Every once in a great while, the stars align and the muse visit a recording studio to smile beneficently on the musicians assembled there. How else to account for the ineffable chemistry that infuses the best jazz albums? Well the muses were working overtime when vibraphonist Gary Burton arranged the first recording encounter between Chick Corea and guitarist Pat Metheny and recruited an impeccable rhythm section staffed by bassist Dave Holland and drum legend Roy Haynes. Like Minds, the resulting album, ranks among these musicians best work, with the kind of soul-deep communication that is often expected but so rarely occurs on all star sessions.
From the time the self-taught teenager Gary Burton (b. January 23, 1943) burst onto the jazz scene as part of Hank Garlands 1960 quartet, he has almost immediately set about making an impact. His RCA debut, New Vibe Man In Town, followed in 1961 as well as a featured role in George Shearings very popular quintet. By 1964, hed taken a two-year stint as part of Stan Getzs pianoless quartet. Burton already caught audiences attention with his astounding three and four-mallet technique. In 1966, after seven albums of his own, he successfully fused elements of jazz and country for the remarkable, still substantial Tennessee Firebird.
But it was his next album, Duster (1967), that is often credited as being one of the first jazz albums to successfully embrace the emerging "rock" sound. Unlike the sugary "pop" sounds that watered down many jazz albums of the time, Duster gave birth to what later became "fusion" and combined Burton with guitar whiz Larry Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow and drum legend Roy Haynes. Burton closed out the 1960s with a string of equally influential albums: Duster, Lofty Fake Anagram, A Genuine Tong Funeral and Country Roads and Other Places.
Switching to Atlantic Records in 1969, Burton further explored the soulful side of rock the label was becoming known for as well as collaborations with violinist Stephane Grappelly and pianist Keith Jarrett. He also won a Grammy award for his solo album, Alone At Last (1971). That same year, Burton joined the faculty of the Berklee College of Music, where he became professor, then dean of curriculum and, today, Executive Vice President of the influential musical finishing school.
He has been an avid educator who has taught several generations of jazz pioneers, from John Scofield and Pat Metheny to Tiger Okoshi and Makato Ozone. Burton has also remained an avid jazz explorer as well, recording in a variety of situations throughout the years.
His 1972 ECM debut with Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, remains a classic of explorative, creative music. Burton followed this with more than a dozen albums over the following decade and a half, from duet recordings with bassist Steve Swallow and guitarist Ralph Towner, to his influential mid 70s quintet featuring guitar wunderkind Pat Metheny. In ensuing years, he has also been successfully paired with pianist Ahmad Jamal, tango king Astor Piazolla and even such non-jazz artists as K.D. Lang and Richard Stoltzman.
Leonard Feather once said of Burton that he explores "challenging material that is extremely contemporary, without yielding to the excesses of the avant garde or the pursuit of the rock dollar." Nowhere is that more true than on, Like Minds, Gary Burtons third album for Concord Jazz.
Its a beauty and a real treat to hear these chameleonic musicians interact so intuitively. The group covers two Burton tunes ("Like Minds," "Country Roads"), three superior Pat Metheny songs ("Question and Answer," "Elucidation," "For A Thousand Years"), three Chick Corea numbers ("Windows," "Futures," "Straight Up and Down") and George Gershwins "Soon." Among such creative individualists, there is surprisingly more deference than domination at work. No one overshadows anyone else, but all seem to work hard together to bring out the best in whoever carries the lead.
Certainly, it is tempting to follow the sounds of the soloist (in this case, most often, Burton, Metheny and Corea). The guitarist and the pianist, in particular, are making some of their most satisfying sounds in quite a few years here. But just listen to whats happening in the rhythm section! Considering the diversity in their careers, its a bit of a shock to hear how ideally suited Holland and Haynes are to one another. And the comping of the other three excels to a new high for jazz in the last decade of the twentieth century.
The music overall, is interestingly studied, but just as remarkable in how much enjoyment it provides. Each track has highlights to share. Those that stand out in particular include Methenys loping "Question and Answer" (prominently featuring Burton and Corea), Coreas bouncy "Windows" (spotlighting Metheny and some nice keyboard work by the writer), Coreas feature for Burton, "Futures," Burtons bluesy visit back to "Country Roads," and Coreas typically challenging "Straight Up and Down."
Profound and playful, sophisticated and emotionally direct, the music truly is the reflection of five highly distinctive personalities collaborating without ego and with complete confidence in each other. As the year comes to a close, Like Minds stands as one of the nicest contributions to jazz in 1998, a perfect melding of musicians and material.
You Are Here
Guitarist Steve Khan and keyboardist Rob Mounsey first recorded together on Khans 1979 LP, Arrows (Columbia), then collaborated in 1987 on Local Colors (Denon). Individually, they logged in loads of studio time with Chaka Khan, Billy Joel, Carly Simon and Madonna and worked together again with Donald Fagan and on several Steely Dan records. Since then, Khan has developed into a strong improviser, turning out several worthwhile solo efforts like the recent Got My Mental (Evidence) and Mounsey, whose debut record was issued in 1964, records infrequently with his Flying Monkey Orchestra.
This 1998 reunion finds the pair exploring contemporary fusion moods spiced with the exotica of Brazilian and Latin climes. Mounseys imaginatively orchestral keyboards often set the pace (percussionist Marc Quinones is also added on five of the eight tracks). But You Are Here is clearly a showcase for Khans fine work on steel and nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. Hes well featured on the pairs "Peanut Soup" and his own "Anhelante." Other highlights include the funky "Clafouti" and the Latinate "Platanos Maduros."
It becomes distracting when Mounsey tends toward sandy-beach kaleidoscopes similar to Lyle Mays. The overall effect, especially on "Fazendeiro," "Pallbearers" and "Viajar Y Viajar" then becomes very Pat Metheny like. But these two, like Metheny and Mays or Bob James and Earl Klugh, seem to have quite an appealing chemistry, which makes the well-produced You Are Here an often worthwhile contemporary fusion disc.
Players: Steve Khan: acoustic guitars; Rob Mounsey: keyboards, voice, percussion; Marc Quinones: timbales, congas, bongos.
Songs: Clafouti; Fazendeiro; Platanos Maduros; Still Life With Mockingbird; Peanut Soup; Pallbearers; Viajar Y Viajar; Anhelante.
Charlie Brown's Holiday
This nice little holiday gift is easily confused with the popular soundtrack to the 1964 TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. But dont be fooled. Nine of the 14 tracks included here are culled from the 15 Peanuts holiday specials Vince Guaraldi scored before his untimely death at age 47 in 1976 and have never been released on disc before.
Some will even startle Vince Guaraldi fans. The lovely, melodic waltzes you can hum along to are all here. But its surprising to hear Tom Harrells trumpet take the lead on "Joe Cool," or the electric piano Guaraldi glides through on "Heartburn Waltz" or Eddie Durans jazzy guitar lead on "Track Meet."
There are other special treats, though, and all place Guaraldis piano out in front where it belongs. These include the lovely trio version of the "Charlie Brown Theme" (which is not the popular theme titled "Linus and Lucy," also included here), "Charlies Blues," "Great Pumpkin Waltz," and "Thanksgiving Theme" (featuring Guaraldi comping on electric piano and leading on acoustic piano).
At 37 minutes, its a little too brief, even with five familiar songs from A Boy Named Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas. But fans of Vince Guaraldi, (surprisingly) an unofficial member the Grateful Dead whose "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" is one of the all-time great jazz songs, will be pleased nonetheless. Both jazz lovers and casual listeners can enjoy this timeless music.
Players: Vince Guaraldi: piano, electric piano; Eddie Duran, John Gray: guitar; Seward McCain, Pat Firth, Monty Budwig, Fred Marshall: bass; Glen Cronkite, Lee Charlton, John Pompeo, Jerry Granelli, Mike Clark, Colin Bailey: drums; Bill Fitch: congas; Benny Velarde: timbales; Tom Harrell, John Copolla, Frank Snow, Emanuel Klein: trumpet; Chuck Bennett: trombone; childrens chorus.
Songs: Joe Cool; Surfin Snoopy Heartburn Waltz; Track Meet; Camptown Races; Oh, Good Grief (vocal); Charlie Brown Theme; Schroeder; Charlies Blues; Great Pumpkin Waltz; Thanksgiving Theme; Linus and Lucy; Christmas Time Is Here (vocal); Christmas Time Is Here (instrumental).
Danilo Perez (b. 1966) is probably one of the most original young mainstream jazz pianists around. As he mixes his dominant Panamanian heritage with strong bebop influences, he has developed into one of the most unique, exciting pianists on the scene. Hes gigged with Dizzy, Paquito DRivera, Tom Harrell and, most interestingly, young firebrand saxist David Sanchez. Plus, hes recorded four superb discs under his own name, including his previous and sensational Panamonk (Impulse), 1996s best jazz moment.
Central Avenue continues Danilos Perezs intriguing jazz journey. Hes sparring with Latin concepts and bebop modes. But he doesnt allow himself to get locked into such extremes as the overwhelming appeal of salsa or the moribund retro-fit of decomposing jazz standards, as so many young lions are want to do. He mixes both equal affection and manages to say something interesting and memorable.
Perez dresses his sound well too in an ideal trio featuring bassist John Patitucci and drummers Jeff Ballard or Jeff "Tain" Watts (percussionists are also added on three tracks). He also alternates exceptionally well-devised originals ("Blues for the Saints," "Impromptu" and "Rhythm in Blue Suite") with originally arranged standards like "Lush Life" and John Coltranes "Impressions." At times he suggests a humoresque Monk, or a serious George Shearing and his flights into exotica are even reminiscent of Airto ("Panama Blues") and the straight-up Bob James ("Cosa Linda").
But no matter how you get there, Central Avenue is a good place to check out and, again, Danilo Perez concocts one of the years strongest releases.
Players: Danilo Perez: piano; John Patitucci: bass; Jeff Ballard, Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums; Ray Spiegel: tabla; Pernell Saturnino: congas, guiro, clave, shekere, okonkula; Miguel Anga Diaz: okonkula, iya, itotele; Aquiles Baez: cuatro; Raul Vital, Luciana Souza: vocals.
Songs: Blues for the Saints; Impromptu (Conversations); Lush Life; Rhythm in Blue Suite (Playground/Sideways/Love in 5); Impressions; Cosa Linda; Panama Blues.
Half Moon Bay
Its hard to believe pianist Bill Evans (1929-1980) has been gone nearly as many years as his interesting recording career lasted. In that time, Evanss influence has become one of the most pervasive of twentieth century pianists and he endures as one of the most distinctive of jazz practitioners.
In addition to the many known and famed recordings Evans made, many more that were taped privately or never issued are now beginning to become available. Half Moon Bay is one such previously unavailable recording that catches the Evans trio live at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, an intimate living-room style club in Half Moon Bay, California, on November 4, 1973.
On this beautiful and welcome occasion, Evans is heard in the familiar long-time company of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell. Clearly the trio is relaxed and enjoying themselves and, as the notes declare, "playing beyond themselves." Theyre introspective and intuitive by nature. But here they seem to revel in this warm, inviting atmosphere and explore each others music beautifully together.
The disc begins with a more playful than usual version of Evanss well-known "Waltz for Debby," and displays that ever-evolving Evans essence on expert renditions of "Very Early," "Autumn Leaves," "Quiet Now," "Who Can I Turn To" and "Someday My Price Will Come."
A special treat here is the trios cover of Earl Zanders (writer of "Elsa," included here and "How My Heart Sings, which is not here) "Sareen Jurer," a song Evans didnt seem to record elsewhere and a prominent showcase for bassist Gomezs entrancing bowed solo. Gomez is, in fact, prominently featured throughout, taking marvelous solos on "Autmns Leaves" and "Who Can I Turn To" too.
Well recorded and produced, Half Moon Bay is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Bill Evans catalog and presents a compelling argument for the notability of this trio, featuring bassist Eddie Gomez, as one of the pianists three best. Recommended.
Songs: Introductions; Waltz For Debby; Sareen Jurer; Very Early; Autmn Leaves; What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life; Quiet Now; Who Can I Turn To; Elsa; Someday My Prince Will Come.
Players: Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Marty Morell: drums.
At first its hard to tell if Piano Player is a quickie compilation or a never-issued recording. But its a bit of both. Its a hodgepodge, really, consisting of eight never-before released songs enhanced by the Miles Davis quartets 1958 performance of "My Funny Valentine" and two of five tracks from vibist Dave Pikes excellent 1962 quartet record Pikes Peak (which, like Herbie Manns Nirvana, also featuring Evans, should be released in its entirety).
What makes Piano Player worthwhile and valuable, though, is the never-before released Evans moments. Most of this recently-discovered music hasnt even been catalogued in any of the discographies yet. First, theres an alternate take of George Russells firey 1957 classic, "All About Rosie," featuring Bill Evans in a surprisingly heated solo. Then theres a 1971 trio outtake from The Bill Evans Album.
Best of all, Piano Player includes six superb selections from November 1971 featuring Evans on both acoustic and electric piano and Eddie Gomez on upright and electric bass. These instructive and intriguing pieces are beautiful tone poems, with two introspective masters who knew each other well (hear their appealing chemistry in a trio on the recently issued, previously unavailable Half Moon Bay).
Moments that are especially rewarding include Eddie Gomezs deft and subtle electric bass work on "Morning Glory," the way Evans builds a rhythm section as he alternates between electric and acoustic piano as he quite literally deconstructs John Lewiss "Django," the lively "Comrade Conrad" and Eddie Gomezs fleet, rhythmic interdependence on "T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune)" and the original two-way communication in the sprite waltz of "Gone With The Wind."
As a whole, Piano Player jumps from time periods and groupings more erratically than a typical Bill Evans listener would expect or appreciate. But eight of these songs offer required and rewarding -- listening for fans of the pianist. The remaining three selections are not readily available elsewhere either. Therefore, for now, Piano Player makes for essential Bill Evans listening.
Songs: All About Rosie (3rd Section); My Funny Valentine; Vierd Blues; Besame Mucho; Morning Glory; Django; Waltz for Debby; T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune); Comrade Conrad; Gone With The Wind; Fun Ride.
Players: Bill Evans (piano) with the George Russell Orchestra, the Miles Davis Quartet, the Dave Pike Quartet, Eddie Gomez (acoustic and electric bass) and in a trio with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Marty Morell (drums).
Solid! is an aptly-titled tribute to Prestige Records, one year shy of its 50th anniversary. The music focuses squarely on the loose, swinging bebop the label made famous in the mid to late 1950s, when big names like Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane "headlined" sessions.
Most of the nine tracks are well-known parts of Prestiges heritage, and benefit by the tight-knit communication of the rhythm section, known elsewhere as the Keystone Trio (which recorded last years fine Sonny Rollins tribute, Nekwlear Music). Young tenor player Eric Alexander (b. 1968) was an excellent choice to carry most of the horn-driven leads. He suggests a summit of Dexter Gordon and George Coleman, while very clearly adding a complimentary edge and passion thats all his own. Jim Rotondi adds a welcome trumpet counterpart on Jackie McLeans "Little Melonae" and John Coltranes emerging standard, "Straight Street" and vibisit Joe Locke jams with the trio on Mal Waldrons "Fire Waltz."
Curiously, of the participating musicians it is drummer Idris Muhammad who actually has participated in Prestiges tradition. But none of the "soul jazz" he contributed to during the late 1960s and early 1970s is represented here.
That aside, Solid! makes for fine, if unspectacular, bebop listening. While it has none of the fireworks (or the firebrands) that made the originals so compelling, it is certainly worthy music that is realized by people who know and love it thoroughly and present it well in contemporary contexts. Maybe Solid! is only the first of a series of tributes to represent the diversity of the great Prestige label throughout the last half century. In that case, its a good start.
Songs: Solid; Little Melonae; Theme for Ernie; Fire Waltz; Four; The Star-Crossed Lovers; My Conception; Light Blue; Straight Street.
Players: Eric Alexander: tenor sax; John Hicks: piano; George Mraz: bass; Idris Muhammad: drums; Jim Rotondi: trumpet on "Little Meonae" and "Straight Street;" Joe Locke: vibraphone on "Fire Waltz."
Sweet Georgia Peach
Sweet Georgia Peach is one of 1998s most compelling mainstream jazz releases. Guitarist Russell Malone (b. 1963), known better for his sideman roles with Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick, Brandford Marsalis, Diana Krall and Mose Allison, has produced quite a fine jazz document here, in only his third effort as a leader.
Hes a musician of many gifts, who never seems consciously influenced by any particular guitarist or even a direct musical style. Indirectly, he can suggest the moodswings of Larry Coryell. But such a declaration subjugates the quality of Malones individual conceptions.
Here, Malone is captured in an all-star quartet featuring pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Lewis Nash. For a studio ensemble, this one is a tight unit that works quite well together. The bulk of the music consists of Malones originals. Hes a fine, notable composer with a gift for burying the implicit technique of his ideas under the genuine appeal of his melodies.
Check out the intriguing mid-tempo "To Benny Golson," the Larry Coryell like "Mugshot" (with an exceptionally spirited solo from Barron) and the funky "Freedom Jazz Dance" groove of the intricately-paced title track (with another great feature for Barron). The waltz he wrote for his son, "Song for Darius," offers another memorable melody and yet another expert showcase for Barrons piano artistry.
Malones playing stands out especially on the covers he performs, most especially on the evocative "Someones Rocking My Dreamboat" and the wonderful piano-guitar duo of Monks "Bright Mississippi." Whats most surprising, though, is how Malone rethinks two late 1970s hits. Hear how he stretches Herb Alperts disco trash, "Rise," into a compelling mid-tempo ballad. Then listen to his sincere reconsideration of the Billy Preston/Syreeta hit "With You Im Born Again" (to my knowledge, the only other jazz cover of this was Eric Gales in 1980). "Born Again" is preceded by Malones "Strange Little Smile" a terrific lullaby, like his solo rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" that suggests Malone has developed quite a niche specialty.
Sweet Georgia Peach offers truly enjoyable traditional jazz and provides provocative evidence of Russell Malones emerging talents. Recommended.
Songs: Mugshot; To Benny Golson; Strange Little Smile/With You Im Born Again; Sweet Georgia Peach; Rise; Mean What You Say; Song For Darius; Bright Mississippi; Someones Rocking My Dreamboat; For Toddlers Only; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Players: Russell Malone: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Kenny Barron: piano; Lewis Nash: drums; Steve Kroon: percussion on "Mugshot" and "Rise."