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Various Artists - "The UP Compilation vol 1 & 2"

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If you're searching for an up-to-date overview of the contemporary jazz scene in Canada, look no further. Unity Records, founded in 1987 and with some 40 releases to its credit, has merged with Page Music Distributors to form UP Records; as a prelude of things to come, a two-disc package of Canadian artists, including such notables as Bernie Senensky, Alex Dean, P.J.Perry, Kieran Overs, David Occhipinti and Ted Quinlan, drawn from previous sessions serves as an enticing forerunner of future plans by this new label. Seventeen of the nineteen cuts are original compositions, and though not every number may remain indelibly unforgettable, the commitment, enthusiasm, and quality of musicianship make this a worthy enterprise. The range of musical styles speaks well for the diverse development of our Canadian jazz horizons. (J.S.)

UP Records (Unity/Page) UTY 159/160 to order


Hamiet Bluiett/D.D.Jackson/Mor Thiam - "Same Space"

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Recorded in Brooklyn (1997), reedman Hamiet Bluiett, pianist D.D.Jackson, and percussionist/vocalist Mor Thiam sound at times like a much larger aggregation than the trio format would suggest, especially with such infectiously rhythmic pieces as the opening "Aseeko", the fanciful instrumental and vocal exchanges on "Peace-song", or the strong pulse capturing "Spirit". There are solo spots too, with Jackson's delicate kaleidoscopic handling of "Moment", Thiam's intricate hand drumming on "Can't Help It", or Bluiett's brief contrastingly harsh-mellow excursion into "A/B Original". However, the general mood is festive, a music "╝.to be felt╝not music to be analyzed, dissected, criticized, or defended" (liner). All the works are composed by trio members, and it is truly, as the notes conclude, a journey of "Adventure and Authenticity". (J.S.)

Justin Time 109-2 to order


Rosemary Clooney - "Rosemary Clooney 70"

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On the occasion of her 70th birthday and after 24 recordings for the Concord label, Concord Records releases 70 minutes of prime Rosemary Clooney drawn from 17 of her 24 sessions, circa 1977 to 1997. The seemingly timeless, unpretentious performer with the unique husky contralto voice remains both balladeer and swinger in this well-balanced programme, torching such standards as "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", "Just One of Those Things", or "Ol' Man River", but capturing the emotional essence of "I Got Lost in His Arms", "I Stayed Too Long at the Fair", or Dietrich's signature tune, "Falling in Love Again". The presence of such supportive instrumentalists as Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Ed Bickert, and pianist John Oddo, and guest appearances by Woody Herman, K.D. Lang, and Linda Ronstadt complement and reinforce this tribute to one of the matchless interpreters of popular vocal music. (J.S.)

Concord 4804-2 to order


Billy Lester - "At Liberty"

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On this concert trio session, recorded at Wave Hill, NYC (1995), pianist Billy Lester continues to impress with his cohesive aggregation of bassist Sean Smith and drummer Skip Scott; the individual players feed off one another almost intuitively, yet reflect the same independent spirit in their respective solo stints. All numbers are Lester originals, and the pianist, though at times showing an indebtedness to Sal Mosca, Lennie Tristano, even Monk ("Blues Eyes"), is very much his own man, incorporating a versatility and playful spontaneity ("Core-Curriculum"/"Out of Gees and Aes"), a subtle awareness of the achievable effects of understatement ("The Great Fan-Tan"), with a free, explorative approach that does not detract from his ability to swing ("Sea Dreams"). This is certainly a major step forward from the earlier compilation disc (Zinnia 108), especially in the realms of a more closely-knit group dynamics and a growing confidence and resourcefulness in the pursuit of improvisatory freedom. Highly recommended. (J.S.)

Zinnia 111 to order


The Valentino Orchestra - "Feelin' No Pain"

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Under the direction of arranger/composer/performer Andrew Homzy, The Valentino Orchestra, made up of a fortunate blend of veteran and younger players, seeks not simply to recreate works made popular during the dance band and swing eras of the 20's and 30's, but rather to integrate stock arrangements of the period into a new format while maintaining the fidelity of the period: hence, there are variations on the originals - instrumental sequences, placement of solos, incorporation of strings - yet the past continues to inform the present, so that the incredible tempo of Spud Murphy's "Bee Bee", the gaspipe clarinet and propulsive tuba-like rhythm of "Sobbin' Blues", or the danceable, ballroom ambience of "Japanese Sandman" are all very much in evidence. This 1997 disc is dedicated to reedman Gerald Danovitch who passed away some 6 weeks after the recording date, but whose presence on numbers such as "Sugar Blues", "Stardust" and "Delirium" is memorable. I like the concept and the realization of that vision. The pleasure principle is in effect throughout. (J.S.)

Just a Memory JAM 9137-2 to order


Wynton Marsalis - "The Midnight Blues" (Standard Time vol 5)

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Recorded live in the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Hall, NYC, the trumpeter proves once again that he is one of the foremost technicians in jazz, drawing upon a familiar repertoire of numbers steeped in the nostalgia of lost love and tinged with the feeling of the blues . This is not the sound of surprise, but rather what we have come to expect from such superb musical craftsmanship. The lush strings and rhythm trio seem somewhat superfluous here to the measured tone, range and phrasing of Marsalis' journeys into the melodic lines of such pieces as "The Part's Over", "It Never Entered my Mind", or "I Guess I'll Hang my Tears Out to Dry". There is even some concession to Miles ("Ballad of the Sad Young Men"), though not with the latter's masterful understatement nor his subtle deployment of spatial silence. Marsalis' remarkable control and clever inventiveness should ensure that the album will be well received. (J.S.)

Columbia CK 68921 to order


Chick Corea - "Live at the Blue Note"

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This, the first outing by Chick's new group Origin, is an all acoustic one and they really come out swinging. Recorded live at the Blue Note in New York City, December 1997 and released on Chick's own label Stretch Records This particular band was quite new at the time of recording; prior to the twelve sets that they played at the Blue Note, the band had only rehearsed for two days and had performed for three nights at the Van Dyck's in Schenectady, New York.

The music sounds quite different for Chick Corea, although it still has his impeccable modern melodic, harmonic and rhythmical stamp all over it. Chick hasn't had more than two horns out front since the seventies, now there are three.

The band consists of Avishai Cohen - acoustic bass, Adam Cruz - drums, Steve Davis - trombone, Bob Sheppard - flute, soprano, tenor and bass clarinet, and Steve Wilson - flute, soprano, alto and clarinet. The music is fairly arranged but still has a lot of breathing space for the players to blow. The recording starts with a three-part suite "Say it Again" Part One, Part Two and "Double Image". The song "Molecules" is Chick's homage to Duke Ellington who the pianist quotes as being one of his biggest inspirations, and the song "Soul Mates" is a waltz written for his wife Gayle. The CD has one standard "It Could Happen to You" which is re-arranged for the sextet.

I highly recommend this recording as it shows why Chick is one of the most important pianists and composers in jazz. It extracts a lot of different sounds and colours from his arranging of the different instruments such as alto flute and bass clarinet. Bob Sheppard also shines as one of those important and underrated horn players. Five thumbs up. (S.B.)

Stretch SCD-9018-2 to order


Niacin - "High Bias"

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Niacin is a trio consisting of John Novello - organ/keyboards, Dennis Chambers - drums and Billy Sheehan - bass. This group is extremely high energy in the vein of Jan Hammer or Lifetime, but still with their own thing happening. Dennis Chambers has played with everyone from John Scofield and Mike Stern to the Brecker Brothers and Steely Dan. Billy Shehan is one of the heavy bass players on the rock scene performing with the likes of David Lee Roth and Steve Vai. Novello is a new artist to me, but he is an impressive player who I know we will hear more of in the future. He and Sheehan penned all the music except "Birdland" (Joe Zawinul) and "Hang Me Upside Down" (Chick Corea). Chick guests on this track. Other guests include Alex Acuna - percussion on "Birdland" and "Montuno" and Kenwood Dennard - drums on "Hang Me Upside Down". Fans of modern music should really dig this recording; it has the harmonic complexities of jazz, the rhythmical interplay of funk and the intense energy of rock, making this a most listenable recording. (S.B.)

Stretch SCD-9017-2 to order


Allan Vache Big Four - "Revisited"

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The quartet of clarinetist Allen Vache, cornetist David Jones, guitarist Bob Leary, and bassist Phil Flanigan cook up a genuine foot-stomping storm on this 1997 release, essentially a tribute to the legendary jazzmen, Sidney Bechet and Mugsy Spanier. In a programme of tunes recorded by or associated with the duo, the group fashions some delightful instrumental melds on numbers such as "Louisiana Fairytale" (clarinet/guitar), "Song of Songs" (cornet/clarinet), "Deep Henderson" (cornet/guitar), and "She's Just Perfect for Me" (guitar/bass behind Vache's tongue-in-cheek lyrics). The players complement one another throughout with clarinet-cornet dialogue in gently swinging versions of Spanier's 1939 classic "Relaxin' at the Touro" or the upbeat 1951 Bechet piece "Promenade aux Champs-Elysees", while renditions of "Panama" and "Song of Songs" are treated to fresh and original interpretations by all. This is great fun and highly recommended, no matter what your taste in jazz may be. (J.S.)

Nagel Heyer 044 to order


Highly recommended CD's without reviews, star rated as follows:

***** Excellent
**** Good

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