August 2000


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

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Scott Hamilton - "Ballad Essentials"

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After 60 releases over 22 years with the Concord label, it seems only fitting that a compendium of Scott Hamilton's performances (1977-1995) be released featuring his warmly-toned, lightly swinging tenor. A consistent proponent of mainstream jazz with roots linked to the styles of Illinois Jacquet, Ben Webster, and Zoot Sims, he has focused his creativity within that framework, aided by the talents of such notable musicians as Howard Alden, Ken Peplowski, John Bunch, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dan Barrett, et al. The selections on this CD reveal the balladic side of Hamilton's tenor, with familiar standards given a relaxed, lyrical treatment, ranging from Carmichael's "Skylark" and "Stardust", to Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Tonight I Shall Sleep", or Monk's " 'Round Midnight". This mid-priced collection should satisfy even those whose musical tastes lie on the fringes of jazz. JS

Concord 4885-2 To Order

Paul Desmond - "Best of Complete RCA Victor Recordings"
Sonny Rollins - "Best of the Complete RCA Victor Recordings"

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Encapsulating the extensively complete recording output by Victor, (taken from 5 and 6 CD sets respectively) for saxmen Desmond and Rollins into the single discs that afford the listener an opportunity to sample a truly representative cross-section from these sessions is a daunting task. However, selections are thoughtfully chosen, with a good mix of standards and originals in varied contexts and with a wide range of tempi and moods. The music from the 2 CDs is a study in contrasts... The readily identifiable alto sound of Paul Desmond, velvety and harmonically rich with "My Funny Valentine", melodically inventive on "Body and Soul", undulating bluesy in his own "Take Ten", is captured throughout. A refined purity of tone and a controlled fluidity are channeled into a seemingly inexhaustible flow of creativity from a spontaneously rhythmic exchange with guitarist Jim Hall on "By the River Sainte Marie" to the delicately tender "When Joanne Loved Me". If Desmond's goal was, as he reputedly stated, "to sound like a dry martini", Rollins, from this same period (early 60's), bubbles with the sparkle of a vin petillant, especially on such numbers as his dazzling "The Bridge" or his distillation of the melody with "Dearly Beloved", while his structured tenor solos with their innovatively effortless chordal changes are given a feeling of extemporaneousness on standards - "Yesterdays", "Just Friends", "Trav'lin Light". There is no suggested price range for these reissues; however, they do come under the heading of essential listening. JS

RCA 63634-2 To Order

RCA 63635-2 To Order

Miles Davis & John Coltrane - "The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-61"
Sonny Rollins - "The Freelance Years: Complete Riverside & Contemporary Recordings"

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Two superb reissues by major jazz innovators. The six CD box set of Mile's work with Coltrane from 1955 to 1961, includes all the classics from "Kind of Blue", "Milestones", "Someday My Prince Will Come", "Bye Bye Blackbird", "So What", "All Blues" and "Freddie Freeloader" etc... with the remarkable rhythm sections of Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly, plus some stirring alto work by Cannonball Adderley. The booklet has essays from Jimmy Cobb and pianist Bill Evans about the "Kind of Blue " sessions, some critical reassessments and previously unpublished photos and 18 previously unreleased tracks. This collection is a collector's piece and stands out as some of the most important music of the 20th century. As does the 5 CD box set of Rollins, all those wonderful sessions that were released on LP format under titles such as: "Brilliant Corners" (with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford/Paul Chambers, Max Roach, Clark Terry), "Way Out West" (with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown), "Jazz Contrasts" (with Kenny Dorham, Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach), "The Sound of Sonny" (with Sonny Clark, Percy Heath, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes), "That's Him" (with Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Max Roach), "Sonny Rollins Plays" (with Jimmy Cleveland, Gil Coggins, Wendell Marshall, Kenny Dennis), "Freedom Suite" (with Pettiford & Roach), "Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders" (with Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar, Shelly Manne, Victor Feldman). Extremely informative notes, in the booklet by Zan Stewart, and pictures make this set another worthy addition to any jazz fan.Rollins is a young giant on these tracks, and all the units he worked with were wonderfully tightly organised groups that shone brightly in his company. This is inspirational jazz with perfectly accomplished soloists who perform with a considerable amount of musicality. HH

Columbia C6K 65833 To Order

Riverside 5RCD-4427-2 To Order

Keely Smith - "Swing, Swing, Swing"

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It was some 4 decades ago that a girl singer with a cap cut hairdo, a deadpan expression, and an unforgettable voice, joined trumpeter/vocalist Louis Prima in the lounges and clubs of Las Vegas. Like Cher and Sonny Bono later, his antics and her polished, unperturbed vocals vaulted the duo into instantaneous success. The standard, "That Old Black Magic", has never been the same since. Now (1999), with Frankie Capp's Orchestra, she emerges once again as fresh and appealing as ever. The album's title sets the tone for what follows, from "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Oh Louie" with tenor Joel Peskin and the band giving torrid support, to Prima's animated "Jump, Jive and Wail" and his hit medley "Robin Hood"/"Oh Babe". Her inexhaustible energy even takes on Slim Gaillard's "Palm Springs Jump". Numbers are short, with the session garnering the feeling of a live club date. Tony Bennett's liner notes suggest that she is "....singing better than anything she's ever done before...", and he may be right. JS

Concord CCD-4882-2 To Order

Larry Bluth Trio - "Formations"

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This is the third CD for Zinnia by the seasoned trio of Larry Bluth (piano), Don Messina (bass), and Bill Chattin (drums). Ten of the eleven numbers were recorded in club settings some six months apart (10/6 - 4/97), while the Chattin original, "Shoals" (based on the chordal changes of "Back Home Again in Indiana"), stems from a pre-concert warm-up (2/98). In fact, all of the five cited originals have their roots in standard tunes, with harmonic chords fragmented into new and fresh interpretations - "A Rhyme" ("What is This Thing Called Love"), "Formations" ("All the Things You Are"), "For Sal" ("Out of Nowhere"), "On Time" ("The Best Thing foir You is Me"). There is a comfortable, spontaneous interplay throughout. On the liner, there is a stated indebtedness to pianist Sal Mosca, and Bluth's technique seems to owe much to Mosca's use of empty spacing, a sparse economy of notes, and the oblique rhythm patterns that characterized Mosca's playing. JS

Zinnia 114CD To Order

Flip Phillips - "Swing is the Thing"

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The brief opening cut on this 1999 disc, featuring the three tenors of Flip Phillips, James Carter, and Joe Lovano, certainly conjures up those heady days of the JATP concerts of the 40's and 50's. The fact that Phillips, now in his 85th year, holds his own with tenormen who weren't yet around for those concerts, speaks for his unerring ability to swing with some of the best of the younger generation of musicians. Accompaniment by 'youngsters' Howard Alden (guitar), Benny Green (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums) further highlights his unbridled enthusiasm with such numbers as "I Hadn't Anyone Till You", "Exactly Like Us" (a Phillips' original), or his "Swing is the Thing". And his mastery of the balladic statement, characteristically warm and mellow, graces the standards "Music, Maestro,Please", "Everything I Have is Yours", or Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone". Ironically, this is"...his first ever major label recording as a leader" (liner).

Verve 314 543 477-2 To Order

Billy Bang - "Big Bang Theory"

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Alabama-born violinist, Billy Bang, crediting the swinging style of Stuff Smith and the mentorship of Leroy Jenkins as major influences, imposes his own adventurous techniques on the 10 selections from this new CD (1999), including 5 original compositions. With energetic support from pianist Alexis T. Pope, bassist Curtis Lundy, and drummer Codaryl Moffett, he launches a discursive attack on the opening "Contrary Notion", toys with the melodic progressions to "At Play in the Fields of the Lord", injects a moody violin solo into the funky "Theme for Taraby". The foursome appear spontaneously responsive, each contributing sparkling solos on such numbers as "Big Bang Theory" (Moffett/Lundy) and "Saved by the Bell" (Pope), but it is the leader's innovative bowing style that holds our attention. JS

Justin Time 135-2 To Order

Dave Douglas - "Soul on Soul"

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In essence, trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) share the music on this disc. As Douglas states, "...her music...will always be an enormous source of inspiration for me"; indeed, though 9 of the 13 compositions are Douglas' originals, they celebrate the imaginative conceptions of the pianist whose music remains "...perpetually contemporary" (liner). Joined by a host of talented musicians, and drawing upon his own earlier experiences with eastern music, chamber ensembles, and electro-acoustic improvisation, he regenerates Williams' "Aries" or "Mary's Idea" with renewed vitailty, while his own "Blue Heaven" (paying homage to her 1962 arrangement of "My Blue Heaven"), "Soul on Soul", and "Kyrie" depict him as a fresh, exciting voice. Special kudos to pianist Uri Caine, tenorman Chris Speed, and trombonist Joshua Roseman. JS

RCA Victor 09026 63603-2 To Order

Michael Brecker - "Time is of the Essence"

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This is Michael Brecker's sixth recording as a leader and certainly confirms why he is one of the most influential saxophonists of all time. His command of the instrument is simply astonishing and his musicality and ability to turn a phrase inside out and back again is inspiring. In addition, Brecker sometimes surrounds himself with like-minded searching musicians to play music with, and they bring a wealth of ideas to his projects. This particular recording features the classic organ quartet lineup without all the cliches that have made that grouping of instruments somewhat of a retro-style which seems to be all the rage nowadays. Pat Metheny is the guitarist who plays in this format really well, modern, but idiomatic at the same time. Larry Goldings on organ plays with a modern groove and sensibility, and there are three different drummers here, The legendary Elvin Jones, and two of the finest young drummers to emerge in the last fifteen years, Bill Stewart and Jeff "Tain" Watts. This is the first time Brecker and Jones have played on record and they go toe to toe on "Outrance". Each drummer is featured on three tracks each. This is a highly recommended CD for everyone who follows improvised music, and is a special treat for drummers. It's great to see a standard being painted in modern colours. SB

Verve 314 547 844-2 To Order

Joni Mitchell - "Both Sides Now"

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This beautifully orchestrated album, recorded in the summer of 1999 at Sir George Martin's London AIR Studio, takes us on a journey through love's many faces and moods, tracing the path of a modern relationship. Love has been the theme running through far too many recordings but when done with this much thought and taste it no longer becomes a cliche but a beautiful and sometimes destructive force that everyone deals with at some point in their lives making it something everyone can relate to.

Joni Mitchell established herself as an important singer/songwriter in the sixties and has always regarded jazz as a big influence and has recorded and toured with such people as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Tony Williams, Lyle Mays and Jaco Pastorius and even recorded her take on Charles Mingus compositions to great success. Jazz has always been close by, but this is the first time she has embraced a full orchestrated jazz recording.

Ms. Mitchell surrounded herself with the worlds best to achieve what I think might be one of the best vocal recordings of all time alogside Sinatra, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Her long time associate and former husband, bassist and producer Larry Klein takes on the co-producing role with Mitchell, as well as being the music director. Vince Mendoza is the arranger and conductor and is a big reason why this recording is in the class that it is. The orchestrations are very hip and forward thinking, but also embrace the age in which the songs were written. Pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Mark Isham and drummer Peter Erskine appear on the album as well as England's finest orchestra musicians. Mitchell tells an emotional story when she sings. Her smokey, husky voice, which has dropped more than an octave since she began her career, weaves a rich tapestry of real life experiences, along with incredible phrasing, intonation and timbre.

The choice of material ranges from "You're My Thrill", "Don't go To Strangers" and "Stormy Weather", to her own compositions, such as "A Case Of You", and a reworking of her classic "Both Sides Now", which is a real highlight. This is certainly a recording to purchase and listen to for years to come. Yet another shade appears on Joni Mitchell's very rich and colourful musical canvas. SB

Reprise CDW 47620 To Order

Steely Dan - "Two Against Nature"

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This is the first studio release from the jazz/rock duo in twenty years. Their last CD "Gaucho" was released in 1980 and the new recording takes off where the last ended. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker certainly haven't lost any of the magic that made Steely Dan such a success both publicly and critically. They have always been world class songwriters combining witty lyrics, telling some pretty bizarre stories with some of the most memorable, cleverly crafteed songs the pop world has ever produced all the while employing someof the best musicians in the world to realize their musical vision.

"Two Against Nature" has nine songs on the CD, each with stellar guitar solos by Becker, or sax solos by the much in demand Chris Potter. The last cut "West of Hollywood" is over eight minutes long, no holds barred tenor solo from Potter making this recording another Steely Dan classic. If you loved the other recordings such as"Aja"," Royal Scam" etc, then you will surely love "Two Against Nature", and if you have only heard of Steely Dan, then you owe it to yourself to check them out. This is perfect fusion of pop, jazz and rock. It gets no better than this. SB

Giant CD 24719 To Order

Kurt Rosenwinkel - "The Enemies of Energy"

This is the debut recording from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. The young guitarist has had a lot of attention paid to him from some pretty heavy peers, such as John Scofield, Joshua Redman and Pat Metheny. I think that he is certainly a fresh new voice on the guitar scene and this CD shows why. All the compositions are his, except for "Point of View", written by pianist Scott Kinsey. The band really plays the material well. Every player is youngish and making a name for themselves on the jazz scene. The group consists of Ben Street - bass, Mark Turner - tenor, Scott Kinsey - piano and keyboards, and Jeff Ballard - drums. Rosenwinkel plays electric and acoustic guitars, 4-string stella and voice, which really adds a different and very interesting sound to the music, taking it into a further realm of originality. I look forward to his next recording with much interest. SB

Verve 314 543 042-2 To Order

John Abercrombie/Jarek Smietana - "Speak Easy"

This is guitarist Jarek Smietana's CD with what seems to be a co-leading credit to guitarist John Abercrombie, entitled "Speak Easy", on the POA label. The recording also has Harvie Swartz on bass and Adam Czerwinski on drums, making this a two guitar, bass and drums configuration which I personally happen to love, if the guitarists are sympathetic, listening players, as both these players are. I have never heard of Jarek Smietana or Adam Czerwinski before and it goes to show you that you don't have to be American and based in New York to be a great jazz player. These two Polish musicians have certainly done their fair share of listening to the modern jazz greats and they demonstrate it here to great success. The CD has five original compositions by Smietana, two by Abercrombie, two co-written by the guitarists and the tune "Ginger Bread Boy" by Jimmy Heath, which has become somewhat of a standard. There is lots of interplay on this recording and is actually fairly accessible to even a non-jazz listener with its melodic and rhythmic playing. Abercrombie and Harvie Swartz have always ranked high on my list of players who bring a certain world class musicality to the table everytime they play, and I was very impressed by the two Polish musicians who certainly deserve much wider recognition. This is a good CD, check it out. For more information please visit SB

POA 10610 To Order

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