Various Artists – Justin Time 25th Anniversary Collection – Justin Time, JUSTSAM 2525-2, (2 CDs) CD 1: 66:53/CD 2: 75:48 ****:
The Montreal Canada-based mostly-jazz label Justin Time has introduced or promoted much worthy music over its quarter century of existence. The two-CD 25th Anniversary Collection is a great place to bring to light much of the music and musicians who have recorded for and been distributed via Justin Time. The profusion of talent ranges far and wide, from piano legends to gospel, and hybridized hip hop to tango, and pop to blues and more. While such a package can’t honestly touch on the over 300 titles in the Justin Time catalog, it does provide a three-dimensional look at the label’s history. While the music in this accumulation moves among different genres or styles, a cohesive flow is maintained.
Justin Time was founded by Jim West to acquaint a wider audience to Canadian pianist Oliver Jones, who had been bopping around for some time but had not gotten ample credit or recognition. Another early signing was singer Ranee Lee, so it is only fitting that the first piece on this 27-song compilation is a duet between Lee and Jones, an exquisite ballad written by Lee, taken from her 2005 album Just You, Just Me. The emphasis is on Lee’s straightforward yet expressive voice, revealing why she is considered one of Canada’s top vocalists.
Another prominent singer with Canadian roots is Diana Krall. Here she’s featured on the Rodgers/Hart standard “This Can’t Be Love,” found on her 1993 debut Steppin’ Out. Although Krall has issued numerous records on other imprints, this initial material showcases Krall’s dynamic piano skill, one aspect of her musicianship that has been moderated over time, as well as her expertise in deviating from a melody in surprising ways and swinging hard.
One glance at the Justin Time roster and listeners will notice that pianists have been an important part of the label’s legacy. Notable keyboardists are highlighted in several ways throughout this chronicle. The venerated Hank Jones recorded once for Justin Time, and the result was one of his best standards albums, For My Father (2005), here represented by Jones’ sublime rendition of Oscar Hammerstein’s “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise,” with some eloquent and subtle harmonic play. Canadian-born Paul Bley is also archived, first with his original composition, the fertile “Startled,” taken from his solo venture Basics (2001), and then an agitated pairing with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, the impetuous “Presto,” from Touché, (1996). But there is no Canadian pianist more famous than Oscar Peterson. Although the influential artist wasn’t signed to Justin Time, he did add his signature style to a teaming with luminary bassist Dave Young, a bluesy original Peterson cut called “OP & D,” where Peterson gives abundant room for Young to show off his rich tone and melodic gifts.
Justin Time is also justifiably noted for being a company that has afforded a home for musicians and projects outside of the mainstream. Composer/multi-reeds player David Murray, a long-time Justin Time roster member, is superb on the title track of his historical/cultural opus Sacred Ground, a collaboration with Cassandra Wilson and his always simpatico Black Saint Quartet. He’s equally impressive alongside Pharoah Sanders and the Gwo-Ka Masters on the funky, percussive title track for Murray’s African-inspired outing, Gwotet. While it swings and the horns fly freely, its not quite jazz and not quite world music. Unclassifiable but compelling. Topping the eclectic side of the Justin Time label has to be the World Saxophone Quartet, which puts an animated twist on a remarkable reorganization of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” fronted by guitarist/vocalist James “Blood” Ulmer. The blues hasn’t been rendered so singularly alien since Captain Beefheart was at his peak.
In fact, the only faux pas is former Blood, Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas doing a lackluster version of the BS&T hit “Spinning Wheel.” If anything, Clayton-Thomas’ vocal ability has atrophied even worse than when he left the jazz/pop band in the seventies.
If you have never delved into the Justin Time catalog, this is an enjoyable way to discover much of the fine material released by Jim West. And if you need a stocking stuffer or birthday present, this makes an attractive way to share the musical wealth, a good gift for any music loving family member or friend.
1 Ranee Love and Oliver Jones: Until I Was Loved
2 Hank Jones: Softly As In a Morning Sunrise
3 David Murray Black Saint Quartet featuring Cassandra Wilson: Sacred Ground
4 Billy Bang: Waltz of the Water Puppets
5 Diana Krall: This Can’t Be Love
6 Intakto: Todavia
7 Dave Young and Oscar Peterson: OP & D
8 Susie Arioli Swing Band featuring Jordan Officer: Honeysuckle Rose
9 Quartango: Milonga Diablo
10 Paul Bley: Startled
11 Russell Gunn: Lyne’s Joint
12 Denny Christianson Big Band featuring Pepper Adams: My Funny Valentine
13 Coral Egan: 2 to Tango
1 Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir: Highway to Heaven
2 Rob McConnell Tentet: Con Alma
3 Kenny Wheeler and Paul Bley: Presto
4 Jon Ballantyne featuring Joe Henderson: Opus IV
5 Carmen Lundy: Moody’s Mood Too Soon
6 Hugh Ragin: Not a Moment Too Soon
7 Carol Welsman: Hold Me
8 D. D. Jackson: Le Shuffle
9 Jeri Brown and Jimmy Rowles: Baby Don’t Quit Now
10 David Murray & Gwo-Ka Masters featuring Pharoah Sanders: Gwotet
11 Oliver Jones: Good Day Miss Lee
12 David Clayton-Thomas: Spinning Wheel
13 World Saxophone Quartet featuring James “Blood” Ulmer: Mannish Boy
14 Bryan Lee: Key to the Highway
— Doug Simpson