Jazz CDs, Pt. 1 - April 2002

Let's begin with a couple of unusual large jazz ensembles...

Bob Belden - Black Dahlia (13 featured soloists plus 65-piece orchestra) - Blue Note 23883:

You may not have heard of Bob Belden but he's been a major figure behind the jazz scene for a decade. He produced sessions with Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Sting and others. He wrote the score for an independent film and produced reissues of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. He reworked the classics in The Four Seasons and Turandot. In Black Dahlia Belden has created an original score that might accompany a film not yet made - in fact I was reminded of Lynch's Mullholland Drive. A young woman who came to Hollywood with jet-black hair and star dust in her eyes became fatally involved in the LA underworld - she was the Black Dahlia. Her murder was never solved; James Ellroy wrote a novel about it and there was a l975 TV movie as well. It's 1940s pulp fiction.

Belden has created a 12-part suite for symphonic orchestra in a third stream style reminiscent of Gil Evans' work with Miles Davis. Superb soloists delve into the emotions of the central character in each section. Included among them are Joe Lovano (who gives us a lovely solo on Danza d'Amore) , Lou Soloff and Tim Hagans (in the Miles trumpet role), as well as Belden himself. He sees the suite as a 21st century opera or tone poem, and admits to being heavily influenced by Berg, Wagner and scores for noir films such as Jerry Goldsmith's Chinatown. This is a magnificent musical achievement. Sorry to be about a year late reviewing it - don't know how I missed it! Movements: Genesis, In Flight, Dawn, City of Angels, Dreamworld, Prelude to Love, Danza d'Amore, Zanzibar, Black Dahlia, The Edge of Forever, 101 North, Elegy.

David Matthews & The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra - Hey Duke! - Milestone MCD-9320-2:

Pianist/arranger Matthews was looking for something to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his band in l999. Since it was also the 100th birthday of Duke Ellington he decided to arrange eight of the master's famous tunes for the unique soloists of the MJO. That was a central stimulus for Ellington with his band too. The soloists include Lew Soloff again, Jim Pugh, and Larry Farrell. All of them are great musicians but entirely different from the soloists in the Ellington Band, so the results here are quite far from the familiar Ellington sound. It's a more contemporary, less sensual and impressionistic sound. If you don't mind that, you'll probably love this Ellington Tribute. Lots of soprano sax, which I loved. The tunes: It Don't Mean a Thing, Prelude to a Kiss, Mood Indigo, Come Sunday, Satin Doll, Song for Edward, Cottontail, In a Sentimental Mood.

- John Henry


Not quite jazz but lots of good listening in this pair of CDs...

Roberto Perera, Paraguayan harp - Heads Up International HUCD 3066:

Have to apologize again for missing this unique performer; he's already done seven previous albums for the Heads Up division of Telarc - the first of which was a reissue of his debut album for Epic Records. Hailing from Uruguay, Perera has electrified and transformed the 36-string Paraguayan folk harp with a complex playing technique. At the same time he has expanded its repertory to incorporate jazz, Latin, pop, Brazilian and Afro Cuban influences. He has often won as Favorite Jazz Artist in Jazziz magazine, but purists probably wouldn't consider this CD pure jazz. It is, however, completely captivating - very commercial but not corny or obvious - and you can't deny it really swings. It's the most arrangement/guest artist-heavy of all his CDs and took four months in the studio. One track is salsa-like, a Latin version of Classical Gas is a gas, and the flamenco-flavored Un Beso was chosen for the music video included on this Enhanced CD - complete with flamenco dancers circling Perera and his trio. It's one of the best video clips I've seen on an Enhanced CD - as all of Heads Up releases include at no extra cost. The album is also HDCD-encoded.

Tracks: Sensual, Un Beso, Pure Pain, Mysterious Dreams, Cruising Leblon, Here's to Life, El Coqui Salsero, Gina, Remembering Antonio, Sandstorm, Classical Gas, Whispering Waves.

Dave Storrs, percussion - Another Thing - Louie Records 023:

Another CD with Latin influences but Something Completely Different. Percussionist Storrs is solo here - no guest performers on reeds, guitar or piano - but he does use multitracking to get a more complex sound tapestry. One of his interests is Cuban pianists, and the front cover is a shot of an old car and truck on a Cuban highway. But while some tracks may sound like the percussion-only tracks lifted from a Cuban jazz session, others are closer to classical percussion. The variety of sounds is quite astonishing; one of Storrs' goals is to replicate the sound of bubbling water moving downstream, and some of the pieces do that quite successfully. The track titles seem to have little relationship to the music, and since there are 18 of them I won't bother to list them herewith. It may be hard to find this Corvallis, Oregon-based label; if so try: louierec@peak.org

- John Henry


Here are violin and accordion - two instruments not often heard in jazz but I vote they should be...

Regina Carter, violin - Something for Grace - Atlantic 82975-2:

Carter may well be the most exciting jazz violinist playing today. I wasn't blown over by some of her earlier CDs because they were heavy in the funk/soul music area, but the last piano/violin one and this new effort are winners in my book. Lots of guest players here, including four drummer/percussionists and two keyboardists programming percussion. The electric violinist gets three of her originals among the ten tracks, including the moving title ballad. Tunes from Eddie Harris and Mal Waldron show some of her musical heros, and the closing Centro Habana takes us into the Afro-Cuban bag. Tracks: Downtown Underground, Listen Here, Day Dreamin' on the Niger, Reflections, Something for Grace, Soul Eyes, Late Night Mood, I'll Write a Song for You, Hide & Seek, Centro Habana.

Dave Leslie & Dave Storrs - The Brim - Louie Records 024:

Leslie plays the accordion and keyboards, including synthesizers; Storrs, as we know from the review above, is the percussionist. The pair are joined on various of the 13 tracks by five guest artists covering saxes, clarinet, electric bass, trombone and guitar. There are two soprano saxes on some of the tracks - a delightful and original sound in combination with the accordion. Linger Awhile features an accordion and bass duet and Broken Circle presents a duo of bass and soprano sax. Some of the melodies border on the atonal but retain plenty of improvisational interest. They're certainly a far cry from Art Van Damme. Tracks: Crackers n' Sherbet, As Easy As, Linger Awhile/Pass, Second Smartest of All Dogs, Gnarles, In the Now, Fall 92, George's Dilemma, The Brim, Seattle Plus 35, Broken Circle, Lucky Fella, Reunion.

- John Henry


A pair of completely different vocal music CDs...

John Pizzarelli with The George Shearing Quintet - The Rare Delight of You - Telarc Jazz CD-83546:

Pizzarelli is one of those great jazz instrumentalists who has decided to concentrate on singing. Not being a strong vocal fan I usually feel short changed when that happens, but this album brought me around as far as Pizzarelli is concerned. Perhaps the inspired backing by the Shearing Quintet was a factor in the success of this meeting of two generations in jazz. It was probably one of the last sessions before Shearing died. The unique Quintet sound of the vibes doubling the piano lines brings back great nostalgia for us seniors. The vibist is Ted Piltzecker and Reg Schwager is the guitarist. Pizzarelli has a light and loose young voice with a smile in it. I almost heard a male equivalent of Diana Krall now that she has lightened up a bit. They would make a great duo - hey, Telarc and Warners. Tracks: If Dreams Come True, The Lady's in Love with You, Everything Happens to Me, Lulu's Back in Town, Something to Remember You By, Lemon Twist, Lost April, Problem, The Rare Delight of You, Shine on Your Shoes, Indian Summer, Be Careful It's My Heart, September in the Rain, I Predict, Lucky to Be Me.

The Nervous Set - 1959 Broadcast jazz musical by Tommy Wolf & Fran Landesman (Tani Seitz, Richard Hayes, Larry Hagman, Del Close) - DRG Theater A54679:

There haven't been very many jazz-based musicals. This one departed from the norm by having no dancing and instead of a pit orchestra a jazz quartet seated casually right on the stage with the performers. The butt of the comedy and satire was the Beat Generation of the late fifties in Greenwich Village. The show's hit song was the now-standard Ballad of the Sad Young Men, and the tune Fun Life from the musical is reprised in the final track by the vocal jazz duo Jackie & Roy. Maybe it's nostalgia since I spent time in the Village during the summer of that year, but man I dig this musical. DRG is to be commended for its reissue from the original on Columbia - part of the label's Broadway Collector Series. It's in excellent stereo, sounding better than I recall from the LP which I still have (but can't find at the moment).

- John Henry


And speaking of re-issues, here's three of them contained on two CDs, from two of the greatest jazz instrumentalists of the recent past...

Art Farmer - 1) Baroque Sketches, 2) The Time and the Place - Columbia/Collectables COL-CD-6890:

Farmer was one of the most-admired trumpet players in the business. He did several albums with classical leanings, and in the first of this reissue pairing he performs with "The Baroque Orchestra" in arrangements of Benny Golson. The idea was to include a wide variety of material such as Chopin, Albeniz, Broadway tunes and contemporary jazz - not exactly Baroque music. The ensemble was half of the Baroque slant - it had no strings but brass and woodwinds plus harpsichord, celesta and marimba. The other half came from Golson's arrangements, which are imaginative and original without losing listeners up a third-stream blind alley. Bach is the main Baroque source here with four tracks to his credit, plus John Lewis' spirited bow to Bach - Little David's Fugue. Tracks are: Fuja Ki, Aria, Little David's Fugue, Prelude in E Minor, Sinfonia, Zortzico, Alfie's Theme, Jesu, Etude, Prelude in A Minor, Rhythm of Life.

The second Farmer LP on this reissue CD features his Quintet with Farmer now often on fluegelhorn - allowing for lower register playing. Again we have a little Broadway, a little movie music, a little classical and jazz originals by J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Heath and others. Heath is also the tenor sax in the quintet and Cedar Walton is the superb pianist. Tracks: the Time and the Place, The Shadow of Your Smile,One for Juan, Mino's Scene, Short Cake, Make Someone Happy, On the Trail.

The Jimmy Guiffre Clarinet - Atlantic/Collectables COL-CD 6162:

If you're not familiar with Guiffre's patented subtle and breathy approach to the clarinet, this statement from him will set you straight: "It's been said that when jazz gets soft it loses its gusto and funkiness. It is my feeling that soft jazz can retain the basic flavor and intensity that it has at louder volume and at the same time perhaps reveal some new dimensions of feeling that loudness obscures." For a musical demo of his point, just dig the second track from this 1956 mono reissue: Deep Purple, in a duo of clarinet and celesta - nothing else. A delight! As is the rest of the album, using the talents of some top LA jazz names such as Bob Cooper, Dave Pell, Jimmy Rowles, Shorty Rogers, Jack Sheldon, Buddy Collette, Stan Levey and Shelly Manne. The eight tracks: So Low, Deep Purple, The Side Pipers, My Funny Valentine, Quiet Cook, The Sheepherder, Fascinatin' Rhythm, Down Home.

If you have trouble finding the Jazz Collectables Series in the shops, try http://www.oldies.com and wend your way thru the pop, soul, doo-wop and country reissues to the jazz section.

- John Henry

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