Jazz CDs, Pt. 1 of 2 - March 2003

Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones with guest Bill Watrous - Spirit of the Horn - Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild MCGJ1011:

Some great things are coming out of the minority-directed arts and learning center in Pittsburgh known as the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, and this CD is just one of them. (It’s not in the UK as I thought when I first heard about it.) The MCG Jazz program has putt together some terrific concerts and taped them - some even on video for DVD release. This one is a perfect example: master trombonist Slide Hampton hadn’t recorded for two decades, and the MCG project enabled him to assemble a stellar lineup of a dozen trombonists and a full rhythm section. Players who have paid their dues over the years are matched up with future masters of the lengthy brass axe. Bill Watrous is one of the top younger-generation jazz trombonists today, and this was the first time he had recorded with Hampton. The great rhythm section

The sound is wonderfully captivating - smooth, brassy and always singing. Sometimes it sound almost like a standard big band and other times like the most skilled concert band imaginable. The only tweak I wished for was to have the dozen trombones arrayed around me in hi-res surround sound. The 11 tunes center around a five-track Tribute Suite, which honors Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock with tones associated with each of them. Stevie Wonder’s All In Love Is Fair is given a gem of a treatment - his music is right up there with the Beatles and Bach in being perfect for conversion to jazz. Most of the imaginative arrangements are by Hampton. Tracks: Cherokee, All in Love is Fair, A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Lament/Basin Street Blues, April in Paris, Lester Leaps In, Moment’s Notice, Dolphin Dance, Walkin’-n Rhythm, Maya, Blues for Eric.

- John Henry

New sides from two preeminent jazz masters of the recent past...

Gerry Mulligan - Midas Touch, Live in Berlin - (with Ted Rosenthal, piano; Dean Johnson, bass; Ron Vincent, drums; Dave Brubeck, special guest) - Concord Jazz CCD-2169-2:

This event in May of l995 was taped during the baritone saxist’s final European concert tour. Brubeck, who replaces Rosenthal on These Foolish Things, said of Mulligan, “When you listen to Gerry you feel as if you were listening to the past, present and future of jazz...” He came to fame with his piano-less quartet which gave the lines played by the other instruments a greater flexibility and resulted in many others copying this instrumentation. All of the eight tunes except the last are Mulligan originals, reminding one that he was busy and effective composer as well. Mulligan says that his love of jazz began in the third grade when he saw a bus in front of the hotel in his small town emblazoned “Red Nichols and His Five Pennies.” It represented exciting travel and adventure to the boy. (Interesting because the first jazz I ever heard as a child was Red Nichols’ 78 of Nobody’s Sweetheart and Avalon and I ain’t been the same since either.) Tracks: Out Back of the Barn, Wallflower, Midas Lives, Noblesse, Sun on the Stairs, Curtains, Walkin’ Shoes, These Foolish Things.

The George Shearing/Cannonball Adderley Quintets at Newport (with Nat Adderley, Junior Mance, Sam Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Emil Richards, Toots Thielemans, Al McKibbon & Percy Brice) - Pablo/Fantasy PACD-5315-2:

All of this is previously unreleased material from the l957 Newport Jazz Festival, recorded in performance. One might have imagined these two groups to be quite difference from one another, but they happened to have the same manager and they did mesh well musically on the two numbers heard here in which the Adderley brothers sat in with the Shearing Quintet (the other nine tracks have them performing separately). Cannonball had a big fat alto sax sound that mixed beautifully with his brother’s trumpet. The band at the time was not being well supported by its label EmArcy, but Shearing was at a peak of popularity, having recorded in just about every imaginable situation but remembered today for his unique vibes/guitar/piano sound. His penchant for quoting classical and other music is heard in his superimposition of one of Satie’s Gymnopedie over It Never Entered My Mind. The two tracks with the Adderley’s are really a kick and a half, Shearing making an exception from his usual practice of having his sidemen closely follow the charts and letting come what may in his improvisations during Soul Station and Old Devil Moon. This was one of those great moments at some jazz festivals when unexpected collaborations occur that are really exciting and worthwhile.

Tracks: Wee Dot, A Foggy Day, Sermonette, Sam’s Tune, Hurricane Connie, Pawn Ticket, It Never Entered My Mind, There Will Never Be Another You, Soul Station, Old Devil Moon, Nothin’ But de Best.

- John Henry

The Best of Paolo Conte - Nonesuch 79512-2:

I don’t know how I missed knowing about this unique singer-songwriter all this time, but I trust at least some of our readers won’t know about him, so I’ll forge ahead here. It was the use of his song Via con me on the soundtrack of the DVD Mostly Martha that I reviewed this month which made me sit up and take notice. The tune perfectly captured the personality of the wild Italian chef in the film and his relationship with the uptight German female chef.

Conte was an attorney and started writing songs just for fun which were sung by other performers. All of the 20 tracks here are his original songs. In a story similar to that of other songwriters such as Randy Newman and Allan Sherman, Conte was prevailed upon to perform himself and he was a smash hit. Nobody else could deliver his highly individual song creations as he does - in a manner both familiar and exciting, redolent with nostalgia, cynicism and optimism at the same time, seeming one moment like a lonely lamb needing a woman’s compassion and the next moment like a dirty old man chortling in his beard. Conte’s musical world is an astonishingly spicy gumbo of exotic sources - Kurt Weill, Piazzolla tangos, Rota’s movie music for Fellini, Latin music, French and Italian music halls, every sort of American jazz from traditional to modern. Allusions, imitations and brief poetic fragments color his lyrics, which seem to evoke a kaleidoscope of mental images - with or without the complete translations of the mostly Italian lyrics he sings. The broken English of some of his tunes are hilariously innocent and yet mysteriously “continental.” For example, in his big hit: It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, good luck my babe, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you... chips, chips, du-du-du-du. Chips? Don ask. There are also songs here titled Boogie, Hemingway, and Happy Feet - the rest are in Italian. This rough-looking heavy-smoking Italian cabaret phenomenon is difficult to describe. I’ve become an instant fan and I’m not even into vocal music! He has lots of Italian CDs out but this Nonesuch compilation seems a perfect place to start your Conte Collection. Check into what he sounds like on several different web sites - just put Paolo Conte in a search engine.

- John Sunier

Duke Ellington - Live and Rare - Bluebird 09026-63953-2 (3 CDs):

The Bluebirdjazz reissue project brings us another winner in this collection of nearly four hours of Ellingtonia that most collectors haven’t heard before. Dates range from l965 to 1973, and the first thing on the first disc is a dozen tracks from the final concert of the band’s European tour - taped in Eastborne, England in l973. That’s followed by four tracks from the l965 Pittsburgh Jazz Festival at which Ellington plays a solo portrait of Willie the Lion Smith, Take the A Train with a rhythm section, and a two-piano improv with Earl Hines. The last item on the first disc is three piano solos by Ellington. Disc 2 is a reissue of the l965 Victor album with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops titled The Duke at Tanglewood. Richard Hayman did the arrangements and they fit into the typical Boston Pops sound without watering down Ellington’s original overmuch. The original album has been expanded by the addition of Ellington’s comments between tracks (the liner notes mistakenly attribute them to Fiedler) plus rehearsal and alternate takes - making this CD total nearly 80 minutes with 27 takes.

The last CD in the set consists of recordings the Ellington Band made for the Reader’s Digest series of LP albums, playing a few Ellington tunes but mostly pop hits of the day such as Misty, One Note Samba, the theme from La Dolce Vita. Only the first half of these 24 tracks were released at the time and the rest are receiving their first release herewith. The high number is the result of many alternate tracks of the same tune. I really don’t understand the need for four Walking Happys or four Soon It’s Gonna Rains in a row - they aren’t that different from one another keeping in mind the tenor of this particular gig! The 32-page note booklet is full of interesting Ellingtonia and the sonic enhancement of the originals is superb. Also nice fold-out cardboard alternative packaging to jewel boxes. Plenty of good listening herein.

- John Henry

Orchestre National de Jazz dir. by Paolo Damiani with guests Anouar Brahem (oud) and Gianluigi Trovesi (piccolo clarinet & alto sax) - “Charmediterraneen” - ECM 1828:

This is a very European 12-member big band (plus the two guests). Cellist Damiani is the artistic leader and his one-page essay gives a rough idea of the slant of the ensemble (which includes pocket trumpet and Sousaphone in addition to the piccolo clarinet and oud of the guest performers). He says the band offers their musical alternative to “the videocentric thought that flinches from complexity and contradiction - thought that is meager instead of varied - that aims for repetition and not discovery...” It appears from a reference to it in the notes that this suite of 15 sections - whose titles are mostly on the order of Part 1, Prologue, Part 2 etc. - accompanied a projected showing of still photographs on a Mediterranean theme. The title is translated Mediterranean Spell. The feeling is strong that this is music to accompany a film that doesn’t really exist. If ECM had their own big band, this would be it.

- John Henry

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