June 2000


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

Back to Current Picks

Ranee Lee Presents - "Dark Divas, The Musical"

Ranee Lee presents "Dark Divas, the Musical" is the artist's seventh recording in the past sixteen years for Justin Time Records and the vocalist's most involved project to date. always surrounded by the "A-Team" of musicians such as Ray Brown, Milt Hinton, Oliver Jones and Guido Basso, the current group follow the established trend. Richard Ring - guitar, Tilden Webb - piano, Mike Downes - bass, Dave Laing - drums, Richard Beaudet - reeds, Abdul Al Khabyyr - trombone, and especially, Ron Di Lauro - trumpet, provide strong support for the vocalist. The creation of a musical written by Ms.Lee, as a stage production, is a dedication to seven of the twentieth century's mainstays in popular music. Here are a few of the highlights from the over two dozen selections interspersed appropriately with Ranee's introductory dialogues, on this almost two hour - two CD package. Josephine Baker's "J'ai Deux Amours", Billie Holiday's "Ill Wind", Lena Horne's "One For My Baby", Pearl Bailey's "Hello Dolly", Dinah Washington's "Makin' Whoopee", Sarah Vaughan's "If You Could See Me Now", and the almost thirty minutes dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald. Much credit for this fine, well structured production goes to everyone's arranger of choice, Rick Wilkins, who has come up with appropriate touches, as he has so many times previously, for everyone from Oliver Jones and Ann Murray to Oscar Peterson and Rob McConnell. Wilkin's creative writing runs from upbeat Dixieland, to tender solo guitar interludes. Finally, hats off to Justin Time's Jim West, for undertaking a record destined to become a desert island must. R.F.

Justin Time JUST 132/3-2 To Order

Bryan Lee - "Crawfish Lady"

"Crawfish Lady" is Bryan's first studio release in five years - his usual mix of everything from R&B to funk and good 'ol Chicago and Tennessee Blues,has this album jumping from the opening Leon Russell hit "Palace of the King",to the closer "Kiss My Ass For A Change", composed by organist Marc Adams. In-between are 9 Lee originals plus the title selection by Jermyn and Clark. A bonus is Justin Time's Ranee Lee providing background vocals on "Palace of the Night" and "Crawfish Lady". Solid playing and vocalizing throughout. R.F.

Justin Time JUST 134-2 To Order

Haunted Melodies - "Songs of Rahsaan Roland Kirk"

Sixteen premier musicans have assembled in various configurations to create some eclectic sounds of the late multi-talented reed man. Joe Lovano, Craig Handy, Jed Levy, Eric Alexander, John Stubblefield and Jimmy Greene split the tenor position. Donald Harrison, Justin Robinson and James Spalding on altos. Scott Robinson - baritone and Michael Marcus displays great talent on intruments that have Kirk's personal label, manzello and strich. A strong rhythm section of either Xavier Davis or Jackie Byard on piano, Dwayne Burns - bass and Nasheet Waits - drums. Some classic Kirk compositions such as "Serenade to a Cuckoo", "No Tonic Prez" and "Gifts and Messages" are given strong interpretations. A highlight is the solo piano work by pianist Byard on "Bright Moments". This late 1998 recording will be a welcome addition to any Kirk afficiando's library. R.F.

Metropolitan Records MR 1114 To Order

Eric Person and Meta-Four - "Extra Pressure"

On Eric Person's latest release, his fourth solo effort, he is backed up by his new group "Meta-Four".John Esposito - piano, Carlos Henderson - bass and E.J.Strickland - drums, lay down a good assortment of rhythms behind the saxophonist's ten original's and one terrific kicker, "Personal Blues", written by pianist Esposito. I hear shades of the 60's Coltrane with an updated 21st century sound in Person's approach to his first CD with "Meta-Four". A nice mid-Eastern flavour on "Fallout" and a sensitive feel on three ballads, "Song of September", "Special Someone", "Costellation-Pictures of Orion". The reed man's music keeps evolving with each subsequent album. Let's put on some "Extra Pressure" to hear more from Eric Person. R.F.

Distinct Records DR 4001 To Order

Bill Gilliam - "Urban Undercurrents"

Judging by the picture on the CD cover, Canadian pianist, Bill Gilliam is still a considerably young man. He has surrounded himself with two veteran players, Ernie Toller on sax and bamboo flute and Dave Young on bass, along with newer forces on the jazz scene, drummer Howard Gaul and a guest on four of the ten original Gilliam compositions, trumpet sensation, Lina Alemano. The CD "Urban Undercurrents" enables us to feel the various emotions first with Gilliam's catchy word descriptions on the otherwise scant liner notes,and with his subsequent treatment of his melodies. Some of the highlights are "Cat Walk" - (predatory humans in search of carnal delights), "Santina" (a charged atmosphere of mystery and Latin bravado), and "Alecia" (a young girl celebrates her name with a solo dance). Listen to the music and let your imagination run wild. R.F.

Independent MPBG - 001 To Order

Carol Akerson - "Duke is the 1"

Carol Akerson - vocals, Bob Winter - piano, John Lockwood - bass, Jim Gwin - drums, John Wheatley - guitar, Herb Pomeroy - trumpet and Mike Monoghan - reeds. Tribute Number 1001 to the Duke's first century but one that includes some rare or never recorded Ellington compositions. Ms. Akerson shows her writing skills,contributing the title selection and "At Dawn", inspired by Mr.E's "Morning Glory". Music by the "Junior Duke", Billy Strayhorn, "Chelsea Bridge", "Take the "A" Train", "Johnny Come Lately" with Carol's original lyrics and "I'm Checking Out", "Go'om Bye", a romper that Sweet Pea co-wrote with Ellington, plus Dave and Iola Brubeck's tribute of several decades ago, "The Duke", are included in the collection. Carol Akerson is a welcome new voice to my ears. Her fresh sound is reminiscent of Susannah McCorkle. The CD is a delight from start ot finish. R.F.

Baily Boy Records BB0429 To Order

John Mackay Trio - "Pearced Heart and Often Grin"

John MacKay - piano and synthesizer , Steve Zerlin and Wilber Krebs - bass, Paul Distel and Michael Aragon - drums. This former Torontonian has a had a varied career working with some of Canada's finest musicians, as well as Jim Carey, Roger Whttaker and Cab Calloway. Stints in New York and Boston preceded his move to California. His six originals coupled with Charlie Chaplin's "Smile", Dietz & Schwartz's "You and the Night and the Music", the Patti Page hit "Tennessee Waltz" and "Bye Bye Blackbird", make up a good, straight ahead effort by Mr.McKay. I particularly liked the lovely original ballad "And After So Long A Time". R.F.

Disk Digita Audio MIV 283 To Order

Jelena Ana Milcetic - "a.k.a. Helen Merrill"

At first glance one wonders, who is Jelena Ana Milcetic? On closer examination we find out that she is the daughter of Croatian immigrants from the town of Krk, who became jazz vocalist, Helen Merrill. The CD tells a "Folk Story" set to music. Backed by Steve Lacy, Gil Goldstein, George Mraz, Terry Clark, Torrie Zito and Sir Roland Hanna, Jelen/Helen has taken various selections written over the last 200 years. Judy Collins, Michel LeGrand and Maxwell Anderson share writing on the "newer" part of the repertoire.A wonderful vocalist, top musicians, but this album is not for everybody. I believe that the artist was on a nostalgia trip through songs to find her "roots". Some nice moments but a bit too much "digging" for my ears. "Lost in the Stars" did project Helen rather than Jelena. Come back Helen! R.F.

Gitanes Jazz 543-089 2 To Order