Since GRP Records inherited the historic Impulse! catalog from its mutual parent company, MCA, in the early 90s, it has reversed years of shoddy issues and reissues with the love and respect due a legacy once called "the new wave of jazz."
GRP started off right by hiring veteran producer, historian and all-around jazz messiah Michael Cuscuna to bring this important music to the CD generation. Cuscuna, in addition to producing new jazz recordings, running his own label (Mosaic) and supervising the American and Japanese jazz-reissue programs of both the Blue Note and Columbia catalogs, has single-handedly restored the glamour and class Impulse! strived toward and, more important, has brought back much of the music which made Impulse! such a significant force in jazz during the 1960s.
All the discs covered here were recently issued or re-issued by Impulse! with crystal-clear 20-bit mastering technology, in beautiful tri-fold "digipak" cardboard packets featuring picture-packed booklets with original notes and subsequent information (when applicable). Much of this music is priceless and worth owning. And these new issues, endowed with an artistic and financial commitment by the good folks at Impulse!, return a lot of the joy and excitement of purchasing and listening to good jazz.
Sonny Stitt (1924-82) was afforded many, many opportunities to record in a variety of settings throughout his career. But Salt and Pepper is a clear stand out. This release pairs the marvelous September 5, 1963, session of the same name (Impulse A(S)52) with a non-Gonsalves Stitt recording from June 10, 1963, titled Now (Impulse A(S)43). The five tracks of Salt and Pepper find the two tenor players dueling in top form (though Stitts on alto for "Stardust"). And its fascinating to hear Stitt, who was often teamed with Gene Ammons for tenor duels like this, and his Bird calls sparring with Gonsalves always distinctive Ellingtonia. The two tenors are accompanied by a first-flight rhythm section featuring the always resplendent Hank Jones on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Osie Johnson on drums. They battle out such standards as "Sposin," "Perdido" and the remarkable "Stardust" as well as the unusual choice of "Theme from Lord of the Flies." But the sparks fly best on the leaders blues anthem, "Salt and Pepper," (one hopes the title has more to do with the musical spices the two conjure than the more obvious "Ebony and Ivory" association). A truly marvelous and swinging session. The disc is rounded out with the eight tracks of Now, a solid if unremarkable album. Since the group was more or less the same (less Gonsalves and Al Lucas in for Milt Hinton), its naturally paired with the more exciting Stitt/Gonsalves session. But, on the whole, Salt and Pepper is recommended to Stitts bop fans and, most especially, those enamored of the glorious sound of Paul Gonsalves. (First time on American CD. Features eight bonus tracks.)
Gabor Szabos 1967-68 quintet, featuring classically-trained guitarist Jimmy Stewart, was one of the iconoclastic guitarists very best units. Live performances like this, recorded April 14 and 15, 1967, at Bostons Jazz Workshop, document some of the exciting interplay the group stirred during its brief existence. The quintets constants were the two guitarists, Szabos childhood friend from Hungary, bassist Louis Kabok, and percussionist Hal Gordon. The drummers chair, here filled by Marty Morell, was bound to be different every night; filled at various times by West Coasters Jim Keltner, Bill Goodwin, Dick Berk and others. The Sorcerer reveals how successfully the group was combining jazz with rock (the utterly lightweight "The Beat Goes On" and the Hendrix-like "Space"), bossa nova (Little Boat" and "Corcovado") and exotica ("Mizrab"). The two guitarists are able to create and envelope listeners in just about any mood they explore. It is most apparent in the way they ignite the standards, "People" and "What Is This Thing Called Love." This reissue is fleshed out with three excellent tracks from the same concert that were originally included on the LP More Sorcery (Impulse A(S)9167) -- the hypnotic "Los Matadoros," the potent "People" and the effervescent "Corcovado." Until Impulse! gets around to releasing the guitarists superior Spellbinder on CD, The Sorcerer is one of the best introductions to one of the most outstanding and unique guitarists to have emerged during the 1960s. (Features three bonus tracks not included on the 1989 CD release).
The daunting historic status of Nelson's 1961 album, Blues and the Abstract Truth, cause many to devalue and ignore this outstanding 1964 session. Unlike the earlier record, Nelson's distinctive sax work is not heard here. But his painterly talents for sharp composition and evocative arrangements set the stage for these ten blues-based performances. The two strongest pieces, the intricate "Blues and the Abstract Truth" and the hard-swinging "One for Bob," are Nelson originals and both feature wonderful contributions from pianist Roger Kellaway, alto player Phil Woods and baritone player Pepper Adams. Nelson offers distinctive arrangements to the two Dave Brubeck themes from the Mr. Broadway TV show they worked on together as well as Johnny Hodges' "Blues O'Mighty" (featuring Thad Jones), Neal Hefti's "Midnight Blue" (featuring Ben Webster) and Count Basie's easy rocking "Going To Chicago Blues" (featuring bassist Richard Davis). More Blues and the Abstract Truth was recorded at the end of that period in the early 60s when orchestral jazz flourished in the New York and LA studios -- and right before Nelson fled to the more affluent halls of Hollywood, where his work became brassier and less subtle. Although Nelson's sax is missed here, the strong collection of material and the outstanding musicians who contribute make More Blues and the Abstract Truth a worthwhile listen. (Features two bonus tracks).
Coltrane, magnificent as ever during this 5/28/66 performance, is unfortunately thwarted throughout this surprisingly mild program by Pharoah Sanderss cackles and screeches and the seemingly disinterested entanglements of a quartet featuring Alice Coltrane on piano, holdover Jimmy Garrison on bass, Rashied Ali on drums and Emanuel Rahim on percussion. Two familiar Coltrane staples ("Naima" and "My Favorite Things") are explored at length. But it seems too often that everyone is just doing their own thing; floundering within their own preconceived notions. Even Coltrane must have been bored by these songs at this point. Many admire this disc and every note Coltrane blew is worth hearing. But Live at The Village Vanguard Again doesnt have the exciting and amazing invention of the 1961 Vanguard recordings of the Coltrane quartet with Eric Dolphy (finally due to be released this fall as a five-disc set by Impulse!). (First time on American CD.)
John Coltrane was recorded prolifically during 1965, and this album (recorded over four sessions in Feb., March and May 1965) bridges the gap between the solemn explorations of A Love Supreme and the more atonal explorations of Ascension. Plays, as it has come to be known, originally featured a popular childrens tune ("Chim Chim Cheree" with Coltrane on soprano), a standard ("Nature Boy," a 1948 Nat King Cole hit) and two excellent Coltrane originals, "Brazilia" (which sounds like 63-era Coltrane) and "Song of Praise" (one of many beautiful spiritual tunes he spun out that year). This disc adds the relaxed "Feeling Good," originally released in the 70s on a compilation album of the same name, and two versions of "Nature Boy." Second bassist Art Davis, whos hardly second string, is intriguingly added on "Feeling Good" and the two studio versions of "Nature Boy." Theres a curious conciliatory appeal about Plays that is similar to Ballads; an opportunity to reach farther out without letting go of his musical past (and old fans). Coltrane, despite an acute musical sensitivity, is clearly dancing outside the modes here. But his classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones keeps the music from getting too stratospheric. What becomes interesting, though, is comparing the various versions of "Nature Boy." From the Indian chant of the first version to the stirring hypnotic atonality of the live version, the evolution of Coltranes inventions are nothing short of stunning. This newly reissued disc, always considered something of a transition in Coltranes career, is now very much a microcosm of the tenor giants musical artistry. The John Coltrane Quartet Plays has something of value for everyone and is most heartily recommended. (Features three bonus tracks).
A true gem and one of the great jazz records of all time, Coltrane is a model of modal jazz. Recorded at various times during 1962, this record is the first to feature studio performances by Coltrane's classic quartet featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Something about the evocative Pete Turner photograph on the cover indicates the promise Coltrane fulfills inside. This is passionate, soulful music that is easy to like and, quite often, entrancing too. Coltrane and company start with a fiery version of Johnny Mercer's "Out of This World" that is unlike any other version before or since. This 14-minute modal workout is the album's highlight and one of Coltrane's all-time great performances (Tyner's too). Mal Waldron's oft-played "Soul Eyes" gets its most defining performance here in Coltrane's lullaby-like reading. Coltrane returns to soprano for "The Inch Worm," an annoying tune which, nevertheless, the quartet invests with a sincere conviction. Coltrane then explores two memorable originals; "Tunji," an evocative mood piece that suggests Indian influence, and "Miles' Mode," a throwback to some of the glorious bandstanding Coltrane did as part of the Davis quintet in 1958. Both bonus tracks are Coltrane originals -- and tremendous additions too. "Up Against The Wall" (originally released on the record Impressions) is an excellent piano-less blues that would sound right at home on Coltrane Plays The Blues (Atlantic). And "Big Nick" (originally released on the compilation The Definitive Jazz Scene Vol. One) returns Coltrane to the soprano for a corny melody line, but hearty, invigorating solos from both Tyner and the tenor legend. This was influential music that remains filled with wonder and excitement nearly four decades later. Essential listening. (First time on American CD. Features two bonus tracks).
McCoy Tyners Impulse! recordings dont have the high-level reputation of his Blue Notes from the late 60s and Milestones from the early 70s. Thats a shame, because he made some great music while a solo artist at Impulse! Records. Perhaps at the time it was perceived that Coltrane drove Tyner harder than he drove himself and the pianists reputation and originality werent truly acknowledged until after the saxophonists death in 1967. Either way, this December 1964 recording, obviously made at producer Bob Thieles suggestion, is a most pleasant surprise. Recorded only a few days before Tyners participation on A Love Supreme, Tyner tackles the well-known Ellington catalog with a great deal of flair, appreciation and genuine joy. The pianist is accompanied here by Coltrane bandmates Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and on four songs, by Latin percussionists Willie Rodriguez and Johnny Pacheco. Even during the war-horses, Tyner manages to express something insightful: "Dukes Place" (only non-Bob Thiele productions still list this as "C Jam Blues"), "Caravan," "Satin Doll," "It Dont Mean A Thing" and "I Got It Bad" are all more exciting than one might expect at this point. What he does with "It Dont Mean A Thing" is worth the price of the disc alone: it is one of the muscular variations hed pull off so brilliantly and effortlessly for Coltrane on "My Favorite Things" and "Summertime." Tyners impressions of Ellingtons lesser known tunes are also quite notable: "Searchin," "Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool" and "Gypsy Without a Song." McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington is certainly not as substantial as anything this trio recorded with Coltrane but recommended nonetheless for its light, effervescent take on classic, familiar material. (Features two bonus tracks not included on the the 1989 CD release).
Archie Shepps first solo record was this superior Coltrane tribute from August 10, 1964 (several months before Shepps participation in a still-unreleased version of "A Love Supreme" and less than a year before Ascension). Annotator Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) correctly notes that Shepp is such an original who, despite the "emotional allegiance" he feels toward Coltranes music (and patronage), does not simply spit Coltrane back at the listener, like so many of todays ungainly amount of tributes often tend to do. Shepp has assembled an outstanding sextet of unique improvisers to interpret this music: John Tchicai on alto, Alan Shorter (Waynes brother) on trumpet, Roswell Rudd on trombone, Reggie Workman on bass and Charles Moffett on drums. Together they explore Coltranes now well-known "Syeedas Song Flute," "Mr. Syms," "Cousin Mary," and "Naima" as well as the Shepp tune "Rufus." Shepps beautiful tenor growl (which faded by the mid 70s) is much in evidence here and his musical ideas are often quite exciting. Its easy to hear how much he enjoys playing these tunes in this format. Perhaps because of the familiarity of the material, this is the most accessible Shepp got in the 60s. Plus, its one of his most cohesive musical statements. His later Impulse releases (he recorded for the label until 1972), almost all of which are worth hearing, tended to be eccentric collections with moments of erratic brilliance sandwiched in between clumsy tunes or off-beat ideas. Four For Trane, which the originally released record indicated was produced by Coltrane and Bob Thiele meaning it was probably produced solely by Coltrane (Thiele alone is credited as producer in the CD), is by all accounts, a winner. (First time on American CD.)
Tyners debut as a soloist is this solid trio recording featuring Art Davis on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Tyner was recorded here at Rudy Van Gelders studio on January 10 and 11, 1962, just two months after the historic Live at the Village Vanguard sessions and two months before the Coltrane record. And its precisely what youd hope for and expect from this melodic and powerful pianist. Inception mixes two standards ("There Is No Greater Love" and "Speak Low") with four Tyner originals ("Inception," "Blues for Gwen," "Sunset" and the enduring "Effendi"). Its a swinging session, with Tyners fluid and flexible lines much in evidence. His powerful (and identifiable) left-hand lines dont kick in much here and that means its up to his quick-witted right-hand technique. Davis is allowed ample space to show his musical gifts on the upright bass. Whether bowing or plucking at the strings, hes always graceful and insightful and his neat, compact lines truly enhance the proceedings. Jones, whos never sounded less than incredible, is sensitive to the machinations of the trio and fuels Tyner more than drives the music. "Blues for Gwen," especially, highlights much of what made Tyners contributions to My Favorite Things and Coltrane Plays The Blues (both on Atlantic) so memorable. Recommended to piano-trio fans and listeners who want to single out one of the more significant joys of Coltranes famed quartet. (First issued as two-fer CD in 1989 that also featured Nights of Ballads and Blues.)
If the albums title suggests anything, and its a mostly accurate summary, it is the image of your typical lounge piano trio. Upon listening to the evidence, thats pretty accurate too. Recorded on March 4, 1963, between John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse) and several of the tracks that ended up on the Dear Old Stockholm CD, Nights of Ballads and Blues finds Tyner in a sort of lounge-lizard mood. Hes dragged down in this effort by former Coltrane colleagues Steve Davis on bass and Pittsburgher Lex Humphries on drums. Neither is willing to challenge Tyner during the 39-minute program that includes such overworked war-horses as "Satin Doll," "Well Be Together Again," "Round Midnight," "For Heavens Sake," "Star Eyes," "Blue Monk" and "Days of Wine and Roses." The one exception, however, is the lone Tyner original, "Groove Waltz." This is a great tune buried on an otherwise useless record. Tyner generates some sinewy blues juice and funky, clever lines with his right hand, while his left hand very subtly suggests an entire rhythm section. "Groove Waltz" is a true joy; one worth repeated listens. Its a shame the rest of the disc is utterly forgettable. (First issued as a two-fer CD in 1989 that also featured Inception.)
Perhaps the title was nothing more than a play on Quincy Jones name, but it fits none the less. This is, as Michael Cuscuna notes inside, quintessential Quincy Jones. Recorded in November and December 1961, this record taps Jones' talents as an arranger and orchestrator at a time when he was unbelievably busy writing and arranging for everyone from Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey to Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee. The Quintessence features superior, swinging material (including Jones' now-standard "For Lena and Lennie," named for the famed couple who contribute the wacky liner notes) fashioned for such outstanding, distinctive soloists as Phil Woods ("Quintessence"), Oliver Nelson ("Robot Portrait"), Curtis Fuller ("Straight No Chaser") and Thad Jones and Freddie Hubbard ("Hard Sock Dance"). Arrangements, as evident elsewhere in Jones' orchestral work, tend toward counterpoint: brasses state the melody to set up a distinctive reed solo, or vice versa. But brass is the flavor Q likes best (after all, he began his jazz career as a trumpeter). From the vantage point of nearly forty years of retrospect, it's clear where famed arrangers such as Oliver Nelson and Lalo Schifrin (both of whom worked in Jones' orchestras) got some of their ideas. Even Henry Mancini, clearly a more talented writer, was listening closely to what Quincy Jones was coming up with. From here, Q left to head up A & R at Mercury Records (where he quickly became VP) and began working in film. He'd make a series of excellent, though more commercially viable orchestral jazz records while at Mercury. But one could easily argue that this 'quintessential' recording has never been subsequently bettered by Quincy Jones. Excellent orchestral jazz. (Features the original cover art of the Impulse A(S)11 issue).
This is the second of Sonny Rollins' four records for Impulse! and the first of three very interesting studio dates he made for the label between 1965 and 1966. This July 8, 1965, session finds the tenor giant heading up a terrifically complimentary rhythm section with Ray Bryant on piano, Walter Booker on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. On Impulse is an excellent collection of standards and non-originals that benefits greatly by it's leader's always-unique approach. Instead of concentrating on the melodies of a song, Rollins uses his unique embouchure throughout to coax stunning rhythmic variations in the music. "On Green Dolphin Street," most significantly, has a mood that so many reverential variations often lack. It's sort of a 'Stan Getz cool' meets 'Coleman Hawkins hot' -- without ever sacrificing Rollins' deep, emotional personality. The calypso of "Hold 'Em Joe" is a natural for the man who introduced "St. Thomas" into the jazz vocabulary. It's filled with a joy and a swing that is Rollins' stock and trade. What's even more notable is the unique way Rollins grasps a ballad ("Everything Happens To Me"), knocks out the blues ("Blue Room") and tears through bop ("Three Little Words"). On Impulse is great jazz and one of tenor giant Sonny Rollins' best.
The score to Lewis Gilbert's 1966 film about handsome, aging playboy Michael Caine is the first (and last) to benefit from Sonny Rollins' music. Alfie is a marvelous, swinging set of six provocatively sensual themes that finds Rollins teamed with arranger Oliver Nelson in a nonet featuring outstanding contributions from the leader, guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Roger Kellaway and bassist Walter Booker. Nelson's arrangements are spare and serve only to accent the interplay of the tenor player and his dynamic rhythm section.The now familiar theme launches Burrell into his cool 60s groove (totally right for the film), then gives Roger Kellaway a great lounge-lizard solo that leads into Rollins' undeniably sensual cooing. Both Burrell and Kellaway are heard to similar effect in "Transition Theme for Minor Blues" and Phil Woods' alto is nicely and suggestively contrasted to Rollins' tenor on the pretty "He's Younger Than You Are." "On Impulse," is a nicely scored waltz that bears reference to Rollins' previous album -- but sets a nice relaxed mood that hints at other contradictions. The theme, true to many soundtracks, is incorporated and repeated several times throughout the disc -- but never obtrusively. Alfie is one of the few true jazz soundtracks of the 60s and remains, today, terrific music on its own merit. Especially recommended to fans of Oliver Nelson and Kenny Burrell.
Creed Taylor initiated the Impulse! label in November 1960 with this set of 11 brief, swinging, easy-going tunes. The two trombones, paired with great popularity throughout the 50s and again for Creed Taylor on CTI in the late 60s, are accompanied here by Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers or Tommy Williams on bass and Roy Haynes or Arthur Taylor on drums. Kai and J.J. are front and center here, with Windings silky smooth burnish "chasing" or complimenting Johnsons beefier and more aggressive lines. Oddly, though, these two often shine brightest when muted; sparking some exciting invention and clever by-play. Though the musicianship is without peer, and that is due in no small amount to the core sophistication and swing of the Evans-Chambers-Haynes/Taylor units, the choice of so many popular tunes gives the disc a background-music feel not unlike one of those old Trombones Unlimited records. Two exceptions of note are, of course, originals: Johnsons rollicking "Trixie" and Windings hard-bop exotica, "Going, Going, Gong" (featuring Art Taylor on gong ). Evans is heard primarily as an accompanist (to excellent effect on "Georgia on my Mind," "Side by Side" and "Blue Monk"), poking nicely in and out in the background and only briefly as a soloist ("This Could Be The Start of Something Big," "Theme from Picnic," "Just for a Thrill" and Johnsons "Judy" and "Trixie"). Creed Taylors clean production (which has always been about the clearest, most precise in the business) sounds terrific remastered through 20-bit technology and makes this 37-year old disc sound as if it was recorded just the other day. Essential listening for trombone-jazz enthusiasts; nice to hear for all others. (Features the original cover art of the Impulse A(S)1 issue).
Ahmad Jamals third of five excellent Impulse! recordings between 1969 and 1972 finds the pianist in a conservative transitional period. He was recorded at Argo /Cadet from 1955 through 1968 in trio, with orchestras and even vocal choirs. Subsequently, hed explore more popular material and electronic sounds on the 20th Century Fox records made throughout the balance of the 1970s. The Awakening, from February 1970, is, like his other Impulse! sessions, one of those classic trio sessions that stands out as among the pianists best. Featuring Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums, The Awakening is highlighted by two superb Jamal covers in Oliver Nelsons "Stolen Moments" and Antonio Carlos Jobims "Wave." The pianists trademark simplicity pays tribute to these oft-covered tunes like nothing youve ever heard. Jamal, like Chopin (to these ears), can simplify and beautify the most complex and demanding pieces imaginable while losing none of the emotional or compositional complexity. He beautifully integrates his right and left-hand playing, and never once betrays a tendency toward barrel-housing in either. This leads nay-sayers to conclude he is simply nothing greater than a 'lounge pianist.' But its that beauty (evident on his Tatem-esque approach to Herbie Hancocks "Dolphin Dance" or his Debusey-like handling of "I Love Music") that deserves further aural exploration. Jamals is a sound to be savoured. Other compositions of note here include Jamals "The Awakening" and "Patterns," both which explore now-familiar (and wonderful) Jamal territory of alternating mood, tempo, rhythm and a delicious sense of spacing. Those familiar with Jamals famed live recordings of the 50s (at the Pershing and the Spotlight clubs) and the recently-issued gems on Atlantic and Verve (Live in Paris '92, The Essence and the newly-issued Big Byrd) will most heartily devour this beautiful music. Highly recommended. (Features the original cover art of the Impulse AS9194 issue).
Alice Coltrane is, like Yoko Ono was, too unjustly maligned. On piano or organ, shes highly contemplative and methodical. As a harpist, shes deeply spiritual and surprisingly often sensual. Her music tells stories like jazz mantras. Ignoring her allusions of devotion to the once-hip Swami, Journey in Satchidananda is a marvelous expedition into a sort of ethereal jazz. Her ideas often spring from modal forms, but envelope Indian, Asian and African influences. To tag it today, one might think of it as modal world-beat or even psychedelic new age. "Journey in Satchidananda" starts the disc with Alices lovely harp as bassist Cecil McBee works an "Africa" like ostinato. Drummer Rashied Ali is noticeably propulsive in a hushed kind of way throughout the disc and most of the music nicely benefits by the subtle tamboura of Tulsi and percussive additions of Majid Shabazz. "Stopover Bombay" is a short, twisted blues launched from Alices appropriately jangled piano noodles. "Shiva-Loka" recalls the modal simplicity of John Coltranes "Tunji" with Alice on harp and Sanders preaching poetically on soprano sax. For the record, Sanders has rarely sounded so perfectly suited to his environments as he does here and elsewhere in Alice Coltranes units. To evidence, check out last years excellent CD release, Ptah the El Dahoud (1970) or A Monastic Trio (just released on Japanese CD) and Cosmic Music (both 1968). Sanders shines brightest on the discs centerpiece, the straight-jazz of "Something About John Coltrane." Exploring the beauty of "Lonnies Lament," Alice pays McCoy Tyner his due and Sanders, for all his Coltrane tributes since then, has never given thanks more beautifully to his inspiration and musical benefactor. Journey in Satchidananda, recorded in 1970 and first released on CD in 1989, is highly recommended. One can only hope Alice Coltrane, who hasnt recorded since 1977, will return to music again soon.
Swing's the thing here and Further Definitions is a knock-out of a swinger. This music, which has the same quality of the best of the 30s dance bands (think Fletcher Henderson, for whom Carter once arranged), had to have sounded out of date when it was recorded in November 1961. But there's no faulting the sharp, clever and fun-filled arrangements Carter provides for the incredible talent heard on this joyous session: Phil Woods, Charlie Rouse, John Collins, Dick Katz, Jimmy Garrison and Jo Jones. Most significantly, Further Definitions reunites Carter (who at 90 is still swinging!) with Coleman Hawkins, who recorded with Django Reinhardt in 1937 two of the songs also featured here: "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Crazy Rhythm." This wonderful music brought Carter back into the jazz spotlight after years in film, television and arranging for others. He'd just left a gig arranging for Count Basie, and, to these ears, Further Definitions sounds closest to Basie in spirit. But Carter's lovely alto pervades these tunes -- whether charging the lead or trading fours with the warm tenor of Coleman Hawkins. Also included here is a fab version of Ellington's "Cotton Tail," the Hawkins staple, "Body and Soul," and Carter's first-rate compositions, "Blue Star" and "Doozy." This edition of Further Dimensions even adds the entire contents of Carter's under-appreciated March 1966 Impulse! record, Additions to Further Definitions. Even though there's absolutely nothing wrong or sub-par about this record, it just can't compare to the 1961 session. By 1966, even Basie and Ellington were performing pop tunes or jazz suites. Carter, who did all the arrangements here too, features more of his own compositions this time around, with an updated version of "Doozy" and a superb cover of "Fantastic, That's You" (was every artist at Impulse! in 1966 forced to record this song?). The 1966 date features West Coast cats like Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Teddy Edwards, Barney Kessel and Ray Brown -- all of whom swing hard and warm like the East Coasters who made the 1961 session famous. It's great to bring these two sessions together -- and a highly recommended choice for some great jazz listening. Refreshingly timeless. (Features eight bonus tracks that comprised the original issue of Additions to Further Definitions).
Fortunately, the Yellowjackets and Blue Hats in particular prove that slick, contemporary jazz can be accessible and creative, interesting music too. More often than not, this quartet, featuring the wonderful Russell Ferrante on piano and synths, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Bob "Big-Band" Mintzer on reeds and William Kennedy on drums, makes radio-friendly instrumental music that stands up surprisingly well as thoughtful, interactive jazz. While Blue Hats is this listeners first experience with the Yellowjackets (formed back in 1981 by guitarist Robben Ford), it is a most pleasant experience. It is a terrific group enterprise, with the many contributions of pianist Ferrante a clear standout.
Ferrantes "Statue of Liberty" successfully works the "Freedom Jazz Dance" groove finding Mintzer dancing hot on bass clarinet and Ferrante in an inspired bit of Keith Jarrett standards-trio mode (ever wonder how David Murray on a quiet day and the lately-restrained Jarrett might sound together?). "Coal Minor Blues" (good title another from Ferrante) finds the pianist in a more Tyner-esque mode; inspiring Fortune smiles out of Mintzer. The tracks which find Ferrantes tasteful use of synthesizer in the background ("Savanna," "New Rochelle," where Mintzer sounds like Pat Metheny (!) on EWI, and "Coquimbo") to these ears, force Mintzer and company to explore Sadao Watanabe terrain (when Dave Grusin was the point man).
The real charmer here, though, is found on the first track; the fusionistic "Capetown." Although its Mintzer whos center stage here, its the infrequently backgrounded Ferrante who makes this track a real treat. His Dave Grusin-meets-Dollar Brand rendering provides "Capetown" with terrific musical comments: quick Gospel fills, sensitive comping and Grusins knack for spit-clean riffs. The group excels again on "With These Hands" (Mintzer suggesting Ernie Watts here) and on the ballad "Prayer for Peace," a soft, mellow groove that invites popular attention.
One annoyance, however: too many of the tunes on Blue Hats fade into silence. This suggests pop recording more than jazz performances. Even if this is the case, the Jackets are clearly above this crap. It denigrates their creativity. Producer Matt Pierson, an accomplished producer who has recently recorded some notable jazz for Warner Bros. (Joshua Redman, Bob James), should know better. What we really need is to have the Yellowjackets recorded live. But, for the time being, Blue Hats offers some nice moments worth checking out.