Sunday, July 31, 2005

Big Banding

I've been enjoying some modern large group jazz, like Bob Brookmeyer's "Get Well Soon," as I mentioned here recently. Then, I had to renew my library card and I noticed that my library had acquired Ken Burns' "Jazz" on DVD. I hadn't seen the series since it first aired so I decided to take another look and went through every episode over a period of a few weeks.

That, and the new stuff I'd been listening to, got me psyched to add some classic big band recordings to my collection, which has been pretty much limited, with a few exceptions, to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. My goal: find good disks covering a selection of other significant big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price. I wasn't looking for anything like exhaustive box sets, just nice one-CD samplers.

First up, No. 187 in the EPM Jazz Archives series "Kansas City Bounce" covering various groups led by pianist Jay McShann from 1940-49. Get it because about the first third of the tracks feature a young alto saxophonist named Charlie Parker. But don't stop listening after Bird books. McShann ran a lot of top-flight crews and had some other significant players (Paul Quinichette and Ben Webster for two) and his groups had that wonderful blues-inflected Kansas City thing made famous by another guy out of K.C., fella name of Bill Basie.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

What a set of pipes!

Want a Rufus Harley CD? Who doesn't? Check out "The Pied Piper of Jazz" from Label M if you can find it. He plays with Sonny Stitt and Don Patterson on one track and does some decent soprano and tenor sax, plus flute, playing besides bagpiping. Personally, I think a guy who can argue something like a funky bossa nova out of the bagpipes deserves a hand.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Sonny magic

"There's No Business Like Show Business" on "Worktime" and "Mona Lisa" on "Sonny Rollins +3" are two other nifty reworkings of familiar tunes by Mr. Rollins. I also like "Just Once" on "Dancing in the Dark," which is a Sonny Rollins CD that should be better appreciated.

If you really want to hear something, try "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" on "The Cutting Edge," which Mr. Rollins duets with jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley. (Yes, there is such a thing as a jazz bagpiper, but only one that I know of.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

It's my song now

To me, Sonny Rollins taking a familiar song and recasting it for his own improvisational purposes is one of the great pleasures of life. (Check out "I'm an Old Cow Hand" on "Way Out West" or "Moritat," which is "Mack the Knife," on "Saxophone Colossus" for classic examples.)

So when Michael Wolff and company remake "St. Thomas," the calypso standard by Mr. Rollins, on "Dangerous Vision," my inclination is to like it. Add the same kind of pushing-the-envelope improvising on Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Nat Adderley's "Work Song," and more and you've got a CD that demands to be noticed. I've got to think Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo would dig what these guys do with their "Soul Sauce."

Interesting instrumental lineup as well. No horns, Wolff, who's done everything from back Cannonball Adderley to run the band for Arsenio Hall's show, on acoustic and Rhodes pianos, Brazilian percussion master Airto Moreira, and a bassist, a drummer and a tabla player, which is to say somebody (Badal Roy) on an Asian percussion instrument something like bongos. Hey, I didn't know what it was until I looked it up on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hawk meets Duke

"Rainbow Mist" from the Chicago-based Delmark label's Apollo series is another good Coleman Hawkins compilation. The title track is almost the equal of "Body and Soul."

I've got a lot of Hawk CDs, but my favorite is probably "Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins." Recorded in 1962 with an octet of the Duke, six of Ellington's guys (including Johnny Hodges on alto sax) and Hawkins, the liner notes say they just kind of showed up and started playing. I believe it, because at that point what the hell couldn't they play? Hawk sounds fabulous on this disk. It, the BMG/Victor Jazz "Body and Soul" and the above-mentioned "Rainbow Mist" would make for a nice little Hawkins collection.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hawk soars

Coleman Hawkins playing "Body and Soul" came up on the Shuffle during my morning walk and I was struck, besides being awed as usual, by how those few minutes changed jazz saxophone playing forever. I have a version from 1939 and one from 1956 I like even better on a BMG/Victor Jazz compilation appropriately titled "Body and Soul," which is a good collection spanning '39 to '56. "My Blue Heaven" and "The Bean Stalks Again" also are highlights.

The organ combo lives

On the tracks where tenorman Tad Shull plays on Melvin Rhyne's B-3 trio and quartet disk "Tomorrow Yesterday Today" it reminds me of big John Patton with saxophonists such as Harold Vick (see "Along Came John") or of Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff. Excellent guitarist Peter Bernstein plays the Grant Green role, or maybe Wes Montomery, with whom Indianapolis native Rhyne played in the early '60s, besides backing B.B. King and various R&B notables. A nice new version of the classic organ jazz combos I adore.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fats sings

If you want a collection where Fats Waller sings and otherwise entertains beyond the bounds of his stunning piano playing, plus plays a little organ, I like "The Very Best of Fats Waller" from Collector's Choice Music. The CD has 24 tracks running from 1927 to 1942 and covering just about any Waller highlight one could want. Joyful music.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New Bird and Diz

"Dizzy Gillespie Charlie Parker Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945," the new CD on the Uptown label from previously unknown acetate disk recordings of a concert at the dawn of bebop, is the best and most exciting live recording of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker I've ever heard. The sound is good and the presence of Don Byas on one of the tracks and Al Haig and Max Roach on most of them only makes it more priceless. I think this is better than the vaunted Massey Hall recording.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Cool CIMP tricks

Besides good music, CIMP CDs always seem to have nifty cover art and illuminating, even educational, liner notes. I've never seen such detailed explanations of the techniques employed in making a recording. Why I don't know, but getting this kind of material with a disk tickles me.


Trumpeter Paul Smoker's "Standard Deviation" is another good CIMP CD I bought recently. The "standard" refers to the tunes a quartet with Smoker's horn, electric guitar, cello and drums plays. The "deviation" refers to what they do with standards such as "Beyond the Blue Horizon" and "Poinciana." And boy do they deviate. It took me a couple listens to warm up to this disk, but I now consider the version of "Stormy Weather" on it a free jazz classic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

CIMP's no wimp

I like buying CDs from the CIMP label (it stands for Creative Improvised Music Projects) because I know I'm going to get interesting, intricate, free-oriented jazz from excellent, if not especially famous, artists. Case in point "Avanti Galoppi" with drummer Lou Grassi leading a quartet including bassist Ken Filiano, Rob Brown on alto sax and Herb Robertson on trumpet, pocket trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn.

All of the compositions are original, memorable and clock in at or over 10 minutes, allowing these guys real space to play. They remind me of some of William Parker's small groups (see "O'Neal's Porch" and "Bob's Pink Cadillac") in places, and that's high praise from this quarter.

Monday, July 18, 2005

It's not over until...

The fat man plays. I debated for a long time which Fats Waller CD I wanted in my collection and finally settled on "Fats Waller: Piano Masterworks Vol. 1" from the Jazz Archives series of the French label EPM. I chose it because these early Waller recordings (1922, 1927 and mostly 1929) are all about piano playing with none of the singing and clowning that came later.

And what a piano player. If Art Tatum was god, then Thomas Waller was jesus. The version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" on this gave me goose bumps when I played it for the first time yesterday. Likewise the second of three versions of "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling." The disk would be a great addition even if you think you've already got Fats Waller covered.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Oldie but goodie

In "Trio Jeepy" from 1988, which I bought recently, you can tell Branford Marsalis is going to become the guy I think is the Coltrane of his era (in his inventiveness not necessarily his sound, although he's closer to Coltrane's sound on this disk than he is today, when his own sound is in full flower). The legendary Milt Hinton on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums only add to the goodness. Every cut is an improvisational treat. Fine stuff.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sing strong

Nina Simone sang more like a man than some men, say the Bee Gees. Nothing wrong with singing like a man, however, if you do it well. Nina with her deep, powerful voice did. The Rhino label's Collectables series includes a disk combining the LPs "The Amazing Nina Simone" and "Nina Simone at Town Hall," the latter of which emphasizes her piano playing in spots. I recommend the CD as a varied collection of Nina Simone's music and a good value. Her versions of "Summertime" and "Fine and Mellow" sure don't sound like anybody else, especially anybody named Gibb.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sax Barron

Bill Barron, pianist Kenny Barron's older brother, was an advanced, primarily tenor saxophonist who shifted his focus to jazz education, rather than recording, pretty early in his career. "Modern Windows Suite" is a nice Savoy label CD compilation of two Barron LPs from 1961, both with a young Kenny Barron and trumpeter Ted Curson accompanying on a lineup of Bill Barron compositions. If it reminds you somewhat of Mingus, no surprise. Both Bill Barron and Curson played with the force-of-nature bassist, composer and band leader. Fine avant-garde jazz rooted in but not bound by tradition.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Harry was here

Harry Chapin, who died in an auto accident in 1981, was doing the Live 8 thing at every one of his concerts long before the idea became a magnet for megastars and international media attention. His family and friends are still at it through World Hunger Year, the organization he helped found.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Chapin jazz

The other Chapin in my all-Chapin order was Thomas, no relation to Harry and Jen as far as I know, but one excellent jazz saxophonist, who died too young at 40 of leukemia. He plays alto and mezzo-soprano sax, and also flute, on "You Don't Know Me" and brings to mind Jackie McLean or a lighter version of James Carter. Tom Harrell plays trumpet on the disk, which I recommend highly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tales you win

When I ordered Jen Chapin's nice CD "Linger" from Amazon I decided to make it an all-Chapin lineup to get the free shipping. So I added Harry Chapin's (Jen's late father and the first musician whose stuff I bought regularly) "Heads & Tales," which I'd never replaced from LP days.

Harry didn't have many radio hits, except for "Cat's in the Cradle," "W*O*L*D" and to some extent "Taxi," a good version of which appears on this CD. His songs were mostly too long and oriented to the story or message rather than shlock lyrics and catchy tunes, which is fine by me. There are some of my favorites on "Heads & Tales," including "Dogtown," "Greyhound" and "Any Old Kind of Day." A Harry Chapin classic.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Linger over this

The other day my friend Carl Abernathy sent me a link to a story about the singer Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin, my old favorite who gets classified as a folk rocker but who was, more accurately, a musical story teller. A great one in my opinion. Check out his songs "A Better Place to Be," "Mr. Tanner," "The Sniper" and "Dogtown" for four examples.

Jen Chapin is kind of a jazzy bluesy folk rocker who does a little story telling of her own and makes me think of Madeline Peyroux if Madeline tended to sing more like Bonnie Raitt than Billie Holiday. That's based on "Linger," Chapin's most recent CD, which I like.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More Swedish goodness

Sweden produces a lot of great jazz and one Swedish musician I'm partial to is the multi-instrumentalist Magnus Lindgren, whose quartet CD "The Game" I bought on a whim in Stockholm. (Ironically, I got to hear him in person the same night, at the Nobel Prize banquet. No, I didn't win. They don't give a Nobel for beer drinking. I was covering the Nobels as a newspaper reporter.)

Lindgren plays tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute, alto flute and bass flute on this disk with a pianist, bassist and drummer in what is a tradition-rooted but pretty adventurous session often bordering on avant-garde. He reminds me of Coltrane in spots and Wayne Shorter in a lot of places. The majority of the songs are originals and the rest are interesting takes on standards such as "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "Caravan." This has become one of my favorite CDs.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Genius on board

I think the music you like is as deeply personal as anything about you, which is why sometimes you hear somebody and you just have a natural affinity for their playing. I knew the first time I heard James Carter's "Chasin' the Gypsy" that I was going to be awaiting, and buying, the guy's CDs from then on. To me, Carter is the younger lion Sonny Rollins to Branford Marsalis' Coltrane, possessed of a huge sound, even bigger talent and the improvisational skill to keep you constantly wondering where he might head next.

No surprise then that I've been listening to "Out of Nowhere," his new organ trio CD, which isn't strictly an organ trio CD, all day and think it's brilliant. Gerard Gibbs has a Dr. Lonnie Smith touch on the organ that compliments Carter well. As a bonus you get James "Blood" Ulmer, who is a near-perfect guitar player to pair with J.C., and a second big horn with the legendary Hamiet Bluiett behind it. Run, don't walk, to your nearest jazz CD vendor and buy this.

Here and also here are a couple other Carter CDs you should check out.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Big deals

Other than Duke Ellington and Count Basie, I generally haven't been that big a fan of big bands. But Dave Holland's big band CD "What Goes Around" in 2002 prompted me to reconsider and then a Nat Hentoff column turned me on to Sherrie Miracle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra, an all-gal group that kicks butt on its CD "Live in Concert."

I've already mentioned the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra's "Heart & Soul: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael" and Bob Brookmeyer's new big band disk "Get Well Soon."

My latest find is The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, whose CD "Groove Shop" makes me smile from start to finish. They remind me of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, whose classic "Presenting Joe Williams" is a must have.