The Brubeck visit dates from 1984, and the warm and personalable style of conversation heard on all the programs is immediately noticed. McPartland elicits a short overview of Brubeck’s career, which began with studies with composer Darius Milhaud. The conversation is balanced by the music on the program, as Dave solos in some of his works, including a very classical Polytonal Blues. There is also generally one McPartland solo - and it is normally one of her own compositions. The highlights of nearly every program are the two-piano efforts played with the guest pianist. In the Brubeck hour the two play six duets, including a rollicking St. Louis Blues. McPartland always identifies which performer is heard on the right channel and which on the left. Great music and great conversation.

Dizzy Gillespie was always a great pianist as well as Flugelhorn virtuoso, which most of his fans may not know. He even did at least one all-piano album. Now that he’s gone he is best remembered for having changed the course of jazz. His witty and ebullient personality is a fine match for McPartland on this show from l985, and before long Diz is taking the role of instructor and teaching Marian (and us) his unique method of giving forward momentum to chord progressions and how to develop good rhythms. In between the lessons and the fun conversation the two pianists do five duos, including a lovely ‘Round Midnight. They are not all two pianos - on two of them Diz picks up his trumpet and joins Marian on In a Mellow Tone, followed by Lullaby of the Leaves. If you dig either of these, the recent Piano Jazz reissue series also includes programs with Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Carmen McRae. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Trumpet and French horn are in the spotlight on our last two jazz discs this month...
Greg Glassman Quartet - Onward and Upward (Glassman, trumpet; Dave Pier, keyboards; Danton Boller, bass; Quincy Davis, drums; guests: Donald Walden, tenor sax; Bryan Carrott, vibes) Soluna Records SOL302022:

NYC Trumpeter Glassman is only 25, has studied with Roland Hanna and Antonio Hart and played with Roswell Rudd, Wynton Marsalis and other top names. His quartet does a weekly jam session at an East Village hangout. Six of the nine tunes here are by Glassman and he also did all the arrangements. He has a pleasing tone and delivery and the rhythmic element is especially strong in most of the music. This might be due to his having performed and recorded in many other genres outside of jazz, including hip-hop, ska, reggae, soul and Latin music. The repertory is right up to the minute, but stops short of the loft-jazz area and remains strongly tonal. Glassman is surely one of the up and coming young jazz lions. Saxist Walden guests on two tracks and vibist Carrott on two others. Tracks are: Lenox Avenue, May Day, TGV, Tashi, Man Among Men, War and Peace, Rowe Chapel Hymn, Middle Passage, If I Had You.

John Graas, Fr. horn - “International Premiere in Jazz” - West Coast All Star Ninetet in Jazz Chaconne No. 1; German Festival Sym. Orch. plus guests from The Erwin Lehn Band in Jazz Symphony No. 1 - Andex/V.S.O.P. 65CD (mono):

There haven’t been very many jazz French horn players. The instrument is difficult enough on which to play classical, let alone the challenges of jazz improvisation! Graas was one of the best, and in l958 recorded his two works which are really not horn concertos but in which his voice is just one of the ensemble. The Ninetet personnel reads like a roll call of West Coast jazz players of the era: Art Pepper, Jack Sheldon, Bob Enevoldsen, Buddy Collette, Bill Perkins, Red Mitchell among them. The Chaconne is in three movements with plenty of almost Bachian counterpoint. The attractive classical/jazz chamber texture reminds me of some other works of the same period such as “Adoration of the Muses.”

The Jazz Symphony is a similar work on a larger scale which develops Graas’ lovely melodies more extensively than does the Chaconne. A septet of jazz soloists provide the “concertino” vs. the full symphony orchestra behind them. Both of these works have long struck me as some of the most successful “third stream” music penned - long before the term was used. My LP of both has been with me all these years and is fairly scratchy by now. What I didn’t notice was the distortion on the second side containing the Jazz Symphony which is definitely hearable on this reissue CD. Perhaps the surface noise obscured it, or it is due to deterioration of the master tape over the ensuing years. The additional available time on the CD allowed for the inclusion of tour alternate takes from the Jazz Chaconne studio session. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Back to Top of This Page

Return to the Home Page for This Month

To Index of CD Reviews for month