January 1998


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Hamiet Bluiett & Concept - "Live at Carlos 1: Another Night"

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Having already reviewed on September's "picks" the earlier release (JAM 9129-2) and unequivocally ranked it among my top ten for 1997, I can only reiterate my enthusiasm for this group, comprised of Bluiett (baritone), Don Pullen (piano), Fred Hopkins (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums), Chief Bey (percussion) and recorded live at the now defunct Carlos Club, NYC, in 1986. The two standards here, "I'll Close my Eyes" and "Autumn Leaves" feature the baritone's dramatically rich melodic lines played out against Pullen's delicately explorative piano, Hopkins' subtle bass nuances (both arco and plucked on the former), and a cascade of rhythmic propulsion in varying tempi. Bluiett's own "Wide Open" is, as the title suggests, contrastingly free with its soaring baritone flights, wide-ranging piano excursions set against an insistent percussive backdrop; his lively, up tempo blues, "John", offers ample space to all, notably the brash, raw-edged saxophone matched with the interplay in an extended solo. The concluding "Sobre Una Nube", an alternate reworking of "Nali Kola" from the first disc, reflects quite a different pulse and instrumental focus, but is just as rewarding. This is music of great breadth and commitment played by musicians who know what their goals are and how best to achieve them. Bluiett proves once more why the baritone sax remains such a powerfully emotional instrument in jazz. (J.S.)

Just a Memory JAM 9136-2to order

Herb Ellis & Justice All-stars - "Down-home"

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Though Herb Ellis' early playing days date back to the mid-forties with the Casa Loma Orchestra and Jimmy Dorsey, he came into public prominence as Barney Kessel's replacement with the Oscar Peterson trio (1953-57) in a role that aptly suited Peterson's amazing keyboard facility and sudden rapid tempo changes. His clear, crisp projection and improvisatory, instant responses seemed easy. We catch some of that here on such numbers as the riff-driven "I Know What I want", "Conversations", and the up-tempo closer, "Homecoming". All of the compositions are Ellis originals, including the Latin-edged "Sunrise" and "Bella", a lightly swinging blues, "Down -home Blues", and a series of gentle ballads - "Sunflower", "Charlotte", and a country-western tinged "A Woman with Love in her Eyes". There is no information on this disc about the Justice All-stars (an injustice, to be sure(, but noteworthy are Stefan Karlsson's boppish interludes on "Sunrise" or his playful toying with the margins of melody on "I'm a Lover", Rebecca Coupe Franks' trumpet work with "A Woman….Eyes" and "Sunflower", as well as the strong supportive roles throughout by drummer Sebastian Whittaker and bassist David Craig. An additional track available to those who have rewind access on CD players (identified on the disc as Soundboard process) seems to feature clarinet and violin, but no personnel is listed for this version of Oscar Pettiford's "Blues in the Closet". It's a warm, uncomplicated, generally laid-back session, quite enjoyable in that context. (J.S.)

Justice 1003-2to order

Billy Bang - "Bang On!"

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This is a musical experience that shouldn't be missed. With pianist D.D.Jackson, bassist Akira Ando and drummer Ronnie Burrage, violinist Billy Bang truly brings out more from that instrument than it was ever designed for. Sinuous, flexible, insistent, always fluid and swinging, he crackles with energy on the opening "Bama Swing", wraps the melody of "Peaceful Dreams" in a gutsy, abrasive tempo transformation, accelerates "Yesterdays" to unbelievable heights, closes with a beautifully plaintive replication of Coltrane's horn on "Mr.Syms". Five of the ten selections are Bang's originals, including a Mingus-like "Don's Dream" and a Latin-flavoured "Three Faces of Eve". The special highlight is his gyrating rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown" in which he captures every seductive, sensual shading of the lady; his crisp, lucid "rigorous bowing innovations" (liner notes) depict her as anything but "sweet". The accompaniment, in particular the sparkling, responsive piano exploits of Jackson, is outstanding. Highly recommended! (J.S.)

Justin Time 105-2 to order

D.D.Jackson - "Paired Down" (Volume 2)

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For Ottawa-born pianist, D.D. Jackson, the duo format provided him with the opportunity to meet players whose originality and outlook afforded "a challenge…to pursue my own development as an artist" (liner). All compositions are originals, and it is a tribute to the pianist that he can both create and meet that challenge of such instrumental diversity so astoundingly well. From the raucously foot-stomping dialogue of the opening "Catch It" with trombonist Ray Anderson to their contrastingly melancholic closer ("Closing Melody"), the musical journey runs the gamut of emotion and technical virtuosity - a tenderly delineated bass/piano dedication with Santi Debriano ("One of the Sweetest") a moving, warm accord of piano/tenor sax (David Murray) on "Love-song", and the haunting melodic beauty of piano/violin (Billy Bang) with "Pleasure and Pain", to the fanciful, Latinized free flight of Jane Bunnett's flute ("Flute-song"), and the restrained, harmonious clarinet (Don Byron) on "Time". This "intimate texture of duo" (liner) is a follow-up to an earlier first volume; undoubtedly, both are recommended listening. (J.S.)

Justin Time 104-2 to order

Buddy Montgomery Trio - "Here Again"

The youngest surviving member of the Montgomery brothers (Wes/Monk), Buddy eventually gave up the vibes for full time piano (c1970), yet remains, as leader, under-recorded and underrated. On this 1997 release, he draws upon the playing talents of old friends, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Ray Appleton, in a programme of five original compositions interspersed with four standards. Though he doesn't read or write music, relying rather on rehearsing and learning from memory, "he voices his chords…plays in keys that nobody else plays in, resulting in "cliché free" playing by a strong ear player" (liner). The proof lies in a relaxed mix of lightly boppish numbers ("My Ideal"/"Aki's Blues"/"Hob Nob with Brother Bob") and effortless, imaginative, delicately assured balladic progressions ("Invitation"/"You've Changed"), with the occasional conga beat by percussionist Wilson Corniel, Jr. Liner notes provide excellent coverage of the man and his music. (J.S.)

Sharp Nine Records 1008-2 to order

Marcus Roberts - "Blues for the New Millenium"

In this 1997 release, Roberts presents fourteen "songs that either diverge from or expand on the standard 12-bar blues form" (liner), twelve of which are original compositions. Openly committed to an historically "traditional"approach to jazz in order to "find new ways to play the blues", he chooses here a less personal role in favour of showcasing a number of excellent young musicians. His own notes are explicit statements on the intent and agenda both of the music and the musicians. There is much exciting music on the disc, including updated restatements of Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" and Morton's "Jungle Blues", several Ellington-flavoured tributes in "Jade", "When the Morning Comes" and "Heart of the Blues", a contrastingly smoky "Late Rehearsal" balanced with an animated "Early Rehearsal", and a closing series of integrated dance rhythms on "It's Maria's Dance". And for those critics who assert that Marcus Roberts can't swing, I draw particular attention to the pianoman on "Anytime, Any Place" and " A Servant of the People". (J.S.)

Columbia CK 68637 to order

Carol O'Shaughnessy - "The Way I See It"

"…..don't look for slickness and gloss here…"state the liner notes. Indeed, what we do have is a pleasant blend of charm and surprise on this 1997 disc by vocalist Carol O'Shaughnessy whose range of selections extends from the tender to the torrid, and from standards to such seldom heard gems as Noel Coward's lovely song from his 1929 show Bitter Sweet, "If Lover Were All", Cy Coleman's gentle "The Way I See It", or Carole King's hit number from the early 70's, "You've got a Friend". Then, of course, there's Quincy Jones' scorching "Miss Celie's Blues" and the intriguing medley from Peter Pan. These, together with such standards as "I've Got the World on a String" or "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (My, is it ever nice to hear the introductory verses as well as the lyrics again!) all serve to demonstrate the spirited, yet relaxed, clear phrasing and dramatic presentation accorded throughout on this diverse material. Accompaniment is sensitive and unobtrusive, with special nods of approval to pianist Tom LaMark, trumpeter/flugelhornist Dave Burdett, and reedman Mike Monaghan. (J.S.)

Seaside 201 to order

Laurent De Wilde - "Spoon-a-rhythm"

It's so refreshing to hear a gifted and imaginative pianist who is technically able to put his ideas into a new and exciting context. On this 1996 CD, pianist Laurent De Wilde does just that, with the excellent rapport of supporting musicians who are totally in sync. Laurent, author of an award-winning biography of Thelonious Monk, subtly sprinkles those spare, oblique Monkisms on a number of occasions, notably in a gentle probing of Monk's own "Round Midnight", or in a playfully "Tune for T"; moreover, Monkish touches are evident in his rollicking "Spoon-a-rhythm" with its sonically dramatic percussive interlude by co-drummers Dion Parson and Bobby Thomas,Jr. as well as on "Live & Dyrek", a well-oiled outing built around the changes to "That Old Devil Moon". Other dimensions to the artist are revealed in a funky, almost metronomic tribute to Ornette Coleman ("Fathers"), a pulsating "Edward K" with Duke's signature indelibly apparent, and two gentle, reflective melodic gems - "Totem" and "So Long Barney". Add to this a Bud Powell-like exploration of Charlie Parker's "Relaxin' at Camarillo", and you can understand why this is a disc that you will want to play often. (J.S.)

Columbia CK 68635 to order

Muddy Waters and Friends - "Goin' Way Back"

Montreal's Justin Time label's Just a Memory subsidiary has launched a series of Collector's Classics, of which this is one - - other titles features Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Dave Van Ronk and Reverend Gary Davis. All contain live performances in Montreal in the late 60's. This CD is live, but with a difference, since it is a breakfast session, with Muddy himself in dressing gown, recorded at the rooming house where Waters and his entourage stayed while in Montreal for a club engagement in October of 1967. The performances, acoustic blues with five musicians on guitars (four of them sing), are not typical of Muddy's then-current style, and in fact see him go way back. One of the tracks credited to him he first recorded on acoustic guitar for the Library of Congress in 1942 and three of the four others were first done in 1947, after he had left Mississippi and moved to Chicago, taking up the electric guitar, the better to be heard in clubs. There is a certain forcefulness in his delivery which is very Muddy, even when he goes acoustic. Most of the other material is country blues, credited to all the musicians, but they could just as easily be credited "traditional, arranged by". The other musicians include Otis Spann, Waters' half-brother, on guitar not piano, his main instrument. These are not brilliant performances, but they have a certain charm deriving from the informal nature. One complaint - it would have been nice if the individual vocalists on the different tracks had been identified. (C.P.)

Just A Memory JAM 9130-2 to order

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