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January 2001 Jazz Reviews - Part 2 of 2
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ALEX DE GRASSI & QUIQUE CRUZ - TataMonk - Tropo Records TRD1002: De Grassi is well known for his many Windham Hill and RCA recordings displaying his fingerstyle folk-blues-rock-improvisatory guitar stylings. He met Chilean folk musician Cruz eight years ago and found they shared a vision of combining the roots of Andean and Latin folk music with blues and jazz. Experiments of this general sort have been done before, but this world music blend succeeds better musically than any I have heard. One of the many challenges in melding the two musical approaches was the different tuning from Western standards of the Andean panpipes and other instruments. Cruz had to have new panpipes made that would be in proper tune for playing jazz. The septet adds piano, trumpet/flugelhorn, bass, drums and percussionist Ian Dogole to the original duo. Quique's list of folk instruments is long, including kenas, rondadors, and charangos, and De Grassi plays several different types of guitars. The eight selections cover a variety of folk music sources from different South American countries, and all are detailed in the informative note booklet. The title tune is the closing one, and the notes explain that the word "Tata" conveys respect for an elder - thus the CD title's meaning is obvious, and in this tune one hears definite Monkish chords interjected into the Latin folk rhythms. If you can't find this new CD in the stores, go to www.troporecords.com

- John Henry

 

More Latin Jazz in Our Next Pair of CDs =

LALO SCHIFRIN: Latin Jazz Suite - with Jon Faddis, David Sanchez, Ignacio Berroa, Alex Acuna, Marcio Doctor, and the WDR Big Band cond. by Schifrin - Aleph Records 013: Back in the heyday of radio in the U.S. many big city radio stations had their own band or orchestra. The West German Radio in Cologne has not one but four orchestras, so versatile composer-performer Schifrin went there for a live concert performance of his new six-movement suite based on different Latin influences and dances. Schifrin, when not composing soundtracks for some of the top film and TV productions (such as Mission Impossible), is one of the most prolific composers working in the touchy realm of trying to mix jazz and classical. Musical elements from Cuba, Martinique, Brazil, Africa and his native Argentina are treated in this uptempo, jazzy and brassy suite. Great fun and good sound. If you have trouble locating Schifrin's own label in the stores, try www.schifrin.com

- John Henry

 

CHICO O'FARRILL - Carambola - The Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band - Milestone MCD-9308-2: Here's another composer-arranger who has made a career on mixing jazz and classical elements. In O'Farrill's case it is Afro-Cuban specifically, and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite - which closes out this CD - was the very first Latin jazz suite ever. The trumpet player got his start in the mid-40's and is still going strong, having had ups and downs in his career and projects ranging from a commissioned piece to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Carnegie Hall to an album with David Bowie. Another major suite is also on this CD: The Aztec Suite, full of generally Latin sounds but O'Farrill admits the only reason for the title was that he was in Mexico when he wrote it. The CD's title tune is a mambo-bebop number O'Farrill wrote for Dizzy Gillespie in 1950. Straight salsa band music doesn't interest my ears for long, but the ingenious symphonic character with which O'Farrill imparts his music is.

- John Henry

 

CHARLIE PARKER BIG BAND - Verve 314 559 835-2: I had no idea there was  a Parker Big Band album. It turns out producer Norman Granz, after putting together both the famous Parker with Strings session and another with Afro-Cuban musicians, decided on having the alto saxist do his amazing thing with a real big band of topflight players. Parker himself chose the arranger - Joe Lipman - and the sessions were recorded between l950 and l953. Lipman's work as a jazz arranger has been largely and unfairly ignored - he started with arrangements for Bunny Berigan, wrote for Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, and orchestrated the Dean Martin TV show. Parker gave him free rein in the tunes that Parker and Granz had chosen. A few of them are with strings and seem like a sequel to the Parker & Strings album (but the string playing is a bit better). The bands include such top names as Al Porcino, Hal McKusick, Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, Freddie Green, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Buddy Rich and Max Roach. Parker's solos are spectacular, as usual.

The first ten tracks are Lipman's arrangements, then we go to a rather strange experiment that involved arranger Gil Evans and jazz vocalist Dave Lambert. These three master takes plus ten alternates and false takes were for a project that grew out of Parker's great interest in a Hindemith work for woodwinds. Evans and Lambert scored three standards (in the Still of the Night, Old Folks, If I Love Again) for a woodwind quintet plus piano trio plus a ten-to-twelve-voice chorus. Parker's tenor solos didn't work very well over the chorus, and the whole session was scrapped after only three tunes. An interesting failure. By the way, the refurbished sonics on the Verve Master Editions (of which this is one) are generally superb - the result of meticulous restoration work.

- John Henry

JOE VENUTI & TONY ROMANO - Never Before...Never Again - Just a Memory Records JAM-9127-2: This is the aural record (in mono) of a very loose but very special rehearsal/recording session in l954. The irrepressible Venuti is known as the godfather of jazz violin. His duo and small group recordings with guitarist Eddie Lang in the 1920's are still regarded as milestones of chamber jazz. Tony Romano may not be famous but he's had a long career as guitarist, arranger, composer, actor and singer. He's worked with Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, Victor Young, and Eric Korngold and acted in films with Kathryn Hepburn, and Errol Flynn, among others. Both Romano and Venuti were friends of Johnny Mercer, and the latter had some free time at a Hollywood studio and invited the pair to come in and jam. Romano owns Eddie Lang's old guitar, so he was spurring on Venuti's brilliant improvisations with lots of nostalgia. They did eight tunes, including a couple the duo devised on the spot, and a vocal by Romano on the traditional Italian song Angelina. Standards such as I Want to Be Happy and Summertime are bouncy and sparkling, with Romano offering what one writer has called "textbook acoustic jazz guitar accompaniment." There are four bonus track vocals by Romano recorded about the same time but without Venuti, plus an interview with the still with-it performer.

- John Henry

 

Two more jazz sessions from the small label whose tweaky perfectionist recording approach puts the players right in your listening room =

NORRIS TURNEY'S ALTO - Big Sweet n' Blue - with Larry Willis, piano; Walter Booker, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums - Mapleshade 02632: Turney is not well known but deserves to be. He replaced Johnny Hodges in the alto sax section of Ellington's Band but somehow never had an album out under his own name until now. He fully deserves it. His is a great, fat, rich alto sound, captured with the usual almost scary presence Mapleshade is known for. Though only two of the ten tunes are actually blues, a blues feeling and sound permeates the whole session. Ellington and Strayhorn get three tracks, including a thrilling Blood Count from the latter. Also, winding up the session is Ellington's glorious hymn Come Sunday. Again, if trouble finding in the shops, try their web site at www.mapleshaderecords.com

- John Henry

 

WALTER BOOKER QUINTET (Cecil Payne, baritone; Marcus Belgrave, trumpet; Roni Ben-Hur, guitar; Walter Booker, bass; Leroy Williams, drums; with guitar Larry Willis on piano) - Mapleshade 07232: The recording equipment isn't the only thing that Mr. Mapleshade, Pierre Sprey, has to tweak at his home studio. In this case it was Booker's bass, which had developed a nasty crack down its back. The session description also answered a question I had about reconciling the bull in-a-china-shop proclivities of most jazz musicians with the tweako sensibilities of Sprey's super-custom equipment, minimum-length cabling using super-thin silver wire suspended on special risers and insulators, and the stereo mike feed going directly to the analog tape machine. The notes refer to the players threading a path "through the inevitable minefield of throat-high wires." So now we know. But the results are well worth it. The sonic realism of both Payne's mellow baritone sax and Belgrave's soulful trumpet are something to behold - you won't hear this on a typical major label studio jazz CD. The six tunes mostly originate with members of the band, plus Charlie Parker's Chasing the Bird. Booker is central to the swinging but relaxed feeling of this combo. He's provided the needed bass groove to such as Shirley Horn, Clifford Jordan and Walter Davis Jr.

- John Henry

 

CLIFFORD ADAMS: The Master Power - Adams, trombone; Antonio Hart, alto & soprano sax; Kenny Barron, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Neil Clark, percussion - Naxos Jazz 86015-2: If this sounds like an album title with spiritual pretensions, you're right. Trombonist Adams - who has worked with Wynton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald, Max Roach and Joe Williams among others - follows an East Indian spiritual mentor, and many of these selections are originals referring to that. But on a purely abstract musical level this is great stuff! Look at the sidemen Adams put together for this CD. Normally the trombone is one of the least of my personal interests in jazz but Adams makes it sound like the most important solo instrument that could possibly exist in jazz. The contributions of pianist Barron shouldn't be overlooked either. This is terrifically exciting music making for sure.

- John Henry

 

MARK ISAACS, piano - Closer - with Jason Cooney, tenor sax; Adam Armstrong, bass; Hamish Stuart, drums; James Muller, guitar - Naxos Jazz 86065-2: Jazz from Australia, and no excuses whatever need be made. The versatile Isaacs works in both classical and jazz fields. He has done commission works for several Australian ensembles, premiered his own piano concerto in Russia, and conducted over 1000 performers in his own oratorio on Joan of Arc. His jazz sextet was formed in l997, with saxist Cooney playing in the ECM-ish style of Jan Garbarek. All eight tunes here are Isaacs' own, and their inventive structure and development belie his classical training. The longest - the opening Aussie Angels - is especially dark and ECM-influenced but the next track relieves the gloom with a delightful jazz waltz, Josephine. There's plenty of variety and creativity in all the tunes; while the ensemble expands on the typical piano trio with sax and guitar, it eschews a trumpet or trombone and therefore retains a more contemplative and relaxed feeling throughout.

- John Henry

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