October 2002


Jane Bunnett - "Spirituals and Dedications"

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Jane Bunnett is arguably one of the finest soprano saxophonists in jazz today. For many years she has led the group "The spirits of Havana", while playing with some of Cuba's top jazz musicians. This her latest release on the Justin Time label is a different and most welcome approach from Jane. Here she assembles a group of heavyweight players, saxophonist Dewey Redman and pianist Stanley Cowell for co-operative sessions that feature drummer Mark McLean, bassist Kieran Overs, trumpeter Larry Cramer (her husband), and vocalist Dean Bowman (Bunnett's booking agent in his past life). Bringing together different musicians with diverse experience works very well, there is equal respect and support that allows each member to shine in their own moment.

The spiritual aspect of this recording is embodied in the playing and selection of music from the Christian Church with titles like "Nobody Knows", "Shadrack", "Motherless Child", and the original, poignant and gut-wrenching "I'm Gonna Tell God". While the dedications are represented by pieces like Don's Light" written by Bunnett for her late friend and musical colleague Don Pullen, "A Laugh for Rory" honouring Roland Kirk, and "Ecclusiastics", done in homage to Charles Mingus.

"Don's Light" opens the set with a warm invocation by Redman mixed with the fiery and wonderful tones of Bunnett's soprano saxophone and the rich booming voice of Dean Bowman.

Stanley Cowell is always enjoyable to listen to, and his piano work on this collection is superb, while on the other hand, McLean's swinging brush work on drums is tops. Everyone seems to so relaxed and in tune to what is going on around them rather than pushing for the spotlight with boring meaningless solos.

Although there seems to be a deficiency in originality and thought, Bunnett and Company has managed to come up with a very entertaining and enjoyable recording, and this is what jazz is all about. CS

Justin Time JUST 169-2

Hamiet Bluiett - "Blueblack"

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The Bluiett Baritone Saxophone Army is on the march again. This time the exercise is their new CD on the Justin Time label entitled "Blueblack". Bluiett has been called the most prominent Baritone saxophonist of his time. He has a range that ascends into areas usually reserved for the soprano saxophone, and plays with energy and commanding authority. For this project Bluiett has engaged the services of the equally impressive Patience Higgins, James Carter and Alex Harding. All but Bluiett double on bass clarinet, thus creating a sound so low it eliminates any need for a bass player.

The recording opens with the colourful, well-harmonized "My Girl", old Temptations hit on the Motown label. This is followed by "Humpback", a tune that supposedly describes a sonic presentation and depletion of the murky and dark world of the humpback whale, while "Zipping" provides a happy kind of friendly "Glory to God" feeling.

There are ten tunes on this CD, mostly the work of Coleridge-Taylor Parkinson, a long-time voice and vocal arranger, famous for his collaboration with Donald Byrd. For the most part, this is raw unpretentious improvised music that challenges the listener's ears.

Personally, I had some difficulty understanding the concepts and subsequent directions expressed by the group. Having said that, I am sure Bluiett's fans will find this a most rewarding offering worthy of adding to their collection. CS

Justin Time JUST 158-2

Bobby McFerrin - "Beyond Words"

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The ten-time Grammy winner, musical ambassador, and vocal virtuoso Bobby McFerrin has returned with his first new album in nearly five years. This is good news for McFerrin fans, an indication of his desire to return to improvised jazz, after a prolonged association with classical music. "Beyond Words" is a masterpiece, a musical statement with global influences that takes the listener on a musical odyssey. Known for his commercial, radio friendly, somewhat happy whimsical hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy", McFerrin is a brilliant and innovative a cappella artist.

This time, however, he has ventured into the realm of accompaniment and enlisted the services of Chick Corea and other musicians with equal resume on bass, drums, and percussion. To say that McFerrin is the consummate artist would be an understatement; he uses his voice to paint a vocal tapestry meant to transport the listener through a myriad of styles, colours and modes. Each song is a statement of performance. The opening song "Invocation" highlights his ability as a scat singer, while "Kalimba Suite" and "Fertile Field" are a remarkable example of vocal instrumental improvisation. McFerrin's Latin influence can be heard on the playful samba flavoured "Taylor Made" with his son Taylor sharing the vocal work. Fifteen of the sixteen tracks are originals, the exception being "Windows" composed by Chick Corea, who is featured with some fine piano work.

This is a nice easy listening recording, considering that for the most part the texture of the songs remains the same. "Beyond Words" is a classic work with some clever instrumentation and superb vocal styling. Listening to McFerrin is a true reminder of how marvelous jazz improvised voice can sound when done by a master. This is a 'must have' for your collection. CS

Blue Note 7243 5 34201 2 3

Kirk Whalum - "The Best Of..."

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It is hard to be non judgmental about smooth jazz. Computer and synthesizer programming are something that has put a lot of "human musicians" out of work.

I was not familiar with Mr. Whalum's work until now; he has apparently recorded five albums for Columbia and this is purported to be the cream of the cream, garnered from his mid 1980's to the mid 1990's output of music.

Much of the music was produced by keyboard master Bob James, who lends his two hands to a number of the mainly original compositions by Whalum.

The opener "Desperately" is quite listenable with a nice beat, but after awhile the rest of the album starts to sound like one long Kenny G composition.

Maybe I'm getting too old for changes, but wouldn't it be nice to hear Kirk play at least one straight-ahead tune.

There is a Nat Adderley composition "The Wave" on this CD, but any resemblance to the original is purely accidental. RF

Columbia/Legacy CK 61611

Various - "The Blues White Album"

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This is a great grouping of Beatles music by some of today's premier blues artists. Eight selections written by the team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and one each by George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

This recording shows the Beatles compositions in a different light, that being the blues.

Recorded in places such as Portland, Maine in June, 2001, you'll hear Jimmy Thackery doing "Why Don't We Do It In The Road", "Yer Blues" by Lucky Peterson, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by Anders Osborne. "Revolution" by Kenny Neal, "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" by Tab Benoit and Peterson, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Maria Muldaur and Chris Duarte, "Don't Pass Me By" by T-Bone Walker, "I' So Tired" by Chris Duarte, "Blackbird" by Colin Linden and "Dear Prudence" by Charlie Musselwhite and Colin Linden.

Any blues fan of the Fab Four should love this well paced toe tapping compilation. RF

Telarc CD-83553

David Braid - "The David Braid Sextet"

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This album by the young musician David Braid, not only shows off his talent on the piano, but also allows us to hear that he is a most promising composer-arranger.

The eight originals showcase the wonderful ensemble and solo work by the sextet of premier local musicians. Four of the five accompanists are first call artists for the one and only Rob McConnell's Bands, John McLeod - flugel horn/cornet, Mike Murley - soprano and tenor saxophones, Steve Wallace - bass and Terry Clarke - drums. The final member, Gene Smith - trombone, was a mainstay in the Woody Herman band for a number of years.

Braid has written his compositions allowing all of these sidemen to have plenty of solo space.

My favourite in the collection is "Our Cloud Nine", a straight-ahead toe tapper, which brings to the fore the three horns in solo spots. "Cowboy Bebop" has shades of the Adderleys; "For Mike Murley" showcases the reedman's talents. "Reach", the albums closer, in a mellow two minutes and forty-nine seconds requiem movement is similar in feel to "There's a Place For Us" from West Side Story.

My only critique of this debut album by Braid is that I would have liked to have heard more piano soloing. He is a very giving leader, allowing the band to shine as a unit. Hopefully future efforts will give more prominence to his piano artistry. RF

Independent DB 71578-2

Toots Thielmans & Kenny Werner

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I first heard this remarkable duo in performance at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, a couple of summers ago. Alas, there were no recordings of the event.

Thanks to Toot's manager, Dirk Godts, this wonderful compact disc captures the memories of that concert.

Recorded live before an audience in Belgium, sans applause, June 2001, we find Monsieur Thielmans, the master harmonica wizard and Kenny Werner, a pianist filled with the required emotions for this project, also supplying a synthesized string section on several occasions.

The entire album is played with extreme sensitivity, gently swinging when necessary. The choice of material reflects their musical personalities to perfection. A number of well-chosen medleys pay tribute to Frank Sinatra, Michel Legrand, Bill Evans and Walt Disney. Single selections include remembering J.S.Bach, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong.

Werner's touch is magnificent and what more can be said about one of the elder statesmen of jazz. No whistling or guitar on this one, who needs it when you have the king of the Hohner. Over seventy-one minutes of sheer pleasure. Give this one several hands full of stars. RF

North Sea Jazz / Universal 014 722-2

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