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CD Reviews - March 2005
by George Fendel

Art Tatum Live 1955-56, Volume 8; Art Tatum, piano. Storyville continues to unearth material by the one jazz pianist who scared the heck out of everyone else who dared sit down at the piano bench. As in the earlier volumes in this incredible series, much of this material came from various private sources and is previously unreleased. It features two Tatum trios in live performance and begins with Steve Allen introducing the players for their appearance on the Tonight Show in 1955. Other broadcasts include CBS's live feed from Basin Street; NBC's "Monitor" live from Chicago's London House; and a radio gig from New Jersey's jazz joint of the period, The Red Hill Inn. Tatum, as always, spins your head around with a selection of tunes he enjoyed playing. You'll hear "I Cover The Waterfront," "Tenderly," "Tea For Two," "Body And Soul," "Sweet Lorraine," "Don't Blame Me," "Moon Song," "Soft Winds" and about a dozen more. Storyville put in some serious effort to bring you the best fidelity possible, and considering the primitive electronic sources they had to work with, they did a splendid job. Geniuses come around the bend only occasionally. In his brief 46 years, Art Tatum displayed his other-worldly genius at every performance. Storyville, 2005; PT: 72:08, *****

Live In '95, Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone. We live in a time when jazz musicians are faced with the problem of the "disappearing piano." It's becoming more difficult with each passing year to find jazz clubs, hotels and other nightspots offering jazz, to, believe it or not, offer a piano! Gerry Mulligan found the answer decades ago with his pianoless quartets, and Howard Alden and Dan Barrett function ever so nicely sans the "88." Completing their quintet are Chuck Wilson, alto and clarinet; Frank Tate, bass and Jackie Williams, drums. This live recording was done during an East Coast tour a decade ago. The tunes run the gamut from Kid Ory's Savoy Blues to Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now." Terrie Richards, Alden's wife, adds a nice vocal touch to "Jeepers Creepers," "That Old Feeling," "Now Baby Or Never" and "Skylark." The remaining six tunes, mostly familiar fare, spread the solo opportunities and the ensemble swing style generously. I'm not aware that this group is still intact ten years after this scintillating performance. If so, we need to hear more from them. Arbors Records, 2004; Playing Time: 70:40, ***1/2

I Didn't Know About You, David Evans, tenor saxophone. Portlanders, listen up! You need to get behind David Evans because he's both one of us and he's the real deal. Evans comes from that great school of tenors built by Lester, Getz, and Zoot and Al. He gets this gorgeous, sculptured tone on a CD handcrafted with a world class rhythm section of Mike Wofford, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Evans moves the tempos around with ease; from the lilt of "Pennies From Heaven" to the tenderness of "Skylark;" from the classic "Something To Remember You By" to the swinging "The Late Late Show;" or from the tender "Some Other Time" to the well named "I Want To Be Happy." Perhaps the surprise of the set is a relaxed, pianoless "Slow Boat To China." But the highlight is the title tune, "I Didn't Know About You." It will forever be associated with the creamy alto saxophone of the great Johnny Hodges, but after a half chorus featuring Magnusson's lyrical bass, Evans comes in with a dreamy bridge, and Hodges fans will melt. On the same tune, did I hear Mike Wofford with a brief but sparkling salute to Jimmy Rowles? This is a delicious CD, etched in the classic jazz tradition, and played with love and much care. Heavywood Music, 2004; Playing Time: 66:31, ****1/2

This One's For Barney, Andrew Scott, guitar. Andrew Scott is a guitarist who brings both bristling bop chops and sizzling swing savvy to an album of six standards and three originals. The CD's title is Scott's dedication to the late guitar maven, Barney Kessel. Sure enough, one of the selections is "Barney's Rag," Kessel's take on the changes to the venerable "Tiger Rag." Scott's quartet is augmented nearly all the way through by the versatile tenor player, Harry Allen, who brings his gorgeous "sound of jazz history" to the gig. On two tracks, trumpet man Jake Wilkinson joins the fold and is especially impressive on a medium tempo "If I Should Lose You." In addition to their formidable playing, the leader opts for a very straight-ahead, center-of-the-road guitar sound, and it's not unlike that of his honoree. Pianist Bernie Senensky comps brightly and solos with aplomb. There's a rippling sort of energy to be found here on notables like "This Could Be The Start Of Something Big," "I Concentrate On You," "Nancy," "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and a Scott original, "Blues For Sonny." The remaining high spirits of this group are Louis Simao, bass and Joel Haynes, drums. Guitar fans, take note. Andrew Scott vigorously cooks up a terrific set. And he makes it sound easy. Sackville Recordings, 2004; Playing Time: 65:02, ****

Big Band, Kevin Mahogany, vocals. As the title makes clear, this CD finds Kevin Mahogany as featured vocalist for a plethora of big band buddies. Most of the material features the Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra, and it's truly a mixed bag. Mahogany is at his best on the ballad "One For My Baby," the scatty "Centerpiece," and the Latinized "It Don't Mean A Thing." But "Moonlight In Vermont" and "In The Evening" don't gain points from the synthesizers and burping bass arrangements. "Three Little Words" is a surprise in that it isn't the TLW that you've known forever. It is, rather, a medium tempo original by the singer, and a nice piece of writing. "Dear Ruby" is indeed Monk's classic all dressed up with a lovely lyric. On Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me," Mahogany welcomes Veronica Martell (who sounds a bit like Natalie Cole) for a scintillating duet. The program concludes with the CD's only non-big band selection, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." It is performed with the late James Williams on piano and his bright and breezy solo is top drawer, as was James Williams, the person. Mahogany Jazz, 2005; PT: 51:14, ***

My Foolish Heart, Eddie Higgins, piano; featuring Scott Hamilton, tenor sax. You know, it doesn't always need to "break new ground." Sometimes gorgeous is enough. And gorgeous is what you get with two musically kindred souls who obviously agree that there is something still to be cherished in "the tradition." Eddie Higgins long ago earned his diploma in the Wilson-Jones-Flanagan School of Elegance. Combine his brilliance with the languid, lyrical Ben Webster-inspired tenor of Scott Hamilton, and you have something truly special. Steve Gilmore, bass, and Bill Goodwin, drums, complete the quartet al perfecto. The foursome delivers spine tingling ballads in "My Foolish Heart," "What Is There To Say," "Skylark," "Embraceable You," "These Foolish Things" and "This Love Of Mine." They bring the tempo up a notch or so on "Russian Lullaby," "That Old Black Magic," "Night And Day," "Am I Blue," "The More I See You" and "The Song Is You." As you can see from these all-American titles, it's not necessary to comment on individual songs. Suffice to say, every cut's a winner. The bad news: this is a Japanese release, so if you wish to order it, you'll have to make some effort noodling around on your computer to find a mail order that works. Venus, 2004; PT: 69:37, *****

A Swedish Jazz Legend, Rolf Billberg, alto saxophone. The promise and the bright flame of Rolf Billberg (1930-1966) was extinguished too early in life. With a satisfying and intriguing alto sound that owes allegiance to players as disparate as Benny Carter, Herb Geller and Lee Konitz, here is a player who was definitely onto something. This wonderful compilation, covering the period from 1957 to 1966, will open the eyes of many who were previously unfamiliar with this very special musician. The 15 tunes heard here were recorded in Copenhagen with some solid Danish jazz musicians, among them the 14 year old prodigy, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. The tunes displayed here achieve a nice balance of standards, jazz lines and originals. A few faves included "Bag's Groove," "Blue Daniel," "The Lady Is A Tramp," a sterling "Opus De Funk" and a couple versions of "Yesterdays." Billberg could also write a lyrical line as proven by "I'm Building Up To A Nervous Breakdown" and a bountiful melody in "Curly Curt." The closer is Konitz's "Tautology," a flag waver with Alan Botchinsky's undaunted trumpet joining Billberg and his high spirited pals. Storyville, 2005; PT: 74:41, ****

The World Of Nat King Cole, Nat Cole, vocals, piano. When the artist is the incomparable Nat Cole, how in the heck does one possibly put out a "greatest hits" menu limited to just one CD? True, Capitol did a splendid job in choosing Nat's evergreens from both his pop and jazz lives, finally settling on 28 selections. When Nat's career shifted from jazz to pop, he pretty much stopped playing the piano. That fact is reflected here with only six choices from his elegant jazz trio. The rest are from the pop side of the ledger, albeit quality tunes such as "Too Young," "A Blossom Fell," "Mona Lisa," "Smile," "Day In Day Out," "Stardust" and many more. From the trio days comes "It's Only A Paper Moon," "Straighten Up And Fly Right," "Route 66," "Nature Boy" and the like. I could have managed without "Ramblin' Rose" and "L-O-V-E," and the low point on the album is the electronically contrived "duet" of Nat and daughter Natalie on "Unforgivable." Oh, wait . . . sorry, "Unforgettable." Jazz fans would lean strongly toward more material from the trio, but this CD, with all its good quality pop fare, would make a great gift for your aunt Harriet. Capitol Records, 2005; Playing Time: Not indicated; ***1/2

The Music of Reed Kotler, Tomo (a quintet). Call him a dinosaur if you must, but if Reed Kotler's style of writing ever becomes extinct, we're all in artistic trouble. You see, Kotler writes real songs, complete with recognizable melody lines. Or as Kotler puts it, "Number one for me is melody. It has to connect and feel good from beginning to end." And that's where Tomo takes over. (Oh, it's Japanese for "friends" or "soul mates.") This Los Angeles-based quintet includes Bob Sheppard, reeds, Larry Koonse, guitar; Bill Cunliffe, piano and arranging; Derek Oles, bass and Mark Ferber, drums. They absolutely own 12 Reed Kotler compositions, ranging from up tempo romps like the stirring opener "All My Love's For You" to delicate, lacy ballads such as "Did I Ask You If You Knew?" These and other Kotler songs wait only for a sophisticated lyricist to come along and add to their charm. This very welcome session joins two previous recordings of Kotler's music, one from Bobby Shew and Gary Foster and one from Bill Cunliffe and Gary Foster. All three are considered "musts" for those of you who value literate, lyrical, finely crafted songs. Torii Records, 2004; Playing Time: 63:46, *****

Sail Away, West Coast Jazz Ensemble. If you like the classic LA work of the small groups that featured giants with names like Chet, Giuffre, Rosolino, Holman, Mulligan, Shank, Paich and a boatful of others, you're going to be very happy with this CD. The West Coast Jazz Ensemble is made up of a group of Portland cats who cherish that LA '50's ensemble sound. Like some of those groups, this one does NOT include a piano, and guess what, you won't miss it. Why? Because there's lots happenin' in the arrangements and guitarist Christopher Woitach adds the comping that would otherwise be the piano's job. The rest of the group includes leader and alto/clarinet man, Larry Nobori, as well as Rick Homer, trumpet/mellophone; Michael Papillo, bass and Chris Conrad, drums. The tunes, craftily arranged by Nobori and Homer, are etched-in-marble jazz classics with upbeat melody lines and plenty of room to create. To name a few, how about, "Whisper Not," "On A Misty Night," "Joy Spring," "Line For Lyons," "If You Could See Me Now" and Tom Harrell's beautiful title tune, "Sail Away." Let's hear it for the West Coast Jazz Ensemble! You can visit them at www.wcjazz.com. Self-produced, 2005; Playing Time: Not Indicated; ****1/2

Morning, Will Martin, trombone. In the notes to this CD, Will Martin says "I don't think this is a trombone record. It is, (rather) a jazz record that happens to be led by a trombonist." And he's right. There's no "trombone licks" or "look what I can do" shtick here. It is, to my way of thinking, a straight-ahead quintet CD with trumpet, trombone (instead of tenor), piano, bass and drums. It doesn't hurt, of course, that his colleagues are Terrell Stafford, trumpet and flugelhorn; George Colligan, piano; Ed Howard, bass and Victor Lewis, drums. Of four interesting original compositions, I liked the spirit of "NY Sidewalk" and the laid back opener, "Free Time." The trombone-trumpet combination is particularly effective on "Caravan," and "Body And Soul" is fined tuned by both the leader and his pianist. The tune to spin your head around is Coltrane's "Impressions," taken pretty fast, and with burning solos all around. The other ballad beauty is Johnny Mandel's "Where Do You Start." It's another feature for Martin and he finds the tenderness in this "standard in the making." So yeah, as Martin said, this is a jazz album. And from every consideration, a very good one. Further information may be found at http://www.SaguaroBeach.com. Saguaro Beach, 2001; PT: 55:58, ****

Havin' A Good Time, Joe Williams, vocals; Ben Webster, tenor sax. What happened was simply that the city of Providence was in the midst of a blizzard, but Joe Williams was obligated to make the gig along with Junior Mance, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass and Mickey Roker, drums. When they arrived at Pio's on this bitter winter night in 1964, to the amazement of all, Ben Webster was sitting at a corner table, saxophone case close by. So Joe's working trio became a quartet with Ben's on-the-spot appearance. And what an evening! There's a grand helping of blues 'n ballads because, when you think about it, who could serve 'em up better than Joe and Ben? And Junior Mance has always been a masterful blues player! So what a night it was with "Just A-Sittin'" "And A-Rockin'", "That's All," "Alone Together," "I'm Through With Love," "The Great City," "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Allright OK, You Win" and several more. Remember, please, that Joe Williams was in the best voice of his career in the mid-60's, so this previously unreleased gem will be "inhaled" by Joe's loyal fans. Add Ben Webster to the mix and you have a rare and rousing recording. Hyena Records, 2005; Playing Time: 54:20, ****

Home Of My Heart, Chris Walden Big Band. Although one has to deal with smog, jammed freeways and 16 jillion people, LA's okay if you're a big band leader. That's because you can find monsters like Bobby Shew, Pete Christlieb and Carl Saunders to play in your band. And if you know your turf pretty well, there are tons of additional first rate players to fill those band chairs. This is what leader Chris Walden has done. His is music with swagger; arranged to showcase both the sizzling sound of the band AND the equally well honed skills of the soloists, big names or not. The tunes, whether original charts or standards, are all fresh and invigorating. Origin Recordings, 2005; Playing Time: 75:30; ****1/2

Oh Baby, Ralph Sutton, piano. Although Ralph Sutton rejected the label of ragtime piano player, these solo sessions from way back in 1949 and 1952 affirm Sutton's ragtime ruminations as well as his swing swagger. The tunes, predictably, fall into the rag, stomp and blues corner with contributions from such early stalwarts as Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Willie The Lion Smith and Fats Waller. These recordings originally appeared on small labels, and we're not blessed with the "highest fi" available. But the joyful playing of Ralph Sutton wins out. Be sure of that! Sackville, 2004; Playing Time: 64:04, ***

Dragon Fly, Avery Sharpe, bass. Avery Sharpe established strong credentials as McCoy Tyner's bassist for many years. On this recording he leads several groupings of musicians, mostly with his own trio of Onaje Allen Gumbs, piano and Winard Harper, drums. Guests Chico Freeman on tenor and a couple vocals by Jeri Brown add some extra flavor to the mix. She's right on target on a scat journey through "My Favorite Things." This is, however, primarily a program of original music, some of which can be a little "on the edge." JKNM Records, 2004; PT: 58:08, **1/2

Blackbird, Shelly Berg, piano. Just where has this guy been all my life? Whew! Another great piano player shows us how it's done with stirring dynamics, choice harmonies and swirling passion on great tunes like "All My Tomorrows," "Estate," "I Hear A Rhapsody," "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing," "All The Things You Are," "Blame It On My Youth," "If I Should Lose You" and more. Chuck Berghofer, bass, and Gregg Field, drums, complete a solid, swinging trio performance. But it's Shelly Berg who really comes through with all the honors on his Concord Jazz debut. Concord Jazz, 2005; Playing Time: 74:31, ****1/2

Bloom, Jeff Coffin, reeds, vocals and all kinds of percussive things. Right from the get-go, I'll resist a tasteless pun on the leader's name. Coffin's CD begins with what sounds like a Mardi Gras parade moving down the street, and eventually out of hearing distance. Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from there, seeking refuge in the land of what I think is called electronic sampling, turntable noise, funk and, perhaps to be kind, rhythm & blues. Compass Records, 2005; Playing Time: 59:28, *

Through The Time, Dave Wilson, tenor and soprano saxophones. Dave Wilson brings a sometimes Sonny Rollins-sometimes Warne Marsh sound to his tenor sax explorations. On soprano, he brings hope to a world assaulted and insulted by Kenny Somebody. Wilson wends his way through four originals of varying tempos plus sturdy takes on "Blue In Green," "Dindi," "All The Things You Are" and "Days Of Wine and Roses." His rhythm section, featuring Kirk Reese, piano, is solidly in his corner all the way. For more information, see djazwilson@aol.com. Dreamscape Records, 2002; Playing Time: 60:49, ***1/2

My New Old Friend, Alan Pasqua, piano. Alan Pasqua's trio examines six originals and five standards with an airy, thoughtful, heartfelt creativity. The melody is never stated on "All The Things You Are," but there's no doubt that's what you're hearing. Other evergreens, all delicately played, include "Body And Soul," "You Must Believe In Spring," "Smile" and the surprise of the set, "Wichita Lineman." Among Pasqua's compositions, I was drawn particularly to "Barcelona," a gentle alternative to, say, Chick Corea's "Spain." This is music you both hear and feel. Cryptogramophone, 2005; Playing Time: 63:05, ***1/2

Individuation, Thomas Marriott, trumpet, flugelhorn. It's been a number of years since I last heard Seattleite Tom Marriott play, but I remember thinking at the time that he had taken his cue from Clifford Brown. High praise indeed. That rich gorgeous sound is intact, but on this album, Marriott is accompanied by too much Fender Rhodes piano. With the odd exception of the Carpenters' hit "Sing A Song," the remainder of the album is original music, some quite good, some rather bland. And of zillions of great standards out there, "Sing A Song" won't be remembered as a sterling piece of writing. Origin Records, 2005; PT: 52:59, **1/2

Harold Arlen Centennial, Various Artists. February 15th marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Harold Arlen, a remarkable composer of timeless songs. Concord Jazz has gathered "Arlen's Greatest Hits" from its vault and compiled them on this two CD set. While many of these performances may not be definitive in nature, there are stellar players on this team. How about Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Scott Hamilton, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Art Tatum, Art Pepper, Oscar Peterson and a ton more. Compilations have their place, I guess, and this is one of the better ones. Concord Jazz Records, 2005; 2 CDs: Playing Time: 61:14 and 63:53, ***


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