Ray Bryant
(Label M)

Sometime back in 1993, a sound engineer handed pianist Ray Bryant a $1.98 cassette tape of a solo performance he’d just done in France. Bryant simply tossed the tape in a dining room cabinet with hundreds of other tapes. When Joel Dorn wanted to release something of Bryant’s on Label M, the pianist reached for this tape and Somewhere in France is the result. Bryant is known for his soulful juke box hits “Slow Freight” and “In The Back Room” (both included here) and respected for his solo piano albums Alone With The Blues (Prestige – 1958), Alone at Montreux (Atlantic - 1972) and Solo Flight (Pablo – 1976). He is a thoroughly engaging player who never lapses into private realms of introspection. However, he manages to communicate a special lyricism in clever, often memorable, turns of phrase that suggest – without getting bogged down in -- stride (“Jungletown Jubliee”), boogie woogie (“Take The A Train,” “After Hours”), ballads (“When I Look In Your Eyes,” “Until It’s Time For You To Go”) and blues (“Willow Weep For Me”). Considering the source, the sound here is superb. Bryant himself is a joy to hear. He’s that rare musician who respects and relishes a good melody. He digs in and delivers lines in his own distinctive voice, without ever letting you forget the source of what you’re hearing. And what you hear here is every bit as entertaining and enlightening as his soulful hits and previous solo landmarks. Imagine what else must be in that dining room cabinet!

Hank Crawford
(Label M)

Hank Crawford’s instantly identifiable alto sax sound has long been associated with ballads and blues. Lately, though, the still reliable Crawford seems to weave his act into more of a lounge groove. But when Crawford recorded for Atlantic (1960-70), he churned out album after album of high-power ballads and blues showpieces. Label M’s Crawford compilation, Low Flame, High Heat is a winning collection of 11 of the alto’s most “after hours” styled ballads and blues -- recorded during his Atlantic reign. Interestingly, compiler Joel Dorn sticks with Crawford’s earlier Atlantic sides (between 1960 and 1966) – before he himself started producing Crawford and taking him down funkier paths. What else is interesting is that during this particular period, Crawford was Ray Charles’s musical director – and there’s not a pianist to be heard on this collection that spans some six LPs.  With guitar often part of the rhythm section (and Charles’s particular affinity in tact), the whole collection seems like more of a tribute to Count Basie’s influence, particularly when Crawford covers Ellington (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) and frequent Charles collaborator, Percy Mayfield (“But On The Other Hand,” “Two Years Of Torture,” “Danger Zone”). Overall, though, this is a superb representation of Hank Crawford at his bluesy best.

Various Artists
(Label M)

Speaking of sax players, some of the most distinctive sax players are also some of the most characteristic and engaging flute players as well. But, unfortunately, they’re often too busy trying – or forced – to prove their sax chops to give too much time to the flute. Just about anybody can easily name five sax heroes. Who can name five flute heroes? Joel Dorn could. Whether it’s because Dorn’s first hit at Atlantic was for Hubert Laws in 1965 or simply because he liked the sound of the flute in jazz, he devoted an unusual amount of recording space to the too-little respected reed instrument. As you might expect, most of the players on Heavy Flute are primarily sax players. These are the guys -- David Newman (whose excellent “The Thirteenth Floor,” is heard here), Yusef Lateef (“Nubian Lady,” “Eboness”) and Charles Lloyd (“Sombrero Sam”) – whose albums today rarely, if ever, feature a flute. What a loss. All three offer especially personalized and fascinating flute sounds. However, Atlantic also housed two of the art’s most well-known practitioners: Herbie Mann (represented here by the 1962 hit, “Comin’ Home Baby,” and 1971’s “Push Push,” featuring Duane Allman) and Hubert Laws (“Let Her Go”), who recorded for Atlantic before he became ubiquitous in the 1970s on CTI. The late, great and forgotten Leo Wright is heard on the brief bossa nova boogaloo “The Wiggler” (1962) and multi-reed specialist Roland Kirk is heard twice on the relatively straight, but guttural  “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971) and the wacky, a-little-too-saxy “One Ton” (1969). Heavy Flute, like any other themed collection, hits and misses. Still, it begs for more. And the Atlantic archive bristles with great examples of heavy, heavy flute. A “Two,” Mr. Dorn?