June 1998


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

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Miles Davis/Bill Laswell - "Panthalassa - The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974"

If you're wondering, as I was, what "reconstruction and mix translation" is, then allow me to explain. Basically it is remixing and collaging a piece of music, or pieces of music, as Bill Laswell has done on this recording. Sony/Columbia and the Miles Davis estate has obviously allowed Laswell to use three Miles recordings - "In a Silent Way", "On the Corner", and "Get Up With It" - to reconstruct and mix translate. Laswell does a great job in seamlessly blending sections of a piece and having it flow into another song. He has even re-mixed the sound of the original recordings and has made them slicker and cleaned up some of the sections sonically to bring out the layered effect of the instruments. Laswell was also able to get some never before heard alternate takes which he mixes into the collage.

This era (1969-1974) was important not only for Miles' career, but the music he put out in that period helped change music once again. He dove-tailed rock and jazz, brought a younger audience to jazz and blended fusion, funk and even explored hip hop to an extent almost twenty years before it was really even labeled. Many jazz writers seem to overlook or even looked down on his output from this era, which is a shame because it was very rich in experimentation.

My personal take on this "reconstruction and mix translation" is one of distaste. Why change something so historical. It's kind of like opening someone's coffin and rearranging the hair. This music was reactionary, bar 37 happened because of what happened in bars 27-36 etc….to take bar 37 and attach it to something else doesn't make sense musically. I personally think someone should go out and buy "Bitches Brew", "In a Silent Way", "On the Corner" and "Argartha" to get a real look into the brilliance of this music. (S.B.)

Columbia CK 67909 to order

Miles Davis - "The Complete Birth of the Cool"

RealAudio Sample
The innovative sound that Miles Davis brought to these sessions recorded in 1948-49-50 is welcome once again as an important reissue (this is the second time on CD) with some surprising tracks from, what I would look upon as "a live rehearsal before we go into the studios". The live tracks come from a date at the Royal Roost club in September of 1948, and despite the quality give the listener an idea of what this experiment was to offer. Listening to the studio recordings in comparison (January, April 1949 and March 1950) proves how this band was able to approach the tough charts and arrangements of Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Gil Evans and John Carisi.

All the solo work is exceptional (Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Miles, Kai Winding, John Lewis………), on both the studio and live dates. The Miles Davis Nonet certainly, in its very short existence, changed the path that jazz was to take in the 50's, and for those fans who collected this recording when it first became available this CD with the extra tracks is a must, and for those who want to explore the sounds of beginning of the "cool school" add this one to your collection. (H.H.)

Capitol Jazz CDP 7243 4 94550 2 3 to order

Bud Shank and Bill Perkins - "Bud Shank and Bill Perkins"

RealAudio Sample
Approximately four years after Miles Davis created the "cool" sounds of jazz on the East Coast; various like-minded artists created a distinctive West Coast sound. Gerry Mulligan took his piano-less quartet featuring Chet Baker into a club called The Haig and suddenly the jazz world focused its attention on Los Angeles. The music drew excited crowds into the Haig and other clubs; small independent record companies began to record the music, as in this hothouse atmosphere experimentation's became rife, and attempts to adapt the instruments and techniques of the concert hall to jazz were tried.

Such was the case with multi instrumentalist Bud Shank who collaborated with saxophonist Bill Perkins (both of these artists became featured soloists with another experimenter, Stan Kenton), to record an album of compositions with Hampton Hawes - piano, Red Mitchell - bass and Mel Lewis - drums on some tracks and with Russ Freeman - piano, Carson Smith - bass and Shelly Manne - drums, on others. Both saxophonists utilized their talents on flute, alto, tenor and baritone in different settings that resulted in some swinging sounds. Most of the tracks on this reissue come from the aforementioned release on Pacific Jazz label, but additional tracks with a different rhythm section comprising of Jimmy Rowles - piano, Ben Tucker or Leroy Vinnegar - bass and again Mel Lewis - drums are added to this CD to make for a superb collection of the history of modern West Coast Jazz. The sound, incidentally, is excellent. (H.H.)

Pacific Jazz CDP 7243 4 93159 2 1 to order

Jack Montrose - "The Jack Montrose Sextet"

RealAudio Sample
Two sessions from 1954 and 1955 make up this reissue with more examples of the intricacy of the West Coast arrangers, most of whom were beginning to spend a lot of time in the movie studios.

The recording is listed as the Jack Montrose Sextet, when in fact the first eight tracks do actually comprise of the Montrose Sextet (the complete recordings for Pacific in this setting as a leader…note: earlier material under his leadership was recorded for Atlantic and later sessions were released on Affinity and RCA), the other nine tracks on this release feature a Quintet which was initially released under Bob Gordon's name and does feature Montrose.

All of the recording technicalities aside, the music is as exciting today as it was when it was first released. Both Montrose (tenor) and Gordon (baritone) are most inventive in their solo work and the Sextet sessions are sparked by the addition of another front line with the presence of one of the Candoli (trumpet playing) brothers - Conte. The Sextet rhythm section consists of Paul Moer - piano, Ralph Pena - bass and Shelly Manne - drums. The Quintet has Moer back on piano, Joe Mondragon - bass and Billy Schneider - drums. Montrose as a composer combines classical techniques with jazz feeling. He favoured contrapuntal rather than vertical writing, but always managed to breathe a little more individuality into the scores.

"Listen, Hear" is a minor-key fugue that moves to major on the bridge, and Montrose's lines feel more natural than is usually the case in such attempts at cross-pollination. Of the remaining originals, "Speakeasy" and "Credo" are similar attempts to stretch the boundaries of jazz writing. Both use a technique that Montrose had introduced in a Chet Baker album earlier; the rhythm-section instruments carry the full weight of the composition's line; they are not used simply as timekeepers (although they do break into time behind the soloists). "Pretty", a ballad, is indeed - but Montrose keeps things from getting saccharin with a sprinkling of out-of-key chord changes. And "Some Good Time Blues" are just that also. There are three standards on the CD, and each gets a fresh treatment from Montrose that gives it the flavour of an original composition. "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" opens, for example, with a statement of the verse by bassist Ralph Pena. It is played as a ballad, while "Fools Rush In" and "That Old Feeling" are both taken at rapid clips. For a dip into the past that is an important document in any collection this is a recommended recording. (H.H.)

Pacific Jazz CDP 7243 4 93161 2 6 to order

Cy Touff - "His Octet & Quintet"

RealAudio Sample
In contrast to most of the recordings that were labeled "West Coast" and considered representative of the cool school this session is very similar in sound to that of the Count Basie Band, only much smaller in size.

From the Woody Herman Herd (1954) came a young energetic bass trumpeter Cy Touff, and when Pacific Jazz owner Richard Bock heard him he knew he had to record him, but finding the right setting and charts took some time. Johnny Mandel, a trombonist and veteran of the big bands (Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich and Count Basie), had recently left the Basie band and settled in Hollywood. When Herman came through Hollywood with an octet featuring Touff - in 1955 - it seemed to the right time for Bock to get everything together and record. Of course finding the right personnel had been established, and some of the very best musicians were hired. Harry Edison, Conrad Gozzo - trumpets, Richie Kamuca - tenor, Matt Utal - alto and baritone, Russ Freeman - piano, Leroy Vinegar - bass, and Chuck Flores - drums and of course Touff - bass trumpet made up the octet. For the quintet sessions Touff was accompanied by Richie Kamuca - tenor, Pete Jolly - piano, Leroy Vinnegar - bass and Chuck Flores - drums. Highlights from the octet date include "Keester Parade", a slow blues recorded elsewhere by Harry "Sweets" Edison as "Centerpiece". Edison starts things off with a relaxed yet blues-drenched solo in Harmon mute, and Touff and Kamuca - following a couple of solo choruses each - trade fours as the ensemble builds in a crescendo behind them. Russ Freeman also takes a typically understated solo. "TNT" is a medium up-tempo , and "Groover Wailin' " is way up; on both charts Mandel achieves the feeling of a big band in full cry despite the limited octet instrumentation. Ernie Wilkins did the arrangement of Duke Ellington's beautiful song "What am I here for?" The arrangement takes some liberties with Ellington's melody, but it is satisfying none the less.

The quintet sessions include "Half Past Jumping Time", a Neal Hefti tune, which is a medium-tempo swinger, as is a head arrangement of an original of Touff and Kamuca's titled "Primitive Cats". "Prez-ence" is a line based on Lester Young's solo (recorded on the Aladdin label) on "You're Driving Me Crazy". The two other performances by the quintet are "A Smooth One" (relaxed and easy), and "It's Sand, Man", a Count Basie composition that has the quintet playing in full steam.

These recordings are just a few of the many sessions that were done in and around Los Angeles during the period known as "West Coast" and bring to the fore some exceptional musicians in their prime, both playing and writing/arranging. Another worthy addition to your collection. Watch for more. (H.H.)

Pacific Jazz CDP 7243 4 93162 2 5 to order

Michael Brecker - "Two Blocks from the Edge"

This band sounds so great, strong proof of their being together on the road for a year and a half. Everyone is comfortable with the music, and Brecker is at his best on this recording and even after these years of being one of the greatest saxophonists in music, he is still probing and searching for new things in his playing. Jeff Watts is one of my favourite drummers and it's good to see him recording a bit more outside of the Marsalis camp, even though I love Branford's playing. Joey Calderazzo is without a doubt one of the brightest lights on the scene and continues to grow everytime I hear him and James Genus is a fabulous acoustic and electric bass player, who is one of the few guys that can do both on that kind of level. I recommend this release highly. (S.B.)

Impulse IMP-260 to order

The Dave Weckl Band - "Rhythm of the Soul"

Dave Weckl made his big international debut as a member of Chick Corea's Elektric Band in the eighties and has recorded with Eliane Elias, Mike Stern and Robert Plant just to name a few. He has also recorded as a leader several times on the GRP label. Although he has legions of drummers falling at his feet as if he were the Second Coming, he has left a lot of the musical community with a cold and sterile impression of him. In the last little while he implies that he has gone back to his roots and tried to get to the heart of the groove with much less "going for drumming history in every fill sort of drumming".

Having made these observations, on this recording he has some great sidemen - saxophonists Bob Malach and Steve Taraglione, guitarist Frank Gambale and some lesser-known musicians such as guitarist Buzz Feiten whose playing is very interesting. However the end result is a fairly sterile sounding session. "Access Denied" will give you some idea of what to expect. (S.B.)

Stretch SCD-9016-2 to order

Jimmy Raney - "But Beautiful"

When I think of how jazz has been marketed lately and how all the major labels are promoting; for the most part, very safe and retro sounding artists I always think of artists like Jimmy Raney, who was basically overlooked by the major labels and never fell into the right age of social circles. Raney was one of the few guitarists to be influenced by Django Reinhardt but come out of it with his own voice, and what a voice that was. Spending a few years with Stan Getz in the early 50's helped to boost his exposure, but in the 60's he spent most of his time working outside of music altogether. It wasn't until the 70's that he returned to the music scene with a series of recordings and live playing in the U.s. and Europe. It was Gerry Teekens (owner of Criss Cross) who became a major factor in getting Raney back to playing and recording. On this recording Raney is joined by George Mraz on bass and Lewis Nash on drums and the trio beautifully plays standards such as "Indian Summer", "Someone To Watch Over Me", "But Beautiful", "Long ago and far Away" plus others. At the time of this recording, Jimmy Raney was 65 (he passed away in 1997) and his playing has a little bit less fire than his older recordings but is certainly full of harmonic beauty and his playing is still nothing short of amazing. I highly recommend this CD. (S.B.)

Criss Cross 1065-CD to order

Carey Bell - "Good Luck Man"

Carey Bell, now in his early sixties, is one of the last links to the great generation of Chicago bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Big Walter Horton, all of whom, especially Big Walter, taught him a thing or two about playing harmonica. On this latest release, he both gives a nod to the past by covering tunes by Muddy Waters, Johnny Young, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon and Big Walter, all of whom he has played with at one time or another, and keeps the blues alive in the present with his own tunes, both instrumental features like "Bell Hop" and "Double Cross", but, most impressively, on the slower numbers like "Hard Working Woman" and "Teardrops". Carey Bell is one of the great blues harmonica players, and he is working with an excellent band, headed by his musical partner of the last decade, guitarist Steve Jacobs, and former Junior Wells pianist Johnny "Fingers" Iguana. His singing and lyrics on these last two numbers show that songwriting is not just an afterthought for Carey Bell, in fact, his own compositions are generally very strong. There's enough tired, derivative blues around that an album like "Good Luck" comes as a breath of fresh air and a reminder that it is still possible to make the blues form convey something authentic. (C.P.)

Alligator ALCD 4854 to order

Rob McConnell - "Brass My Soul & Tribute"

RealAudio Sample
Two exceptionally fine examples of early Boss Brass material finally get released on CD. Originally recorded in 1979 and 1980 these sessions capture the band in sparkling form as they swing through standards "You took advantage of Me", "Everything happens to Me", "Smoke gets in your Eyes", and originals by the leader McConnell "The Waltz I Blew for You", "Start with Mrs., Beanhart" plus jazz standards "Things are getting Better" (C.Adderely), "Blue Hodge" (Gary McFarland), "Blue Daniel" (Frank Rosolino) and "Wendy" (Paul Desmond). There is also a composition by John Tropea and David Spinoza "Twist of the Wrist". But two tracks that were on the original recording of "Tribute" "Peace/Blue Silver" and "My Bells" are omitted due to time limitations of the CD. I consider these tracks more important than a couple of other titles here, but the timing is generous regardless; most of the tunes are lengthy allowing us to hear stretched out solos by Guido Basso, Rick Wilkins, Jerry Toth, Don Thompson, Moe Koffman, Eugene Amaro, Sam Noto, Ed Bickert, Ian McDougall, and the leader Rob McConnell. Incidentally the "Brass my Soul" album was originally released as "Present Perfect". For fans of this great band in particular, and there are legions, and lovers of big bands in general I suggest you add this to your collection. (H.H.)

MPS 539 083-2 to order

Del Dako - "Vindaloo"

RealAudio Sample
The title " Vindaloo is a South Indian curry, always the hottest thing on the menu, but simple enough in its ingredients" (liner), and aptly describes the band heard here and the contents (tracks).

Multi-Instrumentalist Dako concentrates on the alto and baritone saxophones for the twelve tracks here, most of which are a mixture of jazz standards, old standards and originals, in that order of quantity. Del along with pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Duncan Hopkins and drummer Greg Pilo take us along a different route with their interpretation of well known tunes "Eiderdown", "Airegin", "Old Devil Moon", "Some Time Ago", "Blood Count", "Poinciana", "Along Came Betty", "Star Eyes", "Dolphin Dance" and three originals by Del "Taureau, Baby", "Blue Salami" (there is a very funny story about the title which can only be told by the leader himself) and "Spocnic".

Generously timed, beautifully recorded with ample helpings of hard driving intensity and energy by all members of the band this is a must for serious jazz lovers of all ages. (H.H.)

MAX MXR CD 001 to order

Dave Young - "Inner Urge"

RealAudio Sample
Bassist Young is always moving from one recording unit to another, constantly is exploring different ideas. Some of his best in recent years have been his piano/bass duo recordings with many of the best jazz pianists around, all whom he has worked with in one setting or another. (Three volumes of these sessions are available on the Justin-Time label).

Here he has recorded with a some-time working trio of Reg Schwager - guitar and Michel Lambert - drums plus special guest Gary Burton - vibes on three tracks - "Inner Urge", "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "Bolivia". There are four originals by Young, one by Antonio Carlos Jobim and one by Thad Jones.

Burton sounds very much at home with this unit and explores the material with a relaxed and swinging approach. Schwager is a guitarist who fits in well with any genre of jazz and shows his love of playing with brilliant ideas. Drummer Lambert listens attentively to the front line and extends a strong support at all times. The leader is without question one of the most important bassists on the scene; lithe, fresh and strong, powerful and resonant throughout. (H.H.)

Justin Time JUST 110-2 to order

Highly recommended CD's without reviews, star rated as follows:

***** Excellent
**** Good

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