Jazz CDs Pt. 1 of 2 - May 2001
(also see SACD reviews, Pt. 2)
same red line  

Two unusual jazz-folk collaborations start us off this month =

Gary Burton, vibes & ensemble - Libertango (The Music of Astor Piazzolla) - Concord Jazz CCD-4887-2: Veteran vibist Burton toured and recorded with the New Tango master in the l980s and created a previous album for Concord Jazz along the same lines - A Tango Excursion (CCD-4793-2). For this new collection he's brought together several alumni of the Argentina composer/bandoneonist, including his exciting pianist Pablo Ziegler and violinist Fernando Suarez-Paz. These are not just jazzed-up tangos but a skillfully blended mix that often sounds exactly like the original Piazzolla Quintet only with some very swinging vibes added. Though captivated by Piazzolla's compositions and virtuosity, Burton never intended to play tangos until the composer suggested they do a project together and wrote some music especially for Burton's vibes. Most ethnic folk music is quite simple so that ordinary people can play it, but not so the tango genre. The fact that one of the many elements Piazzolla successfully blended into his New Tango was jazz makes it easier for Burton and his instrument to fit in smoothly.

The dozen tracks include such Piazzolla classics as the title tango, Milonga del Angel and Adios Nonino, but there are others which were composed especially to feature some of his great musicians such as violinist Suarez-Paz. The lengthiest track - Contrabajissimo - is a vehicle for tango bassist Hector Console and is a bass solo and a half. Best New Tango CD I've heard since Gidon Kremer's of a couple years ago.

- John Henry

George Mraz, bass - Morava (with Zuzana Lapcikova, vocals & cimbalom; Emil Viklicky, piano; Bilol Hart, drums) - Milestone MCD-9309-2: Another unique musical mix involving folk music and jazz is this exciting CD from virtuoso jazz bassist Mraz. His father hailed from Moravia (now mostly part of the Czech Republic) and he spent time there as a child learning the songs and musical tradition. In this collection he synthesizes the lyrics, music and emotions of Moravian culture with his classical training and jazz doublebass chops.

It began when he visited Prague a few years ago and heard singer Lapcikova and pianist Viklicky in a recital of Moravian songs. They agreed to try to work with Mraz in choosing some songs and re-composing them to include the bass and drums and some jazz input. In spite of what I said in the previous review, these folksongs aren't quite so simple, and in arranging them the musicians took them into the realm of the many folk songs recomposed by such as Janacek, Kodaly and Bartok. Some of the titles will give a feeling for their lyric content: Aspen Leaf, Gray Pigeon, Up in a Fir Tree, The Sun Goes Down. Complete lyrics are provided in the booklet. Gray Falcon was the favorite song of Mraz father and the closing Jurenko, Jurenko is a variation on the Moravian name of Mraz himself. If you like the Bulgarian Women's Choir or Marta Sybastien, you're sure to enjoy this captivating CD.

- John Henry

Mose Allison - "The Mose Chronicles, Vol. 1: Greatest Hits Live in London" - Blue Note 7243529747 2 6: The cover displayed here is probably not the actual CD since this is a pre-release DJ copy. There are also no notes so no details about just when this live concert was taped in London. It's a 22-track compendium of old and new Mose, with a number of new tunes I hadn't heard from one of my personal favorite jazz male vocalists. The classics include Seventh Son, Gettin' There, I'm Not Talking, and I Love the Life I Live. Among the newer ones that stood out was the suspicious-lover refrain You Call It Jogging. No other male vocalist/pianist in jazz has matched Allison's long-running track record doing basically the same thing, but with always new material and unflagging enthusiasm. His down-home Southern voice (first-time listeners always think he's black), acerbic witty lyrics and up-to-date very modern jazz piano accompaniments are unique. He doesn't actually sing blues, but the cathartic intent of his lyrics is much the same - usually making the best of difficult situations while bitching about them just a tad.

- John Henry

Umo Jazz Orchestra - Transit People - Naxos Jazz 86067-2: This Finnish big band has been in existence for 25 years now, though it has only been issuing CDs on international record labels during the past five years. Every member of the band is a soloist and multi-instrumentalist, and members can easily transform themselves into smaller ensembles - such as saxophone quartet. The band creates for themselves and has others write for them many new works, and six of the eight tracks on this CD are in that category. Mongo Santamaria's Afro-Blue (in a perfectly lovely arrangement) and Coltrane's Naima are the two standards in the set. The opening is a 12-tone work but as easy on the ears as any of the more avant Kenton pieces. A dialog between the band and its drummer is at the heart of the work. The pianist and lead trumpet using a wah-wah pedal are the soloists in the title track of the album. The Transit People are really the band members themselves, who are constantly on the move touring their nation and Europe in general. Sonics are especially clean on this CD - would make a good demo CD for auditioning components.

- John Henry

Two of the finest pianists in jazz today are next =

Andre Previn & David Finck (bass) - Live at the Jazz Standard, NYC - Decca Records 440 013 220-2: Previn has been making records for over 50 years, and they have spanned the genres about as widely as any musician could: jazz piano, Hollywood film scores, MOR music, classical repertory of all sorts, opera - I'm sure I've left some out. In the early days he was the pianist of the top-selling Shelly Manne & His Friends Trio that hit it big with their My Fair Lady LP. Now for kicks and a break from swinging the classical baton Previn is back to jazz piano, and after a series for Telarc he now tickles the ivories for DGG and Decca. No drums this time, just bass. A live venue for the on-the-spot excitement that can elicit. And though Previn (who is thoroughly anti-technical) surely didn't consider it, also providing more enveloping surround sound on any matrix system for great immersion in the musical happening! One other techie thing: he plays a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand (more bass notes ya' know).

The dozen tunes select mostly standards from the likes of Rodgers, Porter, Ellington, Strayhorn, Mulligan and Gershwin. Pianist/composer Russ Freeman is evidently a Previn favorite because he rates two tracks, and Previn plays two of his own tunes, plus one by his 17-year-old son. Previn and Finck coax new ideas and feelings out of such much-played standards are My Funny Valentine and I Got Rhythm. And one can never hear Ellington's moving Come Sunday too frequently.

- John Henry

Oscar Peterson, piano - Oscar's Ballads - Telarc Jazz CD-83504: The booklet notes refer to the opinion of some that while Peterson has always been the technical master, his playing sometimes lacked a certain humanity or warmth. (Similar criticism had been launched at pianists such as Horowitz.) The feeling is that when playing ballads, such as Peterson often does late at night when he doesn't have to be heard over noisy audiences in a club, the sensitive lyricism and expressivity come to the fore. This CD is a somewhat disguised reissue album consisting of eight tracks taken from previous Telarc releases in which Peterson places his unique pianistic technique in the service of communicating tunes of the ballad genre. There are a variety of settings, from quartet (usually with guitar), small ensemble, to even the Michel Legrand Strings (the opening Harcourt Nights). If You Only Knew is a piano duo with Benny Green. Peace for South Africa, which peacefully closes the CD, is the longest track and another Peterson original. Many of the tracks are from live concert recordings, with the added excitement that provides.

- John Henry

Another great performer and another reissue - this time not disguised =

Charlie Byrd - The Best of the Concord Years - Concord Jazz CCD2-4932-2 (2 CDs): Byrd was one of the jazz guitar greats. Among his contributions were the application of classical acoustic guitar techniques to jazz, unique crossover efforts, and immersion in Brazilian bossa nova - which all began with the path-breaking Jazz Samba album with Bud Shank. He emphasized melody and selected tunes with catchy ones. There is so much tasty stuff among these 31 tracks that it's difficult to list just a few. Some of the gems on the first disc are Byrd's take on the St. Louis Blues, Bix's beautiful Candlelight, and John Lewis' Django - the latter being a guitar quintet version. Disc two is heavy on the bossa nova, with Desafinada, Triste, Dindi, So Danco Samba etc. On some of these he is reunited with Shank and on a couple tracks with fellow guitarist Laurindo Almeida. One Reinhardt-style track comes from an album I seem to have missed - Du Hot Club De Concord. That's the special value of collections like this and the Peterson above. If you're into jazz guitar and don't have an Byrd in your collection, this one is a great way to catch up in one swell foop.

- John Henry

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