April-May 2005 Part 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
Fantasy’s Great “The Best Of” Series Continues ****
The mid-priced Best Of series from Fantasy continues with some of the best jazz reissues – both musically and sonically – that you can lay your hands on. All have been remastered at Fantasy Studios just recently employing the latest advances in CD mastering that achieve improved fidelity over most reissues of, say, a decade ago. Plus many of these tape masters come from such engineering masters as Rudy Van Gelder and Lester Koenig – even the mono tracks on some of the more historical discs sound terrific. Each one has new liner notes written especially for the reissue – not reprints. Plus you really get your buck’s worth in this series – probably the most music-packed to date; often running as high as 79 minutes – right up against the 80 minute CD limit today. I received more than the following in the latest batch but pulled these seven out since I found them especially appealing:
ERIC DOLPHY was an amazing figure in bebop and free jazz until his death in l964. He was a master of reeds – the alto sax, bass clarinet and flute. His work ranged from the traditional and tonal to far out experimentalism, but these ten tracks all retain strong melody and accessibility, so those expecting wild honking sessions out of Dolphy may be disappointed here. His takes on standards such as Green Dolphin Street are a delight and his virtuosity is supported by such top sidemen as Freddie Hubbard, Jacki Byard, Mal Waldron and Ron Carter. Several of the tracks were taped live at jazz clubs in NYC and Copenhagen.
Tracks: Out There, On Green Dolphin St., Far Cry, Serene, Miss Ann, Fire Waltz, G.W., Glad to be Unhappy, Booker’s Waltz, Status Seeking.
ART PEPPER – These are some of the skilled alto player’s best tracks covering a timeline of 1957 thru 1980, and waxed for both the Contemporary label in LA and for Galaxy 20 years later.
The line note writer describes Pepper as a white guy who wanted to be black. He ruined his life with his addiction, but somehow managed to put out gorgeously creative playing no matter what. He was eclectic, adventurous, and unpredictable. Both Coltrane and Ornette Coleman influenced his style but he has a special sound of his own – rather harsh and of short phrases early on but mellowing into more lyrical playing two years later. Among the greats playing with Pepper here are Jack Sheldon, Pete Jolly, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Russ Freeman, Philly Joe Jones, Wynton Kelly, Howard Roberts and Stanley Cowell. There are tunes cut with two different Miles Davis rhythm sections as well as a Marty Paich-led big band.Tracks 11 & 12 feature a string section conducted by Jimmy Bond, and fans of sax & strings may find it one of the most successful of that ticklish genre. Latin music was another love of Pepper’s and there’s examples of that here too. I felt I got a more widescreen musical view of Pepper with this disc than with the couple of Pepper audiophile vinyl and xrcds that I have.
Tracks: Smack Up, Tin Tin Deo, Move, Too Close for Comfort, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Softly As In a Morning Sunrise, Bernie’s Tune, I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love with Me, Gittin’ Together, Mambo Koyama, Love Theme from The Eyes of Laura Mars, Our Song, Over the Rainbow.
JOHN COLTRANE – An overview of the work the immortal tenor saxist did with the Prestige label from 1956 to 58. Rudy Van Gelder again, and mostly mono of course but there are three stereo tracks among the 11 here. Again, I found these tracks for the most part more accessible and tonal than a lot of Coltrane recordings I have heard. But that’s not to say that his harmonic and rhythmic stylings were in any way run of the mill; his creativity was impressive. This was during and just after Coltrane had been playing with both Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and he was laying down some timeless tracks. Among his cohorts here: Red Garland, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Tadd Dameron, Mal Waldron, Pepper Adams, Philly Joe Jones.
Tracks: Russian Lullaby, The Way You Look Tonight, On a Misty Night, Come Rain or Come Shine, Dakar, I’ll Get By, Theme for Ernie, Bahia, Lover Come Back to Me, I Hear a Rhapsody, Trane’s Slo Blues.
THE RED GARLAND TRIOS – One of the greatest of the jazz piano trio practitioners of the 50s, Garland applied his patented relaxed beat, semi-spare melodic improvisations and soulful style to a variety of music: jazz standards, classics of the Great American Songbook, r n’ b hits and soul music. Prestige was again his label and Rudy Van Gelder his recording engineer. Half of these ten tracks are stereo and half mono. Garland’s rhythm section was made up of Paul Chambers on bass and Arthur Taylor on drums. Other guest artists heard in this collection include Kenny Burrell, Eddie Lockjaw Davis and Ray Baretto.
Tracks: Your Red Wagon, My Romance, Walkin,’ The Nearness of You, Will You Still Be Mine? Manteca, And the Angels Sing, Summertime, When Your Lover Has Gone, Please Send Me Someone to Love.
SHELLY MANNE – Recording for the Contemporary label, drummer Manne was the prime drummer and leader of the West Coast Jazz movement. The 13 tracks here are from between l953 and l961 and five of them are in stereo. His musical curiosity insured that his projects were never the same old some old. Manne did modern jazz, Broadway music, TV themes and even experimental compositions and made them all swinging and exciting. His “Shelly Manne & His Friends” outing on tunes from My Fair Lady (with the young Andre Previn at the keyboard) was and still is one of the best-selling modern jazz albums in history. Nothing from that album here, but the same trio (with Leroy Vinnegar on bass) is heard on Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas. The tunes here come the pens of such as John Williams, Shorty Rogers and Henry Mancini, and among the players are Art Pepper, Previn, Russ Freeman, Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, and Richie Kamuca. Have to admit I have few drummers on my list of jazz greats, but Manne is certainly at the top for his wide-ranging interpretations.
Tracks: Flip, Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas, Etude de Concert, Doxy, La Mucura, Checkmate, Afrodesia, Moose the Mooche, Mu-Cha-Cha, Peter Gunn, The Sound Effects Manne, Poinciana, A Gem from Tiffany
BOBBY TIMMONS – The Riverside label is the source of these masters from l960 thru 1964 and illustrating the soul jazz genre of which Timmons was the acknowledge master. Look at those titles below and it will all come back to you (unless you’re a young-un). While in the bands of Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley Timmons infused gospel music into his treatments of jazz and pop standards. He continued on these 14 tracks, ably accompanied by such as Blakey himself, Ron Carter, Sam Jose, Connie Kay and Blue Mitchell. Actually only 12 of the tracks have Timmons on piano; one is on B3 organ and one on vibes, and a few of the tracks are solo piano without any sidemen.
Tracks: Moanin,’ Old Devil Moon, God Bless the Child, Soul Time, Born to the Blue, Someone to Watch Over Me, Dat Dere, Easy Does It, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, This Here, Lush Life, So Tired, Goodbye, Moanin’ (take 2)
CHET BAKER – “A Volatile and Controversial Figure” is what producer Orrin Keepnews calls trumpeter-vocalist Baker in his notes written especially for this reissue. Keepnews produced the original sessions for Riverside except for the first two tracks (the only ones in mono), which come from l952 and Baker’s first serious attention while he was in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. In his notes Keepnews shares his hesitation at working with Baker at the time, and how by 1958-59 (most of the tracks) his drug use had reduced his abilities on both trumpet and vocals. But with the aid of such greats as Pepper Adams, Bill Evans (just a couple years before he hit pay dirt with his Village Vanguard recordings), Chico Hamilton, Kenny Drew, Herbie Mann, Zoot Sims and others, Baker’s musical problems took on a fragile sort of lyric quality that seems to sail along with the expert backing musicians and the final result is often haunting. Only three of the 15 tracks are vocals.
Tracks: My funny Valentine, Moonlight in Vermont, the More I See You, Old Devil Moon, Do It the Hard Way, Fair Weather, Solar, Soft Winds, If You Could See Me Now, How High the Moon, It Never Entered My Mind, September Song, Thank Heaven for Little Girls, I Talk to the Trees, On the Street Where You Live.
– all above reviews: John Henry
Two big bands – swing and contemporary…
Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band, Vol. 2 – More Never-Recorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman – Arbors Records ARCD 19282 ****:
The Tuxedo Big Band hails from Toulouse, France, and trad clarinetist Bob Wilber is both the soloist and guest conductor on this second volume of arrangements created for the Goodman Band. The first was devoted to arrangements by Fletcher Henderson. This second volume includes arrangements from such important figures as Benny Carter, Eddie Sauter, Alec Templeton, Ralph Burns, Mary Lou Williams and Mel Powell. the opening track, Tuxedo Stomp, is the only one not a Goodman arrangement – Wilber wrote it inspired by the four-note theme of a little waltz by Frederick Delius. Great stuff – some may not sound exactly like Benny Goodman but they’re fresh, unexpected and fun.
Tracks: Tuxedo Stomp, Blue Interlude, I’m Coming Virginia, All the Things You Are, I Want to Be Happy, Guess I’ll Go Back home This Summer, Some of These Days, Ballad for Benny, Royal Garden Blues, Song of the Plow, I Know That You Know, Mendelssohn Mowed Down, Limehouse Blues, The Thrill Is Gone, Conversation, Clarinetta, Benny’s Bugle.
Bob Mintzer Big Band – Live at MCG with guest Kurt Elling – MCG Jazz MCGJ1016 ****:
Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh has been the site many great jazz sessions and recordings. This disc is a compendium of performances recorded there by the big band of noted tenor saxist, composer and arranger Bob Mintzer, who has recorded for the DMP label and others. Mintzer wrote most of the charts for the nine tracks, with the exception of entries from Victor Young, Herbie Hancock and Count Basie. Vocalist Kurt Elling joins the aggregation on three of the tracks; one – Eye of the Hurricane – is a recent recording and a 12-minute epic with some amazing vocalise from Elling. Generally impactful sound from the 16-piece band. A worthwhile addition to any big band fan’s collection.
– John Henry
Tomo – The Music of Reed Kotler (with Bob Sheppard, reeds; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bill Cunliffe, piano & arrangements; Darek Oles, bass; Mark Ferber, drums) – Torii Records ****:
Tomo means friends in Japanese and these five mostly-LA-area players all are. Several of them have played together on various past albums. Kotler was not only the composer of all dozen tracks but also the executive producer of the album session. He is a pianist and guitarist as well as freelance recording engineer, and invented the Transkriber musical software which allows transcribing solos off recordings. He feels that melody is the No. 1 thing in his tunes, and he idolizes Cole Porter. Pianist-leader Bill Cunliffe observes that “Reed’s tunes are very much like standard tunes, strong melodically and fun to play around with.” And Kotler states “I’m not trying to be a visionary – I’m just trying to write nice tunes.” And here they are.
Tracks: All My Love’s for You, Sweet Suzannah, I Will Always Love You, Did I Ask You If You Knew?, Someday I Will Find Her, In a Restful Place, On a Warm Summer Night, When I Look at You, Love’s Such a Funny Thing, It’s Been a While, Joyful Times, Waltz for Gary.
– John Henry