Horace Silver
(Blue Note)

The hugeness of Horace Silver’s musical legacy remains unforgivably unavailable. Blue Note Records, to which the pianist and composer gave outlet to his vast and historically significant discography over a full quarter century, is easily to blame for such inexcusable oversight. This four-disc collection, however, attempts to amass Silver’s significance in one fell swoop. Designed as it is for deep pockets, it’s a bit too much. Still, Silver deserves far more.

Retrospective spans the amazing period of time Silver spent with Blue Note between 1952 and 1980. As such, it is as much a retrospective of the label as it is a significant reflection of jazz over the middle part of the 20th century.

Representing music from about 17 of Silver’s three dozen Blue Notes, the finest musicians in the history of jazz and some of their best recorded work, Retrospective ultimately celebrates one of the best writers and pianists in jazz. Horace Silver (b. 1928) is revealed here to be a melodicist of the first order, one who can tell the most sophisticated, logical and musical of stories without ever pummeling listeners with technique or show-boat styling.

Consider the sheer volume of ‘hits’ alone: "Ecaroh," "Opus de Funk," "Doodlin’," "The Preacher," "Senor Blues," "Sister Sadie," "Blowin’ the Blues Away," "Song For My Father" and "Psychedelic Sally." These endure as some of the cleverest-ever bits of bop. Silver’s contribution to the formation of bop’s soulful equivalent – funk – is in plentiful evidence here too, even as far back as his sparkling trio work from 1952-53 (Horace without horns!).

The collection offers more than hits too. One full disc (2) is given over to honoring Silver’s longest running front line, featuring tenor man Junior Cook and trumpeter Blue Mitchell (1960-64). Another full disc (4) explores Silver’s least known, but no less important work from the 1970s – a period when he began adding lyrics and singers and exploring more holistic and metaphysical themes (kept to a minimum here). Still, the music sounds remarkably compatible with what precedes it, offering Silver’s still-intact compositional magic and vibrant early work from Michael and Randy Brecker, Bob Berg and Tom Harrell.

The star power on these sessions signifies an overall importance. Tenors are manned by the likes of Hank Mobley, Clifford Jordan, Junior Cook, Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Harold Vick, Bob Berg and Michael Brecker. And the trumpets come directly from Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer. Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Charles Tolliver, Randy Brecker, Cecil Bridgewater and Tom Harrell. Surely, this should be enough.

But Retrospective also includes detailed liner notes from critic Zan Stewart, photos by Francis Wolff and others (featuring the various dos of Silver throughout the years). It all adds up to a timeless microcosm of this important jazz icon – and a significant sample of 20th century jazz. A grand encounter indeed.

Tracks: Disc One: Safari; Ecaroh; Opus De Funk; Doodlin'; The Preacher; Cool Eyes; Senor Blues; Home Cookin'; Soulville; The Outlaw; Senior Blues (Vocal Version); Swingin' The Samba; Cookin' At The Continental; Juicy Lucy; Disc Two: Sister Sadie; Peace; Blowin' The Blues Away; Strollin'; Nica's Dream; Filthy McNasty; The Tokyo Blues; Sayonara Blues; Silver's Serenade; Disc Three: Song For My Father; Que Pasa; The Cape Verdean Blues; Nutville; The Jody Grind; Mexican Hip Dance; Serenade To A Soul Sister; Psychedelic Sally; It's Time; The Happy Medium; Peace; Old Mother Nature Calls; Disc Four: How Much Does Matter Really Matter; All; In Pursuit Of The 27th Man; Gregory Is Here; Barbara; Adjustment; The Tranquilizer Suite; The Process Of Creation Suite; All In Time; The Soul And It's Expression.

Musicians: Horace Silver: piano, vocals on "All" with various groups including Hank Mobley, Clifford Jordan, Junior Cook, Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Harold Vick, Bob Berg, Michael Brecker: tenor sax; James Spaulding: flute; Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer. Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Charles Tolliver, Randy Brecker, Cecil Bridgewater, Tom Harrell: trumpet; J.J. Johnson: trombone; Richie Resnicoff: guitar; Doug Watkins, Teddy Kotick, Teddy Smith, Gene Ramey, Larry Ridley, Gene Taylor, Bob Cranshaw, Ron Carter: bass; Art Blakey, Louis Hayes, John Harris Jr., Roger Humphries, Roy Brooks, Mickey Roker, Al Foster: drums; David Friedman: vibes on "In Pursuit of the 27th Man"; Gail Nelson: vocals on "How Much Does Matter Really Matter."

Various Artists

From 1949 through 1971, Prestige Records was among the most famous and successful of the independent jazz labels. Perhaps only Blue Note, which had its reign during roughly the same period, provided Prestige with significant competition. Both maintained strong, unique identities – even shared many of the same musicians and, in most cases, engineer Rudy Van Gelder. But Blue Note lavished more money on rehearsals and their albums sounded more planned than those that came from Prestige. Still, it was the spontaneous honesty of jazz and the necessary economy of recording that gave Prestige its cache. And at the heart of it all was founder Bob Weinstock, whose deep love of jazz, entrepreneurial spirit and close kinship with musicians that made Prestige an important and historic source of jazz.

This year Prestige turns 50 and Fantasy Records – which has owned Prestige since Weinstock sold it in 1971 -- celebrates with this magnificent four-disc collection, The Prestige Records Story.

Indeed, the Prestige story is largely Bob Weinstock’s story. Like his father, an avid jazz fan, Weinstock (b. 1929) was running his own record store as a teenager and had even developed renown as a distributor of jazz records to collectors worldwide. He combed New York jazz clubs night after night and became well known to the musicians. The affable Weinstock was easily welcomed into the players’ circle. Some even suggested that if he ever started his own label, they’d want to record for him.

For the enterprising Weinstock, that’s all it took. Prestige was launched with a January 1949 Lennie Tristano session yielding Lee Konitz’s "Subconcious-Lee" (included here). The record got rave notices from Down Beat and Metronome. So Weinstock found a distributor to get his product into more stores and jumped back into the studio and recorded with prolific abandon. Prestige caught many of the early classics in the "cool" school (Lee Konitz, Stan Getz) and captured a significant portion of the emerging bop movement (J.J. Johnson, Wardell Gray), recording an average of 75 sessions a year.

Weinstock attracted significant talent to the label during this time. Important recordings emerged from Gene Ammons (whose entire recorded legacy was almost solely Prestige’s doing), Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Red Garland, Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins and, in his debut as a leader, John Coltrane. Prestige also boasted an impressive roster of jazz staples with the original recordings of "Django," "Blue Monk," and "St. Thomas" – which, as you might guess, are all included here.

By the mid-1950s, Weinstock became more involved in the "business" of running the label. So he set about recruiting an impressive group of young producers – experience not necessary -- to supervise a wide variety of impressive Prestige productions: from Ira Gitler, Ozzie Cadena and Esmond Edwards to Cal Lampley, Bob Porter and Don Schlitten later on.

Prestige maintained its strong identity during the 1960s while branching out into folk and spoken-word records and (briefly) introducing subsidiary labels like Bluesville, Swingsville and Moodsville. Soul became the ticket to success at the time and many more organ groups were recorded (Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Richard "Groove" Holmes). Later in the decade, Bob Porter’s productions upped the funk ante for artists like Rusty Bryant, Charles Earland, Houston Person and Boogaloo "Joe" Jones and paved the way for the "acid jazz" momentum of the 1980s.

When Weinstock sold the label in 1971 -- citing the difficulty for an independent jazz label to compete against emerging trends in rock and a desire to retire and move to Florida – Prestige continued. Some of the artists stayed a couple more years. By the mid-Seventies, it was reissues that kept Prestige going. Occasional releases from producers for hire by artists like Patrice Rushen, Gary Bartz, Azar Lawrence, Jack Dejohnette and David Newman were all that was left for Prestige. The CD revolution and Fantasy’s "Original Jazz Classics" line helped restore the Prestige legacy in the mid 1980s. Even Weinstock has now returned to the business, producing local acts from his south Florida home for the Fantasy family of labels.

The Prestige Records Story wisely sticks to the label’s Weinstock years, traversing the impressive legacy of artists as important and varied as Mose Allison (1958’s "The Seventh Son"), John Coltrane (1958’s "Russian Lullaby"), Sonny Criss (1967’s "Smile"), Tadd Dameron (1956’s "On A Misty Night"), Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (1958’s "In The Kitchen"), Davis with Coleman Hawkins, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate (1959’s "Very Saxy"), Gil Evans (1957’s "Nobody’s Heart"), Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis and Oliver Nelson (1960’s "Soul Street"), Red Garland (1956’s "If I Were A Bell"), Stan Getz (1949’s "Four And One More"), Dexter Gordon (1969’s "Fried Bananas"), Coleman Hawkins (1960’s "Trouble is a Man"), Richard "Groove" Holmes (1965’s hit "Misty"), Willis Jackson (1960’s "This’ll Get To Ya" and 1963’s "Troubled Times"), Milt Jackson (1955’s "My Funny Valentine"), Illinois Jacquet (1968’s "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"), Roland Kirk (1961’s "Kirk’s Work"), Jack McDuff (1963’s "Rock Candy"), James Moody (1955’s "Disappointed"), King Pleasure (1952’s "Moody’s Mood For Love"), Sonny Rollins ( 1956’s "St. Thomas," "Pent Up House"), Shirley Scott (1961’s "Hip Soul") and Sonny Stitt (1949’s "All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm").

Catch your breath yet? Then consider the Prestige debuts of George Benson (as a solo jazz guitarist on 1964’s "Sweet Alice Blues"), Modern Jazz Quartet ("Django"), Etta Jones ("Don’t Go To Stranger") and Eric Dolphy ("G.W.") -- all featured here. Gene Ammons is featured in five titles recorded between 1970 and 1969 and Miles Davis takes honors with most tracks – six! -- recorded between 1953 and 1956. In sheer name-dropping, this is an impressive collection. And that doesn’t even cover the sidemen (a list too long to mention)!

Packaged in the same smart, easily stored box style as Fantasy’s nearly wonderful The West Coast Jazz Box (1998), the Prestige set boasts an especially valuable addition – a beautifully designed 100-page full-color book. The book contains complete session detail for each song (dates, personnel, producer, studio), a reproduction of each song’s original 10" or LP jacket, discussion with the producers about each song and other important sessions not included. It amounts to a thorough and engaging history of a significant jazz label. Also included are lengthy interviews with Bob Weinstock, Bob Porter and (the man who bought Prestige from Weinstock in 1971 and now runs the label) Ralph Kaffel – the compilation’s producers – as well as others associated with Prestige through the years.

An especially nice touch is that each of the four discs feature a different representation of the Prestige label through the years, from the early ‘sax on blue and silver’ label to the later purple ‘arrows’ label.

Of course, there’s no room for everybody on a four-disc set covering a quarter century’s worth of vital music. However, it’s a shame to leave out such important parts of Prestige’s heritage as Mal Waldron and Kenny Burrell (‘leaders’ of many fifties jam sessions fostered by Prestige), Jaki Byard, Pat Martino and Booker Ervin (whose recorded legacy results from his significant Prestige "Book" series).

Still, this is one impressive set. Both content and presentation are heavy, in deference to the weighty contribution Bob Weinstock has made through Prestige Records to jazz history. Like the label itself, The Prestige Records Story is a valuable addition to the jazz legacy and well worth the expense necessary to enhance a real jazz collector’s library.

Tracks: Disc One Lee Konitz/Lennie Tristano: Subconscious-Lee; Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Allen Eager, Brew Moore: Four and One Moore; Wardell Gray: Twisted ; Sonny Stitt: All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm; Gene Ammons: Blues Up and Down (take 3); James Moody: I’m in the Mood for Love (aka Moody’s Mood for Love); King Pleasure: Moody’s Mood for Love (aka I’m in the Mood for Love); Annie Ross; Twisted; Miles Davis: Dig; Jimmy Raney and Stan Getz: ’Round Midnight; Miles Davis: The Serpent’s Tooth (take 1); Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk; Miles Davis: Bags’ Groove (take 2); Milt Jackson: My Funny Valentine; Miles Davis: Doxy; The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django. Disc Two: James Moody: Disappointed; Miles Davis Sextet: Walkin’; Sonny Rollins: St. Thomas; Sonny Rollins: Pent-Up House; Miles Davis Quintet: Well, You Needn’t; Tadd Dameron: On a Misty Night; Red Garland: If I Were a Bell; Gil Evans: Nobody’s Heart; John Coltrane: Russian Lullaby; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: In the Kitchen. Disc Three: Gene Ammons: Canadian Sunset; Coleman Hawkins: Trouble Is a Man; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate: Very Saxy; Mose Allison: The Seventh Son; Eric Dolphy: G.W.; Roland Kirk: Kirk’s Work; Oliver Nelson, King Curtis, Jimmy Forrest: Soul Street; Etta Jones: Don’t Go to Strangers; Shirley Scott: Hip Soul; Willis Jackson: This’ll Get to Ya; Jack McDuff: Rock Candy; Willis Jackson: Troubled Times. Disc Four: Gene Ammons: Ca’Purange (Jungle Soul); George Benson: Sweet Alice Blues; Richard "Groove" Holmes: Misty; Illinois Jacquet: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free; Sonny Criss: Smile; Dexter Gordon: Fried Bananas; Houston Person: Jamilah; Gene Ammons: Jungle Strut; Charles Earland: More Today Than Yesterday; Rusty Bryant: Soul Liberation; Boogaloo Joe Jones: No Way; Gene Ammons: You Talk That Talk.

Joao Donato
(32 Jazz)

This odd cult item, originally released on Muse in 1973, is also known as Donato/Deodato -- a reference to then-hot arranger Eumir Deodato’s participation and, probably, the similarity in their surnames. With the exception of the kick-off tune – the insanely catchy and wonderfully funky "Whistle Stop" -- it’s a brief, strange trip that meanders aimlessly and rather too lifelessly.

Even the disc’s notes admit as much. The prolific Brazilian keyboardist and arranger, whose many records never make it to the US (making this a follow-up of sorts to Donato’s 1970 Blue Thumb release, A Bad Donato), just wanted some cash so he could travel. He simply arrived at the studio, knocked out some tunes, suggested some musicians, collected his cash and left for vacation. So Deodato, another Brazilian keyboardist and arranger -- whose dance-floor hit, "2001," was riding high at the time – was brought in to finish the job.

An 11-piece group was pulled together and features nice spots for Randy Brecker on trumpet (particularly on "Nightripper"), Michael Gibson on trombone, the underrated Dud Bascomb on bass and Romeo Penque on flutes/whistles. Surprisingly, the higher-profile percussionists Ray Barretto and Airto make absolutely no impact here at all.

The idea seems to have been to approximate the grander, more expensive CTI sound. As you might expect, then, Joao Donato has more of Deodato’s personality, awash as it is in the latter’s signature blend of first-rate funk ("Whistle Stop") and soapy TV movie sound-a-likes ("Where’s J.D.?," "Capricorn," "You Can Go").

Even though it’s impossible to decide whether Donato or Deodato plays the occasional electric piano solo, the overall effect will appeal to those who gravitate toward electric mood music in somewhat Latin styles. However, "Whistle Stop" – despite whatever deficits in conception – is a true funk essential and a feather in the caps of Donato, Deodato and Ray Barretto.

Tracks: Whistle Stop; Where’s J.D.?; Capricorn; Nightripper; You Can Go; Batuque.

Players: Airto: percussion; Ray Barretto: congas; Dud Bascomb: bass; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Deodato, Joao Donato: keyboards; Mauricio Einhorn: harmonica; Michael Gibson: trombone; Romeo Penque: flute and whistle; Bob Rose: guitar; Allan Schwartzberg: drums.

Mike Stern

If Mike Stern were a guitarist coming out of the 1960s, he’d be a hero today. Sure, there’s always John McLaughlin. But not many other guitarists then – or now – could play rock guitar with the high degree of intimacy and the non-assaulting technical prowess that Mike Stern has always possessed.

Plus, if there was any kind of justice in jazz, Miles Davis’s Star People (1983) would be regarded as one the great records of the Eighties it has always surely been. There, Mike Stern in commanding communiqué with John Scofield, laid the law for what jazz-rock had hoped and ceased long before to achieve. It’s just that jazz listeners had stopped caring.

Which brings us effectively to Play, Mike Stern’s ninth Atlantic disc over the last baker’s dozen years. The question is – be honest -- how many of us knew of or heard the preceding eight?

Well, the big news is that Play isn’t really newsworthy. It’s Stern doing his own thing – a catchy rock take on post-bop jazz -- with a first-rate cast of musicians. Again. The guest seats, filled this time by guitarist Bill Frisell and John Scofied (but unfortunately not together), are all people will hear about. However, Stern displays a continuing ability here to hone his melodic craft and perfect his catchy compositional skill. That’s what’ll Play on after all the hype is gone.

All ten selections are Stern’s own, while Scofield guests on three pieces and Frisell sits in on four. Like Scofield did for Medeski, Martin & Wood on last year’s A Go Go, Stern here concocts melodies suggested by the much more distinct styles carved by his fellow plecterists.

Scofield goes to Scofieldland for the funky "Play" and catchy "Small World." But Stern breaks the mold a bit for the swingy bop romp, "Outta Town," which lets the reuniting guitarists show their chops a bit and shows how Stern’s harshness has mellowed through the years without any loss of bite.

Frisell’s tracks took Stern’s group to Friztown (Seattle) for the disc’s most interesting numbers. Of course, there’s the Frisell country-folk-jazz-Americana of "Blue Tone" and "All Heart." But Stern also challenges Frisell to the electro-avant-bop duel of "Frizz" and the surprisingly funky "Big Kids" (which postulates the intriguing concept of a Frisell funk album).

The remaining three tracks – "Tipitina’s," "Link" and "Goin’ Under" – offer the more familiar Stern groove with his working band featuring keyboardist Jim Beard, the Breckeresque Bob Malach on tenor, bassist Lincoln Goines and (former Scofield) drummer Dennis Chambers.

Since neither Scofield nor Frisell set off any major fireworks, Play ultimately becomes a showcase for its star, Mike Stern. The composer and guitarist is totally in his element here. And if high-ticket guests like Scofield and Frisell bring him the attention he’s long been due, then Play is Stern’s own hero’s welcome.

Tracks: Play; Small World; Outta Town; Blue Tone; Tipatina's; All Heart; Frizz; Link; Goin' Under; Big Kids.

Players: Mike Stern, guitar; John Scofield: guitar on "Play," "Small World" and "Outta Town;" Bill Frisell: guitar on "Blue Tone," "All Heart," "Frizz" and "Big Kids;" Ben Perowsky, Dennis Chambers: drums; Lincoln Goines: bass; Bob Malach: tenor sax; Jim Beard: keyboards.

Pat Martino
(32 Jazz)

The title refers to 32 Jazz’s successful release of Pat Martino’s entire Muse and Warner Bros. catalog between 1972 and 1996. The result is four two-fers, two single discs and several compilations showcasing one of the finest, most consistent jazz guitarists of the last quarter century.

Mission Accomplished is one of the two-fers that combines Martino’s final two Muse releases, 1994’s outstanding Interchange and 1996’s too-disconcertingly insubstantial Nightwings.

Both discs provide similarities in sound and style, due mainly to the presence of Martino, James Ridl (piano) and Marc Johnson (bass) to each session. In both cases, Martino displays an utterly perfected fluidity and gracefulness of purpose. So, it was wise of 32 to combine these two sessions. But the earlier session is clearly superior.

In fact, one could argue that Interchange is a neglected post-bop classic. Martino’s ability to craft perfect, toe-tapping melodies rivals only Freddie Hubbard’s. Like Hubbard, Martino’s compositions serve as excellent launch pads for beautiful, creative playing, especially noticeable on the uptempo numbers, "Catch," "Recollection" and "Just For Then," a sort of "Impressions" crossed with "It Don’t Mean A Thing." Martino has never played better or with more verve, wit and energy than he does here. He no longer displays the need to prove his stupendous skill. Talent of this magnitude doesn’t need to. Footprints (1972) and We’ll Be Together Again (1976) are probably better representations of Martino’s guitar abilities. But Interchange is his best showcase as an effective musician, leader and jazz composer. Altogether, a most beautiful session well worth investigating.

Nightwings, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It sounds similar to Interchange -- but less so. Of course, Martino had at this point expressed discontent to Muse, suggesting he be allowed to attempt a more "serious" (non-jazz) direction, which, to my knowledge, he has yet to pursue. Muse wanted more of what he’d done for years. What we get is, perhaps, Martino’s least convincing album ever. Maybe the guitarist meant it to be that way. Bob Kenmotsu’s tenor sax mimics Martino’s leads here, and he’s a rather too-supple, too-mellifluous player to matter. He adds nothing to Martino’s rather lackluster compositions. Even the guitarist feels lazy and apathetic as he scales some of the most mundane changes he’s ever charted. Certainly this disc has its share of admirers. I’m not convinced; mostly because Martino does little here that’s persuasive.

So how does one reconcile a mission that’s equal parts delicious and dull? Well, 32 Jazz has made it easy, packaging these two discs in one inexpensive and attractive set (the odd cover suggesting some sort of sci-fi Asian restaurant). Get it for the sheer joy of Interchange. As a bonus – that still costs less than a new retro-bop CD -- listen to Nightwings simply to hear how a master sounds on an off day.

Tracks: Interchange: Catch; Black Grass; Interchange; Just For Then; Blue In Green; Recollection. Nightwings: Draw Me Down; Portrait; Villa Hermosa; I Sing The Blues Every Night; A Love Within; Nightwings.

Players: Pat Martino: guitar; James Ridl: piano; Bob Kenmotsu: sax; Marc Johnson: bass; Bill Stewart, Sherman Ferguson: drums.

Ted Nash Double Quartet

Rhyme and Reason seems strikingly serious. Even the combination of reed player Ted Nash’s quartet, featuring pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison, with a string quartet signals a certain seriousness.

But reading Nash’s notes reveals the disc’s inspiration is the naturally creative marvel of children, specifically his own daughters. With this, Nash has attempted to capture the spontaneous joy and interplay of children within this potentially unwieldy octet, augmented brilliantly by Nash’s current boss, Wynton Marsalis ("Apollo 9," and "Sisters"), and vibisit Erik Charlston ("Rhyme," "Longing"). Rhyme and Reason is the successful result.

This is an accomplished musical statement and a most pleasurable listening experience: a serious joy. As one might watch a rose unfold, Nash explores a variety of textures that deepen upon repeated listens.

It is, perhaps, best thought of as a composer’s showcase. As such, it is a marvel. But Nash himself invests in it a confident, very appealing tenor sound that reflects rather than mimics the tone and temperament of Joe Henderson. He’s not leading here, but just playing with the other kids. As with a child’s painting or drawing, Nash attempts to ignore what he’s learned and what he knows to play naturally. Quite a feat…and the true spirit of jazz.

Of course, the idea of a string quartet interacting with a jazz quartet is not new. And to these ears, it is a combination that works especially well – when done right as Nash has done. He never gets pretentious. There’s little obvious attempt to be "third stream" and absolutely no embarrassing climbs to classical heights. Nash and company swing, making it easy to dig into "Apollo 9," "Spirit Dance," "Sisters" and "Ishtar Gate." True to his word, Nash has captured a playful energy that his group seems to relish.

 As subtly interwoven as the string parts are, too, the string players know how to get down and improvise with creative aplomb too. Miri Ben-Ari, in particular, is positively electrifying in spotlights on "Apollo 9" and "Sisters. " The most unusual track here, though, is perhaps the most arresting, the Asisatic "The Trails," where Nash’s flute engages with the string quartet in a hauntingly beautiful performance.

The problem with whatever jazz has become in the 1990s, is that it too often aspires either to nothing (revisiting trends and styles past) or struggles unsuccessfully toward more than it can achieve. Ted Nash strives for something meaningful on Rhyme and Reason. Unlike other proclaimed and long-forgotten jazz events over the last few decades, Ted Nash has achieved something remarkable and lasting – just as the decade comes to an end.

Tracks:  Apollo 9; Rhyme; Spirit Dance; Longing; Free Choice; Sisters; Prana; Ishtar Gate; The Trails.

Players: Ted Nash: tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Ben Allison: bass; Tim horner: drums; Joyce Hammann, Miri Ben-Ari: violin; Ron Lawrence: viola; Tomas Ulrich: cello; Erik Charlston: vibes and percussion; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet.

Cedar Walton/Hank Mobley Quintet
(32 Jazz)

Although recorded 14 years before he died, 1972’s Breakthrough was one of the final recordings the lamentably under-appreciated tenor great Hank Mobley made (he also guested on a 1980 Tete Montoliu record). Mobley, an especially lyrical and melodic tenor titan, had recorded prolifically – and consistently well -- between 1955 and 1970, mostly (and most substantially) for Blue Note. But health and financial problems severely curtailed his playing during the last decade and a half of his life.

 Mobley had just returned from short stay in Paris when he began briefly co-leading this group with pianist Cedar Walton. Mobley and Walton had worked together before on the tenor’s 1967 dates, Third Season and Far Away Lands, finding a successful simpatico together. Unfortunately, their 1972 partnership didn’t last long and it never had the chance to ascend the heights reached by Walton shortly thereafter with Magic Triangle or Eastern Rebellion. But this one surviving document promised much greatness that never ultimately materialized.

Breakthrough is a solid, effective hard bop date. But it seems too dependant and dominated by equally underrated baritone/soprano sax man Charles Davis. Nothing wrong with that. But Mobley seems too much a sideman here, briefly coming to the fore on "Early Morning Stroll" (where he and Davis finally gel) and especially well-suited to "Summertime."

Mobley’s title piece has the familiar feel of those loose, Prestige bop jams of the 1950s. Everybody solos, but Davis is considerably dominant. Jobim’s "Sabia" drops Mobley for a pleasant samba that spotlights Davis and features Walton on electric piano. Walton’s wonderful "House on Maple Street," shifts Davis to soprano, brings Mobley back and, in an especially nice touch, catches Walton punctuating on electric piano like an African kalimba. Finally, the "Love Story" theme returns Walton to acoustic piano for trio jazz that’s executed with greater style than this sappy theme has ever displayed elsewhere.

It’s hard to fault bop when it’s this good, with musicians in the league of Walton, Davis and Mobley. As the swan song it ended up becoming for Mobley, though, Breakthrough is just not enough.

Tracks: Breakthrough; Sabia; House On Maple Street; Theme From Love Story; Summertime; Early Morning Stroll.

Players:  Cedar Walton: piano, electric piano; Hank Mobley: tenor sax; Charles Davis: britone sax, soprano sax; Sam Jones: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.

Lalo Schifrin

Lalo Schifrin's Latin Jazz Suite is a masterful celebration of the diverse and colorful sounds and feelings that Latin forms add to the jazz vocabulary. It is also a reflection of the composer's successful contributions to the Latin musical language over the last four decades.

This enthralling, consistently engaging six-piece suite - recorded live over two nights of its June 1999 premiere in Cologne, Germany -- most recalls Schifrin's historic Gillespiana suite. But Latin Jazz Suite is a milestone of arguably greater proportion. As a composer, Schifrin here reveals a greater, more refined depth of maturity, a worldly mastery of musical forms and a perfected sensibility for the drama and adventure of long-form structures.

The suite scales Cuban ("Montuno"), Caribbean ("Martinique") and Argentinean ("Pampas") structures to those informed by Brazilian ("Manaos"), African (the superb "Ritual") and flamenco ("Fiesta") styles. Percussion flavors subtly throughout, but never dominates or overwhelms. Schifrin's no tourist. He uses his compositional prowess to suggest the different landscapes he traverses.

He also divides the star roles most intriguingly. The orchestra -- voiced here by the great WDR Big Band, which commissioned the work -- carries the majority of the melodies and punctuates poetically with some of Schifrin's most Gil Evans-like scoring (perhaps acknowledging the influence of Sketches of Spain). Solos are manned by an exciting triumvirate including Schifrin (marvelous) on piano, Jon Faddis (at his Dizzyest best) and young firebrand David Sanchez on tenor and soprano saxes. A stronger triad is difficult to conceive.

The suite's highlight is the pulsating, chant-like "Ritual," a hypnotic and vibrant piece in 12/8 time that elicits especially commanding solos from Faddis, Sanchez and, most notably, Schifrin himself. Other highlights include the catchy "Martinique," a Caribbean polyglot of Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas" and Schifrin's own "Roulette Rhumba," and the concerto-like beauty of "Pampas," Schifrin's visit back to a 1978 theme (from his underrated Gypsies LP) enlivened most imaginatively by "Street Tattoo," the composer's theme to the film, Boulevard Nights.

This 65-minute opus ultimately suggests a sort of jazz symphony. The invention of Schifrin's conception interacting with the wit and verve of the players protect against any kind of museum-quality stodginess too. As it unfurls, it reveals itself as a most entertaining work. When it's over, it lingers in the mind and the heart as a real work of art.

Surely, Latin Jazz Suite is among the best, most memorable jazz recordings of the year and like Gillespiana, Jazz Mass and Marquis de Sade, one of the great jazz achievements in Lalo Schifrin's provocative career.

Tracks: Montuno; Martinique; Pampas; Fiesta; Ritual; Manaos.

Players: Jon Faddis: trumpet; David Sanchez: tenor sax, soprano sax; Lalo Schifrin: composer, conductor, piano; Ignacio Berroa: drums; Alex Acuna, Alphonso Garrido, Marcio Doctor: percussion; with the WDR Big Band: Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Klaus Osterloh, John Marshall, Rick Kiefer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Horler, Ludwig Nuss, Bernt Laukamp: trombone; Lucas Schmid: bass trombone; Heiner Wiberny, Harald Rosenstein, Olivier Peters, Rolf Romer, Jens Neufang: reeds; Frank Chastenier: piano, organ; John Goldsby: bass; Paul Shigihara: guitar.