April 2000


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Various - "The Prestige Records Story"

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On the 50th anniversary of the launching of Prestige Records (1949) by collector/producer Bob Weinstock, Prestige has released a 4-CD boxed set of assorted artists ranging from the initial period to 1971 when the collection was sold in its entirety to Fantasy Inc. The line-up reads like a who's who of jazz personalities, many of them innovators at the time - Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz, James Moody, Sonny Rollins, Tadd Dameron, Eric Dolphy, Shirley Scott, Mose Allison, Roland Kirk, Sonny Criss, Dexter Gordon, George Benson. There are 50 numbers in all, presented in approximate chronological order. Well-known producer, Don Schlitten (later of Xanadu Records) helped to produce many of the albums. The general format centred on instrumental jazz, disregarding much of the early free jazz or fusion of the 60's so that the music could be counted on to swing. Commercial considerations were secondary to the joys of self-expression. Though vocalists were a rarity, there were few exceptions - Annie Ross, King Pleasure, Etta Jones. R&B fringe elements can be found in the works of Willis Jackson, Jack McDuff, or Rusty Bryant. Though my advance copy did not include it, there is a 100-page booklet complete with many photos. This is a retrospective that should please avid jazz fans. J.S.

Prestige 4PRCD-4426-2 To Order

Various Artists - "Jazz and the Sunday Times"
Various Artists - "Tranquility"
Various Artists - "Jazz at Work's End"

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Continuing with its budget-priced "Jazz Moods" line of CD's, Concord Records draws from its formidable catalogue (c1980-1997) to accommodate listeners looking for relaxed jazz modes to suite quieter moments --""..when you can actually take your time with your morning cop o' joe and leisurely read the paper…", "…soothing music…" for the mind at rest, or music to help one more suitably"..."enjoy a richly-deserved weekend...". The artistic line-up is impressive and varied in context, ranging from instrumentalists such as Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Gene Harris, Art Farmer, Scott Hamilton, George Shearing, Marian McPartland, Hank Jones, Laurindo Almeida, to the vocal stylings of Susannah McCorkle, Ernestine Anderson, Rosemary Clooney, and Carol Sloane. Popular response suggests that many are indeed attracted to this concept where "…music…makes the moment". J.S.

Concord 5204-2. To Order

Concord 5205-2. To Order

Concord 5206-2. To Order

Sarah Vaughan - "In the City of Lights"

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Live concert performances generally bring out the best of Sarah, and this 2-CD session, recorded at the Theatre Musical de Paris (1985) before an audience of 2500 does just that. As well, small supporting combos seem to encourage a "virtuoso freedom" often lacking in studio dates, and the trio of pianist Frank Collett, bassist Bob Maize, and drummer Harold Jones is a perfect complement to the intimacy and infectiousness she generates in such surroundings. With a vocal range from C below middle C to D above middle C (with occasional excursions to A), she captivates enthusiastic patrons with a repertoire carefully selected to showcase her velvety contralto voice to its fullest, from the dramatically moving "Summertime", "Wave", or "Misty", to the rhythmic ease of "World on a String", "There Will Never Be Another You", and "From This Moment On". Time and time again, she is drawn back to the stage by fans reluctant to let her go. To say that the audience enjoyed the programme would be an understatement; to suggest that this "…will become one of the most treasured recordings in Sarah's immense legacy…" may prove to be an overstatement. J.S.

Justin Time 8474/8475 To Order

European Broadcasting Union Jazz Orchestra - "100 Years of Duke Ellington"

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Sixteen musicians from fourteen countries belonging to the European Broadcasting Union celebrate the centenary of Ellington's birth in two concerts held April 29 and 30, 1999, in Montreal and Quebec City. Directed by Canadian conductor Andrew Homzy, they fashion a programme that approximates "…the style of the era in which each piece was composed". Since so much of Ellington's work was never notated, based rather on long-standing tradition or scoring for particular musicians, new arrangements or re-interpretations only are possible. All performers are granted solo space on the opening medley of 17 numbers long associated with Ellington, and the work hangs together beautifully. Other Ducal compositions are less frequently heard - a tenor tandem riding over the riffs to "Harmony in Harlem", a moving rendition of "Heaven (from his Sacred Concert) with tenorman Dave Turner, a sprightly "Purple Gazelle" (vintage 60's), and the complete 4-part "Togo Brava Suite". Homzy adds his own tribute with the 1st and 4th movements to "Cent-Ellington" featuring trumpeters Charles Ellison and Peter Asplund. No doubt that the Duke would have been pleased. J.S.

Justin Time 8476-2 To Order

J.D.Allen - "In Search Of"

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This is an impressive debut album by the Detroit-born tenorman and his supporting group of young musicians - Fabio Morgera (trumpet/flugelhorn), Eric Nevis (bass), Rodney Green (drums), Shedrick Mitchell (piano on 3 tracks). Their assuredness and ease of delivery typify the kind of cohesiveness one might expect from a veteran aggregation. All but one of the numbers are Allen originals. His confident, assertive tenor sets the pace from the outset on "Jaya-Paul", followed by an atmospheric, Lateef-like eastern -flavoured "Omar", with tenor, bass and drums dominating the piece. There is a strong, steady interaction among the players, from the multi-rhythmic mood swings of "Little Joe"; the sinewy tenor and glittering trumpet match-up on "Peebow's Vibe," to the mellow, melodic lines of the title tune. Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," evocatively dramatic in nature, proves a fitting conclusion to an altogether first-rate session. J.S.

Red Records 123283-2 To Order

Rova - "The Works" (vol 3)

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Organized in the late 70's, the members of the Rova Saxophone Quartet began a musical journey of "…constructing a musical space in which the articulation of improvisative form might be extensively explored." Now, some twenty years later, a new "musical mission…." has evolved, to collaborate with composers who are also improvisors to "…explore the hyphenated space between improvisation and composition." This is the third of 3 recent discs dedicated to that concept, consisting of works by Robin Holcomb ("Laredo"), Muhal Richard Abrams ("Quartet #1"), and Rova member Steve Adams ("The Gene Pool"). It is heady stuff, filled with surprises ranging from sequences rich in tonal colouration and textural melds to uncompromising assaults, gritty and abrasive, tight and intense in their delivery. The three compositions are a test both to the technical virtuosity and breadth of vision of the group dynamics. It may not be the case, as reedman Larry Ochs suggests, that it "…ought to be loved by any audience", but neither is it music to be ignored. J.S.

Black Saint 120196-2 To Order

Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack - "Hawaiian Swing"

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If you are anticipating steel guitars and conch shells awash with choral song, forget it. What we have on this 1999 disc is a 12-piece aggregation with a "..compelling syncopation produced by a young band bristling with talent," led by vocalist/reedman/pianist/arranger Matt Catingub (aka the Big Kahuna). The 17 numbers, many of which honour the past - "Come-on-a-My House", "Stomping at the Savoy", "Every Day I Have the Blues", "Love You Madly", "Them There Eyes", "A-Tisket A-Tasket" - kick up a storm of a "…danceable brand of swing", with only 3 having any kind of Hawaiian connection - "The Hukilau Song", "Blue Hawaii", "Hawaiian War Chant". Catingub born of Polynesian parents (his mother was singer Mavis Rivers), takes most of the vocal spots, as well as doubling on alto. It is infectious music, designed for those who like their swing super-charged with energy. J.S.

Concord 4806-2 To Order

Jeffrey Smith - "Down Here Below"

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It's always rewarding to discover a new voice, and what a fresh, warm, well-modulated voice it is, plumbing the depths of emotion on "Afro Blue", sharing with vocalist Dianne Reeves the tender lyrics to Monk's "Ask Me Now", capturing the heart-felt phrasings of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" or "Down Here Below" with devoted fidelity. The ease and naturalness of his voice is enhanced immeasurably by the skilful arrangements of altoist/flutist Talib Kibwe and organist/pianist Rodney Kendrick. Moreover, the selection of numbers, many of them too seldom heard, makes this an enticing listening experience. J.S.

Verve Gitanes 547273-2 To Order

Mike Westbrook - "The Orchestra of Smith's Academy" (a)
Mike Westbrook - "Glad Day" (b)
Mike Westbrook - "Platterback" (c)

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Composer/arranger/pianist Mike Westbrook continues to draw upon a wide spectrum of interests, mixing his media, incorporating the worlds of poetry, theatre, and jazz into his compositions, which, in essence defy categorization. The results are unique musical experiences that challenge the listener, are often visionary and spiritual in nature, or resound "with cultural, social and political awareness". These recent discs exemplify those aspects of his music.

(a) By integrating into his music a specially derived harmonic chordal system, the composer was more freely able to choose "…alternative notes to use over conventional chords," to "…run two or more rhythm patterns simultaneously", or to more readily blend improvised and scored material. A panoply of extraordinary solo combinations is employed throughout the concert (live, 1992, Crawley, U.K.), with vibraphone/synthesizer/violin giving vitality to the 24-bar blues-based "Checking in at Hotel Le Prieure," or "It Don't Mean a Thing" ("I.D.M.A.T."). The powerfully dramatic voice of Kate Westbrook serves as a vehicle for the theatrical text in "Measure for Measure," beautifully develops the melodic lines of "So We'll Go No More A-Roving", is flexible and playful on "Blighters". Composed for and played by the Steve Martland Band (recorded 1995, Cheltenham), the final number, "Blues for Terenzi", a tribute to the late trombonist Danilo Terenzi, is a moving elegy fittingly introduced by a segment from Jimmy Yancey's 1943 version of "Death Letter Blues".

Enja 9358 2 To Order

(b) The poetry of William Blake often encompassed the ordinary language of men and women "street ballad, hymn, and nursery rhyme forms" (liner), but its primary focus remained"…the liberation of eternal imagination and vision". This 1993 2XCD package by Mike Westbrook's Brass Band (for voices, saxes, bass, percussion, piano, tenor horn and piccolo) is an expanded revival of an earlier theatrical presentation based on a montage of Blake texts with music by Westbrook. It is also the first performance involving a choir (Senior Girl's Choir of Blackheath). From the opening free-flowing, joyful outburst of "Glad Day", the compassionate choral/sax cries of "Let the Slave", or the simple innocence expressed in "Lullaby", the work gradually coalesces its many juxtaposed moods and themes into a final triumphant vision with "I See Thy Form". It is a powerful musical journey, beautifully integrated and stated. Notes are excellent.

Enja 9376 2 To Order

(c) With story and lyrics by Kate Westbrook and the music by Mike Westbrook (recorded 1998), this theatrical/musical 15-segmented piece takes the form of a journey by train from the rural countryside of Stiltsville to the big city of Platterback, focussing on 5 passengers and their respective desires, fears, ambitions. Their roles are diverse and interactive: "HIM" (army conscript) leaving familiar ground and a loving girl; "HER" (cook) a "kitchen queen" to a British Ambassador; "CELLO" (city cardsharp) anxious to get back to "the big time of the city"; "ACCORDION" (punk bookworm) antagonistic; "PIANO/TUBA" (poet) willing to see both sides of the issues. The journey itself becomes a comment on the vagaries and instability of life, "riding out from comfort and wisdom … to fortune and hazard." The characters appear to learn that their contrasting views are really interdependent ("All the colours of the rainbow agree, you need me".) The music captures these emotional transformations.

PAO 10530 To Order