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Enjoy the Music.com    Best Music Of 2001 Award

Best Music Of 2002 Awards

by Jim Merod
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1. Jazz Re-Issue: Box Set

The Complete Roost Recordings of Johnny Smith's Small Group Sessions [8-CDs, $128]

The retro-craze in North American culture continues apace in car design, high boutique fashion, and belated devotion to once lost or forgotten monuments of jazz history.

Mosaic Records has compiled an enviable list of stellar, sometimes obscure, yet always deeply significant digital and analog releases. The Mosaic jazz and blues catalogue is comprised of limited pressings, on compact discs and vinyl long playing albums, of musical treasures such as The Complete Blue Note Recordings Of Thelonious Monk" and The Complete Commodore Jazz Recordings in three volumes that total sixty-six LPs; and The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Nat 'King' Cole Trio in box sets of eighteen CDs and twenty-seven LPs. Sixty-seven of their voluminous sets have sold out; five others are close to depletion.

These beautifully-packaged sets are always accompanied by precise, historically detailed notes and commentaries. They serve the purposes of jazz historians and archivists, on one hand, as well as the more-than-casual jazz fan seeking only magnificent music, on the other hand.

Mosaic's compilation of The Complete Roost Recordings Of Johnny Smith's Small Group Sessions marks another milestone, and victory, for this arduous publishing venture. I choose this eight-CD set (limited to 5,000 copies) as the jazz re-issue of 2002 for two reasons.

First, the tens hours or so of music collected here is among the most melodically-intricate and heartfelt in the entire jazz repertoire. Johnny Smith's technique is flawless, his harmonic and improvisational taste is profound, and his tonal beauty stunning. Many of the sessions assembled in this set are recorded with great care to capture Smith's tonal radiance. To hear albums that for years were relegated to unlistenable pops and hisses among one's own (overplayed) LPs is to re-encounter dear old friends of the finest sort. And, for anyone who loves jazz guitarists with chops, tact, and emotional range, Johnny Smith is a friend, indeed.

Second, my choice honors a musician who never received, publicly, even a small portion of the acknowledgement heaped upon him in private by peers and appreciative jazz insiders. When a guitar master of the stature of Barney Kessel says of Smith that "no one in the world plays the guitar better," the magnitude of Johnny Smith's importance becomes clear.

This eight-volume box set is, in my estimation, indispensable for those who prize old fashioned, never-out-of-date musicianship of the highest calibre. Johnny Smith's playing, as these discs reveal, is nearly unrivaled for its effortless depth and perfection.
{Available solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902 www.MosaicRecords.com.


2. Jazz Re-Issue: Individual Album

Stan Getz With Cal Tjader (JVCXR-0218-2)
[20-bit digital XRCD remastering: $30]

Joe Harley's work with JVC's hugely impressive XRCD-series of jazz re-issues continues to mine jewels from semi-overlooked terrain. His recent choice to remaster and republish two classic Henry Mancini albums, film scores from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Charade," are exact instances of Joe Harley's exquisite taste 
and judgment.

With this majestic remastering of Stan Getz's mind-boggling 1958 session alongside vibraphonist Cal Trader and his cohort of exquisite colleagues -- bassist Scott LaFaro, pianist Vince Guaraldi, guitarist Eddie Duran, and drummer Billy Higgins -- an album without equal has been salvaged from partial neglect with new vibrancy.

I cannot state emphatically enough how magnificent the playing on this album truly is. I do not know of any jam session or studio recording that rivals the relaxed intensity of this recording. It is, literally, unique and timeless in several classic permutations of
the old "throw it on the wall and see what sticks" outlook. On this date, everything sticks. Forty-five years later, the playing blows away just about everything and anything you'll find, wherever you search, live in clubs or on recordings.

The wonder of the XRCD mastering operation resides with sonic clarity taken to its ultimate without any sense of the audible irritants one hears on some DVD-audio reissues and, surprisingly, on a few SACD re-masterings, as well. On those high-bit, ultra-resolution transfers from analog tape (or from 16-bit digital masters), one sometimes finds a sense of sonic expansion or hollowness: a larger-than-life, spatially unconvincing ("unreal") cartoon quality in the heightened openness and density of aural impact. The result can be a genuinely discomforting sense of spaceless -- literally "no space of any tangible sort" within the musical soundstage. Nothing like that, in any way, inhabits any XRCD disc I've heard. The Getz-Tjader session is among the most convincingly, engagingly seductive yet released.

But the glory of this all-star blowing date is the playing. This sextet romps, growls, and surges forward as if its collective motion were propelled by hilarity and sympathies greater than the sum of many parts. These are six men coming together once and once only -- an unrehearsed eruption of spontaneous zeal that demonstrates a genuine, down-home "sextet" feeling... not the ordinary one-plus-five lockstep logic or a discrete if bristling rhythm section driving (perhaps catching up to) a detached and confident front line. These men came to the studio with fire in their bellies and insouciance to burn.

Burn they did. And this classic album, if you do not know it, awaits discovery or, with this extraordinary pressing, renewed adoration.


3. Jazz Newcomer: Vocalist

Rene Marie: Vertigo -- with Mulgrew 
Miller, piano; Chris Potter, tenor sax; Jeff 
'Tain' Watts, drums; Robert Hurst, bass; 
et. al. [MaxxJazz MXJ 114]

With the appearance of her initial MaxxJazz album How Can I Keep From Singing?, Rene Marie announced her arrival on a scene badly needing her quicksilver emotion -- an artistic depth of feeling rare at any time or place.

Here, with "Vertigo," this exceptional vocalist extends the range and delicacy of her awe-inspiring power to arrest, enchant, cheer, seduce, entertain, enthrall, and shock.

No living singer I am aware of has Rene Marie's ability to simultaneously command and illuminate an audience. Those two qualities are contrary. When they are unified within a single voice or performer, their oxymoronic merging creates authority of a sort one reaches for superlatives, nearly unspeakable, to name.

I realize that such statements seem excessive. Rene Marie's vocal authority, itself, is almost excessive. You cannot feel or know the full force of this brilliant singer's power by listening to a studio-crafted recording such as this. As beautifully constructed as "Vertigo" is in each of its expert choices, it does not render what an album cannot capture: the magic of a vocalist whose art transcends the boundaries of sedentary representational media. Even a film or video will not reveal to you how high, how utterly without expected boundaries -- expressively, imaginatively, vocally, humanly -- Rene Marie's art is.

There stands the operative term for this very special musician. When she takes a stage to beguile and lift a large audience (who, for the most, do not know her or her work), Rene Marie "is" . . . she exudes being, vibrance, joy, unpredictability, physical and emotional vitality: life.

I chose "Vertigo" as the new artist/vocalist album of '02 not because the album, on its own, accomplishes the impossible feat of embodying a singer who transcends studios and discs. I chose it because it is, so far, the best example of a blessed and gifted talent that demands of us the strictest, most severe and yielding attention we can bring to it. In five decades of listening to all of the greatest vocalists in jazz, I count a mere handfull as the "essential" vocalists for all time to come. To that list -- the divine Sassy, the cherubic Ella, the sublimely tortured Billie, and name (as you will) one or two others -- it may be possible, with adequate support, opportunity, health, and perhaps just a touch of exact good fortune, that Rene Marie will stand someday near, or within, that circle.

In the meantime, find a way to see and hear Rene Marie in performance. As you wait for that chance, listen to "Vertigo's" brooding energy suggest how complex with divine light and untroubled wisdom great vocal art can be.


4. Jazz Newcomer: Instrumentalist

David Sills: Bigs {Naxos Jazz 86070-2} 
& Stay Cool [Brent Jensen/David Sills 
Quartet: Origin Records 82403]

Saxophonist DAVID SILLS made his way to the Big Apple in the year now closing, an apt trek east after years of woodshedding and apprentice work in Los Angeles. Anyone who has heard Sills live knows the intelligent fire of his dedication to composing and improvisation. 

Sills' work with alto saxist Brent Jensen on "Stay Cool," an '02 release, extends the promise found on his "Bigs" album, two years earlier, in the company of Alan Broadbent, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Darek Oles, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums -- an extremely savvy quintet.

The special mark of this young man's playing can be heard in its calm urgency. Sills plays with an inner warmth that glows like the accents of late afternoon sunlight on rolling green hills. There is something, innately, nearly "visual" in Sills' sonic textures, as if his imagination sketched graphic images in sound... tonal still-lifes.
Whatever the use of such impressions, one thing is evident. David Sills' compositions -- such as "Where It's At" (based on "What Is This Thing Called Love?") and "Deep Sleep" (tracing the grid of "You Stepped Out Of A Dream") from his new album; and "Shark-eez" (built on Ray Noble's "Cherokee") from the earlier one -- demonstrate unusual harmonic self-confidence. In a jazz world in which so many aspiring tenor saxophonists walk in the footsteps of larger musical predecessors, their own identities sublimated utterly, David Sills has staked his musical selfhood on a sound that courts the ravishing loveliness of Stan Getz at his finest, yet veers off to express restrained ferocity seldom mastered by a player 
so young, so full of urgency and conceptual enthusiasm. "Stay Cool" is only half right in its designation. David Sills' calm intensity betrays steady heat within.


5. New Album Release: Best of 2002

Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band:
Things To Come
[Manchester Craftsmen's Guild MCG J1009]

Few albums today startle a hip listener immediately upon initial hearing. There is, sadly, no longer at large in the land that demonic, provocative musical tenacity shorn of self-consciousness, driven by exuberance and expertise -- lyrical and collegial madness -- that once and always elevated Ellington's, Basie's, Eckstine's, Herman's, and Tadd Dameron's brilliant aggregations.

The name left off the list above is Dizzy Gillespie, ace mad cap, suave negotiator of complex musical territories. Dizzy's devotion to first-rate big bands was absolute. Go back and listen to his late-'50s gang that stormed Europe and the Mediteranean. Diz refused to accept the closing of the great swing era's affinity with its be-bop inheritance. History writers, keen on sharp distinctions, attribute be-bop's arrival to Dizzy's path breaking harmonic inventions... those and Monk's as well as Charlie Parker's essentially Mozartian gymnastics.

The innovator overlooked too often is Bud Powell, who is as responsible for bop's maturity as anyone. But Dizzy Gillespie drove the amalgamation of lyric and melodic flatted-fifth dialectics with the joy of large ensemble force. Dizzy's inheritors are many, diverse, contradictory, and schooled in the advanced skills of dynamic precision that few (sixty years ago) at the apex of the "swing" era fully understood, while (paradoxically) many in the current era of retro-hommage internalize as unconscious parts of musical speech.

Dizzy was once the professor of intricate rhythmic and harmonic lessons. He stands today head and shoulders above contemporary culture, overlooked but not dismissed.

The truthful (wholly forceful) celebration of Dizzy Gillespie's artistic spirit here in "Things To Come," a live recording, sets this session apart on self-defined (wholly triumphant) terms. The album assembles a bevy of great musicians who paid with their art for lasting jazz respect. It captures Dizzy's wholesome musical outlook without evasion.

I've selected this album, from hundreds that compete for sincere attention, not because its individual or ensemble playing, or its continuous musical execution, are profound. There is no search for perfection here -- witness, in contrast, Ellington's near-perfect late-'50s creations, "And His Mother Called Him Bill" and the live and truly daring recording, "Jazz Party" (featuring Dizzy Gillespie). I chose this album as the most notable new release of 2002 because it embodies the spirit of the Great Jazz Heritage. This album both honors and embodies Dizzy Gillespie's artistic intelligence.

Recorded in performance, in Pittsburgh, Things To Come features a take-no-victims cast of jazz gurus: Frank Wess, alto sax and flute; Jon Faddis and Claudio Roditi, trumpet; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Jimmy Heath, tenor sax (along with James Moody). Add Antonio Hart, Gaty Smulyan, Greg Gisbert, Terell Stafford, Slide Hampton, David Gibson, Marty and Jay Ashby... you get the point. But the essential punctuation among this roaring mob of splendid maniacs derives from pianist Renee Rosnes, one of our culture's most ridiculously undeserved musical secrets. Renee makes things happen on this session that few pianists, of any outlook or persuasion, could execute. Listen carefully.

The Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star crew makes music with fire, love, tact and altogether improbable daring. That is what Dizzy did. These men and women learned from The Champ. This album gives us the champ's mastery riffed back in blazing figures without nostalgia: only jazz truths are told here.


6. Albums Worth Reckoning:

- Kenny Barron: Canta Brasil -- Barron, piano, with Trio De Paz: Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Nilson Matta, bass, and Maucha Adnet, vocals [Sunnyside SSC 3005]

- David Gibson: Maya -- Gibson, trombone, with Dwayne Burno, bass; John Sneider, trumpet/flugel; Wayne Escoffery, tenor sax; Jeremy Manasia, piano; Peter Hartman, bass; and Tony Leone, drums [Nagel Heyer 2018]

- Terri Lynne Carringon: Jazz Is A Spirit -- Carrington, drums, with Herbie Hancock, piano; Wallace Roney, trumpet; Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Kevin Eubanks, guitar;
+ additional all-star support [ACT Music 9408-2]

- Juile Kelly: Thou Swell: Kelly Sings Christie -- with Tom 
Garvin, piano; Stacy Rowles, trumpet/flugel; Pete Christlieb, 
sax/flute; et. al. [CMG: CMD 8067]

- Wayne Shorter: Footprints Live! -- Shorter, saxophones; Danilo 
Perez, piano; John Pattituci, bass; Brian Blade, drums
[Verve 314 589 679-2]

- Jackie Ryan: Passion Flower [Open Art Records OA 0727 2]

- Blosson Dearie: Live In London [Harkit Records HRKCD 8055]

- Karrin Allyson: In Blue [Concord CCD 2106-2]

- Rosemary Clooney: The Last Concert [Concord Records CCD 

- Paquito D'Rivera: Brazilian Dreams [Manchester Craftsmen's 
Guild MCGJ 1010]

- Billy Eckstine: The Legendary Big Band [Savoy SVY 17125]

- Buck Clayton: Swings The Village [Nagel Heyer 5004]

- Shelly Manne: The Navy Swings [Studio West 109 CD]

- Lori Bell Setet: Lori Bell [Beezwax Records BW6676A]

- Mel Torme: Live At The Playboy Jazz Festival [Playboy Jazz PBD 

- Carmen Lundy: Good Morning Kiss [Justin Time JTR 8495-2]

- Rob Thorsen Quartet: Evolution [Azica AJD 72223]

- Ron Carter With Benny Golson: Stardust [Blue Note 7243 5 
37813 23]
























































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