February 1998


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

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Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, John Taylor with the Maritime Jazz Orchestra - "Siren's Song"

RealAudio Sample
You don't have to be a hard core jazz fan to be able to understand that without question Kenny Wheeler is one of the true improvisers in jazz today, and he transmits that power to those around him, as he does here in this meeting with this ensemble.

Apart from the beauty and emotional warmth provided by the voice of Norma Winstone and the piano of John Taylor one gets to hear some gutsy solos by some of Canada's best.

The infectious biting tenor of Mike Murley and confrere Kirk McDonald, robust excursions of guitarist Alan Sutherland, high note perfection by trumpeter Arnie Chycoski ("Sumother Song"), the brash haunting trombone of Gene Smith and all the way through the seven tracks the dazzling and superbly crafted solos by Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn. Regardless of how many Wheeler recordings you have in your collection, add this one for sure. (H.H.)

Justin Time JTR 8465-2to order

Nancy Walker - "Invitation"

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Every once in a while a new voice on the piano jumps out at you and says "hey listen to what I have to say". Such is the case here with pianist Walker who demonstrates her ability to offer new renditions of standards and also display some keen compositional skills as well. Supported by bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Barry Romberg she creates a freshness to Ornette Coleman's " The Blessing", gently and lovingly visits Thad Jones' "A Child is Born", and treats us to a gorgeous reading of the title track "Invitation" (Bronislaw Kaper). The interplay between this stellar trio is a pleasure to hear, constantly feeding off each other, and producing some surprises that make you want to go back to check out what you may have missed first time around. Nancy Walker has a lot to say, and it is all joyful. (H.H.)

Unity 155to order

Barry Romberg - "Greatest Hits"

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Culled from three studio sessions in 1990, 1991 and 1992 this CD features drummer Romberg with bassist Jim Vivian, saxophonist Perry White (on six of the ten tracks), Geoff Young on guitar, and the addition of Mark McCarron - guitar and Michael White - trumpet on track ten. At times dark and almost ethereal - "Ragu" and "No Windows", Bright and Swinging - "Tilt" and "Stratusphunk", Soulful - "Beatrice" and arrogant/forceful - "In Pursuit", the band achieves intriguing textures throughout. Romberg has chosen just the right composers for this unit, Les Portelli, Sam Rivers, George Russell, Duke Ellington, Geoff Young, and he has written two of the tunes himself. Every member struts his stuff making this recording, regardless of how long it has been in the archives, a delight to hear. (H.H.)

Unity 156 to order

Bernie Senensky - "Rhapsody"

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This is the ninth recording with Bernie as a leader, and he has appeared on numerous other recordings as a sideman over the years. This is a first rate- trio session recorded in 1993 and made available in 1997 on the excellent label out of Holland. It is interesting to note that this recording is very much a tribute to the late Bill Evans, a great inspiration to Bernie, and the tunes attest to his love of Evans' treatment of compositions and in the way he has written some of the music for this session. Drummer Bob Moses is a feisty modern-minded artist who can deliver straight time and free jazz pulsations with equal ease and enthusiasm, and he listens to what is happening around him all the time. So does bassist Jim Vivian who has become very much in demand of late for his ability to fit into any setting and work hard to achieve excellence for the group effect. Outstanding tracks include: "Goodbye, Mr.Evans", "Winnibop", "Together" and "Someday My Prince Will Come". (H.H.)

Timeless CD SJP 434 to order

Kenny Wheeler/Sonny Greenwich Quintet - "Live at the Montreal Bistro"

This recording is taken from two different nights, four years apart. The first two songs were from June 26th, 1993 with Don Thompson on piano, Jim Vivian on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The last four songs were from April 16th, 1997 with the same lineup with the exception of drummer Barry Elmes replacing Joe LaBarbera.

The compositions are a mix of standards and originals penned by Wheeler (1), Greenwich (2) and Thompson (1). The songs are beautifully played and show off the depth of each player. The original compositions are incredibly strong (Kenny Wheeler being one of my favourite composers) that the two standards weren't really needed. I would rather have heard two more originals.

Kenny Wheeler continues to stretch as a musician and proves without a question that he is one of the greatest trumpet/flugelhorn players in the world. Sonny Greenwich is also a national treasure who is a very original guitar player with a strong identity. Don Thompson, who rounds out the composers on this disc is one of the most talented musicians I have ever heard and continues to amaze me how he can fit seamlessly into so many different jazz styles depending on the leader.

Finally, the rhythm section of Jim Vivian and Joe LaBarbera locked in and sounding so comfortable with each other and the style of the compositions that my only regret of the whole recording is that the rhythm section did not remain constant throughout the whole disc. Regardless, this is a great recording and I highly recommend it. (S.B.)

Justin Time Just 114-2 to order

Joe Puma - "Shining Hour"

This is a recording featuring guitarist Joe Puma in a drumless trio format reminiscent of Oscar Peterson's trio in the 1950's with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis or Nat King Cole's trio with the same piano, bass and guitar configuration. On this session the guitar is the leader handling all the melodies and a lot of solo space. The trio works well together with Red Mitchell's bass playing taking up any slack left by the missing drummer, and pianist Hod O'Brien filling out the harmony nicely as well as soloing strongly. The set list consists of a mix of standards and not-so-familiar songs from the same ilk. Puma penned one of the tunes and it fits in well amongst the other song choices.

This is a live session recorded at Orpheus Music (New York?) on June 1st 1984, and the whole set has a 4 to the bar, happy, bouncy feeling to it. The solos are all well thought out, but if anything lack a sense of spontaneity and overall excitement you might find in a live performance. The recording is only 38 minutes long, which is fairly short to put out as a CD.

This recording is a good listen and for those who like their jazz straight ahead and familiar then this is well worth it. (S.B.)

Reservoir RSR CD 102 to order

Levon Ichkhanian - "After Hours"

This is the debut recording by Levon Ichkhanian and it definitely shows him off in a positive light. Most of the recording has a real Armenian flavour to it, which immediately sets it a part from most other jazz recordings. The blending of Armenian music with jazz harmony is a successful one here and not only shows off Levon's talents as a composer but also as a guitar player. Tunes such as "Siroun", "Caterina" and "Yerevan" are personal favourites and highlight his modern approach to jazz.

The musicians he chose such as John Patitucci on bass, Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet and alto saxophone, Bernie Senensky on keyboards and Doug Riley on organ lend star quality to the session as well as serving the music well.

My only criticism to the recording is that two of the songs didn't seem to fit with the Armenian theme but were good tunes unto themselves. This is a strong recording by a guitar player we will hearing from a lot more in the future. (S.B.)

Mediterrano Productions LIP 1068-2 to order

New York All Stars - "Count Basie Remembered"

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Rhythm sections always propelled the flow in Basie aggregations, and this tribute concert to Basie, recorded live at the Amerika Haus in Hamburg (1996), aptly reflects that recognizable ingredient. The combined efforts of Mark Shane (piano), James Chirillo (guitar), Bob Haggart (bass), and Joe Ascione (drums) drive such ensemble pieces as "Down for Double", "9:20 Special", and "One O'clock Jump", with Shane, prominently and effectively, adding his own special touches to early Basie on "Shoe Shine Boy" and "How Long Blues". Trumpeter Randy Sandke assumes the leadership mantle on this outing, and solos on Frank Foster's popular "Shiny Stockings" and "9:20 Special"are especially noteworthy. Also memorable are the 'chase' sequences of tenorman Billy Mitchell and Brian Ogilvie with "Lester Leaps In", Ogilvie's clarinet contribution to the Neal Heft ballad "Softly with Feeling", as well as Dan Barrrett's muted trombone rendering behind piano/guitar on an old Jimmy Rushing showcase, "I Want a Little Girl". This disc is not an attempt simply to reproduce Basie originals, but rather to capture the unforgettable musical highlights. Liner notes are excellent. (J.S.)

Nagel-Heyer 031 to order

Joe Ascione Octet - "My Buddy"

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Drummer Joe Ascione's idols were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. In keeping with that concept, Ascione is the nominal leader on this 1996 studio date dedicated to Buddy Rich. The personnel is identical to that of the previous disc (#031), and everyone is given front-and-centre duties as well as determining arrangements. Many of the numbers had "at one time been recorded by Buddy Rich in a variety of instrumental configurations" (liner notes) such as the blistering opener, "Cottontail" (early 80's), the pulsating piano and horns on "Limehouse Blues" (1959), the ensemble sweep of Monk's "Straight No Chaser" (1971), or a reflective uptempo Cole/Young/Rich induced "I Want to be Happy" (1945). Billy Mitchell and Brian Ogilvie (alto sax) trade moods on Ascione's "J & B's Bag" and "Here's That Rainy Day" respectively, while the clarinet (Ogilve), guitar (Chirillo), trombone (Barrette) trio floats beautifully along with Goodman's "Soft Winds".However, it is Ascione's fire that ignites the ensemble playing, especially on "Cottontail", Cole Porter's "Love for Sale", and the lengthy closer, "Blues #5"; in addition, there is the wonderful empathy shown by the drummer and trumpeter Randy Sandke to Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream". This is an excellent "big band sound" for fans searching for a medium too long neglected. (J.S.)

Nagel-Heyer 036 to order

Bob Wilber & Friends - "What Swing is All About"

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I continue to marvel at the freshness and audacity of Bob Wilber's consistency as an exciting performer over the years. On this 1996 disc, recorded live at Hamburg's Amerika Haus, he is joined by Finnish reedman Antti Sarpila, bassist Phil Flanagan, pianist Mark Shane, drummer Joe Ascione, and vocalist Pug Horton; the musical energy of the concert is transmuted to an increasingly responsive audience, for this is infectious, foot-tapping entertainment indeed. Sarpila's tenor is an ideal complement to Wilber's soprano on such numbers as "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues", and the two chord variations of "Undecided" with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and the Herschel Evans' closer "Doggin' Around", while the clarinet work of both ("Feeling I'm Falling"/"Tickle Toe"/"Basiec Jump") is delightful. Vocalist Pug Horton shows that she knows how to shade a melody with appropriate inflections ("I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues") or capture a Lee Wiley essence in her tribute medley with "I've Got a Crush on You"/"You Do Something to Me". Moreover, the rhythm section adds its own cohesive contributions throughout, notably on marked tempo shifts ("Indiana"), the sheer joy of swinging ("Smiles"), or the laying down of an unlikely bossa beat with "Billie's Bounce". This is 78:13 minutes of heart-warming music with the pleasure principle in full operation. (J.S.)

Nagel-Heyer 035 to order

Ralph Sutton & his All Stars - "Echoes of Swing"

RealAudio Sample
This 2-CD set, the first recorded under the leadership of pianist Ralph Sutton in nearly 16 years, was aired in concert at Hamburg's Amerika Haus (1997), with Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Bill Allred (trombone), Antti Sarpila (reeds), Jack Lesberg (bass), and Gregor Beck (drums). The 17 numbers, most of them standards, date originally from as early as 1907 (My Gal Sal") up to the late thirties; nevertheless, they sound as fresh and exciting in the hands of this sextet as if they were presented for the first time. Though many are ensemble pieces, with solos from all, highlights abound. One marvels at the confidence and skill displayed by the youthful Sarpila on "Runnin' Wild" or of Kellso's open, warm sound with "Thanks a Million", while veterans Allred ("Some of These Days") and Lesberg ("Blame It On My Youth") show that they lost none of their vitality; nor has the ageless Sutton who strides and struts his keyboard stuff throughout, but especially on Fats Waller's 1934 feature, ("Clothesline Ballet" and "Shine", the latter with a great exchange between Lesberg and Gregor Beck, a la Haggart/Bauduc. It's effervescent music designed to please an audience. And it does that! (J.S.)

Nagel-Heyer 038 to order

Marty Grosz Quartet - "Just for Fun"

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The title of this 1996 concert performance in Hamburg's Amerika Haus defines the nature of the music; however, one should not be misled into dismissing the calibre or conviction of the performers as slight. There is an interactive magic at work here, with the quartet of Grosz (guitar), Alan Elsdon (trumpet), John Barnes (reeds) and Murray Wall (bass) sounding, at times, like a much more expansive aggregation than their numbers would seem to suggest, especially on ensemble pieces such as "All I Do Is Dream of You", "Love is Just Around the Corner", or "The Lady's in Love With You". Grosz and Wall lay down a steady rhythmic backdrop throughout making this drummerless/pianoless group in no need of further dynamic propulsion. Solos abound, and the pairing of Elsdon/Barnes on Lombardo's 1929 "Sweethearts on Parade" (trumpet/alto), Ellington's "Mood Indigo" (trumpet/clarinet) or Waller's "How Can You Face Me?" (trumpet/baritone) adds a special touch. Grosz's vocals always fit the occasion (Notice how he updates the lyrics on "Ain't Misbehavin' ", gentle and sincere with "Just Friends", playfully appropriate on "Love is Just Around the Corner". Audience response is predictable: they loved it! (J.S.)

Nagel-Heyer 039 to order

Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir - "Hamba Ekhaya"

This seventh recording (1996) by the Juno Award winning Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, directed by founder Trevor W.Payne and performed before an enthusiastic audience in Montreal's St.James United Church, looks back to the "musical maps of African culture" (liner) for much of its inspiration. In general, the music draws upon the evolved township jive of South Africa with its rollicking rhythms and percussive beat; in particular, the guitar and vocal stylings of the legendary Phuzekhemisi are featured with the choir on seven of the fourteen numbers, each telling a story of celebration, history or everyday life, and expressed in the Zulu language. As well, there are choral renditions of "Nikosi Sikelel' iAfrika", the South African national anthem (in Zulu) and "Hamba Ku Jesu" (in the Kenyan Luhiya language), stirring testimony to the choir's adaptability. More traditional gospel songs round out the concert, with special accolades to the choir and soloist for a soul-wrenching arrangement of "Amazing Grace". This is moving music, both literally and figuratively. Notes are excellent and necessary. (J.S.)

Justin Time 96-2 to order

Ray Alexander - "Vigorous Vibes"

Long Island vibraphonist, Ray Alexander, is joined by a New England based contingent of Mac Chrupcala (piano), Marshall Wood (bass), and John Anter (drums) for a swinging, cohesively impressive programme of the familiar, the showcase modern, and two originals. Alexander, who has the daring and the humour of a Red Norvo and the cool delicacy of a Milt Jackson at his fingertips, delights us with the sudden rhythmic shifts in such numbers as "Georgia on My Mind" or Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly"; however, it is the subtle, responsive nuances shared with pianist Chrupcala - "Sunday", "Samba De Orpheu" - that caught my attention especially. Chrupcala is a fine soloist, boppish to the Latin beat of "Sweet Bossa", gently introspective on "Old Folks". Woods' bass duet (with vibes) and solo on "Love Walked Right In", and Auter's remarkable brushwork on the same number reveal how adroitly they fit into the overall scheme of things. This is a group whose limited popularity definitely is in need of greater exposure for it is talent-loaded. (J.S.)

Cats Paw 4104 to order

York University Artists - "Rhythms, Riffs & Rhymes"

The York University music programme, founded in 1970, included jazz as an integral component, with emphasis on small ensemble playing. Though bop-oriented at the start, it soon expanded to encompass a wide range of jazz idioms; hence, York became "a vibrant centre of contemporary music-making" (liner). This is reflected in the ten original compositions on this 1996 disc, ranging from post-bop, delicate solo tone poems, to rock/funk inspired pieces. The former is captured chiefly by the trio of Mike Murley (sax), Al Henderson (bass) and Barry Elmes (drums) on such free-wheeling numbers as "Project B" and "Something Like Sonny", or moodier offerings of "Feelings in Exile" and a loping blues beat of "Cornerstone Blues". The latter takes the form of a wiry, sinewy electric blues sound in Tim Posgate's "New Axis Blues", the vocal rap-like stylings of Rita di Ghent )"Rita's Looking for a Boyfriend"/"Peace Conspiracy"), and the Lighthouse group's "Time Tides" with an impressive display of control, mood swings and musicianship. The impressionistic "Song for Jenny", with Mark Crawford (guitar), and the effortless workings of David Mott's baritone ("Serge Chaloff in Memoriam") round out this collective cross-section of musical achievement. (J.S.)

YFA (York Fine Arts) 00496 to order

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

***** Excellent
**** Good

Rating Artist Title Label & Cat. No.

*****Harry Allen, Randy Sandke & RIAS Big Band Berlin Trumpet KingsNagel-Heyer CD 037
*****VariousEastwood After HoursMalpaso CDW 46546
*****Chris PotterUnspokenConcord CCD-4775-2
*****Warren VacheWarren plays WarrenNagel-Heyer CD 033
*****Clark TerryTop and BottomChiaroscuro (D)347
*****Gerry GibbsThe ThrasherQWest 9 46228-2
*****Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir CD 148
*****One for AllToo Soon to TellSharp Nine CD 1006-2
*****Brian LynchSpheres of InfluenceSharp Nine CD 1007-2
****New York All StarsCount Basie Remembered Volume 2Nagel-Heyer CD 041
****Terry GibbsPlay That SongChiaroscuro (D)337


*****Bud Powell/Don Byas A Tribute to Cannonball Columbia CK 65186
*****Tony Williams Turn it Over Verve 314 539 118-2

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