May 1998


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Jim Hall - "Panorama, Live at the Village Vanguard"

Jim Hall never fails to amaze. Here is a guitarist who is 68 years old and still searching and challenging himself to reach new ground. This particular recording is a live outing featuring Hall's trio, Scott Colley - bass and Terry Clarke - drums joined by five guests - pianists Kenny Barron and Geoff Keezer, alto saxophonist Greg Osby, trombonist Slide Hampton and flugelhorn player Art Farmer. All of the songs are originals by Hall except for one written by his wife Jane, and were written specifically for each guest.

The material runs from pretty straight-ahead to a little outside, but all remain true to Hall's expressive, searching self. This is a most enjoyable recording, and a must for any guitar enthusiast and those who appreciate great music beautifully performed by a like-minded player who is not afraid to push the boundaries. (S.B.)

Telarc 83408 to order

Marc Johnson - "The Sound of Summer Running"

This fantastic recording features Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell on guitars, Joey Baron - drums as well as the leader on bass. Johnson has always seemed to like the two guitars, bass and drum combination. First with his two Bass Desires recordings from the eighties featuring the guitars of John Scofield and Bill Frisell and then his Right Brain Control band of the nineties which featured the guitars of Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkle.

On this new recording the sound is a lot more Midwestern and song oriented with the length of tunes coming in at around the four and a half to six minute mark. Johnson wrote seven out of the ten songs with Frisell writing two and Metheny one. The music is really written to feature the interplay between Frisell and Metheny (this being the first recording where the two play together) and they both rise to the occasion. Neither guitarist overplays nor each tries to blend with the other without ever losing their strong identities.

I am convinced that this is an important recording to own not only because it features four very influential musicians but also as a recording it is a piece of art and shows that the word "jazz" should mean creating not "re-creating". (S.B.)

Verve 314 539 299-2 to order

Valery Ponomarev - "A Star for You"

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The Russian born trumpeter, who worked with the hard bop master Art Blakey in 1976 (a dream come true for Valery), here demonstrates that he still carries the flame that Blakey always had lit in his bands. The drummer on this date is Billy Hart, who drives the quintet, at times demonically, and whose solos are strong lessons for any aspiring drummer.

The tenor player, Bob Berg, swings hard, but to these ears, attempts to squeeze too many notes into his solo space. Every track consists of extended solos, but not one is remotely threatened to exhaust the player's inventiveness. As well as being a gifted instrumentalist, Ponomarev is a talented composer and six of the seven tracks are from his pen. The only standard being "We'll be together Again" (the longest track at 10:36). Other members of the band are Sid Simmons - piano and Ken Walker - bass. For lovers of the hard bop school with a 90's touch. (H.H.)

RSR CD 150 to order

John Scofield - "A Go Go"

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Scofield dips into the funk and grease here with one of the most exciting trios in jazz today, Billy Martin, John Medeski and Chris Wood, and they prove to the perfect backup band for John's statements. The versatility of the rhythm section never ceases to please, especially on the title track and "Kubrick", "Chicken Dog" and "Boozer". I would have liked a ballad or two, but regardless I am glad this session came to fruition. (H.H.)

Verve 314 539 979-2 to order

Nnenna Freelon - "Maiden Voyage"

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Recipient of both the Billie Holiday Award (France) and the Eubie Blake Award, twice nominated for Grammy honours, vocalist Nnenna Freelon turns her sights on the creation of an album message - "a joyous celebration of feminine spirit and passion". Material is drawn from a wide range of lyricists/composers - Nina Simone, Sippie Wallace, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Blossom Dearie, Marian McPartland, et al --with two Freelon originals, "Future News Blues" and "Sing Me Down", the latter a tender and moving ballad with traditional refrain. The thematic core centres on broad issues: the environment, personal freedom, human relationships, and the future. The vocalist exhibits a wide range, a controlled power and inflection capable of expressing variable shades of emotion. The instrumental support --notably Michael Abene (piano/arranger), Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet/soprano sax), Joe Beck (guitar), and Herbie Hancock (guest pianist on the title tune) - complements both the tempo swings and dramatic shifts of this varied programme. (J.S.)

Concord 4794-2 to order

Gary Burton - "Astor Piazzolla Reunion"

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For decades now, Gary Burton has been a catalyst for musical innovation, whether it is country, rock, jazz or classical. It is not surprising that his eclectic pursuits should have led to a friendship and artistic bond with the Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla. This present disc, recorded in Buenos Aires (1996) with some of Piazzolla's associates, serves as a fitting tribute to the mutual respect they shared. Twelve of the thirteen works are Piazzolla compositions, ranging from the tight tango rhythms with sudden tempo/mood swings ("Triunfal"/"La Muerte de Angel"), spirited and percussive patterns ("Tanguedia"/"Lunfardo"), to gentle, romantically lyrical pieces such as "Soledad" or the rarely heard "Romance del Diablo".

Burton's vibes is never out of place in this context, adding a jazzy touch as well to "Allegro Tangabile" or "Decarismio". The final number, recorded in 1970 by the solo bandoneon of Piazzolla, has been electronically reconstructed to include Burton in a virtual duet performance - a time warp meeting indeed, but truly " a conversation between friends" (liner). (J.S.)

Concord 4793-2 to order

David Mott - "The Sky Ringing in an Empty Bell"

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Saxophonist, composer, teacher David Mott draws upon his many interests - the martial arts, shamanic and healing aspects of music, non-western concepts - in fashioning nine original compositions for this 1997 CD, all for baritone saxophone solo performance. Despite what you hear, there is no overdubbing or electronic manipulation, though some close miking and amplification have been employed. Works are not notated so that freedom of presentation of presentation is ensured at each playing. The music brings a heightened awareness of the extended range and capabilities of a single instrument - hauntingly delicate and ethereal ("Regarding Starlight", smoothly mellow and distinctive ("Serge Chaloff in Memoriam"), percussively resonating ("A Little Small Talk"), fostering "presound sound" ("Meditation 2"), or capturing the continuous flow of "circular breathing" with its consequent emotional impact on the listener. Though this may not be to everyone's musical satisfaction, it is a fascinating insight into the motivations and passions that prompt the discovery of new musical vistas. (J.S.)

YFA 00596 to order

Jay McShann - "Hootie's Jumpin' Blues"

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Oklahoma-born, Kansas City-inspired pianoman, Jay McShann, links up with the Duke Robillard band between sessions at the Edmonton Folk Festival in a CD programme mainly of McShann compositions, many dating back to the early 40's when swing was the thing and Charlie Parker was only in embryonic stages of development as a sideman in the orchestra. It's a relaxed uncomplicated KC sound, with soloists such as trumpeter Bob Tildesley ("Confessin' the Blues"), tenorman Gordon Beadle ("Hootie Blues", baritone Dave Babcock ("Jumpin' the Blues"), or guitarist Robillard ("Hootie's Ignorant Oil") working over an insistent riff-driven ensemble backdrop. Jay's piano and vocals, blues-based and swinging, are still fresh and appealing, especially on "Hands Off" and "Hootie Blues", and the piano/guitar duet on Edmond Hall's "Profoundly Blue" is a highlight. A 21-minute bonus track is offered with Jay soloing and reminiscing in interview format. (J.S.)

Stony Plain 1237 to order

Mike Westbrook - "Bar Utopia"

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Composer/pianist Mike Westbrook remains a kind of musical maverick whose explorative sorties into the worlds of theatre; poetry and music have led to multi-faceted works, which defy boundaries. This 1996 CD, recorded in London, England, was initially premiered at the Bath International Festival in May of 1995 as a big band jazz cabaret. Vocalists Kate Westbrook and John Winfield present lyrics by Helen Simpson in an orchestral setting directed by the pianist. The opening "Overture", a saxophone quartet with undertones of Jelly Roll Morton's "The Chant", anticipates the dramatic mood swings, both instrumentally and lyrically, to follow in this Utopia which is nowhere yet anywhere. The range of topics and people one might encounter in a bar is aptly captured in such segments as the bitter, self-serving "Utopia Blues", the jaunty "Dialogue" of differing opinions (cleverly conveyed by sax & trombone as well), the brassy, assertive "Happy Jazz Singer" whose inhibitions seem to have been discarded by the glass, to the final jazzy "Bar Utopia", where opinions remain unresolved but manageable (with lovely strains of cello and tenor intricately interwoven). Though it probably works better on the stage, the concept comes across well on disc. Kudos to all! (J.S.)

Enja 9333-2 to order

Aura Borealis - "I Found Love Again"

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If you're looking for a songstress with the clarity of a Barbara Cook, the range and control of a Cleo Laine, the emotional impact of a Lena Horne, the swinging vitality of an Ella, I believe I've found one for you. Her name is Aura Borealis (or Aura, or Aura Rully, if you prefer), and her 1997 CD, recorded in Toronto with husband Ron Rully on drums, Dave Field on bass, and Bernie Senensky at the piano, showcases all of those qualities in 17 works including 5 of her own compositions. Additional highlights include excellent support from tenorman/flutist Michael Stuart ("I Found Love Again"/"La Vie en rose"), trumpeter Jack Long ("Crazy He Calls Me"), and vibist Paul Hoffert ("Beautiful Love"). Aura's classical training and experience with the likes of Ellington, Quincy Jones and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis undoubtedly have been variables in shaping her style and approach; however, there is no denying the matchless articulation and seamless shift of mood, pitch and tone evident in everything she has chosen to vocally explore here. You won't be disappointed! (J.S.)

Aura 10 to order

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

***** Excellent
**** Good

Rating Artist Title Label & Cat. No.

**** Shirley Eikhard Going Home Artisan Music 57890 2 1
**** Joel Miller Playgrounds Justin Time JTR 8467-2
***** Johnny Griffin Live/Autumn Leaves Verve 523 261-2
***** Charlie Haden/Gonzalo Rubilcaba/Paul Motian The Montreal Tapes Verve 537 670-2
***** Eric Alexander Full Range Criss Cross 1098 CD
***** Greg Gisbert On Second Thought Criss Cross 1116 CD
**** Ray Brown Trio with Ulf Wakenus Summertime Telarc CD-83430

**** Mark Isham Afterglow Columbia CK 67929

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