Soaring By The Don Ellis Orchestra

January 2, 2020

Don Ellis, 1934-1978, was an avant-garde jazz big band leader/drummer/trombone player/composer who found mainstream commercial success with the rock audience of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His 1970 live release, Live At The Fillmore, was the apex of his career. It set the stage for  further experimentation within a big band setting before his untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 44.

Ellis began his career with the reconstituted Glenn Miller Orchestra, followed by stints with The United States Army Band, and Maynard Ferguson. His first group was the Hindustan Jazz Sextet, which incorporated a sitar into a jazz setting. By 1968 he was leading a big band and was signed to the Columbia record label.

While his live albums were always spontaneous and inventive and in many ways the best of his career; his 1973 release Soaring was perhaps his most innovative and adventurous studio release.

Soaring was recorded with 22 musicians including a 12 man horn section, three percussionists, a four string quartet, and Bulgarian jazz piano virtuoso Milcho Laviev. Somehow it all came together and resulted in one of the unique jazz releases of the era.

Recording within a jazz context; he incorporates funk, classical elements, and European folk traditions to produce an eclectic fusion of sounds.

The music is relaxed, introspective, and some of the most intricate ever recoded. “Go Back Home” is an upbeat tune with a brilliant tenor sax solo by Sam Falzone. “Sladka Pitka” harps backs to his early jazz experimentations with old world folk music. “The Devil Made Me Write This Piece” is Ellis’ last known recording as a drummer.

“Invincible” is Ellis’ crowning achievement in the studio. It builds upon itself with constant tempo and chord changes and finally soars away.

Don Ellis’ death at a young age due to heart problems ended a career that explored music from unique perspectives. Soaring is an important chapter in his legacy.

In Tune By Oscar Peterson + The Singers Unlimited

November 22, 2018

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, was a legendary jazz pianist, who unlike many of his contemporaries focused on a melodic approach. His classical influences and technical ability allowed him to find commercial acceptance outside of jazz music.

The Singers unlimited were a jazz vocal group led by singer/producer Gene Puerling. His ability to combine their voices into a virtual choir was amazing given the technology of the early 1970’s.

Peterson’s strongest albums were usually recorded as a trio. Here he is accompanied by bassist Jiri Mraz and drummer Louis Hayes. What is different is he departs from the norm and records with a vocal group with the result being a collaborative effort released in 1971.

In Tune is a quiet and in many ways a subtle album. The flash is provided by the vocal harmonies but it is Peterson’s playing that provides the substance.

“Sesame Street” is the album opener where the two different styles of the trio and vocals come together and set the tone for what will follow. “Once Upon A Summertime” is a simple ballad with vocalist Bonnie Herman. “The Shadow Of Your Smile” finds Peterson knowing when not to intrude on the vocals but to act a supporting musician.

Oscar Peterson is recognized as one of the unique and great jazz pianists of the last half of the 20th century. Any of his Verve recordings is a must for the jazz aficionado. However, if you want something a little different from Peterson, In Tune is a good place to start.

Ready Take One By Erroll Garner

February 14, 2017


Unreleased material can be either good news or bad news. Sometimes material remains unreleased because of poor quality. Other times an artist has a plethora of excellent tracks and there is no room for them all. Erroll Garner’s new release, Ready Take One, falls into the second category.

Nearly 40 after Garner’s death, this can be considered a new studio album. The 14 previously unreleased tracks contain six original compositions. The tracks were recorded  1967-1971, and he is backed by drummers Jimmie Smith and Joe Cocuzzo, bassists Ernest McCarty, Ike Isaacs, George Duvivier, and Larry Gales, plus percussionist Jose Manguel.

Garner’s swinging jazz style was more approachable than many of his contemporaries. He was one of the most technically adept jazz pianists of his era and his ability to explore a song’s structure, while remaining true to the melody, gained him mainstream commercial popularity.

He was a genius at covering material and adding intricate layers and subtle changes to the structures. Here he explores a number of pop standards of the day, plus some material from the Great American Songbook. Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” is the perfect song for Garner’s light touch. Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” and “Caravan,” plus the old Cole Porter staple ‘Night And Day” are given classic swinging renditions. The highlight is “Down Wylie Avenue,” which is a blues tune at its foundation.

The highlight of the release is the original compositions. “Wild Music,” “Back To You,” “Chase Me,” “High Wire,” “Latin Digs,” and “Down Wylie Avenue” may not be of the quality of his best known song “Misty” but they are very representative of his work from the last phase of his career.

The sound has been meticulously restored courtesy of modern day technology. The enclosed booklet contains three essays by noted music historians, which cover all facets of the music and project.

It is unknown if Ready Take One will be the last Erroll Garner studio album. If that should be the case, he has gone out in style 39 years after his death.


High Voltage By Maynard Ferguson

January 4, 2017


This is the fifth Maynard Ferguson reissue by Omnivore Recordings that has crossed my desk in the last six months or so. Each has presented a distinct period of Ferguson’s career and Complete High Voltage is no exception.

Ferguson had just released on of the best albums of his career with 1987’s Body & Soul. Rather than rest on his laurels, he left behind his big band and recorded two albums with a much smaller unit. Now High Voltage I and II have been reissued as a two disc set complete with two bonus tracks.

Outside of his big band context, the focus of the music was squarely on Ferguson, who was one of the more creative trumpet players of the last half of the 20th century. This setting allows him to solo more than in the past, in which he explores the outer edges of the trumpet sound.

If you are a fan of Ferguson, Complete High Voltage is an interesting stop in his career. A lot of good music in one place.

Body & Soul (CD) By Maynard Ferguson

December 15, 2016


It looks like the Maynard Ferguson reissues will be coming for awhile. Following on the heels of last years reissues of 1983’s Storm and 1984’s Live From San Francisco come 1986’s Body and Soul and 1989’s Be Bop Nouveau.

Body And Soul was a transition album for Ferguson. He eliminated part of his brass section and replaced them with guitarist Mike Higgins and percussionist Steve Fisher. This new line-up allowed him to focus more on the underlying rhythms of his music while pushing him in an improvisational direction as his was able to play off the guitar more easily than the missing brass instruments. It all adds up to a more jazz fusion oriented release than his big band approach of his past.

The lead track, “Expresso,” is emblematic of his new approach as it features the double percussion of Fisher and drummer Dave Miller, who provide a taking off place for Ferguson’s trumpet. It is a very creative jazz fusion concept that works.

“M.O.T.” finds Ferguson and sax player Tim Ries exchanging solos with Higgins. The song is also added as a live bonus track where it reappears with extra textures and subtleties.

“Beautiful Hearts” has a rare trio of featured musicians with Ferguson on the flugel horn combining with saxophonist Ries and Denis DiBlasio darting in and out on the flute.

Body & Soul is a very different release for Ferguson and stands virtually alone in his catalogue of albums. It combines a number of instruments into a big band fusion album. It remains an interesting and creative effort 30 years after its initial release.

Some Other Time By Bill Evans

September 19, 2016


Bill Evans was one of the premier jazz pianists of the 20th century.  His technical expertise was unparalleled but it was his ability for conveying motion that set him apart from most of his contemporaries.

The Bill Evans Trio had performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival June 15, 1968. Five days later they were coaxed into a recording studio by German jazz producers Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and Joachim-Ernst Berendt. The trio recorded more than an albums worth of material but due to label contractual obligations, an album was never released. Now, almost 50 years later, Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest finally sees the light of day as a two-disc, 21 track set. Adding to the authenticity of the set are interviews with surviving trio members Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette, a number of incisive essays by people originally involved in the project, plus many archival photos from the period.

What makes the release unique and so historically important to the fans of Evans is the trio itself. While bassist Gomez played with Evans for years, DeJohnette was only a part of the trio for six months and this is the first studio album to feature his drumming.

By 1968 Evans was an established force in jazz music. His was just finishing his swing period and was moving in a direction that would become known as his percussive poet years. The addition of Gomez had given his rhythm section a foundational depth lacking in the past. DeJohnette added more layering with a delicate yet dramatic approach in which the cymbals played a prominent part.

This is not an album of demos and doodles but rather a spontaneously created full studio album.

The trio relies heavily on material from the Great American Songbook. Songs such as “What Kind Of Fool Am I,” “I’ll Remember April,” “My Funny Valentine,” “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” and “Baubles, Bangles And Beads” are all presented with conviction and passion as Evans explores the textures of the melodies and brings out some extra depths hidden in the songs.

Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest has been a gem in hiding for nearly five decades. It catches a jazz legend at a crossroads of his career as he begins to move in a new direction. A must for all jazz aficionados.


Moments In Time (CD) By Stan Getz

August 31, 2016


Moments In Time is a companion album to the recently released Getz/Gilberto ’76. During May of 1976, Stan Getz and his backing trio spent a week at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner Jazz Club. What made his stay so unique was his ability to coax reluctant live performer Joao Gilberto on stage to perform. Joao and Gilberto would perform together in the middle of the group’s set. The beginning and the end of the performances would just be the Stan Getz Quartet.

The first release covered the duo together and focused on their Bossa Nova work of a decade earlier. Now, the performances of saxophonist Getz, pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Clint Houston, and drummer Billy Hart are presented for the first time after sitting in the vaults for nearly four-decades.

Getz without Gilberto returns to a more straight-forward approach. He was about to enter one of the most creative periods of his career and these tracks show a mature musician practicing his craft with a group of musicians who were talented but who would rarely play together again as a quartet.

Tracks such as “Summer Night,” “The Cry Of The Wild Goose,” “Con Alma,” and “Morning Star” all find a relaxed Getz telling a story with his music.

Moments In Time is an apt title as it presents a glimpse of a jazz master at his live best.