Jazz CDs - February 2003

Sir Roland Hanna - Everything I Love - IPO Recordings 1002:

Hanna has long been one of my favorite jazz pianists for his combination of sophistication and classical training with deep blues-based chops. His tune selections always delves into the unexpected - for example this new CD opening up with Comedy Tonight, from Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In the rest of the 13 tracks he also delves into another Sondheim (one of my least favorite tunes - right up there with the Pachelbel Canon) and makes this chestnut a creative bit of 20th-century jazz piano. There’s Gershwin, Berlin, two Porters, and a pair of lovely originals - one a tribute to the late Milt Jackson.

Even more unexpected is the way this 96K purist master was recorded: Hanna just sat down at the piano and played almost 40 songs. He stopped when he thought he was finished with one and announced, “OK,
I’m going to the next one.” This was evidently the way Art Tatum recorded for Norman Granz. All of this Hanna CD are first and only takes! They are:
Comedy Tonight, Bags - A Tribute, Lullaby of the Leaves, I Hear a Rhapsody, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Send in the Clowns, In the Blue of the Evening, All Blues, Comes Autumn, Embraceable You, How Deep I the Ocean, Alone Together, Everything I Love.

The Jim Cifelli New York Nonet - Tunnel Vision - Short Notice Music SNM 002:

Cifelli has been making the scene in NYC since 1989 and is a quadruple threat: band leader/composer/arranger/trumpeter. His ensemble proves a great middle ground between the usual quartet or quintet and a big band. And his big band favorites color his arrangements with plenty of tonal color sailing along in a strong rhythmic groove: Gil Evans, Thad Jones and Oliver Nelson. The band has two female members: a bassist and Mrs. Cifelli on reeds. A highlight of the album is a nine-minute suite of two Wayne Shorter tunes. Cajun Conniption celebrates the roots of New Orleans jazz and Camio de Corazone is the jumping Latin number on the date. But there are also quieter, moody and lyrical meditations like Something She Said. A tight little band that bops hard.

- John Henry

Spyro Gyra - Original Cinema - Heads Up Enhanced CD HUCD3074:

Not a soundtracks album, but just the theme around which some of the tunes of this leading - now 25 years old - quintet revolve. Among them: Dream Sequence, Big Dance Number, Hand Held, Film Noir, etc. You could call the group light fusion or perhaps smooth jazz with a lot of speed bumps. They had done almost a record a year during their long existence, and leader Jay Beckenstein felt their last couple of CDs leaned a bit heavily in the smooth jazz direction. He wanted to do something completely different for this one, and he did. He turns away from his soprano sax and plays tenor on more tracks this time. He didn’t turn away from moody or darker sounds this time. All 13 tracks are originals for the album either by Jay or some of the other band members. His keyboardist Tom Schuman is a mainstay of the group. The band still has a distinctive and very accessible sound in spite of venturing further away from their branded smooth/chunky jazz style. And like all Heads Up CDs, this one is Enhanced with a nice little QuickTime video of one of the tunes. If you dig these visual extras strongly, you can now order a CD-ROM collection of the best of the label’s Enhanced video clips. Tracks: Bump It Up, Extrovertical, Dream Sequence, Party of Seven, Big Dance Number, Closeup, Film Noir, Cape Town Love, Handheld, Funky Tina, Getaway, Calle Ocho, Flashback.

- John Henry

A pair of duos well worth investigating are next...

The Bob Cooper-Conte Candoli Quintet - V.S.O.P. Records #205:

While this reissue label’s initials stand for Very Special Old Phonography, this session isn’t that old. It dates from June 1993, and long-time LA studio musician/multi-reed man Bob Cooper died later that year. I remember being captivated by his jazz oboe stylings in the 60s. On this live concert, however, he plays strictly tenor sax. Trumpeter Conte Candoli is perhaps a big better known. One jazz writer called him “the most consistently overlooked major trumpeter in jazz.” Both Cooper and Candoli, along with the pianist on this date - Ross Tompkins - played for years in Doc Severinsen’s band on the Tonight Show. This concert, taped in Newport Beach, CA, reminded me of what one would hear at Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Some of the best sources were taped for the nine tunes: Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Monk, Ellington, Dizzy. The sound is good too - this appears to have been a live broadcast for Long Beach’s NPR jazz outlet KLON. Tracks: Confirmation, Tin Tin Deo, We’ll Be Together Again, Airegin, Hackensack, Come Sunday, Ow!, Con Alma.

David Zofffer, piano & Adam Larrabee, guitar - Courage in Closeness - Zofco CD CD 404:

Somehow “Live in Boston” doesn’t hold quite the same panache as Live in some other locations, but that’s what this CD is - recorded at the New England Conservatory, and very well too, I might add. Zoffer and Larrabee have played together a decade now and come from rather different musical backgrounds. The guitarist was into ECM artists - “the ethereal stuff,” according to pianist Zofffer, who admits to coming ”from a somewhat greasier background” heavy in the blues and bluesy pianists. When he isn’t playing with Larrabee he fronts a funk-rock band. All 11 tracks are originals or arrangements by one of the performers or the other. The arrangements are a very lyrical setting of a Scott Joplin rag, and a jazzed version of a Chopin Nocturne. A tango influenced by Piazzolla is titled Seasonal Beards. It’s all very eclectic and graceful without the presence of the drum set or bass.

One jazz drummer, by the way, compared the duo to that of Bill Evans and Jim Hall - rare praise indeed and fully deserved. My only concern about the disc is that its title seems to imply - how shall I phrase this? - a somewhat closer relationship of the two performers than happens to exist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you...it’s just a trifle misleading. Tracks: Talk to Me, Here Comes Spider, For JMZ, Need You So, Chopin Noc-turned, Seasonal Beards, Escape Artist, Courage in Closeness, Phillip’s Vibe, Never Even, Solace.

- John Henry

Another pair of not-quite-jazz, please-don’t-pigeonhole outings...

Renaud Garcia-Fons, doublebass - Navigatore - with large ensemble - Enja ENJ-9418-2:

Garcia-Fons plays a five-string double bass as well as some percussion, and his compatriots include a wild variety of world music instrumentalists on flamenco guitar, accordion, Iranian tanbur, bagpipes, ney, tables, derouka, gumbri, lute etc. His 14 compositions here are quite different from your usual world music. There are also three violinists, a trombone and Flugelhorn, and several reed players. He refers to a dizzying array of native musical cultures, even in a single tune such as the opening title track. It partakes of Irish/Celtic jig, Iberian guitar, and African percussion all at once. New Music in a New World is what one writer called it, but since this exciting musical departure is on a leading jazz label, I’ve put it in this section.

Guy Klucevsek, accordion - Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse - Experimental Intermedia Foundation Records XI 104:

Here’s another performer who speaks a musical Esperanto using the much maligned squeezebox. Now easily the world’s most famous avantgarde accordionist, Klucevsek started out playing the usual polkas on his instrument in a Slovenian community. When he pursued formal composition in college, it was the contemporary composers such as Legeti, Zenakis, Penderecki, Morton Feldman that caught his ear. He says he pretty much disowned all traditional accordion music for about 15 years.

Then he realized that what appealed to him was pop music of various cultures, which handily often featured the accordion. Slavic, South American and American idioms are freely used in Klucevsek’s musical stew. He blends the international pop with avantgarde style for dance music. The title tune and the other six tracks before it on the CD are actually from dance scores created for modern dance companies. His cohorts include a clarinetist, violinists, cellists, alto and soprano sax, electric guitar. The drummer and marimbist is noted composer/performer Bobby Previte. Tracks: Union Hall, Fez Up, Loosening Up the Queen, Waltzing Above Ground, Reprieve, Perusal, Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse, Blue Window, The Gress It Is Blue.

- John Henry

Fantasy Records' Original Jazz Classics Sampler Series - Seven different labels sampled on six reissues CDs =
Fantasy OJC Sampler OJCCD-3703-2:
Artists: Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans, Tony Bennett, Paul Desmond, Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz, Mongo Santamaria, Woody Herman, Bill Harris, Lucy Reed, Brew Moore, Stanley Turrentine, Paul Gonsalves

Fantasy started out with a few LPs by Brubeck and Cal Tjader and today has grown to be the largest all-jazz label, having bought up many other smaller labels over the years. This reissue project devotes a single sampler CD to each of the labels they own, including one featuring two labels. And there is more coming yet! The OJC series has long been popular with audiophiles, especially in the initial LP releases, some of which are again available. Many of these have also been reissued on gold CDs or SACD and more are coming from Acoustic Sounds. However, for price, availability and a great introduction the hundreds of jazz masters now part of the Fantasy family, these samplers can’t be beat. All are complete selections - no fadeouts - and were remastered just last year with the highest-quality technology. All are packed with great tracks and run around 75 minutes at minimum.

Guaraldi’s classic Cast Your Fate to the Wind opens the Fantasy sampler, Gerry Mulligan’s My Funny Valentine is great to hear again, and Tjader is represented by Manuel’s Mambo. The levels are equalized between all the different tracks to match up well, and the sonics are fine, though really early material suffers as would be expected, and some of the labels were active prior to the stereo era.

Riverside OJC Sampler - OHCCD-3706-2:
Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer launched this label in l953 and their first releases were reissues of 78s of hot jazz from the 1920s. Modern jazz soon became their focus, with artists such as Bill Evans, Charlie Byrd, Art Blakey, Wes Montgomery, Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Wynton Kelly, Chet Baker, Milt Jackson and Cannon ball Adderley - all represented on this tasty sampler. My favs of the 17 tracks: Wes Montgomery’s Airegin, Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby, and Bobby Timmons’ This Here. The booklet of interesting notes on the label was written by Keepnews’ son, and of course the complete CDs from which all these tracks came are identified so you can pick them up if the representative selection whets your appetite for more.

Debut (Also Period) OJC Sampler - OJCCD-3702-2:
Charles Mingus founded the Debut label in l952 and was one of the first labels launched by jazz performers themselves in an attempt to have control of their own music. In only five years they recorded not only Mingus but exceptional albums by Miles, Thad Jones, Bud Powell, Paul Bley, and the dream combo consisting of Mingus, Powell, Dizzy, Charlie Parker and Max Roach. The Quintet, as it was called, is represented here by the opening 8-minute Perdido. Ornithology is Parker’s track, and Miles turns in a very lyrical Nature Boy. The mostly classical label Period also issued some jazz, and the Charlie Christian and Monk track - Swing to Bop - as well as Ralph Burns’ Bijou are from this small label. Being before the introduction of the stereodisc, these are all mono.

Prestige OJC Sampler - OJCCD-3705-2:
Prestige, launched in l949, was one of the last jazz labels to give up on mono long after the introduction of the stereodisc in l958, so most of these tracks are good ol’ mono - though some are Rudy Van Gelder’s superb work which makes you forget about stereo. Their list of artists was tops. It included, and sampled on this disc are: Miles Davis, MJQ, Monk, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, Annie Ross, Red Garland, John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Etta Jones, Mose Allison, Gil Evans and Kenny Dorham. Annie sings her own Twisted and Mose does his own The Seventh Son. Some of the highlights: Sonny Rollins calypsoesque St. Thomas, Miles’ Compulsion, and Gil Evans Nobody’s Heart.

Pablo OJC Sampler - OJCCD-3704-2:
Norman Granz, founder of Jazz At the Philharmonic, had started Verve, Clef and Norgran jazz labels. A decade after selling them to MGM he started up the Pablo label mostly to record artists he managed, including Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass. Jazz giants Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Lester Young, Dizzy and John Coltrane are also represented here. Highlights on the 15 cuts include Basie’s Li’l Darlin,’ Lester Young’s A Foggy Day, and the Peterson/Pass version of On a Clear Day.

Contemporary Records OJC Sampler - OJCCD=3701-2:
Lester Koenig was the man behind this LA-based label which like Riverside grew out of an initial label intended strictly for traditional jazz - Good Time Jazz. They set audiophile standards with their excellent audio pickup, quiet pressings and lovely photographic album covers. Plus they were the first jazz label to begin recording in stereo - two years prior to the stereodisc - in l956. The best of West Coast Jazz at its peak is found on Contemporary, but it also launched a couple of East Coast jazz giants - Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. Some of the tasty tracks herein are Shelly Manne’s Get Me to the Church on Time, Rollins’ Way Out West, Art Pepper’s Star Eyes, Andre Previn’s I’ll Remember April, and Benny Golson’s Just By Myself.

- John Henry

Back to Top of This Page

Return to the Home Page for February 2003

To Index of CD Reviews for month