November 1998


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

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Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass - "Big Band Christmas"

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When it comes to Big Band Christmas albums I think of Stan Kenton's recording and the liberties he took with exciting arrangements of known and not so well known festive season material.

McConnell's approach to Christmas tunes is a little more melodic and swinging, with plenty of solo space allocated to members of the band.

He combines tunes in a medley format as well as individual settings, and they all flow beautifully in the bright arrangements of the leader.

Outstanding soloists: Kevin Turcotte - trumpet "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (a swinging bossa beat), Pat LaBarbera - tenor, "I'll Be Home For Christmas"/ soprano, "My Favourite Things". (strong Coltrane influences on both soloists), Guido Basso's - flugelhorn, pretty treatment of "The Christmas Waltz", and "A Christmas Love Song", Moe Koffman - alto and Steve McDade - trumpet "What are you doing New Year's Eve" (bright up tempo with a latin feel), Alastair Kay - trombone "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (so much warmth in such a short piece of music), Rob McConnell - trombone "The Christmas Song" ( a tender reading with sensitive backing by pianist David Restivo), John Johnson - alto "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", Ed Bickert - guitar "Silent Night"/ "Silver Bells" and Dave Dunlop - trumpet "In the Bleak Midwinter". In total 59 minutes and 46 seconds of superb playing that will grace your CD player throughout the Christmas season, and possibly at other times too. (H.H.)

Concord CCD-4844-2 to order

Steve Kuhn - "Dedication"

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The finely tuned aggregation of Steve Kuhn (piano), David Finck (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums) offers us a polished, insightfully relaxed array of tunes on this 1997 CD. The pianist, with "…..the finesse of a long term prestidigitator…"(liner), carefully balances an uncomplicated left hand against a strongly melodic right with crystalline precision on "I Waited for You" and Steve Swallow's "Please Let Go", injecting a sophisticated swing into "Eiderdown" and "Like Someone in Love", jauntily roaming the keyboard, unleashing improvisatory runs with "It's You or No One"/"Blue Bossa". There is always a lyrical core to his interpretations, a characteristic in evidence as well in his own compositions here, "The Zoo" and "Dedication". Excellent sound quality is guaranteed with the presence of Rudy Van Gelder as recording engineer. (J.S.)

Reservoir RSR CD 154 to order

John Serry - "Enchantress"

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Pianist John Serry first appeared on the jazz scene in the late 70's/early 80's; however, after a lengthy hiatus of film, TV, concert and educational pursuits, he returns to the recording studio on this 1995 release. "…I have influences both on the acoustic and electric sides"…",he states, mixing post-bop and fusion elements with tonal colourations and shifting time signatures strongly reminiscent of Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett at times. All ten compositions are Serry originals ranging from energy-charged chordal runs with "Precious", "Enchantress" and the opening disco-gospel flow of "Dyt It", the torrid pairing of piano/bass ("Heartfelt"), or the trio ("As Was"/"Shortly"). The supportive contingent of Tom Brigandi (bass), John Riley (drums), Gerry Niewood (soprano/tenor/flute), with reedman Ralph Bowen sitting in on three numbers, showcases Serry's multi-dimensional style. (J.S.)

Telarc CD-83392 to order

Ted Hawkins - "Music for 2:47 AM"

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Vocalist Ted Hawkins has put aside his alter ego, Jack Diamond, the country bar performer, to pursue a dream: to make an album of classic ballads and blues. Buoyed by his admiration for the likes of Ray Charles, Charlie Rich, Lou Rawls _ "…musicians who willfully bent musical genres…" (liner), he has done just that, with sensitively understated support from pianist John Sheard, bassist Victor Bateman, drummer Jerry Fuller, and guest appearances by saxman Bob Brough and organist Bruce Griffin. Hawkins is an excellent shaper of moods, with a clear, expressive, unforced delivery applied to a wide variety of material from bluesy renditions of "Fade to Black", "Baby, Baby, Baby", lightly swinging versions of "Love for Sale", "Who Will the Next Fool Be?", to moving interpretations of Jon Hendricks' "I'm Blue" or the standards "Angel Eyes" and "At Last". There are even several "country hurtin' songs" _ "Don't You Ever Get Tired (of Hurtin' Me)", "Marty's Back in Town" _ to remind us of his roots. His sense of deep conviction contributes as well to the success of this venture. (J.S.)

Ted Hawkins TH97CD1 to order

Eric Reed - "Pure Imagination"

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The trio of Eric Reed (piano), Reginald Veal (bass), and Gregory Hutchinson (drums) meshes flawlessly on this aptly titled 1997 release. As the pianist states, "….Broadway musicals have granted jazz musicians unbounded improvisational opportunities…", and Reed makes the most of it, drawing upon 9 varied sources and affixing his own overture and finale to "…in a sense, create my own musical…" (liner). It's a heads-up idea, affording the artist wide scope to display his confident, assertive keyboard presence, imbuing the familiar with originality as he builds Latin-edged flavour into Bernstein's "Maria" or Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns", careens madly down "42nd Street", swings breezily along with "Nice Work If You Can Get It", or employs unexpected rhythm changes to "My Man's Gone Now" and "I Got Rhythm". There's even a powerfully resonant gospel-like feeling accorded Rogers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone". This is a disc worthy of purchase by a pianist with imagination and an abundance of talent. (J.S.)

Impulse 244 to order

JaRon Eames - "Sounds Good to Me!"

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Vocalist JaRon Eames takes us on a musical journey into the past, echoing especially the nostalgic sentiments and rhythmic vibrancy of the late 40's and 50's with such numbers as Buddy Johnson's "Save Your Love for Me", Charles Calhoun's 1954 hit, "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday", and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come". The excellent instrumental accord afforded by saxophonist Michael Weisberger, pianist Amy Quint, and guitarist Ethan Mann reinforces this concept. Designed, it would seem, to showcase the versatile, dramatic, and powerfully modulated voice of Eames, sometimes overly-inflected ("My One and Only Love")/ "Save Your Love for Me"), the CD succeeds in that purpose generally, though several standards, ("The Song is You"/ "Them There Eyes"), taken at breakneck speed, loose their lyrical significance. Eames has plenty of talent, but needs to select broader parameters in which to nourish it. (J.S.)

JKE 0689 to order

Fritz Renold & the Bostonian Friends - "Starlight"

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Swiss-born leader, saxophonist, composer Fritz Renold established his Bostonian Friends ensemble while studying at Berklee College of Music, and continues to assemble talented players as evidenced on this CD. Six numbers, including a single track culled from the 1994 Bern Jazz Festival ("None of Your Business"), an extended free-wheeling piece centred around Renold's soprano and the drums of Adam Nussbaum, afford soloists opportunities to shine, notably tenorman Bill Pierce and flugelhornist Franco Ambrosetti on a bold "Stella By Starlight", Renold (alto) and Pierce with the "bluesy smoker" (liner) "Palliladoodap", and a balladic pairing of Renold (soprano) and pianist Christian Jacob ("My Heart Feels for You"). However, the highlight is the remaining "Suite for Maynard Ferguson", a four-part Renold composition paying tribute to Duke, Bird, Miles and Trane respectively. Trumpeter Randy Brecker carries the day here, along with memorable solos by Jacob, Pierce, Ambrosetti, and the composer. (J.S.)

Columbia CK68978 to order

Jimmy Giuffre - "Free Fall"

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A welcome reissue is this 1962 recording, the fourth in a series featuring Giuffre (clarinet, Paul Bley (piano), and Steve Swallow (acoustic bass). Ten of the sixteen tracks (including five previously unreleased numbers) present the clarinetist in solo performance, a series of etudes for the instrument exploring its dynamic range and dramatic intensity from the fanciful flight of "Propulsion", the harsh, angular phrasing of "Primordial Call", to the abstract, coolly understated "Man Alone", or the lurking, Debussy-like melodies of "Present Notion" and "Time Will Tell". With the trio and duo pieces (clarinet/bass, "….lines between melody, harmony and rhythm coalesce" (liner) in favour of a new freedom of form. The group, dispensing with tempi and key factors, drummer-less, experiments with textures, timbres and tonality, generating a most un-bop-like energy to "Spasmodic" or a contemplative formality to "Dichotomy". The only extended offering ("The Five Ways") is a studied interplay of shifting moods. It's a heady listening experience, overwhelmingly committed to innovation and imagination for those truly interested in the development of jazz. (J.S.)

Columbia/Legacy CK 65446 to order

Bluiett Baritone Nation - "Libation for the Baritone Saxophone Nation"

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Hamiet Bluiett remains "……a man on a crusade…to preach the gospel according to the baritone……(liner), and the Nation is "……the land where baritones roam free". With baritone players Alex Harding, Patience Higgins, James Carter, and the drums of Ronnie Burrage, Bluiett opens the floodgate to baritone-land with a brash, propulsive, foot-stomping, raucously-swinging "Libation for The Baritone Saxophone Nation", and never looks back. The baritone can be an emotionally charged instrument, and this is revealed on such numbers as the multi-textured "Discussion Among Friends", the brief, bluesy interaction on "MPR-1", or the powerfully-punctuated, Burrage-led charge through the rhythmical and tonal complexities of "J.B.Groove". Bluiett's prime purpose is to shape a new extended vocabulary for the horn, a feat he has championed before. On this 1997 CD, recorded at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, he converts that goal into a reality. (J.S.)

Justin Time JTR 8470-2 to order

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

***** Excellent
**** Good

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**** John Fedchock On the Edge Reservoir RSR CD 153
***** Tim Hagens & Marcus Printup Hubsongs Blue Note CDP 7243 8 59509 2 6
***** Count Basie Live at the Sands Reprise CDW 45946
***** Bill Evans Piano Player Columbia CK 65361