JAZZ CDs - FEB. 2001 (see also SACD reviews)
We'll begin this month with two CDs doing their best to blur the lines between classical and jazz, and making it work! =
Molly Flannery Quintet - Slow Dance at the Asylum - Flannery Ahern Productions - firstname.lastname@example.org: Not your run-of-the-mill jazz quintet session, what with the opening track being a jazz version of Debussy's Sunken Cathedral which even includes a vocal. This is an adventurous group that explores a number of avenues without overstating the effort to sound original. Flannery is the pianist and leader, with plenty of fresh melodic ideas and the chops to swing in Latin grooves as well as straight ahead jazz. (She was keyboardist for a time in a popular world music dance band.) The main vocalist is Melissa Kassell, whose solo CD I reviewed here a couple months ago. She's heard in For Kim and I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face. While her use of vibrato is a bit excessive for my taste, she deserves credit for trying to do some genuine vocal jazz improvisation that doesn't just imitate what's been done before. Drummer John McLellan employs such unexpected sounds as whirling plastic tubes and shakers made with goat toenails. Most of the ten tunes have an elegiac quality about them, though with less asceticism than most ECM offerings. One might even call them Bittersweet, which is the title of Flannery's closing track.
- John Henry
Daniel Kramer & Glinka Quartet - Imagine - Boheme Music CDBMR910105: This is a Russian effort put together by a virtuoso pianist who is convinced that classical and jazz are two branches of the same musical tree. He taught the first jazz courses at Moscow Conservatory, among other feats. The first five tracks are jazz - two of them originals by Kramer and the others: Charlie Christian's Seven Come Eleven, Charlie Parker's My Little Suede Shoes, and Lester Leaps In. Kramer's piano is supported and dialogued with by the members of the Glinka classical string quartet, who I must say do a much better job of swinging it than the string players that supported Charlie Parker on his Parker with Strings sessions! Hardline jazz buffs will scoff but I love this sort of interplay with strings. The Christian/Goodman Seven Come Eleven is a great opener with its conjuring up of Hollywood film music of the l940's. The biggest surprise comes after the five jazz tracks: the complete Mozart Quartet for piano and string trio in G Minor, with the members of the Glinka Quartet. This infrequently-heard Mozart work is beautifully done, and both Kramer and the string players need make no excuses for dulling their classical chops by engaging in the previous jazz forays. However, it does sound like your CD changer switched to another disc just before this last track comes on!
- John Henry
Lalo Schifrin Presents Jazz Meets the Symphony Collection - I - Jazz Meets the Symphony; II - More Jazz Meets the Symphony; III- Firebird; IV - Metamorphosis; V - Conversations with Jazz Stars - Soloists include: Ray Brown, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Faddis, Jeff Hamilton, Lalo Schifrin, Grady Tate, with The London Symphony and The London Philharmonic Orchestras cond. By Lalo Schifrin - Aleph Records 51702 63342 (5 CDs): Here's yet another composer-performer who abhors the idea of building walls and fences between musical cultures. He's been carrying on parallel activities in the jazz and classical worlds ever since he was a youth in his native Argentina. Schifrin has composed a series of suites putting such jazz greats as Ray Brown and Grady Tate together with the London Philharmonic in a mix of originals, arrangements of standards, and several 13-14 minute tributes to the giants of jazz.
For example, in the original Jazz Meets the Symphony, on CD No. 1, we get Echoes of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie Fireworks as the latter forms. Schifrin also arranges a few Bonfa and Jobim classics into a Brazilian Impressions medley, and gives some Bach themes a ride in his Bach to the Blues. On the More Jazz Meets the Symphony live concert the tributes are Sketches of Miles and Portrait of Louis Armstrong. Schifrin's version of John Lewis' Django is one of the most engaging I've heard, and I think I have most of them. The Firebird session mixes multiple Charlie Parker themes with Stravinsky for the closing tribute, but also includes a Vignette of Fats Waller, a medley of Schifrin's theme for Mission Impossible together with Desmond's Take Five, and a delightful An American in Paris main theme.
The fourth and last Jazz Meets the Symphony opens with a Gil Evans tune, includes variations on themes from Puccini's Tosca, and has two musical tribute suites: Miraculous Monk and Rhapsody for Bix. The last, bonus, CD consists of a radio interview plus some of the players just sitting around shooting the breeze. They include Ray Brown, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Faddis, James Morrison and Schifrin himself. Some great stories ensue and the comraderie of the participants is strongly evident. This is a well-done and fascinating boxed set that should interest any listener who is open minded about crossing the boundaries of classical and jazz.
- John Henry
Saxophones are next - single and quadrupled =
Sonny Rollins - This Is What I Do - Milestone MCD-9310-2: The leading tenorman plays with an ensemble of Clifton Anderson on trombone, pianist Stephen Scott, and electric bassist Bob Cranshaw, with Jack Dejohnette and Perry Wilson alternating on drums. There are six fairly lengthy tracks and once again Rollins demonstrates his originality in tune choices. One doesn't find tunes like Sweet Leilani and Moon of Manakoora on every jazz album. Rollins contributes three original tunes, of which Charles M. Is the longest and most mysterious since there's no explanation of the title. The saxist is up to his usual subtle tricks of musical tongue-in-cheek or better, tongue-in-mouthpiece. He has a ball with Moon of Manakoora, yet his Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is a heartfelt lyrical masterpiece. [At the moment this CD is No. 2 on the Gavin Jazz Chart right after the Ken Burns Jazz Series sampler.]
- John Henry
Capitol Quartet - Anything Goes - Summit Records DCD 280: Brave of these fellows to adopt a name without Sax in it, but then there seem to be so many saxophone quartets today that they may get special attention this way. Continuing our sort of theme in this month's jazz reviews, this is one of those young sax quartets that effortlessly spans the classical and jazz worlds every time they perform. Among the 19 tracks here are classical encores such as Fur Elise and Traumerei, alongside jazz versions of such standards as Stella by Starlight, Begin the Beguine, Night and Day, and My Foolish Heart. An added ingredient over most other sax quartet outings is the chamber orchestra backing the group on most of the tracks. The four saxists are superb technically, the arrangements are excellent and the recorded sound and balance tops.
- John Henry
Mark Elf - Swingin' (Elf, guitar; Robert Hurst, bass; Winard Harper, drums; Aaron Goldberg, piano on 2 tracks) - Jen Bay Jazz JBR0008: This is the eighth CD from guitarist Elf and the seventh on his own label. That way he feels he can record what he wants without having to fill major label quotas. Doing it this way his albums have often been number one on the Gavin Jazz Chart. A major part of his appeal is the versatility of styles he uses depending on his material. The dozen tunes here combine standards such as All of You and Hey There with Elf originals. One of the latter is Waltz for Wilke, honoring Jim Wilke, host of the PRI overnite jazz broadcasts carried on 75 stations. Note the clever Photoshop cover creation - Elf as an elf swinging on his own mustache!
- John Henry
Henrik Meurkens - New York Nights (Meurkens, harmonica; Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Dado Moroni, piano; Chris Berger, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums) - A Records AL 73197: I've always been a pushover for unusual instruments in jazz, and Toots Thielemans has been my favorite on the seemingly inappropriate little "toy" reed instrument. Meurkens - born in Germany of Dutch parents - studied with Belgian Thielemans and is following in his footsteps. It's quite amazing what expressive sounds can be coaxed out of this tiny instrument - but then anyone into the blues should know that already from the "harp" virtuosi of that ilk. The ten tracks assay standards like I Didn't Know What Time It Was, You Stepped Out of a Dream, and Parker's Scrapple from the Apple. In addition to the that last New York reference, Meurkens composed the title tune to enhance the New York theme, plus three other originals. The sax and harmonica blend beautifully on many of the tunes; after all, they're both reed instruments.
- John Henry
Jere Laukkanen's Finnish Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra - Naxos Jazz 86056 2: Not exactly the sort of title that is destined to leap to the top of the jazz charts but good words from reviewers, plus the low price contributing to a more experimental attitude on behalf of buyers might get this fun CD onto lots of home CD shelves. The band leader and a trumpet player friend found there were many musicians in the Helsinki area who were interested in playing Afro-Cuban music. This ensemble was the result, and their goal is to give the earlier work of Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente and others a Northern European twist. It works. One thing I especially liked was the relative freedom from extended repetitions of a particular riff - that tends to turn me off in much Latin music. There's a tremendous variety here, and many different skilled soloists. The three man percussion section (in addition to the drummer) produce a wide range of rhythms and sounds that never seem to strike a boring groove. The arrangement of the popular Manteca is really fresh and groovy. The 24 minute suite Three Prayers is based upon sacred chants of the African Yoruba tribe, still part of Cuban folklore.
- John Henry
Dave Pike - Carnavals - (with Clark Terry, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Raney, Ray Barretto, George Duvivier and others) Prestige PRCD 24248-2: Back in l962 when vibist Pike made the two LPs now on this CD reissue, both bossa nova and dance hits were what was happening in pop music. So Pike, who had played with Latin-leaning flutist Herbie Mann, was ready with two albums based on the sounds of Carnaval - sambas, calypso, mambos and so on. With such great soloists as Terry, Burrell and Flanagan on the dates, and introducing American listeners for the first time to the Brazilian music of Joao Donato, these LPs were well-received. Pike doubles delightfully on marimba on some numbers. With titles such as St. Thomas and Jamaica Farewell it's obvious that music of the Caribbean is given equal attention to that of Brazil. Sonics are good. This is my sort of Latin jazz for sure.
- John Henry
The Prestige Legacy, Vol. 1: High Priests (Miles, Monk, Sonny & Trane) - Prestige PRCD-24251-2: In this compilation of 16 tracks by the above named jazz lights (no complete names necessary) the producers' intent was to demonstrate that during the l950's the history of this important jazz record label was in fact the history of jazz. And these four were the cream of the crop of a large catalog of great jazz. Keeping in mind the pre-stereo period covered, these mono remasterings are not quite as high resolution as those reissued on JVC xrcd series, but better than I remember the LPs ever sounding (on the other hand maybe I'd worn out some of them too...). Thelonious gets the covered to the max with five tracks vs. Just three for Rollins, but then he is heard on tracks by both Monk and Miles. Davis' great Solar and Compulsion are two of the tracks included. The sampler is rounded off with four tracks in a row from John Coltrane, including the lyrical Sunday and While My Lady Sleeps.
- John Henry
Such a Tender Night - The Music of Alec Wilder - The Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Richard Auldon Clark, cond. - Newport Classic LC 8554: I've been trying to fit in a review of this great CD for many months. I was thinking of the Classical section, but since we're a little short of jazz this month and the general theme of many of the CDs this time seems to be classical/jazz crossover, what could be more appropriate than the music of Alec Wilder? The unusually versatile composer, who died in l980, is know first of all for his fine contributions to the Great American Song library. Such exquisite songs are It's So Peaceful in the Country and While We're Young were just part of his genius. He wrote operas, ballets, music for children and many chamber works - mostly for brass and woodwind instruments. But his most unusual contributions were the mix of classical chamber music and jazz that began with his Octets in the l930's. They included harpsichord and Mitch Miller was oboist in the ensemble. They came to the attention of Frank Sinatra, who in l945 financed (and conducted!) a recording of some of the over two dozen octets plus Wilder works for solo winds and string orchestra that may remind one of a jazzy Frederick Delius. Wilder didn't like publicity and loved to ride on trains, where he did much of his composing.
Now that he's gone, his music is receiving more attention than it did during his life. Just as a couple of European chamber orchestras have honored the instrumental music of Frank Zappa, The Manhattan Chamber Orchestra is honoring Alec Wilder with this delicious CD. It includes among its ten tracks the first recordings in modern sonics of several of the octets - all known for their witty titles: The Children Met the Train, Her Old Man was Suspicious, The Amorous Poltergeist, Sea Fugue Mama, and the title tune of the CD. Both a Suite and a Nonet for Brass Instruments show that side of Wilder's style, and Air for English Horn and Strings represents the Delius-ish works for soloist and strings.
- John Sunier
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