All of Hal's monthly reviews will be made available here in Hal's "Picks From the Past".

Back to Current Picks

Abbey Lincoln - "Wholly Earth"

RealAudio Sample

Over 3 decades have passed since we initially encountered the raw-edged, powerful voice of Abbey Lincoln raised in the cause of social protest with husband Max Roach at the helm (Freedom Now Suite/Straight Ahead). On this 1998 release, there has been a mellowing, but not a loss of commitment. Songs speak of unrequited love and tormented unfulfilment, of "sour grapes and tears" ("And It's Supposed to be Love"), of "…a World of everybody second class" ("Wholly Earth"), of "…magic that…. is of another world" ("Another World"), and of "Caged Birds" that "never spread their wings". Even the Harburg/Arlen selection of "If I Only Had a Brain" seems to make the point that "I would not just be a nothin'…My Heart all full of pain". Supporting musicians, especially Bobby Hutcherson - vibes/marimba, Marc Cary - piano, percussionists Alvester Garnett and Daniel Moreno, are empathetic to the passion, vibrancy and dramatic stylization of the vocalist. It is difficult to ascertain why she hasn't more fully captured a wider public imagination. (J.S.)

Verve (Gitanes) 559 538-2 to order

Bill Holman - "Further Adventures"

RealAudio Sample
Bill Holman put aside his tenor in the mid-60's and turned exclusively to composing/arranging with accredited sorties into the worlds of film, TV, and music education. On this 1995-96 European outing, his considerable talents are highlighted by the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, a 61-piece aggregation with its own half-century reputation . The 4-part suite, "Further Adventures", is rich in cascading rhythms and energetic interplay spiced with precisely articulated solos, while "Issues and Answers", another Holman original, emerges tentatively into a progressive balance of fiery blasts and lush tonal colourations for brass, woodwinds and reeds. A brassy, swinging interpretation of Alfred Newman's "Moon of Manakoorah" (and who remembers Dorothy Lamour in a 1937 film?) is an added bonus. Liner notes suggest that "…..Orchestras of our time should play new repertoire……Music has to be vivid and alive……". Holman appears to be pursuing that concept here. (J.S.)

Koch Jazz 3-6903-2 PC04 to order

Galliano/Portal - "Blow Up"

RealAudio Sample
Richard Galliano - accordion/piano and Michel Portal - bass clarinet/bandoneon/soprano saxophone/jazzophone/clarinet were unknown names to me before I heard this 1996 CD (recorded before a studio audience in Paris), though each has jazz connections reaching back into the 80's: Portal with Daniel Humair and John Surman, Galliano with Chet Baker, as well as releases under their own leaderships. Their level of virtuosity and musical range is truly astounding. From the rapidly changing textures and timbres of the opening "Mozambique", the staggering pace of Piazzola's "Libertango" dissolving into fragmented percussive shards, to the animated Balkan rhythms of "Taraf", the lively injection of Brazilian popular music with "Leo, Estante Num Instante", and the lyrical mobility of "Viaggio", the duo shifts mood and instrumentation with ease. Portal's mellow jazzophone meets Galliano's piano nostalgically on "Ten Years Ago". A surprisingly rewarding disc. (J.S.)

Dreyfus FDM 36589-2 to order

Phil Woods/Johnny Griffin - "The Rev & I"

RealAudio Sample
For jazz fans, the identities of saxman Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin need little biographical embellishment. They are creative professionals, who shape their music to suit any occasion, as they do on this 1998 CD with plenty of varied tempi, moods and themes to satisfy the listener. From the opening "The Rev and I" with horns splitting the melodic flow of this "……undulating tristeza….." (liner) and Woods taking a turn on a Wurlitzer keyboard, to the heated ensemble propulsion of "Before I Left", playfully toying with "After You've Gone" lines, their immediate rapport is evident. The supporting cast of Cedar Walton - piano, Peter Washington - bass and Ben Riley - drums shares centre stage, helping to capture the dramatic essence of the 'hurtin' song' by composer Jack Sels "I'm So Scared of Girls When They're Good Looking", or backing horn exchanges on the beautifully lyrical "Dutch Morning". They don't come any better than this. (J.S.)

Blue Note 7243 4 94100 2 2 to order

Jay McShann - "Still Jumpin' the Blues"

RealAudio Sample
Jay McShann aka "Hootie" is the king of Kansas City jazz, swing and jumpin' blues. Duke Robillard's little band, backing Jay here on this CD, will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Jumpin' the Blues accounts for four of the ten tracks and opens with "Goin' to Chicago", "Ain't Nobody's Business", "Trouble in Mind" featuring McShann doing the vocals. Maria Muldaur joins Jay on "Backwater Blues". K.C. jazz features three tracks including "Sunnyside of the Street" (McShann vocal) and "Come On Over To My House" (Muldaur in a sassy style). The two songs by Muldaur are reason enough to include this CD in your collection. "Moten Swing" one of the three swing tunes makes you want to get up and dance. Also included is a 17 minute bonus track with Jay singing a sample of "Georgia on My Mind" and playing "Ain't Nobody's Business". Jay also shares stories of Art Tatum and Charlie "Bird" Parker. Bird started his career playing in the Jay McShann Orchestra from 1939-1943. This is a 'must own' CD (recorded in Edmonton, Alberta in August 1998), and should do well when awards are handed out. (D.W.)

Stoney Plain SPCD 1254 to order

Sam Newsome -" Global Unity"

Saxophonist Sam Newsome surfaced in the early 90's with the Terence Blanchard and Donald Byrd aggregations. This CD, featuring the leader on soprano, is his first major label release. The disc (recorded between 1997-98) brings to the New York scene an amalgam of jazz, fusion, African, Indian and Latin influences with a diverse percussive array of congas, gourds, dumbek, hand percussion - even a clay pot. Newsome's fluid, sinewy, often sweet-toned soprano is particularly effective on the spirited opener, "It's Not the Size of the Horn, It's How You Swing It", and the melodic pieces, "Birdies From Bayside" and Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence". However, I'm not convinced that the inclusion of "vocal percussion" is a necessary addition to such numbers as "Caravan", "A Swedish Massage in a Turkish Bath" or "Afro Blue". A pared down ensemble here - soprano, oud (charming in its deployment), bass, and a more limited percussive strategy might have been more rewarding. (J.S.)

Columbia CK 69744 to order

Harry Pickins - "Passionate Ballads"

RealAudio Sample
The title of this 1998 CD bears fruit in the listening. All eleven selections are drawn from the "…greatest art songs of the Romantic era", and each is played with the lyrics firmly in mind. "I love ballads" states Pickens; they represent for him "…a unique synthesis of tone and text". Recorded live during the University of Louisville jazz week, Pickins displays an unerring fidelity to these principles in this solo outing. As a teacher and lecturer on "strategic improvisation", and a player who has worked with the likes of James Moody, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson (to name a few), he brings a confident, introspective keyboard artistry to such familiar numbers as "Misty", "The Nearness of You", "The Very Thought of You", or "You Don't Know What Love Is". Turn down the lights, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy the music. Sing if you must! (J.S.)

Double Time DTRCD-146 to order

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

***** Excellent
**** Good

Rating Artist Title Label & Cat. No.

*****Stefon HarrisA Cloud of Red DustBlue Note 7243 8 23487 2 6
*****Kyle EastwoodFrom Here to ThereColumbia CK 68013
*****Charlie ByrdMy Inspiration - Music of BrazilConcord Picante CCD-4850-2
*****Don SebeskyI Remember Bill - tribute to Bill EvansBMG 09026 68929-2
*****Tony BennettThe Essential Tony Bennett (A Retrospective)Columbia CK 91207
*****Various - Big BandsSwingin' at CapitolCapitol Jazz 7243 4 98294 2 8


Current Picks