Where Michael Brecker has crafted his own sound (and cultivated significant influence), brother Randy has established his own style. Its a style not terribly dissimilar to the old Brecker Brothers sound of the seventies. On both trumpet and flugelhorn, Randy is agreeable and maybe even accomplished at cool, warm or hot styles in bop, fusion and especially pop modes. Of course, as a studio musician and extremely active bandmate, hes played with everyone imaginable in styles ranging from rock to jazz and fusion to free ensembles (a complete Brecker brothers discography is frightening to contemplate).
Here, on his first American solo release in at least eight years, Randy Breckers in a familiar Brazilia-light bag. As its dedicated to his father, the albums title is probably as much a play on the words of his dads legacy as it is a (probable) reference to Gil Evans last words to his own son as he was dying: "Take me to the sun." (papa Brecker passed away shortly after the album was completed and is touchingly heard here on a 1945 recording made for Randy when he was two weeks old).
The well-recorded Into The Sun is probably half a step better than most smooth jazz. Breckers style keeps it smooth and easy. But his playing -- a nice combination of the best qualities in both Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard raises the thermometer a bit. Breckers septet here, featuring producer/keyboardist Gil Goldstein and percussionist Café, is aided by David Sanborn (in the Michael role for "The Sleaze Factor") ane highlighted by occasional, yet unobtrusive vocals from Maucha Adnet and a small horn section featuring Bob Mintzer. There are some nice easy-funk breaks (reminiscent of late 70s fusion) during "Into The Sun," "After Love" and "Gray Area." Its on these occasions when Breckers playing really cooks. Gil Goldstein, who, it should go without saying by now, rises to the occasion in several exceptional performances too.
Nice music for those who like easy-going Brazilian fusion jazz but unfortunately inessential.
A good organ summit that could have been great, Bongo Bop more or less unites B-3 legends Lonnie Smith and Reuben Wilson with wunderkind Joey DeFrancesco and a Hammond player unknown to me by the name of Doug Carn (one wonders who forgot to call John Patton). The disc is something of a follow-up to last years Organic Grooves on Hip Bop. Rather than focus on groove tunes, though, the guys try their hand at bop and blues here.
Mostly, its a success. Each of the organ grinders is capable of sustaining interest. But the real magic comes from the other players especially drummer Idris Muhammad. Since theres no bassist (and the footpedaling is mixed way down), this is master funk drummer Muhammads show. Hes brilliant at kicking these guys into a groove and provoking them to say something good. Violinist Michael Urbaniak has a surprising simpatico with the organs on "Uptown Blues." Bone man Josh Roseman and alto player Jorge Sylvester rock on Max Roachs "Raoul" and Roseman really carries Horace Silvers "Enchantment." Papo Pepin is heard here and there on the bongos of the title and clarinetist Bob Franceschini is on board too.
Perhaps this session suggested more than it actually achieves. Itd sure be nice to hear one or two of the B-3 players on this date take on each one of these tunes. Even so, its a nice, easy listen for organ lovers who like a little bop and blues in their fatback. The program: Lonnie Smith is at the helm of "The Lady Sings The Blues" and with Reuben Wilson on "Enchantment;" Joey DeFrancesco on "Bongo Bop," with Reuben Wilson on "Uptown Blues" and with Doug Carn on "Super Jet;" and Doug Carn covers "Raoul," "125th Street Congress" and "Super Jet."
As We Were Saying . . .
This friendly, swinging session is Jimmy, Percy and and Albert "Tootie" Heaths first together since 1983s Brothers and Others on Antilles. On their own, these guys have logged in memorable time with the greatest names in jazz from Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker to Thelonius Monk, Milt Jackson and, in Percys case, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Each is a highly sought-after player (or writer, in Jimmys case) whove survived more than four decades of the jazz life and still have plenty of energy left to swing.
Since their music together is ageless, As We Were Saying... seems to pick up effortlessly right where they left off in 1983. Guests include pianists Sir Roland Hanna and Stanley Cowell (Cowell chaired the piano on all previous Heath Brothers recordings), Mark Elf, whos not as interesting on guitar as Tony Purrone and Slide Hampton (trombone) and Jon Faddis (trumpet) on three tracks.
As expected, not a single track is a dud. Standouts include the Basie blues of Percys "Daves Haze," the funky groove of the brothers' "South Filthy" and Alberts outstanding "For Sevens Sake" (which catches Cowell on kalimba and reminds one of the drummers fascinating, little-known 1969 album Kawaida). The playing is always one step above expectation and is best on the three nicely chosen covers: Jimmy Dorseys "Im Glad There Is You," Fats Navarros "Nostalgia" (featuring Percys lovely bass) and Ellington/Strayhorns "Daydream" (featuring Jimmys soprano).
Skip Stanley Crouchs windy liner notes. As We Were Saying... is certainly worth hearing. It shames many of the young lions whose rebop and modal xeroxing have earned millions. The Heath Brothers, who were there at the beginning, are still far more interesting and have much more to say.
Let's Stay Together
Between 1966 and 1978, producer Sonny Lester recorded around 30 of organist Jimmy McGriffs albums for the Solid State, Groove Merchant and LRC labels. During this productive period, McGriff recorded blues and ballads with small groups, swing jazz with all-star big bands, organ battles with Groove Holmes and funky disco outings with various electronic keyboards. Lester has kept this music available on CD through his LRC label known for its below-budget prices, cheesy cover art and hodge-podge selections. For whatever reason, musician credits are almost always missing, scant or inaccurate and recording dates are hopelessly left out too.
Lets Stay Together, on the other hand, is a facsimile of one of Jimmy's old Groove Merchant LPs -- in all its a 32 ˝-minute glory. Reissued by a company Ive never heard of called Beast Retro, this lost McGriff episode combines four tracks recorded by a 1972 septet ("Lets Stay Together," "Tiki", "Theme From Shaft" and "Whats Going On") with three tracks from a 1966 trio featuring guitarist Thornell Schwartz ("Old Grand Dad," "Georgia On My Mind" and "April In Paris"). The original cover art is all there, along with writer and musician credits. Even the sound reproduction puts LRC to shame.
The music, unfortunately, isnt terribly memorable. But the R&B covers benefit by McGriffs outstanding blues touch. The funky "Tiki" and the deep blues of "Old Grand Dad" (the only originals) make this McGriff an album worth every dollar. Although nothing surprising happens, McGriff fans will want to pick up on this cut-out classic.
McGriff fans may also want to note that the German budget label LaserLight has recently reissued two of the organist's Sonny Lester productions: Funkiest Little Band In The Land (a funk compilation which features "Tiki" from Let's Stay Together), and Tribute To Count Basie, a facsimilie reissue of McGriff's brash 1966 all-star big-band album, Jimmy McGriff and The Big Band, featuring arranger/conductor Manny Albam.
Simply gorgeous. This beautiful, if not altogether outstanding, piano trio-and-orchestra recording is a natural for the romantic pianist, Marian McPartland. Heroes like Bill Evans, George Shearing, Nat King Cole and Ahmad Jamal have all recorded with similar success in these situations and many probably already know the mastery of Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin in this territory too.
Silent Pool is surely one of the best examples of how well integrated a jazz trio can become with a symphony orchestra. The success is due to both McPartland, known to millions through her popular NPR radio show, Piano Jazz, and the arranger/conductor Alan Broadbent, who is an outstanding jazz pianist in his own right (and, currently, a significant musical presence for Nat King Coles daughter, Natalie). Another ingredient to Silent Pools success is that McPartland, rather than choosing overwrought and dingy standards, utilized all of her own material.
Much of this material is quite honestly breathtaking. Those approaching Ms. McPartland for the first time will be even more surprised at the beauty within these 60 minutes of lovely music. The pianist has performed many of these songs throughout her career from "Strangers In A Dream," which she first did with her late husband, corenetist Jimmy McPartland in the fifties to such improvisations from her radio show as "For Dizzy." The best of McPartlands material reveals subtle, yet dramatic, turns of phrase from Broadbents orchestra. Theyre especially successful on the seasonally evocative "Twilight World," "Ambiance," "Threnody" (featuring bassist Andy Simpkins) and "A Delicate Balance."
It is, perhaps, no overstatement when liner notes writer Richard M. Sudhalter quotes Broadbents claim that McPartlands compositions "have truly classical qualities." Such qualities tend, inevitably, toward the romantic but (surprisingly) never let loose any sappy queues or dramatic gestures. The solo performance of "Melancholy Mood" is a nice surprise too; an unabashed gem on an album filled with diamonds.
One cant help but marvel at how familiar and warm Ms. McPartlands music seems. Hers is a voice one does not easily tire of (though the romantic mood of the music may outlast your mood to endure such loveliness). Even so, theres no question that Silent Pool is one of the best and most enjoyable new releases of 1997 and, quite simply, one of Marian McPartlands greatest recordings.
Back when Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone was attending Berklee, he was Gary Burton's prodigy and a frighteningly promising improvisor. Ozone has an unusual ability to suggest odd traits of past masters the muscularity of Ahmad Jamal, the happy romanticism of Bill Evans, the simplicity of the intricate Joanne Brackeen and, at times, the classic panache of Chick Corea and weave them into a personable style.
Somewhere along the way, even though all these traits are still evident, he lost his ability to dazzle. He was recorded in Gary Burton's band -- Real Life Hits (1984) and Whiz Kids (1986) -- then recorded two moderately interesting albums for Columbia. He kind of disappeared from America for a while, releasing a series of discs for CBS / Sony and Verve in Japan, then finally resurfacing stateside on a duet disc with Gary Burton (Face to Face 1994). While he never really went away, The Trio is his first in the U.S. since 1985's After.
All in all, it's a nice, straight-ahead date that celebrates the simpatico between the 36-year-old pianist and his aggressively attuned partners: Kiyoshi Kitagwawa on bass and American Clarence Penn on drums (drummer with Cyrus Chestnut and David Sanchez). This is a beautifully integrated trio, and one of which Ozone is very proud (he says so in his notes). Kitagwawa, in particular, spurs Ozone to marvelous heights. The rapport between these two is reminiscent of other piano / bass partners of the past: Ahmad Jamal with Israel Crosby, Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro (or Eddie Gomez), Joanne Brackeen with Clint Houston (or Eddie Gomez) and Chick Corea with John Patitucci (or, ah, Eddie Gomez too). Welcome guest John Scofield adds his individual flourishes to three numbers -- and Ozone pays him the complement of crafting melodies that are very much in the guitarist's strong compositional style ("Lazy Uncle," "Home" and "Stinger").
Unfortunately, as good as it is, The Trio isn't quite as memorable as it could have been. Ozone has an astute way of holding your attention while he expounds and explores. But, like much of his recordings before, when The Trio is finished, so has its impact. Despite crafting a refreshingly original program free of Monk renditions and Cole Porter variations, Ozone's compositions little more than sketches brought to life with exceptional interaction probably don't rate a full program. One can only hope this talented and intuitive group gets a hold of stronger material next time around.
Titles: "The Beginning," "Lazy Uncle"-1, "Fairy Dance," "Esperanza," "Home"-1, "Tea For Three," "Stinger"-1, "My Old Book," "A Happy Cat," "Boon-Cha-Cha.(60:04)"
Personnel: Makoto Ozone (piano); Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass); Clarence Penn (drums); John Scofield-1 (guitar).
A better title for U.K. organist / keyboardist James Taylor's fourth disc might be "recreation". That goes for reincarnation and pure fun too. The giveaway is in the cover photo's pun of the famous shot from the 1966 mod film, Blow Up (itself highlighting some of Herbie Hancock's earliest dope jazz).
Creation is pure flashback. But while it apes past styles, Taylor has eschewed the late 60s lounge funk he trafficked in the past for an exceptionally entertaining 53 minutes of party music drenched in 70s styles -- from cop-show funk and disco to fusion and (gasp) even British art rock. One hears the influence of 1974-era Shirley Scott ("Selectivity"), ELP and Iron Butterfly ("Creation"), Brian Auger ("Staying Active"), the Greg Rollie organics of "Don't Let Money Be Your God," the Blaxploitation soundtrack fluff of "A Far Away Land" and the dance jazz / disco of "Check It Out." The best of Taylor's originals focus on his organ-guitar-bass-drums-percussion combination (yes, the Quartet seems to be a quintet). But at times, as in his Austin Powers theme (probably his best known work in the US), he adds a sax and trumpet to the mix.
What makes Creation one of Taylor's best, though, is the covers of Tom Scott's kicking "Starsky and Hutch" theme (which features former JB and P-Funk man Fred Wesley on bone) and Lalo Schifrin's neglected, trippy "Dirty Harry" theme. These tunes hold up surprisingly well as solid dance numbers but a lot of thirtysomething TV-totallers will party down memory lane hearing these classics again.
Creation, and James Taylor's whole bag, is reminiscent of what groups like Odell Brown and the Organizers were doing back in the 60s -- soulful interpretations of catchy, familiar styles and themes. Some like it, some don't. The tunes are varied and the talent involved kick out the jams with interesting (if riff-y) improvisational skills. But this is party music - interesting, fun and worth returning to.
Titles: The Theme from 'Starsky and Hutch"-1, "Selectivity"-2, "Creation," "Fanfare for a 3rd millennium)," "Staying Active," "Man of Mystery"-2, "Theme from 'Dirty Harry'"-2, 3, "Summer Fantasy"-2, "Don't Let Money Be Your God," "Road Rage"-2, "Check It Out"-2, "Grass Is Not Greener"-4, "The Theme From 'A Far Away Land'"-2, "Austin's Theme"--2 (53:55).
Personnel: J. Taylor (organ); D. Taylor, S. Booth--1 (guitar); G. Crockett, E. McKown--1 (bass); N. Robinson, H. Srih--1 (drums); R. horns--1 (brass); D. Ellis--1 (tenor sax); J. Willmott--2 (sax/flute); R. Gaskins--4 (sax); D. Glover (trumpet)-2 (except "Check It Out"); Fred Wesley--1 (trombone); M. Ravelico (percussion); N. Sawhney--3 (tablas).