January 2002


The Trio - "Pandora"

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Pianist Makoto Ozone continues to augment an already considerable output of original compositions on this newest trio release (2000) with James Genus - bass and Clarence Penn - drums. Rooted strongly in the classics with influential indebtedness to Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, and Bill Evans, Ozone tempers virtuosi brilliance with spare, finely-crafted melodic statement that is decidedly his own. The set offers a wide range of moods and tempi, from the propulsive, blues-tinged opener "You Never Tell Me Anything", the light Latin rhythms in "Brazilian Sketch", the delicate precision of "Sofi" or "If I Had Known…". The threesome is joined by saxophonist Branford Marsalis in an accelerated flight through "Reunion" (tenor) and an atmospheric, salt-sweet rendition of the title tune (soprano). Bass and drums are highlighted throughout, not only in setting a mood or establishing a pace, but also independently contributing to the progression of a number. Well-recommended! JS

Verve 549 629-2

Michiel Borstlap - "Gramercy Park"

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Michiel Borstlap is a new performer for me, and the sketchy liner notes are relatively devoid of information about the pianist himself. However, the music speaks for itself, and he is certainly not one to overlook. The 3 CD package features Borstlap in a variety of contexts, as soloist, in a trio setting, and as a member of a larger group titled Meets Soulvation. Performances are drawn from sessions in NYC, The Netherlands, and Bombay with accompanists selected to suit the changes in localities. The wide scope of his musical style and interests is evident. In solo format, his playing ranges from multi-rhythmic excursions into the melodic lines of Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance", explorative sorties built around the lyrical core of his own "Memory of Enchantment", or his evocative, spirited dramatic shifts accorded Chopin's "Scherzo No.1", giving credence to his classical roots. The trio sides are similarly diverse from the scintillating mobility of "Gramercy Park", a gently lyrical original "People", to the free-swinging Montoliu-like version of "Come Rain or Come Shine". The 2 "Temple of Dance" numbers on the third CD meld the voices of "wheels of steel", keyboards, bass, grand piano, and Fender Rhodes into a pulsating, textural cavalcade that, quite frankly, does little for this listener. Nevertheless, Borstlap, the pianist, is a pleasant discovery. JS

Universal Classics & Jazz 014 326-2

Oscar Peterson Big 4 - "Freedom Song"

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Originally released on a 2 LP package (1982), this 2 CD set, recorded live in Tokyo's Shibuya Public Hall, features Peterson with cohorts Joe Pass - guitar, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - bass, and Martin Drew - drums, the threesome matching "…Peterson's breathtaking velocities, pristine articulation, and intensely swinging beat…." With inventiveness and closely-knit interaction. Peterson's ability to transmute the familiar into fresh and exciting interpretations is evident in such numbers as Monk's "Round Midnight" with its subtle mood swings, the effortless melodic and rhythmic transitions from the Legrand/Evans medley "Watch What Happens" and "Waltz for Debby", or the gentle underpinning of the melody to the normally brisk "Sweet Lorraine". The session is sprinkled with memorable scorchers: the series of rapid exchanges with Pass/Pedersen on "Move", Peterson's rollicking rendition of Parker's "Now's the Time", the torrid pace afforded an original "Mississauga Rattler", an encapsulated journey of jazz history with Peterson's own "The Cakewalk". The concert captures the pianist at the zenith of his creative powers. Liner notes by Ted Panken are excellent. JS

Pablo 2640-101-2

Various - "A Twist of Marley - A Tribute"

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West Coast based guitarist and record mogul Lee Ritenour has just released another concept album upon the unsuspecting music-buying public. "A Twist of Marley" (designed as a modern tribute to the late legendary Jamaican performer, composer and cultural icon, Bob Marley) is the unfortunate follow-up to the equally ill-conceived GRP offering of several years ago, A Twist of Jobim. Ritenour is a bluesy, fluid and imaginative guitarist who comes out of a strong blues and jazz tradition, however, a decade or so ago when so-called "Smooth Jazz" raised it's ambiguous head, Lee Ritenour was among the first of the West Coast session guys to jump on the now-lucrative bandwagon. His late 70's and 80's performances at L.A. jazz venues such as "The Baked Potato" helped spawn the near-jazz milieu that currently dominates all jazz CD sales - resulting in an unprecedented, resounding market success story.

In the endless debates surrounding the validity of "smooth jazz" as an improvisational musical expression, it seems that the real danger lies not in the new listeners that this genre attracts, but in the fact that many of these nascent fans actually believe that they are listening to jazz. It's sort of like really digging the white bread Pat Boone version of "Tooty Fruity" without ever having heard the raw, rhythmic and totally original proto-rocker by the androgynous and sexually dangerous Little Richard.

Nonetheless, if you listen to this recording without holding it up to the normal parameters of the jazz yardstick, there is still quite a bit of ear candy - mainly due to the impressive line-up of talented guest artists such as thrilling vocalist, Patti Austin, saxophonists Gerald Albright, Michael Brecker and guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Butler. Ritenour has included versions of most of Marley's more familiar compositions, including "Exodus" - complete with Brecker-esque sax lines, and predictably over-produced vocals. The lyrics are truncated, and the repetitive lyrical phrase "Going to the Fatherland" should probably have been replaced with the more apt, "Going to the Disco". Even the horn arrangement by Jerry Hey (formerly of Creed Taylor's "Seawind", and the mainstay of the renowned "Seawind Horns") falls flat in a mid-rangy mush.

On "I Shot the Sheriff", vocalist Maxi Priest makes an admirable attempt to preserve Marley's intent, but is lost in a muddle of compressors and flangers. Perhaps the two most offensive tracks involve Dave Grusin and Ritenour in an elevator-music version of Marley's classic human rights anthem, "Get Up, Stand Up" and "Redemption Song", which features vocalist and bassist Richard Bona. The later has been arranged in the now fashionable "World Music" style. I can just see the production meeting at GRP now…."Hey, let's throw in a world music track! Let's get Michael Brecker! Why Not? It worked for Paul Simon!" Sadly, the African rhythms and the well-intentioned musical performances are not enough to counterbalance the mediocre result.

In spite of all this mis-direction, there are still some highlights. On the Marley warhorse, "Could You be Loved" the sensational Patti Austin is featured along with guitarist Mark Antoine. She continues to be one of the most versatile and skilled singers in the business. She brings a wealth of musicality and feeling to even the simplest lyrical content - be it jazz, smooth jazz, or pop. In addition, Jonathan Butler's sumptuous vocals and acoustic guitar seem to effortlessly capture Marley's original plaintive yearning on "No Woman No Cry" - enhancing the original composition rather than pulverizing it in a yuppie food processor.

Sadly, this slick, derivative recording will no doubt receive more airplay, and generate more CD sales than Bob Marley could have ever dreamed of in the context of his own career. For the truly original jazz interpretation of Bob Marley's music, check out vocalist Tracey Wilkins' release, "Bird of Paradise". (Note: see April "Picks" for review)

I believe that it is possible to salute this iconoclastic and legendary man with dignity and musicality - it just didn't happen here, and it just isn't jazz. LMC

Lesley's rating system: ( 0 to 5 New York Bagels)

For real jazz listeners:
2 ½ Bagels (stick to the real deal)

For "Smooth Jazz" listeners:
4 ½ Bagels (great performances, and something for everyone)

GRP 314 549 787-2

John Coltrane - "Spiritual"

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John Coltrane was one of the most important and controversial figures in jazz. His commitment to the exploration of spirituality in his music is unquestionable. Since his sudden passing at the age of forty, there has been a wealth of posthumously released material. For this latest CD, Impulse has put together a compilation of tunes under the spiritual title and theme.

There are eight selections on this CD. Among them is "Acknowledgement", the first movement from the highly influential and celebrated "A Love Supreme", "Songs of Praise", "Wise One" and a studio version of the moody "Spiritual". These are indeed works of beauty, most of them featuring Trane's classic quartet of the early and middle sixties with an appearance by Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet. (The collective personnel are: Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner - piano, Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman - bass, Rashied Ali, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones - drums.) This is Coltrane at his best, the music is joyous, peaceful and resonates with spiritual ambience.

Although there is a freshness of approach to this recording, it may not appeal to the seasoned Coltrane fans, but for the new comers, it provides a view into the wide realm and scope of his music. Coltrane continues to be one of jazz's most influential players, his name lives on and his recordings will always be available, cherished and respected by jazz lovers worldwide. CS

Impulse 314 589 0992

Russell Gunn - "Ethnomusicology, Vol 2"

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Illinois-born trumpeter, Flugelhorn and Piano player Russell Gunn grew up listening to rap. Later on, he chose jazz for his professional pursuits. Having recorded for Atlantic and Highnote, he moved to the Canadian label Justin Time for this, his latest release, which is a hybrid of jazz, hip-hop and funk. Like Volume 1, issued in 1999, this is a project mired in uncertainty, having no real sense of direction.

There are eight tracks on this project, two of which are Gunn originals; the jazzy "Lyne's Joint" and the Brazilian influenced "Dance of the Concubine", both featuring Gunn on trumpet and trombonist Andre Hayward. Among the other selections are Monk's "Epistrophy", Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "Caravan". All three selections are affected by an attempt of feeble funk arrangements, no doubt intended to give a new look to those old standards.

Gunn, however did have some success with the funky rework of Lalo Schifrin's "Anita", a tune he re-named "Del Rio". This is a nice happy tune with elements of Mardi Gras and Carnival, maybe the centerpiece of the recording. The addition of turntablist D.J. Apollo did little or nothing to enhance the quality of this recording. I found it to be a half-hearted effort lacking both in originality and creativity. Despite my findings, the many lovers of Jazz/Hip-hop may very well accept this recording. CS

Justin Time JUST 172-2

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