November 2002


Louis Armstrong - "And His Friends"

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Although Louis Armstrong, affectionately known as "Pops" will always be remembered for his influential triumph on the trumpet, he was also a vocal titan with the ability to find sustenance in the seemingly most unlikely lyrics that he would often refer to as our songs. This CD is a ten-song menu of 'Pops ' vocal artistry, and was recorded a year prior to his death in 1971. Unable to play the trumpet because of failing health, he somehow managed to leave his tribute to the grace he always brought to his singing. For this particular session he was assisted by many of his friends including James Spaulding, Oliver Nelson, George Duvivier and Leon Thomas. The programme opens with a gospel-soul arrangement of the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" accompanied by backing voices. Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is given an enhanced treatment by the flute playing of James Spaulding. The range of material here is wide and includes the pop anthems "Give Peace a Chance", the film tune "Everybody's Talking About Me", the traditional "Boy from New Orleans" (which gets a new treatment when sung to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In"). Even though 'Pops' had lost his ability to inhibit the song and demonstrate his uncanny sense of phrasing, and considering the magic lost by the absence of his unforgettable gravelly voice, this recording is still vintage 'Pops' and will be welcome by his many fans worldwide. This is indeed a happy session and it is evident that 'Pops' was having a good time singing with his friends. C. S.

Bluebird 09026-63961-2

Lionel Hampton - "Ring Dem Bells"

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The late Lionel Hampton was a legendary bandleader and an extraordinary musician with a career spanning over 6 decades. Born in 1913 of musical parents he was given an early exposure to religious education, which included church music, and participation in a prize-winning drum and bugle core. His rise to musical fame was rapid and after a stint with Benny Goodman, he went on to leading his own bands, which included such greats as Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus and Quincy Jones. Hampton was a very accomplished and versatile musician and was without any doubt the undisputed King of the Vibraphone. Not only is that fact quite evident in this recording, it also presents an opportunity to hear his explosive drumming, amazing two finger piano solos and engaging vocals.

"Ring Dem Bells" is just one in the series of reissue releases by RCA on the Bluebird label. This 16-selection programme contains some of the most joyous swinging, foot stomping music that has ever been recorded. The title track "Ring Dem Bells" features Hampton's magnificent vibes and vocal along with the cool sound of Johnny Hodges alto saxophone and some brilliant trumpet work by Cootie Williams. "When Lights Are Low", a tune written by Benny Carter is given the royal treatment with jazz greats Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Charlie Christian. Nat "King " Cole and his trio join Hampton for a blazing up-tempo rendition of "Jack the Bell Boy". The programme ends very appropriately with Hampton's anthem "Flying Home" featuring the lyrical playing of Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone. I would imagine that these recordings were picked mostly for fun listening, which is a seemingly wonderful way of remembering the great Lionel Hampton. C. S.

Bluebird 09026-63966-2

David Sanchez - "The Departure"

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David Sanchez encounter with the tenor saxophone began when he was only 12 years old. His first influences were Afro Caribbean music and Latin jazz, later he became very interested in the works of Miles Davis and john Cultrate. In 1992, he met the late Dizzy Gillespie who engaged him for the United Nations Orchestra; Gillespie became one of his greatest influences.

"The Departure" marks Sanchez's debut as a leader. Although he was only 25 at the time of this recording, he had already developed a very distinctive tone, and a masterful ability to mix bop with Latin jazz. His ability as a composer is also very evident, having written seven of the twelve tracks on this CD.

The opening tune "Ebony", written as a tribute to the late Art Blakey features a trumpet/tenor interplay with a loose bouncy up-tempo feeling, while Dizzy Gillespie's "Woodyn' You" is given a slow Latin treatment. Other tunes worth mentioning are Danilo Perez's "Santander", which reflects a kind of Wayne Shorter/Miles Davis interaction, and the rhythmic two-horn harmonies treatment given to Jimmy Heath's "CJ". Trumpeter Tom Harrell's versatile and sensitive playing adds an additional dimension to the already talented band of Milton Cardona - percussion, Danilo Perez - piano. Peter Washington and Andy Gonzalez share the bass work on different tracks as do drummers Peter Washington and Leon Parker. Although Sanchez's playing is not straight ahead and hard riving, he is an innovator who is breaking boundaries. This is a well-balanced recording with something for everyone, a signal that Sanchez on this recording done in 1993/94 and recently reissued, had arrived. C.S.

Columbia CK 86636

Lena Horne - "The Young Star"

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Lena Horne is a legendary singer with a successful career in songs and films that has lasted for 64 years, longer than any other singer in the business. She became an international star at the age of 18, when she made her singing debut with the Noble Sissle Orchestra. This ageless beauty was never a jazz singer; she never improvised, and often lacked the phrasing and interpretation of a jazz singer. Instead, she was a superior singer, who sang popular music in a popular and acceptable style. This recording is a mixture of blues, dance and show tunes reminiscent of the forties.

Horne possesses a tone that is both light and clear, and she sings with a sophisticated sense of rhythm, timing and phrasing, as demonstrated on "The Man I Love" and "What Is This Thing Called Love". And check out the wonderful treatment she gives to the old standard "Stormy Weather". This is a tune that was recorded on her first RCA Victor sessions, and would soon become the anthem of her career. Horne has built an international fan base over the years, and the Bluebird series may well be the easiest and safe way of exploring the songs that have made her a legend. C.S.

Bluebird 09026-63964-2

Lonnie Liston Smith - "Astral Travelling"

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Lonnie Smith was born in Richmond, Virginia. As young musician he gained valuable experience working with the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and the legendary Betty Carter. This recording, his first as a leader was done in 1973 and has been unavailable for some time, finally getting reissued on the Bluebird label with four previously unreleased tracks. Listening to this recording it is obvious that Smith has a passion for all things spiritual, and has enlisted the services of a talented and capable band known as The Cosmic Echoes to help him achieve this passion, the group includes George Baron - tenor, Joe Beck - guitar, David Lee Jr - drums and Cecil McBee - bass.

"Astral Travelling" is a work that was ahead of its time; signaling the beginning of the fusion/crossover era. I found the music extremely pleasant; the title track transports you on a stimulating voyage to the outer realm of places unknown. "Let Us Go Into The House of The Lord" is very beautiful, and offers the peace and tranquility that one expects to find in such a place. For the most part the music is very serene, except on "I Mani (Faith)" the unexpected happens when Baron ventures outside during his solo and creates a marathon avant-garde solo tempered with some forceful screaming that has never been heard since the glory days of Albert Ayler. "Astral Travelling" marks the inauguration of Lonnie Smiths career and will remain as one of the most essential and celebrated works. C.S.

Bluebird 09026-63878-2

Duke Ellington - "All-Star White House Tribute (1969)"

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My review copy is an advance CD for promotional use only. It comes in a simple cardboard sleeve devoid of specific information about particular performers on the 28 numbers. There are 3 medleys and 13 individual selections. Some digging around source material revealed the date to be April 29, 1969, on the occasion of Ellington's 70th birthday. A tribute to the Duke was given by a host of invited musicians who played Ellington's compositions before an audience including then President Nixon, high government officials, and many of Ellington's friends and relatives. The distinctive musical voices stand out - Gerry Mulligan "Sophisticated Lady"/"Warm Valley", the duos of Mulligan and Paul Desmond or Urbie Green and J. J. Johnson "Prelude to a Kiss", the inimitable stylings of Earl Hines "Perdido" a Louis Bellson showpiece "Caravan", Jim Hall's solo "In a Sentimental Mood", and the moving voices of Mary Mayo/Joe Williams. The evening concludes with Ellington himself and "Pat", a dedication to Pat Nixon. It is a gala affair going well into the early hours of the morning, befitting a man who had contributed so much to the world of music. Of historical interest to all Ellington fans. J.S.

Blue Note 72435 35249

Michael Coppola Trio - "Return of the Hydra"

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Coppola performs here on his 'hydra', a 9-string 'monster' guitar that not only provides him access to an expanded lower register, but also permits him to play piano voicings. Electric bassist Michael Nunno is a close friend and frequent musical compatriot spanning some 15 years; drummer Kurt Berglund plays with delicacy and taste, "never stepping on toes" but exhibiting great ideas, a fat tone, and an ear for ensemble playing. The tunes chosen are chiefly Coppola's personal favourites, and cover a wide selection of standards and the unexpected. There is a lovely tonal balance between guitar/bass, establishing the melodic lines to "They Say It's Wonderful" or Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole" before developing explorative chord progressions around the lyrics. Extensive percussive breaks animate Coppola's own "Superfoot". Coppola's solo on "Stars Fell on Alabama" allows us to hear the scope of how well he can shape a song. Bud Powell's rarely heard "Parisian Thoroughfare" is given a notably insightful treatment. Recommended listening. J.S.

Kalo 2001

Russell Malone - "Heartstrings"

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Guitarist Malone is accompanied here with some very formidable sidemen, Kenny Barron - piano, Christian McBride - bass, Jeff 'Tain' Watts - drums. Though recorded sessions in the early to mid 90's with Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall and Harry Connick, Jr may have helped to launch Malone's career into prominence, his own instrumental dexterity and entertaining style have maintained his role as featured performer into the 21st century. Dedicated to the memories of the late Milt Jackson and Stanley Turrentine, the mood throughout the disc is one of gentle lyricism to the lush string arrangements superimposed later on 9 of the 10 numbers (the last with harp/vibes), carefully balancing standards "Handful of Stars"/"Why Try To Change Me Now"/"Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" with the less familiar "Heartstrings"/"Loved Ones"/"You Needed Me". Turn down the lights, pour yourself a glass of wine; this music is to be savoured slowly. JS

Verve 3145497862

Oscar Peterson - "The Composer"

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Nine Songs have been culled from the Pablo vaults (1974 to 1986) which not only display his amazing virtuosity that encompasses stride, swing, bebop and post-bebop" but also reveal that other dimension of his contribution to jazz - a compositional skill too often given secondary precedence, "…swept away by the glories of his command of the instrument". All numbers have been previously released; however, in the context of various selected groupings, the focus here is squarely on the works themselves, revealing "Peterson as a romantic, joyful composer as well as a masterful pianist". Whether it's the high-flying, spirited "Jubilation", or the pensive tribute of "Lady Di's Waltz" (both with orchestra), the Latin-flavoured "L'Impossible" (with quartet), the intimate mood of "If You Only Knew", or his impressions of city life in Montreal "Place St. Henri" and Toronto "Hogtown Blues", both solo performances recorded in Estonia (1974), Peterson offers compositions that will endure as a major part of his legacy. J.S.

Pablo 2310-970-2

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