May 2000


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

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Billie Holiday - "The Best of Billie Holiday"

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"The Best of..." often generates a certain amount of debate, especially among hard core fans of an artist. There is little doubt that the period between 1935 to 1944 captures the essence of Holiday at her most creative, a voice not yet sorely afflicted by the ravages of time and drug abuse. Drawn from a cross-section of sources, the scope of performances here with Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton, Eddie Heywood, and those under her own name constitutes some of the "best of" her earlier output. Even the single Artie Shaw side of "Any Old Time" (labelling her simply as "Billy"), or the 1942 Paul Whiteman rendition of "Trav'lin' Light (designating her as "Lady Day") fit that criterion. The sound quality of transfers is excellent. Having said this, one wonders why the 20 sides could not have been issued on a single CD rather than as a double disc package. For Holiday samplers only! J.S.

Intersound 1154 To Order

Louis Armstrong - "Love Songs"
Dave Brubeck - "Love Songs"

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Record companies are coming up with inventive ways of recycling their catalogues of older material. In this case, Columbia co-ordinates its subsequent releases with the birthdates of trumpeter/vocalist Louis Armstrong (July, 1900) and pianist/composer Dave Brubeck (December, 1920), focussing on the romantic aspects of their extensive recorded outputs. Armstrong the balladeer/scat-singer is featured on 15 numbers, 6 from the 1929-30 period and the balance from 1955-1061, including two with Carmen McRae and the Brubeck trio, and a previously unissued 1958 Newport session "Ko Ko Mo, I Love You So". The Brubeck disc covers the range from 1954 to 1967, with 7 of the 10 selections highlighting the popular quartet grouping with Paul Desmond (alto), Eugene Wright (bass), Joe Morello (drums). As well, Brubeck's solo piano "In Your Own Sweet Way", an earlier quartet (1954) number (bassist Bob Bates/drummer Joe Dodge) and a previously unissued release (1963) with old friend, clarinettist Bill Smith, in place of Desmond "You Go to my Head" round out the proceedings. Liner notes provide a good perspective on these two artists, each a worthy recipient of such a celebratory tribute in this special year. J.S.

Columbia CK 62219 To Order

Columbia CK 66029 To Order

Dave Frishberg - "You're a Lucky Guy"

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It has been suggested that the music of pianist/vocalist/songwriter Dave Frishberg follows in the tradition of Hoagy Carmichael, Mose Allison, or Blossom Dearie. Be that as it may, his powerful sense of swing, fostered early in such aggregations as Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, or Herb Alpert, sets him apart. On this 1978 re-release, with compatriots Al Cohn (tenor), Bob Brookmeyer (trombone) and a rhythm section of Nick Ceroli (drums) and Jim Hughart (bass), that accelerated explosiveness is evident on such numbers as "Truckin'" and "P-Town", while Frishberg creatively reworks the standards "That Old Feeling", ":Cheerful Little Earful", or "I Surrender Dear", the latter with an expressive tenor solo, always mindful of that element of swing.Especially noteworthy is the quintet's handling of Frishberg's "Saratoga Hunch" with its succession of crisp solos by piano, tenor and trombone. A caveat for the buyer, however: total playing time is 37 minutes. J.S.

Concord CCD-4074-2 To Order

P.J. Perry and The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra - "P.J.Perry"

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Alberta-born saxophonist, P.J. Perry, has been a performing jazz artist for four decades both abroad and across North America, fronting his own bands and playing in countless others. On this 1999 disc, set in a symphonic context (arranged and orchestrated by Rick Wilkins) with special guests Mark Eisenman (piano), Neil Swainson (bass), and Bob Tildesley (solo trumpet), he explores the range, timbre, and texture of his instrument with a carefully charted programme of chosen numbers and medleys that offer opportunities for wide mood swings from gentle ballads "Django", undulating Latin rhythms "Bossa Nova Medley", to scintillating bop progressions "They Kept Bach's Head Alive"/"Strike Up the Band". In addition, orchestra and sax establish a moody rapport for the Mussorgsky-Ravel "The Old Castle". J.S.

Justin Time JTR 8481-2 To Order

Kurt Ellenberger Trio - "Songs from Far West"

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Recorded in the acoustically sensitive chapel of Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), the trio of Ellenberger (piano), David Dunn (bass), and Dane Richardson (drums) presents a unique programme of highly lyrical pieces, five of which are original compositions, ranging from the subdued impressionistic beauty of "Larkspur in Aspen", the dramatically atmospheric "Herr Mann's Fell'd", to the fanciful transitions of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" or the more rhythmical,free-flowing lines in "Internal Presence" and "Far West". A transcripted version of Paul Hindemith's "Noblissima Visione", a choreographic legend, replete with stark contrasts and grave beauty, and an inventive, imaginative interpretation of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" round out the session. Ellenberger's classical roots seem evident though one wants to draw inevitable comparisons - Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Joachim Kuhn. Each member of the group is meticulously attuned to the shifting nuances of the others throughout. Unfortunately, liner notes are noteworthy for their paucity of information about the performers. J.S.

A-Records AL73163 To Order

Grabowiecki/Coryell/Bird - "Live at the Oasis Lounge"

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Western Ontario is served by the trio of Witold Grabowiecki (piano), Randall Coryell (drums), and Jeff Bird (bass), recorded live in the Oasis Lounge located in Waterloo, Ontario (1998). No further information is offered (an apparent Canadian phenomenon with liner notes). However, the calibre of performance, gently swinging and relaxed, is appealingly high, the group reminiscent at times of those early Ahmad Jamal dates at Chicago's Hotel Pershing. Moreover, the choice of selections include several seldom heard works - a beautifully refined, polished version of Victor Young's lyric piece "Beautiful Love", and a finely detailed rendition of Miles Davis's "Flamenco Sketches". Grabowiecki's ease of delivery coupled with the subtly controlled rhythmic support (catch their "Angel Eyes"!) make this a disc to enjoy many times. J.S.

DROG 0059 To Order

Jay Boehmer - "Don't Look Back"

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Saxophonist Pat LaBarbera joins the quartet of Jay Boehmer (percussion), Michael Barber (keyboard), Kevin Barrett (guitar), and Maury LaFoy (bass), on 4 of the 10 selections, recorded at Puck's Farm in Scomberg, Ontario (1999). All compositions are Boehmer originals. No information is provided about the members of the quartet. Certainly, the presence of the sax on such numbers as the propulsive opener "Lifetime", the soulful lyricism of "Done It All", or the improvisational spontaneity of "Nomad" adds a rich sonority to their progression. However, the quartet itself, with a firm sense of line generated by Boehmer, is impressive, lightly swinging through the measured pace of "The Dark Horse" and "Don't Look Back", discurvely pursuing the melodic side of "The Key to the Heart", or backing the insistent pulse in "Sketch No.1". Each member shines as an accomplished solo performer as well. It's a pity we don't know more about them. J.S.

JBJ 002 To Order

Yannick Rieu - "Little Zab"

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Sponsored by the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec, the quartet of saxophonist Yannick Rieu, Frederic Alarie or Guy Boisvert (bass), Sylvain Provost (guitar), and Philippe Soirat (drums) offer a mixed programme of standards and original pieces. A deficiency of information about the personnel again seems a distinguishing characteristic of Canadian discs. Nonetheless, the musical palette is rewardingly delineated with tonal colouration and textural surprises. Against a sensitive, multi-rhythmic backdrop, Rieu (Konitz-like at times) explores changes to "Omiya 11" or playfully toys with the theme to "It's only a Paper Moon", punches out a torrid "Omiya 1", melds with guitar on the balladic "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" or "My One and Only Love". Highlighted too are the rarely heard "Voir un Ami Pleurer" (Jacques Brel) and a fancifully evocative interpretation of Chaplin's "Smile". Recommended for multiple playings. J.S.

Effendi Records FND 007 To Order

Wynton Marsalis (& Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) - "Big Train"

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It's a fanciful concept, an extended tribute to the memories of a once popular form of travel now in danger of being swallowed by the advance of time and technology. Memorable early band numbers, linked to transportation by train, come to mind - Ellington's "Take the A-Train", Basie's "Super Chief", Bob Crosby's "Smokey Mary", or Morton's "Cannonball Ball Blues", to name a few. Captured from powerful wheels grinding into action to the final fade of caboose, the journey here is presented as a continuum, a composite view of the life and sounds one might experience - the whistle stops, the groans and screeches of the wheels against a changing landscape, the relaxation of the dining-car, the regularity of motion by night. Marsalis' 12 segment composition is given an exciting and polished treatment by the orchestra on this 1998 CD. Highly recommended. J.S.

CK 69860 To Order