Jazz CDs, Pt. 1 for June 2003

Dave Brubeck – The Essential Dave Brubeck – Sony Legacy 086993:

Sony Legacy’s Essential series is really pretty ambitious in concept, and so far seems to have lived up to its promise – this release is no exception. Dave Brubeck himself picked the tunes, and it’s a good cross-section chronologically of much of his work scattered over fifty years (fifty years!) on various record labels (though, of course, most of it comes from his Columbia catalog). Although much of the music is infinitely familiar to most everybody, as I’ve found, there’s always some undiscovered chestnut or two lurking among the classics, and that’s where the value lies in compilations like these.

The first couple of tunes come from his groundbreaking albums Jazz Goes to College and Jazz at Oberlin, and the sound quality of these mono recordings just blew me away – I had to do a quick double check to make sure that they were in fact mono! The sound has such an immediacy and freshness to it – I just couldn’t get over that I’d never heard any of this material, and I intend to rectify that situation pronto. Tunes from other albums, including Time Further Out (the follow-up to Time Out) and Jazz Impressions of New York, also struck me as indispensable; once again, (and forgive the broken record) I just couldn’t get over that I didn’t know all this music by heart. I’ve probably played Perdido, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Unsquare Dance and Autumn In Washington Square a dozen times each over the last couple of weeks.

Although I’ve been listening predominantly to hi-res music sources as of late, this compilation has really helped remind me of just how much redbook CD has to offer. Everything on here (with the exception of some really early, solo piano recordings) sounds spectacular, and brings home the fact that it may be a while (forever) before most of it (if any) becomes available on SACD, so let’s enjoy what we have now! If you just want a taste of Brubeck, this is definitely the disc to get, and it’s guaranteed to leave you wanting more.

Tunes: Indiana; Perdido; Take the A Train; Le Souk; Audrey; The Duke; In Your Own Sweet Way; Weep No More; Some Day My Prince Will Come; Tangerine; Brandenburg Gate; Three To Get Ready; Blue Rondo A La Turk; There’ll Be Some Changes Made; Take Five; Maria; It’s A Raggy Waltz; Unsquare Dance; Kathy’s Waltz; Travelin’ Blues; Summer Song; That Old Black Magic; Bossa Nova U.S.A.; Autumn In Washington Square; Theme From Mr. Broadway; La Paloma Azul; Recuerdo; Caravan; Stardust; Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?; Love For Sale. Purchase Here

- Tom Gibbs

Miles Davis – Live At the Blackhawk, Vols. 1 and 2 – with Hank Mobley, Sax; Wynton Kelly, Piano; Paul Chambers, Bass and Jimmy Cobb, Drums – Sony Legacy 087097, 087100:

These two, 2-CD sets chronicle Miles Davis’ storied Friday and Saturday nights at the Blackhawk in San Francisco in 1961, and although they’ve been available in various forms over the years, this is the first time they’ve ever been released complete, uncut and in correct sequence. Many of the tunes heard in previous incarnations had been truncated for various reasons; here they’ve been restored to full length, and many of the tunes are heard for the first time ever, all in gloriously remastered sound.

Although there’s been much discussion about whether this was Miles’ best combo (no Coltrane or Bill Evans), Miles provided the focus for all incarnations of his fabled groups. So whether it was Coltrane, Hank Mobley (heard here) or Wayne Shorter on sax, Miles was always shaping the sound. Miles allowed all his players plenty of room to stretch out, and Mobley acquits himself admirably here throughout. While maybe lacking the fire and intensity of John Coltrane, his playing brings an individuality and distinction to all the tunes. Wynton Kelly’s playing is perfect throughout; Miles and Mobley may occasionally hit a wrong note, but Kelly’s playing is always above reproach. Paul Chambers’ bass is rock-solid as always, and Jimmy Cobb’s drumming secures the foundation.

The performances make these discs indispensable; tunes like ‘So What’ and “Walkin’ that leisurely bopped through their classic studio versions are now propelled to red-line territory; Miles brings us back to earth for lilting versions of ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ and ‘Round Midnight.’ At no point are these guys just going through the motions – Miles made everything he played his own. ‘Well You Needn’t,’ compared to any of Monk’s own versions is almost unrecognizable, but no less enjoyable. There’s some overlap of tunes between volumes, but not much, and with the exception of the fade-in into ‘Autumn Leaves’ there’s nothing other than time constraints to explain their absence from the original releases.

The sound quality is also superb, especially for live recordings of this vintage; Miles’ muted horn is never shrill, Paul Chambers’ bass is firm and deep, Jimmy Cobb’s cymbals shimmer. Hiss is virtually nonexistent. All the players are firmly anchored in the soundstage, with Miles’ horn front and center – you really get the illusion that you’re present at the actual event. Sony has done an excellent job with these releases – very highly recommended!

Tunes: Oleo; No Blues*; Bye Bye (theme)*; If I Were A Bell*; Fran Dance; On Green Dolphin Street*; The Theme*; All Of You; Neo*; I Thought About You*; Bye Bye Blackbird; Walkin’*; Love, I’ve Found You*; So What; ‘Round Midnight; Well You Needn’t; Autumn Leaves; Two Bass Hit; Someday My Prince Will Come; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise. * =Previously unreleased Alternate takes of these songs also included. Purchase Here

- Tom Gibbs

Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band - Never No Lament - RCA Bluebird 82876-50857-2 (3 CD set):

As with some of the Miles and Coltrane sides, this Ellington set has been re-issued over and over again. I seem to recall a big boxed LP set relating to the impact made on the Ellington Band by the innovative bassist Jimmy Blanton. The first CD version was an RCA set of three discs that I remember seemed to have more surface noise than the LP reissue. Somewhat later (1986), after the impact the new digital No Noise system made at some of the major labels, a bunch of older jazz and classical material was reissued using it to aggressively reduce the scratch and hiss. While this Digital Remastering was not quite as bad as some of the classical No Noise reissues, it added some distortions and rolled off too much high end on many tracks, draining the life from them.

This new version arrived on three CD-Rs and without the notes. (The release date was April 1st.) So the most I could do was listen to the set and compare it to the 1986 version which I still had. The CD-Rs only played on one of my three high-end players. The first thing I noticed was more tracks on the new version - a total of 66 on the old one and 75 on the new set. Next, also some sort of noise reduction has been used on the latest set, it has now been used with the greatest taste and nearly every track sounded cleaner, with more ambience (or in many cases ambience at all where the 1986 pressings had none). A number of annoying distortions on peaks were now tamed and some of these sides from 1940 thru 1942 sounded as thought they could have been recorded just a few years ago. In 1940 the band had just returned from a successful European tour and was getting more acclaim than it ever had. But it still did one one-nighter after another all over the U.S. And it’s amazing that such great music as these tracks was still being created by Ellington without fail. Billy Strayhorn was beginning to get credit for some of the arrangements, and violinist/trumpeter/vocalist Ray Nance had replaced Cootie Williams who had joined Benny Goodman.

Of course most of the tunes are Ellington originals, but the interest with which the band imbues the few garden-variety pop tunes is quite a feat. There are a number of vocals, with people like Ivie Anderson and Herb Jeffries. Furthermore, I only saw a couple of repeats in all 75 tracks - there are no alternate sides etc. thank heavens. There’s just too many tunes to list them all, but I will drop the titles of several that especially caught my ear: Concerto for Cootie, Harlem Airshaft, Warm Valley, Jumpin’ Pumkins, Sepia Panorama, Portrait of Bert Williams, Moon Over Cuba, Sherman Shuffle. Great Ellington, great soloists, great sound! Purchase Here

- John Henry

Carla Bley Big Band - Looking for America (featuring Gary Valente, Lew Solofff, Andy Sheppard and Wolfgang Puschnig) - WATT/ECM 31:

A big band of quite another color, this. All of the nine compositions are Carla’s originals except for the closing Old MacDonald Had a Farm. The album booklet carries a disclaimer stating “The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the musicians in the band or the record company.” There are no vocals and the note booklet follows some recent ECM efforts by having only photos of the recording session and some other images with no text notes whatever. So the disclaimer probably refers to the major item on the album, “The National Anthem,” which is a 20-minute dissection and ornamentation of some patriotic tunes which put me in mind of Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner. Its five movements are: OG Can UC?, Flags, Whose Broad Stripes?, Anthem, and Keep It Spangled. Bley’s explanation (in an ECM news release) is that it all started when a quote from the national anthem inserted itself into another piece she was writing, giving it a Patriotic Virus. She finally realized our national anthem could use some work, and yes her stimulus was a negative reaction to the present administration’s actions - just as Hendrix’s was.

There are Mexican influences in a couple of tracks, including her frenetically swinging Tijuana Traffic, complete with siren sounds. She found the brass could do a better job of honking than the saxes which are usually accused of that. This CD was doubly fun to hear after viewing the Carla Bley video DVD I reviewed here last month. Too bad every CD can’t come with one enhanced QuickTime video track of the performers, as do most of the Heads Up discs. Actually, SACDs could do that if they wanted to.

Tracks: Grand Mother, The National Anthem suite, Step Mother, Fast Lane, Los Cocineros, Your Mother, Tijuana Traffic, God Mother, Old MacDonald. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Two pianists with very contrasting styles...
John Taylor Trio - Rosslyn (with Marc Johnson, bass; Joey Baron, drums) - ECM 1751:

Another tastefully sparse ECM presentation, with only photos of the players in the booklet and no text at all. Taylor’s piano style is also spare, lyrical, and deeply felt in a quiet, almost withdrawn sort of manner. Some selections are almost meditative. Virtuoso display is not for this pianist. Clean and natural recording quality, as always with ECM, that reveals the most subtle ppp note spinning under Taylor’s nimble fingers. Tracks: The Bowl Song, How Deep is the Ocean, Between Moons, Rosslyn, Ma Bel, Tramonto, Field Day. Purchase Here

Jacky Terrasson, piano - Smile (with Sean Smith, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Remi Vignolo, elec. bass on three tracks) - Blue Note 40668 2:

French-American pianist Terrasson has been touring his previous CD, A Paris, in Europe for the past year and one-half. In the U.S. he has worked with singers Betty Carter, Dianne Reeves and Jimmy Scott, and his debut album was listed by Time Magazine as one of the top albums of 1995. This CD was recorded in a studio in France and his management is also there. Terrasson says it is looser and more of a jazz record than his previous album. He continues the French connection with a number of the ten tracks here. Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare opens the CD, Under the Skies of Paris is another, and Autumn Leaves had Jacques Prevert involved in its creation and has long been a European favorite. Terrasson’s sensitive arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s lovely theme Smile in 5/4 time is the best I’ve ever heard, and Mo Better Blues really gets your booty shaking with the addition to the mix of Vignolo’s bouncy electric bass. One of the best piano trio outings I’ve heard in some time. Dig it! Purchase Here

- John Henry

Two rather different approaches to the jazz violin in these two CDs...
Johnny Frigo’s DNA Exposed! (Frigo, violin; Bill Charlap, piano; Frank Vignola, guitar; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Nicki Parrott, bass; Joe Ascione, drums) - Arbors Jazz ARCD 19258:

Frigo is also an octogenarian - 87 this year. Gunther Schuller, who wrote the noteas with this CD, observes that when Frigo plays with much younger musicians he’s the one who galvanizes the group and never wants to stop playing. His energy and good humor at his age may remind some of that other great jazz violinist Joe Venuti. He made most of his living as a pro bass player, only occasionally being allowed to play the violin. Frigo also composed music for dozens of commercials and played bass on them. In l988, at age 72, he appeared on Johnny Carson as a violinist and finally returned to his first love, on which he was still swinging like mad at this 2001 session. Not entirely uptempo bouncy, the most introspective track on this CD is the gorgeous collaboration of Frigo’s violin with only Charlap’s piano and the bassist for a deeply-affecting nearly seven-minute Crystal Silence. Tracks:
I Concentrate on You, Poor Butterfly, Cheek to Cheek, What Is There to Say?, Nobody Else But Me, Try a Little Tenderness/Sweet and Lovely, Hair on the G-String, I Love You, Too Late Now/Street of Dreams, She Loves Me, Crystal Silence, Tanga, What’ll I Do? Purchase Here

Regina Carter - Paganini: After a Dream - (with ensemble and string orchestra cond. By Ettore Stratta) - Verve Enhanced CD 440 065 554 2:

Goody, said I, here’s one of those Enhanced CDs I was just hankering for. Now I can see Regina Carter playing the priceless l743 Guarneri Il Cannone violin in one of the selections on this new CD of arrangements of mostly French classics. There was nothing in the note booklet about the video portion, so I slid it into my Mac and waited. What came up was a silent slide show, stretched animorphically to widescreen and distorted, on the city of Genoa that seemed slanted to convince me to relocate my business there. Nothing about Carter and only a brief image of Paganini. And no sound at all - I thought my QuickTime software was acting up again. Including this on the CD must have been a stipulation of the all the Genoan authorities than Carter and her representatives there had to battle for some time to allow her to play the unique violin which required police escort.

Long story short Carter did eventually not only play it but made this recording there with piano and rhythm section plus a guest cellist and a string orchestra arranged and conducted by Ettore Stratta. The program fare is quick a departure from her previous jazz/funk/fusion efforts. Part of it must have been to avoid shocking the authorities who had never allowed a non-classical violinist to use the violin for public performance - let alone a jazz performer from another country. Anyway, the choice of selections is excellent and the arrangements are lush and tasteful. Carter even contributes vocals on two of the tracks. This is a crossover effort that works on many different levels. Tracks: Pavane pour une infante defunte (Ravel), Black Orpheus theme (Bonfa), Pavane (Faure), Oblivion (Piazzolla), Reverie (Debussy), Healing in Foreign Lands, Apres un reve (Faure), Excerpt from Alexandra (Regina Carter), Cinema Paradiso theme (Morricone). Purchase Here

- John Henry

Continue to Part 2 of Jazz

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