May 2001


Hugh Ragin - "Fanfare & Fiesta"

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If you prefer your jazz slightly avante-garde,with lots of brass,tempered with a touch of classical trumpet arrangements, then look no further than this latest offering from Hugh Ragin. Rooted in the avante-garde tradition, Ragin has played with such notables as Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Cecil Taylor. On this recording, his second for the Justin Time label, he leads a band of four trumpeters, with the legendary Clark Terry on flugelhorn, and a rhythm sction that swings continuously, with impeccable timing.

Ragin is a fine bop player who is known for not playing it safe. He has a bright,warm, well-rounded sound and performs with energy, sometimes displaying Lee Morgan, Don Cherry influences. Clark Terry's humour and virtuosity is ever present on "Spaceman", a tune he wrote, depicting a conversation between a professor and a student. Together with the band he creates lines of sonic delight to entice the listeners. There are eight compositions on this CD, mostly written by Ragin. On "A Prayer for Lester Bowie", all four trumpeters (Ragin, Dontae Winslow, Omar Kabir, James Zollar) are locked in a very melancholy mood, as they play long lines of sombre tones in tribute to Ragin's lost friend, Lester Bowie.

The ever-present use of the wha-wha mute by Omar Kabir adds a new dimension and contributes nicely to a sense of warmth. This is a very interesting recording with avante sensibilities and pleasant surprises, including the inside/outside changes and sometimes bluesey swing. What is, to me, so satisfying and rewarding is the flow and looseness among the players, allowing them to find their own direction, while still managing a tight cohesive groove, resulting in a well made recording, one that I believe, belongs in everyone's collection. CS

Justin Time JUST 152-2

Various - "Finding Forrester"

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I haven't seen this Sean Connery movie, and it is therefore hard to justly criticize the music chosen to back the action. However, be that as it may, it is a weird group of compositions. Very dark throughout - ranging from five Miles Davis' offering mainly with his 1970's band of Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinal, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette and Airto Moreira - including almost 20 minutes of Zawinul's "Recollections" - either you love it or wonder what he's trying to say. Adding fuel is Ornette Coleman with two, "Happy House" and "Foreigner In A Freeland" - do you see a pattern forming?

Moving up to the late 1990's , guitarist Bill Frisell appears on two original quartet numbers, "Coffaro's Theme" and "Beautiful E", plus solos on his composition "Under A Golden Sky" and the chestnut "Over the Rainbow".

One track that I'd love to put in a shredding machine is the vocal reprise of "Over the Rainbow" along with "What A Wonderful World" performed by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole - maybe I'm getting old. RF

Columbia CK 85350

The Elliot Lawrence Big Band - "Swings Cohn and Kahn"

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In the late 1940's Elliot Lawrence Broza, known by his first two names, born on Valentine's day 1925 in Philadelphia, had one of the top post World War 11 bands with arrangers and sidemen such as Gerry Mulligan and Red Rodney.

He essentially gave up the road in the 1960's to direct and arrange for Broadway shows, including "Bye Bye Birdie" "How to Succeed in Business" and "Golden Boy", and T.V. specials such as the Emmy and Tony Awards.

Lawrence has done minimal recording for the past four decades, but happily these 24 tracks garnered from four Fantasy albums "Elliot Lawrence plays Tiny Kahn and Johnny Mandell Arrangements", "Swinging at the Steel Pier", "Plays for Swinging Dancers" and "Dream On", all recorded between 1956 and 1958 are re-produced here.

The band is made up of many of the Woody Herman alumni of the 1940's including two of the Woodchopper's "Four Brothers", featured on the album, saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Cohn and the late swing drummer, Tiny Kahn provide most of the arrangements along with the prolific composer, Johnny Mandel. Trumpeters Nick Travis and Ernie Royal, trombonists Urbie Green and Eddie Bert, along with the leader on piano, are heard to great advantage in various solo spots.

The late columnist George T. Simon and Lindley Hoppe?? have their original album notes reproduced. There is a good mix of such standards as "Blue Moon", "My Heart Stood Still", "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea", "Tenderley", "Moten Swing", "Jeepers Creepers" and "Walkin' My Baby Back Home", interspersed with some swinging originals, most of which are from the pen of Al Cohn.

To quote: "This compiliation provides some of the most stimulating big band music of the era". RF

Fantasy FCD-24761-2

David Leonhardt Jazz Group - "Plays Gershwin"

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David Leonhardt has been on the entertainment scene for many years, serving as musical director for vocalist Jon Hendricks, arranging for Art Blakey and Benny Carter, recording with Slide Hampton, Buddy Tate, Ron Carter et al, touring widely with his own Jazz Group. This is the fifth release as leader, featuring saxophonist Ralph Lalama, bassist Paul Rostock, drummer Tom Melito, and vocalist Nancy Reed. The Pennsylvania-based pianist fulfils a long-standing desire here to record an all-Gershwin CD, prompted by favourable response to his series of 'Gershwin Tribute' concerts. The performers offer a pleasing interpretative mix of tempi and moods, though always encompassing the melodic fidelity of the Gershwin lyrics. Nancy Reed's rich contralto voice is heard to advantage on the bouncy opener, "Summertime", is silky and polished with "The Man I Love", takes on a scatting bop flavour on "A Foggy Day". The trio/quartet sides reveal Leonhardt's versatility - delicately trading roles with the bass "But Not For Me", balladic and controlled "I've Got a Crush on You", easily shifting and rhythmic balance "Lady Be Good". The final piano/vocal duo "Our Love is Here to Stay" presents a tender interplay of Gershwin's last work. JS

Big Bang Records BBR9569

Bud Powell - "Jazz Giant"

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Bud Powell is one of the true giants of the jazz piano. He was very instrumental in the creation of bebop, and his music could change the piano playing of generations to follow. Bud's playing can be described as breathtaking, touching and sometimes ferocious. The music on this CD was taken from two sessions for the Norgran (Norman Granz) label, in the spring of 1949 and winter of 1950, and represented his debut as a leader.

These recordings showcase the master bebop pianist in trio performances accompanied by Curley Russell or Ray Brown on bass and Max Roach on drums. Together they have created a collection of remarkable, soothing, wonderful music. "Tempus Fugue-It (Tempus Fugit)" sets the mood with Bud's usual fast-paced runs, and moves very smoothly through to the elegant and delicate "Celia", a tune named after Bud's daughter. His musical ability and refined tones are evident on "Yesterdays" which is the only solo track.

For the most part,the selections on this offering are all standards; from Ray Noble's haunting "Cherokee" to the ever pleasing "Sweet Georgia Brown", and the revitalized full-tilt version of "Get Happy", an affirmation maybe, of his mental state of mind. This is a fine, and very rewarding recording, led by one of the most innovative and creative pianists in the history of jazz. Bud plays with vibrancy, and displays a shining spirit, with a relenting sense of energy that is most evident on the up-tempo numbers.

This well-packaged re-issue, with some new and informative liner notes, will surely add value to your collection of jazz in general, and jazz pianists in particular. CS

Verve 314 543 832-2

Brad Mehldau - "Places"

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Based in Los Angeles now, pianist Brad Mehldau made his recorded debut (1995) following an extensive touring stint with the Joshua Redman aggregation. His own compositions incorporate a host of influences from classical, rock, and jazz. On this disc (2000), pieces inspired by his many road journeys take on a thematic unity "...more representative of something constant throughout that travelling..." than mere "...programmatic pictures of where they were written". The opening Los Angeles theme and its final reprise frame the set. Elements are often altered, transposed, or inverted as the work progresses. Despite the composer's intent, this listener finds it dificult not to seperate the parts from the whole,choosing instead to linger on a cosmopolitan city of contrasts bathed insummer light "Madrid", medieval ramparts perched snugly in the Austrian Tyrol "Schloss Ellmau". Perhaps the music validates the 'sehnsucht' expressed in both viewpoints. Long time compatriots Larry Grenadier - bass and Jorge Rossy - drums coalesce beautifully throughout. JS

Warner Bros CDW 47693

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - "Classic Ellington"

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A high profile of jazz figures join forces with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (directed by Simon Rattle) in a programme of Ellington/Strayhorn compositions, arranged and orchestrated here by Luther Henderson, selections ranging over a period from the 1930's to the 1960's. Intended as a "...celebration of the spirit of Ellington...", the music captures that quintessential Ellington voice without attempting to maintain strict fidelity to the recorded performances. The interpretative freedom given musicians is borne out from the opening solos by trumpeter Clark Terry, reedmen Bobby Watson, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, and violinist Regina Carter on "Take the A Train", to the closing "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" (by Mercer Ellington). The magic of Lena Horne weaves sensitive renditions of "You're the One", "Something To Live For", and "Maybe". As well, symphonic soloists contribute admirably to the classical/jazz mix, notably on "Ad Lib on Nippon" (Colin Parr - clarinet), and "Solitude in Transblucency" (Andrew Barnell - bassoon/Richard Simpson -oboe). I think Ellington would have enjoyed this. JS

Blue Note / EMI Classics 7243 57014 2 8

Bill Charlap - "Written in the Stars"

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It's difficult to dispute the liner note comment by Joel Moss on this recent NYC disc by ex-Mulligan sideman Bill Charlap: "He tells musical ways lyrically rich and emotionally captivating, with the freshness of passionate discovery, while showing ultimate respect for the material". Accompanied by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, pianist Bill Charlap imbues a string of familiar standards with a unique blend of sophisticated swing and imaginative insight. Though he may fragment melodic lines, there is nothing extraneous to his interpretative approach, balancing the shifting rhythms with a delicacy of touch on "In The Still Of The Night" or "Blue Skies", gently playing over a Latin beat to "Where or When", or introspectively and dramatically understating "The Man That Got Away". Ironically, his "On A Slow Boat To China" is a study in rapid keyboard dexterity. Charlap dedicates the CD to his father, adding a touching "I'll Never Go There Anymore" by Moose Charlap to his programme. JS

Blue Note 7243 5 27291 2 8

Art Pepper - "The Hollywood Sessions"

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Art Pepper's recorded legacy is large, and each recording is a lesson for any would-be saxophonist to study.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's Art had made a tremendous comeback on the performing front, with numerous tours as a leader, and a vast number of recordings in the studio and on location at his club dates and concerts.

Although at this time he was under contract to Fantasy (Galaxy), after a very successful series of exceptional recordings for the Contemporary label, he was approached by a small Japanese label Atlas to record a series of sessions with West Coast musicians performing mainly standard compositions. The Japanese market for jazz at this time appeared to enjoy standard tunes done by both insrumentalists and vocalists, and Art, having toured Japan with his own group, was a very popular artist of the Japanese jazz fan.

Because of the exclusive contract with Galaxy, Art could not record as a leader with any other label, but for the Atlas sessions he was listed as a sideman, but he chose the bands, okayed the cuts, and was paid more than the other members.

The Atlas label released close to forty albums, under the umbrella title of "... and his West Coast Friends", some of those leaders included Canada's Don Thompson, Bobby Shew, Lew Tabackin, and the artists who appear on these 5 CD's, Bill Watrous, Jack Sheldon, Pete Jolly, Sonny Stitt, Shelly Manne and Lee Konitz.

The recordings took place between 1979 and 1982 and were released in Japan only on LP format, and some of these did show up in North American speciality record stores as very important imports. The quality was most impressive, as were almost all of the Japanese imports, which included re-issues of many of the great recordings from the 50's/60's on Prestige, Riverside etc.

The five CD's in this box set include "Bill Watrous and his West Coast Friends" from March of 1979 with Watrous, Pepper, Russ Freeman, Bob Magnusson and Carl Burnett. "Angel Wings (1980) - Jack Sheldon and his West Coast Friends" with a rhythm section of Milcho Leviev, Tony Dumas and Carl Burnett. "Strike Up the Band" with Pete Jolly, Magnusson, Burnett. Two Sonny Stitt releases - (1980) - "Groovin' High" with Lou Levy, Chuck Domanico, and Carl Burnett, and "Blues, Blow & Ballade" with Russ Freeman, John Heard, Burnett. On these two sessions Art and Sonny switch to tenors for one tune"Lester Leaps In". "Hollywood Jam -Shelly Manne and his Hollywood All-Stars" (1981) features Watrous, Bob Cooper, Jolly, Monty Budwig, and Manne. The Lee Konitz session "High Jingo". from 1982 has on board Mike Lang, Magnusson and John Dentz. Both Art and Lee play altos except for the tune "The Shadow of Your Smile" where Art switches to clarinet.

All in all there are 52 tracks in the box set, including some alternates and a couple of unissued. Art plays his heart out on every tune, and commands attention with each solo, having no limitations to his improvisation. The Japanese producer came into the studio with a list of artists and tunes, wanting to re-create the music of the fifties as it was played then, but..... "Art didn't really play as he had 20, 30 years earlier. It wasn't in him to imitate anyone, even himself" (liner).

The Art Pepper/Lee Konitz date was the last of the Atlas sessions. Five months later, in June of 1982, Art passed away. He told his wife Laurie, he was satisfied, he had done everything he had to do.

Laurie produced this compilation and wrote the liner notes, which reveal in depth the individual recording dates, the fun, the love of the music and the friendship Art had with his fellow musicians. Regardless of how much Art Pepper you have in your collection, this is one you just have to obtain. HH

Galaxy 5GCD-4431-2

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