Jazz CDs, Pt. 2 - December 2001

MILES DAVIS - The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions - 3 CDs in a deluxe boxed set - Columbia Legacy C3K 65362:

Another Miles boxed set, complete with a thick bound booklet of notes and session photos and slots to hold the CDs 78-rpm album style, similar to the Miles/Gil Evans set of a couple years back. The CDs chronicle the trumpet star's journey from strictly acoustic music to the electric/funk/fusion style which jelled with the startling new sound of his Bitches Brew album. At the beginning of this six-month period Miles had the Shorter Hancock-Carter-Williams quintet and by the end he was on his own with his new sound explorations. Among the album titles covered are Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Water Babies, Circle in the Round and Directions. The 96-page booklet and whole production was co-produced by Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records, so you can be sure the information is accurately presented and the 24-bit digital remastering gets the utmost fidelity out of the historic masters in the vaults.

1969 was a troubled time in the U.S. - Vietnam, Nixon, protests. As Bob Belden states in his booklet notes, "The whole world was watching. And the whole jazz world was watching Miles." His departure from three and four-minute tunes to lengthy textural improvisations that allowed for plenty of solos turned some people off. They accused him of selling out to please the Columbia Record execs, but he was really finding his own special groove - one that would integrate jazz, soul, funk and rock. The overall name for this period of great transition and for one famous album in particular is In a Silent Way - it was actually a composition by pianist Joe Zawinul recalling his childhood and family in his birthplace of Vienna. The various keyboardists Miles worked with at this time were also a great influence. Besides Zawinul they included Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. The unique electronic timbres of the recently-introduced Fender Rhodes electric piano were also a major influence on Miles' new sound - he had one at his home and played around with it extensively. Zawinul's use of it on Cannonball Adderley's Mercy, Mercy hit caught Miles' ears big time. The story of the development of this sound is fascinating and illustrated both by the notes and the material on the three CDs. Some of it was never issued and much was issued years later as part of other albums. There's even some rehearsal tapes. I do wish the text portions printed over colored backgrounds and photos were just a bit more legible, and that the binding of the notes were not so tight - making it difficult to hold the pages open. This fault was also found in the Davis/Evans package. Another case where design objectives scuttle good communication. Nevertheless, a very welcome package for any Miles fan and by extension that probably includes most jazz fans.

- John Henry


Avishai Cohen + the International Vamp Band - Unity - IVB/Concord Records SCD-9036-2:

The versatile Cohen is best known for his previous solo acoustic bass albums, but he also is a pianist and vocalist and doubles on electric bass with this album. His new band combines jazz, Latin, classical, and world music into a new stew that's chicken soup for the soul. Folk influences from Israel, Cuba, Argentina and Mexico are strong in this music, and his five bandmates come from all over the world. Two of the others join with him on the several vocals heard on this diverse celebration of the unifying power of the peoples' music.
Short Story, Vamp, Etude, Float, Island Man, Pause, Jazz Condo, Song for my Brother, A Child is Born, Yagla, To the Love.

- John Henry


Two unknown but consistently listenable jazz performers up next...

John McLean, guitars - Easy Go (with Larry Kohut, acoustic bass/Kurt Montzko, B-3 & piano/Jim Gailloretto, sax/Adam Nussbaum, drums) - Premonition Records 66917 9075327:

Here's a fresh guitar sound with mostly performer-written originals of intriguing melodic and harmonic content. Only a couple tracks by Miles Davis and Woody Shaw share with the eight originals. McLean has played on over 20 albums but this is the first under his own name. On different tunes he varies greatly the sounds of his different guitars, ranging from hard and steely to drifting spacey (but not New Agey) sounds. The Hammond on some of the tracks adds another timbral dimension that moves the music along. In fact McLean reports that he likes to write tunes creating a strong sense of forward motion, and that is exactly how this CD struck me. I've been playing it over and over - unusual for me considering the stack of stuff I have to audition around here.

Fat Chance, Cowboy, Three Views of a Secret, October, My Brother Richard, Sag Harbor, Desperate Measures, Blue in Green, Blues for Wood, Easy Go.

- John Henry

Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet - Mindful (Gunnalaugs, piano/Tony Malaby, sax/Drew Gress, bass/Scott McLemore, drums) - Sunny Sky Records 720:

I'm not sure where this self-produced CD came from, but it lives up to the opening title of the eight originals by this talented female pianist: Good Stuff. She plays with great polish and flow, plus originality and a generally upbeat musical mood. Saxist Malaby has a nice melodic gift too. Good stuff for in-car listening or walking. In case it's hard to find, try www.sunnagunnlaugs.com

Good Stuff, Mindful, Evensong, Bad Seeds, The People of my Heart, Coming Through, Waiting to Go, The Dawn of a New Beginning.

- John Henry


A pair of shiny new jazz releases that are certainly not me-too efforts...

David Liebman Plays Puccini - Arkadia 70144:

Some great things are coming out of the current crossover effort in the worlds of recorded music, and this is one of them. Certainly to be preferred to souped-up duets by Bocelli and Brightman (See CLASSICAL this month). Among the most gloriously melodic of opera composers, Puccini makes for a perfect fusion of jazz and classical with his great tunes. Saxist Liebman listened to all the Puccini operas and studied the scores. He spent months finding appealing melodies that he felt he could adapt to his musical preferences. Liebman had an 11 piece ensemble and invited fellow reed man Phil Woods as well as vocalist Leonora Zensalai as guest performers. Among the 11 tracks are such Puccini favorites as E lucevan le stelle, O mio babbino caro and vissi d'arte. And each one has its English title listed and which opera it is from. The arrangements are fresh and imaginative. A couple of them (Nessum Dorma, in questa reggia) enlist three percussionists as well as synthesizer and it works out amazingly well.

- John Sunier

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - The Crossing - Telarc CD 83520:

Brubeck continues his 50-year-long career in jazz with a bunch of lovely new tunes in this new CD. He's been one of the most prolific composers in jazz and these nine examples prove that age has not dimmed his brilliant talents. The striking very programmatic title tune was inspired by a jazz cruise on the Queen Elizabeth in which he took part last year. Mariel, dedicated to one of his grandchildren, is another gorgeous Brubeck ballad which I'm sure will find favor with other jazz performers. Randy Jones is a tribute to his drummer of the last 20 years and is in 5/4 time like Take Five. That time signature was a bit of a challenge over 40 years ago but now it's right in the mainstream. The buildup to crashing fat chords of mid career Brubeck piano style has modified somewhat to more complex harmonic development, but Brubeck still sounds like nobody else but Brubeck.
The Crossing, Day After Day, Mariel, All My Love, Why Note?, Bessie, Chasin' Yourself, Randy Jones, Hold Fast to Dreams.

- John Henry


Two pairs of beboppin' tenor sax players next...

Plas Johnson & Red Holloway - Keep That Groove Going - Milestone MCD-9319-2:

The only thing better than a tenor sax and B3 is Two tenors and B3, and that's what's on tap here in a brand new Rudy Van Gelder recording. Gene Ludwig is the swinging organist, Melvin Sparks the guitarist and Kenny Washington the drummer - no bass needed when there's those bass pedals on the B3. These blues immersed big-sounding tenor men honk away with gusto on nine tunes. Pass the Gravy is a funky down home mini-symphony at nearly nine minutes. Dig it all!
Keep That Groove Going!, Stuffy, Serenade in Blue, Go Red Go, Brethren!, Pass the Gravy, Jammin' for Mr. Lee, Cry Me a River, Dream a Little Dream of Me.

- John Henry

Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt - God Bless Jug and Sonny (with Cedar Walton, p./Sam Jones, b./Billy Higgins, dr.) - Prestige PRCD-11019-2:

A reissue from a l973 live taping at the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore, this session is released here for the very first time. Both tenormen were bandmates at various times in Billy Eckstine's band and became famous for their dueling tenors recordings. In this session they are cooperating more than engaging in a cutting contest but they admitted to still trying to outdo one another. The Coleman Hawkins-influenced tone of Ammons provides an interesting contrast to the Lester Young/Charlie Parker note-spinning approach of Stitt. This is the sort of recording stereo was made for.
Blue n' Boogie, Stringin' the Jug, God Bless the Child, Autumn in New York, Ugetsu, Bye Bye Blackbird.

- John Henry

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