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Jazz CD Music Reviews


A pair of highly contrasting but nevertheless superb albums start us out this month...

Al di Meola - Flesh On Flesh - (with Anthony Jackson, contrabass; Gumbi Ortiz, congas; Mario Parmisano, acoustic piano, synth, marimba & calliope; Alejando Santos, flutes & panpipes; Ernie Adams, drums; Jean Valdes & Guillermo Ruiz, alto saxes, Williams Polledo, trumpet; guest: Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Fender Rhodes) - Telarc CD-83543:

Di Meola has always been on the forefront of the use of various electronics with his guitar, but he uses them in imaginative and tasteful ways to expand his musical vocabulary - not just as gimmicks as some performers do. On this session he's listed as playing both acoustic and electric guitars (often processed by various synths), keyboards and percussion. He felt honored to get the amazing pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba to guest-solo on two of the eight tracks. The title tune was inspired by the heavy Cuban culture of Di Meola home base of Miami, and from the names of some of the sidemen, it appears most are Cuban expatriots. Four of the tunes are di Meola originals and others are from Piazzolla, Gismonti and Chick Corea. There's a definite Latin slant to everything here, but not your usual repetitive salsa rhythms - much more varied than that. I found it one of the most exciting-sounding jazz releases of the last couple months. And not bad to look at either.


Anouar Brahem, oud - Le pas du chat noir [The black cat's footsteps] (with Francois Couturier, piano; Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion) - ECM 1792 440 016 373-2:

I was familiar with Tunisian oudist Brahem from his previous superb album with John Surman and Dave Holland, Thimar. I didn't know he had done five other previous ones for ECM, so this is his seventh. He has said he loves being with ECM because they don't treat his music as just an exotic appendix to their catalog. The composer/performer reports that after the very cross-cultural Thimar session he put his oud aside for some time and concentrated on the piano in his studio. After a time spinning out some piano solos he found that the oud and accordion seemed to fit in naturally, and thus this ensemble and 12-track CD was born.

Like much to be heard on ECM the result would not necessarily be called jazz by purists. It's improvisatory chamber music with definite world music and film music influences. Two of the themes actually were originally composed for the soundtrack of a French film, La saison des hommes. All the titles are in French and the title tune which opens the album seems to communicate the subtle moods of these "silent songs," alluding to the footsteps of a creature who has passed by. Brahem notated all the music very precisely but the challenge of the performers was to make it sound as if improvised. Some have compared Brahem's music to that of Satie, Debussy and Mompou. It's difficult to describe the overall sound-world of these works, but be assured there's no Arabic oud strumming or Left Bank musette-squeezebox. The label's Manfred Eicher searched for a proper studio with the exceptional acoustics the trio required for this music. It's interesting that they recorded without the ubiquitous headphones - finding it most helpful to really hear one another.

- John Henry


Morelenbaum2 & Sakamoto & guests - Casa - Sony Classical - SK 89982:

My first thoughts were what is Ryuichi Sakamoto doing on a Brazilian album and what is music of Antonio Carlos Jobim doing on Sony Classical? Well, it turns out the Japanese composer, arranger, keyboard performer, king of technopop, producer, actor and model has been nuts about Brazilian music for years, shared the late Jobim's classical training with a leaning toward French impressionist music, and has become such a prime interpreter of Brazilian music that the Brazilian government awarded him a decoration for it. The Duo Morelenbaum (vocalist and cellist) performed frequently with Jobim the last decade of his life and in one sense Sakamoto is replacing the composer, playing on Jobim's own piano in his home in Rio where the recording was made with open windows allowing bird songs and cricket sounds to be heard. Some tracks also include the sound of surf from the beach. The 18 tracks present some of Jobim's finest songs but several are instrumental only. Among those which might be familiar are Bonita, and O Grande Amor, but most tracks here are hidden treasures or even tunes which have never before been recorded. A magical hour of musical expression with a view of Sugerloaf.

- John Henry


A pair of towering piano geniuses in alternate situations to most of their recordings...

Bud Powell - Paris Sessions (with Dizzy Gillespie, Zoot Sims, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin, Barney Wilen and others) - Pablo PACD-2310-972 2:

This collection of tapes from between l957 and l964 is quite different from the Powell sides on Blue Note. They were done half at a Paris studio and the rest at various Paris clubs live. A French artist and amateur pianist and his wife took the sometimes ailing Powell under their wing and arranged for some of the recording sessions. The sound is good though mono. There are some very slow and hesitant solos here by Powell, but when he gets inspired the old virtuosity comes thru. The one-minute Bach selection here could be right out of a Glenn Gould recital. The attention Thelonious Monk has received lately has been at the expense of his cohort Powell. Note-writer Duck Baker explains that while Monk created a personal idiom totally unlike anyone else, Powell spoke a bebop language shared by others. Baker's liner notes are a must-read to Tracks: Tune for Duke, I Got It Bad, Satin Doll, For My Friends, Perdido, Rue de Clichy, Taking a Chance on Love, Get Happy, How High the Moon, John's Abbey, Bud on Bach, Be Bop, Crossing the Channel, Body and Soul.


Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach - Money Jungle - Blue Note 7243 5 38227 2 9:

This unique l962 session appeared originally on a United Artists LP. The original three-track tapes have been successfully remastered at 24-bit to CD and four alternate takes tacked on. What a triumvirate of jazz! All the tunes are by Ellington, including the title tune, which George Wein - the original liner note writer - observed could be mistaken for have originated with the more protest-oriented Mingus or Roach. (Mingus has a life of bad luck too.) Ellington gives us not a rundown of his greatest hits in trio form - in fact Caravan is about the only huge Ellington hit here - but instead a mix of the most up-to-date harmonies with a touch of stride piano and little-known nostalgic tunes we wrote in the 30s and 40s. Roach and Mingus know their Ellington and are obviously honored to be part of this endeavor. It's a masterpiece of the jazz trio tradition. Tracks: [+ = plus alternate take of same] Money Jungle, Fleurette Africaine, Very Special, Warm Valley, Wig Wise, Caravan, Solitude+, Switch Blade+, A Little Max+, REM Blues+, Backward Country Boy Blues.

- John Henry


Two guitars, two countries, two thoughtlines...

Steve Herberman, guitar - Thoughtlines (with Bruce Swaim, tenor sax; Victor Dvoskin, bass; Dominic Smith, drums) - Reach Music RM-3760:

Thoughtful hollow-body electric guitar lines, a promising saxist, and a good choice of the seven of the 11 tracks which are not originals by Herberman. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Herberman switched a decade ago to the extended-range seven-string guitar and plays with the fingers instead of using a pick - getting a more classical Spanish guitar timbre. A guitar magazine compared his fingerstyle technique to Joe Pass. Tracks: I Wish I Knew, Thought Lines, Nobody Else But Me, A Smooth One, Criss Cross, Laura, Scurryin', Scooter's Blues, Jeannine, Extended Cruise, Isfahan. If you have trouble finding this one, try www.reachmusicjazz.com.


Sylvain Luc, guitar - Trio Sud (with Jean-Marc Jafet, bass & Andre Ceccarelli, drums) - Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36632-2:

Not much info about this guitarist in the notes, but the label has recorded other guitarists in the Django Reinhardt mode, and the Thanks list includes his descendant Babik Reinhardt. Luc also plays an unusual unamplified guitar with the holes in an upper corner of the hollow body rather than under the strings. Again, the more classical Spanish guitar sound lends itself to classical selections such as the album's closing Recollections of the Alhambra. There's even a tune by French film legend Jean Renoir, and only two originals by Luc. Tracks: Jordu, Les Amants D'un Jour, Zarmegaria, Out of the Night Came You, Eraldi, Le Complainte de la Butte, Pata Pata, Could It Be Magic, Peace, Brazil, Irdir, Don't Tell Me, Recollections of the Alhambra.

- John Henry


Two European jazz groups heavily digging into the classical repertory...

Gianluigi Trovesi - Dedalo (Trovesi, reeds; Markus Stockhausen, trumpet & Fluegelhorn; Rom Rainey, drums; Fulvio Maras, percussion & effects; the WDR Big Band of Cologne cond. By Gianluigi Trovesi - Enja ENJ-9419-2:

Trovesi is one of those European jazz musicians who has been greatly influenced by the important American black jazz figures, but sees that as just one of the many varied musical idioms he can explore in his music. Early polyphony, music of the Baroque, liturgical music, folk songs and dances, and modern classical from the likes of Bartok and Stravinsky can be influences. This collaboration between Trovesi and the big band of the German radio essentially brings into more a standard big band setting a series of works he created for his octet in 1992. He mixes free improvisation with more traditional jazz and like many European creative music composers shows a strong influence from the classical world. Seeing the son of avant composer Karlheinz Stockhausen featured on this album gave me pause, but instead of the expressionistic free jazz that is his usual bag, he plays here with searing but highly melodic power. The pianist and guitarist of the big band also contribute many solos in these fascinating tracks. The opening track, which is reprised several times, is a catchy Dixieland/honky-tonk tune which seems to be for a vaudeville show of some sort. It conjured up for me some of the onstage tactics of the wild Wm. Breuker Kollektief. The Dedalo of the title was the architect of the maze in which the legendary Minotaur was kept, and mazes decorate the cover and actual CD inside. Frankly, I was a mazed how much I dug this great CD! Tracks; Hercab, Herbop, Dance for a King, Now I Can, From G to G, Scotch, Dance for the East No. 2, Dedalo, Hercab (live version).


The Treya Quartet Plays Gabriel Fauré (Paolo Fresu, trumpet; Tony Overwater, bass; Gilbert Paeffgen, drums; Peter Waters, piano) - DIVOX CDX-49802:

The Treya Quartet is made up of an Italian, a Dutchman, a German and an Australian. And they record for a Swiss label. Their album proves an unusual mix as well, putting the songs (and some instrumental works) of Gabriel Faure into a jazz piano trio & quartet setting. The group sees Faure as the forerunner of impressionism via his being teacher and mentor to Maurice Ravel. They feel that by lending the songs a jazz sound without the vocalist, they enhance the beauty and simplicity of Faure's melodic lines. Lyrics for the songs are provided in the notes, but only in French. Does the recasting into jazz work? If you're thoroughly familiar with the songs, it may work better, but I found it lovely light chamber jazz at the least.

- John Henry


To close, a real blockbuster of a jazz portrait...

Artie Shaw Self Portrait - nearly 100 selections by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra from l936 thru 1954 on 5 CDs. With annotated notes by Artie Shaw, Orrin Keepnews and others - Bluebird boxed set 09026-63808-2:

Veteran reissue producer Keepnews observes that this is probably the most unusual project he has ever been involved with. Usually a collection that covers the period before tape recording (which most of this one does) means that the artists involved are no longer with us. In Shaw's case he is very much with us, though in his 90s, and he offering much guidance in assembled the material for the set. He wanted to include his bands' very best work and give a balanced view of his accomplishments, free of the commercial needs of his record labels at the time. For example, he includes many acetates of radio broadcasts because he has always felt that the band simply sounded more together and exciting in that situation - playing for a live audience at the venue as well as over the air - instead of in a dead studio trying to fit the music properly on a 2 1/2 minute 78 rpm side.

Many different sources were used for the reissue set. My introduction to Artie Shaw was the unique sound of his harpsichord-based Gramercy Five small group of the early 40s. Shaw retained the masters from those sessions, and while the first CD reissue of this material was terrible, these tracks now sound almost like recorded yesterday. This group was sort of the equivalent of Benny Goodman's Quartet and Sextet, but much more imaginative musically. Shaw quit performing after l954, became a writer and producer of films on fine art. He doesn't mince words about his career, even being willing to discuss the Shaw/Goodman controversy that could get big band fans as apoplectic as l9th century music fans became over Wagner vs. Brahms. Of their competition, he says, "Benny was a better clarinetist; I was a better musician." (Like Keepnews, I always preferred Shaw myself.)

Speaking of musicians, the list of jazz greats that got their start or at least played with Shaw is long and distinguished. In the early years: Billie Holiday, George Wettling, Billy Butterfield, Nick Fatool, Hot Lips Page, Ray Conniff, Johnny Guarnieri; in later years: Roy Eldridge, Eddie Sauter, Barney Kessel, Si Zentner, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Jimmy Raney, Kai Winding, Tal Farlow, Hank Jones. I wanted to hear a couple of the more classical concertos for clarinet and band that Shaw wrote, but the closest the set gets to that is Eddie Sauter's wonderful The Maid with the Flaccid Air. The Gramercy Five tracks were my favorites, but all the big band stuff really swings and maintains the highest musical quality - Shaw still has an ear for selecting the very best. Of course the audio quality varies greatly, but is mostly quite good due to recent improvements in noise reduction of historical materials. And the notes are fascinating reading.

- John Henry



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