Jazz CDs, Pt. 2 - July-August 2002

Two pianists up next who both share an emphasis on lyricism and claim influences of Ahmed Jamal's Trio...

Lynne Arriale Trio - Inspiration - TCB 22102: Arriale focuses on the melody strongly on this collection of jazz standards and pop songs. However, she clearly enjoys playing around with offbeat key signatures and rhythmic hooks. The strong melodic orientation sometimes lulls the listener into relegating this to background music when suddenly Arriale comes up with an unexpected surprise - such as doing Ellington's It Don't Mean a Thing with a reggae beat. Some of her influences show up in her choices of composers here - Bernstein, Monk, Bacharach, Corea, Jarrett, even Dollar Brand. Her drummer Steve Davis was also the recording engineer for this excellent-sounding release on the Swiss jazz label. Tracks: America, It Don't Mean a Thing, A House is Not a Home, Blackbird, Bemsha Swing, So Tender, Tones for Joan's Bones, Feeling Good, The Nearness of You, Mountain of the Night.

Matthew Fries, piano - Song for Today - (with Gregory Ryan, bass; Vinson Valega, drums; Vincent Herring, alto & soprano sax; Billo Mobley, trumpet & Fluegelhorn) TCB 20752: Another U.S. jazz performer who has to go to a European label to get recorded and heard, Fries is a young New York pianist who normally works in a trio setting but appreciated the chance to better present his own compositions in this quintet setting. Half of the ten tracks are his, and in the style of many jazz performers today he didn't limit himself to jazz standards on the others but drew from pop songs such as James Taylor's Fire and Rain - given a wonderfully lyrical and original treatment here. The added horns are heard on only four of the ten tracks. This guy is good. Tracks: The Black Cat, The Riddle, Phieas, Cabbage Cafe, Fire & Rain, Trey of Hearts, Retro, Prelude/Karen at the Dance, Arioso, Lucky to Be Me.

- John Henry

And two more pianists, both delving into the spiritual side of their sources..

Larry Willis, piano - Solo Spirit - Mapleshade 01432: This l993 session occurred before Willis became this label's music director. He decided to do an album entirely of improvisations on spirituals. In some ways that might have made it somewhat easier for him to carry out an unaccompanied solo piano session, but no matter what the musical material is it takes guts to fly it alone. Willis doesn't try to doctor up these familiar melodies - he allows them plenty of room to shine their spiritual light. Mr. Mapleshade Pierre Sprey refers to it in his notes as "simple grandeur," and that says it all. The effort that went into the original session was sadly lost, but not entirely wasted. Mapleshade's SOP is to record purist analog and then take the analog tapes to a NYC mastering facility with the highest-quality A-to-D processors to be digitized. When Sprey was on his way to do just that, his car was broken into and the tapes stolen. So the entire session had to be repeated, and both Willis and Sprey agreed that the second effort wasn't just a repeat of the original but had even better feeling going for it. For an ear-opening experience do an A/B comparison of this CD with almost any major label solo jazz piano album. Tracks: Take My Hand Precious Lord, Motherless Child, This Little Light of Mine, Come Sunday, Sweet Hour of Prayer, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Let Us Break Bread Together, The Lord's Prayer, May the Good Lord Bless You and Keep You.

Hampton Hawes, p. (with Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Stan Levey, drums) - The Sermon - Contemporary OJC CD-1067-2: This 1958 session was not issued originally until 29 years later, after the great jazz pianist's death. The recording was made just before Hawes entered a federal prison for five years on a narcotics conviction. He must have been in a very low mood, but his wonderful variations on these familiar spirituals underscore the strong feeling of hope inherent in all of them. As the album notes state, he was a preacher's son "who must have felt that nobody knew the trouble he'd seen. Contemporary being one of the pioneer jazz labels in recording in stereo as early as l955, this l958 session is stereo. Tracks: Down by the Riverside, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Nobody Knows..., When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Go Down Moses, Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho, Blues N/C.

- John Henry

On the next CD pair we all hail the wonderful Wurlitzer B3 in the large hands of Jimmy McGriff...

The Best of Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff (with guests) - Milestone MCD-9318-2: Isn't it great that with all the electronic advances in synthesizers and samplers in the last decade or so there is a rebirth of interest in and use of the hoary old B3 electric organ in jazz of all sorts? Jimmy Smith really started it all a long time ago, but Jimmy McGriff came hot on his heels (or shall we say pedals?). This CD is a super-swinging compilation of Rudy Van Gelder recording sessions ranging from l986 thru l989. George Benson is the first guest, on the very first track. Other guitarists joining in later are Jimmy Ponder, Wayne Boyd and Cornell Dupree. Pianist Billy Preston melds his bluesy keyboard with the B3's on his original tune The River's Invitation. Neither Crawford nor McGriff go for a lot of alternate harmonies on the tunes - they're both straight ahead players who emphasis the melody and beat. The 75-minute set boasts a dozen super tracks: Frim Fram Sauce, Because of You, One Mint Julep, Second Time Around, The River's Invitation, Jimmy's Groove, Any Day Now, Jumpin' with Symphony Sid, A Little Bit South of East St. Louis, Mr. P.C., Bow Legs, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Jimmy McGriff - Feelin' It (with Bill Easley, alto & tenor sax; David Fathead Newman, tenor sax, Ronnie Cuber, baritone sax; Wayne Boyd & Melvin Sparks, guitars; Don Williams & Kenny Washington, drums) - Milestone MCD 9313-2: The above CD was McGriff in the 80s and this one is McGriff now, recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio with 24bit processing in October 2000. As expected, the sonics are just a tad cleaner and more detailed and the low end of the B3 pedaling has just a bit more oomph. The instrumentation varies between quartet and sextet - in other words only one of the two guitarists and two drummers is heard on any one track. Saxist Easley switches to alto when he's joined on four tracks by tenorman Newman. No doubt about it, McGriff still has that feelin' big time. Tracks: Stan's Shuffle, Hard Times, US, Feelin' It, Sermonizing, All Blues, Just in Time, City Lights.

- John Henry

Let's wrap it up with the latest reissues from the two past grand masters of the big band...

Count Basie - Kansas City Powerhouse - Bluebird 09026 63903-2: This compilation covers the period of l929 thru l949, and the engineering effort in de-noising the old 78s without losing any of the music on them is superb. I don't believe I had every heard much really early Basie as I have early Ellington, and this proved fascinating. As early as his l929 track with Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, Basie already had an understated playing style at the keyboard. There are four 1932 cuts with the Moten band and then the rest of the 16 tracks feature Basie's own orchestra, recorded between l947 and l949 in greatly improved sonics. What a kick! Tracks; Small Black, Toby, Moten Swing, Lafayette, Prince of Wails, One O'Clock Boogie, Futile Frustration, Swingin' the Blues, Lopin', I Never Knew, 7th Avenue Express, Bye Bye Baby, Cheek to Cheek, Just an Old Manuscript, Shoutin' Blues, Blee Blop Blues.

Duke Ellington at the Alhambra - Paris, 1958 - Pablo PACD 5313-2: The first of what became almost an annual tour of Europe for the Ellington Band followed on the heels of a rebirth of success resulting from a smash appearance at the l956 Newport Jazz Festival. Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges and Jimmy Hamilton all get to do some great solos at this Paris gig. The tapes of the live concert recently turned up. While they are mono, the acoustics of the hall aren't perfect, and the band wasn't 100% on top of things throughout the evening, it's still one of the world's best big bands ever doing a great job that Ellington collectors will want to have in their library. (It's odd that standard record labels are so discrete about identifying their mono CDs as being mono, while Classic Records is issuing 15 great Blue Note jazz LPs in glorious original mono - and even some 10-inch mono LPs with great fanfare!) Tracks: Take the A Train, Medley: Black & Tan/Creole Love Call/The Mooche, Newport Up, Tenderly, Juniflip, Frustration, Rockin' in Rhythm, Jeep's Blues, Things Ain't What They Used to Be, Jam with Sam, HiFiFoFum, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.

- John Henry

Back to Top of This Page

Return to the Home Page for July-August 2002

To Index of CD Reviews for this month