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Jazz CDs- March/April 2001 (see also SACD reviews)
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Jazz TrioArt PepperBlue Mitchell / Jam GemsSolal Plays Ellington / Bob Stenson Trio
John Lewis / Scotty AndersonBeatles Baroque / David FriesenDave Brubeck / Ray BrownGerry Mulligan / Once Through
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Three more brand new releases in the superb xrcd2  technology start off our jazz section this month =

Art Pepper
Art Pepper + Eleven - Pepper, tenor & alto sax and clarinet; Pete Candoli, Russ Freeman, Jack Sheldon, Al Porcino, Bud Shank and others - Arr. & cond. By Marty Paich - Contemporary/JVC xrcd VICJ-60245:Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section - Pepper, alto sax; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums - Contemporary/JVC xrcd 60087:

The first of these, dating from l959, has got to be one of the all time great small group modern jazz recordings. The lineup of sidemen is phenomenal, Pepper demonstrates his flexibility on three different reeds, the dozen cream-of-jazz-standards (plus three alternate takes) are all winners, and Paich's arrangements are smooth and tasty. It was Pepper's first time as a band leader. Most of the tracks are in the two to three minute area, so there aren't any drawn-out blowing sessions, but a lot happens musically in that short time. Some of my favorites were Groovin' High, Bernie's Tune, Anthropology, and Donna Lee. This would be a great album for someone just beginning to appreciate modern jazz.

Pepper's earlier (1957 but still stereo) effort has less variety of instrumentation, but boasts the always outstanding keyboard chops of Red Garland and a tight, swinging quartet sound that breezes through ten tracks, balancing standards such as You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To and The Man I Love with originals such as Pepper's own Straight Life (must be a referral to his former addiction and time at Synanon) and Garland's Red Pepper Blues. This is not just any old rhythm section but actually Miles Davis's rhythm section! One of the longer tracks is a lyrical treatment of the Burke-Van Hausen classic Imagination. Now to the sonics herein: Sorry, but good as xrcd is in squeezing the maximum out of the now obsolescent 44.1 digital format, the Analog Productions LP reissues still sound somewhat better than the CDs. There is a bit more presence, more high end and more snap via the analog LPs, in spite of the Taddeo Digital Antidote in the CD chain plus a good spin of the xrcds on the Bedini Clarifier.

- John Henry


Two trumpet players par excellence =

Blue Mitchell / Jam Gems
Blue's Moods - Blue Mitchell, trumpet; with Wynton Kelly, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Roy Brooks, drums - Riverside/JVC xrcd VICJ 60173:

Have to admit I'd forgotten all about Blue Mitchell, not having any of his LPs in my vinyl collection except for a Horace Silver date - the band with which he was associated for some time. Orrin Keepnews, producer of this session from his former label, hadn't forgotten and selected this gem from 1960 for xrcd release. It was the trumpet player's first opportunity to show his stuff simply against a good rhythm section, with no other horns horning in. The tracks are the same eight as were on the original LP. At the center of the set are two Mitchell originals, Kinda Vague and Sir John. Parker's Scrapple from the Apple gets an uptempo treatment, and the CD opener is the standard I'll Close My Eyes in a lyrical mood. The closing I Wish I Knew has Mitchell switching to an old cornet for a more nostalgic feeling. Mitchell's sound sports a strong element of soul and blues - as befits his name. Kelly's keyboard work is among the best. A great album, in clean and present-in-the-room sonics.

- John Henry

Jam Gems: Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath Live at the Left Bank - Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Jimmy Heath, tenor sax;

Gus Simms, piano; Wilbur Little, bass; Bertell Knox, drums - Label M Records 495719: The Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore started in l964 holding Sunday concerts which booked top jazz artists to play for a really appreciative and knowledgeable audience. Each gig was preserved on a home tape recorder and now after over 30 years the best of these tapes are being issued on CD for the first time - this is the fifth in the series. Though dating from l965 it's in mono, but otherwise the sound is fairly good and while the audience is quite obviously present at times they are not as distracting as, say, that on the Jazz at the Pawnshop recordings. Some of the liner notes are by Jimmy Heath, who recalls fondly the great atmosphere and enthusiastic crowd at this date, which egged on Hubbard and Heath to play some of their longest solos. The five tunes increase in length steadily as the set goes on, with the closing Autumn Leaves running over 17 minutes!

- John Henry


Two pianists exploring some new sounds without losing listeners =

Solal Plays Ellington / Bob Stenson
Martial Solal Dodecaband Plays Ellington - Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36613-2:

French-Algerian pianist Solal played for years with jazz greats such as Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt. His recordings are not widely heard in the U.S. but he's a top echelon jazz keyboardist in Europe. Over the past decade the 73-year-old pianist has been developing a 12 member big band which specializes in deconstructing and reassembling some of the jazz's primary standards. For this album Solal uses the melodies and harmonies of Ellington classics as a starting point for a whole new world of expression. Tempos and rhythms are switched around mid-song, and sometimes the arrangements retain only a fuzzy flavor of the original tune's mood, but it never becomes grating or totally atonal and in time one's brain slides back into the groove of Caravan, Take the A Train, or whatever of the 14 Ellington tunes are on this album. The last several are part of a closing monster medley that takes Ellington's original explorations into previously unimagined territories.

- John Henry

Serenity - Bob Stenson Trio - (with Anders Jormin, bass; Jon Christensen, drums) - ECM 1740/41 (2 CD set):

Swedish pianist Stenson has been playing for over three decades with drummer Christensen - they are heard together on three Jan Garbarek albums. Stenson also toured with saxist Charles Lloyd. His piano trio won a Swedish Grammy in l993, and in this double-CD set Stenson brings some new elements into the mix - including folk music of Sweden and Cuba, two songs by Hanns Eisler, one each by Charles Ives and Alban Berg, and a tune from Wayne Shorter's hit Super Nova album, Swee Pea. The European classical and jazz traditions are mixed with the American jazz trio approach here - but a jazz trio of three entirely equal participants who really seem to be listening very closely to one another and the triologue that's going on amongst themselves. Stenson has been quoted as saying he is trying not to just solve musical problems but also to express some strong feelings. Though the album title comes from the Ives song Serenity, there is plenty of intensity in other of the improvisations. The ECM-ish minimal approach is heard in Stenson's trio, but there is more strong emotional communication going on here than in many of the ECM sessions.

- John Sunier


Two quite different ensembles featuring the interplay of keyboards and guitars =

John Lewis / Scotty Anderson
John Lewis - Evolution II - Guitar: Howard Alden and Howard Collins alternate tracks; Bass: Marc Johnson and George Mraz alternate tracks; Drums: Lewis Nash - Atlantic 8333-2:

80-year old former MJQ leader and pianist Lewis has created a wide variety of musical settings over the years, both involving the MJQ and not. His first Evolution CD of l999 was a solo effort, and in this one he performs with two different quartets. The situation is quite different from the active improvisation contributions of each MJQ member - here the three other players are in a strictly supportive role with Lewis handling the brunt of the improvisation. The new aggregation gave Lewis the idea of re interpreting two of his biggest hits which were also on the first Evolution album - Django and Afternoon in Paris. Some other Lewis originals here are The Festivals, Cain and Abel (from his ballet Original Sin), and Trieste. The classically subtle, melodic, but always simply swinging Lewis piano style is unique. Writer Gary Giddins observed that he seems to have almost shamanistic powers.

The tracks recorded with the quartet with Howard Alden in it were made at the acoustically popular Terrytown Music Hall in New York state, and Connoisseur Society producer E. Alan Silver was part of the production team. Lewis stated that before working with Silver and his associate Tom Lazarus he had never really heard his piano sound as it did when he was making the music, even with most of his MJQ recordings. Now Lewis says "This is what I sound like to me."

- John Henry

Scotty Anderson, guitar - Triple Stop (with 11-piece group) - J Curve Roots & Blues JCR8001:

Anderson is a speedy-fingered electric guitarist based in Cincinnati and this is the first release of a new CD label. His band is a mix of jazz and country influences, what with mandolin and fiddle among the players. And the 11 tracks on the CD touch on a variety of genres, including Boogie Woogie, the folksong John Henry, the theme from the Perry Mason TV series, the Stan Kenton Band's theme, and Elvis' Love Me Tender. The blazingly fast Stratocasting of Anderson's turns up the voltage on all those tunes and the band backs him up with some great arrangements. Sort of a Chet Atkins on speed. Great listening.

- John Henry


Beatles Baroque / David Friesen
Beatles Baroque - Les Boreades de Montreal/Eric Milnes - ATMA Classique ACD 2218:

OK, this isn't jazz of course, but it isn't classical either. Wonder where the CD shops file this one? But it's still an ensemble taking 15 different now-standard pop tunes and doing their own unique variations on them - not really improvisations because the arrangements were written out by the group's director Eric Milnes, but they're much like improvisation. This was done in The Royal Beatleworks Musik back in the 60's on Elektra Records, but this ensemble is a true, seriously Baroque-instrument ensemble and not a pickup band. It includes the usual harpsichord, gambas, viols, organ, recorders, and Baroque violins.The arrangements are absolutely delightful and some of these Lennon-McCartney classics hold up so well they seem to lose their 20th century pop trappings and pass for instrumental versions of actual Baroque ditties.

- John Sunier

With You in Mind - David Friesen, bass; Gary Versace, piano - Summit Records DVD 290:

Friesen is a veteran bassist who has worked in many different environments, from solo to duo to trio to large groups, and in genres that often mix jazz and other elements of musical culture. His versatility is partly shown by his having been the recording engineer for this new album with the young pianist Versace, of whom I had not heard previously. Before reading the liner notes I .had in mind the similarity in mood of this quite introspective album to the 60's Bill Evans recordings. The booklet writer then made the same comparison. Since he frequently performs solo, Friesen regards his instrument (dating from 1795) as a great deal more than just an accompaniment to higher-pitched instrumentalists. Friesen uses a pickup, amp and speaker on his bass, but eschews the "electric bass" sound. This CD is not just jazz piano with the bass serving as the entire rhythm section, but a very equally balanced conversation between two thoughtful musical creators. The 11 tunes are almost solely originals by the two performers.

- John Henry


Here's a couple of jazz stars that have been at their creative efforts for an amazingly long time now =

Dave Brubeck / Ray Brown
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Double Live - From the USA & UK (with Bobby Militello, alto sax; Alec Dankworth, bass; Randy Jones, drums) - Telarc 2CD-83400:

Brubeck seems to be doing more recording recently than he did back 40 years ago when he was on the cover of TIME. The first of these CDs comes from a concert at Washington National Cathedral in l995 and the second from a tour of Britain in l998. The long reverb tail of the cathedral is no problem in the first session and adds a natural "live" feel that would be absent from a studio recording. (It also decodes well for matrix surround sound.) Among the 17 tracks is a mix of standards, old Brubeck hits and new material. Militello is a fine saxist with a lot of interesting musical ideas; he engages in some of the same humorous quotations of other tunes as Paul Desmond did. But he's no Desmond, and we probably wouldn't want him to be. It takes courage to still do Take Five after 40 years, and while it doesn't match the excitement of the original, perhaps some of that excitement is due to nostalgia and not just the performance per se.

- John Henry

The Ray Brown Trio - Live at Starbucks (with Geoff Keezer, piano & Karriem Riggins, drums) - Telarc CD-83502:

Live at Starbucks? Isn't that sort of like Live at the 7-11? It appears to be a sort of mother-of-all-Starbucks in Seattle, the acoustics are good, and the audience is attentive. So let's get on to the music from this longtime icon of jazz bass. Nice, rich and deeply-extended sonics on Brown, as befits a session centering on the acoustic bass. Brown is regarded by many as the heir to the short-lived Jimmy Blanton, the path-breaking bassist for the Ellington Band. So Brown includes a medley of three Ellington standards among the 11 tunes in his set. Other standards are Lester Leaps In and When I Fall in Love; the rest of the program will be unfamiliar to most. Pianist Keezer's conversations with Brown are great fun to follow, and he supports the bassist well on the more funky, bluesy treatments such as on What I Fall in Love. The trio winds up with an extended Starbucks Blues. I bet competing independent coffee houses would have a comment or two about that concept, but I'll just sip my latte and keep quiet.

- John Henry


Two strikingly different approaches to the saxophone close us out this month =

Gerry Mulligan / Once Through
The Gerry Mulligan Quartets in Concert - Previously unreleased concert performances from Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic - Pablo PACD-5309-2:

Sort of like the Brubeck album above, the first half of these 11 tracks was recorded at a Hollywood Bowl concert in l957 and the second half in Paris in l962. Both are mono - not up to Van Gelder's deep mono recordings, but quite good nonetheless. Gerry's front line mate is his longtime associate Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone. Though the pitch spectrum of the trombone is very similar to the baritone sax of Mulligan's, Mulligan preferred Brookmeyer to trumpet players because they had a terrific musical connection together. Most of the tunes are by Mulligan, with one by Brookmeyer and three standards, including the classic Laura. The closing huge track, Subterranean Blues, features Mulligan on piano - a surprise change from his piano-less quartets of this period. It employs a theme he contributed to Andre Previn's score to the film The Subterraneans, in which Mulligan played onscreen and even has a small part.

- John Henry

Once Through - Dan Moretti, tenor and soprano sax & flute; Bruce Bartlett, guitar; Marty Ballou, bass; Marty Richards, drums - Whaling City Sound WCS002 (www.whalingcitysound.com):

This quartet evidently plays together frequently in Massachusetts somewhere. They show a variety of musical influences and Moretti's switching between his various reeds adds a timbral interest not present in most jazz quartet recordings. His tender flute solo in Tenderly is one example among the nine tunes here. Two Monk tunes - Ruby My Dear and Rhythm a ning - point up strongly the somewhat quirky slant of this group's improvisational approach. The closing track is Miles' famous Walkin', and its fresh approach is due to more than just the presence of the solo sax instead of trumpet. These players were unknowns to me but I feel I know them well now and will reacquaint myself occasionally listening to this find CD.

- John Henry


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