January 2004


Maria Schneider Orchestra - "Allegresse"

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Maria Schneider's qualifications as a leader of a 17-piece jazz orchestra are rooted in impressive past experience with such notables as Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Mel Lewis and Woody Herman. Founded in 1989, the orchestra "…has since become a New York institution finding regular homes in the city's jazz clubs…..". Previous CD releases have received much critical praise, and she has been featured internationally both in Europe and the Far East. Her skills as composer make up the 6 pieces on this latest release. Her "…trademarks include unusual brass-reed blends and density and sound colouring". Here, inspired by the graceful choreography of dance movements, she seeks "…softer hues and more intricate textures", utilizing the individual strengths of soloists to meet those ends. From the free-flowing sweep of "Hang Gliding", the sprightly contours shaping "Allegresse" , to the textural nuances of "Sea of Tranquility" , the sound of the big bands is rejuvenated in new and exciting ways. J.S.

Enja/Justin Time JENJ 3306-2

Ranee Lee - "Maple Groove" {Songs From The Great Canadian Songbook}

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Vitality, Captivating, Challenging, are some of the words that pop into my mind as listen to this new chapter in the musical story of Ranee Lee. She never fails to surprise me with her approach to songs, and she has proven that point again with this collection of great Canadian masterpieces.

There will be some die-hard jazz fans who will wonder why Ranee has been tempted to lean toward some composers who obviously don't write, sing or play jazz. Most of the tunes here will be remembered as being performed by the writer, such as Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" [Gordon never had it swing so hard], Bill Evans wrote and Canadian Gene Lees added the lyrics to "Waltz for Debby" [Ranee sings this with conviction], "My Beat" by Bruce Cockburn gets a totally new interpretation, with a funky back beat by drummer Dave Laing. And then there is Oscar Peterson' s "Hymn to Freedom" sung a capella with the McGill Students vocal Ensemble, "Spinning Wheel" by David Clayton-Thomas, which features a little rap by Darrell Henegan Jr, Moe Koffman's "Swinging Shepherd Blues" , Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now", "Some of these Days" by Shelton Brooks, "Put your Dreams Away" by Ruth Lowe, and others, covering the diversity of the writer's and original performers, great Canadian material all done in Ranee's inimitable style, with a superb band, Richard Ring - guitar, John Sadowy, Brian Dickinson - piano, Zach Lober, Mike Downes - bass, Dave Laing - drums, Ron Di Lauro - trumpet, Richard Beaudet - saxophone. This is a 'must have' for any jazz fan's library. H.H.

Justin Time JUST 194-2

Oscar Peterson Trio - Vancouver 1958

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This is the second release of recordings from one of the most exciting groups in the history of jazz. Dr. Oscar Peterson working with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown rode the waves of jazz success during their short time together - 1953 - 1958. Recorded in concert at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia on August 4th, 1958 finds the trio in exceptional form as they perform for an appreciative audience standards "How High the Moon" [in a medium tempo with an outstanding bass solo], "We'll Be Together Again" [the mood created here is laid back, ballad like, but builds with intensity during Oscar's solo, then back to a quiet extro]. Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud" offer some wonderful trio interplay that shows tenderness and happiness, for the compositions, "Daahoud" practically jumps out of the speakers at you. John Lewis' "The Golden Striker" [written for the film "No Sun in Venice" , and made popular by the Modern Jazz Quartet], also burns bright after a beautiful intro by Oscar. His ragtime extro on this is a pure delight. Other delightful performances include "I Like To Recognize the Tune", "Patricia" [Herb's composition and he takes a solo on this one], "Pogo" [another Ellis original with Herb up front backed by Ray, then Oscar joins in fast and furious], and "The Music Box Suite" [aka "Daisy's Dream" ]. A must CD for any Oscar Peterson collection, and a great intro to the giant for those who are just beginning to discover him. Excellent informative notes by jazz fan/broadcaster/writer Len Dobbin. (H.H.)

Just A Memory JAM 9148-2

Billy Lester - "Four into Four"

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Having previously reviewed two earlier discs by the pianist (from the mid-90's), chiefly in trio format, it is enlightening to hear his music on this recent CD with the addition of trumpeter Simon Wettenhall who provides dimensional depth to the free-spirited explorations of piano, bass and drums. The trumpeter infuses " …other brands of jazz into his sounds. The rhythm section no longer lays down a constant rhythm, but changes beats in unexpected ways or incorporates unanticipated breaks. Lester's compositions are based on standard songs with altered chord sequences or inversions to create a new concept; the music is not as linear or patterned as that of a Tristano (an early influence), thus transcending predictability. This holds true even for selections whose melodies may be somewhat recognizable at time - "Person-L" ("Somebody Loves Me") or "Oso Furioso" ("What is this thing called Love") - but adjusted to fit new harmonies. Players feed off one another intuitively in fashioning a unified music, though always maintaining an independent spirit of versatility, improvisatory freedom, and playful spontaneity. The joy of performance is omnipresent. J.S.

Coppens 3003

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