Jazz CDs, Pt. 1 - July-August 2002

[The great Ray Brown died July 2...]

Ray Brown Trio - Some of My Best Friends Are...Guitarists (Ray Brown, bass; with John Pizzarelli, Herb Ellis, Russell Malone, Kenny Burrell, Bruce Forman and Ulf Wakenius, guitar; Geoff Keezer, piano; Karriem Riggins, drums) - Telarc CD83499: This is another in the line of "Some of My Best Friends Are..." albums Ray Brown has released as of late, and it's one of the best guitar-based jazz albums I've heard in a long time. The album is a eclectic mixture of standards and original blues, offered by a diverse grouping of old guard and young lions. And man, can these guys play!

John Pizzarelli leads off with Fats Waller's "Squeeze Me," and whether your impression of his vocal stylings may have colored your appreciation for his playing -- he's not singing here. He has a unique style that is often eerily reminiscent of Wes Montgomery -- he really swings on this tune! Other highlights come from Russell Malone, Ulf Wakenius and Bruce Forman, who gives us another pretty good Wes Montgomery tribute with his "Blues for Wes," as well as a poignant reading of "My Funny Valentine." Pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins add sympathetic accompaniment to all the tunes.

The recording is an excellent, original DSD. All of the guitarists are placed right up front in the mix, which is great, but the disc has a slightly distant perspective -- this one is begging to be released on MultiChannel SACD , which would pull you closer into these performances.

- Tom Gibbs

Vibes in the forefront on both of the next pair of CDs...

The Modern Jazz Quartet - Topsy: This One's for Basie - Pablo OJC CD-1073-2: The classiest small group in modern jazz was also one of the longest-lived bands ever - over 20 years - with plenty of reunitings for special occasions after that. Recorded at one of the latter in l985, this session pays homage to Count Basie, who at first blush seems quite a different sort of jazz animal from the chamber-music-oriented MJQ. However, Basie's minimalist piano style was a strong influence on MJQ leader-composer John Lewis, and the Basie Band influenced the small group from its very beginnings. The track "D and E" here is thoroughly Basie-ish, so much so that it is not only the longest track on the disc but is the only one reprised at the conclusion with a bonus track even longer - nearly ten minutes. I missed this session back in the 80s, and if you're as much of a MJQ fan as I am, you'll want to pick it up as I did. Plus Connie Kay's heavy reliance on brushes-on-cymbals provides jolly good high frequency test material - it shouldn't sound too overbearing, noisy or rolled off at the top. The eight tracks: Reunion Blues, Nature Boy, Topsy II, D and E, Valeria, Milano, Le Cannet, D and E alternate take.

Bobby Hutcherson, vibes/marimba (with Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Sam Rivers, reeds; Andrew Hill, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Joe Chambers, drums) - Dialogue - Blue Note 72435355862-8: While Classic Records is beginning to issue some of the early mono Blue Note classics on LP, Capitol is reissuing some of the 60s and 70s-vintage stereo Blue Notes in CD enhancements using 24-bit processing. This one was produced by Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Record reissue fame and is part of the Rudy Van Gelder Edition series. It was the first issued album with Hutcherson as leader, although most of the tunes are originals from pianist Hill. This came from a period of much very creative writing from jazz performers, and the new charts spurred this top-flight aggregation to new heights of improvisational nirvana. Chambers and Davis played on endless sessions before this one and since, and their accompaniment skills are legend. Rivers - who played with Miles - switches from tune to tune among tenor and soprano sax, flute and bass clarinet. Freddie Hubbard is one of the trumpet greats and his dialogues with Hutcherson are highlights of this CD, though all the players carry on in-depth dialogues with one another and the group as a whole - befitting the album's title. Tracks: Catta, Idle While, Les Noirs Marchant, Dialogue, Ghetto Lights, Jasper.

- John Henry

Piano... and something else on these two albums...

Single Petal of a Rose - John Hicks, piano; Elise Woods, flute; Walter Booker, bass; Jack Walrath, trumpet - Mapleshade 02532: Jazz flute is one of my favorite things, even if played in a rather workmanlike manner. However, that's certainly not the situation with Woods - she's not a classical flutist who lets her hair down once in a while. She has played with Clifford Jordan, Archie Shepp, Sir Roland Hanna and David Murray and is part of a duo, trio and quintet with pianist Hicks. This was Hicks first session for Mapleshade, following which he became their music director. Singer Shirley Horn had urged Mapleshade/s Pierre Sprey to record Hicks, and this delectable chamber jazz session was the first result. Trumpeter Walrath joins in on the first two tracks, and some also feature bassist Brooker, but this is basically just delicate but swinging flute and piano improvisation, gorgeously and naturally captured by Mapleshade's no-artificial-additives recording process.

The 11 tracks: Sometime ago, Infant Eyes, Yes Or No, Ballad of a Black Man, Ghosts of Yesterday, Portraits, Topaz, A Child is Born, Single Petal of a Rose (Ellington), Embraceable You, Virgo.

Consuela Lee - Piano Voices (with Sangoma Everett, drums) - Mapleshade 08332: Lee is a stunning and highly original pianist, called by one critic an heir to Mary Lou Williams and Dorothy Donegan. She's a piano teacher and also operates a non-profit boarding school for black children. She chose to record with just a drummer she had worked with many times before. She chose to play seven original tunes plus standards by Irving Berlin, Kern, Waller, Strayhorn and of course Ellington. Lee's classical background is apparent but she swings like mad. If you dig curiously refreshing piano playing, this CD is for you. Tracks: Jefferson Street Joe, All the Things You Arre, How Deep is the Ocean, In a Sentimental Mood/Sophisticated Lady, Letter to Chris, So Many Stars, Welcome Home, Lullabye, Discovery, Lush Life, Dance of the Cripple, Prince of the Piano, Ain't Misbehavin.'

- John Henry

Mysterious Barracudas - Respectable Groove (Evelyn Nallen, recorder; David Gordon, harpsichord; Richard Jeffries, bass; Ichiro Tatsuhara, percussion) - Mister Sam Records CD001:

Now this is my sort of crossover. What a kick! Half the quartet is from the Baroque period and the other half from today's jazz world. The selections are some early music given a swinging treatment and also several originals, plus two traditionals. There's even a tune by Lyle Mays. Other ensembles in the past - such as Sky - have delved into this rarified musical mix, but Respectable Groove is offering lots more than just jazzing up familiar classics. If I'd been able to play my harpsichord in an ensemble like this, I might have considering more seriously a career in performing music. Sonics of the highest quality, too. Since CDs from this UK label are probably not overflowing your typical stateside CD shop, try their website at www.respectablegroove.co.uk Tracks: La Rotta della Manfredina, Trotto, Loose Connections, Mysterious Barracudas (Les Baricades Misterieuses), Mike's Tune, Strange Bird of Paradise, April Fool, Achavari Waltz, Chorinho, Henderson the Rain King, April 3rd, Drink to me only with thine eyes.

Dans La Nuit - Music by Louis Sclavis for the 1929 Silent Movie by Charles Vanel (Sclavis, clarinets; Dominique Pifarely, violin; Vincent Courtois, cello; Francois Merville, percussion & marimba; Jean Louis Matinier, accordion) - ECM 1805: I was going to save this CD for next month's periodic coverage of soundtrack music, but I couldn't wait: The creation of modern musical accompaniments to old silent films (and in the case of Philip Glass to sound films, replacing the original soundtrack) has become quite a business the last few years. There are some ensembles who specialize entirely in that, traveling around to film festivals and special events. Dan La Nuit was just about the last French silent film. Its story about miners was shot in the region of Lyons, and possesses great visual inventiveness.

Clarinetist/composer Sclavis wanted to tie into the cinematic style of Murnau and Jean Renoir he felt this film had, so he used some melodies from French folk heritage. He timed each cue very closely, almost to the second, but also looked for the proper rhythmic impulse to underline the drama on the screen. He uses a post-modern musical language, not standard diatonic but not really atonal either. He wanted the music to be a bridge between the present and the period of the original film. This is definitely spare-ish ECM music but with a feeling of more humanity and delicate human interaction, just as most French and Italian films surpass Hollywood in that department. In addition to Sclavis essay on the music in the booklet, there is a longer essay on the silent film from director Bertrand Tavernier. There are 16 short cues total; listing them would provide little additional information, so I won't.

- John Sunier

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