Jazz CDs Pt. 1 of Jazz - July-August 2001
[Click on any CD cover to go direct to its review]
Guitars Galore on the these three CDs =
Kenny Burrell, guitar - Lucky So and So - (with Onaje Allan Gumbs, keyboards; Rufus Reid, bass; Akira Tana, drums) - Concord CCD-4951-2:
After both solo and large ensemble sessions, jazz legend Burrell returns to the quartet setup here with very creative pianist Gumbs. Something new are the four tunes with vocals by Burrell. His smooth and relaxed low-register voice phrases the lines with similar shadings to his guitar style. The ten tracks show a strong liking for Ellington tunes, and Burrell's vocal on Weill's My Ship is the equal of any other versions I've heard - male or female. Bass Face of course provides a good opportunity for a smashing solo by bassist Reid. If you're a guitar fan you'd be a lucky so and so to pick up on this one.
- John Henry
Great Guitars Live - Charlie Byrd/Barney Kessel/Herb Ellis - Concord Jazz CCD2-4958-2 (2 CDs):
This double-CD reissue brings together in one package the two albums recorded live the three guitarists in l980 and l983. The first was taped at the Paul Masson Winery concerts and the second at Charlie's Georgetown in Washington D.C. And they were the last recordings of the trio in a series they made for Concord. The excitement of these three guitar masters urging one another on is doubled in the live concert situation. Byrd, whose home is Washington D.C., plays with a very identifiable style steeped in classical acoustic guitar as well as bossa nova and other Latin music. His two cohorts are of the Charlie Christian school and can really burn up the strings. Joe Byrd is bassist at both venues, and Chuck Redd at Georgetown replaces drummer Jimmie Smith heard on the first disc. There are 19 tracks in all, some running as much as seven or eight minutes as each guitarist gets his solo turn in the aural spotlight. Some of the highlights for my ears were: Air Mail Special, Sheik of Araby, The Talk of the Town, New Orleans, and Old Folks. Now although I have one of the original LPs, I'm hot to get the other three Concord Great Guitars CDs. This trio is just as exciting listening as the brilliant "Friday Night in San Francisco" guitar trio on Columbia. All this trio stuff is made to order for surround or home theater systems with a center front channel. Wow! And as with most live recordings in stereo, any matrix surround processor will give you a terrific immersion in the music and event (though Circle Surround and ProLogic II are probably the best).
- John Henry
Two great bassists intent on expanding their musical horizons =
Eberhard Weber, bass - Endless Days (with Paul McCandless, reeds; Rainer Bruninghaus, keyboards; Michael DePasqua, drums & percussion) - ECM 1748:
Weber is one of the most imaginative and sensitive bass players in jazz today. I find all his albums endlessly interesting due to the unmistakable sound of his custom-built upright electric bass and his leanings toward classical music rather than the American tradition of jazz bass playing (not that I don't dig that too). Around 20 years ago Weber did a series of albums with his quartet called Colours, which included pianist Bruninghaus. A Swiss magazine dubbed them among the great achievements of European jazz. The new ECM album returns to a similar quartet situation, and Weber said he was looking for something approaching the sound world of classical music. There is only a limited amount of improvisation in these composed pieces, and he actually told his players "You can play everything, as long as it doesn't sound like jazz."
Seven of the eight selections were composed by Weber for the recording, with the closing The Last Stage of a Long Journey coming from an earlier album but re-thought with an emphasis on a greater economy of expression. His arrangements deliberately avoided opportunities for big solos. Weber said he "tried to play down the element of self-presentation that is prevalent in jazz today." Well. Such thinking may not sit well with many jazz fans but it produced some fascinating musical excursions on this CD. Weber chose multi-reed-virtuoso Paul McCandless of Oregon fame, and he asked him to put aside his usual soprano sax (heard on only one track) in favor of more classical instruments - oboe, English horn and bass clarinet. And he chose drummer DiPasqua who specializes in a more varied percussion style rather than the standard jazz drumming groove. The original thought for the session was to use a string section as Weber has done on some of his previous albums. However it was decided to flesh out the quartet sound only with some subtle sampling techniques, and that certainly does result in a rich and full sound that one would never suspect was only a basic quartet.
- John Sunier
Avishai Cohen - Colors - Stretch Records (Distr. Concord):
Interesting that Cohen called his album Colors, the same as the name of Weber's quartet. It's obvious he's interested in expanding his sound world, since he is listed as playing not only acoustic and electric bass, but also piano, Fender Rhodes, and doing vocals! The rest of his core group includes a pianist, a reed player, two trombones, a guitarist who also play oud, and a percussionist. Guest musicians on the session include vocalist Claudia Acuna (whose wordless vocalise reminds me of Flora Purim), another bassist and drummer, and a string quartet. The sound of the oud on a couple of the tracks is quite a surprise; it really stands out but doesn't sound a big Arabic - just different and swinging.
One reason Cohen called his CD Colors and talks about colors in his booklet notes is that he has synaesthesia, as do a number of musicians, among them pianist Denny Zeitlin. Their aural and visual senses can cross over and they can sense colors in certain sounds or musical keys. Cohen says he even senses it in chords, rhythms and whole pieces. The 13 tracks - all Cohen originals - explore lots of musical colors. The title tune brings in the string quartet with reedman Jimmy Greene on soprano sax. It's a lovely lyrical piece. The closing Voice has no vocal but pits Cohen's piano against trombone and string quartet. There's so much heartfelt musical exploration going on with Cohen that I'm tempted to pick up on his previous two CD for this label.
- John Sunier
Two sax players with quite different approaches to their music =
Lee Konitz, alto sax - Parallels (with Peter Bernstein, guitar; Steve Gilmore, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums; Mark Turner, tenor sax) - Chesky Records JD213 (Distr. By Telarc):
Another jazz legend here. Konitz has been involved in his own take on West Coast straight-ahead jazz for six decades now. In his album notes he marvels on how often he plays with other musicians for the very first time and yet the results are good. That's the situation here, and the venue is also a new one - a church in NYC rather than the expected studio. All the subtleties of Konitz's sound are complimented by Chesky's high-rez recording technology. The eight tunes includes such jazz standards as How Deep Is the Ocean, Skylark, Lennie Tristano's tune 317 East 32nd, and five Konitz originals.
- John Henry
The JazzTimes Superband - Bob Berg, Randy Brecker, Paul Bollenback, Joey DeFrancesco, Dennis Chambers - Concord Records CCD-4889-2:
This quartet was the idea of the publisher of JazzTimes magazine to celebrate their 30th anniversary. They meshed so well and sounded so great that they went on tour later last year after this CD was recorded. East Coast-based saxist Berg and trumpeter Brecker had playing together before but they hadn't played with B-3 Hammond ace DeFrancesco or guitarist Bollenback. Aside from Sonny Rollins' Oleo and Eddie Harris' Freedom Jazz Dance, the rest of the ten tunes are contributed by band members. Berg's Friday Night at the Cadillac Club captures the gutsy bluesy mood at an organ jazz club in Newark frequently by unsavory types. Brecker's The Ada Strut does strut, and the whole CD has a very high energy level. It's hard-driving but not too funky, with a preciseness and "finish" that makes you want to start it right over when the CD is done.
- John Henry
Mandolin and gypsy guitar to the fore on this pair of new CDs =
David Grisman, mandolin & Denny Zeitlin, piano - New River - Acoustic Disc ACD-45 (HDCD):
At first this may seem like an unlikely duo, but Grisman and Zeitlin are actually kindred spirits. Both have long been open to going their own individual ways into new sounds, forms and approaches - Grisman with his bluegrass/jazz mandolin and his development of "dawg music," and Zeitlin with his former panoply of electronic keyboards and now straight acoustic jazz piano - not to mention his playing with the likes of Pat Metheny, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, and doing the film score for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Grisman and Zeitlin had played together informally before, but had not taken the time to explore the mandolin/piano duo form, which Grisman points out was explored at length by Beethoven and other classical composers.
The nine fun tracks are credited to one or the other player, except for a blues credited to both of them. One of Grisman's dawg music standards Dawg Funk is great to hear in this "chamber music" transcription, the title tune is a relaxed and lyrical vehicle, and the lengthy On the March allows for striking improvisations by both players. Zeitlin's Brazilian Street Dance creates an explosion of Latin rhythms from his unexpected pairing of instruments. As Zeitlin observed, the two really did find new ways to interact and bring out the best in each other. Taped direct to two track analog, the sonics are clean, up close, yet warm. (And they should sound even better once I get my DAC with HDCD decoding hooked up again.)
- John Henry
Frank Vignola, guitar - Blues for a Gypsy - Acoustic Disc ACD-43 (HDCD):
Takes not only the gut strings but also some guts to do an entire solo guitar jazz album - more, to my thinking, than even a solo piano session. Twenty-six-year-old guitarist Vignola draws his inspiration from Django, Joe Pass and Johnny Smith. He formed the Hot Club of France Revue which plays in New York City, and also performs there every Monday night with guitar legend Les Paul. Vignola is not the only younger guitarist to be following in the footsteps of the great gypsy guitarist Django, but on the strength of this CD he's right up there in keeping the tradition, yet at the same time freshening it in a tasteful way. For example, he applies the gypsy guitar style to the blues, a tune by Charlie Parker, or even (as Django and Grappelli also did) to a violin piece by Bach. There does seem to be some subtle amplification used on the acoustic guitar but not of the usual modern electric guitar sort. With Vignola's artistry and the rhythmic Reinhardt style one tends to forget this is a completely solo session! The 16 tracks include some of Django's hits along with Parker's Donna Lee, Garner's Misty, and such Vignola-penned tracks as Gypsy Bach, Gypsy Dreams, and the title tune.
- John Henry
Don Shirley Reissues X 3 =
Don Shirley, piano - Reissue Series =
Orpheus in the Underworld (Improvisation); Improvisations by the Don Shirley Trio - Collectables Jazz Classics COL CD 2756 (2 CDs):
Pianist Extraordinary; Piano Arrangements of Famous Spirituals - Collectables Jazz Classics COL CD 2759 (2 CDs):
Plays Love Songs; Don Shirley Trio - Collectables Jazz Classics COL CD 2758 (2 CDs):
The original LP sources for these distinctive reissues date from the mid 50's and the Cadence Records label. Shirley was (is?) a most unusual Renaissance black man of which virtuoso jazz-flavored improvisation was just one of many talents. He had doctorates in Music, Psychology and Liturgical Arts, spoke eight languages fluently and was a skilled painter (the cover of the Orpheus LP is his own). He had studied piano at the Leningrad Conservatory. Majoring in piano and just discovering modern jazz at the time, I was completely taken with Shirley's frequent classical quotations and structures. He drew heavily from Rachmaninoff and Debussy, among others, but he could also swing some very funky chords. Jazzbo Collins said of him, "...he is mostly nearly to become the artist embodying the suffusion of classics and the modern." However, Shirley couldn't be categorized like most pianists and was therefore not accepted by the jazz community. But he certainly had his staunch fans. By the strength of these very unexpected reissues, he still must have them!
Though less than 25 minutes, the Orpheus album is interesting for its very free fantasy-improvisations which make very effective use of the extra notes in the extended bass of the rich-sounding Bosendorfer piano on which he frequently recorded. Some of his pop improvisations become almost short classical pieces in variation form, such as his nearly eight minute Sometimes I'm Happy. Weill and Gershwin get a lot of attention from Shirley, especially in the dozen tracks of Pianist Extraordinary. Sure, occasionally the classi-fication of the tunes goes just a bit overboard, but I love it anyway. His arrangements of a 16 spirituals also puts them in very classical garb, which doesn't stop some of them from swinging mightily.
The ten Love Songs are about what you would expect. Chopin is clearly the inspiration for his version of the closing It Could Happen to You. The Trio album achieves greater variety and the bassist employs his bow on a number of the tracks. Shirley's The Man I Love is a ten-minute extravaganza that pulls out all the stops plus throwing in a big bunch of additional Gershwin quotes at the big finish; there is also a lovely four tune Tribute to Billie Holiday. Some of the LPs were only a bit over 30 minutes length, so nothing had to be dropped in assembling these "two fers." Some useful information, such as on the bassist and drummer, is missing from the note booklets, and while it's a pleasure enjoy these favorites without the annoying surface noise that built up over the years on my Shirley LP collection, I did find a bit of distortion throughout the six CDs that was not audible on the LPs; it was especially noticeable on headphones. There are also many unusual jazz reissues on this label. If you don't find these CDs in the shops, visit the Collectables web site at www.oldies.com
- John Sunier
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