CD Reviews

 Over 250+ Reviews of Recent Jazz and Blues CDs!

 by Michael Brewin


© 2002 Michael Brewin.  All Rights Reserved.


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The Brewin Rating System: * = D (poor); ** = C (fair) ; *** = B (good); ***1/2 = B+ (very good); **** = A- (excellent); ****1/2 = A (superior/outstanding); ***** = A+ (superlative/exceptional/rare).  Criteria includes: overall quality of musical performance (group and/or individual(s)), creativity and improvisation, originality, interpretation, composition, arrangement, aesthetics, interplay of musicians (where applicable), sound quality and recording factors, etc..  In all cases, adding 1/2 * to a disc's rating helps refine the distinctions.  (These ratings are naturally subjective.)         

© 1999, 2000 Michael Brewin



Selected CD Listings: Alphabetically - by Artist:


[scroll, or click on any letter]









Speak of the Devil, John Abercrombie Trio, John Abercrombie, guitar.  Unbeknownst to many, from the inception of his career, Abercrombie has had a virtual love affair with the organ.  Comfortable in the context of an archetypal trio, he and cohorts Dan Wall (organ) and Adam Nussbaum (drums) engage the listener in swirling dynamics, like ocean tides, on this recording of all original themes by this musical triumvirate.  Abercrombie waxes wistful and impressionistic ofttimes, while Wall lays down textures and plays accomplished solos, with Nussbaum setting crisp grooves and providing rhythmic nuances.  ECM, 1994, Playing Time: 68:20, ****.


Alima, Willie Akins, tenor saxophone.  This is a straightahead blowing session, recorded in three days in 1997.  Missouri resident Akins is a tenor saxophonist in the tradition of Hank Mobley.  He swings and bops soulfully over walking bass, ride cymbal and hi-hat triplets, and accented keyboard comping.  Selections include standards and originals.  Sidemen include pianist Simon Rowe, bassist Willem von Hombracht, and drummer Montez Coleman.  This native of the "show me" state displays a lot of flowing, expressive horn, especially in the lower register.  Catalyst, 1998, Playing Time: 68:29, ***.


Take your pick, Howard Alden, guitar.  Here is another album with first-rate players, including the marvelous Renee Rosnes on piano, tenor saxophonist and flautist Lew Tabackin, and the tight rhythm section of drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Michael Moore. 


While he is admittedly not an innovator or an original on the guitar, Alden neverthless has clearly assimilated the legacy of the traditional jazz guitar players exceptionally well, especially the licks and chordal style of Joe Pass.  On this latest Concord release, Alden follows in the footsteps of 1930s era jazz pioneers George Van Eps and George Barnes, performing on electric and acoustic 7-string guitars (the additional string is an octave below the fifth string (A)).  It's almost uncanny; close your eyes, and you'd swear it was a 70-year old guitar player, instead of a member of the so-called "generation x"! 


Furthermore, unlike some of his less-talented contemporaries, Alden does not pretend to be a jazz songwriter.  Instead, he relies on tried-but-true standards, and he plays them impeccably, with class and grace.  On this session, Alden and associates perform popular classics by Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, a couple of Herbie Nichols specials, The Gig and House Party Starting.  Of special note: Lew Tabackin's beautiful flute tone on U.M.M.G..  Concord, 1997, Playing time: 61:40, ****1/2.


Full Circle, Howard Alden, Jimmy Bruno, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, guitars.  As part of Concord Records' 25th anniversary, the company has released a double-CD package which contains the last session which Carl Jefferson produced before his death in 1995 (Bruno-Alden) and the first record Jefferson's Concord label ever released 25 years ago (Pass-Ellis).  Actually, the album concept was a nice idea - the package juxtaposes pairs of some of the most accomplished traditional jazz guitarists from two different generations. 


The Joe Pass-Herb Ellis disc is a reissue of the Jazz/Concord album and also features bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jake Hanna.  Pass and Ellis work marvelously well together, engaging in sensitive interplay and counterpoint on the arrangements of standards like Honeysuckle Rose, Shadow of Your Smile, and Georgia on My Mind.  While Pass demonstrates greater agility and intensity in his soloing, Ellis' playing exudes a Texas warmth that helps set a mood for these tunes.  At times, Pass' fleet, inventive lines are truly amazing; Good Man Blues is an excellent example.  Brown and Hanna also get their chances to shine, too.


In March 1995, Carl Jefferson produced his final session, recording Concord artists Jimmy Bruno and Howard Alden together with a rhythm section of bassist Michael Moore and the late drummer Alan Dawson.  For those who aren't familiar with Bruno, he is a Philadelphian who was touring with Buddy Rich at 19, moved to L.A. to do studio work and play jazz, and then returned to Philly, tending bar and playing jazz, before landing a contract with Concord.  Bruno is one of the great jazz guitarists.  His aggressive playing owes a decided debt to the influence of another Phillie -- bop master Pat Martino.  Bruno has also assimiliated the styles of other jazz masters (such as Joe Pass), and his years accompanying vocalists has left him with a nice touch on ballads, too. 


Alden has been with Concord for more than a decade now.  A wunderkinder of sorts, too, the Southern Californian was playing with Red Norvo at 20, and was recording with people Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman shortly thereafter in New York.  Alden's playing is often rooted in the more traditional style of players like George Van Eps and Charlie Christian, but he also checked out Pass and Barney Kessel, too.  


On this guitar session, Bruno and Alden begin with the uptempo Benedetto Blues, a joint ditty which showcases their respective playing.  Bruno is a burner on guitar, and Alden would be hard put to maintain Bruno's speed and fluidity.  However, Alden excels in harmony and general musicality.  The tandem really takes off on Terrie's Tune (by Alden), with nifty harmonized guitars cavorting on the heads, in a modernist twist to the old twin-guitar Texas Swing bands.  They do it again on Johnny Smith's Jaguar.  On Django Reinhardt's Manoir de mes Reves (Manoir of my dreams), Alden plays delicate chords and Bruno picks an acoustic guitar for flavor.  The set also includes standards Always, Polkadots and Moonbeams, and I Can't Give You Anything But Love, a couple of Bruno originals, and a Barney Kessel closer.


All in all, although Bruno and Alden don't quite achieve the total empathy and interplay that Pass and Ellis attained, this is nevertheless a very special guitar album.  Concord, 1998, Playing Time: 94:06 (Disc 1: 58:42; Disc 2: 35:24), Disc #1 (Bruno-Alden) ****1/2,  Disc #2 (Pass-Ellis) *****.


Echoes of Jilly's, Monty Alexander, piano.  Jilly's was a 60's nightspot in New York where Alexander had some of his first steady gigs - and a famous fan, Frank Sinatra.  This instrumental recording celebrates the aura of Jilly's with a set of songs commonly identified with Ol' Blue Eyes.  Selections include such classics as I've Got You Under My Skin, Just One of Those Things, Call Me Irresponsible, Fly Me to the Moon, and Strangers in the Night.  Bassist John Patitucci and drummer Troy Davis round out the piano trio.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 60:44, ***.


Gimcracks and Gewgaws, Mose Allison, vocals and piano.  Mose Allison's softly drawled blues have been much admired and imitated for 30 years, including such tunes as Young Man Blues, Parchman Farm, and Seventh Son.  Allison is also an accomplished jazz pianist with a unique, personal approach that is bluesy, lyrical, rhythmic, and occasionally polytonal.  He is a gentleman who is also generous with the solos he accords his sidemen at gigs (as I can attest from my own personal experience performing with him as a guitarist). 


On this disc, Mose is accompanied by yet another respected crew of musicians: guitarist Russell Malone, drummer Paul Motian, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, and bassist Ratzo Harris.  All make solid contributions on this CD, including some quirky, angular solos from Malone.  However, it is Mose's vocals and piano that predominate here.


Mose's lyrics often contain wry and incisive commentary on life in general and on our culture.  For example: "The panic goes on day after day, With your cellular phone you're into the fray, The chance to make money is hard to refuse, But the more you get the more you have to lose."  (from The More You Get) 


The CD's finale, Old Man Blues, is another biting irony that speaks volumes about America's superficial society: " old man ain't nothing in the USA.  In the orient, Where the old man is a wise man, All the people kowtow when the old man walks by.  But in the USA, Where the young man knows how to wheel and deal, The young man's got that sex appeal, The young man is the man of the hour, Thirty five years of purchasing power.  And an old man today, Ain't nothing in the USA."


Well, Mose is an elder statesman of jazz and blues who continues to merit respect -- both for his musical individuality and integrity.  "I'm in cruise control, I might just keep on going, What's ahead no way of knowing, Could be sunshine could be snowing, Today I'm on a roll, In cruise control..."  Blue Note, 1998, Playing time: 44:43, ****.


You Don't Know What Love Is, Chris Anderson, piano, Sabina Sciubba, vocals.  Twenty-something, German-Italian Sciubba has a charming and tender Mediterranean vocal delivery, which more than compensates for her relative lack of enunciation in interpreting timeless standards in English.  Chris Anderson is a veteran of the New York and Chicago music scenes.  Although both visually and physically disabled, this elderly pianist is an excellent accompanist and improviser, too.  Sciubba and Anderson are supported by the esteemed rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist David Williams.  The repertoire includes classics like The More I See You, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Ain't Misbehavin', My Romance, and You Don't Know What Love Is.  Impassioned sincerity -- sciubba, doobie, doo!  Naim, 1998, Playing Time: 68:41, ***1/2.


Madrid, Marc Antoine, guitar.  Marc Antoine is another one of the current crop of "smooth jazz" marketed guitarists adorning the computerized airwaves.  While this album is certainly pleasant, easy-listening music, it may lack the depth which satiates serious jazz lovers (or guitar fans).  If you like basic melodies, repetitive, mechanical drum programming, and acoustic guitar without any distracting improvisations, this CD may be right up your alley.  GRP, 1998, Playing Time: 46:23, *1/2.




If We Never Meet Again, Dan Balmer, guitar.  On his first release in five years, Dan takes his own interpretive journey over paths paved by guitar innovators Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.  Here he plays with members of his regular trio, which features two more of my own former bandmates, versatile keyboardist George Mitchell and always solidly-satisfying drummer Carlton Jackson, as well as stalwart bassist Phil Baker, and Jeff Leonard and other area notables.  The album has a crossover tenor, with a discernible country inflected, happy-jazz aura throughout.  The guitar double stops on Reunion recall vintage Metheny, All Are One features Frisell-style country triad swells, and the uptempo Attractive Nuisance has a funky, bluesy head in E with a neat little whole tone (augmented) section, reminding one of trendy Charlie Hunter or Scofield.  (Hans Teuber guests on alto sax.)  Mom'song is another Metheny-sounding piece, this time with a funky backbeat; Dan's solo here displays harmonized octaves, trills, and harmonics.  Midcourse Correction is a wistful ballad in a country-jazz vein, with a Larry Carlton-influenced tone during the guitar solo.  Another medium tempo Metheny-sounding number, Movin' On, features country pull-offs and trademark Metheny double stops.  My own favorite number, Samba Nueva, is a lively tune, again with a pronounced Metheny influence.  The countryish title track ballad, If We Never Meet Again, recalls the sentiments of lovers separated by distance; here Dan uses a stinging, bluesy pick attack, then flashes shades of Wes (dark octaves).  The album concludes with Taking Off, again replete with some Metheny licks.


Compositionally and playing wise, this is a very strong, carefully crafted  album for Balmer and company;  Mitchell, Jackson, and Baker lend tremendous support throughout, and occasionally get their own moments to shine, too.  All in all, this was, by far, Dan's hippest CD of the '90s!  CMG, 1998, Playing Time: 54:57, ****.


Companion, Patricia Barber, vocals, keyboards.  Just when you thought you'd heard the Sonny Bono hit, The Beat Goes On, for the very last time, Patricia Barber comes along and does a hip recreation.  That tune and others characterize this quirkily attractive, live Chicago set, which also includes Black Magic Woman, Bill Withers' Use Me, and four originals.  Barber exults in atmospheric B-3 swirls and effects, which she uses to good effect behind her distinctive, contemporary jazz-rock vocals.  She is an assertive straightahead pianist, as well.  All the while, her rhythm section lays down sanctified accompaniment and some engaging solos (bassist Michael Arnold, guitarist John McLean, drummer Eric Montzka, and percussion Ruben Alvarez).  Barber is certainly interesting -- and different from the crowd...  Blue Note, 1999, Playing time: 46:29, ***1/2.


Que Pasa, Gato Barbieri, tenor saxophone.  Popular South American saxophonist Barbieri has been playing passionate sax in various musical settings internationally for many years.  On this "smooth" contemporary-oriented disc, Barbieri has put together a marketable parcel of mostly forgettable tunes that are partly redeemed by some electric Latin grooves (e.g.  Indonesia, Cause We've Ended As Lovers, and Granada) and very pleasing sax.  An occasional bit of jive talking included, too.  Columbia, 1997, Playing Time: 59:41, **1/2.


Swamp Sally, Kenny Barron, keyboards and bass, and Mino Cinelu, vocals, drums, banjo, mandolin, and guitar.  Not having heard Kenny Barron in a context like this before, this album was somewhat of a shock.  From the first track, Louisiana Memories, which recalls the Cajun music of the bayous, proceeding next to the fusionary Relentless Pursuit, with its synth strings and bongos, it became readily apparent that this was not going to be your typical Kenny Barron record.  Continuing here - Simple Thoughts is an impromptu modal piano-percussion duet.  Title track Swamp Sally begins as a Southern gumbo of bluesy funkdom which makes a transition into an uptempo, stridely walking groove, and then alternates with a recapitulation of the head.  Mystere opens with the sounds of crickets and ocean waves, followed by synths and percussive effects.  Such a Touch is a pretty, multi-ethnic folk song on the acoustic guitar.  Beneath it All employs chromaticism and polytonality on the piano, with attendant percussion and synths.  By now, you get the idea; this is esoteric.  At this rate Kenny Barron will be ready to join up soon with the Neville Brothers or Doctor John, or maybe even Tracy Chapman.  There are some interesting moments here...  Verve, 1996, Playing time:   , **.


The Only One, Kenny Barron, piano.  This is Barron playing in his natural idiom, traditional mainstream jazz, with the steady rhythm section of bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley.  Barron penned two of the tunes on this date, the title track, The Only One, a tribute to Thelonious Monk, and Dolores St. S.F., a slow jazz waltz which is the album's most pensive and heartfelt piece.


Barron's Surrey With the Fringe on Top is an uptempo, roadster rendition of this show tune, The Courtship is a laid-back Latin take on a Benny Carter chart, Blueswatch is self-explanatory, the trio struts down the Sunny Side of the Street, Warm Valley is sedate - like a lazy summer afternoon, Manila is a pretty bossa by one of Barron's students, the swinging Tones for Joan's Bones is a Chick Corea standard, Cole Porter's Love for Sale opens and closes with a bass figure, and All God's Children wear Nike running shoes, in this case.  Barron burns up the keys throughout.  Reservoir Music, 1990, Playing time: , ***1/2.


Blew Year's Proposition, Keith Barry, viola.  Keith Barry is a talented multi-instrumentalist, who plays both strings and woodwinds.  On this self-produced disc, Barry is accompanied well, indeed, by bassist Ed Bennett, guitarist John Keyser, and drummer Dave Weinstock.  The album reminds one of vintage 60's Blue Note sessions.  The six-song set includes a blues (Like Young), Monk's Trinkle Trinkle, My Foolish Heart, a Barry bossa (Easy Groove), another blues (Soft Winds), and a second Barry original (a boppin' Blew Year's Proposition).  This album will particularly appeal to those who appreciate the rare art of jazz viola.  Saphu, 1995, Playing Time: 45:55, ***1/2.


Swing Shift, Count Basie Orchestra.  There have been many incarnations of the fabled Count Basie band.  The newest generation of Basie bandmembers (together with the stabilizing presence of longtime veterans Butch Miles (drums), William Hughes and Clarence Banks (trombones), and Kenny Hing and John Williams (saxes)), is true to the tradition established by the late great Kansas City swing-blues master himself.  Nothing novel or extraordinary here, but swing and big band fans will probably enjoy this disc, anyway.  The horn sections are especially tight on this assortment of newer and standard arrangements.  (Allyn Ferguson and Bob Ojeda contributed the majority of the compositions/arrangements.)  Grover Mitchell directs the proceedings nowadays.  Mama, 1999, Playing time: 59:52, ***.


Homesick for the Road, Tab Benoit, Debbie Davies, Kenny Neal, guitars and vocals.  This minor pentatonic guitarfest is raw roadhouse blues, in this case a trio of talented kids singing like B. B. King and Bonnie Raitt and playing the 12-bar blues -- three-chord, gutbucket style.  Benoit, Davies, and Neal each have authentic-sounding voices and get around handily on Fender guitars over Chicago shuffles, Texas boogies, and Louisiana swamp-blues.  No surprising or new riffs here, just another generation rediscovering, revering and maintaining American folk traditions.  At least somebody's doing it...  Telarc, 1999, Playing Time: 54:25, ***.


Standing Together, George Benson, vocals and guitar.  George Benson is one of jazz guitar's legendary trend-setters, whose CTI recordings and Breezin' album in 1976 sent many guitarists running back to the woodshed.  Unfortunately, since then, he has focussed primarily on a career as a money-making pop vocalist, while virtually ignoring the superlative, mainstream guitar playing that first brought him to prominence.  Longtime fans of Benson's easy-listening, pop vocal tunes will probably enjoy this disc of mostly forgettable tunes, but jazz guitar aficionadoes will generally be disappointed, as I was (once again).  At my first full-time pro gig, with a founding member of Steely Dan, we used to alternate sets with the George Benson Trio.  I recall vividly sitting there, absolutely amazed by his wonderful musicianship.  One day, I hope he will remember his jazz roots and record something more exemplary of the great guitarist he still is, instead of calculated rote formulization.  I await that day.  Until then, he would do well to find some better vocal material.  GRD, 1998, Playing Time: 44:25, **1/2.


Riddles, Bob Berg, tenor and soprano saxophones.  A whole stable of noted studio studs assist on this contemporary, ethnic flavored, melodic pot-pourri, which features a little smooth jazz (A Primeira Estrela), a James Taylor folk tune (Something in the Way She Moves), some Brazilian rhythms (Ramiro's Dream and [Pat Metheny's] Ahmed-6), funk (Coaster), a tender ballad (Ebony Eyes), and the continuity supplied by Berg's expressive saxes, Jim Beard's keyboard colorings, John Patitucci and Victor Bailey on bass, Steve Gadd's solid drumming, and the percussive effects of Arto Tuncboyaciyan.             

Stretch Records, Playing Time: 50:05, ***.


The Joy, Shelly Berg, piano.  Shelly Berg is the current head of the jazz department at USC.  A composer as well as a player, his works have been performed by such orchestras as the Royal Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony.  On this disc, Berg's first as the leader of a piano trio, he, bassist Lou Fischer, and drummers Randy Drake and Steve Houghton play a mixed mainstream set of familiar standards and Berg tunes.  Berg offers up new, exciting interpretations of Star Eyes, Body & Soul, How Deep is the Ocean, Here's that Rainy Day, and (especially) On Green Dolphin Street.  Berg's own tomes are very "listenable"; for example, Deedle Deedle is a swinging eighth-note blues groove, Man Tuna is a melodic samba, The Joy is a light-hearted bossa, and When We Next Meet is a wistful, lovely ballad.  Berg is a sensitive and marvelous pianist, with both outstanding technique and a gift for expression.  His rhythm section, particularly bassist Fischer, provides excellent and sympathetic accompaniment.  This is an absolutely delightful piano trio album to kick back with - anytime.  DMP, 1996, Playing Time: 65:25, *****.


Taking Notes, Jeff Berlin, electric bass.  For almost 20 years, Jeff Berlin has been one of fusion's hottest electric bassists.  This CD is basically an opportunity for him to once again demonstrate his prodigious facility on the electric axe, and his Peavey bass certainly predominates throughout.  Whether soloing over the changes of Tears in Heaven, laying down a Jaco-esque walk on Johnny Joker, playing melodies (Madrugada), or rocking out (Scarecrow Soup), Berlin definitely covers all the bases, stylistically. 


While electric bass players may exult over this tour de force CD, others might find it a bit tedious - depending upon one's appetite for extended bass solos.  Denon, 1997, Playing Time: 56:40, **1/2.


Midnight without you, Chris Botti, trumpet.  Young Chris Botti appears groomed to inherit the mantle of Herb Alpert, as he dishes up consonant melodies with soaring, sustained notes on his horn over a funk-rock backup.  Grooves form the basis of these mellow excursions, with programmed drumbeats combined with live musicians on most tracks.  The disc includes two pop-rock vocals.  Verve, 1997, Playing Time: 46:57, ***.


Tales from the Hudson, Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone.  My first impression of this collaboration of jazz giants occurred while returning from the Oregon Coast and picking up the perennially faint signal of KMHD as we approached Beaverton; over the airwaves wafted the Trane-influenced sounds of Brecker's composition, African Skies, by far the finest new jazz track I've heard all year.  I spent the next three weeks trying to find a copy of this disc, finally reluctantly paying an exorbitant price for this otherwise excellent CD. 


In the past, Brecker has had some successful pairings with musicians featured on this album.  Last year Brecker performed on McCoy Tyner's Grammy Award winning release, Infinity (and #2 on my 1995 Top Ten list).  In 1980, Brecker appeared with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland on Pat Metheny's double album, 80/81 (another Grammy winner, which also featured Josh Redman's dad, Dewey).  [There's a little ancillary history behind that recording, too; in the late 1970s, I organized an after-hours jam session for some ECM musicians at Baudelaire's in Santa Barbara and enticed DeJohnette and Metheny to play together for the first time.  Both of them were so pleased afterwards that they vowed to record and work together sometime in the near future.] 


Anyway, with such commendable past collaborations in mind, Brecker recruited another all-star contingent for this latest release.  Tales from the Hudson has Metheny, DeJohnette, and Holland together again, while Joey Calderazzo and McCoy Tyner share duties on the piano.  (It was Tyner's inimitable playing that instantly grabbed my attention when I first heard African Skies on the radio.)  Don Alias provides percussion on the two tracks on which Tyner appears.


Regarding the music on this disc, Brecker and company present another tour de force performance throughout.  The sheer virtuosity of these musicians is, at times, almost overwhelming; sometimes even the listener needs a little breathing space in between the formidable and ferocious streams of notes.  Six of the nine pieces were written by Brecker, with charts by Metheny, Calderazzo, and Don Grolnick comprising the rest of the disc's selections.


Slings and Arrows kicks off the set at a furious tempo, with Brecker's trademark funky, progressive, and angular bop tenor leading the charge.  Midnight Voyage struts its stuff over a clean, swinging groove.  Song for Bilbao, the Metheny selection here, is set over a smart Latin beat, with Pat's guitar synthesizer (using his timeworn, favorite tonal patch) enunciating the melody along with the sax.  Sheets of descending arpeggios immediately identify Tyner's unique piano style.  Beau Rivage is a more subdued number, with Brecker's horn even waxing lyrically here.  Metheny, more accustomed to such mellow musings, lets his fingers slide and meander around the fretboard over the subdued backing of the rhythm section, until Brecker comes in again and leads the ensemble into a subtle swing feel and, then, back into the original tranquil groove. 


African Skies, reminiscent of some of the later compositions of John Coltrane, asserts itself immediately with its insistent repeated riff over attractive, syncopated percussion.  Then, Tyner's piano constructs the harmonic framework upon which he and Brecker alternately deliver inspired solos, with the piece gradually softening and resolving to its conclusion.  Once more, this tasteful selection gets my vote for best jazz track of 1996. 


Introduction to Naked Soul is a brief Brecker-Holland chart, leading into Naked Soul, a comparatively sparse and expressive ballad emotionally stated by Brecker.  Holland finally gets in a short bass solo, before the tenor restates the theme wistful theme.  The head possesses some metric interest here, dividing eight beats into phrases of three and five. 


Willie T. has a relaxed, swing pace that ably supports Calderazzo and Brecker's flights and Metheny's polytonal chromaticism.  This wouldn't be a Michael Brecker album, though, if it didn't also include at least one snappy, clever, uptempo riff tune, upon which Brecker could indulge himself a bit in the funky bop playing for which he is most notable.  Metheny and Calderazzo also solo on this fast one.  Cabin Fever, indeed!  Definitely one of the better progressive jazz albums of 1996.  GRP, 1996, Playing time: 60:28, ****1/2.


Time is of the Essence, Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone.  Any time a recording session has a congregation of all-stars, expectations can run high.  In this case, the progressive, hard-boppin' Brecker has assembled guitarist Pat Metheny, organist Larry Goldings, and an triumvirate of alternating standout drummers: Elvin Jones, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Bill Stewart.  Brecker penned most of the set's straightahead tunes, which include two numbers by Metheny and one by Goldings.  As anticipated, the playing is energetic and accomplished, with plenty of "blowing" room.  With different drummers at the rhythm helm, the tracks segue from a nifty blue waltz (Arc of the Pendulum), to some hard-driving jazz (Sound Off), to a funky Latin groove (Half Past Late), to a blues shuffle (Timeline), into a contemplative adagio mood (The Morning of This Night), add some soul sauce (Renaiisance Man), and so forth.  While there are no particular surprises here, the musicians are vigorous and inventive (with Metheny and Brecker invoking their own characteristic sounds and riffs), the thematic rhythmic juxtaposition proves effective, and the charts provoke interest.  Verve, 1999, Playing time: 70:01, ****.



Two Blocks From the Edge, Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone.  Michael Brecker is, simply put, one of the great modern jazz saxophonists around today.  His playing evinces a unique blend of bop, funk, and advanced melodic harmonization.   During the past decade, Brecker has released a string of quality recordings, and his last album, Tales from the Hudson, was an all-star, mainstream progressive session that worked very effectively (and won a Grammy, too).  His current release will definitely not disappoint his legion of fans, either.  On Two Blocks From the Edge, Brecker leads a driving acoustic combo through some frenzied romps (including the title track, Cat's Cradle, Madame Toulouse, and The Impaler), a Latin-flavored groove (El Nino), two ballads (How Long 'Til the Sun and Cat's Cradle), and a honking Delta City Blues.  His excellent band here features pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist James Genus, drummer Jeff Watts, and percussionist Don Alias.  Impulse, 1998, Playing Time: 55:45, ****.


Première Classe, Claes Brodda, saxes and woodwinds.  Here's a guy who plays practically every woodwind in existence; on one track, he plays seven different instruments!  This is a mainstream and traditional jazz album of standards, such as 'S Wonderful, Harlem Nocturne, Star Dust, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and a couple of Brodda originals.  In Sweden, Brodda is a well-known and much recorded artist with a sweet Swing sound.  This has to be the only record I've ever heard of which was dedicated to a pooch - Claes' late Boston terrier, Bonnie, "a musically gifted dog."  (In that case, this disc should have been released on RCA Victor.)  Bonnie, 1995, Playing Time: 67:04, **1/2.


Live at Scullers, Ray Brown Trio.  Venerable bassist Brown, pianist Benny Green, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson recorded this swinging album of jazz standards during a two-night stint at a Boston Doubletree Hotel in 1996.  From the opening bass riff of Miles Davis' Freddie Freeloader this baby grooves, as the gents romp thorugh numbers like You're My Everything, But Not for Me, and Bye, Bye Blackbird.  Green absolutely dazzles with his impeccable technique on the keyboard, Brown lays down satisfying, toe-tapping lines, and Hutchinson sizzles on the cymbals, snare and tubs.  A classic jazz trio club recording!  Telarc, 1997, Playing Time: 56:09, ****1/2.


Some of My Best Friends are Singers, Ray Brown Trio, with guest artists.  Following the formula of two previous records (one showcasing saxes and the other, piano), one of Ray Brown's last releases is a smorgasbord of popular jazz vocalists.  The artists here are Dee Dee Bridgewater, Etta Jones, Nancy King, Diana Krall, Kevin Mahogany, and Marlena Shaw.  Each singer brings a specialty to the table: Krall phrases coyly, Jones is gutsy, Bridgewater soars, extends notes, and flutters with vibrato, King emotes lyrics and scats like a goddess possessed, Shaw swings phrases, and lone male vocalist Kevin Mahogany lends his honeyed baritone to the fest.  The finale, Perfect Blues (by Brown) supports my contention that Oregon's Nancy King is the most inventive scatter since Ella Fitzgerald.  The musicians here are bassist Brown, pianist Geoff Keezer, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, and guests Russell Malone (guitar), Antonio Hart (alto sax), and Ralph Moore (tenor sax).  Nice concept!  Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 59:00, ****.      


Summertime, Ray Brown Trio with Ulf Wakenius, guitar.  This album consciously reprises the sounds of guitarist Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio, beginning with Wes' composition West Coast Blues.  Though clearly not as soulful or original as Wes, Wakenius is nevertheless a very tasteful and agile guitarist (e.g. Yours in My Heart Alone) who occasionally flirts with octaves and flashes familiar Wes and Benson riffs.  Keezer's prodigious piano-playing shines throughout the proceedings, while Brown and Hutchinson maintain a wonderful foundation for the primary soloists.  The interplay among the four musicians is splendid.  Brown takes the head himself on It's Only a Paper Moon, and he plays masterfully on every tune.  Standards include Honeysuckle Rose, Watch What Happens, My One and Only Love, and Summertime.  Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 65:57, ****1/2.


Live in London, Ruth Brown, vocals.  Grammy winner Brown is also a recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  Better known in the past as a rhythm and blues singer, Brown is also a jazz stylist, captured here during an entertaining live set of standards at Ronnie Scott's club in London.  JACD, 1995, Playing Time: 68:00, **1/2.


In their Own Sweet Way, Dave Brubeck, piano, and sons.  This recording session was the fortuitous result of an apparent calamity - a mobile classical recording session in Westchester, New York had just been cancelled due to a blizzard, but the engineers and equipment were within a drive of another Telarc artist, Dave Brubeck, in Connecticut.  Luckily, the entire Brubeck clan was assembled for the holidays, and this album is the happy result.  Dave and Darius perform in tandem on pianos, Chris on electric bass, Dan on drums, and Matthew joins in on cello.  Judging from the ebullient spirit of this session, a good time was had by all!  Selections include In Your Own Sweet Way, Sweet Georgia Brown, and an assortment of other Brubeck tunes.  The Brubecks play very sympathetically together, and Darius's piano stylings and Matthew's cello are particularly noteworthy as creative contributors to the more regular unit of Chris, Dan, and Dave.  Telarc, 1997, Playing Time: 69:26, ****.


So What's New, Dave Brubeck, piano.  On this outing, Dave serves us up a hearty meal of his latest compositions.  Bandmates here are Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, bassist Jack Six, and drummer Randy Jones.  At 77 years young, Brubeck sounds as fresh as ever.  Check out this beauty for yourself. Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 57:31, ****


Like That, Jimmy Bruno, guitar, with Joey DeFrancesco, organ and trumpet.  Bruno is another one of those talented musicians who has worked as a sideman for a host of established artists, such as Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett, finally releasing his first record for Concord in 1992. 


On this swinging session, Bruno and DeFrancesco recapture the classic sound of a guitar-organ combo.  Bruno's playing has been discernibly influenced by fellow Philadelphian, Pat Martino (as evidenced by Bruno's own blazing tribute, Pat's House), as well as by Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery (Bruno's own take on Wes' tune, Unit 7, mixes speedy, flatpicked bop runs with glissing octaves). 


From the first beat of the opening cut, E.V., this album swings - and continues to swing.  Bruno is a smooth, polished mainstream soloist, whether ripping on boppy lines, toying with intervals and arpeggios, or delivering silky octaves.  Check out his awesome playing on The Iguana's Uncle, Pat's House, and Like That, and his lush treatment of a ballad (on Nightdreamer)!  He also composed half the nifty tunes on this first-rate recording.


DeFrancesco lives up to his sparkling reputation as the hottest young organist on the block, and bassist Craig Thomas and drummer Steve Holloway provide strong grooves throughout.  DeFrancesco displays his considerable trumpet skills on No Greater Love and Stars Fell on Alabama.  Jimmy Bruno - a tremendous jazz guitar-player!  Concord Jazz, 1996, Playing time: 60:55,*****.      


Live at Birdland, Jimmy Bruno, guitar.  For the uninitiated, Jimmy Bruno is one of the great jazz guitarists.  Here he leads a Philadelphia rhythm section of Craig Thomas (bass) and Vince Ector (drums) on a live, recorded date at Birdland, in New York.  Veteran alto saxman Bobby Watson guests on half of the tracks.


Bruno is a master bebopper who can shift from blistering Pat Martino-like runs to Wes Montgomery influenced octave licks to chord-melody passages which recall Joe Pass (on f8).  He also favors very fast tempos, such as the feverish Move, where Bruno puts on a showcase of speed, sweeps, and rhythmic chords.  The rest of the disc comprises mostly standards, including Charlie Parker's Au Privave, Segment, and Anthropology, on which Bruno and Watson play unison lines on the hurried heads. 


Although I personally prefer Bruno's 1996 release, Like That, this disc is a pretty fair indicator of how he sounds on any given night -  awesome!  Guitar fans might be interested to know that he plays a 7-string instrument built by Bob Benedetto.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 66:04, ****1/2.


Live at Birdland II, Jimmy Bruno, guitar.  For those not already familiar with Bruno, he is an absolute master of mainstream jazz guitar, possessing both technique and taste in overflowing abundance.  Captured here in the second installment of live tapes from a 1996 trio stint at Birdland in New York, he is accompanied by drummer Vince Ector and bassist Craig Thomas.  The topping on this musical banana split is the presence of saxophonist Scott Hamilton on the second half of the CD.  Whether laying down impressive chordal melodies, burning on single-note flurries over fast changes, flashing prodigious sweep technique (Joy Spring), or playing a ballad (Lover Man), Bruno is the complete package for a trad jazz guitarist.  The set includes its share of familiar standards, and when Hamilton adds his lovely tenor tone to the proceedings (beginning with Broadway), the heat turns up even further.  If you like Joe Pass, you'll probably love Jimmy Bruno, too.  Concord, 1998, Playing time: 61:17, *****.


Tha Go 'Round, B Sharp Jazz Quartet.  B Sharp is a contemporary acoustic jazz quartet, with a decidedly progressive, mainstream bent.  Drummer Herb Graham Jr. composed most of the tunes here, which offer ample freedom for Randall Willis' forays on the tenor and soprano saxes.  Osama Afifi's bass lays down insistent grooves, and pianist Rodney Lee comps and solos effectively.        

Mama, 1997, Playing Time: 56:20, ***.


Midnight at the Village Vanguard, Kenny Burrell, guitar.  Over the years, Kenny Burrell has enjoyed recording live dates at the Vanguard.  On this 1993 session, Burrell performs a set of mostly standards with a veteran rhythm section, consisting of pianist James Williams, drummer Sherman Ferguson, and bassist Peter Washington.  The session includes Monk's Bemsha Swing and Ruby My Dear, Freddie Hubbard's Little Sunflower, Ellington's Cottontail and Come Sunday, Bird's Parker's Mood, and a couple of Burrell's blues pieces.  While Burrell understandably takes the spotlight here (on both electric and acoustic guitars, e.g. Come Sunday), James Williams' playing, in particular, is a treat throughout.  Evidence, 1995, Playing Time: 76:52, ***1/2.


Lotus Blossom, Kenny Burrell, guitar.  This contemplative CD finds Burrell in a varied solo, duo, and trio format (with drummer Yoran Israel and bassist Ray Drummond).  Burrell's close-miked arch-top guitar outlines a tasteful and sedate Satin Doll, his chord-melody playing states the head on Warm Valley, There Will Never Be Another You is a duet with Drummond, Lotus Blossom is an impressionistic acoustic guitar solo, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a light bossa, and I'm Falling For You is yet another relaxed affair.  An intimate, tranquil recording.  Concord, 1995, Playing Time: , ***1/2.


Astor Piazzolla Reunion, Gary Burton, vibraphone.  For more than 30 years, Gary Burton has been one of the greatest innovators in the history of the vibraphone.  He is a consummate musician with a pleasantly progressive approach to both melody and harmony.  While touring with Stan Getz in the 1960's, Burton was first exposed to the music of Argentinian tanguero Astor Piazzolla.  He was immediately taken with the melodic passion and polyrhythms expressed in the eloquent compositions.  A friendship with the composer soon developed, and Burton and Piazzolla did some tours together, recording a CD on the Atlantic label in 1985.  Upon Piazzolla's passing, Burton wanted to fulfill his longing to record a CD of Piazzolla's poignant music.


While tango dancing was preeminent in New York and Western Europe during the second decade of the 20th century, it gradually lost its novelty appeal and was subsequently replaced by the Charlestown, jitterbug, lindy hop, and other fleeting fads.  However, the tango has remained a favorite dance and style of music throughout Latin America (especially South America).  There is still probably no music or dance as sensuous and romantic as the tango.


For this tribute to the great man and his tango compositions, Burton assembled some of Latin America's finest musicians, as well as pianist Makoto Ozone, who has worked with Burton for a number of years.  In a conservative jazz era of retro neo-bop and mundane fuzak, this CD stands out as a remarkable anomaly.  Indeed, it is a stunning and tender achievement of the highest order, in my estimation.


If you are a romantic at heart and love passionate, graceful music, then this is a must-have disc for your CD collection.  Among the countless discs and tapes in my own album collection, this has been in heavy rotation in my recording studio.  Burton's interpretation of Piazzolla's music is a rare gem that radiates beauty, heart, and soul.  Shall we dance, my love?  1998, Concord, Playing time: 67:13, *****


Face to Face, Gary Burton, vibes, and Makoto Ozone, piano.  This album reminds me a lot of the 1972 Burton-Corea duo recording, "Crystal Silence." 
As always, Gary Burton's playing is phenomenal.  Ozone, a virtuoso in his own right, comes off a bit dry - by comparison.  However, this may be partially due to the miking of the piano, which is somewhat thin sounding; the digital domain gives it a brittle quality, anyway.  Performance-wise, Ozone does a nice Corea impression on Kato's Revenge, plays great stride piano on Opus Half (a Benny Goodman tune), and introduces Laura's Dream with a Chopin-like nocturnal mood that segues into a tango.  The duo does a rather staid version of Blue Monk, but Burton really shines on My Romance and Eiderdown.  Compositionally, Ozone's Kato's Revenge, Times Like These,  and Bento Box are highlights of the session.  In retrospect, it's too bad I gave away my copy of "Crystal Silence!"  GRP, 1995, Playing Time: 73:05, ****.


Like Minds, Gary Burton, vibes.  Upon an e-mailed suggestion of guitarist Pat Metheny, Burton phoned pianist Chick Corea and arranged this all-star summit session, which features Burton, Corea, Metheny, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Dave Holland performing a set of compositions by Metheny, Corea, Burton, and Gershwin.  This is an energetic and masterful set, fulfilling -- and even exceeding -- the protagonists' expectations.    Concord, 1998, Playing time: 68:23, *****.


Departure, Gary Burton and Friends, vibes.  Burton is one of the all-time greatest vibraphonists ever, probably its most innovative player, and he also functions as the Vice President of the Berklee College of Music.  After 50 albums of usually performing modern pieces and his own music, he has finally released an album of standards (albeit some more familiar than others).  On Departure, Burton hosts an all-star cast of Peter Erskine on drums, John Patitucci on bass, Fred Hersch on piano, and John Scofield on guitar. 


The overall group sound recalls the George Shearing groups of the late 1940's and 1950's, as well as Red Norvo's combos.  Burton got his own start in the upper echelon of high-brow jazz circles working with Shearing, after all.  However, although the promotional materials make a point of mentioning that Scofield isn't playing with his customary nasty-sounding, distorted tone on the Ibanez semi-hollowbody guitar, even here his chorused guitar does not approach the cleanliness or warmth of other guitarists who have accompanied the great vibists (e.g. Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, or even a young Pat Metheny). 


Upon listening to all of the tracks on this CD, I have to give chef Burton his due.  This is a delicious jazz entree that is eminently enjoyable - a veritable moveable feast, featuring a multi-course menu of abundantly tasteful playing which should satisfy even the most discerning of jazz palates. 


The highlights?  Try every track on this offering!  Selections include September Song, If I Were a Bell, Tenderly, Ahmed Jamal's Poinciana, Chick Corea's Japanese Waltz, Ellington's Depk, and even the theme from the boob tube show, Frasier.  Although Scofield's semi-gnarly tone is occasionally grating, this is a terrific and mellow set.  Concord, 1997, Playing time: 64:57, ****1/2.


My Inspiration, Charlie Byrd, guitar.  In tandem with saxophonist Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd was one of the first North Americans to popularize the bossa nova.  Every once in awhile, he likes to recapture that mood with another Brazilian-oriented project.  Hence, it should come as no surprise that his latest release is again a celebration of Brazilian music, wherein Byrd glides through a set of pleasant songs, including five Jobim compositions.  Byrd is a solid nylon-string accompanist, and an adequate soloist.  On this occasion, he is supported by a cast of musicians well-suited for the project: a Brazilian vocalist and rhythm section (Trio Da Paz), Byrd's regular drummer, Chuck Redd, on vibraphone, and a very Getz-sounding Scott Hamilton on the tenor sax.  Hamilton and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, along with singer Maucha Adnet, provide the highlights.  Concord, 1999, Playing time: 62:06, ***.




Sunset Harbor, Ed Calle, saxophones.  An alumnus of the Miami Sound Machine and other notable pop groups, soaring saxman Calle is an affable exponent of "smooth" saxophone, whether on the tenor, soprano, or EWI.  The pop groove-tunes on this overdubbed CD are sheer cotton candy, spiced with multiple synths, snappy Latin percussion, and of course, wailing sax.  The mostly predictable progressions and melodies are quite "user friendly," accessible even for those who don't understand or relate to jazz.  Selections include some instrumental versions of golden hits: Earth, Wind, and Fire's Reasons, and Colour My World (Chicago).  Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval makes a cameo appearance (on San Sebastian).  Concord, 1999, Playing Time: 56:17, ***.


One More Once, Michel Camilo, piano.  Pianist-composer Camilo favors high-energy Latin grooves, which in this instance are powered by the rhythm section of Giovanni Hidalgo on congas, timbales, and bongos, Guarionex Aquino on percussion, Anthony Jackson on bass, and Cliff Almond on drums.  Camilo's funky Afro-Cuban horn charts are another key factor in propelling the driving beats, especially with musicians like Jon Faddis, Paquito D'Rivera, Chris Hunter, and Ralph Bowen participating.  Camilo is no slouch on the piano, either.  The rhythms here should get just about anyone (who isn't comatose) shaking and moving to the music.  This happy carnival ride is delightful party music!  Columbia 1994, Playing Time: 63:32, ****.


Larry and Lee, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour, guitars.  Probably the most eagerly awaited pairing of L.A. guitarists in years was this very popular release  from the two former kings of the Hollywood recording studios (this CD maintained a position at the top of the contemporary jazz charts for weeks).  It's almost odd that the two guitarslingers haven't joined forces before, given that they both studied from the same teacher, grew up nearby, and were in and out of the same studios on their way to and from hundreds of record dates.  When I used to lead professional groups in California, practically every guitar player was listening to these guys and using a Gibson ES335 semi-hollowbody guitar; it was almost a prerequisite (Seymour Duncan found me a nice 1959 345 with the original patent-applied-for humbuckers).   Ritenour has recorded Latin-flavored acoustic records, fusion tunes, and an entire album dedicated to Wes Montgomery.  Carlton is probably best known for his work on albums by the Crusaders, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell, in addition to television themes (e.g. Hill Street Blues).  A two-time Grammy winner, Carlton made a courageous comeback from a critical gunshot wound, incurred in an armed robbery at his studio.  Anyway, this pop-jazz session is full of finger-poppin' grooves and tasteful guitar licks.  Each guitarist wrote half of the tunes here.  Despite the bubbly pop nature of their current repertoire, I couldn't help smiling when I heard these two finally playing together.  A highlight is Carlton's dedication to Joe Pass, Remembering J.P.  GRP, 1995, Playing Time: 60:34, ***1/2.


The Bass and I, Ron Carter, bass.  All-time bass great Ron Carter has played on a ton of albums over the years.  His latest offering as a leader is a straightahead set of standards and Carter originals, mostly featuring the acoustic bass (naturally) and supported by Stephen Scott (piano), Lewis Nash (drums), and Steve Kroon (percussion).   The musicians recorded the CD in a one-day session this past January at Rudy Ven Gelder's studio.  In addition to Carter's fine playing, Scott also contributes some nice solos.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 54:33, ***.


Adama, Avishai Cohen, bass.  Those of you who have heard pianist Chick Corea and Origin might recall Avishai Cohen.  Cohen is a rare talent on the acoustic bass, and he not only displays his formidable bass technique here, but he also penned and arranged 11 of the CD's 12 compositions.  Bandmates include pianist Jason Lindner, drummer Jeff Ballard, trombonist Steve Davis, and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson.  Guest artists include Chick Corea and Amos Hoffman.  Stretch, 1998, Playing Time: 60:13, ****.


You Were Meant for Me, Kacy Colleen vocals.  Singer Kacy Colleen and husband Dale Lawrence (on guitar) are veteran Portland-area musicians, accompanied here on a mixed bag of tunes by pianist Tom Grant, bassists Joey Seifers and Dave Captein, drummer Kurt Deutscher, and tenor saxophonist Lee Wuthenow, among others.  Whether singing soft Latin jazz (e.g. Quiet Nights) or pop standards (Taxi Driver), Colleen's voice -- gliding like a songbird -- is quite moving and convincing.  Lawrence, who also produced and engineered this disc, lends very able guitar accompaniment and an occasional solo, too (in addition to those presented by Grant and Wuthenow).  Big House, 1999, Playing Time: 58:41, ***1/2.


Softly, Marc Copland, piano.  Marc Copland is a first-rate pianist and composer, and he has put together a session of marvelous players here, including saxophonists Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker, bassist Gary Peacock, drummer Bill Stewart, and trumpeter Tim Hagans.  This CD features three of Copland's compositions, as well as Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, I Love You, So In Love, Blue (Joni Mitchell), My Foolish Heart, and What's Going On (shades of Marvin Gaye here).  Pianistically, Copland sounds like a faithful devotee of Keith Jarrett.  (Perhaps that's why he invited Jarrett trio member Peacock for this date?)  He even hums while he plays, too; luckily, the band is playing louder, though!  His sensitive touch on the ebonies and ivories also recalls Bill Evans.  The other musicians clearly must have enjoyed this spirited session, because they all deliver inspired performances here.  Savoy, 1998, Playing Time: 65:25, *****.


Native Sense, Chick Corea, piano, and Gary Burton, vibes.  Ever since Corea and Burton recorded their first duet album, Crystal Silence (1973), fans have looked forward to similar reunions.  Their personal musical visions complement each other well, and Burton's vibes tend to bring out the heart qualities in Corea's music. 


  This sparkling disc opens with Native Sense, a minor pentatonic jam with harmonized intervals, followed by the luscious Latin structures of Corea's Love Castle (which has never sound better), and the polytonal shifting in the mysterious Duende.  On the Return to Forever classic, No Mystery, Burton's vibes form a filigree of intricate figures over the head, and Corea's light right-hand flurries ornament this intimate version of the piece.  For this occasion, Armando's Rhumba becomes a vibes vehicle, wherein Burton displays his impressive mastery over a complex chart. 


  The duo also perform a couple of Bela Bartok bagatelles; for Bagatelle #6, they adopt a cool jazz approach (Third Stream), while Bagatelle #2 is a schitzy hallucination.  Corea's Tango '92 is a progressive look at the Argentinian form, a torrent of unison arpeggios shower the entrance of the spirited Rhumbata, and the finale is a marvelously formidable and freakish Monk fest, Four in One.


  With the exception of Bagatelle #2, this is a superb CD.  Stretch, 1998, Playing Time: 64:48, ****1/2.


Origin, Chick Corea, piano.  This Corea ensemble was recorded at 10 shows at the Blue Note in New York; the CD selections were compiled from the ADAT tapes.  On this occasion, Corea has reached into the past, with a larger ensemble sound that eschews electronics in favor of straighahead jazz.  Participants include bassist Avishai Cohen, drummer Adam Cruz, trombonist Steve Davis, and multi-reedmen Bob Sheppard and Steve Wilson.  With the exception of It Could Happen to You, the compositions are clearly Corea's.  Soul Mates, a waltz dedicated to Chick's wife, Gayle, is an especially heartfelt selection.  Stretch, 1998, Playing Time: 65:40, ***1/2.


Remembering Bud Powell, Chick Corea & Friends, piano.  Yet another stellar contingent of marvelous jazz musicians: Corea with drummer Roy Haynes, alto saxman Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, and trumpeter Wallace Roney.   This offering is a beautifully executed tribute to one of Corea's favorite bop influences as a pianist, the inestimable Bud Powell, who never quite attained the notoriety of some of his colleagues. 


The musicianship here is superb, and there are both busy and placid tunes on this modern bop date, all Powell compositions (save one Corea contribution).  Every participant delivers a technically sparkling, standout performance.  Roney has really stepped up in the last few years, and Redman provides some soul, as a change of pace from the decidedly intellectual approach here.  Stretch, 1997, Playing Time: 73:49, ****1/2.




Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-'68.  To commemorate Miles' last acoustic group, Columbia has reissued a six-CD compilation of the LPs of the classic mid-1960's ensemble, featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams.  The band performs such representative tunes as E.S.P., Nefertiti, Stuff, and Madness.  The original tracks have been remixed and remastered in the studio, reflecting the newer technology of enhanced 20-bit digital recording.  Even in death, Miles remains a steady, profitable source of income for some people.  Anyway, if you don't already have Miles Davis albums from this period, this is the definitive set.  Columbia, 1998, *****.


Paco De Lucia, Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, acoustic guitars.  These three top-rank guitarists have recorded two previous, acclaimed albums together.  The first, Friday Night in San Francisco, was voted best guitar album of 1981 by the readers of Guitar Player magazine.  With each successive regrouping, this trio has evolved from basically staging a glorified jam session to a point where they now each bring a few carefully crafted pieces to these reunions. 


Opening with De Lucia's La Estiba, a flamenco-flavored number, the guitarists take turns soloing (as they are wont to do).  Beyond the Mirage is a mellow DiMeola piece with arpeggiated figures and harmonized treble riffs.  McLaughlin's Midsummer Night starts with some impromptu fun and then swiftly engages the talents of each musician, as the piece segues through various arranged sections.  Luis Bonfa's Manha de Carnaval (theme from "Black Orpheus") is a duet by McLaughlin and DiMeola.  Letter from India, a McLaughlin piece (and a duet here with Paco and "Mahavishnu" John), begins delicately and then alternates with some Hispanic-tinged soloing at several points.  DiMeola contributes a spirited solo number, Espiritu, wherein he plays a bunch of overdubbed guitars and percussion.  Le Monastère dans les Montagnes, another McLaughlin composition, features a tender melody and some lively soloing by the tres amigos.  Azzura and Cardeosa are yet two more lovely numbers. 


A splendid guitar album, replete with loads of  acoustic thrills, all set within the parameters of tunes written for the occasion.  Ironically, this recording is head and shoulders above the live album that garnered them plaudits from legions of other guitar players.  Alas, such is the profane nature of fame in this illusory world...  Verve/Polygram, 1996, Playing time: 53:07, ****1/2.


The Infinite Desire, Al Di Meola, guitar.   One-time wunderkinder Di Meola has matured from the fiery, electric picker of fast scale patterns (with Chick Corea's Return to Forever) into a passionate, Mediterranean influenced exponent of expressive and melodic world music stylings.  Following in the wake of World Sinfonia and Orange and Blue, Infinite Desire is a cohesive series of themes on a similar continuum.  Although Al first embarked on this particular stylistic journey about 20 years ago, today his ideas are much more fully realized and entrancing.  Herbie Hancock, John Patitucci, Peter Erskine, and rocker Steve Vai all appear here, too.  Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 63:24, ****.




Going Home, Shirley Eikhard, vocals.  Canadian singer-songwriter Eikhard is a very soulful, deep-throated singer.  From the moment her husky, bluesy voice first appears on this disc, one is taken with the sincerity in her singing.  She soars over a set of her own heartfelt tunes, backed by a fine jazz group featuring guitarist Ed Bickert, pianist Bob Erlendson, drummer Mark Kelso, and bassist George Koller.  Trumpeter Marcus Printup and saxophonist Mike Murley make guest appearances.  Considering the relatively small size of its population, Canada seems to produce an abundance of good jazz musicians and singers (including Renee Rosnes and Diana Krall, among others).  Eikhard is yet another pleasant discovery -- a vocalist who consciously prioritizes soul and substance above the false, flashy fluffiness of countless others who pose as jazz interpreters.  Blue Note, 1998, Playing Time: 48:05, ****.


Eliane Elias Sings Jobim, Eliane Elias, piano and vocals.  For adult hetero males, the sexy cover shot alone on this disc should be enough to raise blood pressure and inspire many to pull this gem out of CD record store bins for a closer examination.  Thankfully, decolletage isn't the whole package that this Brazilian bombshell is selling.  After all, what could be finer than an entire collection of classic Jobim tunes presented in an absolutely authentic Brazilian manner?  As if that were not enough, Elias not only plays great piano, but she sings softly and seductively, too.  Even if one doesn't understand a word of Portuguese, this is the way these songs were always meant to be interpreted.  Likewise, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker does a nice take on Stan Getz's memorable approach to some of the same tunes.  Selections include Girl from Ipanema, One Note Samba, Desafinado, How Insensitive, Once I Loved, and A Felicidade, etc.  Jazz albums don't get much more romantic or relaxing than this balmy, tasteful honey...  Blue Note, 1998, Playing Time: 51:15, *****.


The Messenger, Kurt Elling, singer.  Elling has a generally pleasant and expressive, husky, baritone voice which is much stronger in the lower part of his range.  A pensive hipster at heart, Elling reminds one of a rawer Mark Murphy as he scats and performs two sets of heartfelt, innovatively arranged mainstream tunes like Nature Boy, April in Paris, Prelude to a Kiss, and some lesser known tunes.  Drummer Paul Wertico (from Pat Metheny's group), bassist Rob Amster, and pianist Laurence Hobgood not only provide appropriate accompaniment for Elling's voice here; the musicians paint a colorful canvass of textures and tonalities.  Orbert Davis guests on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Cassandra Wilson joins in on Time of the Season.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing time: 72:06, ***1/2.


The Essential Recordings, Duke Ellington.  This is a collection of remastered Ellington band recordings from 1940 to 1942, with the group that featured Ben Webster on tenor and Jimmy Blanton on bass, as well as Johnny Hodges' alto, Harry Carney, and Billy Strayhorn (as additional pianist and arranger-composer).  The album contains 22 of the band's best tracks of the period, including Ko-Ko, Concerto for Cootie (which later evolved into Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me), Cottontail, the Ivie Anderson vocal on I Got It Bad, Never No Lament (which became Don't Get Around Much Anymore), Take the A Train, In a Mellotone, and Perdido.  Although the 1940 era audio fidelity is definitely not up to today's technological standards, this is a classic compilation nevertheless.  Le Jazz, 1993, Le Jazz CD 2, Playing time: 68:42, *****.


Digital Duke, Duke Ellington Orchestra.  Another compilation of Ellington orchestra tunes, this time featuring some all-star guest soloists (e.g. Roland Hanna, Branford Marsalis, Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, Eddie Daniels) conducted by Mercer Ellington.  Highlights: Cottontail is played at a blistering pace here, Satin Doll adheres to classic form, Juan Tizol's Perdido opens with choruses of boppy brass and features neat soloes by Terry and Daniels, Hanna introduces Mood Indigo as if it were Blue Monk, Barry Lee Hall plays a rollicking muted trumpet on Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me, In a Mellotone swings elegantly, and Marsalis lends his melodic tenor talents to Take the A Train.   GRP Records, 1987, GRD-9548, Playing time: 68:32, ****.


Duke Ellington: Black, Brown, and Beige, Louie Bellson Orchestra.  As always, this Bellson session cooks.  Drummers, especially, will love the audio mix of this recording; from the first beat of Hawk Talks, the snare cracks and the cymbals absolutely sizzle!  Bellson's drums are prominent throughout this recording (e.g. solos on Skin Deep, tom-toms on Work Song, etc.).  The band swings, the horn and woodwind sections are rhythmically in synch, and the engineer did a nifty job of tastefully separating the two sections in the speakers via some masterful stereo imaging).  Teo Macero, best known for his collaborations with Miles Davis, produced the lush version of Black, Brown, and Beige, Ellington's war-time tone poem on the history of black Americans.  Joe Williams makes a cameo appearance on The Blues.  More than 50 years after Duke penned this piece, the beginning of the Beige section still sounds exciting and modern, then proceeds from stride to an urban waltz, and then onto powerful musical statements evoking the community pride and awareness epitomized by the Harlem Renaissance, before finally concluding with a trumpeted patriotic appeal to "fight for right 'neath the red, white, and blue!"  This opus, in particular, is a wonderful showcase of Duke Ellington's compositional brilliance at its mature fullness.  The disc ends with Bellson's tribute, the Ellington-Strayhorn Suite, featuring Clark Terry and pianist John Danko.  Maurice Peress, Conductor.  Musicmasters, 1994, Playing time: 71:12, *****.


Happy Reunion, Duke Ellington.  Recorded in Chicago in 1957-58, Happy Reunion is a short set of seven tunes (plus two "out-takes").  The set includes blues (Way Back Blues, Play the Blues and Go, Where's the Music, and Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue), "Rhythm changes" (Rubber Bottom), and two takes each of In a Mellotone and Happy Reunion (for Ellington discophiles).  Johnny Hodges (alto), Clark Terry (trumpet), Paul Gonsalves (tenor), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), and Duke all shine respectively.  Gonsalves really stretches out on Diminuendo... - 31 choruses!  Sony, 1995, AK 40030, Playing time: 33:59, ***.


The Great Paris Concert, Duke Ellington.  This marvelous and historic two-CD set is essentially a reissue of a 1960's era Atlantic LP (by the same name, recorded during four concerts at the Olympia Theatre in February, 1963), except that it is also packaged here with a reissue of a Reprise LP, "Duke Ellington's Greatest Hits" (from assorted 1963 Paris, studio, and other European concert tapes).  The original recordings have been remixed for optimal digital reproduction.  The band is in fine form here on the concert tracks, performing many of Duke's timeless compositions for the discernible pleasure of the French audiences.  Ellington's Suite Thursday (entitled after the John Steinbeck novel, Sweet Thursday) and Tone Parallel to Harlem (a work commissioned for Toscanini's NBC Symhony in 1950) are notable concert inclusions, too.  Duke's verbal introductions and exhortations to his musicians are also captured clearly, further recreating the concerts' atmosphere - enhancing the overall CD listening experience.  Personnel include: Duke, Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, and Harry Carney.  "C'est étonnant, n'est-ce pas?"  Atlantic, 1989, 304-2, Playing time (2 discs): 2 hrs: 2 min:26, *****.


Duke Ellington Swings, all-star tribute.  Here is a compilation of previously recorded material of Ellington compositions by a top-drawer cast of mainstream heavyweights (in fine form), put together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Duke's birth.  Notables include singers Mel Torme and Bobby Short, pianists Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck and Ahmad Jamal, bassist Ray Brown, and guitarists Joe Pass, Jim Hall and Ulf Wakenius.  Selections include Cottontail, Rockin' in Rhythm, Satin Doll, I Got it Bad, In a Mellow Tone, Take the A Train, In a Sentimental Mood, Things Aint What they Used to Be, and It Don't Mean a Thing...  With this lineup, how can you lose? Telarc, 1999, Playing time: 74:20, ****.


Getting Your Feet Wet, Ramsey Embick, keyboards, Al Criado, electric bass, Reinhard Melz, drums.  Oregonian Ramsey Embick has had a distinguished career in the music business, most notably as an arranger-pianist for the Pointer Sisters.  After decades spent making other artists sound great, he has finally released his own album of originals and unique versions of standards. 


After the title cut, a probable concession to the ever-challenging reality of commercial viability, Embick gets down to business - presenting a smorgasbord of pleasurable grooves galore.  One of my favorite selections is Fran's Dream, a relaxed samba that features nicely structured, ascending, diatonic chord changes.  Ramsey's take on Herbie Hancock's Speak Like a Child is another treat; Scotty Wardinsky's Latin percussion supports the groove admirably here.  Dulce de Coco, another Latin number (this time built around a central i-vi-ii-v progression), includes some tasty piano and bass playing.


On a more interesting musical note, Ramsey's trio enunciates an extraordinary reggae beat interpretation of Wayne Shorter's exquisite composition, Fall, from the great Miles Davis group of the mid-Sixties (note: check out Nefertiti).  Miles' Tune, another Embick composition, approximates the grooves and polytonality of the latter-day electric Miles.  Trumpeter Clay Jenkins lends his considerable talents to this tune.  All in all, this is both a solid and accessible album -  a fine debut effort!  Piquant Records, 1996, Playing Time: 54:32, ****.


Beyond the Seven Hills, Mehmet Ergin, acoustic guitar.  When I lived in Italy, the 'seven hills' referred to Rome.  On this disc, Ergin associates them with Germany (for some reason).  Anyway, this appears to be GRP's crossover attempt to reach more of a world music audience.  Unfortunately, Ergin is no John McLaughlin, however, when it comes to guitar technique.  He resembles a Turkish Peter White on the guitar - smooth contemporary jazz with a decidedly Anatolian influence.  Synthesizer washes abound in the background here, too.  The vibe is groovy, though, particularly on the more ethnic sounding selections (e.g. Cabuk).  GRP Records, 1997, Playing Time: 55:23, *1/2.


Rain or Shine, The Ron Escheté Trio, Ron Escheté, guitar, Todd Johnson, electric bass, and Paul Humphrey, drums.  This straightahead Los Angeles guitarist comes from the Joe Pass-Herb Ellis school of jazz guitar.  On this recording date, Escheté's trio performs a number of mellow standards and one ballad, Theme for Jeff, which Escheté wrote.  Escheté, an accomplished mainstream musician who has paid his dues over the years, displays tasteful chops, chords, and sensitivity throughout.  Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez spices up the proceedings on several cuts, especially the bossa rendition of Coltrane's Naima.  Concord Jazz, Playing Time: , ***1/2.


Live at Bradley's, Kevin Eubanks, guitar.  In 1995, the congenial and talented Eubanks supplanted a petulant and sulking Branford Marsalis as leader of the Tonight Show band.  It's both funny and pathetic how many of today's pampered multi-millionaire musicians, athletes, and movie stars are so doggoned wretched about prostituting themselves in their obsessive, egotistical scramble for fame and fortune.  Whether it's Sharon Stone whining about how she had to bare her body (and worse) in order to break into Hollywood, an NBA player complaining because he's only making $3.5 million this year, or Marsalis moaning that he had to actually play pop snippets and make small talk with Jay Leno on national television, don't these folks realize that's what comes of making conscious choices in life?  If integrity (and not money and ego) were truly that important to them, they could have simply said "no, thank you" and walked away on day one, like so many of the nameless people who thanklessly toil all their lives in oblivion, but with their dignity (and souls) intact.


Eubanks, despite some crass packaging by his commercial handlers in the past, at least carries himself like one who understands the nature of the fame game in our banal materialist culture.  Certainly, he may have sold out, but he also has the unabashed temperament and talent to quietly balance that occasionally with truly gifted jazz guitar playing, instead of publicly resorting to hollow complaints, feeble excuses, and misplaced blame.  Fortunately for jazz fans, Live at Bradley's, recorded at a New York jazz club in 1994, was one of those occasions.


Playing mainstream standards in a trio with pianist James Williams and bassist Robert Hurst for an obviously small audience (the meager applause is a dead giveaway, on that account), Eubanks demonstrates on this disc that cranking out the sausage daily for television hasn't diminished his jazz abilities - in the slightest.  Whether ripping through a warm-toned solo on Speak Low, mellowing out on In a Sentimental Mood, or getting down on Joe Zawinul's churchy Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Eubanks displays good taste and a mature jazz sensibility.  Stylistically, his riffs echo the Wes Montgomery school of jazz guitar and its most notable descendants, including George Benson and Pat Martino. 


Bassist Hurst and pianist Williams, especially, provide outstanding accompaniment on this set, which also includes a Williams composition, Alter Ego.  Thankfully, Eubanks can still walk the walk, without any attendant abrasive talk.  Blue Note, 1996, Playing time: 73:03, ***1/2.




My Ideal, Dan Faehnle, guitar.  Portland, Oregon, the jazz oasis of the Pacific Northwest, has an abundance of first-rate jazz guitarists, and since relocating to Oregon from Toledo, Ohio about 10 years ago, Dan Faehnle has steadily established himself as one of the top younger, straightahead jazz musicians in the Pacific Northwest - and on the entire West Coast.  In recent years, Dan's guitar playing has been featured on the albums of respected bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Dick Berk (who previously worked with Billie Holiday and Cal Tjader).  Thanks largely to the efforts of executive producer JoAnne Hasbrouck, Faehnle now has his own CD release as a leader.


My Ideal is an auspicious debut disc that signals the maturation of somewhat of an anomaly in this present era of acid-jazz, fuzak, and computer sequencing of classic grooves - a younger musician who has comfortably found a fresh musical voice in the bebop sound of the 1940's and '50s.  Indeed, Faehnle's traditional playing is rooted in the lineage of such notable mainstream jazz guitarists as Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, and early George Benson (e.g. Blue Benson), as well as exhibiting the obvious considerable influence of various bebop horn players.


While My Ideal doesn't purport to chart any new terrain, it exemplifies the best of straightahead jazz as performed by contemporary musicians.  From the bluesy opening riffs of Charlie Parker's Perhaps to the closing original tune, Buddy's Blues, Faehnle's playing on his big, hollow-body Guild guitar is spirited, flowing, tasteful, and melodically inventive.  One can readily discern the influence of a blue George Benson on Perhaps, the Pat Martino-like fourths, chromaticism, and rhythmic accents on The Mask, and the Wes Montgomery tone and octaves on Willie's Tune and God Child.  The recording also features the solid playing of drummer Mel Brown, acoustic bassist Ed Bennett, percussionists Curtis Craft and Bobby Torez, and three pianists, Tony Pacini, boyhood chum Larry Fuller, and Tom Grant (who also produced the recording session).   


Following another jazz tradition, the album was essentially recorded in one day at White Horse studios in Portland.  Later, Dan recorded a lovely solo rendition of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square at Tom Grant's home studio.


Speaking both as a jazz reviewer and professional guitarist, I heartily recommend this CD; this is a terrific and enjoyable jazz guitar album.  Incidentally, the overall audio mix of this recording is also excellent.  Pillar, 1997, Playing Time: 65:59, *****.                   


Modern Art, Art Farmer, trumpet.  In the late Fifties, Art Farmer was refining his smooth, evocative sound alongside tenor saxman Benny Golson.  On these classic, straightahead sessions, recorded in September, 1958, Farmer and Golson are joined by Art's bassist brother, Addison, drummer Dave Bailey, and pianist Bill Evans, who was helping Miles Davis forge a modern, modal style.  All the musicians involved here deliver splendid performances; Farmer's trumpet is warm and expressive, Golson's sax is rich and fluid, while Evans explores progressive lines and impressionistic harmonic nuances.  Tunes include two originals and some standards,  such as I Love You, Darn That Dream, and Like Someone in Love. Blue Note, 1991, Playing time: 40:27, ****1/2.


Here's That Rainy Day, Art Farmer, flugelhorn. This is a thematic, composite CD of recordings released in 1972 and 1974, featuring two distinct sessions.  On most tracks, Farmer plays flugelhorn with orchestrated strings and a European rhythm section.  On opener Here's That Rainy Day and Some Other Time, however, he is joined by pianist Cedar Walton, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, bassist Sam Jones, drummer Billy Higgins, and percussionists Mtume and Warren Smith.  The effect is decidedly mixed: what begins as a hip session soon fades into innocuous, orchestrated mood mellowness.  There are some bright moments here, though -- usually Farmer's horn, thank goodness.  Heritage, 1991, Playing time: 50:45, **1/2.


Gentle Eyes, Art Farmer, flugelhorn. This CD, recorded with a European orchestra in 1971, contains many of same tracks as Here's That Rainy Day.  Tracks include God Bless the Child, We've Only Just Begin, and a parcel of dated-sounding themes.  One forerunner of John Klemmer's Touch (and "smooth" music), So Bist Du, is renamed So Are You here.  Mainstream, 1993, Playing time: 49:33, **.


My World, Farzin, saxophone (and additional keyboards).  This is another inoffensive, smooth contemporary piece of mall music, this time with apparently Persian inflections.  Farzin possesses a nice tone on his alto saxophone, though, some minor pentatonic chops, and an aversion to looking at the camera in his promo photos.  Say, "Cheese, please!"  CTX, 1997, Playing Time: 44:16, *1/2.


Brass Attitude, Maynard Ferguson & Big Bop Nouveau, Ferguson, trumpets.  Yet another solid, brass-heavy effort from the redoubtable, high-C trumpeter and big bandleader.  This baby features Ferguson and current bandmembers Tom Garling (trombone), Carl Fischer (trumpet), Sal Giorgianni (tenor sax), Ron Oswanski (piano), and alums Christian Jacob (piano) and Denis DiBlasio (bari sax and vocal).  Selections include standards Just Friends and I Love You, Italian tune Caruso, and six original charts by Ferguson's musicians.  [Also, well-recorded and mixed by Dom Camardella in Santa Barbara.]  Concord, 1998, Playing Time: 66:29, ***.


These Cats Can Swing, Maynard Ferguson, trumpet, and Big Bop Nouveau.  Maynard's latest crew recorded this album in Santa Barbara, with my old Oasis bandmate Dom Camardella engineering and co-producing (with Maynard).  Nice arrangements permeate this session (e.g. Caravan and Sugar), and we are also treated to the unique experience of Maynard singing the blues and chanting "om" over a fusion of a Bai Rav raga with big band music; would you believe it?  There is some fine piano work here from Ron Oswanski, and some great Latin percussion from another old compadre of mine, Lorenzo Martinez.  Concord, 1995, Playing Time: 59:32, ***.


First Instrument, Rachelle Ferrell, singer.  A reissue of a 1990 recording, this Lenny White produced disc features rhythm and blues singer Ferrell singing mostly standards and a couple of original tunes.  Superstars Wayne Shorter, Stanley Clarke, and Michel Petrucciani make a cameo appearance on Autumn Leaves.  As for Ferrell's instrument, she definitely has a most expressive and seductive voice.  I get the impression, though, that this was her attempt to prove that she is a "legit" jazz singer; do we really need any more recordings like this of You Send Me, Bye Bye Blackbird, My Funny Valentine, and Autumn Leaves?  Oh, well.  George Benson's version of You Don't Know What Love Is sends me a lot more than Ferrell's.  Ferrell does the apparently obligatory scatting on various tunes, some cooing and moaning on Prayer Dance, a Bobby McFerrin impression on Inchworm, and a very breathy and flighty rendition of My Funny Valentine.  This session conjures up images of smoke-filled nightclubs; perhaps that was the intention.  A nice effort; Ferrell would do well to find a hot songwriter.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 56:56, ***.


Just Jobim, Manfredo Fest, piano.  For almost four decades, Brazilian pianist Manfredo Fest has been an enthusiastic interpreter of Jobim's classic bossa nova compositions.  Amidst the host of Jobim tribute recordings in the last few years, this one also stands out -- for Fest's assurant piano playing, the deft Brazilian grooves of the rhythm section, and the material itself, of course.  The other musicians are bassist David Finck, percussionist Cyro Baptiste, and drummer Steve Davis.  Jobim standards include Wave, Desafinado, Ipanema, Quiet Nights, and Agua de Beber, and some less familiar compositions.  Very fine treatment!  dmp, 1998, Playing time: 63:52, ****.


Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Garrison Fewell, guitar.  This Philadelphia native studied with bebop guitar legend Pat Martino and lists Jim Hall as one of his main influences; it shows.  Fewell has great chops, a lovely, warm, dark tone, and a progressive compositional style.  Notable bassist Cecil McBee is among the musicians playing with Fewell here; McBee's Song of Her (featured on Charles Lloyd's Forest Flower album) is one of the many nice arrangements on this CD.  Fewell, who has traveled extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East, clearly absorbed much from Eastern wisdom and mysticism.  For example, the title of one piece, Ten Directions, is a description from the Buddhist Lotus Sutra.  Musically speaking (like the other tunes here), Ten Directions is a modern, straightahead affair.  Both pianist Laszlo Gardony and drummer Matt Wilson shine on this session, too.  What does Are You Afraid of the Dark signify?  According to Fewell, it represents "the innate darkness of life, which is illuminated by the creative spirit."  Amen.  Fewell is an undiscovered jewel.  Accurate 1995, Playing Time: 52:13, ****.


Left of Cool, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, banjo, bass, drum synth, and saxophones and assorted woodwinds.  Béla  Fleck is the premier banjoist of all-time, Victor Wooten is the favorite bass player of thousands of electric bassists, and Future Man has revolutionized concepts about drum sets.  That having been said, this is essentially a jam album, recorded and edited after countless hours of jamming in Béla's home studio.  Béla and company like taking chances in their music and exploring new terrain.  Sometimes it works well, and other times...  When these guys are playing (and not singing like the Grateful Dead) it works very well, indeed.  Newcomer Jeff Coffin rounds out the group on this disc, which features cameo appearances by popular singers Amy Grant and Dave Matthews.  The group garnered a 1997 Grammy award and six other nominations in recent years.  Whether you personally like their music or not, at least these guys are true originals, daring to be different from the crowd.  That merits some respect (and an extra 1/2 *).  Warner Brothers, 1998, Playing Time: 76:30, ****.


Serendipity 18, Bob Florence Limited Edition, Bob Florence, conductor/piano.  Bob Florence is a respected mentor and staple of the L.A. music industry, with 13 Grammy nominations and two Emmy Awards.  He has arranged for Louis Bellson, Harry James, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, and the Tonight Show, to cite just a handful of collaborations.  From the slam-dunk opening on this CD's title track, Serendipity 18, Florence makes it absolutely clear that he is a master of big band arranging.  His inventive arrangements may juxtapose brass and sax section parts against quiet solos, or contrary moving reeds over brass patterns, or perhaps syncopated sax lines over complementary, accented brass figures -- this guy knows all the tricks of the trade!  Florence is also an exceptional pianist; for decades he has been in demand as an accompanist for leading vocalists (such as Julie Andrews and Vikk Carr).  Among the 18 bandmates featured on this disc are notable trumpeter Carl Saunders, tenor saxman Terry Harrington, and woodwind meister Kim Richmond.  Mama, 1998, Playing Time: 73:11, ****.


Ghetto Paradise, Antonio Forcione, acoustic guitars.  Forcione is a fine Italian guitarist who has obviously listened a lot to John McLaughlin, who pioneered this genre of music.  In fact, Forcione even chose two former members of McLaughlin's trio for this recording -- bassist Kai Eckhardt and drummer/tabla player Trilok Gurtu.  In contrast to "Mahavishnu," however,  Forcione does not display much improvisational mastery in his own approach, though he possesses a very nice touch on an assortment of acoustic guitars.  Forcione apparently listened to the late New Age guitarist, Michael Hedges, too.  He composes interesting pieces, with lots of unison lines.  For their part, Gurtu shines on rhythm, while Eckhardt's electric bass playing is Jacoesque and solid.  The album also features the saxes of Roberto Manzin and Ed Jones, singer Sonai Varsani, and various other musicians.  Naim, 1998, Playing Time: 48:44, ***.


The Authorized Bootleg, Robben Ford, guitar and vocals.  Grammy nominee Ford is mostly known for his distinctive, electric blues guitar playing.  However, he also likes to pick up an acoustic axe, too, as he displays on this live CD recorded at Yoshi's in Oakland in December, 1995.  Curiously, the more subdued acoustic guitar here seems to inspire his vocals to new heights, actually upstaging the guitar at times.  The set includes rollicking blues like Start it Up, a light, funk-blues groove on Chevrolet, Ray Charles' laid-back Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying, the pleading Help the Poor, the classic Paul Butterfield tune, Lovin' Cup, and the fast shuffling Tired of Talkin'.  Ford's regular band supports him solidly here: Roscoe Beck, bass, Tom Brechtlein, drums, and Bill Boublitz, piano and organ.  Blue Thumb, 1998, Playing Time: 51:57, ***.


Tiger Walk, Robben Ford, guitar.  Robben Ford has had a steady meal ticket ever since his fusion days playing in Tom Scott's L.A. Express.  At one point in the 1970's, he even did a two guitar thing with Larry Carlton at Donté's nightclub in the City of Lost Angels.  Nowadays, Ford is a legit blues honcho (which was always his forte, anyway).  His playing has remained relatively the same during the last twenty years.  I really liked his Robben Ford and the Blue Line discs.  On Tiger Walk, Ford presents 10 new, innocuous instrumentals with his sustained Dumble amp sound (he used to crank Mesa Boogies).  Although he isn't much of a songsmith here, he nevertheless knows how to squeak some nice tones out of his electric guitar.  Blue Thumb, 1997, Playing Time: 49:41, ***.


Four in One, Sonny Fortune, alto sax and flute.  Tribute albums seem to be in vogue right now.  Four in One is a collection of Thelonius Monk tunes that provide a framework for Sonny Fortune to improvise upon at length.  This blowing session also includes the talents of Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums, and Kirk Lightsey on piano.  Ironically, in contrast to Joe Henderson, Fortune is best-known for his excursions into Latin and African grooves; yet, here he is playing straightahead!  This package of Monk compositions again underlines the importance of having great material to play.  After all, there are probably thousands of gifted jazz musicians around; but how many unique jazz composers with timeless tunes to offer are there?  This recording also serves notice that Sonny Fortune is a saxman we shouldn't forget, in the industry's rush to find upcoming teenagers; the man is a mature monster of the art.  Blue Note, 1994, Playing Time: 60:13, ****.  


Kicks, Mimi Fox, guitar.  A Bay Area resident, Fox is a relative rarity in the music industry, a woman who plays very agile, traditional jazz guitar.  In fact, she was so enamored of Joe Pass' playing, that she visited him and took some lessons.  Instruction and perseverance have clearly paid off -- Fox is definitely one of the finer women jazz guitarists around; she may well be the most technically proficient mainstream player since Emily Remler.  Tasteful and spidery, her playing here is quite appropriate on a set of mostly standards, such as Cherokee, In a Sentimental Mood, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and Willow Weep for Me.  While Fox's derivative playing covers no new territory (except for some chromatic movement and dissonant flashes on Mr. White's Blues), she is an accomplished musician who romps fluently over chord changes and also displays a nice touch on the acoustic guitar, too.  The session also features some well-known artists: organist Joey DeFrancesco, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, and cameos by vocalist Angela Bofill and 8-string electric player Charlie Hunter (a duet with Fox).  Monarch, 1999, Playing Time: 53:46, ***1/2.




Classics in the Key of G, Kenny G,, soprano and tenor saxophone.  Mention Kenny G.  in a crowded room and you'll elicit some pretty strong opinions; people either love him or hate his guts, stylistically.  When Kenny Gorelick left Portland's Jeff Lorber Fusion group, went to L.A. and started playing watered down pop instrumentals with that big, lush sappy sound on the soprano saxophone, he quickly became a media star, churning out one hit album after another.  Along the way, he earned the enmity of countless jazz musicians, whether deserved or not.  Now, the world's best-selling instrumentalist of all-time has turned back toward his early jazz roots to record a disc of jazz classics, including Body and Soul, 'Round Midnight, Desafinado, Girl from Ipanema, In a Sentimental Mood, and other selections.  To the surprise of many of his jazz detractors (including myself), G. has rendered a very affecting set here, however schmaltzy the embellishments might be occasionally.  The fact remains that he probably gets one of the nicer sounds on the planet from the soprano saxophone -- and the tenor, too, on this project.  He obviously gets in a sentimental mood himself when he starts playing some of the tunes (like Body and Soul and 'Round Midnight) which influenced him as a Seattle kid learning to play the saxophone.  The arrangements are quite tasteful, his interpretations faithful, and guests include guitarist George Benson and singer Bebel Gilberto (on Girl from Ipanema).  Kenny even commits the heresy here of overdubbing his soprano on Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World.  Technically speaking, his saxophone sound is gorgeous (with a bit too much reverb and echo, however), his intonation in the upper register uncanny, his phrasing excellent, and his sense of melodic drama practically heart-wrenching.  So what if he plays consonant licks and milks every lilting phrase for emotion; so much the better on some of these evocative tunes!  In the past, I've made frisbees out of his record company's promotional CDs; I even returned a gift of his Miracles Christmas album from my own wife (sorry, honey).  However, this time out G.'s efforts should silence all but the most irreconcilable and vicious (or tone-deaf) critics.  Whatever else one might feel about Kenny Gorelick and the type of muzak material he usually plays, the guy is a first-rate musician.  After the release of this CD, anyone who continues to disparage his playing itself must have wax in their ears.  Arista, 1999, Playing time: 55:30, ***1/2.


Maynard Ferguson Presents Tom Garling, trombone.  There aren't a lot of trombone players these days who get backing to lead a group on a CD for a quality jazz label.  Ferguson must have known what he was doing in promoting Garling; Garling can make his low horn sing lyrically one moment, and then soar fluidly over snappy straightahead rhythms the next.  The arrangements of the mostly Garling compositions on this CD are also well crafted.  There is some inspired mainstream playing from saxophonist Jerry Pinter, pianist Christian Jacob, trumpeter Ron Stout, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Tony Pia.  Bass trombonist Alex Iles makes a guest appearance on Here's That Rainy Day.  Of note: Shrimp Tales conjures up Weather Report-like images; Trinology is Monkish; Bill Evans is haunting and pensive; the harmonized head of Forging Behind is a real cooker; Rainier's Dream is a fragrant tone poem; Ilene's Dance is an absolutely hoppin' seven-beat affair.  This is definitely a trombone record I can recommend with some enthusiasm.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 65:54,  ****1/2.


Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane, Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone.  Kenny Garrett is an excellent progressive jazz musician.  On this tribute to Trane, Garrett exhibits the requisite chops, chromatic melodic movement, and wailing tone reminiscent of Coltrane's playing.  Garrett leads bandmates Pat Metheny (guitar), Rodney Whitaker (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) over a set of Trane standards, including Equinox, Dear Lord, Giant Steps, After the Rain, and Lonnie's Lament.  All receive standard treatment, with the exception of Giant Steps, where Garrett takes liberties with the harmonic progression of the head, abbreviating the duration of the chords (they change on each beat here).  Metheny flashes characteristic licks and the uptempo, sliding, modulating intervals that have become almost routine in his playing in recent years.


With all the album releases dedicated to Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the last decade, it would seem that musicians might want to explore some new, more original terrain -- just as Miles and Trane did themselves.  I mean, if I want to hear a saxophone playing the music of John Coltrane derivatively, then why settle for an imitator, no matter how adept?  Nevertheless, this is a very good album.  Warner Bros., 1998, Playing time: 65:15, ***1/2.


Blue Skies, Giacomo Gates, vocals.  Gates came to jazz singing after spending some years working in construction in Alaska.  He has a stylized, hipster approach to most of his vocals;  Eddie Jefferson is an obvious influence (Five Cooper Square).  His tone likewise resembles Sinatra, on occasion (Lady Be Good).  He takes some extreme liberties on his way to Meet Me Where They Play the Blues, and his intonation drifts slightly in places.  But Gates knows his vocalese, and he scats with ease on Yardbird Suite.  He similarly tackles a Jon Hendricks lyric of Miles Davis' Four.  Gates' fine band for this occasion is pianist Harold Danko, saxman Jerome Richardson, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Akiro Tana.  DMP, 1998, Playing Time: 45:57, ***.


Yours and Mine, Stan Getz, tenor saxophone.  Stan Getz was the leader of what has been termed the "West Coast" school of jazz - smooth, cool, and melodic.  Always a consummate musician and improviser, even in the last months of a terminal illness, Getz, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Ben Riley deliver a stellar performance on this new Concord release of a live set recorded by the BBC at the Glascow International Jazz Festival in 1989.


From the outset of the first standard, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to, Getz's tenor flows effortlessly, with smooth cascades of notes raining from the heavens of this immortal's horn.  The second tune is a pretty bossa penned by Barron and dedicated to his wife, Joanne Julia.  Well known for his affinity for Latin grooves, Getz's sixteenth notes weave and soar over the pleasant changes laid down by the rhythm section.  Barron's work here is also solid.


The remainder of the set consists of jazz standards, some better known than others.  Yours and Mine is a charming ballad by Thad Jones which features a nice solo by Barron.  Dizzy's Con Alma is introduced with a 12/8 triplet pulse on the cymbals, which alternates with a swinging four-beat groove, and both Getz and (especially) Barron play inspiring solos here.  People Time, a Benny Carter reverie, is deliciously succulent, poignant, and relaxed - a tone poem.  Barron's piano sets the pace on a What is This Thing Called Love, propelled by Riley and Drummond's driving pulse.  The set closes appropriately enough with Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, featuring prodigious flights by Getz and Barron. 


Whether recorded yesteryear or released today, this album stands as a living testament to a great jazz musician whose playing transcends the bounds of time and space.


Providing added interest and color on this CD is the inclusion of Getz's introductions and comments on the microphone between each track.  Jazz fans take note: this is a historic and absolutely marvelous live disc!  Concord, 1996, Playing time: 57:21, *****.


Lip Service, Tom Grant, keyboards.  Tom Grant has been a Northwest jazz fixture for some time.  In recent years, he has inclined toward a commercially accessible style which has gotten him regular airplay on America's burgeoning smooth jazz stations.  The disc opens with a laid-back, funky vamp, as a phrase from Neil Schon's guitar hook on Journey's Who's Crying Now? subconsciously becomes the central theme of Love & Desire.  Lip Service is another easy listening piece; Phil Baker contributed the bass and drum programming, as well as co-producing this CD.  Poinciana becomes a funk-tango here, George Clinton's Ain't Nobody features lots of panning and effects, Down the Road is a familiar progression, Western Hemisphere has rhythm guitar licks reminiscent of Al Jarreau's We're in this Love Together, If You Want Me to Stay features street grooves and wah-wah guitar, and the Beatles' For No One is an acoustic duet with Grant and Baker.  Tom sings on Love & Desire and Far From Home.  Patrick Lamb contributes appropriate saxophone on several tracks.  Shanachie, Playing Time: 47:54, ***.


Instinct, Tom Grant, piano and vocals.  Fifteen years ago Tom Grant was gigging weekly at Cousin's, one of several precursors to Berbati's nightclub in Portland.  Nowadays the stellar Oregon pianist is a popular contemporary jazz artist with national airplay and guest artists like Randy Brecker, Najee, and Peter White appearing on his albums.  


Meanwhile, music buff Aaron Walker was still growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon, listening to rhythm & blues and rap records.  Walker gradually began to experiment with sampling techniques in his project studio.  After a fortuitous chance encounter last year, upon hearing some of Aaron's work, Tom invited him to collaborate in the production of this latest project, with surprisingly solid results - especially for an album that mixes hip-hop and mellow contemporary styles.     


Highlights: Fantasy is a 90's take on the classic Earth, Wind, and Fire tune, Lovely Little Dreamer has a slow, sampled hip-hop groove and some tasty piano licks on top, More Than You Know is a finger-poppin' sequence with Grant almost reminding one of Stevie Wonder, Quiet Nights is a faithful rendition of Jobim's gem (with mellow sax from Patrick Lamb), Shimmering Pools is a laid-back, country-flavored excursion on descending 6ths glissandoing to the major tonic (with Bruce Hornsby inflections), S.O.S. is a sequenced return to Headhunters-style funk roots, and Sitting on the Couch... is a swinging Grant original that could double for a classy jazz standard. 


A host of other Oregon musicians performed on this overdubbed studio release, including bassists Dave Captein and Phil Baker, guitarists Jay Koder and Dan Faehnle, drummers Carlton Jackson, Graham Lear, and Ron Steen, and percussionist Curtis Craft.  These are pleasant tracks for breezy summer cruising...  Shanachie, 1995, Playing Time: , ****.


Carryin' On, Grant Green, guitar.  I almost didn't want to review this disc, because (other than Nixon) I don't like criticizing the work of those who have departed.  However, what probably sounded good in 1969 hasn't aged well after 26 years.  The charts and rhythm section sound dated (like the background music to an old television series), the guitar playing could be any run-of-the-mill musician today, and the album is a measly 38 minutes.  I don't know why Blue Note persists in releasing stuff like this from its vaults, particularly when there are so many fabulous guitarists around now (read on); instead of letting Green R.I.P., they're into rip-off, in this case.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 37:52, NR (no rating).


Solid, Grant Green, guitar.  In recent years, Blue Note has been reissuing a spate of records by deceased jazz artists from its vast storehouse.  Fortunately, this is the best Grant Green reissue I've heard so far.  In evaluating an era (early 1960's) when the other preeminent jazz guitarists were Wes, Burrell, and Jim Hall, Green sometimes comes across as a lesser light; not on this straightahead session, though, which also features luminaries McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Bob Cranshaw, and Elvin Jones.  The ensemble demonstrates tight playing over clever heads (e.g. Duke Pearson's Minor League and George Russell's Ezz-thetic), and each musician turns in his share of fine soloes.  Green even contributes an original on this session, Grant's Tune.  The title track is a Sonny Rollins blues, which is followed by a boppy blues composition of Joe Henderson - the Kicker, a very satisfying, swinging number.  To add some minutes to this CD release, Blue Note appended a Burt Bacharach waltz, Wives and Lovers, to round out the set.  Solid, indeed!  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 47:37, ****.


All Blues, GRP All-Star Big Band.  When I first read the promo for this disc, I wasn't too sure if I would like listening to a big band playing the blues for an hour; however, I can now assure you unequivocally that this album is absolutely tremendous throughout.  Not only does it feature players like Michael and Randy Brecker, Chick Corea, Dave Grusin, B.B. King, Arturo Sandoval, Tom Scott, Ramsey Lewis, and Russell Ferrante, but some of the arranger-musicians in the ensemble bring unique interpretations to these tunes.  Dave Grusin, Bob Mintzer, Russell Ferrante, Michael Abene, and Tom Scott all contribute great charts.  Mainstream fans will enjoy the versions of standards like Stormy Monday, All Blues, Birks Works, Goodbye Porkpie Hat, and Mysterioso.  From blues by W.C. Handy to Corea's Blue Miles, this album covers a lot of territory, especially given the chosen parameters of the music.  In conclusion, this CD should be required listening for those arranging the blues for big bands.  GRP, 1995, Playing Time: 61:20, *****.


Homage to Duke, Dave Grusin.  This tribute album by arranger-pianist Grusin features an all-star lineup performing Grusin arrangements of some of Duke Ellington's best-known compositions (and other pieces associated with the Ellington bands).  The session opens with an uptempo tune, Cottontail, and Clark Terry blowing hard on both the trumpet and flugelhorn.  Terry "mumbles" and plays his horn on Things Ain't What They Used To Be.  Mood Indigo opens with Grusin's piano setting a peaceful, Chopin-like mood, joined by Eddie Daniels' clarinet; the arrangement juxtaposes woodwind/horn ensemble choruses with solos - and even a 3/2 time signature.  The nomadic Caravan begins with solo piano and segues into a terrific 12/8 Afro-Cuban feel, and then it swings furiously in 4/4 over the bridge - a marvelous interpretation.  Grusin provides a very modern piano solo over the proceedings.  East St. Louis Toodle-oo, the Ellington theme of the 1930's, is a laid-back major-minor theme affair; this arrangement is fairly true to the original in spirit.  The staple two-note C-Jam Blues conjures up myriad images of blowing sessions everywhere; Grusin interjects horn section riff choruses between some of the soloes, which are followed by a brief ad libbed, New Orleans style, collective improvisation.  Sophisticated Lady is a delicate and pensive piano soliloquy.  The CD concludes with Billy Strayhorn's Take the A Train, rendered at a surprisingly slow and seductive tempo here.  All in all, Grusin demonstrates a remarkable resourcefulness in rearranging these pieces and presenting them in both a reverent and fresh light.  GRP Records, 1993, GRD-9715, Playing time: 49:48, *****.




The Art of the Song, Charlie Haden/Quartet West, Charlie Haden, bass.

As pianist-arranger Alan Broadbent's lush, orchestrated strings swell, the profoundly celestial essence of Shirley Horn's rich contralto voice captures and moves the listener from the first measures of Leonard Bernstein's Lonely Town.  Horn is just as impressive on the three other selections on which she appears here.  Another affecting singer, Bill Henderson, also performs on four tracks of this excellent disc, which features the superb musicianship of Quartet West: Haden, Broadbent, tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, and drummer Larance Marable.  Tracks blend one into another as Broadbent's silky arrangements lead the listener through Horn's and Henderson's vocals interspersed with solos, sentimental instrumentals like Rachmaninoff's Moments Musicaux and a Ravel prelude, and even a moving vocal by Haden himself on the country gospel song, "Wayfaring Stranger."  Although not usually a singer, Haden grew up  steeped in the heart of the country music tradition, in a performing family with close ties to the Carter family and Roy Acuff.  This newest release by the Grammy-winning bassist is a stirring and sincere project, full of vibrating heart.  Amidst the rampant ugliness of much of the '90s culture, this naked cry might be misinterpreted as corny by some.  Too bad -- diva Horn absolutely quivers with divine grace.  Verve, 1999, Playing Time: 70:24, ****.


The Montreal Tapes, Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra.  This CD is part of a multi-disc compilation of concerts by Charlie and friends that occurred in Montreal in 1989.  Musically in the progressive mainstream, the expanded ensemble here features a host of stellar musicians, including saxophonists Ernie Watts, Joe Lovano, and Ken McIntyre (my jazz professor at Wesleyan), Boston guitarist Mick Goodrick, trumpeter Tom Harrell, pianist Geri Allen, and drummer Paul Motian.  While the wealthy, heartland-reared Haden (a gringo) ironically has a penchant for dedicating compositions to fiery, violent Latino revolutionaries (e.g. Nicaraguan Augusto Sandino and Cuban communist guerilla Che Guevara), that should not deter those serious jazz aficionadoes who outgrew the radical flirtations and excesses of the turbulent 1960's.  Watts and Lovano deliver typically stirring solos, Goodrick plays very effectively on this occasion, and horns engage in some crowd-pleasing farting on the 37-minute extended jam, a gospel-tinged rendition of We Shall Overcome.  [Politically, though, I would encourage Charlie to check out the timeless message inherent in the movie, Gandhi, sometime.]  Verve, 1999, Playing time: 59:41, ***1/2.


Dialogues, Jim Hall, guitar.  The theme of this progressive album by guitar icon Hall is a set of original tunes featuring five different solo artists: fellow guitarists Mike Stern and Bill Frisell, saxman Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell on flugelhorn, and Gil Goldstein on accordians.  A quirky number, Frisell Frazzle, opens the set, with Hall and Frisell trading solos.  Simple Things, a modern ballad, features Frisell's volume swells and melodic intervallic playing by Hall.  Lovano's ever-expressive and smooth tenor playing combines with Hall's understated melodicism on sunny Calypso Joe and the wistful Bon Ami, which is introduced by Hall's solo chord-melody guitar.


Although better known as an acoustic and electric pianist (especially with bop guitar master Pat Martino), Gil Goldstein plays accordian on his two duo numbers with Hall.  Snowbound is a sentimental duet utilizing an exotic scale sequence in one section, alternating with a pretty, folky pattern.  On the other duet, Dialogue, Goldstein employs dissonant tonal clusters as accompaniment to Hall's polytonal, schizoid étude.  On Mike Stern's collaborations with Hall, guitarist Stern reiterates one signature lick after another on his Fender Telecaster (I'm not sure that even he or his fans realize that he does this album after album...).  The more inventive and subtle Hall plays an acoustic steel-string guitar on his second piece with Stern, Uncle Ed.  The disc closes with a lovely rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark, introduced by Hall's guitar, then joined by Tom Harrell's lyrical flugelhorn.  (Fortunately, we were spared a bizarre twist of this classic tune, such as another interpretation also released this year, the pedal steel guitar version by Cassandra Wilson.)  Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Andy Watson support Hall and his cohorts deftly and sensitively throughout the album.


Of interest to guitar enthusiasts: with attentive listening, one may discern in Hall's smooth tone and melodic intervallic playing the sound and style which influenced the playing of guitarist Pat Metheny so greatly.


All in all, a most interesting recording with a modern approach, both harmonically and melodically.  Telarc, 1995, Playing time: 55:03, ****.


Jim Hall & Pat Metheny, Hall and Metheny, guitars.  In recent years, Metheny and Hall have each recorded an album featuring other guitarists.  Since the two musicians are mutual admirers, it was natural for them to eventually record together.  In Metheny's formative years, Jim Hall was a major influence on Pat's guitar playing (including his sound, intervallic excursions, and polytonality).  Ironically, Hall has himself adopted some of the electronic toys favored by Metheny.  [At a gig I attended at Portland's Hobbit restaurant, Hall's main stomp box was a Boss Chorus pedal.]  For this mellow duo session, the pair chose some concert and studio tracks, including five improvisations and 12 tunes (four compositions by each guitarist, three standards, and a piece by Hungarian guitarist Attila Zoller).  Although the sound is mixed with stereo separation (Metheny on the right and Hall the left channel), the two blend so well stylistically that they merge into a complete unit.  Both musicians play with warm melodicism, and while Hall is more effective in laying down chordal accompaniment, Metheny is clearly a more fluid, single-line player.  Highlights include Lookin' Up, Falling Grace, and Metheny's harp-like, 42-string guitar on Into the Dream.  Telarc, 1999, Playing Time: 73:57, ****.


Panorama, Jim Hall, guitar.  Hall's latest release is a selected compilation taken from live sets he did with various guest artists during a week stint at the Village Vanguard in December, 1996.  The workmanlike, mainstream sessions feature such stellar artists as Kenny Barron, Art Farmer, Slide Hampton, and Greg Osby.  On the guitar, Hall explores dissonant intervals, uses some guitar stomp boxes [mild sound effects], and comps effectively behind the other soloists.  The audience response is generally restrained here.  Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 65:17, **1/2.


Textures, Jim Hall, guitar.  Guitarist Jim Hall is best known for his warm, understated mainstream playing in small combos.  For this recording, however, Hall composed and arranged some music for an expanded ensemble: Derek Dicenzo, steel drum, Terry Clark, drums, Scott Colley, bass, Ryan Kysor, trumpet, Joe Lovano, soprano saxophone, Jim Pugh, trombone, Claudio Roditi, flugelhorn, with Gil Goldstein, conductor.  The beginning of Fanfare immediately recalls Copland, then segues into some raw, progressive, big band modal funk, brought back to a halt finally by the guitar.  Ragman includes 15 string players from the Orchestra of St. Luke's accompanying Hall on a bluesy vamp.  Claudio Roditi's flugelhorn introduces Reflections, a pensive waltz wherein Hall takes a pleasant solo, Roditi takes a nice turn, and the brass and guitar play some unison lines flowing into a recapitulation of the theme.  On Quadrologue, Hall leads a quartet of guitar, viola, cello, and bass into nervous, twisted lines and intervallic guitar (constructed around sonic shapes and intervals).  Passacaglia is a reflective, Baroque-styled piece with acoustic guitar, string washes, diminished chords, and polytonality.  Sazanami features the steel drum and guitar playing on a major scale vamp over a light Latin groove.  The closing number, Circus Dance, is a silly excursion into the land of oom, pah, pahs.  For the most part, though, Hall's project is an interesting and inventive effort.  Telarc, 1997, Playing Time: 51:33, ****.


Path to the Heartland, Ed Hamilton, guitar.  After a fairly successful first recording, Planet Jazz (a fusion album), Hamilton indulges himself a bit here.  This second release features him looking like a schoolboy and playing all his own compositions, supported by his gigging group of keyboardist Dave Falciani, bassist Vince Fey, drummer Pat Petrillo, and percussionist Jose Rossy.  The disc falls into the adult contemporary/easy listening genre.  Hamilton has some chops, displays his Metheny influence on Heartland and Monster in the Closet, and plays a folksy, New Age number, September Solitude, with a lot of finger noise on the fretboard. 


The very electric In the Cracks is the most original and arresting track on the album - definitely the best band track.  Since this kickass tune is how they actually sound live, they should stick with more of this kind of stuff - which is their forte - instead of playing boring, wimpy, copycat material.  Not everyone is cut out to be a composer, either; hey, it's o.k. to be a player or a sideman!  Hamilton has some potential to develop - but that takes a maturity that usually comes from decades of professional experience.  Telarc, 1997, Playing Time: 68:48, **1/2.


Toward the Light, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Stanley Turrentine.  This album is a compilation of well-known jazz recordings from the 1950's and 1960's, including Hancock's Canteloupe Island, Henderson playing Blue Bossa, Morgan's Sidewinder, Turrentine's The Hustler, etc.  Most of these numbers also appear on other Blue Note reissues by the featured artists.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 63:57, ***1/2.


Deja Vu, Fareed Haque, guitar.  In the past, I have enjoyed Haque's discs.  A musician who is comfortable playing classical and contemporary jazz, Haque has fashioned together an unusual project on this recording - an instrumental jazz recapitulation of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young's platinum ode to quintessential hippiedom.  Close your eyes and imagine the authentic folk-rock grooves of yesteryear overladen with classical guitar, wa-wa pedal, and recognizable, boppy Pat Martino riffs (circa Joyous Lake, 1977).  Has Blue Note started a trend here with their stable of younger guitarists?  I never thought I'd see the day when someone would cover Almost Cut My Hair - playing slide guitar with a Bic lighter!  [I used to do that, too (on occasions when I didn't have a slide with me) -  but on an album?!]  I realize Haque was totally enamored of this classic rock album; while his interpretations pay homage to the spirit of the original recordings and do present some nice moments (e.g. Deja Vu and Country Girl), it can also appear "helpless, helpless, helpless" at times.  Why, why, oh why?  Welcome, tie-dye shoppers to Earth Mother's natural foods section, where we have specials today on 100% organic wheatgrass juice, macrobiotic trail mix, Owsley's strawberry smoothies, Alice's magic mushrooms, and politically correct spinach...  Almost tore my bellbottoms, it happened just the other day...  Feeling groovy?  Far out, man.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 49:00, **.


Opaque, Fareed Haque, guitar.  A music professor of jazz and classical guitar at Northern Illinois University, Haque performs here mostly on classical guitar, accompanied by drums, bass, and assorted percussion.  While not a monstrous jazz improviser, Haque has terrific classical technique and a knack for composing interesting and pretty instrumentals.  Stylistically, the selections on this CD run the gamut from classical-Middle Eastern (Tabriz), to tunes reminiscent of Earl Klugh or an acoustic Lee Ritenour (Inspiration City), to the Oregon-like Pastoral, to the Augustin Barrios classical showpiece "Una limosna por el amor de Dios."  All in all, a most refreshing and pleasant effort.  Blue Note 1995, Playing Time: 44:37, ***1/2.


Brotherhood, Gene Harris Quartet, Gene Harris, piano.  I recall dropping by after a gig to see Gene Harris a few times at the Jazz Quarry, where the sounds of his swinging, elegant piano filled the room.  This set of mostly familiar songs and sounds doesn't cover any new ground, but traditional and mainstream jazz fans will especially enjoy Harris' interpretations of these tunes: a very bluesy and swinging I Remember You, a gospel-tinged The Brotherhood of Man, the fast bossa on I Told You So, and an ebullient A Beautiful Friendship.  Luther Hughes and Paul Humphrey supply a solid foundation for Harris' excursions, and Ron Escheté's guitar solos are anchored in the Pass-Ellis genre.  Concord, 1995, Playing Time: 58:20, ***.


Alley Cats, Gene Harris, piano.  Jazz Alley in Seattle was the setting for this live 1998 recording of Harris, playing savory blues, straightahead and funky jazz with a cast that included organist Jack McDuff, saxmen Ernie Watts and Red Holloway, bassist Luther Hughes, guitarist Frank Potenza, drummer Paul Kreibich, and Harri's daughter, Nikki, an evocative, gospel-based singer.  Harris' many fans can close their eyes and find themselves right at home, groovin' with this joyful, live jam.  Concord, 1999, Playing time: 68:04, ***1/2.


In His Hands, Gene Harris, piano.  This is a spirited gospel celebration from the late jazz-blues pianist.  On this album, Gene's regular quartet of guitarist Ron Escheté, drummer Paul Humphrey, and bassist Luther Hughes is augmented with the playing of Jack McDuff's organ, a parcel of guest gospel vocalists, and Harris' daughter, Niki, who is a very accomplished singer, in her own right. 


Gospel evolved out of the jubilee and spiritual tradition in the folk churches of the post-Civil War South, when emanicipation allowed for more free-spirited participation by the new sanctified denominations of black Baptist, Pentacostal, and Methodist congregations.  Exuberant devotional musical expression was characterized by call and response, hand clapping, melodic improvisation, a steady beat, and percussive and instrumental accompaniment. 


The roots of gospel go back even further, however.  The rhythmic, pentatonic-based participatory music of West Africa was transplanted and gradually fused with British folk hymns in the South, over the course of several centuries.  Originally spurred by the mostly white, urban "Second Awakening" Protestant revival movement of the mid-nineteenth century, gospel music was the spontaneous, heartfelt expression of the aspirations of newly liberated, devout people.  


By the 20th century, gospel had become an established tradition, and its leading proponent by the 1930's was Thomas Dorsey, a blues musician and composer of more than a thousand songs.  Although he also played piano with leading blues artists, such as Ma Rainey,  he wrote gospel songs and even organized the first gospel quartet.  In the ensuing years, gospel became professionalized, with Mahalia Jackson and the Clara Ward singers being its first stars, so to speak.  By 1938, there were even gospel recordings.  In the 1960's the secularization of gospel music generated "soul" music and the distinctive Motown and Memphis sounds.  Soul artist Aretha Franklin developed her singing within the gospel environment, in her father's choir.


Harris' recording is absolutely true to the tradition of this great American religious music.  Selections include Lean on Me, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Amazing Grace, and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands.  "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine!"  Amen.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 61:56, ****.


Live, Gene Harris & the Philip Morris All-Stars, Gene Harris, piano.  During the 20th century, cigarette smoke has figured prominently in the nightclubs where jazz has been played, contributing to the early deaths of countless musicians.  Ironically, Philip Morris' liner notes here compare jazz to a struggle against "the asphyxiation of free spirit" and link jazz and free speech with the tobacco industry's fight against advertising censorship, in the face of damning medical evidence and millions of tobacco-related deaths and illnesses.  Perhaps I'm just a bit biased; I essentially stopped playing jazz regularly in clubs for several years because the smoky environment was so bad that it stunk up my clothes, hurt my eyes, and started affecting my voice, breathing and health.  Anyway, the music on this CD is predictably mainstream and very solid, as performed by apparent tobacco supporters Kenny Burrell, Harry Sweets Edison, George Mraz, Lewis Nash, Stanley Turrentine, and Ernie Andrews.  Selections include Bag's Groove, Time After Time, Take the A Train, Cottontail, and two blues medleys of familiar tunes.  Just say "NO!" to tobacco and its lobbyists, though, folks.  It's time for jazz to conscientiously associate itself with healthier sponsors and environments.  For the health of all, let us therefore encourage and support a "no smoking" policy at jazz venues and events.  Concord, 1998, Playing time: 60:12, music rating: ***1/2, sponsor:  negative -*****.


Here I Stand, Antonio Hart, alto and soprano saxophones.  Alto and soprano saxophonist Antonio Hart is one of the relatively new young suits being currently promoted on the straightahead jazz scene - with evident merit, in this case.  His playing is at once impassioned, progressive, and articulate.  Whether showering cascades of notes over driving eighth-note bass grooves (The Community), playing lyrically over a reggae beat (True Friends), or taking a soulful stroll down memory lane (Flamingo), etc., Hart gives every indication of being a very promising artist.  John Benitez, acoustic and electric bass, James Hurt, piano/organ, Nasheet Waits, drums.  Impulse, 1997, Playing Time: 55:47, ****.


Bridges, John Hart, guitar.  I have to admire this guy for his great chops, ideas, and a modern approach to mainstream jazz, but his playing could frankly use more "heart," in my humble opinion (although he's steadily improving in that category).  Technically, it's clever and very progressive, theoretically speaking.  One device he favors is moving similar sonic shapes and finger patterns around on the fingerboard polytonally.  Overall, though, it doesn't move my soul, even though I can certainly appreciate the pyrotechnics.


Most of the selections on this disc are well-crafted Hart compositions, although he blatantly rips off Weather Report's Birdland bass ostinato on Urban Appalachia - where's Zawinul's attorney Bernie?!


Saxman Chris Potter plays splendidly, and bassist Bill Moring and Andy Watson supply some cooking grooves.   


With the exception of Alden and a few of the even younger guitarists, I think someone should make every jazz guitarist under the age of 40 listen to old Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Carlos Santana, and B.B. King records and learn something about the "spirit" of playing.  Music is not about generically copping licks, playing fast, and being clever.  The final exam would be to have each guitar player play just one note that could move other people's hearts - for my taste, it has to come honestly from one's own heart. 


Anyway, the closest Hart comes to emoting is when he plays the acoustic guitar on ballads like It Might as Well be Spring - a most intimate rendition, and on Jobim's Zingaro.  Those tunes breathe.  And there we have the crux of the problem for hordes of musicians who don't play wind instruments. 


Besides singers, woodwind and brass players have to pause to breathe when they play (unless they're Kenny G.), creating natural phrasing in the music.  The listener also needs that breathing space, too.  The spiritual energy within the breath is the source and sustainer of all life - otherwise, we're just dust.  (I'm not talking oxygen, here, folks.)  Furthermore, the breath has its own natural rhythm, its metronome.  Forget that, be out of tune with that rhythm, and you're in trouble - emotionally, pschologically, physically, and spiritually.  What if that rhythm suddenly forgot about us?   


String, percussion, and piano players don't necessarily have to always be conscious of their breath in order to play.  This generates uncomfortable phrasing and injects a nervous, schitzy quality into the music.  This tendency is especially evident on fast grooves in some people's bop playing and in a lot of avant-garde and experimental music.  Additionally, you want musical inspiration?  Well, the very word "inspiration" comes from the Latin verb "spirare," to breathe.  [That's all I'll permit myself to say here on this subject of timeless wisdom.]      


Back to guitarist Hart.  Fast, interminable, streams of notes may sound cool, but they reflect a holistic imbalance in the breath and in the natural dynamic interplay of sound and space.  This also fatigues the listener.  Enough said.    Despite my reservations about his apparent lack of soul, I still like and respect this guy's advanced harmonic playing - quite a bit.  Concord, 1997, Playing time: 57:47, ****.


High Drama, John Hart, guitar.  A recent addition to Concord's stable of artists, Hart is a guitarist with some technique on his instrument and a knack for penning creative and interesting tunes.  On High Drama, he is expertly accompanied by Marc Copland on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Jeff Hirshfield, drums.  Chris Potter makes an inspired guest appearance on soprano and tenor saxes on a few cuts.  Now, if the leader, who showcases Methenyesque bop and polytonal chops, only had a little more "heart" in his soloing...  Concord, 1995, Playing Time: 63:47, ***1/2.


Jazz Family, the Heath Brothers, sax, bass, and drums.  Philadelphia's Heath brothers are one of jazz's great musician families.  This latest reunion brings together brothers Jimmy (on saxophone), Percy (bass), and Tootie (drums) with a parcel of fine mainstream players: pianist Jeb Patton, guitarist Tony Purrone, trumpeters Joe Wilder, Earl Gardner, and Tom Williams, trombonist Benny Powell, and John Clark (French horn) and Bob Stewart (tuba).  This augmented band plays tightly over Jimmy Heath's arrangements of three of his own compositions, a blues groove by Percy, and four other numbers.  Jimmy's tenor saxophone is the lyrical focal point of this traditional set.  Concord, 1998, 56:19, ***1/2.


Double Rainbow, Joe Henderson, tenor sax.  Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote a host of lovely tunes which introduced Brazilian music to the world.  With Jobim's passing, Henderson wanted to pay homage to this great songwriter.  Double Rainbow is divided into two distinct recording sessions, one featuring an all-Brazilian band supporting Henderson (including Eliane Elias on the ivories), and the other being a New York group of superstars (Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, and Christian McBride).  The first group renders Jobim's tunes with the authentic Brazilian sound, while the New York ensemble delivers a more mainstream jazz performance.  The juxtaposition of these two different interpretations of Jobim's music is enlightening and refreshing, reminding us that his classic compositions stand on their own merits.  All in all, a relaxing, warm, consummate pair of sets - led by a master musician paying tribute to a master songwriter.  An absolute must for those who like Jobim's music.  Verve, 1995, Playing Time: 62:41, *****.


Porgy and Bess, Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone.  Henderson's latest project is a tribute to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, naturally featuring an all-star cast of musicians, which includes Tommy Flanagan, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, and singers Chaka Khan and Sting.  The session is fairly successful, with apparent effort made to frame the classic songs here within newer, mainstream jazz arrangements.  Henderson, as usual, delivers a fine performance, as do pianist Tommy Flanagan, trombonist Conrad Herwig and vibist Stefon Harris, while the two pop vocalists are somewhat less appealing in these already charted straits.  Sco's gnarly tone meanders in and out of the proceedings.  Verve, 1997, Playing time: 53:41, ***1/2.


Low Flight Through Valhalla, Gary Hobbs, drums.  The modern horn-chart arrangements on this CD (which was recorded mostly live in the studio) lend themselves very well to Hobbs' exceptionally propulsive and dynamic drumming.  Pianist Randy Porter provides his customary superb accompaniment and solos (check out his playing on Stardust), and saxophonist Kim Richmond and trumpeter Clay Jenkins each contribute nice compositions to the project.  Saxman Pete Epstein, bassist Al Criado, and synth-keyboardist George Mitchell round out the proceedings.  In addition to the contemporary compositions (including Pete Christlieb's enchanting Ning Yoo), the band also performs a very uptempo, rhythmic rendition of Sonny Rollins' Pent Up House and a samba version of Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust.  In a prevailing cultural climate of young, retro technocrats, this Gary Hobbs disc is a refreshing, noteworthy example of originality and mature interpretation.  CMD, 1995, Playing Time: 50:47, *****.


Midnight Mood, George Howard, soprano saxophone.  George Howard is one of the countless soprano sax players on FM radio nowadays.  He has a very nice tone, decent chops, and typically mundane material, along with the customary, requisite drum programming of this genre.  He even had the audacity to use a real drummer on one track here!  GRP, 1998, Playing Time: 46:41, *1/2.


The Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions, Hubbard and Shaw, trumpets, Kenny Garrett, alto sax, Mulgrew Miller, piano, Cecil McBee (or Ray Drummond), bass, Carl Allen, drums.  Most summit meetings of horn legends end up being "cutting sessions," where each contestant tries to outdo the other.  Fortunately, that is not the case here on this double CD reissue of two recordings from 1985 and 1987.  Naturally, the majority of the selections are trumpet classics: Clifford Brown's Sandu, Lee Morgan's Desert Moonlight and Calling Miss Khadija, Fats Navarro's Boperation, Kenny Dorham's Lotus Blossom and Sao Paulo, and the four tunes by Hubbard and three by Shaw, respectively. 


Engineering-wise, there is some pretty heavy reverb on the trumpet sound mix; whenever there are enough spaces in the action, one can discern what is termed the "reverb return."  However, that does tend to warm up and blend the dual horns together nicely, especially on the clever heads of some of these songs.  Hubbard switches to flugelhorn and Garrett plays some flute on Just a Ballad for Woody.  The only other departure from a set lineup and format is the replacement of Cecil McBee with Ray Drummond on bass for the 1987 recording session (disc #2).  An outstanding example of stellar trumpet playing for any jazz discography.  [Sadly, Shaw experienced prolonged physical suffering before his death several years ago, as the result of a New York subway accident.]  Blue Note, Playing Time: 1 hr: 41:02, ****1/2.


Free to Be, Donald Harrison, alto and soprano saxophones.  New Orleans native Donald Harrison is an excellent mainstream alto saxophonist, with a clean, emotive sound and formidable technique.  For his second release, Harrison snared in-demand pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Christian McBride, in addition to a parcel of New York studio veterans and the musicians from his regular group.  Musically, Harrison is inclined toward the 1960's "progressive" horn style blazed by luminary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.  On occasion, Harrison isn't above flashing familiar jazz licks and ripping through scales and arpeggios in his improvisations, either, in an effort to impress the listener with his prodigious chops.  More than anything, what does impress this listener is the tremendous backing provided by the two rhythm sections on this CD.  Although Harrison is not an especially innovative or original musician (like Coltrane), neither are 99% of other professional musicians.  But, after all, the man is a great saxophone player.  Impulse, 1998, Playing Time: 66:56,***1/2.


Natty Dread, Charlie Hunter, 8-string guitar.  Hunter is not the first guitarist to play guitar through a Leslie rotating organ speaker (Jimi Hendrix did it in 1968), nor the first to play melodies and bass lines on an eight-string guitar, but his Berkeley-based sound of raw and funky mainstream jazz has been a trendsetter among yet another generation just cutting its teeth on the jazz of its chronological peer group.  This CD is another Blue Note release of a guitarist covering a popular artist's tunes, in this case the selections from Bob Marley's Natty Dread.  Fortunately, Hunter's adaptions of Marley's anthems are joyously up-beat, as performed with cohorts Calder Spanier (alto sax), Kenny Brooks (tenor sax), and Scott Amendola (drums).  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 43:03, ****.


Ready...set...shango!, Charlie Hunter, guitar.  "Beserkeley" resident Hunter is the new darling of acid jazz media hype.  Playing an eight-string guitar (which enables him to play bass lines and rhythm chords simultaneously), Hunter favors funky grooves that remind one of classic Blue Note sessions from the late '60s.  At times his semi-distorted solo tone and minor pentatonic riffs recall John Scofield.  A Jimi Hendrix devotee at heart, he uses a wah-wah pedal and has appropiated the Leslie organ rotating speaker sound on his guitar from the late legendary innovator.      


On this session date, Hunter's bandmates include Dave Ellis on tenor sax, Calder Spanier on alto sax, and Scott Amendola on drums.  In particular, the sax playing on most of the tunes is a knockout. 


Although Hunter's solo playing is fairly rudimentary (technically and harmonically speaking), he does have quite a unique approach to funky jazz guitar, by incorporating the bass and harmonization together on a rock-toned electric guitar.  The overall sound of the group is very cohesive.  It sure beats a lot of the other so-called acid jazz being purveyed these days.  Blue Note, 1996, Playing time: 52:45, ****.


Return of the Candyman, Charlie Hunter, 8-string guitar-bass.   With the demise of Hunter's notable band and the death of saxophonist Calder Spanier, the Bay Area guitar-bassist has put together a quartet which relies on satisfying, funky rhythms and two-chord vamps as the vehicle for Hunter and exceptional vibraphonist Stefon Harris to play upon.  Indeed, this CD is ear candy for easy listening enthusiasts.  Hunter is still an interesting anomaly, playing competent bass, guitar rhythms, and pentatonic riff leads on his 8-string instrument, which is typically run through a Leslie rotating organ speaker.  At times Hunter's distorted tone resembles Scofield's.  This set makes for decent background music, and it is Harris who ultimately makes this disc listenable.  Blue Note, 1998, Playing time: 52:23, ***1/2.




Never Alone - Duets, Paul Jackson Jr., guitar.  L.A. studio mainstay Jackson is a very pleasant and solid guitarist who plays in a decidedly Benson-Ritenour vein.  In the past, he has worked with such entertainers as Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, and pianist Patrice Rushen.  Although this CD is ostensibly supposed to be "duets," in reality these duets are mostly cameo appearances which serve mainly to back up Jackson's breezin' guitar solos.  Guests include Najee, Tom Scott, Earl Klugh, Joe Sample, Sheila E, Harvey Mason, Jeff Lorber, and a bunch of talented singers.


In addition to modal jamming over wah-wah guitars, synth basses, and heavy backbeats, this overdubbed studio session includes a slick version of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready, a peachy Reunited, and a Where is the Love that almost recalls Roberta Flack and the late great Donny Hathaway.      


If mellow, soulful pop-rhythm and blues is your bag, then this new release by Jackson might be just your cup of tea - at any rate, he definitely has some chillin' grooves brewin' here.  Blue Note, 1996, Playing time: 50:06, ***1/2.


Maynard Ferguson Presents Christian Jacob, piano.  French pianist Jacob played with Ferguson for two years, prior to recording this marvelous trio album with two other musicians who have worked with Ferguson in the past, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Peter Erskine.  Christian Jacob is one terrific jazz pianist, with deft touch, dynamics, depth, and tasteful colorations and explorations.  This disc includes six of Jacob's modern mainstream compositions, along with some serious versions of standards Here's That Rainy Day, I Got Rhythm, Our Love is Here to Stay, and You Don't Know What Love Is.  Regarding Jacob's own tunes, Remembrance juxtaposes solo piano with energetic Corea-like grooves and changes, Tears of Sadness is a tender bossa, Top Down is a nifty, straightahead ride in a sleek convertible, Playtime is a carefree romp over light Latin rhythms, and Sergey Suite is a pulsing dedication to the romantic piano composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.  Jacob is a masterful and tasteful modern musician, an adept jazz composer, and this trio can really swing up a storm.  [Another nice recording job, too, by my old bandmate, Dom Camardella.]  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 60:27, *****.


Time Lines, Christian Jacob, piano.  Amidst a host of marvelous jazz pianists on the scene these days, France's Christian Jacob still manages to stand out from the rest.  Jacob studied classical music and performance (especially the piano works of Ravel, Debussy, and Chopin) at Paris's National Conservatory of Music and jazz improvisation at Berklee, emulating the styles of Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Frederick Chopin.  With the assistance of vibraphonist Gary Burton, Jacob landed a faculty position at Berklee, as well as touring with Burton and Maynard Ferguson as Music Director.  Time Lines is his second Concord recording as a leader, and it contains an assortment of standards (e.g. In a Mellow Tone, I'm Old Fashioned, No Greater Love) and intelligent Jacob charts (Guess Again).  Jacob plays with virtuosity, drive, swing, and emotional intensity  throughout.  His  chordal passages display a highly developed harmonic sensibility.  Bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum provide the tasteful accompaniment and grooves on this vibrant outing.  Christian Jacob's recent recordings as a leader on Concord serve notice that another new genius of the piano has appeared, a musician who, like Keith Jarrett, understands the meaning of playing in the creativity of the moment -- c'est l'essence de la joie de vivre, n'est-ce pas? Concord, 1999, Playing time: 51:27,  ****1/2.


Tenderness, Al Jarreau, singer.  Vocalist Jarreau was a notable innovator in the free-spirited atmosphere of the 1970's, when he captured his first Grammy award for Look to the Rainbow.  On his latest disc, Jarreau (and producer Marcus Miller) decided to perform a parcel of classic tunes (and Jarreau's own We Got By and You Won't See Me) before a live audience during the course of five nights.  For example, Mas Que Nada is an uptempo Brazilian groove, Jarreau pulls out all his tricks on the belabored Try a Little Tenderness, Jarreau explores the outer limits of his vocal range on Elton John's Your Song, and Kathleen Battle and Michael Brecker lend some sorely needed class to My Favorite Things. 


While Jarreau's stylistic rendering of songs is generally interesting, his tendency to constantly toy with the voice occasionally detracts from the unadulterated essence of these tunes.  A little sincerity goes a long way...  Still, such idiosyncracies underscore the fact that Jarreau is, after all, an original (his overflowing affectations are a virtual trademark, unchallenged until the advent of a happy Bobby McFerrin).  Reprise, 1994, Playing Time: , ***. 


Lalgudi Jayaraman and Zakir Hussain, violin and tabla.  For most westerners, their only contact with the music of India has probably been listening to a Ravi Shankar album or watching the movie, "Woodstock."  However, as indicated in the John McLaughlin review, Indian music has had an significant impact on western music (including jazz) in the past thirty-five years, beginning with the visionary music of John Coltrane, and continuing with McLaughlin, Miles Davis, the Paul Winter Consort, Paul Horn, and Oregon, among others.   


Fundamentally, like jazz, Indian music is based around a melody (upon a specific raga, derived from one of the 72 distinct classical scales), which is stated, improvised upon, and reiterated.  The music is modal, utilizes microtones and extremely subtle nuances, and is supported with polyrhythms, often incorporating odd meters (e.g. 13 beats).  The exotic melodies and the sophistication and complexity found in both the modal and rhythmic soloing are unparalleled in world music, one reason why westerners, ranging from classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin to jazz musicians like Coltrane (who even named his son after Ravi Shankar), have found inspiration in India's music.  Again, I consider Indian classical music to be akin to jazz, because of its underlying emphasis on interpretation, virtuoso improvisation and polyrhythmic exploration. 


This album, which features the violins of members of the Jayaraman family and the drumming of Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam) was recorded digitally at a concert in London.  It represents Carnatic music, an ancient form of Indian classical music which predates the Moghul invasions (and subsequent Persian and Islamic influences).  The concert consists of one long raga, and two shorter pieces.  The showpiece here, Kriti in Raga Mohanam, begins with solo violin introducing the theme (with a tamboura providing a drone in the background), whereupon it is joined by the other violins.  After statement of the central melody, the drums enter and exposition of the theme ensues, with all manner of improvisation amongst the violins.  The drums thereupon engage in a riveting example of virtuoso playing, musical dialogue, and rhythmic cadence, whereupon the piece concludes with a brief recapitulation of the opening phrase. 


The second piece on the program is a more meditative number (a bhajan, or devotional song), while the third piece is derived from a light dance theme.

Moment, 1995, Playing Time: 68:13, *****.


Duke's Ideas/Knud Jørgensen plays Ellington, piano.  An Ellington tribute album by an assortment of mostly Swedish jazz musicians, featuring the piano of Dane Knud Jørgensen, who expired in 1992.  According to Swedish producer Anders Öhman, "Knud var en av de mest personliga, mångsidiga och skickliga jazz pianisterna i Sverige (fast han ju var dansk) och han borde ha fått höras mycket mer än som blev fallet."  Anyway, like other innumerable excellent jazz musicians, Knud was underrecorded.  Knud's fellow musicians deliver solid performances on this recording.  Arne Domnérus is a fine alto player, and the other solists are Bosse Broberg (trumpet), Ove Lind (clarinet), and Nisse Sandström (tenor and alto).  A number of the selections were recorded at concerts in Stockholm.  Ellington mainstays include In a Mellotone, I Got It Bad, It Don't Mean a Thing, Caravan, Mood Indigo, and C Jam Blues.  Phontastic, 1994, Playing time: 60:33, ***1/2.


Night Tripper, Vic Juris, guitar.  This is another recording by a guitarist who has paid his dues over the years.  In the past, Juris' playing was derivative of Pat Martino.  Now, it appears that he has been listening to Pat Metheny lately;  Juris' guitar sound, polytonality, intervals, and phrasing are reminiscent of Metheny's tone, style, and playing on straightahead sessions (e.g. Question and Answer).  In any case, there is some nice, smooth, progressive jazz on this CD.  Pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Steve LaSpina, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield supply a very capable backup - and some swinging grooves.  Juris contributes four nifty originals, in addition to the bossas, pretty acoustic pieces, and a couple of standards on the disc.  Another winner for guitar fans.  Steeplechase, 1995, Playing Time: 67:03, ****.




Turn up the Quiet, Geoff Keezer, piano.  As the title indicates, this recording is mostly a set of relaxed, pensive music.  Joining Keezer on this outing are bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Josh Redman, and singer Diana Krall.  The programming is quite effective, with Keezer juxtaposing solo piano numbers (Lush Life, Lose My Breath, My Shining Hour) with selections highlighting various combinations of the other musicians.  McBride is solid (as always), Redman's tenor playing is empathetic, although his soprano sound is not as lush as on some other discs, and Krall lends her trademark breathy, wispy vocals to three tunes: The Nearness of You, Love Dance, and Island Palace.  All in all, this is a pleasing, mellow set.  Columbia, 1997, Playing Time: 61:24, ****.


You Are Here, Steve Khan, guitar, Rob Mounsey, keyboards.  Back in the 1970s, Khan (son of songwriter Sammy Cahn) was known more for his electric fusion work.  Nowadays, he favors standards, atmospheric world music, and acoustic guitar.  He is paired here with multi-instrumentalist Rob Mounsey and Latin percussionist Marc Quinones on a set of impressionistic Khan-Mounsey compositions.  This album is full of mellow, melodic themes and makes for calm and pleasant listening -- like a cool breath of clean air after a refreshing tropical sunshower.  Siam, 1998, Playing Time: 73:57, ***1/2.


Moon Magic, Jackie King, guitar.  Another relatively unsung guitarmeister, Texan King has been quietly honing his craft as a studio musician, as well as teaching at GIT, performing with jazz artists like Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, and Richie Cole, and accompanying the Boston Pops and San Francisco Symphony.  He even recorded a disc with country artist Willie Nelson.  The theme here is "moon magic"; all the titles involve familiar odes to our celestial satellite: Moon River, Fly Me to the Moon, Blue Moon, Moonlight in Vermont, How High the Moon, etc.  Throughout, Jackie King demonstrates impeccable musicianship.  He is accompanied by bassist Wilbur Krebs and drummer Michael Aragon.  Indigo Moon, 1999, Playing time: 65:28, *****.


For My Mother, Miki Kono, piano.  Japan has produced a number of excellent jazz pianists, including Makoto Ozone and my former bandmate, Kei Akagi, who toured and recorded with Miles Davis.  Now along comes Miki Kono, who displays a discernible classical touch on the keys in this mainstream session, which also includes bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Joe Chambers, and trumpeter Patric Rickman. 


Kono favors treble trills and smooth glisses in her sparkling piano runs, and accessible melodies and grooves in her writing, which is featured throughout the album (with the exception of Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby).  The rhythm section of Reid and Chambers provides rock-solid support for Kono's piano endeavors and the occasional trumpet of Rickman.   


Altogether, this is a quite pleasant session, and one of the more noteworthy jazz records recently recorded by a Japanese-based artist.  Miki, 1997, Playing Time: 63:04, ***1/2.




My Favorite Django, Bireli Lagrene, guitar.  Belgian gypsy Django Reinhardt was undoubtedly Europe's most original gift to jazz, in addition to being one of history's all-time great guitarists.  On this CD by Belgium's contemporary heir to the Reinhardt mantle, Bereli Lagrene performs impassioned, unique arrangements of some of Django's memorable compositions.


For those not yet familiar with his music, Bereli Lagrene has been in the forefront of European jazz guitarists for more than a decade, beginning with albums recorded when he was still a child prodigy.  Several years ago, his Acoustic Moments album was a marvelous addition to the acoustic jazz guitar discography.  Similarly, Lagrene's latest achievement here is a synthesis of Django's spirit with the sounds of modern technology, all fused together by Lagrene's passionate and accomplished guitar-playing. 


While some of my 'traditional jazz fan' friends were initially put off by the synthesizer colorings (a knee-jerk reflex and prejudice, they admitted), they also had to acknowledge that Lagrene's guitar playing was impeccable and tasteful - for most of this album, he sounds like a combination of Django and George Benson.  On Place de Brouckere, for example, Benson's influence is most pronounced, whereas on the Reinhardt classics, Nuages and Melodie au Crepuscule, Lagrene sounds like the current incarnation of Django himself on the acoustic guitar.  This CD is a wonderful album for today's jazz guitar and Django Reinhardt fans.  Drefus, 1995, Playing Time: 52:40, *****.


The African-American Epic Suite, Yusef Lateef, tenor saxophone and flutes, with quintet and orchestra.  In recent years, I've noticed a dirth of avant-garde music which might have some appeal for general jazz audiences.  Well, here is a serious, modern composition for a jazz quintet and orchestra by an eminent jazz musician-composer, Yusef Lateef.  In the tradition of Ellington's Black, Brown, and Beige Suite, Lateef's ambitious work is a suite (in four movements) which seeks to evoke the pathos of the historic African-American experience - of freedom in West Africa, capture by coastal slavers, the agony of the 'middle passage', slavery, liberation, the struggle for full civil rights, and a hopeful expression of ultimate compassion and love for all mankind, in praise to God.


Whereas Ellington's suite was intended for Ellington's own jazz orchestra, Lateef's work was written for a jazz quintet accompanied by a full-fledged chamber ensemble.  In this case, Lateef chose to work with Eternal Wind, a European group that incorporates ethnomusicological influences as an integral part of its sound, as well as the respected Colgne Radio Orchestra. 


The first two movements embody the darker aspects of a people's pain and plight; there is jarring dissonance aplenty here.  However, the emotive and prominent string arrangement which supports the entire piece serves to balance the harshness of these aspects of the suite somewhat.  The third movement introduces blues elements in A minor, and the oppressive, gloomy mood gradually begins to alleviate.  By the fourth (and final) movement, the presence of a transcendent serenity starts to emerge from the last vestiges of trans-generational suffering and endurance.  The freedom of African-American artistic and intellectual expression blossoms forth, by the grace of God.


While this suite is certainly not light entertainment for the faint of heart, there is redemption here amidst the tormented expressions of a people's horrific anguish.  Fuzak or comfy, mainstream cocktail music this ain't; this is heavy stuff - if you can handle it, folks.  WDR, 1996, Playing time: 46:08, ****. 


Midnight Rain, Robbie Laws and the Urban Allstars, guitar.  Laws is a Portland blues guitarist-singer who writes and sings his own tunes.  More importantly (to me, anyway), he has an excellent grasp of different styles of blues guitar.  On the opening cut, She's Got to Know About the Blues, he evinces Hendrix-like wah-wah and echo, minor pentatonic Texas boogie chops on When Lightnin' Strikes, stinging B.B. King riffs on Hurts Me Too, and Steve Cropper's Memphis sound on She's Gone, etc.  You get the idea.  You can also check him out live at clubs in Portland.  Midnight Rain, 1995, Playing Time: 56:14, ***1/2.


Tribute to the Legendary Eddie Harris, Ronnie Laws, tenor and soprano saxophones.  Laws resurrects classic songs from the Harris repertoire here (e.g. Freedom Jazz Dance, Listen Here, and Compared to What), in a very funky and soulful tribute to the late saxman.  Laws is accompanied by a number of people on this session, especially Vernell Brown Jr. (piano), Mike Elizondo (bass), Jeffrey Suttles (drums), and Darryl Jackson (percussion).  This fare should be very palatable for most jazz audiences.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 37:19,  ****.


When Your Eyes Met Mine, Dave Lee, keyboards and programming.  Pianist Lee has remained a stalwart of the Portland music scene for more than a decade.  This CD is a solid, smooth jazz studio effort, with pleasant vamps and grooves. DLEGP, 1997, Playing Time: 44:37, ***.


Dance of the Soul, Ramsey Lewis, piano.  Ever since he had a smash crossover hit in the mid-Sixties with In Crowd, Ramsey Lewis has been a staple of the jazz circuit.  The man can do it all; from rousing churchy blues, to swing, bop, get-down funk, and Latin grooves, he certainly knows how to please an audience.  He does it again on this disc, with more Latin tunes than usual, including the four Chick Corea-influenced compositions of Ryan Cohan.  GRP, 1998, Playing Time: 51:12, ***1/2.


Miles Away, Dave Liebman, soprano sax.  Like an invasion of the body snatchers, soprano saxophone is everywhere.  In this case, however, we have the instrument played by a master - whose main axe for over 25 years has been the soprano sax.  The premise of this disc is a program of pieces commonly associated with Miles Davis, encompassing the breadth of his various stylistic periods.  For instance, there is Boplicity (from Birth of the Cool), Solar, Milestones, All Blues (Kind of Blue), Pan Piper (Sketches of Spain), In a Silent Way, Fall (Nefertiti), and Code M.D. (electric funk), etc.  Overall, a very nice effort and tribute.   


It's a funny thing, though; the more I hear all the Miles dedication albums, the more I miss Miles - and inevitably go back to his original recordings.  Owl, 1995, Playing Time: 55:42, ****.


Voice in the Night, Charles Lloyd, tenor saxophone.  Lloyd's original Forest Flower quartet recording was a notable hit for jazz in the late 1960s.  Thirty years later, Lloyd has recorded the tune again on this sparkling set of inspired performances by Lloyd, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Billy Higgins.  Lloyd is a creative and evocative artist, and there is much empathy here with the other musicians, especially Abercrombie, who is adroit and tasteful.  The set includes six Lloyd compositions, as well as Billy Strayhorn's A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, and God Give Me Strength (Elvis Costello-Burt Bacharach).  ECM, 1999, Playing Time: 68:21: *****.


Very Early, Joe Locke Trio, vibes.  Joe Locke, Ron McClure (bass), and Adam Nussbaum (drums) deliver a solid set of mellow standards here.  Songs include My Funny Valentine, I Loves You Porgy, You Don't Know What Love Is, Bill Evans' Very Early, and McCoy Tyner's Effendi.  A fine vibraphonist from the Bags school, Locke's only discernible quirk is his penchant for emulating Keith Jarrett's distracting attempts to scat along with his playing.  (I know George Benson sometimes does it - but, after all, George is also a singer, don't forget.)  Steeplechase, 1995, Playing Time: 61:13, ***1/2.


West Side Stories, Jeff Lorber, keyboards.  Since leaving Portland-Vancouver for the beckoning fame and allure of smoggy L.A., Lorber has carved out a niche for himself as a top producer of popular music.  In keeping with the tradition of his earlier fusion groups, Lorber has continued turning out tidy tunes built upon funky grooves and catchy riffs.  Although this music is obviously not intended to be intellectually probing, it makes for very pleasant cruising, chillin', or party music - it is a 'natural' for the contemporary jazz charts.  Portland-bred musicians Nate Phillips and Marlon McClain are featured, too.  Phillips' slammin' bass grooves (e.g. Toad's Place) force me to add a star to my overall rating here.  Polygram, 1994, Playing Time: 50:13, ***.     


Flying Colors, Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano.  Virtuosos Lovano and Rubalcaba blend together well in this duo setting.  Rubalcaba's Tatemesque piano provides a complementary harmonic framework for Lovano's expressive saxes, clarinet, and even gongs.  The two frolic over several originals and standard tunes by Berlin, Monk, Golson, Dameron, and LeFaro.  Lovano's own compositions sound like a hybrid of Monk and Corea.  Intelligent music making.  Blue Note, 1998, Playing time: 63:49, ****.


Friendly Fire, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby, saxophones.  This CD is a summit meeting of two redoubtable, progressive sax monsters -- Lovano on tenor, soprano, and flute, Osby on alto and soprano.  Buoyed by the steady accompaniment of drummer Idris Muhammad, pianist Jason Moran, and bassist Cameron Brown, the reedsmen enthusiastically embark on a bevy of ebullient expeditions and extrapolations through some original tunes and a couple of standards, Monk's Mood and Broadway Blues.  Lovano and Osby frequently intertwine their horn lines, as they embellish progressively around boppy unison lines and harmonies.  Lovano, Osby, and pianist Moran all play some strong polytonal solos, and at times the whole group engages in virtuosic interplay (Serene).  Post-bop, progressive, and free jazz fans might well find this disc invigorating.  Blue Note, 1999, Playing time: 67:55, ****.


Seven Stars, Suzi Stern Luna, vocals.  On Seven Stars, Stern tells stories of canyons, sails on ancient seas, moonstones, and serenity.  On Spring Samba, she urges us to "fly on the melody, we are harmony, together, the song is forever ringing."  The lyrics and arrangements remind one of Brazilian singer Flora Purim's records or, perhaps even more appropriately, of Gayle Moran's vocals on Chick Corea's tunes.  Other musicians include Randy Porter, Paul Ostermayer, Al Criado, John Stowell, Graham Lear, Alan Jones, Dan Schulte, Dave Friesen, Jorge Zamorano, and Scotty Wardinsky.  Mad Moon, 1995, Playing Time: 54:27, ***.




Sweet Georgia Peach, Russell Malone, guitar.  One wintry night my former bandmate, bassist Ben Wolfe, returned to town for the holidays.  While imbibing some hot beverages together at a local club, he mentioned that there was a terrific guitar player working with him in Harry Connick's band -- Russell Malone.  Since then I have noted Malone's ascendance in the music industry.   


Russell Malone's third disc as a leader features jazz giants Ron Carter and Kenny Barron (bass and piano, respectively), standout drummer Lewis Nash, and percussionist Steve Kroon.  Five of the disc's 11 compositions are Malone originals, with a contribution by Carter, too.  Mugshot is an uptempo bluesy number in G, wherein Russell stretches boundaries with suave, polytonal soloing.  To Benny Golson is a melodic number (recalling a related theme on Black Butterfly, Malone's 2nd release).  The ballad Strange Little Smile incorporates gentle fingerpicking.  Sweet Georgia Peach is a blues in Bb with a smooth transitional bridge.  The lyrical Rise begins with 11th chords over a very light bossa drumstick groove, and octaves embellish the melody.  Mean What You Say swings lightly, the light-hearted Song for Darius was written for Russell's son, and Bright Mississippi is a Thelonius Monk tune in F and features whole tone (augmented) guitar passages.  Malone returns to a ballad with Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat, For Toddlers Only is a trad-sounding Ron Carter piece with "rhythm changes" in Bb, and the album concludes with a soft, solo fingerstyle rendition of the gospel number, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.


While Sweet Georgia Peach doesn't groove as strongly as Black Butterfly did overall, it contains a host of tender moments and tasteful guitar playing -- proof positive that one need not beat people over the head with unnecessary chops, in an effort to impress.  Impulse, 1998, Playing Time: 61:35, ****1/2.


Adagio, Charlie Mariano, saxophone.  On the surface, the gimmick for this album seems appealing - a set of famous classical themes performed by jazz saxophonist Mariano and his cohorts.  There's Beethoven's Pathétique, a Chopin Prélude, the Goin' Home melody from Dvorak's New World Symphony, and even "Pagliacci!"  However, Mariano's "execution" of these great pieces certainly won't enhance his reputation as a jazz musician.  In summation, folks who like being sedated by stale, layered synthesizers might conceivably enjoy this New Age elevator music.  Were the composers alive today, they'd have every reason to sue for defamation - and win.  Pathétique, indeed.  Lipstick 1995, Playing Time: 44:46, *.


Requiem, Branford Marsalis, saxophones.  This progressive album sadly marks the final recorded sessions of notable pianist Kenny Kirkland, who died last November.  Marsalis' quartet had finally attained a mature, cohesive sensibility, with collective dynamic contrasts, seamless inside/outside juxtaposition, and varied intensity.  Branford penned the selections, with the exception of a Paul Motian chart.  He also shines on both tenor and soprano saxes.  The rhythm section is drummer Jeff Watts and bassist Eric Revis.  Kirkland's talent will be sorely missed.  Columbia, 1999, Playing time: 69:30, ****.


Twelve's It, Ellis Marsalis Trio.  Proud papa and mentor of New Orleans' venerable Marsalis musical clan, Ellis Marsalis is also a noted teacher and clinician.  A proficient mainstream pianist in his own right, Marsalis favors block chords, trills, lyrical lines, and a generally soft touch on the keys, except for accents.


This CD includes both live and studio recordings of Marsalis' trio, featuring standards and originals.  Unfortunately, the promotional copy I received from the record company does not contain the customary J-card or any enclosed liner notes, preventing me from crediting the anonymous (but capable) bassist and drummer.  Columbia, 1998, Playing time: 76:25: ***1/2.


All Sides Now, Pat Martino, guitar.  This CD release marks bebop hero Martino's first disc on the Blue Note label.  For the uninitiated, this is an electric guitarist with a soloing technique so monstrous that a young George Benson, upon hearing Martino in a New York club, almost turned around and went home to Pittsburgh. 


In the past, Pat has recorded some landmark jazz guitar albums, including Desperado, The Visit, Consciousness, Joyous Lake, and Exit.  This latest concept release features Pat hosting a number of other well-known guest guitarists, including rocker Joe Satriani, anti-acid jazzer Charlie Hunter, fusioneer Mike Stern, New Agers Tuck Andress and Michael Hedges, Kevin Eubanks, Les Paul, and sultry vocalist Cassandra Wilson. 


While this album is not as cohesive or dynamic as another relatively recent Martino effort, Interchange (Muse - 1994), it is nevertheless notable for some excellent guitar playing, mostly by Martino.  However, Charlie Hunter's organ-like,  8-string guitar ably supports Martino's spidery lines and darkly, warm boppy phrases on Stevie Wonder's Too High, Tuck Andress provides snappy rhythmic accompaniment on Two of a Kind, and Eubanks plays acoustic steel-string on Progression.  Pals Les Paul and Pat offer engaging interplay and Django-like reveries on I'm Confessin', Satriani rocks before laying down a driving walking bass on the guitar (on Ellipsis), Cassandra Wilson's breathy, androgynous tenor flashes a full moon on Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, Mike Stern and Pat blend effectively on the wistful Ayako and on Outrider, and Pat and Michael Hedges play empathetic acoustic guitars on Hedges' Two Days Old.


Although this disc does not necessarily fully capture the inestimable essence of Pat Martino playing in his own idiom, it reflects the lofty reverence and affection which many guitarists (including myself) justifiably feel for him.  Furthermore, where else are you going to hear such a collection of guitar players jamming with this jazz master?!  That, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 52:07, ****.


Direct Axecess, Steve Masakowski, guitar.  This second effort on Blue Note is a welcome addition to the body of recorded jazz guitar.  Masakowski, a local legend in New Orleans who has been performing for a long time, is a master of the mainstream jazz vocabulary on his seven-string axe.  Direct Axecess, dedicated to Joe Pass, is a showcase of guitar dexterity and stylistic versatility, and the artist also demonstrates his composing skills on the five original tunes included in this set of 13 selections.  Masakowski pays his respects to other guitar mentors on such cuts as Headed Wes (Montgomery), Monk's Mood (Lenny Breau), The Visit (Pat Martino), For Django (Pass), and Emily (Remler).  Blue Note would do well to sign and record other nationally unknown contemporary jazz masters who have paid their dues.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 57:14 , ****.


Round Up the Usual Suspects, Jon Mayer Trio, piano.  Mayer is a seasoned Los Angeles jazz veteran who, even as a teen, was recording with John Coltrane and Jackie McLean.  Joining him on this pleasant set of mostly standards are living lengends Ron Carter and Billy Higgins.  Mayer wrote the title track, a blues, for John Coltrane in 1960.  Pullen, 1995, Playing Time: 55:35, ***.


Separate Reality, Paul Mazzio, trumpet, and Jake Kot, electric bass.  Oregonians Mazzio and Kot have been steady musicians on the Portland scene for some time.  Paul Mazzio grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, and later earned music degrees at North Texas State and USC, whereupon he joined Woody Herman's band.  More recently, he has been a featured member of drummer Alan Jones' straightahead sextet.  Bassist Jake Kot has worked regularly with pianist Darin Clendenin, who also plays on this album.  Kot composed all of the fine tunes on the CD.


Separate Reality, Kot and Mazzio's first release as co-leaders, is a first-rate example of progressive contemporary jazz - the way it was always meant to be played, before fusion became a dirty word.  Following the trails blazed by bands like Return to Forever and Weather Report in the 1970's, this ambitious project opens with the ferociously funky drumming of Bruce Carter on Dancin' with the Man.  Mazzio immediately serves notice that he is a tremendous talent on the trumpet and flugelhorn with a stellar solo, followed by Todd Carver's very electric guitar solo.  Notable Tom Grant lends a hand on Coming Home, with Brazilian-styled vocals. 


Had to Be features a Miles-like muted trumpet over a swinging jazz-funk groove, with Kot's Jacoesque lines and Carter's solid rhythms supplying the foundation.  The title track, Separate Reality, has lush synth strings, mellow horn, nylon string guitar, and a piano solo by Grant.  Kot's lyrical bass introduces the laid-back Upon First Glance, accompanied by more synth strings, and then some pretty horn playing from Mazzio.


The More Things Change is a wistful jazz waltz, with nice solos by Clendenin and Mazzio.  Former Portland singer Kelly Broadway supplies background "aahs."  Synthesizer and harmonics herald an electric bass showpiece, Interlude.  A bassy orchestral synth patch announces the finale, Once Again, with a repeated riff in G; this tune definitely recalls the tones and textures of Chick Corea's Return to Forever.  Clendenin and Mazzio display their prowess once again here.     


This is a very solid, electric fusion album, with some excellent musicianship throughout.  Bruce Carter, in particular, demonstrates that he is one of the funkiest jazz drummers on the planet.  PHD, 1997, Playing Time: 48:52, ****1/2.   


Listen Up!, Les McCann, piano and vocals.  Les McCann's funky, gospel-tinged jazz piano offerings are familiar to many jazz fans.  On his first release since recovering from a stroke in a Swiss hospital in 1995, McCann is accompanied here by a host of heavyweight musicians, including George Duke and Billy Preston on keyboards, Andy Narell on steel drums and percussion, Ernie Watts on saxophone, and electric bassist Abraham Laboriel.


Some highlights of the album are a lively samba, Someday We'll Meet Again, which opens the album, Les' heart-felt vocal on When I Fall in Love, and the happy, grooving Trinidad.  It's good news, indeed, to hear that McCann is healthy again and back in form (as this CD demonstrates).  Musicmasters, 1996, Playing time: 60:19,  ****.


Not a Day Goes By, Barney McClure, piano.  McClure is a mainstay up in Port Townsend, Washington, where he has been a notable musician and politician (an interesting combination, huh?).  This session features some of Seattle's top jazz folks, including Chuck Deardorf (bass), Jay Thomas (trumpets/saxes), and Mike Buono (drums).  Highlights include: the interesting head on Big Alice; an Afro-Cuban rendition of Summertime; the piano introduction to The Masquerade Is Over; the boppy head, B-3 organ, ensemble work, and solo trading on John's Tune; the Latin groove of Besame Inga; the solo piano version of Over the Rainbow; and the pretty 6/8 feel and sax solo on Fly Away.  McClure wrote four of the tunes.  It might also interest tech-production hobbyists to know that the vacuum tube processing used at various stages in the production of the album add discernible warmth to these digitally recorded tracks.  Sage Arts, 1995, Playing Time: 70:35, ****.


Bringin' it Home, Jack McDuff, organ.  For more than thirty years, Brother McDuff's B-3 organ has fueled the familiar, blue-tinged fires of many home-cooked jazz brews.  His groups have invariably featured talented guitarists or gutsy saxophonists, and this CD serves as a down home gathering of jazz dignitaries and less familiar faces.  Longtime pals Red Holloway (tenor sax) and guitarist George Benson lend their considerable skills to this blues barbecue.  (Check out George's playing on The Scratch; too bad his own recent albums don't "get it on" like this anymore...)  In turn, derivative guitarist Mark Whitfield even succeeds in out-Bensoning the master on This Masquerade.  Another guitarist, John Hart, is featured on the jazzier tracks.  Holloway's tenor remains, as always, sanctified and flowing.  Concord, 1999, Playing time: 57:29, ****.


That's the Way I Feel About It, Jack McDuff, organ.  Brother Jack McDuff has been leading organ groups for decades, grooming a host of young jazz musicians, along the way.  His latest recording features a mixture of novelty tunes (Aquarius, Mission Impossible theme), blues, standards (Old Folks), and jive-talking (Louis Jordan's Saturday Night Fish Fry). 


McDuff's lineup includes Andrew Beals' alto sax, Jerry Weldon's tenor, John Hart's dry guitar, and a rhythm section of drummer Rudy Petschauer and electric bassist Kip Reed.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 55:17, ***.


Bang! Zoom, Bobby McFerrin, vocalist.  Pop music's reigning vocal impressionist, McFerrin performs a mostly original set of r & b and World Music inspired grooves, backed by a bevy of studio heavyweights and guest artists.  McFerrin emulates Milton Nascimento's Brazilian-style, melodic wordless singing on several of the tunes.  On Miles Davis' Selim, he approximates a horn.  You get the idea; don't worry, be happy (by the way, he snatched that expression from Baha'i spiritual avatar Meher Baba).  If you like The Lion Sleeps Tonight, 70's funk, or McFerrin's usual fare, you may dig this one, too.  I know some singers will definitely go "gaga" (and "zwee bop, zwee bop, doobie oodle doo"...) about it.   Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 45:58, ***.


Blues Groove, The Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford Quartet; McGriff, organ, Crawford, alto sax.  Jazz organ has been making a bit of a resurgence in recent years; during the past decade, record companies have released a slew of albums featuring the Hammond B-3, including a series of collaborations by McGriff and Crawford.  


Bred in Philadelphia, Jimmy McGriff honed his chops and style in the neighborhood roosts that also seasoned fellow organists Groove Holmes, Charles Earland, and Jimmy Smith.  Since 1987, McGriff has teamed up with alto saxophonist Hank Crawford for five albums.  A noteworthy bandleader in his own right, Crawford developed his distinctive, rich tone and five-horn arrangements during his long tenure with Ray Charles. 


On Blues Groove, McGriff and Crawford combine with guitarist Wayne Boyd and drummer Vance James to present a full program of blues - shuffles Movin' Upside the Blues), waltzes (All Blues), and ballads (Frame for the Blues).   Crawford offers up his usual, soulful solos, McGriff rolls the ivories and keeps the bass pedals pumping, and guitarist Boyd delivers some clean, bluesy choruses. 


This session conjures up images of those same smokey supper clubs where these gentlemen plied their trade years ago.  A relaxin' set.  Telarc, 1996, Playing Time: 67:27, ***1/2.


The Promise, John McLaughlin, guitar, and an all-star cast.  Probably the greatest innovator in the history of jazz guitar, John McLaughlin's offering here is a compilation of sessions he did with a host of all-star jazz, pop, flamenco, and Indian musicians.  


The album opens with a bluesy electric guitar dialogue between rocker Jeff Beck and McLaughlin on John Lewis's composition, Django.  McLaughlin's flamboyant Thelonius Melodius follows, with Joey DeFrancesco on the Hammond B-3 and Dennis Chambers on the drums.  After an Italian reading of a verse from Dante, McLaughlin performs a short, wistful piece on acoustic guitar, followed by a sequenced jam with DeFrancesco (this time on muted trumpet), introduced with the softly discernible, hoarse voice of Miles Davis. 


McLaughlin recaptures his Grammy-winning acoustic guitar trio summit with Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola on the beautiful original piece, El Ciego.  Michael Brecker (tenor saxophonist) and a band of New York studio stalwarts join McLaughlin on the next cut, Jazz Jungle, a suitably Brecker-like, hard-driving, electric bop-funk excursion. 


McLaughlin studied vina with Indian master musicians at Connecticut's Wesleyan University (as I did, too), and he was the first westerner to successfully master Hindustani (N. Indian) and Carnatic (S. Indian) music on the guitar,  bringing Indian elements to jazz via seminal groups, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and particularly Shakti.  On The Wish, McLaughlin performs with Zakir Hussain on tabla, Nishat Khan on sitar, and Trilok Gurtu (formerly with Oregon) on percussion.


Most albums have some component designed to enhance marketability.  On this project, we not only have the interesting collaboration with Jeff Beck, but there is also the ring-modulated, Hendrix-like English Jam, a one minute electric jam with pop-star Sting at his home-castle recording studio, followed by a thankfully short throwaway track, the aptly titled Tokyo Decadence.


After some zen haiku poetry, alto saxophonist David Sanborn and McLaughlin get back to the basics of vibrant New York electric jazz on Shin Jin Rui.  The album concludes with some lovely acoustic guitar - The Peacocks - and a final brief reading, this time from Garcia Lorca.  This release is a veritable musical celebrity pot-pourri, displaying the awesome range and firepower of McLaughlin's musical abilities (both as a composer and guitarist) in conjunction with the talents of others.  Verve, 1995, Playing Time: 73:41, *****.


Live at the Village Vanguard, Brad Mehldau, piano.  One of the more absorbing and harmonically advanced young pianists on today's jazz scene, Mehldau marries a classical sensibility and technique with a penchant for explorative improvisations.  This Manhattan gig provided the opportunity for Mehldau to indulge himself at length musically within a trad trio setting (with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy).  In concert, Mehldau reminds me sometimes of a younger Keith Jarrett, both in his keyboard predilections and his mannerisms.  Here he demonstrates his polytonal prowess conclusively over standards like It's Alright with Me, Monk's Dream, The Way You Look Tonight, Moon River, and Countdown (Coltrane).  Grenadier and Rossy provide complementary accompaniment for Mehldau's excursions, as well as taking some nice turns themselves.  Warner, 1998, Playing Time: 72:59, ****.


Live & More, Marcus Miller, electric bass.  Marcus Miller is perhaps best-known for his extended association with Miles Davis during the last decade of Miles' life.  In fact, Miller had a major hand in the concept and production of Miles albums like Tutu; he wrote a number of the compositions on several albums, too.  Some of those tunes, such as Tutu and Panther, also grace this disc.


For his current release, Miller continues in the same vein.  On the ten tracks here, the band jams over funky grooves which recall the immortal trumpeter (and musical innovator/chameleon).  Most of this album was recorded live in Japanese and California clubs, lending a nice, immediate feel to the proceedings.  The audiences are also gleeful in their vocal reponses and applause.  Miller even sings a bit here, too (as on Funny, People make the World Go Round, and Summertime), reminding one of Stevie Wonder.  GRP, 1998, Playing time: 72:42, ***1/2.


Latin from Manhattan, Bob Mintzer Big Band, Bob Mintzer, saxophones and arrangements.  Bob Mintzer is no stranger to Latin music; he used to play in the bands of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri in the 1970s, as well as the big bands of Buddy Rich and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, before attaining worldwide success with the Yellowjackets.  Here he leads a big band in his finely crafted arrangements of original Latin tunes, as well as his arrangement of Tito Puente's classic Oye Como Va.  The grooves are pure cha-chas, mambos, and boleros.  Salsa, amigos?  DMP, 1998, Playing Time: 60:14, ****1/2.


L'altro Tenco, Ada Montellanico, singer.  If the Italians didn't exactly invent love and passion, they certainly are among world's greatest purveyors of love songs.  The theme of this release is a set of romantic compositions by Luigi Tenco, one of Italy's greatest contemporary songwriters.  There is something heartwarming and beautifully tender about the Italian language, and even if one does not comprehend all the lyrics of these tunes, they are nevertheless affecting. 


Ada Montellanico is a young alto singer with a smooth voice, nice phrasing, articulation, not a lot of dynamics, but a genuine feel for presenting a song.  She is accompanied here by some of Italy's finest jazz musicians, including renowned trumpeter Enrico Rava, drummer Fabrizio Sferra, bassist Piero Leveratto, keyboardist Enrico Pieranunzi, and guitarist Fabio Zeppetella (whose playing reflects the influences of Pat Metheny and John Scofield).  Selections include [loosely translated]: My Lost Days, Almost Evening, Always the Same Story, Sad Evening, I Wanted to Have You for Me, Having You in My Arms, Time Went By.  Philology, 1996, Playing Time: 58:31, ****.


Blue Valentine, Sarah Jane Morris, singer.  Sarah Jane is posed in the cover photo in a man's double-breasted pin-stripe suit - with no shirt underneath.  Her hair hangs down in a tangled lump, covering the entire right half of her face.  Luckily, most of her mouth is exposed, enough of it that she can sing, at any rate.   And sing she does; Morris has a three and a half octave range that gets way down there - she makes Nina Simone sound like a soprano, by comparison.  She had a hit in Europe with a cover of Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up."  With that big, deep rhythm and blues voice of hers, it figures.  Anyway, this CD is taken from a live performance at Ronnie Scott's in London.  Wah-wah guitars, Gamble-Huff harmonies, Tom Waits, Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix, and Sting compositions.  Once, when I was back in England visiting my relatives, there was a blues festival featuring the Who.  Now, if that's what the British consider blues, then it logically follows that someone there thinks this is jazz.  Natch.  [Kind of like presenting John Tesh at  a jazz festival?]  JACD, 1995, Playing Time: 74:45, **1/2.




Sam Newsome and Global Unity, Sam Newsome, soprano sax.  Newsome is a very able saxophonist who favors world music sounds and exotic rhythm grooves, overladen with his soaring, "smooth" yet progressive, world saxophone style.  One moment Newsome sounds like the Kenny G. of world music, the next he blazes progressive, Pied Piper riffs to the scintillating rhythms of a clay pot, dumbek, or congas.  In essence, this is a blowing session for Newsome's sax over world music rhythms.  Columbia, 1999, Playing time: 50:34, ***1/2.


Remember Why, New Stories.  Northwest mainstream musicians Marc Seales (piano) John Bishop (drums), and Doug Miller (bass) are joined on this solid 1998 date by veteran musicians Don Lanphere (soprano sax), Rick Mandyck (tenor sax), and Hans Teuber (alto and tenor sax).  The set consists of some interesting compositions from the 1960s by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis, as well as two Seales songs and one by Doug Miller.  Overall, the performance here is very consistent, with excellent musical rapport, fine sax solos (good tone, too, guys!), accomplished piano, and a clear audio mix.  It's also nice to hear some fresher standards as interpretative material, for a change.  Origin, 1997, Playing time: 68:13, ****.


Speakin' Out, New Stories.  New Stories is a Seattle-based trio that includes pianist Mark Seales, bassist Doug Miller, and drummer John Bishop.  On this occasion, saxophonist Ernie Watts rounds out a quartet of mainstream pieces, including One and Only Love, So Near, So Far, and tunes by Doug Miller, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny.  Seales and company deliver -- a solid, tasteful effort by all involved.  Origin, 1999, Playing Time: 67:22, ***1/2.


Out of Nowhere, Bobbe Norris, voice.  Jazz singer Bobbe Norris is a longtime veteran of the Bay Area music scene.  However, she and her husband, pianist Larry Dunlap, are no strangers to the Northwest.  He resided in Oregon for a number of years, before relocating to warmer California climes, and they return occasionally.  Out of Nowhere is a collection of mostly jazz standards, performed thoughtfully by Norris, Dunlap, and Noel Jewkes (woodwinds), Eddie Marshall (drums), John Wiitala (bass), Jeff Cressman (trombone), and cameos by singer Mark Murphy and bassist Frank Tusa (on Invitation).  On this warm and relaxed set, Norris' interpretations are typically engaging, Dunlap's accompaniment refined, and the other musicians lend solid contributions to this pleasant session.  Dunlap even takes a few turns himself at the microphone, too.  FDR, 1999, Playing time: 73:09, ***.


Niacin, Billy Sheehan, John Novello, Dennis Chambers, organ "power trio."  If you like endless minor pentatonics, grooves beaten into the ground, Deeple Purple, Keith Emerson, swirling Leslies, and loud rock-n-roll, then this might just be your lucky day.  Highlights include the two Excedrins the record company should have been required to package with this CD.  Sheehan, electric bass, Novello, organ, Chambers, drums.  Dennis, how could you?!  Stretch, 1997, Playing Time: 62:27, 1/2*.  




Fragments, Oregon Jazz Workshop, Jim Olsen, arranger.  Jim Olsen has conducted, composed, and arranged for large jazz ensembles for a number of years.  On this ambitious disc, Olsen has assembled some of the finest musicians ever to have studied or taught at the University of Oregon. 


Thoroughly grounded in both classical and jazz composition, composer Olsen displays progressive prowess on these daring charts.  From the opening, syncopated pedal point ostinato of The Shining Path, to the avant-garde and classically-influenced Fragments, to the rippin' dissonant brass clusters of Ornette Coleman's Ramblin', this recording lacks nothing in the way of innovative arranging. 


While the disc features a number of soloists, tenor saxophonist Lynn Baker, in particular, is exceptional throughout.  Trumpeter Nate Wooley and trombonist Glenn Bonney also shine.  Phlogiston, 1997, Playing Time: 66:43, ****.


On the Montreal Scene, Johnny O'Neal, piano and voice.  Detroit homey and former Art Blakey apprentice O'Neal can really swing, as this trad disc attests.  Backed by a trio featuring Russell Malone, guitar, Wali Muhammed, drums, and Tarus Mateen, bass, O'Neal and cohorts recorded this set on an October day in Montreal.  Highlights include the uptempo Let Me Off Uptown and an ebulliant Happy Days Are Here Again.  O'Neal sings in a bluesy baritone on several selections, while gospel gets its due on Come Sunday and While the Blood is Running Warm.  The album concludes with Homeboy Blues, wherein O'Neal sings about drinking alcohol...  When he plays straightahead piano, he is very good.  Justin Time, 1996, Playing Time: 60:36, ***.


Piano Quintet Suite, Junko Onishi.  One of the late model Japanese piano imports to hit these shores, Onishi is very t.c. - traditionally correct. In fact, her playing imitates a conglomeration of mainstream American pianists.  For my taste, however, I much prefer the playing of Makoto Ozone and Kei Akagi (who played in my group before signing on with Airto Moreira and Miles Davis), but Onishi is no slouch on the keys, if not the warmest stylist in the realm of jazz piano.  This set features some impressive Onishi originals and pieces by Mingus, Ellington, and romantic composer Robert Schumann.  Onishi is supported by bass, drums, alto sax, and trumpet.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 60:23, ***.


Beyond Words, Oregon.  Although most of Oregon's members no longer live there,  the group's distinctive sound, which was born and bred in the Willamette Valley, remains.  With the death of sitarist-tabla player Colin Walcott and the departure of his successor on percussion, Trilok Gurtu, the group is now reduced to a trio, consisting of Moore, reedman Paul McCandless, and guitarist-keyboardist Ralph Towner.  Nevertheless, even without a percussionist, the group still retains the same musical qualities which have endeared it to legions of fans worldwide for more than 20 years. 


Oregon's CD, Beyond Words, contains a number of familiar Oregon tunes (e.g. Ecotopia, The Silence of a Candle, Les Douzilles), Jim Pepper's anthem, Witchi-Tai-To, and some new material.  McCandless performs more frequently on soprano saxophone nowadays, and Towner is as likely to play a keyboard as his trusty acoustic guitars.  The album, itself, was recorded direct-to-disc in a New York church, in an effort to recapture the audio presence and natural acoustics of a concert performance. 


The set consists of a number of gorgeous, tranquil, melodic pieces by Towner, then some avant-cool Glen Moore heads superimposed over bass grooves, replete with the dissonance and angularity better associated with the Big Bad Apple than with the unadulterated air of the forested Cascades.  A vapid intellectual exercise, Silver Suite, concludes the set; definitely, all that glitters is not gold here.  An agitated roomful of jazz friends implored me to take the disc off, by that point.  While I'm still partial to these guys, maybe they would do well to get back in touch with their Oregon roots again, rather than hanging with East Coast pseudos - who knows, perhaps a name change is next?!  Chesky, 1995, Playing Time: 71:53, ****.




Mistura Fina, John Patitucci, bass.  Patitucci is best-known for his work in Chick Corea's acoustic and electric bands.  In the past few years, however, he has produced a number of solo recordings.  Mistura Fina is his "Brazilian" album.  Patitucci plays both acoustic and electric six-string basses here, supported by Alex Acuna (percussion), Michael Shapiro and Peter Erskine (drums), John Beasley (keyboards), Joao Bosco (vocals, acoustic guitar), and others.  There are some nice rhythmic grooves and mellow Portuguese vocals on this set, comprised mostly of Patitucci and Bosco compositions, with Patitucci's basses stating instrumental melodies and taking extended solos.  A mellow mood enhancer - and a treat for electric bass connoisseurs.  GRP, 1995, Playing Time: 61:01, ***1/2.


One More Angel, John Patitucci, bass.  Patitucci has gradually emerged as one of the premier bassists of his generation, since first receiving significant exposure as a member of Chick Corea's groups.  He has also had his share of personal tragedies, including two babies who did not survive childbirth, both within the past two years.  Consequently, One More Angel is a mostly pensive set of interesting and serene compositions, featuring virtuoso playing by Patitucci on an assortment of basses.  Complementing Patitucci are notables Paul Motian (drums), Alan Pasqua (piano), Michael Brecker (tenor sax), and Chris Potter (alto sax).  Patitucci's wife, Sachi, plays lovely cello on two pieces.    

Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 67:52, ****.


Swimming Lessons for the Dead, Jack Perla, piano.  Oakland-based Jack Perla is another wonderful, intelligent pianist who learned plenty from Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Keith Jarrett.  He studied composition at Yale and at the Manhattan School of Music, and last year he won the Thelonius Monk Institute/BMI Jazz Composers Competition.  Swimming Lessons is a challenging collection of Perla pieces that leave lots of room for jamming by this nimble pianist and the other musicians here: saxophonist harvey Wainapel, guitarist Andre Bush, drummer Alan Hall, bassist Derek Jones, trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon, and trombonist Jeff Cressman.     

SYPR, 1997, Playing time: 61:49,  ***1/2.


Oscar and Benny, Oscar Peterson and Benny Green, pianos.  This CD pairs jazz piano masters Peterson and protégé Green together for the first time on disc, with the expert backing of bassist Ray Brown and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.  Peterson and Green pull out all the stops on this session of mostly standards, whether performing in tandem, alternating solos, or simply dazzling the listener with their prodigious technique (and almost overwhelming the rhythm section, at times, in the process).  Selections include Here's That Rainy Day, Scrapple from the Apple, Someday My Prince Will Come, Limehouse Blues, and When Lights Are Low.  An old adage says that two heads are better than one.  That cliché rings true, in this case.  Telarc, 1998, Playing time: 67:55, ****1/2.


A Summer Night in Munich, Oscar Peterson, piano.  For his 1998 European tour, Peterson put together a virtuoso quartet, featuring bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, fleet-fingered Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, and drummer Martin Drew.  This disc captures some of the excitement of a concert at Munich's Philharmonika.  From the opening unison riffs of Backyard Blues, the tight ensemble takes flight over a set replete with pyrotechnical wizardry, down-home grooves, and wistful balladry alike.  Peterson and Wakenius engage in artful musical dialogue on When Summer Comes, Pedersen's bass states the theme of Nigerian Marketplace, gospel presides from the pulpit on Hymn to Freedom, Peterson flashes vintage piano licks on Satin Doll, Love Ballade features classically styled piano, Evening Song inserts a meditative moment into the proceedings, and Peterson and Wakenius chomp like jazz barracudas on the bloodied frenzy of Sushi. Telarc, 1999, Playing Time: 64:13, ***1/2.


The Very Tall Band, Oscar Peterson, piano, Ray Brown, bass, and Milt Jackson, vibes.  The trio of eminent jazzmen reunites here on a gig captured at the Blue Note in late 1998.  Clearly comfortable with each other's styles, they blend effortlessly, effectively and pleasingly over mostly familiar material (The Very Thought of You, Caravan, Work Song, Nature Boy, I Remember Clifford, Sometimes I'm Happy), and two originals (one a blues), on this octet of tunes selected from three nights of recording before an appreciative audience.  The years have been kind to these venerable gentlemen, as they continue to play very well, indeed, both collectively and individually.  Karriem Riggins combines with Brown to create some driving and swinging rhythms.  Telarc, 1999, Playing Time: 71:24, ***3/4.


The Best of, Pieces of a Dream.  In the past, I've enjoyed some of the cuts from this electric group's previous albums.  I don't know what their producer was thinking here, however, when he selected some of these trashy numbers and labeled them "the best of" this band; having heard much better material from Pieces of a Dream, I take strong exception to this misleading mercenary packaging.  But then, maybe some people's listening interests lean toward mediocre scratchy, sleazy, hip-hop fuzak, with people intoning banal babble (e.g. "um, um, um, baby, this groove is funky"..."no, it's too nasty"...  "I like it like that, baby"...  "I know, but you got to keep it smooth, you got to keep it smooth, you got to keep it smooth..."  Ad infinitum and ad nauseum...  "Jazz," that certainly ain't (even stretching it for numskulls) - rather, it conjures up smokey images of waterbeds, cheap Cold Duck, gaudy cars with fake leopard-skin upholstery, lime polyester suits, and jive hipsters wearing coke spoons around their necks.  Some of these tracks royally stink! 


For better or for worse, though, the disc also features an easy listening, Kenny G. type instrumental take on Paul McCartney's My Love, a funkified Round Midnight, and even a surprisingly trad and loungy The Shadow of Your Smile.  Frisbee, anyone?  Blue Note, 1996, Playing time: 63:20, *1/2.


Portland Jazz Volume I, assorted artists.  Portland, Oregon has long had a well-deserved reputation as being the residence of choice of scores of terrific jazz musicians.  The quality of life in the Pacific Northwest and the comparably strong community support for jazz rank among the factors which have attracted top-caliber musicians to Oregon and retained many of them through the years.   


For this project, a formidable cross-section of present and past Portland jazz musicians (and their friends) combined to present this mostly mainstream compilation of 18 selections, almost all of which were taken from various releases by the contributing artists.   


A few of the many highlights among the numerous tracks here: Bathrobe Blues, a swinging straightahead piece, featuring drummer Dick Berk, pianist John Hicks, saxophonist Jay Collins, guitarist Dan Faehnle, and bassist Ray Drummond; Song for Ron, a propulsive McCoy Tyner-like Bill Beach composition, with drummer Ron Steen, pianist Beach, Jay Collins, and bassist Rob Thomas; Sonny Rollins' St. Thomas, featuring singer Nancy King, bassist Glen Moore, and pianist Art Lande; Tall Jazz's collective blues jam, Melody Stomp; Gordon Lee's hard-driving No Bizz (based on There's No Business Like Show Business), with pianist Lee, bass legend Leroy Vinnegar, alto saxman Warren Rand, and drummer Berk; singer Alyssa Schwary's rendition of You Don't What Love Is; pianist Randy Porter's arrangement of Ellington's Sophisticated Lady, featuring Gary Hobbs' superb drumming; and Grammy award-winning songwriter Dave Frishberg and singer Rebecca Kilgore's interpretation of The Dream Peddler.


This generous disc is an excellent example of the wealth of mainstream and traditional jazz which Portland-area musicians present on a regular basis at dozens of different types of venues.  Pillar, 1995, Playing time: 70:04, ****.     


Song for the Beautiful Woman, Marcus Printup, trumpet.  Printup isn't just another young suit with a bunch of media hype (as his last name might suggest).  Au contraire, this horn player is the genuine article: an articulate, consummate jazz musician with a mature, post-bop approach to the art.  In addition to being a superb trumpeter, Printup writes most of his repertoire; he contributed six of the nine cuts here.  I Remember April, Speak Low, and Coltrane's Dahomey Dance are also included.  Besides Printup, Eric Reed (piano), Walter Blanding (tenor sax), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) all deliver fine performances, too.  This album is strongly recommended for jazz lovers.  Blue Note 1995, Playing Time: 59:40, ****.


Unveiled, Marcus Printup, trumpet.  Twenty-something Marcus Printup made somewhat of a splash with his debut record, Song for the Beautiful Woman.  A studious, tradition-conscious musician, who admittedly still woodsheds by putting on the headphones and copying the solos of Dizzy, Clifford Brown, and Lee Morgan, Printup put together another fine group for this session, which includes holdover bassist Reuben Rogers, rising star Marcus Roberts on piano, tenor saxman Stephen Riley, and drummer Jason Marsalis. 


The majority of the tunes on this CD were penned by Printup, who already exhibits some growth here as a composer.  Eclipse is a laid-back, C minor, blues-based affair, When Forever is Over is a heartfelt ballad, the progressive Say it Again is another bluesy number, introduced by a bass ostinato, Leave Your Name and Number echoes the flavor of New Orleans jazz, Unveiled features a sassy, hybrid rhumba-gospel groove in places, Soulful is another ballad, and M & M is a stridely, barrelhouse blues (thanks to Roberts' ivory tinkles) which recalls Basin St..  The other selections on the album are Dig (by Miles Davis), Stablemates (Benny Golson), Yes or No (Wayne Shorter), and Amazing Grace.


On this date, Printup plays with maturing confidence and a full, round tone, soloing in the tradition of his esteemed predecessors on the horn.  Pianist Roberts once again demonstrates both remarkable chops and taste, Riley is an accomplished sax soloist (at only 19!) following in the footsteps of Hawk and Prez, and Marsalis and Rogers provide rock-solid, mainstream accompaniment.  The term "sophomore jinx" definitely doesn't apply here to Marcus Printup, one of jazz's finest young trumpeters.  Blue Note, 1996, Playing Time: 64:14, ***1/2.




Freedom in the Groove, Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone.  Following up on his other very successful, acclaimed albums, Moodswing and Wish, sax phenom Redman displays an even more evolved compositional knack on this latest release, which features 10 of his original tunes.  The opening track, Hide and Seek, a funky number in F, immediately reveals its roots, as Redman briefly quotes a riff from the 70's funk group, Average White Band.  The mood soon shifts in One Shining Soul, a lyrical Latin track with sections in E and Ab, showcasing Redman's singing horn and the supportive guitar of new bandmember Peter Bernstein, who favors bluesy riffs and occasional 4ths (to lend a modern sensibility) executed with a warm Kenny Burrell-Grant Green tone.


The uptempo Stream of Consciousness belies the influence of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane's music on Redman, with its half-step, harmonic chromaticism (e.g. Bb to B) and its ensemble harmonized pentatonic riffs.  When the Sun Comes Down is a bluesy gospel-tinged ballad in a C minor pentatonic mode with some nice modulations.  At one point, the head seems to quote a "so familiar" phrase from songwriter Billy Joel. 


Home Fries recalls the funky, get-down grooves of Cannonball Adderley's bands.  However, Redman's own "Work Song" shifts into hard-paced swing, before reverting back to the original Eb motif.  The tenor's high-pitched, introductory 'outness' on the plaintive, F# minor blues of Invocation reminds one of another Redman, Joshua's avant-garde dad, Dewey.  Another Latin groove (in C), Dare I Ask?, involves lots of modulations, while Cat Battles is an energized Latin-funk hybrid in G.  As on other tracks on this CD, modern pianist Peter Martin supplies a splendid solo here, followed by Redman's own fluid flights of fancy.


Pantomime, an airily light and wistful, bluesy piece in F, begins deceptively, almost like a ballad; by its final stanzas, however, it, too, has adopted an assertive attitude.  The set concludes as it began, with a genuinely funky blues in F, Can't Dance, that kicks some serious rhythmic booty, while showcasing the ever-present adroitness of Redman's sensous sax.   


Drummer Brian Blade and bassist Christopher Thomas supply some mean grooves throughout this CD, which is most aptly entitled.  Indeed, Freedom in the Groove has finger-popping, toe-tapping excitement aplenty, and the compositional structures here provide plenty of breathing room for Redman and his associate soloist cohorts, Martin and Bernstein, to strut their stuff - with exquisite taste and vigorous virtuoisty.  Definitely one of the best jazz recordings to be released in 1996.  Warner Bros., 1996, Playing Time: 69:06, *****


That Day, Dianne Reeves, vocals.  Dianne Reeves' rich voice has made her a virtual pop diva.  Here she is framed in the context of a traditional jazz combo setting, with quality players like pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and guitarist Kevin Eubanks.  The mood is mostly mellow on this CD, with a hefty portion of ballads; there's Johnny Mandel's Close Enough for Love, Just a Little Lovin', and the Twelfth of Never, a ballad featuring Mulgrew Miller's piano.  That Day is a light Latin groove where Dianne declares, "We can do it in the grass" (among other places).  Piano abstractions herald Morning Has Broken, in a rendition that certainly doesn't ape the Cat Stevens original; suitably however, Reeves' voice is positively folksy.  She also interprets a ballad by Joan Armatredding, the earthy Jamaican, lesbian singer-songwriter.   Reeves does get a little more gutsy, too, on Blue Prelude, an impressionistic waltz, and bluesy numbers like Exactly Like You and Ain't Nobody's Business.     


That Day must have been something else for Reeves!  "Let me sigh, let me cry!" fairly sums up the tone of this platter.  I guess it's kind of sexy...  Blue Note, 1998, Playing Time: 52:48, ***.


Bridge Weaver, Nika Rejto, flute.  Rejto is a schooled California flautist with a very pleasant tone, requisite jazz chops, and a penchant for pretty standards, such as Forest Flower, My Funny Valentine, Naima, Chelsea Bridge, My Romance, etc..  While no one should confuse her with a Hubert Laws or a James Galway, she is a very affecting and evocative musician, in her own right.  Unika, 1998, Playing Time: 66:11, ***.


Alive in L.A., Lee Ritenour, guitar.  Ritenour has been a mainstay of the L.A. studio scene since the late 1970's, as well as recording a number of popular fusion and jazz albums as a leader.   Rit and band recorded this live album in January during a three-day stint at the Ash Grove on the Santa Monica pier.


The disc features selections which Ritenour has recorded before (and soloed better on - in the studio versions), including four tunes from his Wes Bound CD.  Personnel on this occasion are tenorman Bill Evans, pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Melvin Davis, and additional keyboardist Barnaby Finch.  GRP, 1997, Playing Time: 64:01, **1/2.


Youngbloods, George Robert, alto and tenor sax, Dado Moroni, piano and Rhodes.  Here is a pleasant duo album of mainstream jazz numbers: Lush Life, I Remember You, Body and Soul, some lesser known standards, and three George Robert originals.  It's always nice to hear the heart-felt affection with which some European musicians (and players from other continents) have absorbed and interpreted America's classical music - jazz, thereby transforming it into a universal language.  The Swiss-born reedman and Italian-born pianist have worked with Clark Terry, among others.  Mons, 1995, Playing Time: approx. 70 mins., ***.


Ancestors, Renee Rosnes, piano.  This superior album, comprising five of Rosnes' original compositions and pieces by Alec Wilder, Walt Weiskopf, and Edu Lobo, is a tribute to Rosnes' family and to her Indian heritage.  Rosnes has numerous credits in her career, including a stint in the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and commissions for various works.  Her impeccable piano technique is very formidable, ranging from driving rhythmic accompaniment (Upa Neguinho), to dynamic expressiveness (The Sounds Around the House), to inventive soloing.


Sharing in this spirited outing with Rosnes are drummer Al Foster, saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Peter Washington, and percussionist don Alias.


Highlights include the poignant The Ache of the Absence, written in commemoration of Rosnes' recently deceased adoptive mother, the deft rhythmic phrasing of Ancestors, the harmonized head of Lifewish, and the lush ballad, The Gift.  The playing by everyone here is superb, and Chris Potter is an evocative and monstrous musician of the highest magnitude.  In my opinion, overall, Rosnes is the most talented and creative woman in jazz today - a wonderfully gifted composer and pianist.  She evidently has some humility, too, as evidenced by the fact that she featured all three guest compositions ahead of her own. 


From the first note, this disc just grabbed me and held my attention every measure of the way.  The engineering and fidelity of this recording are also excellent.  Renee Rosnes is a sparkling jewel of a complete musician!  Blue Note, 1996, Playing time: 60:59, *****.


Art & soul, Renee Rosnes, piano.  Canadian Rosnes has steadily made her mark as one of the preeminent progressive pianists on the New York scene. For her sixth EMI-Blue Note release, she has chosen to reinterpret a spectrum of compositions, ranging from works by Ornette Coleman (Blues Connection) and Bela Bartok to the Beatles (a gospel-tinged With a Little Help From My Friends), in addition to two of her own carefully crafted pieces.  Singer Dianne Reeves guests on a hepped-up version of Wayne Shorter's Footprints and on Lazy Afternoon, with mixed results.  Husband Billy Drummond (drums) and Scott Colley (bass) provide the accompaniment.  It's exciting to know that the number of wonderful women instrumentalists (like Renee) is finally increasing in jazz.  EMI, 1999, Playing time: 58:27, ****.


As We Are Now, Renee Rosnes, piano.  Exceptional Canadian pianist-composer Renee Rosnes is, quite simply, one of the great talents on the jazz scene today.  Her last CD, Ancestors, was my choice to share honors with Josh Redman's Freedom in the Groove, as 1996's top jazz album of the year.


Rosnes' group here is a stellar quartet, featuring Chris Potter's evocative saxes again, Christian McBride's stirling bass, and Jack DeJohnette's dynamic drums.


Lush chords, heartfelt expression, and impeccable technique all factor in Renee's accomplished piano-playing.  She also penned six of the album's nine inventive tracks.  This CD is yet another substantial effort from the remarkable Rosnes.  Blue Note, 1997 [to be released in November], Playing Time: 60:07, *****.


Get Here, Dennis Rowland, singer.  What kind of guy wears a white suit with no shirt, no shoes, and no socks?  Dennis Rowland, of course!  (After that photo shoot, I'll bet he had to send those threads to the dry cleaner.)  Is there a new pattern here with the trad jazz labels, or what?  I guess they're just hard up for sexcess.  Obviously, for my own CD, now, I'll have to dredge up that candid naked shot of me posed with a strategically placed guitar.


For fun, let's check out some of the verbal messages on these tracks:

 "Close your eyes and just lean back; I'll give you every move you need," boasts the first track.  Oh, you devilish stud, Dennis!  "Can there be a detour ahead?" asks Dennis on a Herb Ellis tune.  Hey, don't crash and burn, baby.  "When I look at you, it thrills me through and through," Dennis warbles on the next number, a blues.  When I hear rhymes like that, it fills my mind with goo.  "Please don't let nobody let my little girl astray," pleads Dennis in a dedication to Joe Williams.  Yeah, but little does he know that somewhere out there another dual English/animal husbandry major, Paul, is also wooing her, "Paula, I can't wait no more for you."  The solution?  Accentuate the positive, eliminate the double negatives...  "Here I am, I'm waiting, Here I am, a man all alone,"  Dennis breathily intones (in a duet) to Vanessa Rubin.  Vanessa breathily responds, "Here I am, I'm waiting..."  What is this, a bus stop?  So, read the stupid schedule, already; the last bus was at midnight!  ...O.K., now that we've ruled out Metro...  "You can reach me by railway, you can reach me by trailway, you can reach me in an airplane," Dennis croons on Get Here.  Oh yeah, I dig; like, reach out and touch someone.  What is this, a commercial?  How about, reach into a dumpster for this CD, dude.    


All kidding aside, there are also some terrific numbers on this disc: Autumn in New York, Ellington's Don't You Know I Care, Things Have Got to Change (a blues), and Randy Newman's I Think It's Going to Rain Today.  Too bad there weren't more tunes like these.               


Friends, don't get me wrong, now; despite first impressions and a suitcase full of goony lyrics, this guy can really sing - his voice is rich, warm, and moving.  But get some new material, Dennis, please Concord, 1996, Playing Time: 52:52, **.


Now Dig This!, Dennis Rowland, singer.  The last Rowland CD I checked out, Get Here, featured some pretty pathetic tunes.  Thankfully, this time out, he decided to do a vocal tribute to Miles Davis.  [How many Miles tributes have there been in the last five years?]  On this outing, the former Basie band vocalist delivers some smooth, stylized baritone versions of classic tunes associated with Davis, including All Blues, Someday My Prince Will Come, I Could Write a Book, My Ship, and Pfrancing, etc.  While Rowland certainly doesn't scat with the virtuosity of Portland's Nancy King (or even a Mark Murphy), he interprets the tunes on this date with panache. 


Contributing effectively to the mood of this album are muted trumpeters Wallace Roney and Sal Marquez, pianist Joe Sample, tenor saxman Terry Harrington, bassist Chuck Berghofer, and drummer Gregg Field.  All in all, this is a very creditable effort by Rowland.  Concord, 1997, Playing Time: 58:17, ***1/2.


Inner Voyage, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano.  Piano phenom Rubalcaba has made quite a splash in American jazz waters, ever since arriving (via Europe) from a Cuba impoverished by decades of communist rule by dictator Fidel Castro.  He is joined here by compatriot Ignacio Berroa on drums, bassist Jeff Chambers, and tenor saxman Michael Brecker (on two selections) for a mixed set of straightahead jazz, with obvious Afro-Cuban inflections.  At times, the generally Tatumesque Rubalcaba is downright melancholy on the ivories (i.e. Yolanda Anas and Here's that Rainy Day), provocatively daring (The Hard One), and jubilantly bouncing (Caravan).  This CD displays a more reflective and understated side of the virtuoso pianist.  Blue Note, 1999, Playing time: 73:04, ***1/2.




Afro-Cuban Fantasy, Poncho Sanchez, percussion and vocals.  Sanchez's new Latin jazz release opens with the uptempo Ritmo Remo, which resembles the Flintstones theme (over Rhythm changes and both 6/8 and 4/4 meters).  Singer Diane Reeves guests on the next tune, Morning (by Clare Fischer), ballad Darn that Dream, and another Fischer number, samba I Remember Spring.  Sanchez' pianist, David Torres contributes five of the album's lively tracks (e.g. Sambroso), which feature a sparkling Latin rhythm section of Sanchez on congas, Ramon Banda on timbales and traps, and Papo Rodriguez on bongos.  Concord Picante, 1998, Playing time: 66:47, ***1/2.


Latin Soul, Poncho Sanchez, vocals, congas, and percussion.  Poncho Sanchez has a knack for churning out quality recordings, and his new live CD is proof positive.  He has always surrounded himself with first-rate Latin-jazz musicians.  His current band percolates over well-rehearsed charts, and Poncho lays down contagious rhythms on the percussion instruments, besides singing with conviction, too.  Concord, 1999, Playing time: 71:14, ****.


Soul Sauce, Pancho Sanchez, congas and percussion.  Pancho Sanchez has been a longtime stalwart of the Latin jazz scene.  This time out Sanchez has dedicated an entire album to his close friend, the late Cal Tjader.  In addition to the Latin percussion instruments (congas, timbales, bongos, shakers, etc.), Ruben Estrada is prominently featured on vibes.  A treat for those who like salsa grooves and spicy rhythms.  Concord, 1995, Playing Time: 59:28, ***1/2.


Hot House, Arturo Sandoval, trumpet.  King of the Afro-Cuban trumpeters, Arturo Sandoval imparts joie de vivre wherever he goes.  On this all-star date, Sandoval leads a bevy of guests like Michael Brecker, Patti Austin, and Tito Puente.  The Latin rhythms cook, Sandoval's trumpet soars over Hispanic-flavored themes, and the requisite brass section delivers snappy accents and supportive harmonies for the melodies flowing over the tight arrangements.  N2K, 1998, Playing Time: 54:04, ****.


Arturo Sandoval & the Latin Train, Arturo Sandoval, trumpet.  This uptempo disc is a veritable lovefest of Cuban rhthyms: chacha, guajira, son, mambo, danzon, and guaracha.  The material and charts fondly reflect the hot Afro-Cuban sounds of the 1940s and '50s, beginning with a revamped rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's Bebop.  Other selections include I Can't Get Started, six Sandoval compositions, including a dedication to John Coltrane (using the changes to Giant Steps), several nods to Cuban conjunto masters, and guest vocal appearances by Joe Williams and Latin celebrities Celia Cruz, Oscar D'Leon, and Luis Enrique.  Sandoval also plays charmingly on two ballads, Drume Negrita and Waheera.  GRP, 1995, Playing Time: 46:53, ****.


Straight Ahead, Arturo Sandoval/Chucho Valdes Quartet, trumpet and piano.  From the very outset of King Pete's Heart, it is clear that Straight Ahead is exactly as billed; like a funky stew on a red-hot burner, the groove laid down by bassist Ron Matthewson and drummer Martin Drew is hot, the piano sizzles, and Sandoval's trumpet positively scorches during the first solo.  As a deliberate contrast, a moving rendition of My Funny Valentine follows.  Then matters heat up again with Mambo Influenciado, with another ballad, Claudia, next.  Two blues (Blues 88 and Blue Monk) round out the set.  Excellent playing, especially by Sandoval and Valdes.  JACD, 1995, Playing Time: 44:58, ***1/2.


The Best of Diane Schuur, Diane Schuur, vocals.  Seattlite Schuur has enjoyed quite a successful international singing career, from the moment record executives first heard her  -- and with good reason; she knows how to interpret a tune, and she has great pipes, too.  This compilation features Schuur in fine form with a huge cast of stellar musicians, including B.B. King, Tom Scott, Alan Broadbent, Jeff Hamilton, Dave Grusin, Roger Kellaway, John Clayton, Pete Christlieb, Stan Getz, Harvey Mason, the Count Basie Orchestra, Jack Sheldon, and Joe Williams, among others.  Wow!  The CD presents such selections as Try a Little Tenderness, Sunday Kind of Love, Speak Low, New York State of Mind, 'Round Midnight, and Stormy Monday.  GRP, 1997, Playing Time: 55:39, ****.


When Music Calls, Anton Schwartz, tenor sax.  On the surface, Schwartz would appear to be a thirtyish, Bay Area resident and tenor saxophonist in the Josh Redman mold -- except that Schwartz actually preceded Redman in the Harvard University band.  Schwartz's debut disc, When Music Calls, is a proficient, mainstream session recorded in two days in late 1997.  A capable jazz composer, Schwartz penned eight of the CD's ten tracks.  AJ, 1998, Playing time: 61:31,  ***1/2.


A GoGo, John Scofield, guitar.  Cashing in on the current fad for retreaded funk grooves, Sco welcomes funksters Medeski, Martin, and Wood for his latest release.  The grooves here remind one of the late 1960s and early 70's; Booker T. and the MGs, Theme from Shaft, and assorted television detective incidental music come readily to mind.  Over these proceedings, Sco's skanky guitar toys with sounds, lays down chank-a-chank rhythms, and emits twisted, bluesy riffs.  John Medeski's organ swirls, and bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin lay down a solid foundation for Sco's 'fonky' surfing.  Scofield is certainly not a soulful or pretty player, by any means, but he occasionally wanders into some interesting harmonic territory.  At times, he reminds me of a kid who used to enjoy scratching his fingernails on the classroom chalkboard; instead, Scofield does it on the guitar strings (with his pick).  In fact, jazz musicians like Scofield could be the best advertisement for 'smooth jazz.'  At any rate, at least he's developed an individual sound, like it or not.  Verve, 1998, Playing Time: 51:50, **1/2.


Playing with Fire, Bobby Shew, trumpet.  This is an album that took a long time for Shew to get released.  Recorded in 1986, this cookin', straightahead session features the two blazing trumpets and flugelhorns of Bobby Shew and Tom Harrell, the Tyner-influenced piano of virtuoso Kei Akagi (a former bandmate of mine), and the driving rhythm section of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Roy McCurdy. 


The horns blend well together on the charts, as Harrell and Shew complement each other sympathetically.  The six tracks include compositions by Shew, Harrell, and Akagi, as well as a Butch Lacy blues.  Not surprisingly, tasteful trumpet playing abounds.  Mama, 1997, Playing Time: 43:20, ****.     


Beatles on Ivory, Jon Simon, solo piano.  For those who like "smooth jazz," without embellishment or annoying improvisation.  This could be a Nordstrom's gig.  Silver Lining, 1995, Playing Time: 52:56, *1/2.


The Better Half, Jae Sinnett, drums.  In addition to his straightahead drumming, Jae Sinnett is also an accomplished composer who favors odd-time signatures and eclectic musical influences.  His last album, Listen, rose to the top of the Gavin jazz charts.  On his current mainstream offering, Sinnett is joined by the marvelous young saxophonist, Chris Potter, as well as the very capable progressive pianist, Allen Farnham, and rock-solid bassist Terry Burrell.  At times, Sinnett reminds one fondly of Tony Williams, with crisp cymbal work and authoritative rudiments and accents on the tubs.  Coincidentally, Potter wails as lyrically as Wayne Shorter on the disc's more laid-back tracks (e.g. Maria's Waltz and Jody Ellen).  Naturally, there are plenty of propulsive drum solos on this set.  Odd-time signatures include 5/8 (on Benny Golson's Stablemates), 7/4 on Chris Cross, and alternating measures of 3/4 and 4/4 meters on Tony's Hop.  Hip, jazzy rhythms definitely abound, drum fans!  Heart, 1999, Playing Time: 68:21, ****1/2.


Undying Hope, Margaret Slovak, solo guitar.    Margaret Slovak is both a sensitive guitarist and a painter.  She displays a tender, personal touch on the guitar, which translates here in the form of introspective and serene tone poems -- kind of a blend of Ralph Towner (who once taught her) and Windham Hill-style New Age tomes.  The album features a lot of deft, folksy fingerpicking, some nice right-hand tremolo, and tunes which, while sometimes lacking in hummable, thematic melodies, nevertheless evince nuances and interesting transitions.  Although the disc includes mostly original compositions, it also contains nice versions of Bill Evans' Blue In Green, Manha de Carnaval, and a quote from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (Lullaby for Doug).  Slovak Music, 1998, Playing Time: 63:15, ***1/2.


The Master II, Jimmy Smith Trio.  This session captures the Hammond B-3 organ great performing at Osaka's Kirin Plaza with guitarist Kenny Burrell and drummer Jimmie Smith.  Smith does his usual terrific job here, weaving bluesy magic and laying down the hominy grits grooves which are his specialty.  For his part, Burrell delivers very competent solos here.  A highlight is A Child is Born; Burrell's introduction is especially pretty and Smith plays a tremendous solo.  Blue Note, 1994, Playing Time: 43:00, **1/2.


Road Scholars, Spyro Gyra.  For almost 20 years, Spyro Gyra has been one of the most successful instrumental groups, playing a driving, melodic brand of fusion with polish and verve.  Road Scholars is an amalgam of tracks recorded at live concerts on a U.S. tour in 1997. 


Jay Beckenstein's friendly saxophone generally leads the proceedings on the melodies and choruses of the band's set, which features tight, crisp arrangements and tasteful playing throughout -- road scholars, indeed!  Heart of the Night begins by emulating the sound of Miles Davis' electric band (circa Amandla), whereupon Beckenstein's sax takes over the proceedings, followed briefly by some raucous L.A. guitar echoing Carlton, Ritenour, and Ford.  Breakfast at Igor's recalls a funky Weather Report, with its Alphonso Johnson-like bass riffs.   Morning Dance is a Latin-Caribbean mood piece, replete with a steel drum synth patch and acoustic guitar.


Shaker Song starts as a pretty jazz samba, alternating with a straightahead allegro walking bass section.  This tune really cooks, and it demonstrates what marvelous jazz musicians these guys are -- check out some of the McCoy Tyner-style piano riffs!  Shanghai Gumbo begins as a funky, happy jazz song, in a Pat Metheny idiom, whereupon Beckenstein's sax soars over a driving groove.  Atmospheric keyboards introduce Innocent Girl, a tender vehicle for a plaintive soprano sax.  Then Jay and the band get back to a Latin-funk pulse on South American Sojourn. 


Spyro Gyra's success is evidently well-earned -- Road Scholars demonstrates that good studio fusion bands can also be great performing groups, too.  GRP, 1998, Playing Time: 71:49, ****.


Live in Tokyo 1986, Steps Ahead, Michael Brecker, tenor sax and EWI (electronic wind instrument), Mike Mainieri, vibes, Mike Stern, guitar, Daryl Jones, bass, and Steve Smith, drums.  Mike Mainieri's mid-1980's edition of Steps Ahead was perhaps the hottest fusion band of the period.  Mike Stern had just left Miles Davis' group, Michael Brecker had firmly established himself as one of the world's premier modern saxophonists, Daryl Jones and Steve Smith had also played with pop superstars Sting and Journey, and Mike Mainieri's rhythmic vibes playing transcended staid traditions.  Moreover, both Mainieri and Brecker wrote driving, innovative charts for the group.  As luck would have it, though, the players all eventually went their separate ways. 


This disc is a time capsule, then, of the band's electrifying 1986 Japan tour.  Beirut is a Weather Report-styled groove with ominous sounds and Mahavishnu-like riffs from the vibes and EWI.  Oops cooks with a repeated rhythmic figure juxtaposed with Brecker's now-plaintive, now-funky sax ladled over harmonic changes reminiscent of Giant Steps.  A lyrical Mainieri piece, Self Portrait, weaves a delicate spell.  Sumo is a driving, schizoid, polytonal Brecker composition.  Cajun features the unusual sound of midi vibes and Stern's solo, followed next by the ethnic pipes and marimbas of Safari.  Brecker (on his EWI) delivers a startlingly different performance on Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood.  Another Zawinul-like number, Trains, rounds out the Tokyo concert with some inspiring playing from Brecker.  What a shame that this group split up!  NYC 1994, Playing Time: 64:23, ****.   


Telepathy, Bill Stewart, drums.  On his second disc as a leader, Stewart dispenses with standard tunes, for the most part (excepting one Monk motif and a Jackie McLean number); his own compositions lean toward the very progressive, nouveau retro-bop.  Whereas some of his young East Coast contemporaries on Blue Note have been less daring, Stewart leads this quintet (pianist Bill Carrothers, bassist Larry Grenadier, and saxophonists Steve Wilson (alto and soprano) and Seamus Blake (tenor)) on some wild rides, as these energized bunnies cavort along the tributaries of the bop internet (These are They, Mynah, Dwell on This), on a surprisingly wistful five-beat groove (Lyra), to the pulse of fundamental funkiness (Happy Chickens), in quick quirkiness (Fano), and into contemplative quietude (Calm).  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 58:22,  ****.


In Full Swing, Swingline Cubs.  The Cubs have been a Portland fixture for almost two decades.  Taking a cue from the popularity of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and other campy, nouveau retro bands, the band lays down a dozen jumpin' juke-jive tunes on this tight production.  Vocals predominate, with Julianne Johnson, Teddy Deane, Sandin Wilson, Joe Milward, and Marty Higgins all lending their singing talents to the ebullient festivities.  Notable hornmen Paul Mazzio (trumpet) and Jeff Usitalo (trombone) also participate, among other musicians.  Heidy-heidy-ho...  1999, Playing time: 42:37, ***.




Long Play, Tall Jazz with Lee Wuthenow, tenor sax.  Recorded during the course of three sessions before a live studio audience, this lush, softspoken album contains mostly standard tunes.  Featuring the warm and buttery tone of tenor saxophonist Lee Wuthenow, the ensemble's sound here is rich and pleasing, especially the complementary combination of the sax with Mike Horsfall's vibes (who also plays the piano).  Kurt Deutscher's subtle brush and stickwork is balanced well with Dan Presley's bass in the overall mix (by engineer Bob Stark).  My favorite selections included Weaver of Dreams (with a notable vibes solo), Horsfall's From One to Another, Mitch, and Midnight Sun (a delicate Latin delight).  Also, listen to the neat vibe effects on Goodbye!  A great disc to play for a romantic, candlelit dinner for two; it sets a most intimate and relaxed mood.  PHD, 1995, Playing Time: 70:06, *****.


The Crossing, Tom Taylor, guitar.  Tom Taylor is an iconoclast of sorts -- he treads where few other guitarists and jazz composers have strode -- into a confluence of classical, bluegrass, jazz, and world fusion styles.  Compositionally, he reminds me at various times of Frank Zappa, David Grisman (who appears on this disc) and Béla Fleck, and some Hollywood arrangers.  On the guitar, Taylor displays a variety of sounds: traces of Zappa, Vai, Morse, Gambale and other fusion guitarists appear occasionally.  A skilled composer and arranger, Taylor included several string arrangements, including two movements performed by the adventurous Kronos Quartet.  Summit, 1999, Playing Time: 42:35, ***1/2.


Rendezvous, Jacky Terrasson, piano, and Cassandra Wilson, singer.  This well-promoted release features the combined efforts of young piano phenom Jacky Terrasson and the husky, breathy, moaning incantations of sultry Cassandra Wilson (on eight of the eleven selections).  While Wilson's gnarly, growling voice may be an acquired taste for some (e.g. Tennessee Waltz or It Might As Well Be Spring),  she is nevertheless an expressive singer.  Terrasson lends some solid piano work to the proceedings, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico and percussionist Mino Cinelu provide able accompaniment.  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 49:00, **1/2.


Swing Fever, Clark Terry, trumpet, Peewee Claybrook, tenor sax.  At press time, we were just informed about the recent death of Elbert "Peewee" Claybrook, so this CD represents his final recording session - last year (when he was 83).  Terry and Claybrook associated with each other on and off for more than 50 years, going back to their days playing in various swing bands at jazz joints in St. Louis in the late 1930's and early 40's.  Swing Fever is a Bay Area band that has existed for 17 years.  In this traditional setting, the musicians swing admirably and take turns soloing for a few choruses on such standards as 7 Come 11, Isfahan, No Greater Love, and Ellington's Serenade to Sweden.  Gabe, blow your horn...  d'Note, 1995, Playing Time: 53:41, ***.


Where's Your Cup?, Henry Threadgill and Make a Move.   Threadgill's alto sax and flute are joined by Brandon Ross' guitar, Tony Cedras' accordion and harmonium, Stomu Takeishi' electric bass, and J.T. Lewis' drums on this disc, which takes an experimental approach: moody, bass-register accordion grooves, angular, dissonant guitar, driving drums, and Threadgill's raucous, avant woodwinds leading the charge.  Sony, 1997, Playing Time: 66:20, **.


Taking the Hook, Three Form.  Three Form is a Montana trio, comprising M.J. Williams on vocals and trombone, Ann Tappan on piano, and Rob Kohler on acoustic and electric basses.  Drummer Joe Covill makes a guest appearance on this project, the group's second CD.  The group's approach to jazz is distinctively progressive but mellow.


Waltz for Grace is a pretty Abbey Lincoln number.  Williams' vocal reminds one of the great Nancy King, only more wistful.  Taking the Hook is a thankfully brief etude - shades of New Music academia.  The (Not So) Tender Heart is a song expressing very bitter disappointment in friendship (or love). 


Three Form's version of Prelude to a Kiss is mostly true to form.  However, the generally pleasant vocal is noticeably weak on the high notes, and the intonation is suspect at times.  There is also some unnecessary scatting, a la "bum boodoo doo dada do," that detracts from the otherwise fine arrangement.  Quite honestly, I much prefer Brazilian wordless singing (like Milton Nascimento) to vocalese - my own heart craves sincerity in singing.  Otherwise, I'd rather hear an instrumental solo.  What began several generations ago as spontaneous vocal improvisation by jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Dizzie Gillespie has developed into something that sounds like a contrived, self-conscious affectation, I'm afraid.  This is perpetuated and promoted by school vocal jazz ensembles.  Of course, this all depends upon who is doing it, right?   Oh, Ella, my Ella!  [Perhaps this is just a reflection of my own musical preferences.]  Maybe I'm just tired of booboo, doodoo, and dada.  How about "zootsy kibbutzy schwing wocka wocka queequegg?!"  Aspiring scat singers: take a phonetics class, please!  


Bug Show is true to the title - it sounds like annoying insects, reminding me of Ralph Vaughn Williams' The Wasps (or how about Flight of the Bumblebee?).  Graceful is a sweet waltz performed expressively by bassist Kohler.  Covill joins the group on a scat rendition of Chick Corea's classic Tones for Joan's Bones.  Not Quite Yet is a swell tune, with Chick Corea's pianistic influence recognizable in Tappan's playing.  Baby Steps features one of the more interesting things I've heard lately on disc, the oxymoron of a really mellow, growling trombone.  I Got It Bad is one of my favorite songs, and Three Form doesn't let me down here, performing a trad version creditably. 


All in all, these three Northwest musicians play with skill, daring, and grace, and they aren't at all timid about trying their own unique interpretations of jazz standards.  Three Form, 1996, Playing Time: 55:46, ***.


Souled Out, Tower of Power.  This Oakland-based band was a leader in the funk movement of the early '70s (which also featured Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Average White Band, Parliament, and the O'Jays), and the Tower of Power horn section set the standard for syncopated riffs over danceable grooves.  In an attempt to recapture that spirit, Souled Out is strictly a case of déja-vu - a nostalgic trip back to the days of platform shoes, big collars, and synthetic fibers.  Unfortunately, what was "hip" in 1975 sounds passé in 1995.  The horn section still retains leftovers Emilio Castillo and Steve Kupka, but saxman Lenny Pickett and keyboardist Chester Thompson are gone, too.  The album features some soulful vocals and Steely Dan-type harmonies, though, and there are a few notable moments.  Gotta Make a Change has a classic T. of P. groove with some super-funky horn section riffs, Diggin' James Brown sounds just like a number from the "hardest working man in show business," the rhythm guitar flaunts wa-wa pedal and percolator effects on Just Like You, and Undercurrent is an instrumental that is as close as the group comes to playing jazz.  All in all, though, there just isn't much substance here; at least the title represents truth in advertising.  Emilio Castillo and Jeff Lorber produced.  Sony 1995, Playing Time: 50:27, **.


Reality Check, Tribal Tech.  In September, 1995, I caught this electric group live in a concert at Berbati's nightclub in Portland.  Fellow guitarists Dan Balmer and John Stowell were also in attendance, and all of us ended up unabashedly standing, grinning, and hypnotically watching fusion guitarist-composer Scott Henderson take one mind-boggling solo after another.  If you can imagine melding the styles of Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen, John Scofield, and Pat Metheny, you'd still have only the basics of Henderson's molten, melodic musings on the guitar.  Similarly, co-composer Gary Willis is an absolutely phenomenal 5-string electric bassist, Kirk Covington's pulsating drumming brings Billy Cobham to mind, and keyboardist Scott Kinsey is yet another monster player, too.  (Covington is also a rollicking blues-rock singer, as well.)  After listening to two blistering sets, I bought their latest CD from Willis, and took it home for a midnight spin.


Reality Check is the Henderson-Willis band's most diverse and interesting set of instrumentals since their 1991 release, Tribal Tech.  To call these guys the most vital and energetic force in electric fusion today still ends up being an understatement.  Imagine a rockin' Weather Report with a Marshall-amplified guitarist, rather than Wayne Shorter's sax, and you're beginning to approach where Tribal Tech is coming from.    


The album opens with a pristine, Methenyesque Stella by Starlight, which segues into a hyper-amped rocker, Stella by Infrared High Particle Neutron Beam, conjuring up images of heavy metal, Mahavishnu, and Holdsworth along the way.  Nite Club is a funk modal gumbo, spiced with bluesy and rockin' solos.  Speak is a pensive Willis composition that definitely reminds one of Weather Report and of the tragic, electric bass innovator, Jaco Pastorius, who went from meditation-inspired musical exploration to the fast lane of fame and then to excesses that ultimately destroyed him.  Worlds Waiting, a mood piece, comes replete with tasteful volume pedal swells, holdsworthy soloing, and Henderson's own intrinsic jazz-rockin' melodicism. 


Another strutting Weather Report-style groover, Susie's Dingsbums, transmutes into a straight-ahead jam for electric piano, bass, and guitar over Willis' relentless walking bass, then into a rocker, and finally back to the original head.  Exotic percussion, gamelan approximations, and sound effects introduce Jakarta, a different vehicle for Henderson's expressive guitar.  Covington's drums lead into Hole in the Head, a walking bass-propelled number that allows the musicians plenty of room to stretch out, as it undergoes various transitions in tempo and mood.  Keyboardist Kinsey's composition, Foreign Affairs, is a funky groove with Miles Davis overtones, snappy riffs, and modal soloes.  The start-stutter accents of Premonition foretell things to come, with Covington providing appropriate cooking rhythms, Henderson and Kinsey trading off and breaking into unison riffs, and Henderson employing distinctive finger vibrato, de rigueur whammy bar action, and a fluid, sustained tone on his guitar.  The finale, Reality Check, is essentially a short, group rhythmic jam on a neat bass vamp by Willis.  When Tribal Tech improvises, whether live or on disc, it sounds like a cohesive group of modern musicians who are thoroughly comfortable playing with each other.  Mesa Bluemoon 1995, Playing Time: 69:21, ****1/2.   [Also recommended: Tribal Tech, *****, Nomad (Relativity Records), and Face First (Blue Moon).]


Do you have any sugar, Stanley Turrentine, tenor saxophone.  Turrentine has delighted jazz and pop audiences alike for decades with his melodic, soulful, blues-based sound.  For this recording, he recruited a whole crew of musical heavyweights: bassist Ray Brown, pianist Kei Akagi (a Miles Davis and Brewin Band alumnus), pianist Joe Sample, trumpeter Rick Braun, singer Niki Harris, drummer Harvey Mason, and bassist Abe Laboriel, among others.  The fare ranges from pop vocal numbers like Pause to Wonder, to jazz-blues arrangements (Keep on Keepin' on), to laid-back commercial funk (title track).  Some of the hipper, jazz tracks (e.g. Stuff You Gotta Watch, with its accessible, repeating, modulating piano chordal vamp) would sound sweet on "smooth" or college radio.  Stephen Boyd and Chuck Hoover handled most of the project's composing and arranging.  Concord, 1999, Playing time: 61:27, ***.


McCoy Tyner and the Latin All-Stars, McCoy Tyner, piano.  Powerfully percussive pianist McCoy Tyner has long enjoyed the African rhythms inherent in Latin music, beginning when he was a teenager beating on a conga drum.  During his apprenticeship with John Coltrane, Tyner was enabled to delve more deeply into West African and Latin grooves.  Since embarking on a solo career, Tyner has frequently included Latin percussion in his groups and on recording sessions.  Here he leads a troupe of respected jazz artists, including saxophonist Gary Bartz, trombonist Steve Turre, drummer Ignacio Berroa, and trumpeter Claudio Roditi, among others.  The seven compositions selected (and arranged for horns) function mostly as vehicles for extended jamming over modal vamps and intense percussion.  Standards Blue Bossa and Afro Blue are the two charts most familiar to jazz audiences, while the uptempo La Habana Sol absolutely burns.  As always, Tyner's fingers dance masterfully all over the keyboard and weave tasteful tapestries for the other improvisers, as well.  Telarc, 1999, Playing Time: 61:64, ***1/2.




Briyumba Palo Congo, Chucho Valdes, piano.   Along with Arturo Sandoval, Gonzalo Rubacalba, and Paquito D'Rivera, Cuba's Valdes is one of  jazz's finest Afro-Cuban interpreters.  Grounded both in his island's fervent rhythms and the powerful pianistic approach of McCoy Tyner, Valdes is an expressive master of jazz and Latin styles.  Here he does his own take on Juan Tizol's Caravan, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Embraceable You, a rhumba, and paeans to Congolese religious practices.  Bolero is a balmy breeze amidst the fire of this mesmerizing, predominantly frenetic, and pyro-technical set.  Blue Note, 1999, Playing time: 53:43, ***1/2.


Now and Again, Vinny Valentino, guitar, & Here No Evil, with guest artist Gary Bartz, sax.  Valentino, who hails from Arlington, Virginia, is a straightahead player who has put together a very tight and disciplined group, as evidenced by this mixed-bag session of standards and deft Valentino originals.  Monk's I Mean You opens the set; Bartz lends a nice solo to the proceedings.  Valentino's chorused electric hollowbody guitar predominates on the pretty rendition of What a Wonderful World.  Richard Seals' drums propel the Latin groove of Duke Said, while Valentino and pianist Jon Ozment saunter agilely over the top.  Seals' tune, Slingshot, reminds one of the Pat Metheny group, both melodically and rhythmically.  Valentino pays tribute to Miles on a driving Seven Steps to Heaven; Pepe Gonzalez gets a nice woody sound on his walking bass for this crisp allegro number.  His bossa tune, Bike Shop, affords a pleasant change of pace on the disc.  Valentino & co. shift effortlessly from standards like I Remember You to Valentino's own pieces, such as the dynamic Chick.  I'll bet these guys sound great live...  DMP, 1996, Playing Time: 63:44, ****.


Yonder Tree, Gino Vannelli, singer.  This well-produced recording, by the nationally-known, Beaverton-based singer-songwriter, was partially recorded in Portland and features a rhythm section of Randy Porter on piano, Phil Baker on bass, and Graham Lear on drums.  Vannelli is a gifted vocalist and unique songwriter, with some compelling and intelligent lyrics, when his breathy sermons, Kerouac-inspired allusions, and poetic license aren't overdone (i.e. Moon Over Madness - a contemporary MacArthur Park).  Baker (solo), Porter, and Lear give a five-star performance on Fallen in Love.  Other highlights include Vannelli's vocal on None So Beautiful, Porter's intro to Unbearably Blue, and Tom Scott's  saxophone on Jehovah And All That Jazz.  Of special note: Porter's chord voicings and accompaniment are outstanding throughout.  Polygram, 1995, Playing Time: 51:53, ****.


Where We Come From, Vital Information.  This band is composed of veteran, successful musicians: Journey drummer Steve Smith, Santana keyboardist Tom Coster, techno-guitarist Frank Gambale, and bassist Jeff Andrews.  This electric jam set moves along mostly in-the-pocket, backbeat rhythms, with occasional straightahead forays.  Coster sticks mostly to the Hammond B-3, with some accordion and Fender Rhodes thrown in, too.  Gambale is predictably proficient and dry.  Another retro trip into the funky past, with a few modern cranial twists along the ride.  INT, 1998, Playing Time: 77:02, ***1/2.




The Hang, Harvey Wainapel, saxophones and clarinet.  Bay Area resident Wainapel is a seasoned, creative mainstream musician with an evocative, plaintive sound on the higher reeds.  On this latest release, he is joined by redoubtable pianist Kenny Barron, the Grenadier brothers (trumpeter Phil and bassist Larry), and drummer Kenny Wollesen.  The set includes several standards (Beautiful Love, Pinocchio, and CTA), some less familiar pieces, and four original "wine apple" charts, too.  Highlights include The Buzzard (Barron's solo), bossa La Lausanneoise, Choro da Gafieira (a piano-clarinet duet), and Wayne Shorter's energetic Pinocchio.  All in all, this is a spry, solid session.  Spirit Nectar, 1998, Playing time: 69:29, ***1/2.


Ambrosia, The music of Kenny Barron, Harvey Wainapel, saxophone, with the Metropole Orchestra.  From the outset, the liner notes on this CD make a tall pronouncement, "ambrosia - 1. the food of the gods."  Backed by Europe's Metropole Orchestra, Wainapel and associates cover some of Barron's compositions, very competently, I might add.  Wainapel is an expressive and  skillful saxophonist who covers the tenor, alto, and soprano with equal aplomb, as he soloes on each selection.  Jeff Beal's arrangements of Barron charts Anywhere, Ambrosia, Phantoms, Lunacy, and Lullabye are also very good.


The second part of the disc puts a pleasantly Brazilian spin on affairs, as a smaller, contemporary electric group doses out spicy spoonfuls of more Barron charts, Sambao, Belem, Sonia Braga, and If and When.  As before, Wainapel soloes on each of these charming, rhythmic joyrides, including a bossa, samba, etc.  The authentic Brazilian arrangements by Marcos Silva are excellent.  A-Records, 1996, Playing time:  , ****.


Beatitudes, Bobby Watson, alto saxophone, and Curtis Lundy, bass.  This disc is a reissue of a 1983 session, featuring the straightahead sounds of Watson, Watson's longtime associate, bassist Curtis Lundy, a young Mulgrew Miller on piano, and drummer Kenny Washington.  Watson embraces bluesy moans and fast, scalar, bop flurries, while Miller's energetic playing exemplifies the progressive, polytonal tendencies which he would develop even further with time.  Lundy and Washington provide able support throughout.  Seven of the CD's 10 fine selections were penned by Watson.     

Evidence, 1997, Playing Time: 59:16, ****.


The Long Road Home, Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone.  This is a refreshing straightahead outing, with Watts, one of the most expressive tenors in the business, fronting an all-star quartet (sans drums) of pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Mark Whitfield, and bassist Reggie Workman.  Loverman is a convenient vehicle for Whitfield's Bensonish licks and Watts' plaintive tenor.  Carmen Lundy adds some soulful vocals to the blues of At the End of My Rope and Willow Weep for Me.  The hypnotic vamp and progression of All Blues (Miles Davis) provides a launching pad for the derivative River of Light.  The group does a tasteful rendition of Mingus' Porkpie Hat.  Moonlight and Shadows gives Watts ample rein to soar emotively, while title-track Long Road Home is a satisfying walking blues, featuring Barron.  JVC, 1997, Playing Time: 55:29, ****1/2.


8:30, Weather Report: Joe Zawinul, keyboards, Wayne Shorter, saxophones, Jaco Pastorius, bass, Peter Erskine, drums.  This is a digitally remastered CD from the 1979 world tour of this renowned seminal fusion group.   A landmark live recording, this album features twelve selections, including some of the band's most popular tunes: Birdland, Black Market, Teen Town, A Remark You Made, Badia, and Zawinul's In a Silent Way.  Sixteen years after this recording was made, it still sounds fresh; the creative compositions, synergy, melodicism, and musicianship of this band were truly astounding.  Sony 1994, Playing Time: 71:36, *****.


Rhythm of the Soul, Dave Weckl Band, Dave Weckl, drums.  Dave Weckl has been a stellar drummer with Chick Corea's electric and acoustic bands for about a decade, and this CD affords him the opportunity to showcase his talents as a leader.  This set leans mostly toward L.A. electric, feel-good grooves with some of the area's finest players in attendance.  On The Zone, Frank Gambale's  guitar conjures up Holdsworth, Carlton, and Robben Ford textures -- the archetypal L.A. electric guitar sound.  101 Shuffle is a groove for Buzz Feiten to also echo Ford.  Mud Sauce is a down-home blues, reminiscent of the Crusaders (circa 1975), rock crunch guitar cranks up Designer Stubble, with Bob Malach's tenor really wailing, and Someone's Watching is a platform for Steve Tavaglione's soprano sax and Frank Gambale's electric guitar/sitar.  What might have otherwise been a throwaway track, Transition Jam, features Tom Kennedy's Jacoesque electric bass and Weckl's drums, and Rhythm Dance is a percolating groove.  Dig?  Yo, I got to go to my next session...  Stretch Records, 1998, Playing Time: 56:51, ***.


Synergy, Dave Weckl Band.  Drummer Dave Weckl is a veteran of various Chick Corea electric and acoustic ensembles, as well as being an in-demand drummer in Los Angeles.  On his own group releases, he favors driving, electric music, in the company of like-minded musicians: guitarist Buzz Feiten, keyboardist Jay Oliver, bassist Tom Kennedy, and saxophonist Brandon Fields.  The word "synergy" implies that the combination of various elements may actually result in something greater than the simple sum of its constituent entities.  (The synergy of the Beatles is a prime example of this point).  On a parallel note, the Weckl band seems to have found its niche as a cohesive fusion outfit.  The rhythms cook throughout upon bop, funk, and rock grooves and over tight arrangements, Feiten generates some ripping L.A. rock guitar tones (even shades of Eddie Van Halen), Oliver flashes great chops and tasty synth patches, Fields emotes on the saxes and EWI, and Kennedy shows a definite Jaco influence in his solo work.  All in all, the band's best effort, yet.  Keep it up!  The music industry needs more smart fusion (like Weckl, Yellowjackets, Tribal Tech, and Zawinul).  Now, how about some airplay on "smooth" radio for these guys? Stretch, 1999, Playing time: 69:12, ****.


Keep on Steppin', Junior Wells, vocals and harmonica.  Junior Wells is one of the living legends of the blues.  This new release is a "best of" compilation, featuring Wells and such guest artists as Carlos Santana and steel guitarist Sonny Landreth.  For those who are partial to the down-home, gutbucket blues, this is the real thang.  Telarc, 1998, Playing Time: 63:46, ***.


Colors, Kirk Whalum, tenor saxophone.  Whalum blows in the tradition of Grover Washington Jr., Boney James, Dave Koz, and other saxophonists who lean towards simple, happy melodies over smooth, funky grooves.  However, this slickly produced CD also contains some programmed street and party grooves, too.  Before embarking on a successful solo career, Whalum was Whitney Houston's musical director.  Now, he prefers safe sax.  Warner Bros., 1997, Playing Time: 49:42, ***.


7th Avenue Stroll, Mark Whitfield, guitar.  An adept, derivative guitarist in the warm-toned mainstream mold, Whitfield has constructed this record thematically upon various impressions of New York City.  The opening track, Washington Square Thoroughfare, belies the discernible influence of Russell Malone's melodicism, as well as occasional riffs that echo George Benson.  7th Avenue Stroll is a bluesy number that struts its stuff; one can hear shades of Wes, Burrell, and other guitarists in Whitfield's playing here.  Another blues, Businessman's Bounce, sounds like a track right off Blue Benson (an early release by jazz guitar's most dominant role model for contemporary young black guitarists).  It's a crying shame that George Benson doesn't play this way himself very often anymore.  I remember when we used to alternate sets with his trio back in 1971 at Boston's Paul's Mall/Jazz Workshop; those were the days...


Whitfield performs in a number of settings with different musicians this time out.  He and bassist Christian McBride perform a nice duo rendition of Spring in Manhattan, while he teams with pianist Tommy Flanagan on Autumn in New York.  Dave Holland and Al Foster accompany Whitfield on Peter Nero's Sunday in New York.  The set even includes a tribute, Headin to the Wes' Side.  Nicely articulated musicianship over familiar terrain - a disc that jazz guitar aficionadoes will probably appreciate.  Verve, 1995, Playing Time: 66:06, ****.


Yesterdays & Today, Jim Widner Big Band.  Bassist Jim Widner's big band includes alumni from the Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich bands, among them drummer Gary Hobbs.  According to Hobbs, the group performs at jazz festivals, clinics, and camps during the summers around the United States. 


This sure aint no 'little big band'; it's a legit 20-piece Big Band, resounding with fullness throughout the tight mainstream arrangements presented here.  Mainstream big band fans - here's a new disc for you;  just listen to all those luscious horns on Beautiful Love, You Don't Know What Love Is, and ASAP, etc.!  (These guys must be terrific readers.)  CMG, 1995, Playing Time: 66:50, ***1/2.


Young at Heart, Tony Williams Trio, Tony Williams, drums.  Although Tony Williams passed away last year, his music lives on.  This posthumous release clearly demonstrates why he is considered one of jazz's all-time greatest drummers.  Pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Ira Coleman complement Williams well on this mainstream set of standards and Miller compositions.  Selections include On Green Dolphin Street, the Beatles' Fool on the Hill, Body and Soul, and Williams' own Fear Not.  Although this album was recorded in 1996, Columbia has re-released it this year.  Columbia, 1996, Playing time: 69:22, ****1/2.


Anthony Wilson, Anthony Wilson, guitar and arranger.  Jazzman Gerald Wilson's son, Anthony, is a very gifted young arranger and a capable guitarist, too, as this debut disc demonstrates.  Wilson's little big band on this session features trumpeter Carl Saunders and tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb (and Bennie Wallace on one track). 


For the moment, Wilson's snappy band arrangements overshadow his derivative guitar-playing.  Keep an eye on this talented young composer-arranger.  Mama, 1997, Playing Time: 74:04, ***1/2.


Wouldn't It Be Nice, A Jazz Portrait of Brian Wilson.  Probably a lot of us recall dancing to and singing along with Beach Boys' tunes when we were kids.  Well, Blue Note must be banking on the fact that there are a lot of Beach Boys fans out there.  This project features the contributions of a number of popular artists, including the Yellowjackets (God Only Knows), John Abercrombie (Don't Talk), Eliane Elias (Our Sweet Love/Friends), Jeffrey Osborne (Wouldn't It Be Nice), and Larry Carlton (I Just Wasn't Made for These Times).  Additionally, the Clark Burroughs à cappella vocal group performs five of the seventeen Brian Wilson songs presented here.   


This novel CD does have its moments: 'Til I Die (Elements), God Only Knows (Yellowjackets), Elias' solo piano excursion on Our Sweet Love, and the tranquil orchestral arrangement and mellow guitar playing on Don't Talk.  The question arises: is Surfer Girl - no matter how it's performed - jazz?  What looms on the beach blanket horizon for Blue Note - Wipeout and the Surfin' Bird?  Blue Note, 1997, Playing Time: 65:37, *1/2.


New Moon Daughter, Cassandra Wilson, singer.  Judging from the semi-nude cover photo of Wilson from behind, the title of this disc might be someone's idea of a double-entendre.  Or, perhaps Wilson is just mooning us listeners.  In any case, this very popular CD (which was #4 on some jazz-pop consumer charts) is certainly unique.  The folky acoustic backup, replete with a resophonic guitar (an acoustic steel-string with a metal resonating plate on the top), is definitely mellow.  Where else are you ever going to find someone crooning Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark with a pedal steel backup, moaning deeply on Strange Fruit, moaning again on U2's Love is Blindness, intoning a blue chanteuse version of the Monkees' hit Last Train to Clarksville, and mooning over Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry?  Out of this peculiar grouping, ironically, the most compelling and intelligent tracks are Wilson's own sensitive compositions, Solomon Sang, Until, and A Little Warm Death.  What have we here -  a sexier Tracy Chapman for 'straights', or something for Tuck and Patti fans?  I guess when you're a record company with a high-priced talent, and you've got an uneven album to push, a derrière on the cover and a sexy shot inside might just do the trick; gee, I wonder what they're selling us here?!  There were a lot of copies of this disc at the used CD stores; if Wilson's bod and moans turn you on, buy it cheap.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing Time: 61:59, **.


Generations, Steve Wilson, alto and soprano sax, flute.  Wilson is a young mainstream musician whose playing is lyrical, accomplished, and creative.  He has a terrific combo on this straightahead album of mostly Wilson originals; performers include pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Ben Riley.  Whether waxing sentimentally on his soprano (e.g. A Joyful Noise), or raining sheets of Coltrane-like chops (Sisko) on an alto, Wilson demonstrates both mastery of his instruments and mature musicality.  Mulgrew Miller's performance is, as usual, also superb.  Stretch, 1998, Playing time: 63:39, ****.


Portraiture, The Blues Period, Michael Wolff, piano.  Wolff likens this set of mostly standards to a Picasso exhibit of portraits.  Each familiar tune is interpreted according to Wolff's musical vision, just as Picasso painted people.  On Green Dolphin Street, Round Midnight, In a Silent Way, and Goodbye Porkpie Hat all receive a different and personal treatment here.  Kenny Rankin lends his vocal talents to Round Midnight and In a Silent Way.  The other players are John B. Williams (bass), Roy McCurdy (drums), and Ben Rodefer (guitar).  Fuel, 1997, Playing time: 47:54, ***1/2.


The Phil Woods Quintet Plays the Music of Jim McNeely, Phil Woods, alto saxophone.  Straightahead saxman Woods has garnered award after award from some jazz magazines' music critics.  What I've never understood, though, is why a guy who obviously spent so many years woodshedding in order to hone such prodigious chops never took the time to develop a tone any warmer or fuller than that found in most high school band camps; maybe it's just a wimpy reed or mouthpiece, but his alto sound is often annoyingly thin.  By way of contrast, while alto saxophonist David Sanborn's choice of material is dubious sometimes, he's an example of a marvelously emotive musician with an absolutely wonderful tone. 


Anyway, as the album's title indicates, this new disc presents the challenging compositions of Woods' pianist, Jim McNeely.  Woods and trumpeter Brian Lynch are the primary soloists here.  Highlights include Woods' solo on the uptempo Paper Spoons, the horn chart and driving rhythm groove on Hey You (especially Goodwin's drumming), the pensive, impressionistic piano trio piece, New Waltz, and the interesting head on Don't Even Ask (which, in places, echoes some of the phrases found in compositions (e.g. Pinocchio) on one of Miles Davis' standout albums, Nefertiti).       


Woods' latest release has plenty for those who equate pyrotechnics with jazz. 

TCB, 1996, Playing time: 62:40, ***1/2.




It's You or No One, Pete Yellin, alto sax, & His All Star Group.  This disc is basically a mainstream blowing session for Yellin, tenorman Bob Mintzer, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Stephen Scott, drummer Carl Allen, and bassist Dwayne Burno.  The group handles Monk's Dream, Old Folks, and other tunes by noted jazz artists, including two Yellin compositions.  While Yellin's alto tone is a bit thin, he does display some finely articulated chops on his soloes.  Payton's horn improvs sound great throughout, and Mintzer  and Scott have their moments here, too.  Mons, 1995, Playing Time: 61:45, ***.


Blue Hats, Yellowjackets.  On their latest recording, the Yellowjackets have taken a different turn from their usual, carefully formulized, fusion approach.  The nine tracks on Blue Hats evolved out of jazzy, studio jam sessions, which the group members refined into arrangements.  Capetown is a rollicking jam on an up-beat groove, contemplative piano chords and synth string washes introduce With These Hands, which has an interesting mixture of jazz, gospel, and Caribbean drum feels, and Bob Mintzer's melodic, mellow sax shares a soft Prayer for Peace.  The fast, bop unison lines of Statue of Liberty recall Weather Report with Jaco Pastorius, and Mintzer plays the bass clarinet on this tune.  Coal Minor Blues begins with moody piano chords that segue into a moderate, steady swing groove, which forms the foundation upon which pianist Russell Ferrante and Mintzer weave progressive, impressionistic solos.  Savanna alternates driving funk with jazz swing, a synth takes the melody over the backbeat of New Rochelle, and the tenor sax holds sway on Coquimbo and the concluding ballad, Angelina.  Electric bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer William Kennedy lay down terrific rhythms throughout this session.   


Anyone who assumes that fusion bands like the Yellowjackets can't also play great jazz had better check this disc out!  After all, concepts, prejudices and stereotypes were made to be broken.  Warner Bros., 1997, Playing Time: 56:37, *****.


Two by Two/Volume Two, Dave Young, piano-bass duets.  Canadian label Justin Time Records (of Montreal) came up with a really neat concept for this mellow mainstream album - consummate bassist Dave Young (not exactly a household name yet for many jazz enthusiasts) performing a couple of standards with a series of six notable jazz pianists: Ellis Marsalis, Cyrus Chesnut, Oliver Jones, Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, and Renee Rosnes.


On each and every track of this disc, Young delivers a strong, virtuoso performance, whether stating a head, walking, playing a bowed solo, or simply supporting the various pianists.  The digital recording effectively captures the natural resonance and fullness of his acoustic bass. 


Although Young is a master musician in his own right, the juxtaposition of the respective individualized approaches of these pianists makes for especially interesting listening.  While Marsalis is harmonically and texturally involved (with the closed voicings of his left hand on Dolphin Dance), Chesnut delivers bluesy barrelhouse rolls on Make Me a Pallet on the Floor, Jones mixes Tatum stride with modern lines on Bass Blues and adds a Bill Evans flavor to Self Portrait in Three Colors, Kenny Barron burns over the progressive changes of Herbie Hancock's One Finger Snap, Harris delicately introduces his Latin-style composition, Nascimento, and Rosnes demonstates the tasteful use of space in his sparse accompaniment and the art of thematic construction in his playing on the waltz, I'm All Smiles.  


This is both an interesting and rewarding grouping of duets, as well as a delightful, intimate record to play, whether driving in the country or relaxing at home after a stressful day.  In fact, my own appreciation of this CD grew perceptibly with each listening.  Justin Time Records, 1996, Playing time: 69:36, *****.


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Holiday CD Reviews:


I must confess to succumbing to an uncomfortably gooey feeling inside every time I hear a recording of Nat Cole singing a Christmas song.  For those of you who similarly can't help themselves at this time of year, here are a sampling of some holiday jazz discs.  The ratings do not necessarily have anything to do with "jazz," in this holiday section.


Yule Be Swingin', Phil Baker, bass.  While most holiday theme albums tend to get a bit sticky with the corn syrup, this new release by Phil Baker, recorded at pianist Tom Grant's studio, leans toward legit, tasteful mainstream jazz interpretations of Christmas favorites.  Tom joins Phil on this engaging romp through Baker's arrangements, joined by drummer Ron Steen and tenor saxophonist Dave Evans.  Selections include Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, Silent Night, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, etc..  This recording purposely captures the feeling of a live jazz gig, reminding me of one lonely, frosty December night when I walked into a local jazz hangout -- and was immediately warmed by an Irish coffee and the vibrant, sentimental sounds of my musician friends performing jazz holiday renditions.  My family expressed the consensus that this album would be great to play during holiday get-togethers, or while trimming the tree, or when just getting cozy in front of a fireplace on a cold evening.  This is definitely one of the nicer jazz Christmas CDs around.  (It would also be a very appropriate and inexpensive present...)  1999, Playing time: 51:49, ****1/2.


A Dave Brubeck Christmas, Dave Brubeck, piano.  In my life, I've had some interesting associations with members of the Dave Brubeck family; Darius was a college classmate at Wesleyan, Chris and I played some music on a few occasions in Ann Arbor, and I even met my son's mom through the Brubecks, too, one snow-bound holiday night.  Musically and otherwise, I'm partial to the man.


A stridely Jingle Bells opens this solo piano set of mostly holiday standards.  Predictably, Santa Claus comes to town (but in a barrelhouse strut), Joy to the World is a pedal tone processional, a lovely Away in a Manger is appropriately soft and delicate, Winter Wonderland sounds like a classy cocktail lounge, O Little Town of Bethlehem is another tender rendition,  Greensleeves is unusually modern and dissonant (augmented 9ths, etc.), and O Tannenbaum and Silent Night are gems.  By now, you get the idea.  Dave Brubeck is one pianist who has never lost his sensitivity or grace, and this is an intimate holiday album that certainly won't drive you up a wall with repeated listenings.  The set has an overall mood of joyous contemplation.         

Telarc, 1996, Playing time: 56:06, ****.  


White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney, singer.  The first thing that got my attention here was the cute CD jewel case - silver snowflakes sprinkle over a Christmas tree, in an emulation of those little bric-a-bracs that you turn upside down to make it snow.  Although Clooney's voice isn't quite what it used to be, she certainly hasn't lost her ability to interpret a song with charm.  Backed by the Peter Matz Orchestra and the Earl Brown Singers, Clooney and company perform 21 holiday tunes, including The Christmas Song, Let It Snow, I'll Be Home for Christmas, Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, and Silent Night.  An old-fashioned and heartfelt Christmas, indeed.  Concord, 1996, Playing time: 55:10, ***.


Christmas Keys, Mark J., piano and synthesizers.  Mark J. is a Portland musician whose disc is carried by the Made in Oregon stores.  On the standards presented in Christmas Keys, Mr. J.'s relaxed jazz and New Age piano stylings are supported by area stalwarts Phil Baker, Dave Captein, and Mel Brown.  Saxman Renato Caranto, percussionist Brian Davis, and guitarist Chuck Everett also make appearances.  This music is probably a good representation of what you might hear Mark J. playing at one of his holiday gigs in town.  Selections include Deck the Halls, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Auld Lang Syne.  A pleasant, very mellow, seasonal album.  Mark J. Music, 1996, Playing time: 42:31, ***.


Spirit of the Carols, Thom Rotella, guitars and mandolins.  This mostly acoustic solo CD showcases Rotella playing a guitar style which is a mixture of classical, folky, and New Age elements.  The overdubbed set here includes classics like Joy to the World, The First Noel, and Angels We Have Heard on High.  Alto Tierney Sutton makes a guest vocal appearance on Silent Night and on an O Come, All Ye Faithful with elongated phrasing, and Phil Ayling plays recorders on We Three Kings.  Laid-back, with a Windham Hill kind of aura.  Telarc, 1996, Playing time: 42:48, ***.


Christmas time is here, Rhythm & Brass.  Rhythm & Brass is an ensemble that specializes in tight, chamber-like arrangements which feature the assorted horns of Wiff Rudd, Rex Richardson, Alex Shuhan, Mark Kellogg, and Charles Villarrubia, with David Gluck on drums and percussion. 


On this release, the group performs interesting, progressive mainstream charts of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Vince Guaraldi's Christmas Time is Here, a percussion piece (Winter Garden Music), a swinging version of the Overture, Sugar Rum Cherry, and Dance of the Floreadores from Tchaikowsky's Nutcraker Suite, as well as Greensleeves, Joy to the World, O Holy Night, and even a Gregorian Chant (both at the beginning and the end of the CD).  All in all, a much different approach to holiday music from your stereotypical jazz combo.  d'Note, 1995, Playing time: 63:37, ***1/2.


Christmas Songs, a compilation.  This is a compilation of mostly older jazz recordings of holiday themes.  Saxophonist Hank Crawford does a soulful O Holy Night, Bill Evans performs a playful Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Red Garland's Trio delivers a Winter Wonderland, and Joe Pass is a straightahead, unamplified Santa Claus coming to Hollywood.  Other artists here include Anita O'Day, Chet Baker, Tom Harrell, Coleman Hawkins, and Ruth Brown. 


My only serious reservation about this disc: does anybody really want to hear two versions each of The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, all on the same CD?  Slowly I turned, step by step...  Milestone, 1993, Playing time: 54:00, **1/2.


A Concord Jazz Christmas, Volume Two, a compilation.  Another disc loaded with jazz and pop artists, including Maynard Ferguson, Dennis Rowland, Marlena Shaw, Jack McDuff, Gerald Wiggins, Mary Stallings, Mel Torme, among others.  Ferguson's big band struts out a Christmas Medley to begin the proceedings, Rowland dips into the bass range on I'll Be Home for Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer swings in the hands of Rickey Woodward on tenor sax and Cedar Walton on keys, the flute of Ali Ryerson gently swings What Child is This?, Marlena Shaw's Merry Little Christmas recalls many a warm jazz lounge on a cold night, an impression further confirmed by the Hammond B-3 of Jack McDuff and John Hart's guitar riffs on Winter Wonderland.  The list goes on.  Concord, 1996, Playing time: 71:37, ***.


Jazz to the World, a compilation.  This disc features a host of jazz artists performing mostly holiday standards.  Opening with an All Blues bass figure, Herb Alpert's Miles Davis-like tone states the melody of Winter Wonderland over Jeff Lorber's multi-layered keyboards.  Lou Rawls and Dianne Reeves snuggle up with an alcoholic beverage on Baby, It's Cold Outside.  Guitarist Lee Ritenour's Wes-style octaves and Bob James' keyboards adorn a funky James arrangement of Midnight Clear.  Russell Malone's guitar introduces  Diana Krall's husky and stylized Have...your...self...a...mer...ry little Christmas.  Saxman Everette Harp, pianist George Duke, and bassist Stanley Clarke turn O Tannenbaum into a pleasing jazzy ballad.  "Let it Snow-o-o-o-o," intones Michael Franks, backed by Steve Swallow and Carla Bley.


Of special interest, guitarist Steve Khan dedicates his Brazilian Brecker Brothers arrangement of The Christmas Waltz to the memory of its composer - his dad, Sammy Cahn.  In the hands of Cassandra Wilson and her ultra-husky tenor, The Little Drummer Boy becomes a West-African kalimba celebration of "rum, pum, pum, pum"; definitely college radio material.  On I'll Be Home for Christmas, Herbie Hancock and Eliane Elias engage in a marvelous piano duet.  The remainder of the disc highlights a poignant John McLaughlin in Monaco, a bluesy Holly Cole, the swinging vibes of Steps Ahead, the exhilarating Anita Baker accompanied by orchestra, a pensive Chick Corea, Dave Koz's r & b alto saxophone, and Dr. John performing Il est Ne, Le Divin Enfant in a growly bayou patois.  All in all, this is a seasonal disc with a lot of variety and something for everyone in here - whatever one's taste in music might be.  Blue Note, 1995, Playing time: 67:32, ***1/2.



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Music Method Book


Mel Bay Presents Buddy Fite, Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Solos.  Southwest Washington native and resident Buddy Fite was a member of the West Coast music scene for many years.  As a youth, he was strongly affected by the playing of Colorado guitarist Johnny Smith.  Performing in country and western bands as a teen, he gradually adopted a fingerpicking style that enabled him to play bass lines, harmonies, and melodies together.  This Merle Travis-derived picking technique has also been associated with musicians like Nashville legend Chet Atkins.  However, Buddy's playing also incorporated the linear phrasing of mainstream jazz, providing an interesting amalgam.   


Musicians Fite worked with in the past include drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Ray Brown, the Ink Spots, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Mathis.  He also recorded four albums on the Mersey label.  His many admirers have included fellow guitarists Chet Atkins, Joe Pass, and Les Paul.


Mel Bay Publications, the foremost publisher of guitar instructional materials, has released a songbook and accompanying CD which introduce Buddy's guitar style, as demonstrated on seven short original pieces.  Each song in the book is presented in standard music notation, with guitar tablature underneath the respective music staves. 


The tunes and charts are fairly straightforward.  However, since most jazz guitarists are not generally familiar with the country-based fingerstyle technique Buddy employs, the enclosed CD is absolutely invaluable in accurately communicating the appropriate feel and tempo of each piece.


The songbook also includes a most revealing interview with Fite by another accomplished Portland jazz artist, singer Dory Hylton.  Among other things, Buddy expounds on the importance of going within and observing the timeless, internal silence - devoid of any thoughts, in order to experience the "I am" which is at the core of each human being's essence (and the actual source of infinite creativity). 


As I have also previously expressed in other articles, there is only one boundless moment and one undifferentiated energy, which we can individually experience and tap into for inspiration.  However, although we physically exist in the present, our habitual thoughts and daydreams are constantly thrusting us nebulously into the past, the future, or into other mental extrapolations and loops.  Since no object can occupy two spaces at the same time, our own thoughts thereby actually prevent us from experiencing the blissful reality of the eternal present and cast us into the murky, three-dimensional realm of subjective relativity - which is termed "duality of mind."  When we can learn to unburden our minds, and simply exist quietly in the present moment - without mental chatter, analysis, and judgment, then we can begin to become truly conscious and attain the infinite peace of ultimate knowledge - the truth which surpasses all attempts at understanding. 


How does this knowledge relate to music?  As Buddy says, "...If you'd work within your mind, at some point you'll become the listener instead of the player.  Every musician who's been at it long enough knows that at those times the magic goes into the air, and people stop talking and start listening.  Now when the magic happens, don't stop to think about it, because once you start thinking, it quits..."


So, if you want to really play music, learn to listen to the music playing inside you, instead of looking and listening from the outside.  There is a music which literally vibrates within each of us constantly.  Do we give that music our attention, or rather the cacaphony of the external world and our own thoughts?  Inside out, not outside in; that's the path of peace and enlightenment.



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