Jazz CDs, Pt. 2 - October 2002

Two quite different pianists on our next pair of CDs...

Monty Alexander, piano - My America (with Glen Browne, bass; Dalton Browne, rhythm guitar; Derek DiCenzo, lead guitar; Leon Duncan, bass; Desi Jones, drums; Leroy Romans, keyboards; Bobby Thomas Jr., percussion) - Telarc Jazz CD-83552:

Alexander was born in Jamaica and came to the U.S. at age 17. Among his heros as a child were the singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. His latest CD is a tribute to these early heros as well as later ones that replaced them - including Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Marvin Gaye and others. His previous album for Telarc was a unique mix of soul music, jazz and reggae. He wanted to honor in this new album the musical and cultural ideas that brought immigrants to America since the 1800s. It's an appropriate patriotic gesture that doesn't seem forced. For one thing, all the tunes betray a loose Jamaica sort of groove. He also invited vocalists Freddy Cole, John Pizzarelli and Kevin Mahoghany to sit in for one track apiece, and wound things up in a blaze of musical fireworks with the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Tracks: Don't Fence Me In, Straighten Up and Fly Right (with Cole), Love and Happiness, Rockin' in Riddim, Mack the Knife, Summer Wind (with Pizzarelli), Honky Tonk, Hallelujah I Love Her So (with Mahoghany), Sex Machine, Sexual Healing, The River Rolls On, Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Marian McPartland Trio - Live at Shanghai Jazz (with Joe Morello, drums & Ruffus Reid, bass) - Concord Jazz CCD-4991-2:

Legendary British jazz pianist McPartland has hosted the popular NPR program Piano Jazz seemingly forever, and her career playing with some of the top names in jazz has extended over 65 years now. I shared a table with her at an NPR event some years back and she's a true sweetie. Her sunny musical wit and improvisational skills are just the beginning of a long list of attributes; on her radio series she frequently creates off the cuff improvised portraits of her pianist guests. Her latest album was recorded live at a New Jersey Chinese restaurant owned by a jazz-crazy couple who removed tables to make room for the grand piano and drum set. She preferred the more relaxed audience connection and spontaneity of the live situation. Only two of the tunes are her own, there are two Ellingtons, some Cole Porter, Kern, Alec Wilder, and she opens with a long track from a former honored guest on her program and an earlier pioneer female jazz pianist - Mary Lou Williams. Drummer Morello played with Dave Brubeck for years. The trio did the session as though it was a regular gig, and tended to forget they were recording. That's what I call relaxed. Marian's closing rendition of Black is the Color on solo piano draws the album to a gentle close: Tracks: Scratchin' in the Gravel, For All We Know, Pensativa, You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, Just Squeeze Me, I Can't Explain, A Snare and a Delusion, Moon and Sand, Prelude to a Kiss, All the Things You Are, Shanghai Blues, Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair.

- John Henry

Next we do some ECM Examining of two different bands...

Dave Holland Big Band - What Goes Around - ECM 1777 440 014 002-2:

This CD seemed to me quite a departure from ECM's familiar signature sound, which is usually a more spare, Zen-like music from a smaller and cooler ensemble. Holland has played bass with a raft of jazz ensembles over the years and has contributed originals to many of them, but so far as I am aware, not previously for big band. I probably should have paired up this CD with the Mingus Big Band above since there are a number of similarities. Plus notice that one of the tracks is "Blues for C.M." This band is sort of an extension of Holland's quintet, giving him more voices and dynamic range to play with. The Monterey Jazz Festival invited him to debut the new band there, thus providing impetus for some of the compositions heard here. He assembled 12 other sidemen to join him for the band, including such major jazz names as Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Antonio Hart on sax and flute, and Steve Nelson on vibes.

The seven extended tracks are difficult to describe. They're accessible, with clean though fairly dense writing, plenty of contrasts, and unexpected voice leadings; I would be hard put to compare Holland's sound to any other big band expect perhaps a less "down" version of Mingus. I simply loved the stuff and I think you will too. I hankered for a bit more bass end, and since I am no longer the owner of a "hair shirt" audio preamp I could dial in a bit of bass boost (remotely yet... Yow!). While otherwise sonics are up to ECM's typical high levels, I noticed in one of the photos the band was assembled in a horseshoe shape. Could it be this was taped for multichannel and might be issued as a SACD now that ECM has announced their support of the new format? Tracks: Triple Dance, Blues for C.M., The Razor's Edge, What Goes Around, Upswing, First Snow, Shadow Dance.

Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra - Kyanos (Jon Balke, piano/keyboards; Per Jorgensen, trumpet, vocal; Morten Halle, sax & flute; Arve Henriksen, trumpet; Svante Henryson, cello; Anders Jormin, bass; Audun Kleive, drums & percussion) - ECM 1822:

Recorded in the label's favorite studio in Oslo, probably in the middle of the night as they frequently do, this septet is much closer to the expected ECM sound than Holland's big band. Even the artwork and photos are very dark - the photos actually being stills from a video evidently shot at the recording session. The ensemble's original plan was to combine a percussion group, string quartet and jazz sextet in an effort to widen the palette of sonic possibilities. But Balke's writing began to move away from a self-conscious fusion of styles and toward what he called "a new kind of pulsating chamber music..." The orchestra was reduced to seven members and a pair of trumpet players who both "prefer the whisper to the shout." The group's bassist and cellist balance the brass "section" in the ensemble. In Kyanos (Greek for 'blue"), an 11-movement suite, Balke's chamber jazz flows from one section to another using often intense tone colors and taking unexpected directions. Balke's piano is often central to the musical developments, and some of the background drone effects by other instruments sound not only uncannily electronic but also just like analog tapes played backwards at half speed. It's tonal enough to be accessible but takes the listener on a strangely lyrical and unusual musical journey that, again, is difficult to describe.

- John Henry

Here's a pair of B3-ers doin' their retro electronic keyboard magic...

Tony Monaco Trio - Intimately Live at the 501 (Tony Monaco, Hammond B3; Robert Kraut, guitar; Louis Tsamous, drums) - Summit DCD 341:

I've covered most of Tony's CDs by now and written about his battles with a serious nerve disease similar to polio. Monaco got into the world of the B3 via the great Jimmy Smith and idolizes that jazz organist. This album is dedicated to him. Monaco's now also become one of the leading champions of the retro instrument, which has been enjoying a great resurgence lately, making the B3/guitar/drums trio combo one of the most popular in jazz. His exuberant passion for the B3 comes out in intense and often thrilling playing with plenty of hard swinging. Unlike his earlier Summit efforts, this CD was recorded live; like most live sessions there is more palpable energy and excitement. Fully in keeping with the name of the jazz bar where this was recorded - it's actually named 5:01, not 501 - get it? Tunes: The Cat, Takin' My Time, Mellow Mood, Take the Coltrane, I Can't Give You Anything But Love, It's Only a Paper Moon, I'll Close My Eyes, Sweet Georgia Brown, Footprints.

Joey DeFrancesco, B3 - Ballads and Blues (with Paul Bollenback, guitars; Byron Landham, drums) - Concord Jazz CCD-2108-2:

Here's another equally gifted purveyor of that jazz organ trio beat. Joey got into the dated keyboard electronic instrument via his B3-playing father, who joins him on a second B3 for the track Jammin' in the Basement." (His brother also joins in on guitar). On top of that he invited in master guitarist Pat Martino to solo on two tracks and saxist Gary Bartz on two others. DeFrancesco alternates red-hot swinging blues with romantic ballads. A kick and a half - especially the double B3s track - it's stereo nirvana! Tracks: Get It All, These are Soulful Days, Take the Coltrane (Do an A/B with Monaco's CD above!), You Don't Know What Love Is, Jammin' in the Basement, Home on the Range, Ceora, Basin Street Blues, Mama Don't Allow No..., That's All.

- John Henry

We close out with two of the greatest big bands ever, both with material not heard on commercial recordings ever before...

1969 All-Star White Tribute to Duke Ellington - featuring: Duke Ellington, Louie Bellson, Bill Berry, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Earl Hines, Milt Hinton, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, Joe Williams - Blue Note 7243 5 35249 2 0:

On April 29, l969 the Nixon administration invited Duke Ellington to a 70th birthday tribute at the White House and to be award the Medal of Freedom. He was finally to be given his due - in the same building where his father had served as a butler during the Harding administration. Willis Conover of the Voice of America jazz programs assembled the tribute band of some of the greatest players playing in their prime. The concert was taped for broadcast on the VOA worldwide but it was for some reason never broadcast in the U.S. nor made into a commercial recording. Till now.

The digital master was made from the original tape stored in the National Archives. To make all 28 tunes fit on a 76-minute CD the intros by Conover had to be cut, as well as bits such as Nixon playing Happy Birthday to Duke on the piano. However, Ellington's three-minute piano improv titled "Pat" is included. Among highlights are the enthusiastic treatment of Squeeze Me by Clark Terry, as well as his two-man trumpet section with Bill Berry, J.J. Johnson's solo on Satin Doll, and Ellington's surprise and amusement at Gerry Mulligan's uptempo arrangement of Prelude to a Kiss.

Here goes the tune list (bear in mind some of these are only a minute or two long): Take the A Train, I Got It Bad, Chelsea Bridge, Satin Doll, Sophisticated Lady, Just Squeeze Me, I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, In a Mellotone, In a Sentimental Mood, Prelude to a Kiss, Ring Dem Bells, Drop Me Off in Harlem, All Too Soon, It Don't Mean a Thing, Things Ain't What They Used to Be, Perdido, Warm Valley, Caravan, Mood Indigo, Prelude to a Kiss, I Didn't Know About You, Praise God and Dance, Come Sunday, Heritage, Jump for Joy, Pat.

Stan Kenton Orchestra - Stompin' At Newport - Pablo PACD-5312-2:

The date was July 5, l957, so this CD is only mono, but good quality nevertheless. The reason it is only being released at this late date is that Norman Granz was in charge of the l957 Newport and part of his deal was that he would release on his own Verve label the live tapes only from artists that were already signed to Verve. While the several performers that weren't with Verve - Kenton included - were recorded, their labels never followed up to license and release LPs from them. Till now. Fantasy made arrangements to buy the rights to the Kenton appearance, and here it is! The band was in great form, full of standout soloists such as Bill Catalano, Lennie Niehaus and Bill Perkins, and with the added excitement of the jazz festival live audience, really cooking. So dig it. Tracks: The Opener, Artistry in Rhythm, Stompin' at the Savoy, Yesterdays, Intermission Riff, 23 Degrees North 82 Degrees West, Everything Happens to Me, The Peanut Vendor, The End of a Love Affair, Young Blood, Fortune of Fools, The Big Chase.

- John Henry

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