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

Ray Gelato Giants - "The Men from Uncle"

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This present group evolved in 1994 out of earlier aggregations offering an "off-the-wall" style of jump tunes, swing arrangements and originals that ran counter to the popular pop/rock scene of the times. Its goal was sheer entertainment (even its dress code reflected prior eras), and it soon developed into a touring organization eagerly sought by festivals, clubs and colleges. The newly augmented Giants, featuring some of the best young players on the British jazz circuit, focuses on the American pop music arena. Led by vocalist/tenorman Gelato, the 17 numbers are an eclectic mix from Louis Prima gems ("Josephine, Please no Lean on the Bell"/ "Angelina"), Louis Jordan’s "Chicky-Mo", James Moody’s "Moody’s Mood for Love". To oft-forgotten hits ("The Umbrella Man"/ "The Great City"). Soloists are exemplary-trumpeter Enrico Tomasso ("Stardust"), Alex Garnett (alto), trombonist Andy Baker, and Gelato himself. Virtually everything swings with this ensemble. The high spirits are delightfully infectious, and one can easily understand the magnitude of their drawing power. (J.S.)

Justin Time 8477-2 to order

Bill Evans - "Homecoming"

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On November 6, 1979, pianist Bill Evans returned to his alma mater, Southeastern Louisiana University, for a concert before former classmates and faculty, his first since a graduating performance (1950) of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Kabalevsky. The feeling was that of the intimacy of a small club with unscheduled scattered applause and Evans’ own comments between numbers. The sound quality was not of studio calibre (the milking produced a slightly hollow sound and one would have wished the piano somewhat closer to the action), but the playing was inspired. Less than a year later, Evans was dead. Considering that Evans felt this trio with Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums) was the best he had put together since early LaFaro/Motian days, and the enormity of the influence that Evans has had on jazz pianists today, this is a welcomed release despite any technical shortcomings. The 12 selections, including 4 originals, are concluded by a six-minute interview; moreover, photos, personal letters and liner comments provide insightful glimpses into the life of this very complex musician. (J.S.)

Milestone 9291-2 to order

Fitzgerald/Basie/Pass - "Digital 111 at Montreux"

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Producer Norman Granz has already released three albums of material drawn from the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival featuring the Basie Band with Ella, and Joe Pass. What we have here is a compendium of additional numbers that didn’t make it on those discs. Basie gives us the Berigan classic "I Can’t Get Started" and a full-blown "Good Mileage", driven and dominated by drummer Butch Miles; Ella’s highlight offers us her characteristic scatting of Hampton’s "Flying Home"; guitarist Pass solos pleasantly through "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Li’l Darlin’ "; Pass is joined by bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen for Brubeck’s "In Your Own Sweet Way" and a short but solidly swinging "Oleo". A caveat, however: total time runs about 40 minutes. For completists only. (J.S.)

Pablo 996-2 to order

Joe Harriot/John Mayer Double Quintet - "Indo-Jazz Fusions 1 & 11"

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Unfortunately, Jamaican-born alto player Joe Harriot (1928-1973) remains a shadowy figure of the post-bop era in British jazz. Arriving in the UK in 1951, the Parker-inspired reedman soon showed that he could play in any context (even with Chris Barber, c1960). However, forming his own groups in 1958, he developed a distinctive free-form style, devoid of regular rhythm patterns and utilizing silent spacing, in a blend of Afro-Caribbean and European avant-garde elements. Here, with Indian violinist/harpsichordist John Mayer, we have a cultural crossover of ethnic music fusing a dual mix of improvisational concepts, intermingling written and spontaneous passages. Instrumentation includes a traditional rhythm section, sax, 2 trumpets (one is Kenny Wheeler), sitar, tambura, tabla and flute. It’s heady music for its era. Liner notes (both original and recent) are essential to a fuller understanding of what transpired. These are rare sessions revisited, but well worth the journey back in time (mid 60’s). (J.S.)

Redial 538 048-2 to order

Various Artists - "Ellingtonia"

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On the occasion of the centenary of the birth of composer/pianist Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974), the Justin Time label has assembled a varied collection of performances by Canadian and Canadian-based musicians from its now extensive vaults as a tribute to his legacy. All numbers are Ellington (or Strayhorn) compositions, with the exception of Charlie Mingus’ 1957 "Duke’s Choice" with pianist Jon Ballantyne. The cast is as diverse as the compositional dates of first performances: "Sophisticated Lady" (1932) – Denny Christianson Big Band, "In a Sentimental Mood" (1935) – vocalist Ranee Lee, "In a Mellow Tone" (1940) – Dave Young/Oscar Peterson, "Lush Life" (1948) – pianist Hilario Duran, "Melancholia" (1953) – Free Trade. Others featured are Oliver Jones, Johnny O’Neal, Diana Krall, Dave Turner, and Fraser MacPherson. Ellington’s affiliations with Canada were strong; this seems a fitting way and time to share those memories. (J.S.)

Justin Time JR6700-2 to order

Nanette Natal - "Stairway to the Stars"

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The Benyo Music label is a facet of an independent artist-owned company. This session, recorded in 1990 at Birdland (NYC), was her fourth for Benyo, and well received by jazz critics. All compositions are recognizable standards. From the beginning, the effervescence of a Lena Horne or Ella Fitzgerald shines through, the singer’s voice closely integrated into the rhythmic pulse of "When Your Lover Has Gone", turning the accompanying quartet into a quintet with her horn-like scatting of "Nice Work If You Can Get It". On "I Won’t Dance", she toys with the melody until the quartet takes off heatedly in funky pursuit, and with "You Go To My Head" she chooses her own tempo to that laid down by the instrumentalists. On the ballads ("Crazy He Calls Me" and the title tune), she extends that dynamic range to warm and mellow. Fellow musicians are totally empathetic throughout, with solo spots by pianist Mark Soskin, altoist Ed Palermo, and drummer Todd Turkisher ("Fascinating Rhythm") worthy of kudos. (J.S.)

Benyo Music 3336 to order

Bluiett/Jackson/Thiam - "Join Us"

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This 1998 CD is the second by the trio of Hamiet Bluiett (reeds), D D Jackson (keyboards) and Mor Thiam (djembe/vocals) and a festival atmosphere flows freely from the opening number "Papa" with contra alto clarinet, wood flute, organ and percussion all adding to the Afro-Cuban flavour. The ready shifting of instrumentation by Bluiett and Jackson provides "…a continually vibrant musical mosaic" (liner) pervading such pieces as the jump tune "Is There a Problem?" (organ/baritone/percussion), a sprightly "Little Calypso" (baritone/organ/synthesizer), or a joyful romp of "Join Us/Get Happy" (baritone/djembe/piano/keyboard bass). Interspersed are solo features for percussion, piano and baritone, plus the "tough and tender" work contra alto clarinet/djembe ("Ayse") and a beautifully lyrical "One Night". Originality, audacity and creativity are the key ingredients shaping this trio that often sounds more expansive than it is. (J.S.)

Justin Time 124-2 to order

David Murray - "Speaking in Tongues"

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On this 1997 release, recorded in Paris, reedman David Murray goes back-to-the-roots with an uplifting excursion into the blues, spiritual and gospel rudiments. The music reflects a wealth of many conflicting moods, from a foot-tapping R&B/gospel meld ("How I Got Over"), an exhortative shuffle beat take on the 2-line refrain of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen", to a torturous trio sharing (voice, organ, tenor) of heartfelt lamentation with "Don’t Know What I Would Do", or the moving piano/trumpet duo on "Blessed Assurance". Noteworthy are trumpeter Hugh Ragin, keyboard artist Jimane Nelson, Murray himself (catch his rollicking bass clarinet on "Amazing Grace"), and vocalist Fontella Bass whose powerfully emotive, dramatic voice plays out against the scorching force of "Nobody Knows….." or the closing "Closer Walk with Thee". This is music for the soul, a panacea for what ails you. (J.S.)

Justin Time 118-2 to order