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

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Jessica Williams - "The Victoria Concert"

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For almost two decades, pianist Jessica Williams has pursued her own musical voice, seeking new vistas to explore in a manner that can only be described as fresh and innovative. This 1995 session at the University of Victoria (British Columbia) presents the soloist at her playfully adventurous best, Monkishly unpredictable with sudden rhythmic and stylistic changes ("I Want to be Happy"/ "Straight, No Chaser"), dissecting familiar melodic lines into surprisingly unique perspectives ("Mr.Syms"/ "My One and Only Love"), creatively original with her own keyboard statements ("Sometimes Silence"/ "Dear Gaylord"). She states, "My music at its best is full of heart"; her spirited performance here suggests the probability of latent musical vistas that will inevitably unfold. Highly recommended! (J.S.)

Jazz Focus 015 to order

Chet Baker - "Chet Baker & Strings"

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The cool, bell-like tones of trumpeter Chet Baker are featured on this 1953 reissue, complete with a nine-string aggregation and instrumental support from reedmen Zoot Sims, Jack Montrose, Bud Shank, and a rhythm section of Russ Freeman (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass), Shelly Manne (drums). The 24 year old Baker, already a poll winner in Down Beat and Metronome magazines, displays the refined, almost fragile, purity of sonority that was to be his trademark throughout his career, especially on standards such as "You Better Go Now", "I Love You", or Freeman’s moody "The Wind". Only occasionally, does he transcend the lush string accompaniment – "Love"/ "A Little Duet for Zoot and Chet"/ "Trickleydidlier" - to swing with his musical compatriots. Solos are brief (all numbers range between 2 ½ to 4 minutes), though piano, flute and saxes offer limited interludes of note. Three alternate takes augment the original issue. (J.S.)

Columbia/Legacy CK 65562 to order

George Shearing - "Christmas with George Shearing"

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It is that time of the year again, when numerous jazz artists will have their new recordings of Christmas material released or reissued. Such is the case with this CD, the first of the Christmas recordings to arrive here at Jazz Canadian. An old friend (musically), George Shearing, brings back the exceptionally popular quintet sound that made him famous in the late forties. This time around he has called upon some of his Canadian cohorts to join him, Reg Schwager – guitar, Don Thompson – vibes, Neil Swainson – bass and American drummer Dennis Mackrel. Each member of quintet gets the opportunity to solo, some tunes calling for more time. And on the subject of time, listen to what the quintet do to "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in 5/4 (Shades of Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five"), "Ding Dong! Merrily on High" in 4/4. There are the old chestnuts – "White Christmas", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Away in a Manger", "The Christmas Song", "White Christmas" and two lovely melodies that rarely appear in this context (jazz) – John Rutter’s "Donkey Carol" and Peter Warlock’s "Balulalow", the latter a fine piano solo by George. Highly recommended for Shearing fans and those who wish to discover him. (H.H.)

Telarc CD-83438 to order

Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea - "An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea"

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The two ex-Miles Davis alumni joined forces in a dual pianistic tour of selected spots in the U.S.A. in 1978. Both, at the height of their respective popularity and influence, drew upon common interests – periods of experimentation with various musical genres of the 70’s, a love for the classical impressionists, a desire to re-establish their roles on acoustic instruments. The two CD set, compiled from appearances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Ann Arbor, features them at grand pianos before enthusiastic audiences. There are no technical enhancements, and the six compositions (including two standards) are offered in order of performance with Hancock on the left channel and Corea on the right. One cannot deny that they are certainly masters of "….exquisite touch, signature chordal voicings, sparkling lines and intuitive interactive brilliance" (liner). Especially for fans and piano aficionados. (J.S.)

Columbia/Legacy C2K 65551 to order

Ted Quinlan - "As If"

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This is guitarist Quinlan’s debut CD as a leader. The functional compositions and arrangements, all Quinlan’s, are well suited to the quintet heard here, Dave Restivo – piano, Phil Dwyer – sax, Kieran Overs – bass and Ted Warren – drums. This is contemporary jazz at a very high level, and it all comes together as clever, intricate, jaunty and occasionally somber, that makes the listener admire the ingenuity of all involved. The compositions are memorable, a tribute to Quinlan’s writing skills. (H.H.)

Unity UTY 157 to order

Sean Bray - "Transcendence"

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Something about this recording must have got into my blood; over the last few weeks I find myself going back to it again and again. This is guitarist Bray’s fourth recording as a leader and his first making a distinctive turn in direction. A trio session featuring Dale James – bass, Tim McIntyre – drums and Bray – guitar perform a wide range of material (all Sean’s original compositions), with a nod in the direction of a little funk, soul, contemporary and mainstream. The delicious nuances in the weight and length of tone Bray employs in his solos and the lyrical approach makes this recording highly accessible to all jazz fans. Kudos to the sound engineer Dave Horrocks for his expertise, the trio is heard to its best advantage on this CD. (H.H.)

Counterpoint CPR-012 to order

Geoff Keezer - "Turn Up the Quiet"

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In an intriguing blend of compositional components, the Geoff Keezer trio, with Joshua Redman – tenor and Christian McBride – bass fashioning melodic building blocks to the pianist’s improvisational sorties, offers delightfully spontaneous renditions of "Stomping at the Savoy", a Coltrane-inspired "Madame Grenouille", and a multi-faceted portrait of his daughter with "Precious One". Brief solo explorations by Keezer, including Ravel-like reflections on "Lose my Breath" and a singular romp with Mercer’s "My Shining Hour", as well as free flowing lyrical duet with Redman "Rose" reveal the depth of his pianistic virtuosity. In addition, the presence of Diana Krall’s sensuous voice on three numbers, especially Keezer’s "Island Palace" drawn from Okinawan native melodies, illustrates the diveristy of sources, which the pianist continues to tap in order to feed his seemingly limitless imagination. (J.S.)

Columbia CK 68988 to order

Thelonious Monk - "Monk Alone"

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Monk’s compositional genius is irrefutably undisputed. Many of his works have become standard jazz fare, familiar even to those whose interest in the music is only peripheral. However, the issue of his keyboard competency remains contentious for some – too full of quirky rhythms, overly minimalistic in delivery, percussively unorthodox. Columbia’s reissue of his solo studio recordings for that label (1962-68) is now complete with the addition of 14 hitherto unreleased cuts (37 in all), providing the listener with the opportunity to assess whether the "…oblique harmonies, splintered runs, imperishable melodies, jabbing chords,……bluesy interpretations, sly humour…." (liner) meet favourable scrutiny. Whatever the conclusion, one cannot ignore the fact that jazz piano was never quite the same after Monk. Liner notes by Orrin Keepnews and Dick Katz are extensive and excellent. (J.S.)

Columbia/Legacy C2K 65495 to order

Fred Hersch - "Thelonious"

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Fred Hersch’s 1997 solo release appears to substantiate the marked influence that Monk’s compositions continue to have with jazz stylists today. Showcased in the past with the likes of Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Jane Ira Bloom, Chris Connor, his style synthesizes traces of the introspective sensitivity of Ahmad Jamal or Bill Evans ("Round Midnight"/ "Ask Me Now") with the finely-crafted improvisational insights of a Paul Bley or Herbie Hancock ("Evidence"/ "Bemsha Swing"). Moreover, he almost strides with a Garner lag through "Let’s Cool One", and in a consecutive series of restatements, he captures and dissects the melodic core behind "Misterioso", while maintaining Monkish harmonies and rhythms on "In Walked Bud" or "Think of One". Overall, a fresh offering of the familiar. (J.S.)

Nonesuch 79456-2 to order

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

***** Excellent
**** Good

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