JAZZ CD REVIEWS FOR FEBRUARY 2017
Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Yusef Lateef (1920-2013) had a long and episodic career. He was born as William Emanuel Huddleston. In 1925 his father changed the family’s name to Evans which, yes, would make him Bill Evans if he had not changed his name after his conversion to Islam. Lateef grew up in Detroit and began touring with swing bands on tenor as early as 1938. He gained some recognition for his playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in 1949 but was mostly a local legend in Detroit during the first half of the 1950s. While he is on Donald Byrd’s 1955 album Byrd Jazz, the real start to his career occurred in 1957 when he began recording regularly as a leader for Savoy. By then Yusef Lateef was playing not only tenor but flute, oboe, bassoon and such exotic instruments as the argol and the gourd.
Lateef could romp like a Gene Ammons-styled tenor-saxophonist, was one of the earliest flutists to hum audibly through his instrument (a few years before Rahsaan Roland Kirk), and was jazz’s first great oboe soloist. He was among the pioneers in opening jazz up to the influences and inspirations of Eastern, Indian and Arabic music. Lateef recorded with Charles Mingus in 1960 and was a member of the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in 1962-63 but otherwise led his own eclectic groups. Never happy with the name “jazz,” Lateef recorded his own undefinable music prolifically on his own YAL label in the 1990s. Sometimes he performed soothing originals that overlapped with New Age, but at other times he created more passionate explorations. He was never predictable.
Live At Ronnie’s Scott has been put out by the Gearbox label (from www.gearboxrecords.com ) as an Lp. The previously unissued music features Yusef Lateef on flute, shenai (an Indian oboe), xun (a Chinese flute) and tenor. Recorded Jan. 15, 1966, the set features Lateef in prime form while joined by the house rhythm section of Ronnie Scott’s club in London: pianist Stan Tracey, bassist Rick Laird (a future member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra) and drummer Bill Eyden. Lateef’s flute playing is exquisite on “Angel Eyes” and “Song Of Delilah” and lightly swinging on “Last Night’s Blues”. Lateef puts plenty of feeling into his oboe playing on “Blues For The Orient.” He is only heard on tenor during the closing number (“Yusef’s Mood”) but takes a long and rollicking solo on the jumping blues. Stan Tracey, one of Britain’s great bop-oriented pianists, has a few worthy solos along the way although the focus is mostly on Lateef. Live At Ronnie Scott’s is a worthy addition to the productive career of Yusef Lateef.Scott Yanow
Charlie Haden/Gonzalo Rubalcaba
In his later years, Charlie Haden was a calming influence on the jazz scene. He had made his place in history back in 1959 when he was the perfect bassist for the Ornette Coleman Quartet. What other bassist at the time could have given Coleman both the chordal freedom that he needed and a strong forward momentum that allowed his music to swing without chords? But while he always paid tribute to that period and loved exploring Coleman’s music, Haden was also a big fan of the music of film noir, playing romantic and melancholy music that reminded one of Los Angeles in the late 1940s (at least as depicted on film).
By 2005, when Tokyo Adagio was recorded, Haden’s bass playing tended to be gentle and relaxed while always containing subtle unpredictability. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who was seen as a high-energy firebrand when he was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie in the mid-1980s and started making appearances in the U.S., was greatly helped and influenced in his career by Haden. Their six duets on Tokyo Adagio, recorded live in Tokyo, are both relaxed and stimulating. The musicians embrace the rich melodies and take their time to develop the themes, yet never sound lazy or obvious. Whether it is Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave,” an extensive exploration of the Johnny Mercer/David Raskin theme “My Love And I” or creating plenty of sparks on Rubalcaba’s “Transparence,” the music always holds one’s interest despite the low volume.
Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra
Haden originally formed his Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969 as a way of both performing adventurous jazz and protesting injustice. From the start, Carla Bley was the ensemble’s chief arranger. Since then, the Liberation Music Orchestra has been revived on an occasional basis whenever the times looked bleak. In 2011 the group performed a festival in Belgium that concentrated on the environment. Two songs (“Blue In Green” and “Song For The Whales”) were recorded at that concert. They are among Charlie Haden’s last recordings; he passed away in 2014.
Time/Life includes those two performances along with three Bley originals recorded in 2015 with Steve Swallow in Haden’s place. Even with the political nature of some of the music, much of the playing is gentle and thoughtful, particularly during the first half of the CD. Homage is paid both to Haden and the environment and such top-notch musicians as tenor-saxophonists Tony Malaby (who takes a long solo on “Time/Life”) and Chris Cheek, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, altoist Loren Stillman, and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes make memorable statements. Haden’s own playing on “Song For The Whales” is quite adventurous and miraculous in its own way. Bley’s writing for the ensemble (comprised of five brass instruments including French horn and tuba plus three saxophonists, guitar, her piano, bass and drums) ranks with her best of the past decade.
Both of these historic and enjoyable Charlie Haden recordings are available from www.impulse-label.com .Scott Yanow
Toots Thielemans (1922-2016) was not only the king of jazz harmonica players but for decades he was virtually the only one. However during the latter part of his reign, other jazz harmonicats began to emerge, most notably Hendrik Meurkens, Howard Levy, Gregoire Maret and, most recently, Hermine Deurloo who is from the Netherlands
Living Here features the unusual instrumentation of Ms. Deurloo’s harmonica, pianist Rembrandt Frerichs, cellist Jorg Brinkmann and drummer Jim Black. The interplay between the harmonica and piano is consistently inventive so it is not a surprise to find out that Deurloo and Frerichs have been playing together regularly since 2013. Cellist Brinkmann gives a European classical atmosphere to some of the selections but also swings in spots by plucking his cello as if it were an upper-register bass. Black adds stimulating support to the lead voices on this set of originals. As for Hermine Deurloo, she plays the chromatic harmonica with the effortless fluency of a saxophonist and is a creative and melodic musician.
Living Here covers a variety of moods and styles. “A Long Story Short” is a melancholy piece that has the feeling of classical music and New Age. The funky “Samba de um Breque” has a catchy and playful theme while the romantic “Sozinho” hints at Chick Corea. Some of the other selections include “Achiltibule” which could serve as the music for a chase scene from an action/adventure movie, the witty and danceable “Monkey,” the jazz waltz “Self Portrait,” the cinematic “Zamurka” and “Walking Home” which depicts a purposeful and at times danceable walk home.
This easily recommended set is available from www.moonrivermusic.comScott Yanow
Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1
Emmet Cohen is an up-and-coming pianist who sounds very much like a throwback to the great jazz pianists of the 1950s and ‘60s. He is a member of trios led by Christian McBride and Ali Jackson, and has worked with Kurt Elling, Jimmy Heath and Brian Lynch among many others during the past six years. On this CD, Cohen hints at various times at Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Thelonious Monk and other greats of that era but without directly copying them, building his own voice out of the tradition.
Recently Cohen initiated a Masters Legacy Series with the Cellar Live label. Volume 1 honors veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb who is featured in a trio/quartet with Cohen, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and, on two numbers, altoist Godwin Louis. The inspired repertoire includes selections originally recorded in famous versions that included Cobb (including “Two Bass Hit” with Miles Davis, “Flamingo” with Earl Bostic and David Newman’s “Hard Times’), plus three Cohen originals (highlighted by “Concerto For Cobb”) that sound as if they could have dated from that era.
Jimmy Cobb has several short solos (which are always very musical) and tradeoffs throughout the set. Nakamura takes a nice spot during the first part of “Folk Song” and is swinging in support while Nakamura is fluent and has a light tone that sometimes makes him sound a bit like a soprano-saxophonist.
As for Emmet Cohen, he is usually the lead voice and his high-quality modern mainstream playing clearly marks him as an important voice for the future. This excellent set is available from www.cellarlive.com . One looks forward to future volumes of the Masters Legacy Series.Scott Yanow
The Three Sounds
The previously unreleased music on this CD (available from www.resonancerecords.org ) features the Three Sounds. Originally comprised of pianist Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, the Three Sounds was a very popular trio for a decade. During 1958-62 they recorded prolifically for Blue Note, around 14 albums in all. With a few exceptions, those sessions are the most important Blue Note albums that have not been reissued yet. The group’s heyday lasted until around 1968.
Groovin’ Hard is taken from well-recorded tapes that document the Three Sounds playing at Seattle’s Penthouse on six occasions during 1964-68. Drummer Dowdy, who is heard on four of the ten numbers, is succeeded by Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett on the other selections.
The main emphasis is on the group’s sound and Gene Harris’ solos. Harris always had the ability to sound like Oscar Peterson which he does on ‘Yours Is My Heart Alone,” but also had his own soulful approach to straight ahead jazz. While he grew as a pianist through the decades, he is in superior form throughout this set. Highlights include “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” “Blue Genes,” “Bluesette” and “The Boogaloo.” Fans of the Three Sounds and Gene Harris will certainly enjoy this set which also includes a colorful and informative booklet.Scott Yanow
Searching For You
Slim Gaillard was certainly a unique performer. A fine guitarist and pianist who on rare occasions also played vibes, saxophone, trumpet and trombone, Gaillard was also a versatile singer and a comedian. He invented his own funny language (filled with vouts, seed soups and mellow-roonies) along with fractured versions of a few other languages. “Flat Foot Floogie” was a swing era hit and “Cement Mixer” delighted his fans. He teamed up with Slam Stewart as Slim and Slam, and collaborated with bassist Bam Brown in the mid-1940s. Gaillard could play guitar like a simplified Charlie Christian and was essentially a swing-based performer although he had such “modernists” on his records as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Howard McGhee and Terry Gibbs among others. A true eccentric, not only as a singer and comedian but in real life, Gaillard seemed to largely disappear after the late 1950s before re-emerging in London during the last decade before his 1991 death.
Searching For You is the result of a treasure hunt in which Zev Feldman tracked down 15 songs from previously unknown 45s recorded by Gaillard during 1958-72. Considering that his next-to-last album was in 1958 (his final record was in 1982), these performances fill in a major gap in his history.
Throughout this CD, Slim Gaillard is primarily featured as a singer. He does his best to keep up with the times, not by changing his style or humor but by surrounding himself with young rock musicians, r&b players and soulful vocal groups. Sometimes it works well, and at other times the results are a bit silly. Gaillard is quite humorous during his crooning vocal on “I Love You” and to a lesser extent on “I Don’t Know Why.” The better selections also include “Baked Beans And a Bottle Of Beer,” “Cha Cha Enchilada” and “Darktown Strutters Ball.” Gaillard’s updates of “Flat Foot Floogie” and “Cement Mixer Putti-Putti” would have worked much better without the other musicians. In most cases, his backup groups are not worthy of him, musically or stylistically. Still, Slim mostly prevails. Particularly intriguing is “The Peanut Vendor” which, after an almost avant-garde tenor solo by Pat Britt, has Gaillard scatting very freely for a bit, showing that he was listening.
While the extensive and otherwise excellent liner notes praise Gaillard a bit too much (calling him a genius), he was certainly a memorable character. Searching For You may not be quite essential but it certainly has its fun moments. It is available from www.sunsetblvdmusic.com .Scott Yanow
The Sugar Hill Trio
The Sugar Hill Trio is comprised of Christian Torkewitz on tenor and flute, drummer Austin Walker and either Leon Boykins or Dylan Shamat on bass. Torkewitz, who is originally from Germany but is now based in New York, is the lead voice throughout. The pianoless trio setting, Torkewitz’s sound at times, and his explorative spirit make one think of prime Sonny Rollins throughout parts of The Drive.
The musicians perform six jazz standards from the 1950s and ‘60s, a brief version of Phineas Newborn’s “Theme For Basie” (which they use a closing theme), Oliver Nelson’s “Handles” and three of the saxophonist’s originals. While the trio stretches out, takes chances and pushes themselves, the music on The Drive is an extension of bop rather than avant-garde. Christine Torkewitz is a melodic improviser, building some of his solos off of the themes and coming up with a steady string of rewarding ideas.
The highpoints include “Minority,” “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” and “Like Someone In Love” plus two features for Torkewitz’s flute. The close musical communication between the musicians, Walker’s occasional drum breaks, and the bass interludes all work well. The Drive is easily recommended and available from www.cdbaby.com .Scott Yanow
Rich Perry has recorded many albums in his career including more than 25 as a leader for the Steeplechase label alone. Despite all of that activity, Moods is his first full-length set of ballads.
Perry is joined by the great veteran pianist Harold Danko, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Perry digs into seven familiar jazz standards and comes up with very relaxed and quietly creative statements. He really stretches out on a rendition of “Detour Ahead” that is over 12 minutes long, creating what might very well be the finest instrumental version of the song. Another memorable performance is his very slow rendering of “All Of Me” which reinvents the song while not discarding its melody and chord changes. The other selections, particularly “But Beautiful,” “Monk’s Mood” and “Sometime Ago,” are also quite rewarding
It takes a lot of maturity and a great tone to keep one’s interest during a set comprised exclusively of ballads. Rich Perry, with the assistance of his talented sideman, succeeds in creating an atmospheric and appealing set, available from www.steeplechase.dk .Scott Yanow
All Or Nothing At All
Mark Colby is a veteran tenor and soprano saxophonist who has long been based in Chicago. A professional since the age of 14, he played with Maynard Ferguson for three years, had a long-time association with Bob James, worked as a studio and session musician, and has always been active on the jazz scene. One of his CDs, Speaking Of Stan, was a tribute to Stan Getz although his tone is his own.
All Or Nothing At All features Mark Colby playing nine standards with his quartet which features pianist Jeremy Kahn, bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Bob Rummage. While the music and improvising often fall into the area of hard bop, Colby consistently stretches himself, particularly on Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere.” On that piece, after playing the melody, he goes on an especially adventurous flight before returning to the theme. Other highlights include Duke Ellington’s joyful “Angelica,” “Monk’s Dream,” “Double Rainbow” and a warm rendition of Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso.” Colby switches to soprano for an effective version of “It Was A Very Good Year,” a tune that works surprisingly well in a jazz context.
All Or Nothing At All, which also has fine contributions from his sidemen, is one of Mark Colby’s better recordings and is easily recommended. It is available from www.markcolby.com.Scott Yanow
Rhythms Of My Soul
Listeners who enjoy the funkier side of fusion will find drummer Pat Close’s Rhythms Of My Soul of strong interest. The music is always funky and danceable yet there are plenty of passionate solos and ensembles to hold one’s interest.
The opening “Buzzed,” which has some rockish guitar from Tony Janflone Jr., is one of the most intense pieces on the CD. Other selections (many with guitarist Paul Mongaya) are often more melodic and many are catchy. The personnel changes from track-to-track with seven different bass players (including Brian Bromberg and Jimmy Haslip) making appearances along with several different keyboardists, including Close. Peggy Morris’ heated alto, tenor and flute solos are consistently exciting.
While Pat Close takes a few short drum solos (including on “The Hitman”), he mostly drives the ensembles in addition to contributing ten of the dozen originals, overseeing the spirited music. Rhythms Of My Soul, which can be thought of as 21st century fusion, is available from www.2closemusic.com .Scott Yanow
The Truth Of What I Am
(Inner Circle Music)
George Burton is a New York-based pianist and composer who has been becoming better-known in recent times. He actually began playing music as a classical violinist before switching instruments and approaches in high school. Burton has since worked with Odean Pope, Michael Brecker, James Carter, Joe Lovano, Wallace Roney and the Sun Ra Arkestra among others in addition to leading groups. One hears occasional touches of McCoy Tyner in his playing but otherwise Burton has his own sound and musical identity.
The Truth Of What I Am is George Burton’s recording debut as a leader. While there are some brief and eccentric departures (including “Bern…ies” which sounds like it was played on a broken-down piano and “Brown” which has him improvising over the sounds of kids playing), most of the music falls into modern post-bop jazz.
In addition to the leader who occasionally also plays electric piano, bassist Noah Jackson and drummer Wayne Smith Jr. form the core group. Six songs benefit greatly from the inclusion of Tim Warfield on tenor and soprano. Warfield’s intense and explorative playing is particularly rewarding on the modal piece “Second Opinion” (where he plays soprano), “Stuck In The Crack,” a high-energy version of “Bernie’s Tune” (the only non-original on the set) and “Ecidnac.” Trumpeter Jason Palmer takes blazing solos on three of those numbers, trumpeter Terell Stafford guests on the ballad “In Places,” and three other songs have the promising altoist Chris Hemingway and guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi uplifting the music.
George Burton’s CD is thought-provoking, contains many fresh melodies and ideas, covers a wide range of emotions, and is filled with surprises. It rewards repeated listenings and is available from www.innercirclemusic.com.Scott Yanow