January 1999


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

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Oliver Jones - "Just In Time"

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Any new recording by pianist Oliver Jones is a welcome addition to a jazz library, and this is no exception. Recorded on location at the Montreal Bistro jazz club in Toronto in November of 1997 in front of a most appreciative audience it captures Jones' trio (drummer Norm Marshall Villeneuve and bassist Dave young) in outstanding form. The ambiance in this fine room inspires each player to provide consistent quality for each of the tunes.

Oliver's carefully selected programme is layered with his love of harmonies that illustrate his infectious melodic approach to the piano. His hands move irresistibly toward the volume control on "Something for Chuck", "Place St-Henri", "Oleo", gently caresses "Mean to Me". "Little Girl Blue" and radiates pure warmth on the wonderful Gershwin Medley of eight tunes. This is one of those recordings that will be pulled from the shelf again and again to suit or create many different moods. It swings and sways from start to finish.

Jones is planning to retire from performing concerts soon in order to spend more time with his family; a sad fact for his legion of fans - and one that makes his recorded work an even more vital piece of jazz history. One additional highlight of this 2 CD set is the brilliant recording quality. (H.H.)

Justin Time JUST 120/1-2 to order

Paul Tobey - "Wayward"

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Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, active on the Montreal and Toronto jazz scenes, pianist Paul Tobey expands his compositional-playing skills in this 1998 release (his third), fronting both orchestral (11 players) and small group aggregations in seven original numbers, the only concession ("I needed a standard") being a lightly swinging trio tribute to Bill Evans ("Very Early") with piano and bass (Neil Swainson) thoughtfully probing the melody. It's an energetic, well-balanced programme, ranging from the infectious, salsa-seasoned "Wayward" or "Son Montuno Blue" (both featuring saxman Alex Dean), the torrid, improvisational attacks of altoist John Johnson ("Time Share"), and tenorman Pat LaBarbera ("Don't Resist It"), to the Latin ballad of "Acquiesence" with the delicately subtle but impeccably assured pianist set against a gentle, percussive backdrop, or the tempo changes of "Ninth Hole-Par Four" led by the fluid mobility of guitarist Roy Patterson. Tobey can be light and lyrical, flowing or fleet-fingered; nor does he appear to have forgotten the advice of his teacher/mentor, Kenny Barron - "play with emotion…genuine feelings". (J.S.)

Jazz Solution 101 to order

Rosemary Clooney/Count Basie Orchestra - "At Last"

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Rosemary Clooney's voice may have deepened in maturity over the decades, but her ability to capture the essence of a song remains very much intact. No stranger to a big band context (Woody Herman, Les Brown, Nelson Riddle, Duke Ellington), the 1997-98 CD is the first meeting with the Basie orchestra, refurbished under the tutelage of Grover Mitchell. Most of the selections are well known - a bluesy, atmospheric "Willow Wait for Me", a lightly swinging "Seems Like Old Times" with a familiar Basie riff introduction, a wonderfully inventive "I Got Rhythm" with Rosemary's 1946 lyrics; however, there are a few surprises - Dave Frishberg's humorous version of "I Want to be a Sideman". Or Astaire's "If Swing Goes, I Go Too" with its simulated Basie rhythm section. Kudos to some tasteful moments by soloists John Oddo (piano), Kenny Hing (tenor), Bob Ojeda (trumpet), and Clarence Banks (trombone). The professionalism of the entire band shines throughout. (J.S.)

Concord CCD-4795-2 to order

Gene Harris & The Philip Morris All Stars - "Live"

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Enticed out of semi-retirement by bassist Ray Brown, Harris seems to have taken on a rejuvenated jazz life with the Concord label since the mid 80's. This latest CD, recorded as a private concert at the University Club in San Diego (1995), finds him in select company - Kenny Burrell (guitar), Harry 'Sweets' Edison (trumpet), Stanley Turrentine (tenor), George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), Ernie Andrews (vocals). Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove" and Ellington's "Cottontail" showcase swinging group dynamics, while standards "I Wish I Knew", "Time After Time" and the contrasting moods of an Ellington medley are features for trumpet, sax and guitar respectively. Harris' two-handed, funky, bluesy presence is everywhere, but especially on "Collage in Blue" and "Low Down Blues Medley", backing the rich, earthy, malleable voice of Ernie Andrews. This is a carefully co-ordinated programme - fluid, energetic and enjoyable; the audience enthusiastically attested to the latter. (J.S.)

Concord CCD-4808-2 to order

Scott Hamilton/Bucky Pizzarelli - "The Red Door"

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Tenor/guitar pairings generally cater to the pleasure principle in jazz listening, and this 1995 session is no exception. Bucky's 7-string guitar allows him to play a bass line to his own solos, making the bassist and drummer superfluous. Together, they fashion a fitting tribute to the late Zoot Sims, selecting some surprising choices of tunes for the occasion, including a propulsive journey through Sims/Mulligan's "Red Door", the Sims/Cohn signature tune, "Morning Fun", an effortless swinging rendition of Al Cohn's "Two Funky People", and a shared treatment of the melodic beauty of a seldom heard 1935 song, "In the Middle of a Kiss". There is nothing stale either in their handling of such standards as Lunceford's "Dream of You", Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me", or "Just You, Just Me" (Hamilton overdubs a second sax to give this a Sims/Cohn flavour). Wayne Thompson's liner notes are excellent - informative and insightful. A highly recommended disc. (J.S.)

Concord CCD-4799-2 to order

Stan Kenton - "The Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra"

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Kenton directs this concert jazz band, recorded in the Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Centre (1965), in six interrelated pieces selected from 35 submitted compositions, designed to bridge the gap between jazz and contemporary classical music. The orchestral composite, providing an "opportunity for innovative expression" (liner), is weighted heavily in brass configurations, shifting rhythms and dramatic musical textures, allowing ample room for improvisational injections by soloists. Noteworthy are Hugo Montenegro's "Fanfare" with brass and timpani blazing with verve and fire", John Williams' "Prelude and Fugue" in its rich dialogue of brass And percussion, Russ Garcia's five-part "Adventures in Emotion", a study in moods from fragile and brash to quiet pervasiveness, and Clare Fischer's "Piece for Soft Brass, Woodwinds & Percussion" (only previously available on a 1972 European LP), a freewheeling number with a mellow sax middle. For Kenton fans and lovers of the big band sound. (J.S.)

Capitol 7243 4 94502 2 6 to order

Bill Perkins Octet - "On Stage"

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Integral to but limited in exposure by a myriad of excellent featured soloists in the Herman/Kenton bands of the early 50's, tenorman Bill Perkins emerged with this 1956 outing to front his own group, most of whom were ex-Herman/Kenton sidemen - Jack Nimitz (baritone-bass clarinet), Bud Shank (alto), Stu Williamson (trumpet/valve trombone), Carl Fontana (trombone), Russ Freeman (piano), Red Mitchell (bass), Mel Lewis (drums). A strong advocate of the Lester Young tenor style, Perkins is quite at home with the Basie/Young charts for "Song of the Islands" and the rousing "Let Me See" (two takes), and his gentle, "disciplined emotion" (liner) is evident with "One Hundred Years From Today" or Johnny Mandel's lyrical "Just a Child". Though the total playing time hardly exceeds 40 minutes, this CD is an excellent example of that tightly knit combo playing so inherent in West Coast Jazz of the 50's. (J.S.)

Pacific Jazz 7243 4 93163 2 4 to order

Charlie Haden/Kenny Barron - "Night and the City"

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Veteran musicians Kenny Barron (piano) and Charlie Haden (bass) blend their considerable talents on a 1996 NYC (The Iridium jazz club) release. The nocturnal city is the concept core which dictates the ebb and flow of musical ideas (before an appreciative audience), conjuring up its gentler, softened moods ("Twilight Song"/"For Heaven's Sake"), its sudden hints of promise "Spring is Here", or whimsical flashbacks to memories of long-forgotten loves "Body and Soul"/"Waltz for Ruth"/"The Very Thought of You". The deft, imaginative fingers of the pianist and the quiet but powerful lyricism of the bass control the picture that gradually unfolds. A tone poem for night people and city dwellers especially! (J.S.)

Verve 539 961-2 to order

Jay McShann & Major Holley - "Havin' Fun"

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Back in 1986, pianist Jay McShann, returning to Toronto's Café des Copains for his "annual appearance", was surprisingly greeted by his old friend, bassist Major Holley. What ensued was a week of informal, spontaneous interaction to the delight of fortunate patrons. The now released Havin' Fun savours an evening's highlights of the blues and popular numbers that……are a blend of the familiar and the obscure" (liner), four McShann originals. Plangent bass-picking, swinging K.C. piano and playful vocal banter adds zest to the musical brew, justifying the album's chosen title. (J.S.)

Sackville SKCD2-2047 to order

Marcus Miller "Live and More"

This is a live recording with the exception of two studio cuts and shows off the band and the compositions in good light. The music has jazz harmony with a back beat funk groove and memorable melodies making for an enjoyable ride through Marcus Miller's neighbourhood. The electric bassist has worked with everyone from Miles Davis, David Sanborn and Wayne Shorter to pop stars Luther Vandross and Roberta Flack. This recording features his working band, which has its headliners as well with Kenny Garrett on alto sax and Hiram Bullock on guitar. The band does a great job on Miles' "Tutu" and vocal takes on "Summertime" and "People Make the World go 'Round" with vocalist Lala Hathaway guesting on these tracks.

The lesser known tracks also become familiar fairly quickly and again show off the composing and bass playing of Marcus Miller and answers the question why he seems to be on every third record I personally own. (S.B.)

PRA/GRP PRD - 9908 to order