JAZZ CDs - JAN. 2001 - Part 1 of 2
THE COMPLETE PACIFIC JAZZ RECORDINGS OF GERALD WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA - Mosaic Records Boxed Set MD5-198 (5 CDs, 12-inch box):
For me the biggest jazz release recently has been one of the latest in the continuing brilliantly-done reissue series from Mosaic, produced by Michael Cuscuna with his customary care and completeness. The large format box presents four of the CDs in double-CD jewel boxes with the fifth in a single box - 85 tracks in all. The large-format booklet of notes is full of archival photos of Wilson and the band, a complete discography with personnel listings for each of the various recording sessions, and an essay on Wilson and the recordings by music critic Doug Ramsey.
From the time of first hearing this exciting band at the Monterey Jazz Festival in l960 to hearing them again recently as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, I've been a solid fan who feels Wilson belongs right up there with Basie and Ellington. (In some of his spoken introductions to tunes he even sounds like Duke.) Between l961 and l969 Wilson recorded ten LPs for first Pacific Jazz and then the World Pacific label that grew out of it. I own seven of those LPs, and thus could make an easy A/B comparison of various tracks chosen at random. While the improvements in remastering from the original tapes using 24-bit processing aren't of the knock-me-over variety, they are definitely hearable. The CD reissues have a more extended deep bass end on most tracks, and less distortion in some of the peaks. There is occasionally a bit more presence on the LPs, and some have great cover art, but the CD versions have the sonic edge and with the notated booklet you have a winner for sure.
Gerald Wilson has had an amazingly long career in jazz but somehow has missed out on the attention some lesser talents have received. In this he reminds me of another under-appreciated bandleader/composer/ arranger - Benny Carter. Wilson began as a trumpet player in the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra in l939 and became their chief arranger. Later he played with Benny Carter and by l944 had his own big band. He also performed with Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald and contributing arrangements to Basie and Dizzy. In the 50's he was musical director of several TV shows and in the next decade began recording for Richard Bock's jazz label the ten albums preserved in this package.
Some of the sidemen in the band are Harold Land, Teddy Edwards, Buddy Collette, Bud Shank, Bobby Hutcherson, Tommy Flanagan and Joe Pass. There are several tracks with the great Groove Holmes wailing on B3. The selections are a heady mix of standards, pop hits (a few just a bit dated-sounding by now), and many inventive originals by Wilson himself. His harmonies and voicings are often complex and unexpected just as were the path-breaking arrangements of Lunceford's Band. You'll find some Miles, Monk, Cole Porter, but on the other hand also a Lecuona and a Falla. Wilson loves Latin rhythms and has a thing about matadors, having composed several works honoring bullfighters - best-known and most swinging of which is Viva Tirado. His thematic development ideas often sound closer to classical writing than does most big band jazz, but Wilson never fails to swing madly. Another hallmark of his style is a special sort of repetition of a certain groove that is similar to some Latin bands, always offering satisfying musical relief just at the point you may be thinking "Enough awready!" What a package! - If you're any fan of big bands and don't have a Gerald Wilson album, here's your chance to catch up in one swell foop. The set is available only thru Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902 - 203-327-7111 or www.mosaicrecords.com
- John Henry
Another quartet of brand new JVC xrcd jazz reissues - the last word in 16-bit, 44.1 CD fidelity today =
JOHNNY GRIFFIN QUARTET - The Kerry Dancers and Other Swinging Folk - with Barry Harris, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Ben Riley, drums - Riverside/JVC xrcd2 VICJ-60102: Tenor man Griffin built this album around a folk music theme because this was the early 60's - during the folk music scare, as I call it. It's far from just a gimmick; I can't stand the usual vocal version of Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair, but in Griffin's tender instrumental treatment it takes on an entirely different tone and loveliness. Other of the eight tracks are Green Grow the Rushes, Londonderry Air and two originals by Sarah Cassey, one of which dumps the folk element for a good old-fashioned down and dirty blues groove. I missed this album back in the 60's and it's great to hear it now better than it would ever have sounded then - due to advances in both the audio software and the hardware.
- John Henry
JOE PASS, solo guitar - Virtuoso - Pablo/JVC xrcd2 VICJ-60256: While there are lots of recordings of solo classical guitar, there are not many of solo jazz guitar. Doing what Pass did in an MGM studio in l973 takes guts - it's not like soloing on piano. Yet he keeps our ears riveted to his spinning out of tunes - a dozen in all - with a variety of treatments that never seems forced. Many guitar geniuses of the past and present hover over these interpretations. They're nearly all standards - Night and Day, My Old Flame, Sweet Lorraine, 'Round Midnight, The Song is You. It's a challenge to recreate an entire big band in your listening room - even with the highest-end audio system. But a solo guitar is within the grasp of almost any decent hi-fi system, and with this super-clean recording it shouldn't be difficult to have Joe playing just for you there in your sweet spot chair.
- John Henry
THELONIOUS MONK - Thelonious Himself - Riverside/JVC xrcd2 VICJ 60170: Monk recorded several albums of solo flights, and this one - from l957- is one of the earliest. Riverside was recording a few sessions in stereo by this time, but probably didn't feel solo piano would be the best demo material for the new stereo, so this one is mono. On Monk's Mood, after a long beginning solo by Monk he is unexpectedly joined by John Coltrane on tenor sax and Wilbur Ware on bass for the rest of the tune. This constitutes three-quarters of the quartet that later played New York's Five Spot to such acclaim and launched Coltrane as a major player. Monk's opening track of April in Paris is rather different from Basie's big hit version, and the third Monk original was a nine-minute version of one unfamiliar to me but full of the usual Monk "wrong-notes-enshrined" style - Functional is its bizarre title. The eight tracks from the original LP are encored by an additional 25-minute track of the progress of the various studio takes for Round Midnight. Producer Orrin Keepnews had as good a relationship with the off-kilter Monk as one could have, but it doesn't sound like it from his frustration at Monk's many retakes. Having been a producer myself I found this "extra" material rather painful, but most other Monk fans would probably be fascinated to hear the efforts that went into making a recording.
- John Henry
CHET BAKER Sings - It Could Happen To You - Riverside/JVC xrcd2 VICJ 60260: This l958 LP had several things going for it - the handsome Baker, his unique high, light and hip voice, his cool trumpet playing, and the attraction of the new stereo disc. The ten tracks of the LP are filled out on the CD with two more tracks that are not duplicates, but they are mono. (Probably the stereo originals got lost in the past 42 years.) Although the original back-of-LP notes are reproduced in unreadable reduction, the complete lyrics to the tunes are printed in readable type - a nice touch. They are standards such as I'm Old Fashioned, My Heart Stood Still, Old Devil Moon, and so forth. I should cop to not being a fan of this type of voice - If you like John Pizzarelli's voice and don't wish he had stayed with his guitar instead of singing, you'll love Chet Baker. Frankly, Pizzarelli is the better vocalist.
- John Henry
Here's a Django-style collection with a difference from all others =
JAMES CARTER - Chasin' The Gypsy - Carter, various saxophones, plus septet - Atlantic 83304-2: A number of Django Reinhardt tribute CDs have come out lately, but I believe this is the first from a saxophonist. Carter is a prodigious talent who leans toward playing on the prodigiously-sized bass sax for four of the nine tracks. His ensemble includes two guitarists, violinist Regina Carter and an accordionist. The result is the freshest, smoothest and most enjoyable Django influenced album I've heard in ages. At least six of the tracks come straight out of the Hot Club of Paris repertory, and the title track is a wonderful updating of the gypsy guitarist's swinging music. Lovely versions of both Nuages and Django's Castle are featured. Mon Dieu, c'est les jazz hot pour moi!
- John Henry
BOB DOROUGH & DAVE FRISHBERG - Who's On First? - Blue Note 7243 5 23403 2 3: Now here's my sort of male jazz voice - two of 'em in fact. The liner note writer refers to the "unrefined honesty" of their voices, and I'll go along with that. No bull there, and neither is there any in the witty lyrics they both write for their very original songs - many of which deal with subjects that nobody seems to have covered in songs before. Namely: stock brokers, attorneys, health food, the underdog, clowns who think they're hip when they're not. Both devise hilarious lyrics and can play swinging piano behind them. Frishberg's My Attorney Bernie is not in the program, but Dorough's big hit I'm Hip is here. Frishberg is more the laid-back Woody Allenesque New Yorker while Dorough, who hails from Arkansas, has a country-boy down-home quality in his voice that seems to be aurally taking you into his confidence. The title tune has nothing to do with either baseball or Abbott and Costello. It concerns which of them will sit down at the piano first for this live performance which was recorded at LA's Jazz Bakery.
- John Henry
CHARLES EARLAND, B3 - Charlie's Greatest Hits - Prestige PRCD 24250-2: A performer doesn't have to have passed on to have a greatest hits album, but organist Earland recently has. These rocking soul-jazz tracks come from albums he recorded between l969 and l974. What set Earland apart from many of the classic organ trio performers (B3, guitar & drums) was his larger combo - usually a sextet which added tenor sax, trumpet and conga or percussionist. There are only seven tracks here but that's due to a couple of them being over 11 minutes. That applies to the 60's rock tune More Today Than Yesterday, which is encored later on the disc with a quite different live version featuring the first recording by saxist Grover Washington Jr. Trumpeter Lee Morgan is in the spotlight for a fantastic solo on his tune Morgan. I don't recall the sound being nearly as clean and low-bass-groovy on the several Earland LPs in my collection.
- John Henry
Two Contrasting New Jazz Pianists =
JASON MORAN, keyboards - Facing Left - (with Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums) - Blue Note 23884: Moran is one of the newest generation of young jazz artists and in his debut CD he stretches the confines of the typical piano trio and the reliance on standard tunes for improvisation. Some of the compositional techniques he uses on his six original works sound more like John Cage than modern jazz - one is based on the pitches and rhythms of a recorded conversation with a Japanese friend. Among the 13 tracks are some obscure Ellington and Jaki Byard, and of the two film soundtrack themes I was totally captivated by the aggressive soul-march tempo of Murder of Don Fanucci. And Moran's moving from piano to B3 to Fender Rhodes on some tracks also expands the tonal possibilities of the keyboard trio.
- John Henry
BILL CHARLAP TRIO - Written in the Stars (Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums) - Blue Note 27291: A new jazz pianist on the scene, Charlap has a very straightforward approach true to the melodic lines and lyric content of the eleven standards he performs here. Among them In the Still of the Night, Blue Skies, Where or When, One for My Baby, and the title tune. Good intelligent dinner jazz that's as far above typical cocktail piano stylings as was Bill Evans. Yet I think I'll put on a Bill Evans CD next.
- John Henry
On to Part 2 of This Month's Jazz CDs
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