July 2001


Rick Braun - "Kisses in the Rain"

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Rick Braun has released at least eight albums previously. "Kisses in the Rain" contains seven originals along with "Use Me" by Bill Withers. "Grover's Groove" by keyboard player, Johnny Britt and "Song for You", composed by Leon Russell. Braun's muted trumpet is not unlike Miles Davis' of the late 1970's and 80's. Davis tried his hand at pop, (note: Cyndi Laupers' "Time after Time") and it seems that Mr. Braun has tried to emulate Miles.

This compact disc is everything from Smooth Jazz to Dance, listenable but tedious. The rhythms try to vary, but do they really? Although the drummers are given credit, it sounds like sequencing to me.

Two selections, "Middle of the Night" and the aforementioned "Song for You", have vocals.

Mr. Braun, I suppose, is a very adept horn man, but basically is wasted on this Kenny G. like performance. RF

Warner Bros CDW 47994

Monty Alexander - "Goin' Yard"

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Jamaica recently bestowed one of it's highest honours, the "Order of Distinction" on Monty Alexander. It's hard to believe that he emigrated from his homeland as a seventeen year old in 1961. I remember people like Frank Sinatra and Ray Brown singing his praises at that time. His first album "Alexander the Great" was a memorable recording, especially his version of "John Brown's Body". Since then there have been over fifty additional recordings; the most recent have had Alexander going back to his roots with much island feeling, steel drums and all. "Stir it Up" honouring Bob Marley and "Monty Meets Sly and Robbie" recorded with Jamaica's rhythm legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. This October 2000 live recording in Manchester Craftsmen Guild, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, opens with "The Serpent", first recorded by Monty over a decade ago, Bobby Thomas plays hand drum. "Grub" is a remembrance of Jamaican bassist Carlton "Grub" Messam, murdered in Kingston - he had played with the pianist.

There are five other Alexander originals and two by Marley "Could You Be Loved", and "Exodus". The rhythm and time changes on "Could You Be Loved" is invigorating and invites you to get up and dance. Monty and Wayne Armond provide some background vocals on this one.

I love "Sight Up" (a Jamaican expression meaning 'to keep positive'), it's an Alexander tribute to his birth country.

Native boxer, Lennox Lewis, has always played reggae music before his fights. "Shankin' Lennox" is Alexander's tribute, and it swings!!

Finally a song from my youth, Harry Belafonte introduced "Day-O" (Banana Boat Song) to the hit parade in the 1950's. It's another toe tapper. RF

Telarc CD-83527

Oscar Peterson - "On the Town"

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The Town Tavern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. What memories it brings back for me. As a kid listening to Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Jackie and Roy and numerous other great artists who appeared there.

One of the most memorable groups was probably the most swinging, Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis - guitar. Herb also acted occasionally as the group's percussionist creating a bongo type sound with his fingers tapping on the wood frame of the guitar.

This album, recorded July 5, 1958, originally a seven selection masterpiece on Verve, has always been a favourite of mine, the LP became well worn over the years.

Happily Verve has reissued the complete session in a beautifully packaged compact disc, complete with five additional jazz standards originally intended for a follow-up that never materialized. This was O. P's second live recording; the first effort was the monumental LP from the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, also reissued on Verve. Herb and Ray, as always, are well attuned to Oscar's moving and grooving. The inter-relating on such standards as "Sweet Georgia Brown", "Pennies from Heaven", "Love is Here to Stay", "Joy Spring" and "Gal in Calico" produce a major love in. RF

Verve 314 543 834-2

Various - "Hellhound on my Trail - Songs of Robert Johnson"

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"Hellhound on my Trail" is a plethora of music of the exalted blues man, Robert Johnson. Johnson has been credited with being an influence via music and poetry over the last four decades on such household names as Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal and Eric Clapton.

This tribute album recorded in 1999 and 2000, has his compositions recreated by the 'whose who' in the world of blues of today.

Over an hour of such artists as Gatemouth Brown, Lucky Peterson, Carl Weathersby, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Palmer, the aforementioned Taj Mahal and nine others, each put their personal stamp on such compositions as "Crossroad Blues", "When You Got a Good Friend", "Stones in My Passway", "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Milkcow's Calf Blues".

All of the musicians on this recording were royalty artists, how the times have changed. It's unfortunate that Johnson isn't around to reap the benefits. RF

Telarc CD-83521

Various - "In the Groove - A Musical Collection of Heads Up Jazz"

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Heads Up International is a label that has been around for about a dozen years, originating in Cleveland, Ohio. Founder, Dave Love, is an alumnus of North Texas State's jazz programme, the institution that educated many of the future players in the big bands of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson. The music on this CD does not by any means reflect the big bands, but is a mix of elevator, Latin and similar forms of today are so called SMOOTH sounds. Does it qualify as jazz? I guess to the new generation it does and therefore followers of this genre of music it is a treasure trove.

You will hear a lot of names, many of them foreign to my ears - Joyce Cooling, Philip Bailey, Pieces of a Dream, Kenny Blake, Joe McBride, Gerald Veasley, Richard Smith, Marion Meadows, Andy Narell, Heads Up Super Band, Roberto Perera and Pamela Williams. Spyro Gyro after two decades provides one from their debut album "In Modern Times". A couple of mainstream players, Paquito D'Rivera and Dave Samuels do their bit to make this more to the flavour that I savour. RF

Heads Up HUDC 3064

Diane Nalini - "After Dusk"

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Diane Nalini de Kerckhove was born in Montreal to a Belgian father and Goan mother (from former Portuguese India).

She won a Rhodes scholarship to the University of Oxford to obtain a doctorate in applied physics and now works in Oxford. At the opposite end of the spectrum, she is also lead singer of a nine-piece Salsa band, "Salsaddiction".

Her new recording "After Dusk" which was recorded on April 7, 2000, has this seemingly interesting lady singing with virtually no place to hide.

Accompanied by Mike Rud on guitar and Dave Watts on bass, both McGill University graduates, Diane presents a mixed package of such standards as "Stars Fell on Alabama", "My Funny Valentine", "Everytime We Say Goodbye" and "How Long Has This Been Going On", as well as interpretations of some familiar French melodies, including "La Mer", and "La Maison Sous Les Arbres".

We head south for Chico Buarque's lovely "Carolina" and the vocalist delivers beautifully, two of her own compositions, the title song and "The Portrait On The Wall".

Nalini doesn't have a strong voice, but her unaffected little girl charm, not relying on vocal gymnastics, is a delight to the ears. RF

Independent NALCD 001

Ralph Towner - "Anthem"

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Ralph Towner shines on both classical and 12 string guitars.

Most of this album, recorded in Oslo, February 2000, is made up of originals by the string player. On listening through a couple of times, I found some extreme sensitivity in his playing. The original titles send mixed messages. "Haunted", "Raffish", "Very Late" and "The Prowler" conjure up the thoughts of some kind of pernicious behavior. While "Solitary Woman" and "Simone" might be of love, there are two mini suites "Four Comets" written in four parts, although only a total of just four minutes in length and the two minute fifty-five second three-part "Three Comments".

It was great to hear Scott LaFaro's "Gloria's Step"; this was the last selection that the bassist played with Bill Evans before his untimely passing. Charles Mingus' tribute to Lester Young "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat" is the other jazz standard on this extremely mellow effort by Mr. Towner. RF

ECM 314 543 814-2

Fontella Bass & The Voices Of St. Louis"

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I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this album. On reading the liner notes we discover that Fontella was married at one time to the late Down Beat Hall of Fame trumpeter, Lester Bowie. Her son, Bahnamous co-produced the album, which was recorded in St. Louis, Missouri in the fall of 2000.

Ms. Bass has also recorded with the World Saxophone Quartet, toured with saxophonist David Murray, and had an R&B hit "Rescue Me", thirty years ago. This latest effort opens with an instrumental, featuring pianist Ptah Williams on his original composition "Mandela". Fontella, a grandmother of ten, steps up to the microphone for five of the next nine selections.

Jazz, this is not, but some great soul mixed with "Smooth" overtones. Son-in-law, Tracy Mitchell and David Peaston provide vocals on three numbers. There is some nice ensemble work, especially on an instrumental in the tradition of Ray Bryant's early 60's recordings. Saxophonist Dwight Bosman and guitarist Mitchell wail on "DB Blues".

There is gospel too!! - Three traditional melodies "Walk With Me", "In the Garden" and "Thank You Lord". RF

Justin Time JUST 157-2

Bob Dorough & Dave Frishberg - "Who's On First?"

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The opening instrumental features the duo on their respective pianos presenting a rollicking version of "Rockin' in Rhythm".

Then it is time to make a decision, Frishberg borrows Abbot and Costello's most famous line. This time unrelated to baseball, but rather, to figure out who will start the concert. "Who's On First?" has the usual witty presentation written by Dave and sung by both veterans. Having won the rigged contest, Frishberg proceeds to take us through a musical excursion of four originals.

The two join forces on one written by Jack Segal and George Handy "Where You At". Then it is Dorough's turn with five of his witty creations including one of the jazz ditties, written thirty-six years ago by the duo. "I'm Hip" became so famous that it made the New York Times crossword puzzle. The 1999 version comes off well. "At the Saturday Dance" is the former's sequel, performed by Dave and Bob.

To conclude, some audience participation on Dorough's "Conjunction Junction" aids the two modern day Cole Porters in concluding a terrific concert at The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. RF

Blue Note 7243 5 23403 2 3

Miles Davis - "The Essential Miles Davis"

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In a retrospective of music drawn from 7 record labels over a four decade span, trumpeter Miles Davis is featured in a compendium of 23 numbers ranging from a 1945 outing by the 19-year old Miles in the company of altoist Charlie Parker on "Now's the Time", to the spontaneous outpourings of the trumpeter, now 60, with the instrumentally rich "Portia" (1986) by multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller. The many stages that mark the development of the gradual progression of this always forward-looking, often rebellious, musician are highlighted on these two CD's, from "The Birth of the Cool", Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru" (1949), the hard bop period "Walkin'", the formation of his own quintet including John Coltrane "'Round Midnight", his close collaboration with arranger Gil Evans "Summertime", the new exploratory sounds of his 60's quintet including Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams "My Funny Valentine", to the electric innovations introduced in Bitches Brew "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", and beyond. Despite these shifts in musical sources and techniques, Miles continued to favour the principles of understatement and evocative colour and texture throughout his career. A milestone figure in the annals of jazz! JS

Columbia/Legacy C2K-85475

Nicholas Payton - "Dear Louis"

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New Orleans-born trumpeter, Nicholas Payton, dedicates this latest release to another native of the Crescent City: Louis Armstrong. Fidelity to Armstrong solos is not Payton's goal; as he states, "Using a lot of instruments gives me a broader range of colours to draw from and enables me to better express myself texturally". The material chosen reflects Louis' creative output over the years incorporating the blues "Potato Head Blues"/"West End Blues", show tunes "Mack the Knife"/"Hello Dolly", and the standard American songbook "Sunny Side of the Street"/"Blues in the Night", though the strong roles relegated to saxes, piano, organ, or percussion give the music a feeling of modernity, intended to show how Armstrong's improvisations were building blocks to new innovations in jazz. Vocalists Dianne Reeves "Sunny Side of the Street", Dr. John Rebbenack "Mack the Knife", and Payton himself "I'll be Glad When You're Dead….."/"I'll Never be the Same" contribute their own personalized renditions of songs. Certainly Payton evokes Louis' spirit throughout in his own conceptually unique way. JS

Verve 314 549 4192

Charlie Haden - "Nocturne"

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The trio of Charlie Haden - bass, Gonzalo Rubalcaba - piano, and Ignacio Barroa - percussion, with a host of guest musicians including tenor men Joe Lovano and David Sanchez, violinist Federico Britos Ruiz, guitarist Pat Metheny, present a programme of music best described as Pan American, devoid of cultural boundaries, defying a unified definition. Of the 11 numbers, 4 pieces are by Mexican composers and 5 are "boleros" (song variants) by Cuban composers. The music here is faithful to the original melodies though freely open to improvisation by the players. As the liner notes state and the disc's title suggests, there is "…a romantic atmosphere that is restrained but nevertheless exuberant…". Performances, especially by Rubalcaba "Nocturnal", Lovano "Moonlight", Ruiz "Me Without You", and Sanchez "Don't Try Anymore", enhance the simplicity, elegant beauty, and emotional nature of the compositions. Highly recommended for lovers of jazz in a gentle vein. JS

Verve 4400136112

Roswell Rudd / Archie Shepp - "Live in New York"

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Recorded live in downtown Manhattan at the Jazz Standard, the quintet of Rudd - trombone. Shepp - tenor/piano, Grachan Moncur 111 - trombone, Reggie Workman - bass, and Andrew Cyrille - drums offers "…music of bold melodies, heated variations, and forceful rhythms". The players are veteran musicians who, in the past, have worked together as "…movers and makers of new music" with many of the foremost innovators in jazz. All compositions are Rudd/Shepp originals, except Amira Baraka's "We Are the Blues", a poetic evocation of the blues. The supportive pulse of bass/drums is laid down from the opening Mingus-flavoured "Keep Your Heart Right", reacting to the raw, restless exchanges of trombone/tenor in "Acute Motelitis", capturing the tragic solemnity behind Shepp's vocal/piano with "Steam" or the exorcism of the "little devil" raucously depicted in "Pazuzu", reinforcing the jubilant rhythms to Rudd's "Bamko". The collective playfulness of "Slide by Slide" is a highlight. Note: Timing information of numbers is not provided. JS

Emarcy Soundscape Series 013 482-2

Shirley Horn - "You're My Thrill"

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This CD reunites Horn and Johnny Mandel on a second collaboration following the success of their "Here's To Life" album (1992). As Mandel observes, "When you find one like Carmen McRae, Jeri Southern, Peggy Lee or Shirley, its like striking gold". For all of the above, style does not dominate the song. The vocalist-pianist devised her own charts before Mandel prepared arrangements; hence, the songs are given her own personalized touch - an "expressive use of space" or a deliberate climatic build-up. With her longtime sidemen, bassist Charles Ables and percussionist Steve Williams, and Mandel's sensitive arrangements, Shirley Horn offers a musical package of appealing variety, from Mandel's enchanting "Solitary Moon", the understated rendition of the standard "My Heart Stood Still", to her provocatively lively tribute to Peggy Lee with "Why Don't You Do Right?" She is truly one-of-a-kind. JS

Verve 314 549 4172

Fred Hersch - "Songs without Words"

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Cincinnati-born pianist, Fred Hersch, undertakes in this 3CD musical triptych a kind of synthesis of concepts culled from past experiences and associations over a quarter century. Apart from the innumerable concert performances, playing with such musicians as Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, or Billy Harper has helped to broaden his musical perspective. Though traces of Monk, Hines, Byard, or Evans occasionally surface, all is "…in a melodic spirit….. that is Hersch's own" on these discs. Solos are interspersed with duo, trio, and quintet segments.

The first CD features Hersch the composer, Songs without Words. The title selection takes the form of a six-part partite, replete with "luminous melody and startling virtuosity"; each part, however, was conceived as a solo piece, from the opening "Aria" to the tender "The Moon's Lullaby" and the closing rhythms of "Waltz". The lyrical "Child's Song" with Jamey Hadda -percussion, the longest number on this disc, was written for Charlie Haden. Flugelhornist Ralph Alessi joins Hersch on the haunting melody of "Up in the Air", inspired by Kenny Wheeler, while Hersch solos spiritedly on the moving "Heartsong" and captures the dancing quality in his "Sarabande".

Disc 2, Jazz Tunes with compositions "evocative enough…to inspire lyrics" provides Hersch the opportunity to improvise freely on works by familiar musicians - Ellington - "Caravan"/"Mood Indigo", Monk- "Work", Gillespie- "Con Alma", Mingus- "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love"/"Jump Monk", as well as some whose compositions captivated his imagination and challenged his creative skills: Russ Freeman's "The Wind", Kenny Wheeler's "Winter Sweet", Wayne Shorter's "Fall/Miyako".

Disc 3, Cole's Songs focuses on the well-known songs of Cole Porter, but includes several that have faded into near obscurity, overlooked in the passing of time - "Don't Fence Me In" or "Let's Do It" - both treated to reflective insights by a pianist eager to inject new life into forgotten melodies.

This 3-dimensional portrait of Fred Hersch, blending careful consideration with "momentary impulse", places him in the front ranks of contemporary musicians. This is a solo performer not to be missed. Accompanying notes are excellent. JS

Nonesuch 79612-2

Marilyn Crispell - "Amaryllis"

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Over the years, pianist Marilyn Crispell has shared a strong affinity with the music of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, and McCoy Tyner, among others. Having worked with Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Karl Berger, and Roscoe Mitchell, her style reflected a natural propensity for exploratory complexity, almost ferocious intensity, and uncompromising atonality. From the opening bars of "Voice from the Past", we are aware, on this disc, that the avant-garde has taken a new twist. Best described as balladic, lyrical, impressionistic, focused, this musical approach is carried over into the careful and delicate probing of the title tune, the carefully structured "Requim", the gentle rhythmic "Conception Vessel"/"Circle Dance", and beyond. Though the compositions sound prearranged, they apparently weren't. The interplay of piano, bass - Gary Peacock, and drums - Paul Motian, results in beautifully improvised pieces, with the pianist playing against the pulse of her compatriots -especially on "December Greenwings", "M. E. (for Manfred Eicher)", or "Rounds". The pianist has sacrificed none of her valued principles here, but has gained a fresh perspective that only adds a further dimension to her already considerable talents. JS


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