Recent listening, current

Monday, December 30, 2013

163-165. Chick Webb / Rhythm Man (HEP CD 1023) Stompin' at the Savoy (CD AJA 5416) & Stompin' at the Savoy (FABCD 119)

I've recently come across three similar compilations of the swing drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, who was affectionately known to his friends and admirers as "Little Man." Webb was a prominent leader on the '30s swing circuit, perhaps best known for introducing the world to Ella Fitzgerald who led the band following his death. Although short lived, Webb's orchestra was respectable and performed on par with the Ellington, Basie, Lunceford, Redman, and Henderson bands. Tragically, Webb died in 1939 so we don't know what kind of magical music he would have continued to make as the swing craze really took off.

All three records feature common selections in the playlists, all are released as public domain music by UK labels, but that's about where the similarities stop. If I could pick only one, I'd go with Rhythm Man. It has superior audio (transfers by John R.T. Davies), detailed liner notes including arranger credits and order of soloists, and two versions each of "Blue Minor" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." If I could pick two of the three, then the ASV disc is the next clear winner. It has bright audio with excellent definition up top, but somewhat stingy in the low end. Like the Stompin' disc by Fab, it includes some later material not heard on the Hep release (hear "A-Tisket, A-Tasket"). Fab's Stompin' suffers from dismal and murky audio that sounds like gratuitous noise reduction, as well as some artificial reverb and overly loud levels. For all of its clarity and definition, the ASV's Stompin' sounds like it could be running a bit fast. Given, the difference in speed is only really apparent by listening to the two discs in contrast. Presently supplies are limited and ASV/Living Era imprint is defunct so better get on the stick if you'd like to own one today.

The following is a summary breakdown of each album, and should it interest you, I prepared a .PDF to download here which graphically compares the playlists of each album.

Rhythm Man  
Hep Records  
HEP CD 1023
Has a lot of earlier material, not included on either of the others. Excellent audio definition, transfers done by John R.T. Davies. Best liner notes and discographical information. Lacks later material, and there are no vocals by Fitzgerald. Two versions each of "Blue Minor" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Stompin' at the Savoy
ASV/Living Era (imprint)
CD AJA 5416
Contains everything on FABCD 119 except five songs. Lacks earlier material found on HEP CD 1023. Good definition and clarity, however, sounds like maybe running fast. Lower end tends to lack body. Later recording of "Sunny Side" and "Blue Minor." Fitzgerald on "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." Out of print and limited availability. Pretty good liner notes.

Stompin' at the Savoy 
Similar playlist as CD AJA 5416. Muddy sound lacks definition and high range possibly due to noise reduction. Is that artificial "concert hall" reverb that I hear? Boo! Speeds seem inconsistent - some too fast, others too slow. Levels are hotter than ASV, and a little less than Hep. Earlier recording of "Blue Minor." Limited liner notes and discographical information.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

162. Steely Dan / Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)

The followup to Can't Buy a Thrill is like the great early Steely Dan album that no one talks about. It's understandable for a band with things like Aja or Pretzel Logic lurking in the back catalog. Much like Scam, the band's second LP seems destined live in the shadow of its discographical neighbors. But the songcraft is wise and clever, a subtly sophisticated mix of pop, blues, rock, soul and jazz. And like Royal Scam and Katy Lied, it helps set up the stylistic direction that reached its pinnacle with Aja. I find it amazing that this is only their second record. It's an instructional antithesis to the sophomore slump. Appreciating its heights and evenness compared to the debut does much to illustrate the talents of the creators. To say the least, Becker and Fagen are really hitting their stride by this time. The pieces for each future masterwork are in place: First thing to gel is Fagen doing all the lead vocals, killing the herky-jerky transitions heard on Thrill. Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter split the guitar duties, Baxter contributing pedal steel and six string. But there are notable session players, too, like Ray Brown on "Razor Boy," Rick Derringer on "Showbiz Kids," Ernie Watts on "My Old School," and Victor Feldman playing several instruments through both sides. The lyrics come into their own, filled with wry references, quotable one-liners, and unforgettable character studies that are simultaneously explicit and oblique. Some of the music is visionary, too. "Pearl of the Quarter" has been described as "country," but to my ear it is something closer to the further amalgamation of American musical idioms, presaging that which in later decades we would come to call Americana. I love all the SD albums and go through phases where one will sit on my stereo for longer than the others. Right now, Ecstasy is "the one." So excuse me as I put on my headphones and turn on to the curt, sardonic strains of "Bodhisattva" once again....

Monday, December 23, 2013

161. Al Grey & Friends / Christmas Stockin' Stuffer (1990)

If you're not averse to "Christmas jazz" -- practically it's own genre nowadays, a diverse lot encompassing everything from Coltrane to Mindi Abair -- then be sure to track down a copy of Christmas Stockin' Stuffer. The mood is relaxed and bluesy, an enjoyable set replete with vocals, organ, guitar, and of course, Grey's talking trombone. I like its lonesome touch on "Winter Wonderland" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," interspersed with Joe (son of Al) Cohn's funky riffing on the guitar. There are some vocal spots like the opening "Christmas Stockin' Stuffer" (guest vocal by Jon Hendricks), which is a treat. "White Christmas" is arranged with strings adding a warm, homey glow to the playlist. The short but sweet New Orleans inspired "Auld Lang Syne" plays you straight through New Years' Eve, if you can't give up the holiday spirit until January. Not exactly what I would describe as an obscure album, but not exactly easy to find, either, Grey's holiday outing is a must-have for my season.

Friday, December 20, 2013

160. Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges / Side By Side (1959)

I put this album in the "essential" pile. From the first punchy, rather Dukelike chords in "Stompy Jones," we're off to the races with two sessions comprised of Ellington and Basie alumni. I love listening to Sweets Edison in the context of a small group. His lines in "Stompy" are clean, concise, and eloquent, ringing out above the swinging bass, Jo Jones' crashing cymbals and Duke's rhythmical encouragement. Those two guys -- Duke Ellington and Jo Jones -- make quite the pair midway through the tune when the front line lays out and lets them have a round of aggressive chords and crashing percussion. Hodges comes back just in time for a joyous, New Orleans style melee at the end. The lineup with Ellington and Sweets only does three of the album's nine tracks ("Stompy," "Squeeze Me" and "Going Up"). The second session is a septet recorded six months earlier with Billy Strayhorn, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Wendell Marshall, and Lawrence Brown. The character is similar but the different chemistry is easy to hear. Of course the soloists change, Eldridge's style is flashier than Sweets', but there's also a different sentimental quality and certain reserve presiding over cuts like "Let's Fall in Love" that is absent from the music with Ellington. Maybe it's Webster. Or maybe it's Strayhorn? Who knows. Regardless of which band you prefer, this disc is wonderful.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

159. Buck Hill Quartet / This is Buck Hill (1978)

This is Buck Hill is Hill's recording debut on SteepleChase. From Washington D.C., Hill worked for the post office by day and was a hard driving driving tenor sax leader by night. So by the time we meet him in 1978, he is 51 years old and already possesses a fully developed tone and unique stylistic approach to modal material. Because of this late exposure, he is easy to miss, but he was and continues to be a fantastic player in the tradition of other big tenors that jazz listeners are more familiar with. For the debut he teams up with Billy Hart, Kenny Barron, and Buster Williams. They have a good sound that approaches the Prestige or Blue Note gold standard from two decades earlier. This session lacks the production gloss of newer Hill releases like Relax (which is also excellent). Notably, four of the album's seven tracks are Hill's originals. These are modal explorations with contributions from all members of the group. The four musicians play so well together that it's a hard sell for me to believe they weren't working together a lot longer than they were! Finding the vinyl could be a challenge but the recent CD is a worthwhile purchase and comes with a bonus take of Hill's "S.M.Y."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

158. Dick Hyman & Ralph Sutton (1993)

This magical live set was recorded at Berkeley's Maybeck Recital Hall in 1993. Both players have a grand command of the keyboard, and a little bit like the piano recordings of Duke Ellington, they render the music with the arranger's ear for an orchestra. Hyman is off to the left, Sutton on the right. Hearing the two styles in opposition is a marvelous thing. Tumbling down the stairs in effervescent flurries from the high end is Hyman, while Sutton provides a canvas of chording and big rhythmic anchor. Sutton's choruses in tunes like "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" are comparatively rowdy, bordering on barrel house, filled with booming chords and a topsy-turvy swing. Clocking in just shy of five minutes, I think the tune could easily have gone another round, but what we get is such a skyrocket that it's impossible to complain. "Everything Happens to Me" is a solo feature for Sutton, while Hyman gets "Ol' Man River" all to himself. In the latter, Hyman's lines demonstrate a dazzling fluency in blues, bop, and balladry. A shimmering collection of piano jazz by two undisputed masters of the instrument, I highly recommend this collection.

Monday, December 9, 2013

157. Gene Harris Quartet with Frank Wess / It's the Real Soul (1995)

Recorded live across two nights in March of 1995, these eight tracks feature the Gene Harris Quartet (Ron Eschete, g; Luther Hughes, b; Paul Humphrey, d) in the company of Frank Wess. Wess divides his time between four tracks, playing tenor on "Menage a Bleu" and "Estoril Soul," then flute on "Straight No Chaser" and "My Funny Valentine." He is as expressive on the flute as Harris is on the piano, unleashing a diverse assortment of perky phrases and exciting techniques that frame the Monk tune in a perfectly jaunty way, and adding lots of personality to "My Funny Valentine." Nice as it is to have him around for the proceedings, the core band plays with such a big sound and heavy swing that I don't miss him on the other half of the record. Harris works well with guitarist Eschete. Their cooperation in splitting the breaks of "Lady Be Good" turns the old tune into a memorable affair, their choruses developing patiently until the mood reaches a fever pitch. "That's All," which is the last tune on the album, is a fitting closer. Harris teases "Rhapsody in Blue" before really pounding into fully chorded statements, with the crowd loving it. His style on the keyboard is often described as being rooted in a gospel tradition and tracks like "You Don't Know Me" clearly substantiate those descriptions.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

156. Chet Baker / The Italian Sessions (1962)

Baker's groups in Europe were a mixed lot. Sometimes they were great but sometimes it was just the opposite. Then after a lifetime of drugs, alcohol, and legal trouble, his tone and technique suffered hugely.  I like this disc because it is none of those things. It features Baker on the front line of a charging hard bop sextet. He holds his own flanked by piano, tenor sax, and guitar. His lines are so forthright and aggressive, so strident and even verbose (for Baker) that it hardly even sounds like him. I'm dying to put it in a blindfold test because it's such a curveball. The high spirited band gets started on the first track. "Well You Needn't" is one of two rhythmically thorny pieces in the session, the other being Charlie Parker's "Barbados." In the Monk tune, Baker careens along filling the space above and below him with a clarion tone and fast but thoughtful flits into the upper register. The drummer, Daniel Humair, drives the thing right over the top. Every track is short and concise -- no wasted space, no excessive showboating, no lost attention or bad takes. If you know the Let's Get Lost Chet Baker, the Californian bebop sensibility, the underplayed moody ballads and minimalistic statements in the lower register only, then you could revise that understanding, or at least enrich it, with these eight performances. They even do "Star Eyes," which is one of my favorite tunes by anyone.

Friday, December 6, 2013

155. Earl Bostic / Flamingo (2002)

Flamingo is a double disc compilation by the UK's Proper Records label, covering 1944 to 1951. The audio quality is very good. These groups are like many of the transitional orchestras of the 40s and early 50s. They feature veterans alongside torchbearers from swing to bop and beyond. In the early sides, we hear Bostic with Rex Harris, Cozy Cole, Don Byas, Tiny Grimes, and Lionel Hampton. Later, in his stripped down R&B orchestra, we hear a sampling of Jimmy Cobb, Wilbur Campbell, and Jaki Byard. Listen for the transition from gut busting alto to what became Bostic's trademark technique. In the 1949 sextet, tracks like "Filibuster" show repeated riffing with huge tone, but also a nimble fingered aptitude for clean, double-time runs through the scales, colored here and there with reed buzz. The lovely "Serenade" (Gene Redd on vibes) has a similar feel. Like Ben Webster, Bostic could play with arresting power, or sublime gentleness. "Flamingo," probably his best known track, has become the archetypal rendition, although it isn't much different in structure or appeal than other sides recorded by the group. I like the later sides best, but the early ones are priceless, too. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

154. Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt / Boss Tenors (1961)

If you've got the stereo disc then Ammons is in the right channel and usually goes first. Stitt is in the left channel and comes next, occasionally doubling on alto. The latter was one of the most inspiring alto players there was, but he gets short shrift. A whiz on the alto, he was equally capable on tenor or even baritone (no barisax on this disc). These two players make wonderful music together. It's a solid dance session, with plenty of fireworks and some intriguing knots in the choruses that may interest more serious listeners. "There is No Greater Love" features Stitt on alto. His exhilirating double-time chourses are a thing to marvel at. While trading jabs with each other, the horns take unexpected sidesteps outside the blues, like in Ammons' first chorus of "Autumn Leaves," or some of Stitt's phrases in the smoking "Blues Up and Down." The rhythm section of John Houston, Buster Williams, and George Brown has a good chemistry. Williams' timekeeping meshes well with Brown, and especially Houston's comping style, which favors chunky, chorded statements emphasizing the beat. Their interplay with the leaders during "Blues Up and Down" really kicks the tune into a higher gear. This is a memorable session, and quite enjoyable, to say the least.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

153. Miles Davis / Big Fun (1974)

Listening to Miles go electric 40 years ago, critics were in a different position. They took issue with his stylistic developments, because 1974 was much different than 1954. They were too close to see that the intervening years would witness Davis' massive influence on successive generations. Today we see what happened, so we evaluate their merits on another scale. It bears mentioning that these aren't records I can listen to every day. I don't have that kind of time to invest on a daily basis. Like Bitches Brew, the music on Big Fun explores modality through orchestration and arrangement. The tracks are brimming with textures, melodic ideas, and moods. Themes are played and repeated, then recalled, then played again. The effect is haunting, like beasts looming in a fog, vanishing and reappearing. After 22 mnutes, the effect is glacial. Like it says in the liner to Coltrane's Ascension, you shouldn't turn it on without expecting to hear at least a whole side. You can't be interrupted for a few minutes without the magic being broken, and the arc is lost with just a few minutes of play time. Collaborations with Zawinul like "Recollections" or "Great Expectations" fulfill the promise, and typify what's found elsewhere throughout the record. As if you really need a curveball, Davis added sitar and tabla.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

152. Tom Principato / Smokin' (1985)

Principato is well known on the East Coast circuit. In the 70s, he made a pair of legendary albums with fellow Tele-wizard Danny Gatton (Blazing Telecasters and More Blazing Telecasters). But outside of the South, his name is more obscure. Principato's nimble, string bending, Fender-driven brand of electric blues combines a stripped down Chcago style with Texas and Southern flavors. Like the discs he did with Gatton (and much of Gatton's work, Tom or no), it draws from all over the blues tradition, a swirling cocktail of jump, boogie, rock, country, and swing. There's a tinge of honky tonk and each lick is rendered with gratuitous twang. Principato's sustain on sweeping string bends gives each note its own zip code. Smokin' is the perfect title. The album cooks on high from the first note until the last. For verse sections, Principato plays riffs close to the nut in a deep, growly sound. He soon flies up the neck in a combination of slick, fluid phrases that are interspersed with chunky bends and exciting slides. "Lipstick, Powder & Paint" continues the twangy blues vibe, likewise "Fish Fry." Harder rocking tracks include Principato's "Talkin' Trash" and the closing "Hard Livin'." Fans of Stevie Ray or any of the usual suspects will find this to be an infectious delight. Be warned: buying one album may lead to buying three or four more...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

151. Hank Mobley / Workout (1961)

The band is Mobley with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones playing typically of the period. I can't help but feel that Mobley is underrated as a composer and stylist, though. He's in that club with George Coleman and a few others, seemingly overshadowed by the giants they came up with. There's a lot of blues on this record, dotted here and there with elastic phrases and effervescent flurries by Mobley. Four of the six tunes are Mobley's originals, the exceptions being "The Best Things in Life are Free" and "Three Coins in the Fountain." They're interesting covers, one being rather old and the other an oddball. I like Mobley's melodic inventions and improvised embellishments of the melody. His colorful palette combined with a hard charging, muscular sound occasionally reminds me of Dexter Gordon. In the rhythm section, Jones and Chambers keep the soloists busy by mixing up the tempo, Jones occasionally very aggressive with crashes and rolls, playing melodically, not just rhythmically. Green and Kelly often solo in that order. Green has no trouble in the bebop idiom, spinning single-note solos like a bluesy sax. You can't go wrong with this or Another Workout, but for Mobley beginners, I'd start with Soul Station.

Monday, November 18, 2013

150. Wayne Shorter / Juju (1964)

Shorter's second LP for Blue Note finds him branching out as a composer and even experimenting with a different sound from his reed. There's no Lee Morgan in this group, but the rest is the same as on Night Dreamer. On the opening "Juju" he uses a harsher tone and plays stretchy, contemplative phrases that explore his interpretation of a chant-like African melody through the repetition of its few tonalities. The rhythm section pins down the whole thing, and often with Shorter sketching and resketching the vaguest of melodic ideas, it's Reggie Workman and McCoy Tyner who indicate where the melody actually is. In a word, spooky. Elvin Jones gets behind it (seemingly several times at once) and it works. The group's dynamic for much of the album is the same as it was with Coltrane's band, and it's instructional to listen to Juju's tracks mixed at random with Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard. Try that and tell me what you think. The fabled Workman-Tyner-Jones unit is like one animal, it has one sound, and it's a very distinctive one. Then you've got the tenor on top of that, either the master or his understudy, and either way it's magic. Like Night Dreamer before it, Juju clearly originates in blues and bop, but turn around and you'll find that shoreline quickly vanishing behind you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

149. Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago (1959)

Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago (aka Cannonball & Coltrane on Limelight LS 86009) is a splendid disc from the core band that recorded Kind of Blue. "Limehouse Blues" stands ragtime roots on their head in the attitude of hard bop. A sparring match between alto and tenor proceeds at breathtaking pace until the tune reels in for a final, punctual tutti on the main theme. "Stars Fell on Alabama" is next and features very sensitive embellishments from Adderley. Kelly goes next, tinkling single notes into the dusty register. As saxes go, it's a pleasure to hear the two styles in opposition. Adderley and Coltrane ride atop the rhythmic swell and strike the bar at will. But the two players are not very similar. Contrast their rhythmic interpretations of "Wabash," or technique in "Grand Central," which crackles with Trane's rhythmic inventions in fast triplets. The ballad "You're a Weaver of Dreams" is handed to Coltrane, and Kelly strolls through some jaunty figures that recall the old school with aplomb. On each track, whether it's Adderley busting open the guts of the melody and improvising endlessly thoughtful variations on its theme, or Coltrane boldly probing the rhythmic and harmonic architecture, there's always something to hang an ear on. This disc is a fine compliment to Kind of Blue, Somethin' Else, and At Newport 1958.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

148. Fenton Robinson / Somebody Loan Me a Dime (1974)

I like this debut for Alligator a lot because Robinson's guitar and vocals combine much of what I love about Texas, Chicago, jazz, and soul all in one place. It has a pureness, a genuine flavor that is unmistakable, yet it is not adequately described by any one of those styles. It all starts with the vocals and guitar which are backed by a straight ahead band including Bill Heid and Mighty Joe Young. Robinson's voice is a deep baritone, capable of rich emotional detail while its timbre is smooth enough to imply a dimension of gentleness. This distinguishes him from the haughty, barkingly self-assured styles of singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf (just saying). And it's a big voice, too. They needed a microphone for the sessions but it's easy to see him singing without one. For "mikeless" cred, he even covers Big Joe Williams' "You Say You're Leaving," and to devastating effect. His unique blues guitar style is evident from the first track, "Somebody Loan Me a Dime." Robinson plays smart licks in a call-and-response style, but draws jazzy patterns from a more colorful pallet than your typical player. The tone is dirty and overdriven, without reverb, and sounds pretty much right from the wire. This is essential for fans of Chicago or Texas blues because it's good for character, and an easy like for fans of Grant Green or anyone with a penchant for soul jazz.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

147. Either/Orchestra / The Calculus of Pleasure (1992)

Like everything by Either/Orchestra, The Calculus of Pleasure intrigues me. Music by Benny Golson ("Whisper Not"), Horace Silver ("Ecaron"), and Julius Hemphill ("The Hard Blues") bumps against the original work of Bob Nieske ("Consenting Adults," "Grey"), Russ Gershon ("Bennie Moten's Weird Nightmare," "Miles Away"), and Curtis Hasselbring ("Unnatural Pastime"). I love the classic vibe and musical conversations in "Consenting Adults." Nieske then produces a shy ballad in "Grey" that whispers the secrets of its harmonic language more with each successive listen. Gershon's tunes are varied, like "Miles Away," the down tempo, texture-laden tribute to late Miles Davis, or the curious intersections of "Nightingale". In spite of its obviously spirited playing and conception, the whole of Calculus seems restrained and lacks some of the devilishly odd character that endeared me to Half-Life of Desire. The music has held up extremely well in the nearly 25 years since it was recorded. I see this as a rumination in sound rather than a wholesale defection from the grinning muse that inspired Half-Life. As always, E/O's trademark of mixing old with new, enhanced by each member's indelible stamp, creates a codex pointing in several directions simultaneously.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

146. Wes Montgomery / Smokin' at the Half Note (1965)

Smokin' is the second collaboration between Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio. They played on a couple of his other albums, too, and they make a solid group. The trio is Kelly, Chambers and Cobb. Having said as much I shouldn't have to say more because the names, let alone the music, practically say it all. I'll listen to anything with these guys. Only two of the five tracks on the original LP are actually live from the venue, "If You Could See Mee Now" and "No Blues." The other three are from (where else?) Van Gelder's studio. It doesn't really matter because both dates are terrific. Our opener "No Blues" pushes 13 minutes in length, marked by Montgomery's fat tone and heavy right hand. It's also an interesting piece as far as Miles covers go, dating from his 'casting around' period before the second great quintet formed up. But getting back to Wes, his melodic constructions in "Unit Seven" are something to marvel at. It's refreshingly cogent jazz thinking, replete with strong musicality and inventive spirit. For both live and studio material, Chambers and Cobb are the bedrock while Kelly is probably the perfect pianist for this group, having both the technical facility and bluesy swagger necessary to enhance the brew. If you want to learn what jazz guitar is all about, this is a good entry point.

Monday, November 4, 2013

145. Benny Carter & His Orchestra / Further Definitions (1961)

This octet features the alto saxes of Green and Phil Woods playing across from Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Rouse on tenor. The lineup recreates the famous Green-Hawkins date from Paris 1937 while harkening back to the swing era's "dueling" sax lineups, fashioned after the Basie model. This time, several 30+ year veterans team up with players of the next generation like Woods, Rouse, and Jimmy Garrison. It's a real sympatico affair, a collage of distinctive voices working together in a shared, now classic style. Their danceable, infectious small group swing is a far cry from Impulse's stock and trade just a few years later. Carter's arrangements provide amply for the players, and the set rolls without a hitch. I love "Body and Soul," especially when Hawk plays it. It's a gem, and Carter's chart gives him all the room he wants. Woods' work on "Crazy Rhythm" (a chestnut also from the Paris date) is notable, drawing equally from the work of his mentors and his own developing style. The solid, self-assured vibe feels a lot like Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins or Verve's Ben Webster and Associates. Comparisons aside, it's something you want to own for its sheer enjoyability, if not for its historical value.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

144. Yma Sumac / Voice of the Xtabay (1950)

Xtabay is the Peruvian soprano's famous American debut. Its release was in 1950 when she signed to Capitol and began thrilling audiences with an astonishing range of nearly five octaves. The songs were composed and arranged by Les Baxter along with husband Moises Vivanco, and John Rose. Exotica aficionados will appreciate the presence of Baxter but Vivanco actually gets most of the credits. Some of these tracks, or at least snippets of them, have appeared in advertising campaigns and movie soundtracks, so there could be many listeners who are familiar with the voice but unaware of who it is. Selections combine catchy snatches and "exotic" percussion with lush jazz instrumentation and strains of Peruvian folk music. Some songs are haunting and ethereal ("Virgin of the Sun God"), some are delightfully quirky ("Monos"), and all feature Sumac's captivating voice. She doesn't just sing, either, but breathes, chants, yelps, croons, and shouts. It's invigorating! If you're new to this vocalist, then you could get one of those greatest hits compilations, but you'd do just as well to start here, and it's a very nice item for the shelf.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

143. Don Braden / The Voice of the Saxophone (1997)

Braden plays a big sounding  tenor and does an admirable job arranging for his octet (which is occasionally a quartet, as with "After the Rain"). He carries most of the groove but there's also Vincent Herring, Randy Brecker, Frank Lacy and Hamiett Bluiett. The arrangements are nimble, often carried by a piano continuo, and they balance the group's massed power with spaces that feature the soloists. It's clever, and I'll forget that I'm listening to an octet before a big blast reminds me to count the pieces. The opener is Hank Mobley's swinging "Soul Station." There's a lot of good hard bop in the playlist, like Shorter's "See No Evil," or Jimmy Heath's "Voice of the Saxophone." It all sounds fresh. There's also Sam Rivers' tricky "Point of Many Returns" and some solid originals by Braden like "The Dust Kicker" and "Cozy," (nice solo by Brecker here). "Monk's Hat," which is the tune we all know as the theme from the Cosby Show, is appreciated but might be more appropriately placed at the end of the album. Kitsch aside, I like that last one well enough because it reminds me of watching Cosby! Hats off to Braden and crew for an outing that's enjoyable, danceable, and even holds a few surprises.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

142. Miles Davis / Miles Ahead (1957)

This album is the natural progression out of the Miles Davis Nonet style that was documented on The Complete Birth of the Cool. Davis and Evans deliver on the promise with a new band almost double in size. Davis is the only soloist, playing flugelhorn instead of trumpet. Evans is composer and arranger. The sound of the orchestra is lush and slick, clear evidence of the project's bigger budget. Evans' arrangements elegantly capitalize on the power of the massed pieces, and with Davis on the flugelhorn, there's a stately majesty at play. The playlist is arranged like one continuous performance (see Such Sweet Thunder by Duke Ellington). I love the way all the moods melt into one another, contrasting against a greater arc of musical story. The Spanish tinge of "Maids of Cadiz," for example, or the hard swinging "New Rhumba" (Ahmad Jamal) that explodes from "Blues for Pablo." It's magic, and essential listening for all jazz fans. No excuses!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

141. Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis / Triple Treat (1982)

For various reasons, the cover of this recording seems oddly appropriate. A photograph of a three-scoop ice cream sundae makes a cheeky pun for the piano trio's sweet and sometimes quirky set of tunes like Blue Mitchell's "Fungi Mama" (with fun quotes by Ellis, and some jangly syncopation by Alexander) or the hot side-opening "(Meet The) Flintstones." Monty Alexander fills the piano chair and I don't think he sounds one bit like Oscar Peterson, in spite of Brown and Ellis being longtime members of that musician's group. The other music on the album is equally sweet and creamy, as with the sumptuous "Body and Soul" and "Sweet Lady," or swinging "When Lights are Low." Also notable is the title track, the "Triple Treat Blues." Chemistry, relaxed atmosphere and slick, baton passing choruses of these three musicians make a buoyant and memorable session that is out of print but worth seeking out. If you enjoy this lineup, be sure to check out their other albums, as well.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

140. Tal Farlow / The Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow (1956)

This blues and bop trio date with Farlow, Eddie Costa and Vinnie Burke is easy to listen to, and closer listening reveals a lot going on. The styles of Costa on piano and Farlow's guitar dovetail nicely. Farlow's eloquently phrased and heavy swinging choruses are followed by those of Costa, who plays in a hard-hitting, single-note style and is very rhythmic. Farlow uses the occasional slide, as in "Yardbird Suite," but instead of relying on an arsenal of tricks and stock licks, he is adept in inventing on the fly. The improvisations literally flow from the speakers like they're on tap. With so many ideas being tossed around, there's a lot of interplay between the piano and guitar. Burke plays the bass more or less steadily throughout, occasionally getting a chorus his own. The outtakes of "Taking a Chance on Love," Yardbird," and two (!) extra takes of "Gone with the Wind" are all so good that it's difficult to say how they determined a master. At any rate, the bonuses are much appreciated by this listener! Admirers of Ahmad Jamal's drumless trio with Ray Crawford, the Aladdin dates of Art Pepper, or the Modern Jazz Quartet should take immediately to the music herein.

Monday, September 16, 2013

139. Jimmie Lunceford / Strictly Lunceford (2007)

Today, Lunceford is lesser known than his peers. This four-disc set from Proper provides a good introduction to Lunceford's work across numerous record labels. Audio and notes in the accompanying 28-page booklet are commendable. Considering how good this band was, any neglect by record companies or listeners seems a real shame: Lunceford's band replaced Cab's at the Cotton Club, an appointment that was no mean feat. Then and now, they have a lot to offer. The famously diverse repertoire uses vocals, novelty songs, and barn burning dance music on par with other great orchestras. Lunceford's driving two-beat pulse appears in tracks like "Lunceford Special." I find it instructive to compare arrangements by Sy Oliver to those done by his successor, Billy Moore, as well as the other arrangers in the group. All crackle with originality. I love Oliver's muted brass ensemble in "Chillun, Get Up!" but Wille Smith's radical take on "Mood Indigo," replete with staccato phrases and soaring three-octave accompaniment on reeds and brass, isn't to be tangled with, either. On every track, the soloists are poignantly melodic and very sweet, like Eddie Tompkins on trumpet or the aforementioned Willie Smith on alto. The eagle-eyed (or eared?) listener will also spot the likes of Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson. Don't overlook this set!

Friday, September 13, 2013

138. Roy Eldridge / The Nifty Cat (1970)

Roy Eldridge as leader? Has the moon come down? He didn't lead much, didn't even record much after 1960, and I wasn't aware of this disc until spotting it at my library. The personnel is interesting. There's Budd Johnson whose skills in arranging, tenor and soprano sax are the perfect fit for Eldridge's brand of jump and small group swing. The bass is by Tommy Bryant, a musician of great skill and style, and one who seems underappreciated today. On drums is perennial session man Oliver Jackson, piano is 'Countalike' Nat Pierce, and perhaps my favorite man on the album is Benny Morton on trombone. His inventory of different sounds and licks is inexhaustible and the 'bone brings a touch of old school class to the proceedings (check him out on the lazy "Jolly Hollis," or "Ball of Fire"). "Cotton" is a deep and stormy blues carried by an appealingly mysterious piano and bass figure. Eldridge sings the humorous blues "Wineola," also getting a nice solo in the tune, and things really cook with Eldridge's "Ball of Fire," filled by a lot of riffing and Eldridge showing off his famous range. The closer is the title track with solid work from everyone. I especially enjoy Eldridge's first solo. There's a good mood throughout the set, and I'm thankful for this disc given how much the trumpeter worked but did not record. It's definitely worth finding.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

137. Arnett Cobb and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis / Blow, Arnett, Blow! (1959)

This Prestige date was something of a 'return' for Cobb, who had been recently injured and was retired during recovery. Fans of Mr. Davis should enjoy the album thoroughly because it's exactly the same band as the Cookbook sessions, plus Cobb. Every cut is a wild give and take between Cobb and Davis, a battle for sure. Shirley Scott, making heavy use of the drawbars and tremolo, throws gasoline on the fire more than once. The choice of an organist over a pianist makes a big difference in the total sound and Scott definitely has some good licks. The quintet setting is almost too small to contain the horns, and it does get noisy, but the arrangements are tight. It's well worth seeking out for fans of early soul jazz, or Texas tenor, or anyone studying the small group work of Cobb or Davis who were also well known as big band soloists. The opening chestnut "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" is very nice, also take a look at "Dutch Kitchen Bounce" and "The Eely One." I wonder, is that title a reference to Bud Freeman? Maybe someone in the blogosphere can tell me. One word for this album? Hot!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

136: Art Pepper / The Return of Art Pepper: The Complete Aladdin Recordings, Vol. 1 (1988)

There are two groups here, recorded 1956 and 1957. The first group features Pepper straight out of prison and recording again. It's a somewhat unbalanced group and Pepper's style is intact but languishing. This makes instructive listening, considering how hot he could be on a good recording, I find it fascinating to see between the lines for a few moments while his fingering isn't as nimble and the ideas are developing more slowly. There's some good balladry ("You Go to My Head") and some flashy piano and trumpet from left coasters Russ Freeman and Jack Sheldon. The gems, for me, come in the pickup band on tracks 11-15 with Joe Morello and Red Norvo. This group was put together on the fly, presumably with little or no rehearsal, and the miracle is that it's a really tight date with a really positive chemistry. Morello was leader. "Tenor Blooz," "Yardbird Suite" and "You're Driving Me Crazy" show Pepper's style in full flight. Also, Norvo and Carl Perkins, and Pepper's interplay with Perkins, are not to be missed. If I had the choice to keep one disc out of this Aladdin set, The Return of Art Pepper might not be my first choice, but the Morello/Norvo recordings redeem it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

135. Ryan Kisor / Minor Mutiny (1992)

The cover, which apes Chet Baker, first grabbed me. I saw a young guy, similar features, sport coat, trumpet, and dramatic lighting. I thought, okay, let's try this out. The second thing, first hearing then reading, was the personnel including Ravi Coltrane, Lonnie Plaxico, Michael Cain, and either Jeff Siegel or producer Jack DeJohnette on drums. It's a sweet debut, a sort of double debut if you count Siegel. I was immediately swept up by the beautifully lonesome "One For Miles," which evokes Davis' "Basin Street Blues" from Seven Steps to Heaven. Kisor pays through the mute and it's a spot on, glowing tribute. My reaction was, "If this guy doesn't sound like Miles!" Yet in spite of Kisor's obvious reverence for the master, the performance isn't cliche and the style is all his own. Then there's the work by Ravi Coltrane on tenor and soprano. His tone and intonation on soprano are exemplary and the choruses take possibly the most unique voice in the group. Juxtaposition of drummers Siegel and DeJohnette do not ruin the continuity. Siegel is fantastic, playing responsively in intricate patterns all around the beat, and doesn't suffer for following an experienced musician like DeJohnette. You'll find that Siegel's playing even starts the melancholy album (there is some great mood on this disc), and he is only supplanted by DeJohnette on two tracks.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

134. Chet Baker / Live in '64 and '79 (2006)

Baker's music definitely matured, although his development is sometimes difficult to appreciate given how his drug habit impacted his life and performances. This DVD from Jazz Icons shows him playing with two European groups, 15 years apart. In the '64 quintet I sense tension between the underplayed Baker and overactive pianist Rene Utreger, who is constantly throwing heavy handed chords at the end of Chet's phrases, sometimes before they appear to be completed. It's like a leadership dispute, and the band or producers clearly have their own ideas about who falls where. In spite, Baker manages a lovely "Time After Time," though the quintet's take on "So What" seems like a missed opportunity. Baker has trouble finding space to express himself and fights with the group, and also has difficulty with the intonation. The second performance is from '79 and begins with an interview that segues into "Blue Train," in progress. Baker says his lyrical approach to improvising has become more subtle with experience and the performance reflects this. The drummerless quartet is much more together than the '64 group, thankfully, and Baker's rich sumptuous tone pervades the set. Although "Blue Train" is truncated (which stinks, because what we do hear is beautiful), we get a heavy swinging and creative take on "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" with Baker's smoothly flowing melodic improvisation, the occasionally interesting turn of a chord, and overriding melancholic appeal. Also notable are pianist and vibraphonist Michele Graillie and Wolfgang Lackerschmid. I like this installment of Jazz Icons for the contrast it provides between a younger Baker and an older, perhaps wiser player with a more respectful band.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

133. Roland Kirk / We Free Kings (1961)

This early album by Roland Kirk demonstrates some of the things he became known for a bit later on. It's a polished, enjoyable, and provocative album. Most notably, throughout the blues and soul inflected set, he plays two or sometimes three instruments at once and switches between them at lightning speed. While blowing the blues on the flute, he likes to screech, howl, and sing along. There aren't any drop-ins from the board, no spliced takes. Obviously with one man filling four chairs, the arrangements revolve around him. As a testament to his talent, it works seamlessly. Kirk has an inspiring technique and sweet tone on all instruments. His style of improvising, I think, clearly departs from the Coltrane bag he was once lumped into. The band is Hank Jones or Richard Wyands, drums is Charlie Persip (great choice), and bass is Art Davis or Wendell Marshall. Through his technique and instrumentation, Kirk puts a unique spin on old tunes, and kicks out his own compositions, as well. After this album, Kirk's journey continued to seek new directions, ever expanding, ever exploring. We Free Kings isn't just nice for listening, it's also nice for perspective. It shows his music is steeped deeply in blues and bop, but the trajectory for future dates would always be farther out than before.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

132. John Coltrane / Fearless Leader (2006)

Coltrane's Prestige albums have been available in various formats since the 1950s. Another chapter in the flood of repackaged Coltrane on CD, Fearless Leader places his earliest recordings as leader in chronological order. This allows serious listeners to study his development as composer, arranger, and stylist without having to track down the individual records. Moreover, by removing these recordings from their in-album sequences, they exist in a proper or at least more authentic musical context. They transcend the supposition that is imposed by arbitrary sequencing and stand their ground against one another, in the order they were created. Listening to the whole box, or at least a good chunk of it in one sitting, is a rewarding experience. From the outset, Coltrane's groups are well rehearsed and the arrangements are tight. Throughout the progression, it's exciting to hear Coltrane's tone become more sonorous, his technique sharper, more assured. In addition to the leader, there's Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, Red Garland, Mal Waldron, Freddie Hubbard, and others. We hear them take some excellent shots at the blues, as well as Coltrane's peerless balladry in classic chestnuts like "Lush Life" (Donald Byrd around the 9-minute mark, wow), and some early sheets of sound ("Black Pearls," "Russian Lullaby"). Across six discs, there's too much to discuss here. Somebody could, and several people have, written books on this music. The concept of the six-disc set, plus accompanying booklet with copious photos and notes, make it a really attractive package. Unless you want the individual albums, I'd say this is a core collection item.

131. Ahmad Jamal / In Search of Momentum (2003)

Jamal is an excellent player, strong as ever and still developing past age 70. In Search of Momentum is a prime example, the kind of record that makes other new things feel stale (here "new" is 2003). His enthusiasm for contrasting percussive block chords with what I like to call 'negative space' on the piano is matchless. His style is ever more rhythm driven, and it's full of energy for standards like "Where Are You." In the opening "In Search Of" he plays with some sly quotes that bring a grin. In "Should I?" he characteristically mixes a heavy left hand with intermittent flourishes of the right, building to thundering crescendos a la Erroll Garner, then reclining in moments of delicate quietude. He works closely with his excellent trio, who are James Cammack on bass and Idris Muhammad (a personal favorite, nice to see him here, too) on drums. Jamal is aggressive and often angular, and his style shouldn't be a stretch for fans of more overtly experimental pianists like Cecil Taylor. O.C. Williams joins Jamal for the beautiful "Whisperings," the album's sole vocal spot and another opportunity for Jamal to stretch out his dynamic approach to the keyboard. And by the way, the liner says that Jamal's hat was designed by Ishmullah's Famous Hats of Oakland, California. Too bad Monk wasn't around long enough to endorse men's haberdashery.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

130. Charlie Parker / Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes (1995)

If you're only interested in Bird's famous recordings with a small orchestra, then you can save a little coin with this attractive disc. (It's only fair to say that for just a few extra bucks, $20 on average for used, you can have all the material here plus much more and better liner notes if you buy the Complete Verve Masters.) But as this disc's title indicates, it contains the complete master takes of Bird's famous 1950 sessions with strings. In addition to the 14 tracks contained on the original two LPs by Mercury, the Verve CD contains 10 bonus tracks recorded 1947-1952. The orchestral numbers are all standards, and when they work, it's magic. Some have argued that this was a commercial sell out. It was so successful that it led to a flood of other artists playing with strings. The truth is that Parker himself always wanted to play with an orchestra, and these recordings fulfilled his dream. In the greater context of jazz today, I think it's a stale argument and intentions don't matter. Who cares whose idea it was? Hey, it's Bird, there's some extra musicians, and the result is warm, elegant, and hard to turn off. Whoever can't enjoy such an engagement must be difficult to please. Likewise are my feelings for Cliff Brown, Dizzy, or anybody else who went in the studio with an orchestra in the 1950s.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

129. Hank Jones and Frank Wess / Hank and Frank (2006)

Requiring no introduction, Hank Jones and Frank Wess have one of the best jazz albums of the past 20 years. Aside from Jones and Wess, bassist John Webber (try "You Made a Good Move") guitarist Ilya Lushtak, and drummer Mickey Roker make an appreciable impact, too. This is uber classic jazz with universal appeal. The joy in listening, for me, comes from how together the group is. Playing this music is beyond natural to the co-leaders and on the record, the product of their skills sounds as easy as breathing. Wess doubles on tenor and flute. To make a play on that line about "breathing," try listening to his beautiful lines on ""The Very Thought of You." There is a wide variety of material from blues to bossa nova, and don't miss the four originals by Wess or the tune by Mr. Parker like "Barbados." Best of all, if you can't get enough of Hank and Frank then you can always buy the second volume. Yes, there is a second volume.

Friday, August 30, 2013

128. Rabih Abou-Khalil / Blue Camel (1992)

Like Bukra, 1992's Blue Camel is a stimulating set of jazz fusion with roots in traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern music. Rabih Abou-Khalil's catalog is like a treasure box filled with gems but I think this collection ranks among his best efforts. Instrumentation (alto sax, oud, frame drums, percussion, trumpets, and bass) is similar to the aforementioned Bukra and has similar personnel in Ramesh Shotham. Certainly Charlie Mariano is capable of fusing these disparate musical worlds, and his improvisations with the alto are notable. The album begins with Mariano's tacit, contemplative solo introduction to "Sahara." It sounds like a gently intoned prayer, wafting melodiously through the speakers until Abou-Khalil and the group's other voices join him one by one. Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn is a good choice and his sound adds additional depth to the band. His technique treats the music nicely, like the nimble fingered flair in "Tsarka" and elsewhere. The arrangements develop the compositions with patience, and there is much interplay with the percussionists, which is integral.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

127. The Dave Brubeck Octet (1950)

I find this, the Octet's only studio album, a roaring good listen. I enjoy it alongside the Birth of the Cool by the Miles Davis Nonet. Both are similar in size and in their means of repurposing, so to speak, some of our more venerable standards like "What is this Thing Called Love" or "September in the Rain." The group's personnel is notable too, considering their different trajectories after the Octet: Tjader became known for the vibes, Van Kriedt for education, and Collins for Woody Herman. The pieces have tight arrangements that sound cool and loose, reeling with the energy and excitement of dixieland. But there's an ever present discipline behind them, too, and the innovation of infusing jazz with classical forms of writing and arranging. The soloists are concise, wrapping their choruses in 8 or 12 bars, staying close to the melody with strong voice leading. Many stayed in the repertoire of the Dave Brubeck Quartet so it's fun to compare the bobbing and weaving counterpoint with later performances of the same tunes, like our opener "The Way You Look Tonight," which I associate with Desmond's snarky quotes from Stravinsky and that nasty blues lick from Jazz at Oberlin. In fact, come to think of it, it's been a while since giving that one a spin....

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

126. Babs Gonzales / The Chronological Classics: 1947-1949 (2000)

Babs Gonzales was a fringe character in jazz, although he garnered a devoted fan base. I have a difficult time finding him a slot in my head, which I guess a lot of people must. So I'll file him with King Pleasure on one side and Screamin' Jay Hawkins on the other, not too far from Slim Gaillard and Betty Roche. The chief characteristic of his music is a bebop inflected vocal style somewhere between scat and vocalese, with occasional forays into conventional lyric singing. He had lots of friends on his records: Tadd Dameron, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, Bennie Green, and James Moody to name a few. This disc contains just what its title describes. Included are his legendary sides for Blue Note with Dameron on piano, as well as his work for the smaller Apollo and Manor labels (enjoy Green and Moody on Manor). Also here are eight sides recorded by Capitol, three of which were rejected. These groups contain a young Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, J.J. Johnson, Roy Haynes, as well as Wynton Kelly, and Pee Wee Tinney on guitar. It's a motley bunch of tunes and dudes that are charming ("Running Around"), humorous ("A Lesson in Bopology"), or spooky ("Weird Lullaby"), but always good fun. Appreciate them for containing the work of other notables, or on their own merit. You won't find much like Babs anywhere else.

Monday, August 19, 2013

125. Dave Brubeck Quartet / Dave Digs Disney (1957)

For all its thunder and snark, the Brubeck quartet improvised with a childlike curiosity, and Brubeck and Desmond both employed a genuinely sentimental touch with ballads. Maybe it's the music's built-in humor and romance, but I sense something very natural about this group covering Disney songs. Of course, the band was no stranger to the material, so there's the easy explanation, but they're clearly enjoying it. "Alice in Wonderland" is a breezy treat, with Desmond blowing blues into his explorations of the theme before trading jabs with Brubeck. "Heigh-Ho" is rendered at an uptempo clip and with a tough tone by Desmond before a romp by Morello. But it's shortest piece on the album and for all its perkiness, it's almost a footnote. A few pieces retrospectively transcend the Disney brand such as "When You Wish Upon a Star," or "Some Day My Prince will Come." The latter would eventually be made famous by Miles Davis, and is a further example of Brubeck's prescience. I overlooked this set for a long time because I thought it was a novelty act, but I was dead wrong. For further examples of Disney jazz, try Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, Everybody Wants to be a Cat, or Sun Ra's reverently maniacal settings of "Heigh Ho" and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," among others.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

124. Chuck Mangione / Love Notes (1982)

Love Notes has a cool and subdued feel, even for Mangione. But its charm is a sublimely clear tension roiling just beneath the surface that erupts in moments like the bright and sudden resurgences of mysterioso theme in "No Problem." I love the big and squibbly tone of Mangione's flugelhorn, and slippery technique that puts a human stamp on a style of jazz that too often gains marketability at the expense of character. During "No Problem," Mangione's minimal statements and restatements come and go over a funky vamp that recalls Miles Davis, weaving in and out of the choruses by Chris Vadala, a presence lurking in the eaves. The solos by Vidala and Peter Harris are excellent, mixing a clear appreciation of bop that stays close to the tune and deep in the groove. "Memories of Scirocco" is an evocative, songlike standout, combining bluesy inclinations with a subtly Latin flavor. Vadala breaks out the soprano midway and gets in some short, fiery licks that make the album worth having. "To the 80's" comes under fire of finger pops but retains an appeal for the classics with a melody that wouldn't be out of place on a Sonny Clark or Cliff Jordan date. Lastly, the title track is a wistful, smoldering ballad that closes the proceedings thoughtfully, dressed delicately by Vadala and Mangione.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

123. Wilton Felder / Forever, Always (1993)

Felder is a hard working session man on the bass and tenor who is deeply reverent of his roots in straight ahead jazz, soul, blues, and R&B. I'm down with that. But on the other hand, this funky, (thanks, Dwight Sills on bass) soul-influenced smooth jazz session is a snoozer. I'm not going to pan it because it's a very slick product with some uncanny melodies and remarkable consistency. Don't take me the wrong way because I like smooth jazz, soul jazz, and fusion. But when I turn on Forever, Always, from the very first note, I find myself looking toward the television for the weather forecast. You feel me? It's one of those records, and a very good one, at that. I find it to be good for the background, good music to listen to if I just want to relax because there aren't many surprises and rhythmically it's all at one depth. Felder's tone is very solid and downright enjoyable, but the music is thin on ideas and while it isn't uninspired, it comes off as routine. Sonically speaking, the mix is creamy and sounds equally at home on speakers or headphones. Did I mention I've retained this album in my iPod? There's a time and a place for everything. So if you're into smooth jazz, 80s soul jazz, or fusion groups without horns, this is the record for you. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

122. Charlie Haden / Night and the City (1996)

Night and the City has an extra attraction for me, because I love the film by Jules Dassin. Anyway, they're not related, but it's a great record. It was recorded for Verve at the Iridium in NYC, home to many a great night of live music (see HughGotIt's excellent uploads of the Ed Palermo Big Band for a glimpse of when the tiny room really gets rocking, and also some of Hugh's other great live video work). This time Haden teams up with Kenny Barron on the keys. Their music is elegant and sparse, but not at all vacant. It's reverent of jazz from an earlier era, and even its title recalls a romantic notion of the city as theater of life. Barron's opening "Twilight Song" sets the pace. The tunes are mostly standards, with one original by Haden ("Waltz for Ruth") and Barron's aforementioned "Twilight" being exceptions. "Body and Soul," as if anyone can get away from it, is thoughtful and majestic and makes a perfectly timed appearance midway through the disc. I think the collection is a treat, and each player exercises a remarkable restraint to let the other sing and breathe as needed. It's thick on mood, but not overly heavy, and I highly recommend it.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

121. Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley / A Blowin' Session (1957)

Blue Note's A Blowin' Session featuring Little Giant, Trane, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey sounds exactly as you'd think it would. It's technically a Griffin date, who is leader, composer, and one third of the groups's tenor sax nucleus. But Morgan gets plenty of time, and so do Kelly and Blakey, for that matter as if Blakey's hard to miss. The meeting was a pickup after the Chicago-based Griffin found himself in New York at the same time as the others. With so many good players, it's a jazz buffet. The septet shows its talent in tracks like "The Way You Look Tonight," or the swinging ensemble groove of "Ball Bearing." As two horns who played with Miles Davis so close together, listening to Trane in opposition to Mobley is interesting (see Prestige's Two Tenors or Tenor Conclave for more of Trane and Mobley together). Morgan's licks on "Smoke Stack" set the pace for the rest of the group, though Coltrane feels overburdened, it's still my favorite cut on the album. Thankfully, there is an alternate take on the Blue Note CD that offers him a second chance as well as a wild good performance from Griffin. Why they issued the original take instead of this one remains a mystery to me, unless for the outstanding work by Morgan. As a note, this album also marks th eonly ecorded meeting between Griffin and Coltrane.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

120. Ahmad Jamal / At the Pershing, But Not For Me (1958)

Out of Jamal's handful of live albums, each one a gem, At the Pershing stands out to me as essential listening. It was originally released on Chess Records' Argo label and became a smash hit, a coup for the label that had recorded a goodly variety of music but not broken into the jazz markets held by Blue Note, Verve, Columbia, or smaller labels like Prestige. Widely influential, it's become a classic. Jamal's emergent style is the principal attraction but the trio consisting Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier isn't to be fooled with. Their brand of jazz is superbly crafted and seamlessly executed. Cooperation and interplay between bass, drums and piano is supernatural. Listen to the sparse but beautiful "Poinciana," demonstrating Jamal's wise but playful use of space and silence while the rhythm section carries a percussive groove. Some of the selections clearly presage the work of Miles Davis' first great quintet. My only complaint? On the original liner, Jamal writes that he himself selected eight tracks of the 43 they recorded 16 January 1958. Gambit's Complete Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958 offers only 20 tracks. I did the math, and while Jamal is still playing dates, it'd be darned nice to have those missing tapes....

Saturday, August 3, 2013

119. The Great Jazz Trio / Standard Collection (1987)

This great CD by Denon is sadly out of print. The trio is agile and smart, working through 16 standards, just as the title implies. Hank Jones is eloquent and a joy to listen to. On the drums is Jimmy Cobb adding just enough muscle to spread it out but playing with impeccable taste ("Caravan"). The bass chair this time is Eddie Gomez, who stands out in slippery but very melodic solos like "S'wonderful," "Embreceable You," or the excellent rendering of "Sophisticated Lady." The trio is augmented at times by the violin of Lewis Eley ("Autumn in New York," "Isn't it Romantic") adding a touch of style similar to the effect Ray Nance had on the Duke Ellington band. The album's selections fall mostly to the Ellington-Strayhorn team, Thelonious Monk, and George Gershwin. The pacing is good and the band is professional. They work closely and make a solid unit, Cobb and Jones especially. As I mentioned, Standard Collection is out of print but worth it, I think, for a band that plays straight from the heart. If you're interested in the other work by this fine and ever changing group, please see the Great Jazz Trio Discography page by 441 Records. The last four tracks composed by Monk are played by Jones with a special fondness, it seems.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

118. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers / Soul Finger (1965)

In 1965, the Jazz Messengers were navigating strange seas. The decade was only half finished but had already seen players like Dolphy, Coltrane, and a host of others. On the other hand, it's like the climate inside the Messengers was oblivious to this. Their music continued ahead, business as usual, driven by Blakey's hailstorm of press rolls and weaponized hi-hat pulse. I feel inclined, or almost obligated, to say what been said a thousand times. I suppose when someone mentions the Messengers, that's the image I conjure: the world's best hard bop band, Blakey at the helm. Yet this lineup feels different than other incarnations of the Messengers, even if it's obvious that no two were the same. The soloists take some unexpected corners, and it's an aggressive front line from the word "go" with Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan blowing alongside Gary Bartz and, on one track, Lucky Thompson. They're explosive but the charm, for me, comes between John Hicks in the left channel and Victor Sproles in the right. I hear a lot going on there. Unforgettable is the debut of Gary Bartz on alto. This disc might not be a definitive Messengers date, but there are some critically overlooked moments packed between these grooves, and a little jazz history, as well.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

117. Ben Webster and Associates (1959)

Similar to the Rollins/Coltrane session Tenor Madness, much of Webster's Ben Webster and Associates feels like friends trying out ideas with relatively no pressure. In other words, a damned good jam session. Of course, with this lineup, the music has a completely different feel than Sonny Rollins and Coltrane. Webster and Co. start off with "In a Mellow Tone," and keep at it for over 20 minutes. It's so enjoyable, it's a shame the tune has to end. There's room for everyone: Webster, Budd Johnson, Hawk, Roy Eldridge, even Ray Brown gets two choruses. The excitement building for the final push to the end isn't to be missed. They next turn up the heat for "De-Dar," a bluesy tune with with a boisterous arrangement that swings hard. As far as the tenors go, I like listening to all the different styles on the same record -- Johnson's streamlined and laconic phrases in double time, Hawk's strident tone emerging like a dark horse, and Webster alternately growling or whispering but always playing straight. "Time After Time" strips Johnson, Hawkins, and Eldridge for a more intimate setting and allows further explorations in the diverse sound that Webster was famous for. So what are you waiting or? Get on the stick! This should be on every shelf.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

116. Duke Ellington / Such Sweet Thunder (1957)

In 1999, Such Sweet Thunder was released on CD, expanded and including outtakes. It's a fantastic stereo reconstruction of the originally intended program, complete with inter-track studio ambience akin to a concert hall, formerly available only in mono due to a flawed production. The album's original 12 selections are Duke's musical interpretations of various Shakespearean characters. It's another of his concept pieces, a tone parallel like Black, Brown, and Beige. The music is filled with quirky grinners, as in "Lady Mac," where Duke writes new personality into Lady Macbeth. It shows an indulgently swinging streak to the infamous noblewoman, hitherto unseen on stage. And who's to say that's incorrect? It's refreshing. Most notably, the Ellington-Strayhorn team uses soloists in the band to great effect in pieces like "Sonnet for Caesar," the first of four such sonnets on the album that emulate the 14 line poetic form. The soloists actually play the characters with their instruments, so I wonder, wryly, if the union rep had anything to say about that. "Caesar" features Sam Woodyard imparting an appropriately martial atmosphere while Jimmy Hamilton takes the lead (literally) to portray history's great general in a stately and beauteous, but ultimately tragic, melody. The arrangements for other songs continue the trend of band-as-cast in brilliant works like "Up and Down." Here, Puck (played by Clark Terry) quotes mischievously while working the play's couples into increasingly awkward situations. Just three examples, there are nine more to enjoy. It's ambitious, and the CD release is a treasure. It's sound is brilliantly spacious and clear, and we have all the session's complete takes in one place..