Jazz CDs for May 2003

Our first batch of new releases all share a strong classical influence...
Wayne Shorter - Alegria (tenor and soprano sax; with Daniel Perez, & Brad Mehldau, p.; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade & Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Alex Acuna, percussion & 17-piece ensemble) - Verve 314 543 558-2:

The first studio album in many years from the player the NY Times has called the greatest living composer in jazz. The first thing apparent here is something I’ve been seeing on other recent jazz releases - a broadening of the jazz standards repertory to include classical, folk and world music. Another exciting element here is the use of a large backing instrumental ensemble, supported by some superb arranging skills that reminded me of masters such as Gil Evans and Don Sebesky. Nearly all the compositions and most of the arrangements are from Shorter except for the “Anon.” folk themes and the surprising-but-lovely arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s Serenata. The title tune and the imaginative re-setting of an anonymous 12th Century Carol involve the larger contingent of players. Don’t equate this effort with a “Shorter With Strings”-type of album; it’s a remarkably varied and exciting chamber orchestra amalgam of swingingly dovetailed musical genres. Bravo Shorter & Verve!

Tracks: Sacajawea, Serenata, Vendiendo Alegria, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Angola, Interlude, She Moves Through the Fair, Orbits, 12-century Carol, Capricorn II. Purchase Here

- John Henry

The Ron Carter Nonet - Eight Plus (with Stephen Scott, p.; Leon Maleson, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion, plus four cellos) - Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36705:

More classical influence from one of the most creative bassists in jazz today, who’s appeared on over 2000 recordings now. Recorded 13 years ago, this one is just being issued now for some reason. I love listening to Ron Carter in my car because I lack a subwoofer there and his higher pitched piccolo bass can be clearly heard thru the road noise whereas normal bass is usually lost. (Tuned a perfect fourth higher than normal basses and half their size.) Even on my home system I prefer his bass sound to the lower-pitched standard bassists, but that could be because he’s more musically inventive than most of them.

Carter wrote all eight tracks here except the closing short hymn and Leon Russell’s A Song for You, which he arranged. The bed of warm cello sounds behind his piccolo bass is a trip - can’t get enough of it. This is a sort of “Strings With Strings” album! I once recorded a classical cello quartet, and I really dig that massed sound. Carter himself urges anyone who thinks strings can’t swing to check out the opening track here! Pianist Stephen Scott is a perfect foil for Carter. Rudy Van Gelder did the mix, so sonics are right up there. Tracks: Eight, A Blues for Bradley, Little Waltz, OK, A Song for You, First Trip, El Rompe Cabeza, A Closer Walk with Thee. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Joshua Bayer, acoustic bass - Lines and Grooves (with Bob Sykes, piano & Rhodes; Luther Gray, drums; Marty Nau, Sax) - Jazzheads Records JH1140:

In his nine originals here, Washington DC bassist and composer Bayer “reflects and honors only a few of the things that blow my mind about jazz.” This include the influences of George Gershwin, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Count Case, Oliver Nelson and Cedar Walton. He goes on to say that new things can come out of both revolution and evolution, and his world of jazz has space for both. The track identified as just plain Prelude is actually Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2 for Piano - an increasingly popular choice for jazz improvisation. Three for Mr. Evans is not a medley of three tunes connected with the late great pianist but an original very lyrical work in 3/4 time, with Nau’s sax backed by the tinkling celesta-like sounds of Sykes’ Rhodes electric piano. And neither is Second Line a tribute to New Orleans; it’s just an up-tempo, more active closer to this finely-honed and groovy album. Tracks:J Cess, Tre, Line, Third Line, Prelude, Blues for Now, Three for Mr. Evans, Product of Block, Second Line. Purchase Here

Terje Rypdal, guitar - Lux Aeterna (with Palle Mikkelborg, trumpet; Iver Kleive, organ; Ashild Stubo Gundersen, soprano; Bergen Chamber Ensemble/Kjell Seim - ECM 1818:

Norwegian guitarist Rypdal is one of the most-imitated electric guitarists playing today. He has created a highly individual sound-world in both his improvising and his composing - one whose general sound has been compared to that of composer Arvo Paart and whose predilection for sudden shocking changes of dynamics to the music of Giya Kancheli and Peteris Vasks. When he began composing in his youth, Legeti’s famous Lux Aeterna (heard in the soundtrack of 2001) had a strong influence on Rypdal. So the title came back to him when he was asked to create a concerto-style piece to inaugurate a new church organ during the Molde Jazz Festival in Norway. Rypdal felt the idea/symbol of the eternal light fit in with the uplifting aspect of any spiritual belief. He proposed a three-way concerto, with the organist, himself and trumpeter Mikkelborg, plus a chamber orchestra. The soprano contributes in some sections, but wordlessly. As a child Rypdal had spent summers in the Norwegian mountains near the site of the Jazz Festival, and these memories are part of the composition. It is in five movements and was recorded live during the festival in 2000. It’s challenging stuff but full of fascinating sounds and tone colors which are not hard on the ears. This music would seem like an excellent choice for one of the first ECM multichannel SACDs when they finally get around to it. Tracks: Luminous Galaxy, Fjelldapen, Escalator, Toccata, Lux Aeterna. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Tord Gustavsen Piano Trio - Changing Places - ECM 1834:

The debut ECM recording from Norwegian pianist Gustavsen shows him to be in more of a straight-ahead modern jazz bag than most of his other ECM stablemates. The pianist/improviser/composer states that “One does not have to invent a new language to tell a new story.” He penned all the tracks on this 66-minute CD and while all are accessibly tonal and melodic, they vary in their influences - including Scandinavian folk tunes, Caribbean rhythms, gospel, classical, and the entire history of jazz. He feels that song forms with a reflective musical character - the sort of thing ECM has supported over the years - can be reconciled with a strong jazz groove. It’s really refreshing to hear such an identifiable individual voice within a fairly standard musical framework. Gustavsen is the jazz equivalent of those contemporary classical composers who continue to write in an accessible post-Romantic style, finding there is still plenty to be said therein.

Tracks: Deep as Love, Graceful Touch, IGN, Melted Matter, At a Glance, Song of Yearning, Turning Point, Interlude, Where Breathing Starts, Going Places, Your Eyes, Graceful Touch Variation, Song of Yearning (solo). Purchase Here

- John Henry

Yellowjackets - Time Squared (Bob Mintzer, reeds; Russell Ferrante, keyboards; Jimmy Haslip, elec. bass; Marcus Baylor, drums & percussion) - HeadsUp Enhanced CD HUCD 3075:

After more than 20 years performing and recording, and five years since their last studio recording, the dynamic jazz quartet has put together this session of 11 tunes - which, although recorded in the studio, consists of many first takes. The “up” feeling of most of the quartet’s music and the variety of styles in which they play has had great appeal for their audiences, getting them two Grammys and a wide audience of fans. They’re not just another fusion band. Starting out as the session band for guitarist Robben Ford in the late 70s, the Yellowjackets added top saxist/reed player/big band leader Bob Mintzer (DMP Records) in l990 and are in more of a straight albeit eclectic jazz bag now.

Among tracks of special interest here are Monk’s Habit, which explores the quirky piano stylings common to Thelonious Sphere, and the lyrical Claire @ 18 is dedicated to bassist Haslip’s daughter, who survived a recent near-fatal illness. As the album titles indicates, many of these tunes play around with irregular time signatures, as jazz innovators such as Dave Brubeck and Don Ellis have done in the past. As with all Heads Up CDs, there is also an excellent cross-platform music video of one of the tracks that gives a feeling of the quartet in action. Tracks: Go go, Monk’s Habit, Smithtown, Healing Waters, Time Squared, Gabriela Rose, Sea Folk, V, Clarie @ 18, Village Gait, My 1st Best Friend. Purchase Here

Here’s a hot trio of female jazz thrushes...
Janis Siegel - Friday Night Special - (with Joey DeFrancesco, B3; Houston Person, tenor sax; Peter Bernstein & Russell Malone, guitars; Buddy Williams, drums) - Telarc Jazz CD-83566:

For her second Telarc CD (and seventh solo album) Siegel and her producer were trying to think of a hook when they saw a TV commercial of a guy singing Ah Sweet Mystery of Life to a jar of spaghetti sauce. They envisioned her doing that number with the backing of a B3/tenor sax trio - without the sauce of course. This disc was the result, but notice the mystery of Victor Herbert’s classic song not making it into the ten tunes here! Siegel is no stranger to inventive musical ideas - she was a co-founder of The Manhattan Transfer and gone on to win nine Grammys. For the organist and saxist on this date she obtained two of the very best - DeFrancesco and Person. Their cooking backing makes this a very special vocal excursion and great fun all ‘round. The wonderful arrangements are by composer Bill Eaton, and Siegel’s voice is distinctive - having a slight country-singer twang to its timbre - at least to my ears. There’s also a cool backup vocal group heard on some tracks - The Siegelettes. Usually I find it difficult to sit thru an entire CD at one time by one jazz vocalist, but when the tenth track on this disc ended I was still ready for more.

Tracks: The Same Love That Made Me Laugh Made Me Cry, My How the Time Goes By, I Just Dropped By to Say Hello, My Love Is/My Babe, Let It Be Me, Ill Wind, You Don’t Know Me, There’s a Small Hotel, Make Me a Present of You, Misty. Purchase Here

Nancy Harrow - Winter Dreams - The Life and Passions of F. Scott Fitzgerald (with Grady Tate, Roland Hanna, Jack Wilkins, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana, Frank Wess, Bill Easley, Michael Mossman & John Mosca) - Artists House AH 00001:

Nancy Harrow has over the years carved out an unusual place for herself in literature, music and theater simultaneously. She has composed and performed four literary song cycles so far: the first was on a Willa Cather novel, the second on a German children’s story about a bee, the third on Nathaniel Hawthorne, and this new effort on the writer of The Great Gatsby. Harrow read all of his novels, letters and biographies - then wrote the lyrics first, basing them on Fitzgerald’s life plus that of his fictional characters Jay and Daisy. His financial problems, his drinking, his wife Zelda’s infidelity and later mental illness, and his futile attempts to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter are all here.

Harrow says her melodies seem to just grow out of the lyrics. She engaged Sir Roland Hanna to arrange her music, and in addition to his piano, such notables as reedmen Frank Wess and Bill Easley and trumpeter Mike Mossman are heard in the ensemble. Grady Tate is the male voice in the songs, sharing vocals with Harrow. The musical sound Harrow and Hanna came up with is flavored with the styles of the 20s and 30s; fitting for this icon of the Jazz Age. Harrow is next working on making Winter Dreams into a theatrical piece. A fascinating tour de force that made me want to read more of Fitzgerald. The booklet gets one started with a handy Biographical Timeline of his life.

Tracks: This Side of Paradise, You’ll Never Get to East Egg, Winter Dreams, The Extra Mile, Oh God I’m Sophisticated, Dear Max, My Swan, Beloved Infidel, Until It Comes Up Love, My Lost City, The Old Pro, Winter Dreams. Purchase Here

René Marie, Live at Jazz Standard, NYC (with John Toomey, piano; Elias Bailey, bass; T. Howard Curtis III, drums) - MaxJazz MXJ116:

Am kicking myself for missing this exciting singer’s first two albums on this label, but at least now I’m one of her fans and can tell more people about her. Anyone who says “I like taking music that you don’t normally think of as jazz, changing it all around and playing it as jazz.” That’s mah baby! Only a bit over four years ago she was an unhappy bank teller who wanted to follow her dream of being a singer. Before that her husband had told her to stop singing and threatened their marriage if she recorded her first album. She dealt with both major hurdles by walking out on them and soon her first CD was selected by SESAC as one of the top five jazz releases of the year, Jazz Times chose her second CD as Best Jazz Vocal of the year and it also won as Best International Vocal Album by France’s Academie du Jazz.

We might have here a Nine Simone for the new century: Not only does she do the emotional Simone song Four Women, but on that second CD she escalated Billie Holiday’s powerful anti-lynching lament Strange Fruit into a medley with Dixie! Her third CD captures one of her mesmerizing live performances in which she captivates audiences with her intensity. René’s love of Ravel is illustrated in her equally bold medley of that composer’s Bolero with Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. She also updates/up eroticizes Nina Simone’s hit I Loves You Porgy. Diggy-vous cette femme toutsuite! Tracks: Deed I Do, Where or When, It Might as Well Be Spring, I Loves You Porgy, Nature Boy, Bolero/Suzanne, Shelter in Your Arms, A Foggy Day, Paris on Ponce, How Can I Keep from Singing? Purchase Here

- John Henry

Mongo Santamaria - Montreux Heat! (guest artists: Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans) - Pablo PACD-5317-2:

Fantasy is to be commended for commissioning someone to write the extensive essay accompanying this reissue from the 1980 Swiss jazz festival, instead of just reprinting the original notes (well, perhaps there weren’t any, come to think of it). Santamaria was the central figure in Afro-Cuban jazz for many decades. He brought together all the varieties of this exciting style that first appeared in the l940s as bebop mixed with rhythms of the rhumba. Mongo’s discography is huge, but fans are always interested in new material, and this album may be just that. Guests Gillespie and Thielemans (on harmonica) appear only on the track Watermelon Man, but what a track it is! The sextet that appears on all other tracks is no slouch either. The two flutes and cello add a nice touch to the blazing Latin arrangements, and although this is a live pickup the low end of the congas and bongos are well-reproduced. Purchase Here

Tracks: T.V., Havana, Sofrito, Pajaro Cantor, Watermelon Man, Come Candela, Amanecer, Para Ti.

Jim Snidero, alto sax & flute - Strings - Milestone MCD-9326-2:

Ho, hum, thought I. Another sax with strings outing. Wrong! Before auditioning, my eye first caught Snidero’s quote that “...the lack of hip string players has really limited people in the past, but now with so many string players who understand jazz, the sky’s the limit.” How true (think of that Charlie Parker with Strings session), and Snidero pushes that limit in this magnificent and ambitious project. He’s a terrific reed player who has been heard with Toshiko, the Mingus big band, with Jack McDuff and Tom Harrell among others. His primary influences on alto were Parker, Cannonball and Sonny Stitt. He handled the arrangements for the first time on a Joe Henderson session, but hadn’t arranged strings before this recording. Snidero's goal was to put the string section “inside the music” instead of just dropping lush chords behind him. His primary models were Clare Fischer, Claus Ogerman and Eddie Sauter - can’t go wrong there! He used ten strings: six violins, two violas and two cellos.

Snidero says, “I’m also really attracted to warm-sounding music...I don’t like ugly things, even if they’re interesting...” And nothing ugly here - just imaginative and very tasty arrangements. The three-part River Suite (an homage to the Hudson River) is a highlight, with Snidero on flute in the middle movement and various strings soloing instead of just providing backing to him. The rehearsals for this session happened on September 10, 2001 in NYC. So as you can easily imagine, the recording session that had been scheduled for the following day did not happen. But eventually it did, and this magnificent album is the result. Tracks: Slipping Away; River Suite: Dawn, On the Bank, Torrent; Theme for Ernie; Forever Gone; Ventura; It’s the Talk of the Town. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Now we close out on a flag-waving note...
Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman: America The Beautiful - Arbors Records ARCD 19269:

The first half of this CD was originally released on Concord Jazz back in LP days, but the second half - recorded about the same time - is getting its recording premiere right here. I’ve always liked the sound of a solo brass or reed instrument with pipe organ in the classical world. But there’s not exactly a surfeit of recordings in the jazz world pairing up a solo cornet with a Wurlitzer Theater Organ! This is simply a kick musically, and the best sort of patriotic tie-in you could have at this time in history.

Braff may come from the Louis Armstrong style in his cornet playing, but he has an amazing invention and individuality which would never peg him as an elder statesman of mouldy-fig jazz, just as Louis never suffered from that. These are fairly straightforward treatments but the variety of fun (and spatially-separated) sounds from the Wurlitzer pipes plus the pure brassy melody of Braff’s cornet make for a uniquely moving and delightful duo. Without Concord’s superb engineering this wouldn’t have the impact it does either. Tracks: When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, When My Sugar Walks Down the Street, When I Fall in Love, As Long As I Live, America the Beautiful, Louisiana, High Society, I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time, I Ain’t Got Nobody, This Is All I Ask, The Yankee Doodle Boy, If Dreams Come True, I’m Confessin’ That I Love You, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Dinah, Duke Ellington Medley, Muskrat Ramble. Purchase Here

- John Henry

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