Some Other Time By Bill Evans

September 19, 2016

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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.

 


Storm By Maynard Ferguson

February 16, 2016

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Maynard Ferguson, jazz trumpet player and band leader, could hit seemingly impossibly high register notes. He learned his craft while serving in bands led by the likes of Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnett. He formed his own band in 1957 and was able to remain relevant and popular from the end of the big band era through the rock and roll era until his death in 2006.

He explored a number of styles and sounds within a big band setting. Swing, bebop, and cool jazz dominated the first part of his career. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s he moved in a more commercial direction as musical tastes changed during the disco era. In 1982 he moved in a fusion direction, combining a big band foundation with classical jazz, which brings us to the re-issue of his 1982 album Storm.

His brassy cover of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” is unique and his funky take on the “Sesame Street Theme” gives new life to the old children’s ditty. Original compositions “Go With The Flo” and “Hit In The Head” help establish the sound that would carry his band for the rest of his career. He even provides the vocal for the classic “As Tears Go By.”

Storm was one of several turning points in the career of Maynard Ferguson and it retains it freshness 36 years after its original release


Neon Art Volume 1 By Art Pepper

June 13, 2015

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Art Pepper, 1925-1982, was a drug addict, a sometimes convict, and one of the best jazz saxophonists to ever grace the planet.

He began his professional career at the age of 17. After playing in a number of groups and orchestras; he emerged as one of the leading jazz sax players of the 1950s. As a group leader he released dozens of albums during the next three decades until his death at the age of 56.

During 2012, Omnivore Recordings issues a series of limited Art Pepper vinyl LP’s of unreleased music. That material has now come to CD for the first time. Neon Art Volume 1 is the first of three releases.

The album only contains two songs but they stretch to 35 minutes. Both were recorded at Parnell’s in Seattle near the end of his life in 1981. He is accompanied by Milcho Leviev (piano), David Williams (bass), and Carl Burnett (drums). They formed a tight unit and according to the liner notes, it may be the only time this particular configuration played together.

“Red Car,” named after the first new car he ever bought, was originally released in 1977 but now returns in an extended 17 minute version. He was a west coast jazz artist who comes close to a bebop sound every once in awhile. “Red Car” also incorporates some funky blues elements into the performance. The extended length enables each musician to contribute a solo.

“Blues For Blanche” was originally issued on the 1980 album So In Love  but here it returns in an 18 minute swinging extravaganza. Leviev’ piano work provides a nice counterpoint to Pepper’s sax. The length allows for a intricate ebb and flow to the music as the musicians explore all facets of the main melodies.

Art Pepper is a sometimes forgotten jazz musician but hopefully the three volume Neon Art series will beging to correct that oversight. While the album only contains 35 minutes of music, it more than makes up for it in quality.


All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 (Box Set) By Miles Davis With John Coltrane

February 27, 2015

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Miles Davis, (1926-1991), and John Coltrane, (1926-1967), were two giants of American music who changed and influenced the course of American jazz during the second half of the twentieth century.

Coltrane was an on again – off again member of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1955-1960. It was not always a harmonious union as they had very different approaches to music. When you listen to their solos within the context of the quintet, it is two unique, if not cohesive, statements being made next to each other. Coltrane was always looking inward for inspiration, while Davis was willing to expand outward wherever his imagination would take him. Despite their differences, everything worked and their time together resulted in some of the most exciting jazz of the era.

Their last hurrah together was a twenty date European tour in the spring of 1960. Many of the concerts were broadcast over a number of national radio networks, plus a few were privately recorded. A selection of tracks from the tour has now been released as a four-CD box set titled All Of You: The Last Tour 1960.

The sound runs the gamut from very average to good, so be prepared for an up and down experience. Sometimes the issues are as simple as microphone placement as certain instruments disappear from time to time. The good news is Davis’s and Coltrane’s solos are the clearest parts.

The box set draws from seven different dates from five countries. Everything is wisely presented chronologically so the listener can follow the bands development. This is very clear with two performances of “So What” recorded at different shows on the same date where the second is more energetic than the first. It then appears a third time where Davis takes it all into a new register.

The April 8th concert from Zurich has the best overall sound. “If I Were A Bell” is filled with ringing and inspired solos. The version of “So What” finds Coltrane moving beyond the traditional norms of the past.

When the tour ended, Coltrane would embark on his own solo career and never play with Davis again. What is left behind is this last testament of their time together.

All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 is not for the beginner. It is a set for someone who has a basic knowledge of their work individually and together. It’s fragmented nature make it a less than perfect release but there are flashes of genius, which make it a worthwhile listening experience, especially for the jazz aficionado.


Miles At The Fillmore (Box Set) by Miles Davis

June 18, 2014

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Shortly after releasing Bitches Brew, Miles Davis and his band began a four night stand at the Fillmore East on June 17, 1970. Bitches Brew had signified a new direction for his career. Lengthy solos were being replaced by an ensemble sound as he was taking his cues from the rock and funk music of the day. While he was still grounded in jazz, his new fusion style and sound began attracting rock fans.

His backing band at the Fillmore was one of the best of his career. Sax player Steve Grossman, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette, percussionist/vocalist Airto Moreira, pianist Chick Correa, and organist Keith Jarrett were some of the best jazz musicians available and formed a tight and talented unit. Jarrett and Correa would carry and change the melody while Dejohnette and Holland provided a foundation.  This allowed Davis and Grossman to weave in their sounds. They would constantly change direction and add new textures to the performances.

Back in the days of vinyl, a two disc set was released. It consisted of four medleys of material, one to each side. Remarkably the rest of the music sat in the vaults until now.

Miles At The Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Volume 3 is a four CD box set that contains all four complete concerts. It all adds up to over 100 minutes of unreleased music. Also included as bonus tracks are three performances from their April 11, 1970, concert at The Fillmore West, which means another 35 minutes of unreleased material. The band is the same except Keith Jarrett was not present. The three songs, “Paraphernalia,” “Footprints,” and a thunderous rendition of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” all clock in at over ten minutes and were not performed at any of the Fillmore East concerts.

The sound has been remastered from the original tapes. Both Fillmore’s had excellent recording equipment for the day and modern technology has created a pristine sound. Each musician is distinct, which increases the listening experience. A 32-page booklet not only gives a history of the concerts but provides a context for the music in so far as the era and Davis’ career are concerned. They also made the wise decision to place each night of music on its own disc. This enhances each individual concert experience.

Songs such as “Directions,” “The Mask,” “It’s About Time,” and “Bitches Brew” appear on all four discs. It is interesting to compare the performances and note not only the obvious but subtle changes as well.

The second performance of June 18 contains a surprise. Davis rarely performed an encore but here they played a ten minute “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew. It was the only time the song was performed during his four night stay.

Miles At The Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Volume 3 finally resurrects one of the historic series of concerts in American music history. While they are emblematic of a certain period in the career of Miles Davis, they hold up well 44 years later. A must listen for any fan of Davis or jazz music.


Dizzy’s Big 4 by Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, Mickey Roker

November 27, 2013

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Legendary jazz producer and label owner Norman Granz formed Pablo Records during the early 1970s, just about a decade after he sold his Verve Label. One of the artists he quickly signed was trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. They had collaborated on a number of projects in the past. Granz like to pair him with different musicians and record the results. He continued that approach by bringing Gillespie, bassist Ray Brown, guitarist Joe Pass, and drummer Mickey Roker into a Los Angeles record studio, September 17 and 19, 1974. The results were released as Dizzy’s Big 4, which has now been reissued with two bonus tracks as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Guitarist Joe Pass appeared on a number of Pablo releases and his work was usually the glue that bonded the various musicians together and so it is here, especially since there is no keyboardist to fill in and carry the sound.

Three of the seven original tracks are Gillespie compositions. “Frelimo” begins the album on a light-hearted note as each musician establishes his territory in this eight minute offering. “Be Bop” is one of Gillespie’s best known compositions, which is highlighted by its complicated structures. He just carries the song along with solo bursts of his trumpet. “Birks’ Works” is a nearly nine minute stroll that allows each musician to solo.

Other highlights are “Hurry Home,” which is a show case for bassist Brown and “Russian Lullaby,” with a number of tempo changes and a sweet Pass solo on the original and the added bonus alternate take.

Dizzy’s Big 4 remains one of Gillespie’s better small group works. It brought together four different but talented musicians who all enjoyed long careers. They managed to produce an excellent piece of work that still sounds fresh four decades later.


Skol by Oscar Peterson and Stephane Grappelli

November 9, 2013

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Oscar Peterson was a giant of jazz. From the late 1940’s until his death in 2007, he produced a body of work that was not only of the highest quality due its improvisational nature but very approachable as he was more melodic than many of his contemporaries.

Stephane Grappelli’s first claim to fame came during the 1930’s when he was part of a quintet with legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. He blended classical elements into his music as he paved the way for the violin to be recognized as a jazz instrument.

On July 6, 1979, pianist Peterson and violinist Grappelli took the stage at the Trivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark and the tape was running. They were joined by guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, and drummer Mickey Rokey. The results of the concert have now been re-released as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.  Skol has been enhanced with three previously unreleased bonus tracks.

One should be aware that the concert had two distinct parts. The first half featured Grappelli, Pass, and Pederson, while the second half added Peterson and Roker to the mix.

While all the musicians step forward to solo from time to time, it is Grappelli who is the star of the show.

The best track is a poignant rendition of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” with Peterson’s laid back solo followed by incredible work by Grappelli. “Skol Blues” is a rare jazz statement where a pianist and violinist play off of each other. “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “That’s All,” are vehicles for each instrumentalist to solo as Grappelli ties everything together.

The three bonus tracks from the concert are seeing the light of day for the first time. Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” has Peterson in the middle and Grappelli finishing. There is a laid back version of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” In some ways it is guitarist Joe Pass who is the glue on many of the songs and nowhere is this more apparent then on “I Got Rhythm” where he not only provides a foundation but on his solo adds some bars from “Salt Peanuts.”

As with all the releases in the series the production and sound quality are impeccable. The enclosed booklet gives a nice overview of the concert and music.

Thirty-four years have passed since these artists took the stage together, yet the music retains its sheen. A must release for any jazz aficionado.


Hotel Souza by Karen Souza

November 7, 2013

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Karen Souza has a wonderful smoky and seductive voice that bridges the gap between light jazz and traditional pop. She benefits from the fact that she co-writes most of her material, which enhances her ability to sing the songs with passion.  She has now released her second album titled Hotel Souza.

Much of her music has a bass foundation upon which she builds her sound. She adds guitars, percussion, strings, and a little brass at times to fill out that sound. Her voice does not so much float over the mix as it seduces the material. Songs such as “Paris,” “Night Demon,” “Delectable You,” and “I’ve Got It Bad” are the best examples of her style and talent.

My major criticism of the album is a sameness of the performances. She needs to change tempos more often. Her cover of the soul classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” is moved over to a light weight jazz piece even though the horns give it a little pep. The Ray Gilbert/Antonio Carlos Jobim composition “Dindi” should have been a tour de force for her but it is moved in a pop direction.

Karen Souza is an exceptional vocalist who needs to put further thought into her material in order to produce a more varied album.


Afro Blue Impressions by John Coltrane

October 2, 2013

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Fifty years is a lifetime for some, but John Coltrane accomplished so much in his short life, having died at the age of 40 in 1967. On October 22, 1963, and November 2, of the same year, he was on a tour of Europe. The tapes were rolling both nights and those performances were released as a double vinyl album in 1977, a decade after his passing. Now Pablo Records, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the concerts, has re-released Afro Blue Impressions as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. It also returns in an expanded form.

Coltrane was in what is considered the second phase of his career. He began as a sideman to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and by the early 1960s was leading his own quartet. The jazz great used what he learned from Monk and Davis as a jumping off place; he began to leave harmonic structures behind as his extended solos combined individual notes into swirling patterns. His approach was a type of free-form music, which allowed him to explore the outer edges of jazz music.

Coltrane on stage is, unsurprisingly, different from in the studio. The songs change and many are extended to give him room to explore the songs’ structures and in most cases, leave them behind.

He is accompanied by pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. They are not so much a tight unit as they are flexible, which is perfect for Coltrane, who places his emphasis on imagination and improvisation.

The Broadway hit, “My Favorite Things,” is Coltrane at his best. The performance is extended out to beyond 20 minutes, which allows him to explore the tune’s many intricate textures and patterns. He constantly changes direction and creates a number of surprises along the way.

His own compositions, “Lonnie’s Lament,” “I Want to Talk About You,” “Spiritual,” and “Impressions” are built upon his feelings as expressed with his saxophone. The three bonus tracks, “Naima,” “I Want to Talk About You,” and a 14-minute version of “My Favorite Things” were taken from different concerts than those on the original release and provide a wonderful glimpse on how his music changes from night to night.

As with all the releases in the series, the sound is amazingly clear given the age of the original tapes. The booklet presents a nice history of the music.

John Coltrane’s music would continue to evolve, as his style would eventually leave many of the norms of jazz music behind; he would also take on a decidedly spiritual nature. Afro Blue Impressions catches him in a very settled stage in his career and while it may not be for the faint-hearted, it is a good introduction to his music.


Mulligan Meets Monk by Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan

September 23, 2013

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Pianist Thelonious Monk and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan came together in 1957 to record Mulligan Meets Monk. That album has now been reissued as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Throughout jazz history, musicians have constantly played with one another in the studio and on stage. What was unique about the Monk-Mulligan union was how different they were in temperament, cultural background, and approach to music. The result may not have been one of the best jazz albums ever produced but it certainly was one of the more interesting.

Monk was one of the signature musicians and pianists in jazz history. His use of dissonant notes and odd rhythms helped him build the structures of his compositions. He was most comfortable alone or in a small group setting. He always had a mysterious quality about him and is considered one of the leading proponents of the bebop movement.

Mulligan was more melodic and was very comfortable in larger groups and even orchestral settings. He was associated with the cool jazz movement and during the mid-1950s was at the height of his popularity. What they had in common was a genuine friendship, plus the talent as two of the better musicians in jazz history. This allowed them to overcome the musical tensions that permeate some of the tracks. There are four alternate takes that were not a part of the original album.

“Straight No Chaser” is a classic Thelonious Monk composition. The bonus track is take one and finds Mulligan very tentative as he explores the composition but there is no Monk solo whatsoever. It is take three that was originally issued and at a minute and a half longer, it contains a Monk solo that plays off Mulligan’s. Similarly, the first two takes of “I Mean You” are somewhat frenetic and rushed. The fourth released take is more leisurely as they trade relaxed solos.

Throughout the album it is usually Mulligan who tries to adjust and allow Monk room to play. Many times the tension is in the waiting for Monk to jump in at the right time. The music was recorded as a quartet with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson, which was also in Monk’s comfort zone.

As with all the releases in the series, the sound has been remastered and is excellent considering the state of recording equipment in 1957. The original liner notes and an extended essay of the music are also included.

Mulligan Meets Monk was a leap of faith for the two musicians and remains so for the listener. It is not the best music they ever recorded but it is guaranteed to keep your attention.