February 2002


Greg Osby - "Symbols of Light (A Solution)"

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There is no doubt that saxophonist Greg Osby is one of the leading lights of modern jazz. Primarily working on Alto and Soprano saxophones, he is a player of astounding warmth, agility and complex emotion. On this recent Blue Note release, Symbols of Light (A Solution), Osby expresses himself not only as a soloist, but also as a composer and arranger. All of the compositions (but three) on this project, were written by Osby and Osby arranged all with an inspired compliment of a string section - including Reggie Workman's daughter Nioka, on cello. The occasional intonation problems of utilizing real strings are more than counterbalanced by the musical canvass filled with the rich, analogue tones they provide.

The effective use of strings has allowed Osby to contact and explore the deeply emotional (or dare I say it, "feminine") aspects of his soulful nature - a necessary part of the artistic process that many of the so-called "Young Lions" seem to be largely uncomfortable with.

Misogamy and homophobia loom large in the jazz community…however…happily, Osby (and other enlightened players such as pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Phil Dwyer) are solid members of the new vanguard that is regularly blasting away musical cobwebs of ignorance and fear.

Osby is a mature and challenging writer, although elements of this project are strongly reminiscent of the more-than-a decade old Michael Brecker/Claus Ogerman CD, "CityScape". Osby also seems to be strongly influenced by Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and living guitar legend, Jim Hall (with whom Osby has frequently performed and recorded). The opening track, "Three for Civility" begins as a melancholy ballad. As the composition builds in intensity, pianist Jason Moran twists and turns with percussive skill, while bassist Scott Colley (a regular member of The Jim Hall Trio) plays a breathtaking arco solo that freely uses primeval tones to conjure amazing images. Finally, Osby enters in tandem with a soaring violin crescendo. He seems to create anxiety and tension in the piece through all sorts of modal conflict. There is an urgency to his playing on this piece…as if ideas are coming at him at such a fast and furious rate, that he can barely get the notes out in time for the next idea to physicalize.

Another highlight is Jason Moran's composition "Repay in Kind". Osby's arrangement is nothing short of brilliant - strings saw away in contrapuntal layers, adjacent to a melodic piano solo by Moran. Osby's masterful solo clearly displays his symbiotic relationship with his instrument, climaxing with a percussion cacophony by Marlon Browden. On "The Keep", Osby plays with gymnastic exuberance - firmly ensconced in the bop tradition. Perhaps one of the most moving tracks on this recording is Osby's stunning rendition of piano icon Andrew Hill's "Golden Sunset". Performed as piano/horn duo, Osby lets out a wail of plaintive solitude..painfully illustrating the isolation that is such an integral part of the artist's existence. On "Social Order", Osby's long, gorgeous alto tones are beyond sensual in their languorous expanse.

On a side note, the cover art of this project is stunning. Actual antique camera equipment was used to achieve the dream-like Daguerreotype effect that beautifully pictorializes the emotional journey of the music contained within. Listening to this well-conceived recording is more than enough to give everyone hope for the future of jazz. No doubt our uniquely North American art form will be well protected and nurtured by young, gifted musicians such as Greg Osby.

Blue Note 7243 5 31395 2 0

Doug James - "Blow Mr. Low"

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Put on your dancing shoes, here comes the sax-man, Doug James. Mr. James, originally from California moved north to Oregon before making the trek east to Rhode Island.

Two decades ago he joined "Roomful of Blues" spending about 27 years with that group - originally led by Duke Robillard. Coincidentally Doug now plays with the Dukes current group. Along the way he's been a first call session man with the likes of Jay McShann, Pat Benetar, Ronnie Earl, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Canada's Colin James. This is his first solo project and a well chosen feast it is. James has listened to the great baritone sax-men and brings in some diverse swing. Robillard is heard on guitar on eight of the ten selections, lending his voice to two. Another blues vocal legend, Sugar Ray Norcia, provides a loveley vocal rendition of the old standard "I Want A Little Girl" and a clean version of Smiley Lewis' "Dirty, Dirty People".

James first ballad, the Julie London hit "Cry Me A River" recently recorded by Diana Krall, has a feel of Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train" with drummer Mark Terxeira and bassist John Packer laying down a beat that would do any Gypsy Rose Lee wannabee proud. Another Robillard side man, Gordon Beadle on tenor sax can be heard to great advantage on 6 tracks. The rest of the group, pianist Matt McCabe, bassist Marty Ballow (on two tracks), and guests trombonist Carl Querfurth (on four tracks), Al Basile on trumpet, help create a happy event - keep dancing! RF

Stony Plain SPCD 1276

Dylan Cramer - "All Night Long"

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This is the Canadian alto saxophonist's second recording, recorded in Vancouver in 1998 with pianist Ron Johnson, bassist Steve Holy and drummer John Nolan. Happily Nagel Heyer Records has now released it. Listening to the recording before I read the liner notes I thought that Mr. Cramer has a tone not unlike the late American alto sax player Sonny Criss, who died tragically in 1977.

Interestingly I soon discovered that Criss had been a major force in Cramer's career, having been his teacher for a bout eight months prior to the senior musician's passing.

Cramer has a pleasant, easy flowing sound and is comfortable in the interpretation of such jazz standards as "Bumpin' ", "Black Orpheus", "Lover Man", "My Funny Valentine", "So What" and five additional memorable offerings.

Generally an overall mellow effort, occasionally moving into an upbeat mode provided on the Latin classic "Estate", Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" and Ferreira and Einhorn's "Clouds".

Fifty minutes of very pleasant music. RF

Nagel-Heyer CD 073

Patrick Williams - "Blonde"

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Patrick Williams has composed well over 150 scores for feature and television films as well as records and concert works.

He was chosen by Frank Sinatra to act as musical director/arranger/conductor for the "Chairman of the Board's" final studio sessions "Duets" and"Duets 11".

He has arranged recordings for, amongst others, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow, and composed for every form of music from symphony to jazz.

Joyce Carol Oates bases the CBS-TV mini series "Blonde" on a novel, and Williams has tried to convey the feeling of music with respect to Marilyn Monroe's life span, the swing era through to her passing in the mid 1960's.

Thirteen of the sixteen selections are Williams' originals, starting with a mellow solo by trumpet man Roy Hargrove's interpretation of the title "Theme for Blonde". "Party Time" has saxophonist Scott Hamilton adding his style of class to the big band, the muted trumpet of Snooky Young is given some space on "Blues for Norma Jean", and the wonderful session reedman Plas Johnson along with hornmeister Warren Luening are in the pocket with another original "Cool Pads". In contrast "Heat" (The Slow Burn), brings out the best of the rhythm section with Kenny Burrell - guitar, Mike Lang - piano and bassist Chuck Berghofer all featured. Three standards, Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge", McHugh and Fields' "On the Sunnyside of the Street" and the old chestnut "Three Little Words" by Burt Kalmar and Harry Ruby, all receive the special Williams touch.

There are some other key players involved in the project, amongst who are James Moody, Bill Watrous and the king of the bass, Ray Brown. The album concludes with the only vocal, another Williams original "Road to My Heart". Former Basie songster, Dennis Rowland does the honour.

This is one terrific recording and a great start to Playboy's new label. Hats off to Hef! RF

Playboy Jazz PBD 7500-2

Jean Jacques Milteau - "Memphis"

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I must assume that Jean Jacques Milteau is from France since part of this compact disc was recorded in Paris in March 2001. The balance having been laid down a month earlier in Memphis.

Milteau carries on the harmonica tradition set by bluesers such as Junior Wells, James Cotton and Sonny Boy Williamson.

The southern groove is transmitted from start to finish. The Tennessee flavour is evident, and the band, at times numbering over a dozen, is well powered by the leader. The ensemble work is terrific.

Mighty Mo Rogers, a leader in his own right, lends his vocal support on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and his own original "City of Angels". Another "mighty vocalist", Mighty Sam McClain warms up his tonsils on two "The Change Has Yet to Come" and his composition "At Last, On Time".

One written by Sting "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" finds the man known as Little Milton singing a few verses. He also contributes to "Things Are Gonna Change", and finally, yet another wobblier, William C. Brown the Third, interprets his original "The Feeling is Real".

The ensemble work on the leader's original composition "Mother Lester" written as a feature for the groups pianist Lester Snell is a standout, one of the many highlights.

Another five mostly upbeat, toe-tapping selections composed by Monsieur Milteau have indeed, created a rhythmic full house. RF

Studio Royal 00440 014 7262 2

Pastiche - "Pastiche"

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Becky West, Sandy Cressman and Jenny Meltzer are the vocal group calling themselves Pastiche. Consulting the dictionary - 'pastiche' translates as a combination of the many styles and influences making up a single work of art. It is a work, which imitates or caricatures the work of someone else. The trio comes by their name honestly.

You will hear shades of Brasil '66, Manhattan Transfer, The Singers Unlimited and a number of other vocal aggregations. Eight of the selections are originals composed by either Cressman or Meltzer, with a mix of many feelings from the Brazilian flavoured "Only Love" with terrific guitar work by Ricardo Peixoto to "Waiting for the Day", sounding like it was left on the cutting room floor of a production of "Hair".

A bright spot is pianist Michael Wolff on two of the three non-originals, the old and seldom heard standard by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel "You Hit the Spot" and former Woody Herman trumpet man, Neil Hefti's "Late Date". Even some Beatles music is heard on this buffet of music; "Blackbird" features guitarist Peixoto.

While this production is enjoyable it really isn't offering too much that is new. Yes, there are original compositions and the voices are pleasant enough, but as the Pastiches translation implies, the group must try to forge its own path in the future if it is to survive. RF

Summit DCD 300

Matt Cattingub's Big Kahuna & The Copa Cat Pack - "Shake Those Hula Hips"

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I first heard Matt Catingub's big band on a radio show hosted by none other than Jazz Canadiana's Hal Hill. It turned out that Matt was playing all the parts himself and with the overdubbing it sounded like the Basie band. At that time he was a young man in his early 20's. Since then there have been several albums, this one, the latest for Concord Records.

The Son of the late vocalist Mavis Rivers, born in Hawaii, this time Catingub, now in his early 30's is only leading, arranging, vocalizing, playing alto and piano as well as composing the title selection.

The album is full of big band swing, TV themes, Vegas lounge, party music and more.

In recent years the Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack have been on tour with vocalist Rosemary Clooney, a Concord pioneer. Rosemary lends her tonsils to the Ziggy Elman-Johnny Mercer standard "And the Angels Sing". Her daughter-in-law, Debby Boone can be heard on two "Princess Poo-Poo-Ly Has Plenty Papaya" and "Little Grass Shack". Clooney daughter, Maria Ferrer is part of the vocal ensemble on the old hit parade tune "Tequila". Drummer Steve Moretti is a driving force and keeps the band swinging. RF

Concord CCD-4960-2

Wynton Marsalis - "Popular Songs - The Best of Wynton Marsalis"

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Garnered from the close to three dozen albums that Wynton Marsalis has recorded for Columbia comes this mini retrospective of twelve selections recorded over the past sixteen years. Eight originals and four standards, Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost in Her Arms", Rogers and Hart's "Where or When", Ray Noble's "Cherokee" and E.C.Redding's "The End of a Love Affair".

Father Ellis, brother Branford plus Marcus Roberts, Reginald Veal, Marcus Printup, Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Ted Nash, Ben Wolfe, Lewis Nash, Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Kenny Kirkland, Charnett Moffett, are but a few of the legion of musicians adding their support to one of the major forces in today's jazz world.

I don't know if it is the best of Wynton Marsalis, but it is a pretty good start. RF

Columbia CK 85496

Alexander Zonjic - "Reach For The Sky"

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I'm not a big fan of the so called smooth jazz era, but being objective this is a very listenable project by Mr. Zonjic.

Most of the compositions are by well-known artists in their own right, among them being Carole King's "It's Too Late", Bob James' "Angela". A Chuck Mangione staple "Bellavia", the Beatles movie hit "A Hard Day's Night", "Reach for the Sky" by two smoothers Jeff Lorber and Dave Koz. The church standard "Amazing Grace" composed by John Newton and two selections by Canadians, Gino Vannelli's "I Just Wanna Stop" and Moe Koffman's hit "Swinging Shepherd Blues", which to my ears is the brightest of the ten selections. Mr. Zonjic actually improvises for about 26 seconds on this one. RF

Heads Up HUCD 3063

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