Jazz CDs Pt. 2 - May 2001
(also see SACD reviews, Pt. 2)
A pair of really sweet suites for big band up now =
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra - Togo Brava Suite - Storyville Records STCD 8323: Some of Ellington's most creative writing for his band is heard in this complete suite, available in its entirety on this CD for the first time. Ellington played only three or four movements from it in various live appearances and other recordings, and re-used some of the music (a la Bach and other composers) in an African album and in his Afro Eurasian Eclipse suite. The suite honored the republic of Togo which had issued four stamps on great composers: Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Ellington. During the last 20 to 30 years of his life Ellington occasionally took the band to a studio and recorded material at his own expense for his own reference.
Danish label Storyville will be issuing some of these recordings on CD for the first time, and Togo Brava is the first effort. This session was taped in l971 and is in stereo, though the sound quality could be better. There are seven movements, lots of complex African rhythms, extensive use of the trombone section, and some great solos by the band's pianist himself. The other ten tracks on the CD are some newer treatments of standards such as Perdido and Lover Man plus a bunch of seldom-heard originals - Peke, There's a Place, Hick, Grap, Blues. Among the standout band members at this particular time were Cootie Williams, Russell Procope, Norris Turney (his number Checkered Hat is included), Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney.
- John Henry
Vienna Art Orchestra - Artistry in Rhythm (A European Suite) - TCB 01102: Here's a big band of a different color. Considered the current best European big band, the VAO consists of players from nine different countries and has recorded over 30 albums to date under the leadership of Swiss arranger/composer Matthias Rüegg - who wrote all the music for this CD. For the date he added French horns, guitar, vibes, additional percussion and a vocalist. I was wondering why I didn't recognize any Stan Kenton tunes in this CD. Good reason - it has absolutely nothing to do with Kenton, in spite of the title! It is a set of 15 variations over one basic tempo with each one dedicated to a different European capital. Rüegg based the individual variations on the impressions a musician might gather while touring the various cities in question. The movement titles also give some hints. For example, Graffiti in Stockholm, Copenhagen's mermaid heart, Madrid Madness, Lucky Luxembourg, and so on. The various soloists are highlighted in their own movements almost like a concerto - vibist Franck Tortelier in When Vienna Doesn't Waltz, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel in London Rushes in the Tube. The skill of every member is at a very high level and ensemble work is superb. Plus the recording captures it all. A very exciting example of European big band achievement.
- John Henry
Two rather different sorts of steel displayed in the next pair =
Andy Narell Sextet - Live in South Africa - Heads Up HUCD 3060 (2 CDs, one enhanced): Steel drum virtuoso Narell journeyed to South African expecting to play in some small clubs to 50 or 75 persons. He was bowled over by the reception he got from his fan clubs there and from riotously enthusiastic audiences numbering in the tens of thousands at big stadiums who knew all his hits. This is a cross-section of what he sounded like there, playing with five pickup African musicians that quickly melded into a smooth-functioning ensemble. There's no credits on the dozen tunes, but they all appear to be Narell originals. Guitarist Louis Mhlanga and keyboardist Andile Yenana help achieve a larger-than-six players sound which actively supports Narell's bouncy pan-tunes. The cross-platform (thank you) CD-ROM content on the second CD includes sample tracks from other Narell Heads Up CDs (a subsidiary label of Telarc) plus a complete video of one of the tracks. While a bit jumpy on my non-G4 Mac it's still great fun to watch if you feed the stereo soundtrack into your main audio system at the same time.
- John Henry
The Blue Rider Trio - Harp, Steel and Guts - Mapleshade MS 06932: Ben Andrews, vocalist and guitar, Mark Wenner on harmonica, and Jeff Sarli on bass make up this gutsy blues trio. The label's music director, Larry Willis, sits in on piano for three of the tracks. Who sez only African-Americans can do the blues up proper? These guys bowled me over, and I'm far from a blues aficionado. They tear into some tunes with which I was familiar: Salty Dog, Make Me a Pallet, Stagolee, See See Rider. Digging just a couple tracks with 'harpist Wenner will make you really cringe the next time you're exposed to Bob Dylan on the harmonica. Also, who says the minimum-miking technique of Mapleshade's doesn't work with music of this sort? The balances are perfect and the impact and presence of the players is almost scary. And all taped on a highly tweaked semi-pro open reel analog deck live to two-track at 15 ips. If the only blues in your collection is that great Mo-Fi Muddy Waters, it's time to give it company and pick up this one!
- John Henry
Jimmy Smith times two here plus B3 x 2 = Excitement!
Jimmy Smith, B3, with Stanley Turrentine, tenor sax; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Grady Tate, drums - Fourmost Return - Live at Fat Tuesday's, NYC - Milestone MCD-9311-2: The master of the B3 Hammond joins here with players who have crossed paths with him frequently. For example, this is at least his 21st album with guitarist Burrell. This recording was made in l990 and commemorates saxist Turrentine who died last year at age 66. Part of it was issued back then, but this CD includes seven additional tracks never before issued. The style is 60's modern jazz and all the players are in top form. With Jimmy's amazing B3 providing everything from subtle piano lines to roaring big band sounds, this is an album with plenty to enjoy and nothing to dismay.
- John Henry
Joey DeFrancesco with guest Jimmy Smith - Incredible! - Live at the San Francisco Jazz Festival - Concord Jazz CCD-4890-2: This historic battle of the B3s happened during the l991 SF Jazz Festival, at Bimbo's 365 Club, and yours truly was in attendance. A local B3 fanatic first proposed and then put together an annual "B3 Bash" for the Jazz Festival. While shaking up and down (I was in near proximity to the subwoofer of DeFrancesco's B3) I was thinking "I hope somebody is taping this one for posterity." They were, and here it is. DeFrancesco began his professional career at age 10, having been taught by his father, a B3 organist in the Philadelphia area. His first commercial recording was at age 17 and he's now 29. One of the photos in the notes is of DeFrancesco as a child in l977 sitting at the B3 keyboard with Jimmy Smith. This incredible live appearance got the two organists back together again.
Both B3-ists work with just guitar and drums, no bass. The B3 does extremely well making its own deep bass, as I can attest from a night sitting on the subwoofer! The first four tracks selected from the evening for the CD are DeFrancesco's. All are lengthy, with Dizzy's classic The Champ, opening the set at 13 minutes. Back Home in Indiana also calls forth a string of variations on the B3, some with very unusual voicings that still sound nostalgically like the B3 and completely unlike any high tech synthesizer. The last two long tracks are medleys featuring the dynamic duo, with Smith on the left channel and DeFrancesco on the right channel. These are "first and only" great moments in B3 history. The medleys cover The Reverend, Yesterdays, My Romance, The Skeezer, and Sonny Rollin's calypsoish tune St. Thomas. The two keyboardists listen closely to one another and seem to push the improvisatory possibilities about as far as they can go at times. This is burning jazz organ times two - what a kick! May it exercise your subwoofer(s) too! B3 Uber Alles, I say.
- John Henry
Two excellent first jazz releases from a company active in the Christian music area =
Jack Jezzro - Jazz Elegance - The Trio Recordings - Hillsboro HMD1003: Jazz fans may not have heard of Jezzro before but after this debut album they probably will. Thought he appears quite young he's been one of Nashville's busiest studio musicians and producers. He has a great sound, a great style and great taste. His album title is extremely apt. His guitar gods have been Joe Pass, Jim Hall and George Benson. Aside from four Jezzro originals the 13 tracks here are mostly standards, providing a difficult test of just how original and effective the guitarist can be with a fresh view of such familiar classics. Very - to put it in one word. My favs were No Greater Love, Who Can I Turn To, and 'Round Midnight. Excellent up-close sonics too.
- John Henry
Antoine Silverman, violin - Blue Moods (with Stefan Karlson, piano; Pat Bergeson, guitar; Roger Spencer, bass; Chris Brown, drums) - Hillsboro HMD1002: French-American jazz violin Silverman is based in New York City and plays for Broadway, TV and studio sessions. He has chosen a dozen moody jazz standards for this CD, which is not his first. Three of them are his own compositions. His tone is satiny and he swings in the relaxed style of Grappelli on such tunes as Come Rain or Come Shine, Jordu, You've Changed, In a Mellow Tone, Bewitched, and Nica's Dream. Silverman's low-key lyrical style is a nice change of pace from the more aggressive approach of Regina Carter or even Jean Luc Ponty. This is my kind of chamber jazz. Tasteful listening, whether in foreground or background. Also first-rate sonics - this label's new jazz series is off to a bright start.
- John Henry
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