Los Angeles Jazz Quartet
Look to the East (Maxos Jazz)
A generation ago, Ray Brown, Bud Shank, Laurindo Almeida and Jeff Hamilton united under the banner of the L.A. Four. The demands on their individual careers, plus the death of the guitarist, spelled the end of the popular, accessible ensemble. Four years ago, a fresh foursome of the busiest young West Coast players began to stitch together its own musical tapestry. Its members having worked (individually) with the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Bobby Bradford, Lee Konitz, and Alan Broadbent, the L. A. Jazz Quartet speaks with a sophisticated, modern vocabulary. This, the group's second release (the first, "Astarte," is on the European label Gowi, 1974) is a study in intelligent, democratic interplay: at times propelled by the stimulating percussion and compositions of drummer Kevin Tullius (e.g., the Shorter-esque title cut), or borne aloft by the buoyant tenor and soprano of Chuck Manning (as on "Session with Garrin"), the band brings a full measure of creativity to "Because There is You," where Darek Oleszkiewicz' hauntingly beautiful bass solo is augmented brilliantly by guitarist Larry Koonse; by the time Manning enters, the rhythm section is at full boil. An impressive effort by a band clearly on the rise, "Look to the East" might well soon become the answer to the question, What's become of the L.A. Jazz Quartet?
Summa Cum Jazz
The Best of Berklee College of Music 1997 (BMG Music Service)
This compilation disc, executive produced by Berklee graduate Gary Burton, is a fund-raising tool for the esteemed school's scholarship program. Alumni include John Abercrombie, Cyrus Chestnut, Roy Hargrove, Mike Stern, Qunicy Jones and Jacky Terrasson. There's disciplined section work in Kendrick Oliver's New Life Jazz Orchestra. Elsewhere, a few collegiate pranks pop up: "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" comes complete with opening narration and unison vocals by band members. Then the quintet Three Cohens in a Fountain, named for its three Israeli-born Cohen siblings, brings a Marx brothers' sensibility to a number impishly called "Melody Changes"-- just how DID those nutty undergraduates ever graft "Tea for Two" onto rhythm changes? (Avishai, the trumpet-playing Cohen brother, does play straight and well enough to have already joined the world jazz festival circuit.) Israel might well be the jazz incubator of the 90s, as7 tenorist Eli Degibri and pianist Roy Ben Sira also shine here. Pianist Leo Blanco (Venezuela) invites comparison with Gonzalo Rubalcava.
In light of the track record of the school, this disc might prove be a worthwhile investment should its student-participants follow their distinguished predecessors into the "post-graduate school" of high-profile careers in jazz.
Nova Bossa Nova (Arkadia Jazz)
Guilherme Franco, drums; Alberto Beserra, bass; Eddie Monteiro, accordion/vocals; Achan Inoue, piano; Claudio Roditi, trumpet; Bob Mintzer, tenor sax; Joe Ford, alto & soprano sax; Buzzy Napodano, alto & tenor sax; Lenny Argese, guitar.
There is a pleasant surprise here: the remarkable accordion playing/scat singing of Eddie Monteiro. The musicianship is solid throughout, a tight Brazilian rhythm section (headed by percussionist-supreme Guilherme Franco) providing the carpet for subdued solos by boppers Bob Mintzer, Joe Ford and Claudio Roditi. The tunes, mostly originals by the participants, are consonant and cozy; they don't particularly challenge players of this caliber. The question is: can a listener find happiness here on the shoulders of a scatsinging accordionist?
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (NHOP)
"Those Who Were" (Verve)
NHOP - bass; Ulf Wakenius, guitar; Victor Lewis & ALex Riel drums; Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Lisa Nilsson
Where does a great bassist turn once he's played with everyone from Bud Powell to Dexter Gordon to Kenny Drew to, of course, Oscar Peterson? In the case of NHOP, he turns inward.
This artist has reached the point where his knowledge and experience have afforded him a peaceful perspective. The recording is about sound and feeling -- the road warrior, his fearsome chops still viable, comes home, dresses wounds, waxes philosophical.
Two deeply emotional bass/guitar duets open this tasteful CD; in fact, guitarist Wakenius proves himself a worthy contributor throughout. Only having made this heartfelt musical invocation does The Viking hint at some of his legendary technique: a bebop original, "With Respect," gives bass students some rhythm-changes licks to ponder.
But then it's back to introspection; singer Lisa Nilsson's bittersweet soprano provides the appropriate companion to Niels-Hennings' mid-range soul-searching on "Those Who Were," and a waltz he wrote, "Friends Forever," depicts the relaxed assurance of its title.
Johnny Griffin stirs in some welcome attitude in a B-flat blues called "The Puzzle," where the bassist responds with the recording's most blistering lines.
"Wishing and Hoping" is an original Latin-flavored progression sandwiched between successive layers of rubato ruminations.
When Griffin re-enters, it's on a sassy reading of "You & the Night & the Music," again drawing the ensemble out of melancholy for the moment.
"Guilty Your Honor" ends the disc with a rousing backbeat, a joyful, vigorous affirmation from one of the era's most compelling sidemen, proving that that despite some cardiac problems a few years ago, he still has plenty of vitality...and heart.
The Heath Brothers
As We Were Saying (Concord Jazz)
Jimmy Heath, saxophones; Percy Heath, bass & cello; Albert "Tootie" Heath, drums & percussion; Mark Elf, guitar; Sir Roland Hanna & Stanley Cowell, piano; Slide Hampton, trombone; Jon Faddis, trumpet & flugelhorn; James Mtume, percussion.
"Tootie" Heath's caress of the ride cymbal, Percy's leathery bass sound, and Jimmy's burnished tenor somehow manage both to stand apart and to merge in this enjoyable CD. Credit the engineers for the exceptional clarity of sound, and salute the Heath brothers for their individual and collective artistry.
Jimmy delivers a masterful soprano solo in a 3/4 version of Strayhorn's "Daydream." Percy plays perky pizzicato cello on "Nostalgia" (the Fats Navarro contrefact on "Out of Nowhere"), and "Tootie" gently guides the ensemble through "For Seven's Sake," his 7/4 original.
The supporting cast is subdued but sympatico.
The brothers' long-time pianist, Stanley Cowell, cascades and ripples through "Bop Agin," and later plays kalimba creditably. He shares piano duties with the wonderful Sir Roland Hanna, who gives a blues clinic in "Dave's Haze" and a dramatic reading of "Daydream." Mark Elf, Jon Faddis and Slide Hampton are not so much guests as family friends telling the stories you want to hear again.
"As We Were Saying" updates the Heath brothers' family album with intelligence and wit, and serves notice that after half a century of swinging, they intend to continue to do so.
"Love Scenes" (GRP/Impulse!)
Diana Krall, piano and vocals; Russell Malone, guitar; Christian McBride.
The phenomenal success of Diana Krall derives from the high quality of her presentation: the clean lines of her piano playing and singing, the intelligent choice of material, and the ideal accompaniment of Russell Malone on guitar and bassists Paul Keller and (on this CD) Christian McBride.
"Love Scenes," seductively packaged aurally and visually, adds to her appeal. Taking her emotional temperature is sometimes difficult: in Dave Frishberg's ironic "Peel Me a Grape," she sounds dead-serious, but on "I Don't Know Enough About You" and "Lost Mind," there's some welcome elasticity. "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You" showcases some of her best singing with Malone's solo accompaniment. She loosens up a bit on piano on "How Deep is the Ocean," and seems emboldened by McBride's gutsy comping on the playful "My Love Is."
While hers might not be the purest (or most emotionally disclosing) voice on today's scene, Diana Krall's newest release shows that she's fully capable of rendering "Love Scenes" convincingly.
"Nini Green" (Chiaroscuro)
Virginia Mayhew, saxophones; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet & flugelhorn; Kenny Barron, piano; Harvie Swartz, bass; Adam Cruz, drums; Leon Parker, percussion.
To make a successful debut recording alongside veterans such as Harvie Swartz and Kenny Barron, young Virginia Mayhew has summoned the confidence and savvy gleaned from some of her mentors, who have included Al Grey, Lew Tabackin and Sahib Shihab.
Ingrid Jensen and Kenny Barron help get things moving on the leader's Latin opener, "Yes Or No, Stay Or Go." In an understated exploration of the standard "Good Morning Heartache," Virginia Mayhew's angular soprano sax lines carom smartly across the changes. Barron is clearly the captain on his own classic, "Voyage," and Swartz engraves himself all over "Invitation." On the torrid tempo of "Time Alone," the leader's well-chosen lines dance across the coals ablaze in the rhythm section.
"Nini Green" is testimony to Virginia Mayhew's promise as a writer, bandleader and musician.
Kansas City Band
"KC After Dark" (Verve)
Don Byron, clarinet; Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, trombones; Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, trumpets; Don Byron, James Carter, Jesse Davis, Craig Handy, David "Fathead" Newman, Joshua Redman, saxophones; Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, guitars; Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Ron Carter, Tyrone Clark, Christian McBride, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.
A previously-issued CD contained music that was used in the film; this CD contains music not used in the movie's final version.
Predictably, as with every Robert Altman movie, the release of the freewheeling director's "Kansas City" was greeted with controversy. Questions arose over its implausible plot, its bizarre characterizations and its music.
On the last issue, the producers had a dilemma: how to graft today's finest young jazz players onto a period piece without trying to duplicate the Count Basie/Lester Young styles of Kansas City jazz in the mid-1930's.
Music producer Hal Willner "...encouraged people to use the historic figures...as a guide to the musical language, because above all we wanted them to be themselves.
"It was never meant to be an imitation, because imitations are boring, and never really get the feeling."
In particular, Fathead Newman, Don Byron and James Carter on reeds and Geri Allen on piano get "the feeling" throughout. And occasionally, transcriptions of the original arrangements of tunes are represented here.
But the predominant feeling here is like the one you might get from watching a colorized version of a black-and-white classic. Technically, these musicians are excellent; but elements abound that bring this time-warp dissonance into a blur, including Ron Carter's amplified bass, Mark Whitfield's modern guitar soloing, and a caffeinated recording sensibility -- where excess is mistaken for enthusiasm -- that are strictly 90's.
So can the 90's and the 30's co-exist? There's that lingering impression that with "KC After Dark," you're neither here nor there.
"Hello, Friend" (Verve)
Lester Bowie & Philip Harper, trumpets; Bobby Watson, alto saxophone; Craig Handy, tenor saxophone; Cedar Walton, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion.
Comedian/actor Bill Cosby's love for jazz blooms most brightly every June at the Playboy Jazz Festival. He's become a fixture as the Hollywood Bowl event's ebullient emcee, ringmaster and provocateur with his familiar cigars, quips and conga drums.
The world was stunned to hear of his son Ennis's murder in Los Angeles last year. As a means of expressing love for his lost son, Cosby asked Verve to release this straight-ahead jazz album, material that had been recorded in New York in 1993, and to entitle it with the father and son's familiar greeting to each other.
There's lots of down-home, family-style fun here. After Cosby's own "Wide Open," the ensembles settles into some happy, loping grooves, with the producer's penchant for adding hand drums in ample evidence.
Bobby Timmons's warhorse "Moanin'" gets fresh with an Afro-Cuban head. Playful trumpet work and unmistakable Cedar Walton pianism highlight Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie." Craig Handy wanders pensively through an interlude during a bossa version of "Laura."
Nothing percolates quite like "Freedom Jazz Dance," where the superb creativity of each of these exceptional players is in full flight, and their viability as an ensemble is impress ive.
A wry, conversational tone permeates "Hello, Friend," making it an apt statement from Bill Cosby the comedian, jazz buff and bereft father.
Billy Taylor Trio
"Music Keeps Us Young" (Arkadia Jazz)
Billy Taylor, piano; Chip Jackson, bass; Steve Johns, drums.
It is said that those who can, play; those who can't, teach.
A few, like Benny Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Buddy Collette, and John Clayton, not only play and teach -- they also write, arrange, lecture, and generally convey jazz (and themselves) with urbanity and class.
Billy Taylor is another one.
With wisdom and sophistication, and some grease as well, Taylor's piano playing can evoke Ellington, Tommy Flanagan and Bud Powell. His reputation as a jazz educator is evidenced in the wide range of styles covered in "Music Keeps Us Young": it's clear he can walk the walk AND talk the talk.
There is a looseness to this session, but precision as well. In a gospel-tinged rendition of his famous civil-rights-era anthem, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," the poignancy of the tune and its theme is enhanced by block-chord choruses and a dramatic change in key. He introduces "Body and Soul" alone in B flat, then counts in the trio for piano choruses, but modulates to E flat for bassist Chip Jackson's nimble solo and the powerful out-chorus -- an impressive personal exploration of an otherwise familiar standard.
There's a broad range to Taylor's good taste -- his originals stand up respectably alongside his deft treatments of compositions by Coltrane, Juan Tizol and Freddie Hubbard.
May Dr. Billy Taylor the educator continue to teach, and may Billy Taylor the pianist continue to record in this same refined, elegant manner.