Jazz CDs - January 2003 - Pt. 2 of 2

Let’s kick off this part with a quartet of vocalists...
Barbara Cook - It’s Better With a Band - Live at Carnegie Hall - DRG 91475:

Hard to believe this terrific album has been around for 22 years now. I’ve always thought it was one of the best Broadway song albums ever done, and that includes the sound - which is the best it’s ever been in this reissue. For those too young to know about Cook, she combined a terrific voice with terrific musicianship and serious acting abilities. She lit up such Broadway shows as Candide, The Music Man and The King and I. The original LP had liner notes (reproduced here) by Leonard Bernstein and Hal Prince - that was her status. And this is a great band, led by Wally Harper - lots of jazz smarts. The disc is labeled part of the Living Legends Collection, and Cook surely qualifies.

Tracks: Intro/Sing a Song with Me, I Love a Piano, Inside, Lullaby in Ragtime, Them There Eyes, Marianne, The Ingenue, Remember/Come In from the Rain, Sweet Georgia Brown, Another Mr. Right Left, Leonard Bernstein Medley, I Never Meant to Hurt You/I Never Knew That Men Cried, It’s Better with a Band, Chant La Vie/Sing a Song with Me (reprise), If Love Were All.

Mary Ann Redmond - Prisoner of the Heart - Q&W Music QW 1005:

Another reissue, though lots more recent. Looking at the CD photos and then putting on the CD is a bit of double-take event: Redmond is a trained opera singer turned into a belter of blue-eyed soul music. (I used to play Mose Allison for the uninitiated; nobody believed he was white.) Redmond has a really big and forceful voice but never sounds forced or in the slightest like some opera singers who have attempted to get down with pop music and fell flat on their ample bosoms. Redmond also delivers the lyrics as though she is really living them, not just mouthing them. She even wrote five of these tunes herself. And the group backing her is top flight - John Jennings on B3 organ being a standout. I don’t even care greatly for soul and I dug Redmond the most. Tracks: Make it Last, Since I Fell for You, Maybe I’m Amazed, Blind to Love, That’s All, Prisoner of the Heart, You Send Me, Many Rivers to Cross, Ain’t It a Shame, Too Precious, I Can Let Go Now.

Darius de Haas - Day Dream - Variations on Strayhorn (with Deidre Rodman, piano; Brad jones, bass; J. T. Lewis, drums; Roy Nathanson, sax; Marvin Sewell, guitar) - PS Classics PS-204 (Distr. By Image Entertainment):

Vocalist Haas got the idea for doing an entire album of Billy Strayhorn from reading David Haydu’s l996 bio of Ellington’s amanuensis. Although Strayhorn was associated with Ellington for 27 years, he also wrote much music entirely on his own and did a solo album in l961. Two of these 15 tracks come from the duo’s collaboration on Such Sweet Thunder, and therefore sport lyrics by Shakespeare. Milton Raskin contributed lyrics to the Strayhorn tune that’s my favorite - Passion Flower. Strayhorn’s touching Blood Count, written during his final hospitalization, has new lyrics by Elvis Costello and has been re-titled My Flame Burns Blue. Tracks; My Love Is As a Fever, Take the A Train, Your Love Has Faded, Passion Flower, A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Lush Life, Pretty Girl, Take Allo My Loves, Satin Doll, Something to Live For, Just A-Sittin’ and A Rockin,’ House on a Hill, Got No Time, Love Came, My Flame Burns Blue, Day Dream.

Oscar Brown Jr. - Movin’ On - (with Cornell Dupree, guitar; Richard Tee, piano; Bill Salter, bass; Jimmy Johnson, drums; Ralph MacDonald, percussion; plus horn section) - Collectables COL-CD-6369:

Brown was big in the 60s and 70s as a singer, entertainer and composer. He was originally presented on TV by Steve Allen, and he produced some jazz musicals of high quality. His songs tend to tell more of a story than most, and the nine here are no exception. His style of delivery is distinctive and hip as all git out; you won’t confuse him with anyone else. Brown wrote all of them except for sharing one with another composer. Tracks: A Dime Away from a Hotdog, Walk Away, Feel the Fire, A Ladiesman, No Place to be Somebody, To Stay in Good With You, Gang Bang, First Lady, Young Man.

- John Henry

John La Porta - Theme and Variations (La Porta, clarinet & alto sax; Louis Mucci, trumpet; Sonny Russo, trombone; Larry Wilcox, tenor sax; George Barrow and Sol Schlinger, baritone saxes; Wally Cirillo, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Clem DeRosa, drums) - Fantasy FCD-24776-2:

Reissues again, and very well worth it. Back to l956 thru 1958, when the two LPs paired on this CD was first released by Fantasy. Reedman/composer/arranger La Porta was on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music for 38 years and in the 40s and 50s had been a major player in bebop, cool and Third Stream jazz. La Porta in this work blends bebop with his classical compositional interests. He employs different combinations of instruments in unusual ways to vary the timbre, dynamics and mood frequently. There are some fugues and canons but also some wild jam session passages; a fascinating crossover experience. The first album was 12 variations on a blues choral, the individual variations carry subtitles like Jazz Fugue, Forward Motion, From the Cool School, etc. The second half of the disc has 11 short tracks framing a wildly swinging bebop version of Perdido. Note the play on words of the closing track: Fermé La Porta.

Ron Carter, bass - Stardust (with Benny Golson, tenor sax; Joe Locke, vibes; Sir Roland Hanna, piano; Lenny White, drums) - Blue Note 7243 5 37813 2 3:

One of our leading bassists today, Carter has been extremely apparent on discs for years, and this is his latest. It’s also the last recording from the exceedingly tasteful and talented pianist Roland Hanna, who died recently. Carter seems to be playing a standard bass here rather than his occasional piccolo bass, but a nice feature of his style is his use of a higher register that makes it easier to hear the pitch of the notes. His recordings, for example, are about the only bassist I can listen to in the car and still hear his lines clearly. Three of the tunes are Carter originals. Tracks: Tamalpais, The Man I Love, Nearly, Bohemia After Dark, Tail Feathers, Blues in the Closet, That’s Deep, Stardust.

- John Henry

Herbie Mann & Buddy Collette - Flute Fraternity (with Jimmy Rowles, piano & celeste; Buddy Clark, bass; Mel Lewis, drums) - V.S.O.P. Records Mode #114:

Though it is unfortunately not as much heard in jazz today as it was in the 50s and 60s, kidnapping the flute from the classical symphony/chamber music and teaching it to sit up and speak in the jazz world has been a love of mine from an early age, even though I never played a wind instrument. (I have a beautiful ceramic flute but every time I try to play it I get an instant headache.) Mann is still around - I reviewed his SACD several months back in our Hi-Res section. Together with Collette they were a couple of the leading flutists in jazz back in l957 when this mono session was taped for the Mode label. Collette was one of my favorites from the early Chico Hamilton Quintet; he also played clarinet and saxes, as do many reed players. The final track here sounds like it could almost be Hamilton’s Quintet. Their rhythm section on this album came from the Dave Pell Octet, and Rowles was one of the West Coast modern jazz piano greats. In fact this is quintessential West Coast Jazz. If you’re unfamiliar with this small reissue jazz label, V.S.O.P. stands for Very Special Old Phonography, and that’s exactly what their specialty is. Tracks: Herbie’s Buddy, Perdido, Baubles Bangles and Beads, Give a Little Whistle, Here’s Pete, Theme from Theme From, Nancy with the Laughing Face, Morning After.

Piano Playhouse = Featuring Carl Perkins, Jimmy Rowles, Lou Levy, Paul Smith, Gerald Wiggins - V.S.O.P. Mode #128:

Also dating from a Mode Records 1957 mono LP release, this compendium reminds me of a similar one done about the same time by the Pacific Jazz label, probably in competition. It even included a couple of these same pianists. That’s been very well played and hasn’t been reissued on CD, so let’s discuss the one at hand: A grab bag of different players on the same instrument like this is a real kick. It’s elucidating to compare the different styles and approaches from tune to tune. I was recently watching the video DVD on great classical pianists, and this was a similar comparison trip. With 20 tracks and five ivory-ticklers, there are four tracks per pianist. (I simply refuse to call an instrumental selection of any kind a “song” - as has evidently become the standard both in the record business today and the MP3 world.)

My favorite was Paul Smith (whose new AIX DVD-A we should be reviewing here soon). His All the Things You Are is magnificent, a real opus. Lou Levy also shows the influence of earlier piano wizards just as Smith does; in this case it’s Art Tatum. Sonics are good enough - with solo piano stereo isn’t as important anyway. In fact, the way many engineers still tend to record a grand piano - sounding as though it’s 30 feet wide - it may be better in mono! Tracks: (whew!) Lullaby of the Leaves, The Blues, Frankie & Johnny, Alone Together, Yesterdays, Jordu, The Way You Look Tonight, Flamingo, Tea for Two, Poor Butterfly, That Old Devil Called Love, Summertime, You Don’t Know What Love Is, All the Things You Are, My Heart Stood Still, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, My Funny Valentine, Love Letters, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Laugh Clown Laugh.

- John Henry

Three classic LPs on two CDs from a classic jazz duo of the 50s & 60s...
The Mitchell-Ruff Trio with Charlie Smith, drums - The Catbird Seat - Collectables COL-CD-6368:
Mitchell and Ruff - Brazilian Trip / Campus Concert - Collectables COL CD-7475:

Dwike Mitchell was just about the best jazz French horn player ever, though admittedly there’s not that many around. He was mainly the pianist in the duo with bassist Willie Ruff but it was his horn tracks that perked up my ears back then and still do. It’s a kick to have this material originally recorded for Epic and Atlantic available again. There’s no horn on the trio album but on the Campus Concert live session one of the several horn numbers is a glorious version of ‘Round Midnight. By the way, the Trio album was also recorded live at a jazz club in New Haven, Connecticut. This CD is of rather short length, but the title track as well as Dizzy’s beautiful Con Alma are worth the (low) price of admission. The Brazilian Trip session is a great example of what was old is new again; doubly so because these are not the same old Wave or Girl From Ipanema all over again. Frankly I had never heard of any of the ten tracks here - (well, maybe it’s alright to call them songs in this case because they originally were just that.) Now I’m really sorry I never got to hear these guys live. One hears nothing about them anymore and they deserve a more prominent place in jazz history.

Tracks: Catbird = The Catbird Seat, Street of Dreams, So In Love, Con Alma, Gypsy in My Soul, I’ll Remember April; Duo = 10 songs in Portuguese, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Red Sails in the Sunset, My Heart Stood Still, Little Girl Blue, I’ll Take Romance, Body and Soul, Round Midnight, But Beautiful, Out of This World.

- John Henry

We bend the JAZZ rubric here to accommodate a couple of folk CDs of exceptional fidelity and musicianship...

Misty River Band – Rising – Misty River MRCD001:
Misty River Band – Live at the Backgate Stage – Misty River MRC002:
Let me start this review by saying that Rising is the most natural- sounding CD that I have heard. It is what a recording should sound like. If all CDs sounded like this there would be a lot less need for other formats for recording. Unfortunately I cannot think of any CD that sounds this good. Without going through my over 5000 CDs, many of which I have not played with my current system, I cannot say categorically it is the best, but I believe it would be. I compared it with Will the Circle be Unbroken I and III. Absolutely no comparison as far as sound quality.

You might wonder if I have a personal bias for the group, since they are from Vancouver WA, across the Columbia River from my home. I was introduced to the group by a PBS television show, called Oregon Arts Week. I thought they sounded like a very interesting group. A couple of weeks later I ran into a used CD of Rising. I decided to take a chance on the disc. I put the disc on with some anticipation. I was not nearly ready for what I heard. It brought great live music into my living room, more realistically than I have heard before. I played it for my friend Marv Munden, who is in on many of my listening sessions. After about 30 seconds he commented “it’s goose bump time”. His way of saying this was a special recording. I generally do not review standard CDs, but this one is special. I went to their web sight, to find if I could here them live somewhere. I was in luck, they were playing at a local place in a couple of weeks. They put on a great live concert and showed me that they were as good and possibly better live than on this recording. If you get a chance to listen to them live, I suggest you do it.

You might ask what’s so good about the discs’ sound. Each of their four voices is heard distinctly and at the same time their harmony is extremely well represented. The instruments they play are crisp, clear and detailed. They stand well-placed and in balance on the stage. Images do not get over-sized when they get louder. You hear every string on their instruments, without undue emphasis. The instrumental playing is excellent. The singing is very good and the song choice is also excellent. There is also a great sense of presence not found on most albums. This recording may not have thunderous bass or the tingly highs of many audiophile recordings, but is sounds like real music. This disc sounds better than 80% of CDs and as good as 90% of the SACDs I have heard.

Misty River is a group of four women. I would consider them a combination of folk, bluegrass and country. There is Carol Harley on guitar, banjo and vocals. There is her daughter Laura Quigley on acoustic doublebass and vocals. There is Chris Kokesh on fiddle and vocals. She also wrote several of the songs on Rising. Dana Abel on guitar, accordion and vocals. They are all very good musicians. They also have John Reischman, Dale Adkins, Bill Storms and Glen Moore as guest artist on various tracks. Chris Kokesh wrote three of the songs and Dana Abel wrote one of the songs. From Chris’ work on the album, she has a future in song writing. They also do covers of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Tom Paxton and William Cook. Also a couple of traditional songs. Chris’s Only Love is very moving. This combination makes for a strong album musically.

The next question is whether that the second album can do the nearly impossible task of sounding as good as Rising. The answer is quiet simply, no. Live at the Backgate Stage is a very good sounding album, but goes not have quiet the magic in the sound as Rising. At times it’s very close. The bass sometimes becomes a little too heavy. The detail and presence are also slightly less. The album does have its strong points. It is musically even stronger. Dana Abel contributes one song to the album. There are a couple of traditional songs. They do covers of such people as Kate Wolf, Carter Stanley, Gillian Welch, Shawn Colvin and Jay Ungar. The album contains 17 tracks, so you can spend more time listening to this great group. On this album they have been together for an extra year. Their harmonies are even slightly better. This album will become one of my road trip album favorites. Albums may be purchased mail order from www.mistyriverband.com or www.cdbaby.com

In summation Rising is an absolute must-have album for its sonics. Both Rising and Live are very highly recommended for the music and performance.

- Clay Swartz

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