Charles Earland
(High Note)

Charles Earland Ė organ jazzís Mighty Burner -- hit hard in 1969 applying his own B-3 groove to soulful pop hits like "More Today Than Yesterday." After a fairly adventuresome set of records for the Prestige label in the early 1970s, Earland drifted to disco for Mercury in the mid-1970s and fusion for Columbia later in the decade. By the 1980s, the organist returned to his roots for the Muse label, cutting many low-key records in the lounge organ mode.

In recent years, though, the Mighty Burner has become more prolific than ever, manning sessions of his own for Cannonball and the High Note/Savant labels while doing plenty of session work too. More significantly, heís now making some of the best music of his career.

His latest follows on the heels of his rock-solid Savant release, Slamminí & Jamminí. The aptly titled Cookiní is a straight ahead "we get requests" session, beautifully recorded at Rudy Van Gelderís studio with a perfectly compatible quintet. The program is given over to five jazz standards, one pop classic and two cookers credited to the organist. Most of the program has been part of Earlandís book for years.

Familiar pieces here include "Milestones" (especially well-honed here) and "Killer Joe" (inaccurately co-credited to Quincy Jones) from 1970ís Living Black!, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" from 1972ís Intensity and a fired up version of "Three Blind Mice" (credited to the leader) from 1978ís Pleasant Afternoon. Earland weighs in well on "Seven Steps to Heaven," gets down and dirty on his own "Seven of Nine" and adds the right-on soul of Horace Silverís "Sister Sadie" (a groove he proved on 1995ís "Blowing The Blues Away" that he is particularly well suited for).

But with trumpet and tenor in the front line, Earland seems relegated to the side. Both trumpeter James Rotondi and star tenor player Eric Alexander (an Earland discovery) deliver crisp, sparkling leads. And Melvin Sparks, whoís played on and off with Earland since the organistís 1969 debut Black Talk!, swings hard and well in a less-funkified, less showy manner than he used to display, recalling the reliable support Grant Green or Kenny Burrell once offered on organ sessions.

Earland eschews any notion heís laying out, though, when he solos -- a treat that makes this disc well worth hearing. Sure heís done it all before. He maintains his signature air-of-the-gods diction on the B-3, alternating rapid-fire licks and catchy ostinatos with dramatic, well placed whole tones. All the while, his foot pedals are careening with the shocking grace of a stringed bass player. But itís the signature he brings to his groove. Indeed, the Mighty Burner cooks.

Earlandís in a good groove here and organ jazz lovers are well advised to visit the kitchen.

Tracks: Milestones; Sister Sadie; Killer Joe; Seven Steps To Heaven; Will You Love Me Tomorrow; Five Blind Mice; Seven of Nine; Stella By Starlight.

Players: Charles Earland: Hammond B-3 organ; Eric Alexander: tenor sax; James Rotondi: trumpet; Melvin Sparks: guitar; Bobby Durham: drums; Gary Fritz: percussion.

Chico Hamilton
(All Points Jazz)

Consider the time drummer Chico Hamilton has spent in jazz. At 78, heís one of the musicís survivors. Heís been at the forefront of several of its major trends Ė the Cool school in the 1950s, the New Thing in the 1960s, the introduction of rock to jazz and, early on, exploring the commercial possibilities of jazz. Heís also introduced a formidable cast of innovators to the music: Eric Dolphy, Charles Lloyd, Arthur Blythe, Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell to name only a few.

It is not without significance that time is what Chico Hamilton is all about.

He is perhaps one of the most musical and melodic of rhythmists Ė ever. Hamilton is especially adept at enhancing the beauty and iconography of a brilliant soloist. Thatís why heís always been Lena Horneís first-choice drummer. Itís not that he uses a lot of percussion. Nor does he need to. He finds music in rhythm, so thereís no need to be as showy, loud or obtrusive as so many drummer-leaders do.

His technique sets him apart. Simply listen to what he can do with only one cymbal. Sometimes two. Or consider how he can suggest landscapes with provocative and sensationally quiet sweeps across his toms. Or hear what he does behind any guitarist (for years, his rhythm instrument of choice Ė over the more domineering piano). Jim Hall, John Pisano, Dennis Budimer, Eric Gale, Joe Beck, Cary DeNigris: all completely different sounds, yet all entirely compatible to Chico Hamiltonís groove. You soon become aware Hamilton is not behind the music at all. Heís very much part of it. Itís his music. Itís his time.

There are, then, certainly a few different ways to read the title of his newest disc, Timely, the drummerís debut on the new All Points Jazz label and his first since 1993ís stunning solo disc, Dancing To A Different Drummer (although a still unreleased acid-jazz album was recorded in the interim).

Timely works the same sax/guitar/electric bass/drums format as Hamiltonís 1980s group, Euphoria. But, here, the sound is not the heavy metal jazz it once was. It is a more refined approach that recalls Hamiltonís Solid State, Blue Note and Mercury records from the 1960s and 1970s and finds front-liners Eric Person (reeds) and Cary DeNigris (guitar) honing their own unique voices.

The program sounds familiar and new all at once. The disc, two thirds of it by Hamilton himself, abounds in its leaderís simple themes (ever present in Hamiltonís repertoire since Charles Lloyd resigned as musical director). Hamilton eschews fully developed melodies in favor of establishing a hypnotic groove. He knocks out a spiky riff or a cogent theme. Then his players are provided ample solo space for commentary Ė though, at least here, Hamiltonís latest protťgť, the Jaco-fied electric bassist Paul Ramsey, gets a bit more solo space than ideas to fill it with. While Hamilton hardly ever solos, his authoritative, musical presence is never in question.

"Cheekís Groove," a DeNigris original, opens the disc, powered by the same groove that drove Hamiltonís legendary jam, "Conquistadores" (1965). Here, a retooled funk vamp shows off the fresh compatibility between the drummer, the bassist and, most especially, Personís soprano and DeNigrisís guitar (whose solo here crosses Pat Martinoís craftiness with Larry Coryellís early metallica). Like the song itís based on, "Cheekís Groove" is indeed the sum of its parts and a triumphant commentary on Hamiltonís assemblage and musical conception.

The guitarist also figures prominently on the discís other two highlights, the lovely "Denise" (originally from 1979ís Nomads) and the atmospheric "Malletdonia" (from the Hamilton bag of exotica that produced "El Moors" and "Manila," with Person quite appealing on flute). In both cases, DeNigris digs deep in to Gabor Szaboís gypsy bag for some startling and supremely noteworthy performances.

Elsewhere, Hamilton seems interested in dealing with the blues, which seems fine by Person, the naturally dominant voice throughout the remainder of the program. Hamilton alternates a variety of blues rhythms in "Another Shade Of The Blues" to spotlight Personís especially attractive alto-glyphics (a sort of mix of Arthur Blythe and Kenny Garrett). Hamilton also provides two takes of "These Are The Dues" (first explored on 1992ís Reunion), a bloozy swagger highlighting DeNigris in the first and a speedy Brazilian stroll centered on Person for the second. "Mother Tucker," another blues that seems to be a reconsideration of 1966ís "Jim-Jeannie," provides notable, but quite different features for both DeNigris and Person.

Throughout, Hamilton is never at a loss for setting the good groove and leading the musical charge. In Person and DeNigris, especially, Hamilton has also solidified another wonderful team; incisive and swinging and in perfect accord with the drummer. Itís one of the things Hamilton does best. But the musicís what youíll remember: well-timed, indeed, perhaps even timeless too.

Tracks: Cheekís Groove; Another Time For The Blues; These Are The Dues, Part 1; Jeffrey Andrew Caddick; I.C.Y.; Mother Tucker; The Affair; Denise; These Are The Dues; Part 2; Malletdonia.

Players: Chico Hamilton: drums; Eric Person: alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Cary DeNigris: 6 & 12-string electric and acoustic guitars; Paul Ramsey: Fender & 5-string bass.

Buster Williams
(32 Jazz)

One of the great losses to jazz is that Herbie Hancockís 1970-73 Mwandishi band could not have been as profitable as it was protean, progressive and ever too-briefly productive. Launched from the spaces that fostered Bitches Brew, Hancock introduced elements of both the avant garde and soul jazz to create a groove that was as unusual and provocative in sound as it was striking in its musical excellence.

Hancockís young sextet was utterly prepared to traverse and unite such opposing climes too. In an era that produced stacks of mind-numbing fusion, Hancock delivered the very few notable jazz statements of the time by assembling a crack team featuring reed player Bennie Maupin, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart.

With the exception of the drummer, each member of the sextet cut his own Mwandishi styled record. Henderson made two for Capricorn (1974-75) and Maupin (1974) and Priester (1973) each recorded one for ECM. Bassist Buster Williams made his solo recording debut for the Muse label in 1975 with this one, Pinnacle, a Mwandishi-styled recording recently reissued by 32 Jazz.

Whereas the other Mwandishi members recruited band mates like Hancock for their solo projects, Williams opts here to recreate the sound keeping only drummer Billy Hart from the original band. Onaje Allan Gumbs is especially Hancock-like on the occasionally electric eclectics (notably on the funky "The Hump") and more frequently required piano backbone (especially appealing on the gospel-ish "Noble Ego" and the more exotic "Batuki"). Reed players Earl Turbinton and Sonny Fortune share duties recreating the swagger and the sweetness of Bennie Maupin, while trumpeter Woody Shaw brings his own trademark bop sound to the title track and "Batuki." The addition of Guilherme Francoís percussion and vocalists on "Noble Ego" and "Pinnacle" suggest that Pinnacle is a descendant of drummer Norman Connorís Mwandishi-like records, Dance of Magic (1972) and Dark of Light (1973).

The programís five long selections, four by Williams himself, set up interesting ostinatos that allow for thoughtful, well-considered improvisation. Williams himself is outstanding, particularly well featured in his self-designed spaces and never as out of place or obstructive as a strong rhythm player can too often be. He suggests that he had ably developed a language beyond the more familiar diction of Ron Carter and one that clearly laid the foundation for Stanley Clarke.

But even as a launch pad for often exquisite playing, the spacey, riff-based tunes fail to engage the listener the way such later Williams compositions as "Toku Do" and "Air Dancing" would Ė although the waltz-like "Tayamisha" comes close. Still, Kosmigroove listeners and Mwandishi fans will want to hear this music and itís of more than passing interest to those interested in the wide-ranging sounds of Williams, Sonny Fortune, Woody Shaw and Onaje Allan Gumbs as well.

Tracks: The Hump; Noble Ego; Pinnacle; Tayamisha; Batuki.

Players: Buster Williams: acoustic bass, fender bass, vocal on "Pinnacle"; Earl Turbinton: soprano sax on "Pinnacle," "Tayamisha," "Batuki", bass clarinet on "The Hump," "Pinnacle;" Sonny Fortune: soprano sax on "The Hump," Pinnacle," flute on "Batuki," alto flute on "Pinnacle," "Tayamisha," Woody Shaw: trumpet on "Pinnacle" and "Batuki;" Onaje Allan Gumbs: acoustic piano, electric piano, moog synthesizer, arp string ensemble; Billy Hart: drums; Guilherme Franco: percussion; Suzanne Klewan and Marcus: vocals on "Noble Ego," "Pinnacle."

John Lewis

Like a kindly grandfather with many adventures in his past and stories to tell, John Lewis tells the most ripping stories as a soloist. For years the musical director of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis has become known for his abilities to marry the bebop language with European classicism. As a musician, heís too often accused for his rigidity, formality and near refusal to swing. None of this logic prevails when he is the sole instrument.

This is not a frequent turn of events either, as Lewis has only recorded as a soloist for Emarcy in 1990, Dreyfus in 1979 and French Columbia in 1976 (heís also been heard as a soloist on several bebop compilations). Heís not nearly the prolific recording artist that his former MJQ compatriot, the late, great Milt Jackson, was either. So available samples of this grand pianistís abilities outside the MJQ are too few and far between.

There is something appropriately autumnal in Lewisís selections here, suggesting reflection and reminisce. But, more importantly, there is a joyous unpredictability of an ageless spirit here too, a sense of daring and a romance with adventure. Lewis embarks upon six chestnuts of the jazz canon including the playful and sparkling "Sweet Georgia Brown," the emotive musings of "September Song," "Iíll Remember April" (which, miraculously, suggests the poetry of skating), the randy "Cherokee" and "Willow Weep For Me" (revealing Lewisís adept skill at orchestrating a simple melody). He also weighs in with his five of own great contributions to the jazz language, including "Two Degrees, Three Degrees West" (not as much about East and West Coasts here as it is about European classicism and American blues), the very Duke-like "For Ellington," the galloping "At The Horse Show" and a cleverly mischievous reflection on "Django."

Recorded by E. Alan Silver last January at Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York, there is also something personal and private about these recollections. Itís as if Lewis gives his performance with a great love solely for the one listener in his audience, you. Perhaps that explains the odd Ė but satisfying -- gratitude one feels each time these performances are heard.

Evolution is, quite simply, outstanding and perhaps the greatest achievement in John Lewisís already impressive career. Some of Lewis best performances and loveliest ruminations can be found here. What a pleasure to possess a performance that is all yours. What a pleasure this master makes it to enjoy again and again. Grand indeed.

Players: John Lewis: solo piano.

Tracks: Sweet Georgia Brown; September Song; Afternoon In Paris; Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West; Iíll Remember April; Django; Willow Weep For Me; Cherokee; For Ellington; Donít Blame Me; At The Horse Show.

Roy Ayers
(32 Jazz)

Stoned Soul Picnic is vibraphonist Roy Ayersí third and probably best solo album, made in 1968 while he was still a part of Herbie Mannís group. Ayers stands clearly in the shadow of Bobby Hutcherson on this primarily modally-oriented date, sounding nothing like the groove-meister he would become known as later in the 1970s.

Producer Mann, always an underrated talent scout, assembles an especially exceptional septet for Ayers here with Gary Bartz on alto sax, arranger Charles Tolliver on trumpet/flugelhorn, Hubert Laws on flute, Herbie Hancock on piano (and probably uncredited organ on the title cut), Ron Carter or Miroslav Vitous on bass and Grady Tate on drums.

The program is a typical late 1960s menu, heavy on such Top 40 pop covers as the dated "Stoned Soul Picnic," "For Once In My Life" and "What The People Say." What sets these and the interesting, if unsuccessful, cover of Jobimís "Wave" apart are Tolliverís rather ingenious arrangements. Tolliver seems to tear apart the constraints of these duds (although "Picnic" is beyond hope) by dramatically slowing down the melodies, providing Ayers the time and space to set the mood (Tolliver correctly recognizes Ayersís strengths with ballads) and punctuating with nicely considered horn statements in between.

It is the two modal originals here -- Ayers lovely "A Rose For Cindy" and Tolliverís waltz, "Lilís Paradise" -- that make this disc worth hearing. Ayers plays some of his finest-ever work on these pieces. Youíre sure to hear something new and different in these pieces every time. Hancock completists will also be especially pleased with the pianistís performance here (and on "What The People Say" too).

Except for the nods toward late 1960s pop-jazz conventions, Stoned Soul Picnic is a marvelous disc well worth investigating. With so much of Ayersís West Coast work of the 1960s (especially with Jack Wilson) lost in limbo, this disc serves as a cogent reminder of the strength of the vibistís chops. And groove lovers might be happily surprised hearing what Ayers was up to before the groove.

Tracks: A Rose For Cindy; Stoned Soul Picnic; Wave; For Once In My Life; Lilís Paradise; What The People Say.

Players: Roy Ayers: vibes; Gary Bartz: alto sax: Charles Tolliver: arranger, trumpet, flugelhorn; Hubert Laws: flute; Herbie Hancock: piano, organ; Ron Carter: bass on "A Rose For Cindy," "Stoned Soul Picnic"; Miroslav Vitous: bass on "Wave," "For Once In My Life," "Lilís Paradise," "What The People Say;" Grady Tate: drums.

Lalo Schifrin

Here is the music that has - until now - been something like the Holy Grail in Lalo Schifrin's catalog. The original 1969 Paramount LP is one of the composer's best and most dynamic collections of sounds. But it's proven to be too expensive or too impossible for fans to locate. Even the composer himself has spent the last year or so attempting to get the Paramount LP released on CD. But after ongoing frustrations, he opted to record the music again (presenting the even tougher challenge of locating or recreating the original score).

Heading to Cologne, Germany in June 1999 and utilizing the talents of the WDR Big Band, Schifrin redid all 11 of the LP's original tracks, commendably utilizing the sometimes dated Sixties sound and arrangements of the originals. It's worth remembering that the 1969 LP, like the 1968 Warner Bros. "soundtrack" to Bullitt, is more a collection of variations of themes than an original soundtrack.

When Mission: Impossible producer Bruce Geller approached Schifrin about doing Mannix in 1967, the CBS-TV show was built around a classic hard-boiled detective employed by Intertect, a computerized detective agency. Schifrin styled a clever alternative to the suggestion of computerized music by creating the lively jazz waltz that became the main theme. He recorded many of the show's initial cues -- action and suspense motifs (like "Variations" from Louis Bellson and Schifrinís 1964 LP, Explorations) and variations of the theme - that were used throughout the rest of the series. Such composers as Dick Hazard and Jerry Fielding scored individual shows. The series proved popular enough to last through 1975.

But by the second season, Mannix (Mike Connors) left Intertect, adopted the kinder persona he's known for and hired Peggy Fair (the wonderful Gail Fisher) as his secretary. It was during the show's third season (1969-70) that Geller brought Schifrin back to Mannix. Indeed, Schifrin scored many of the season's shows and expertly provided for the show's increasing use of "source music" -- the music heard in the background at bars, on stereos or from radios. With one exception (the action cue, "Hunt Down"), the original LP consisted of variations of this source music. Bruce Geller, who co-wrote "Beyond the Shadow of Today" with Schifrin, was probably in charge of choosing which songs were included on the LP. The titles of most songs -- also, most likely, Geller's choice -- were, more or less, based on episode titles and had nothing to do with the episodes they were named for.

Here, Schifrin recasts his themes in such a way that suggests only recording techniques have improved. TV music just doesn't get this compelling much anymore. These are fully developed jazz-like themes, well-plotted with all the elements of an exciting story, rife with strong melodies, tension-filled countermelodies and exciting ("The Shadow," "Fear," "Hunt Down") or sensual ("Warning: Live Blueberries," "The End Of The Rainbow") rhythms. Nothing here is merely the riff-based stuff cop shows became famous for in the 1970s.

Also included on this new CD are four somewhat related themes, whose sounds and titles - "Sao Paolo After Dark," (a Latinized version of Schifrinís Hit! theme), "Curtains For A Murder," "You Should Have Known" and "The Vienna Incident" - seem more appropriate to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Schifrin ought to have included some of his equally jazzy Mission: Impossible music ("Cinnamon," "Midnight Courier," "Mission Blues") that Geller also used for many episodes of Mannix. A silly guitar-heavy dance version of the main theme ("Mannix Mixdown") is also included for no very good reason.

Still, what a quibble. This is outstanding music, engagingly performed, thankfully available once again. One final note: the terrible cover art is a true disservice to the excellent music found within this package. Schifrin deserves a better presentation for such classy, and extremely enjoyable music. The worse-than-bootleg look of the cover presents something that doesn't feel right. One listen will prove otherwise.

Mannix makes for essential Lalo Schifrin listening.

Tracks: Mannix (short version); Hunt Down; The Shadow; Sao Paolo After Dark; Turn Every Stone; Warning: Live Blueberries; Beyond The Shadow of Today; The Girl Who Came In With The Tide; The Edge of Night; Curtains For a Murder; The End Of The Rainbow; You Should Have Known; End Game; The Vienna Incident; Fear; Mannix (Long Version); Mannix Mixdown.

Players: 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; Andrew Joy: French horn; Heiner Wiberny, Harald Rosenstein, Olivier Peters, Rolf Romer, Elmar Frey, Jens Neufang: reeds; Frank Chastenier: piano, organ, harpsichord; Paul Shigihara: guitar; John Goldsby: bass; Wolfgang Haffner, John Riley: drums; with Ruy Folguera: synth programming, remix; Toshi Yanagi: guitar; and orchestra: Gustav Kedves, Charles Putnam, Ludwig Rast, Christine Chapman: French horn; Ed Partyka, Harmut Muller: tuba; Janos Szudy, Thomas Steiner, Egmont Kraus, Romanus Schottler: percussion; Mischa Salevic, Juraj Cizmarovic: violin; Hans E. Schroder-Conrad: viola; Joachim Griesheimer: cello; Saskia Kwast: harp; Gaby Goldberg, Caren Faust, Elke Klien: vocal; Lalo Schifrin: composer, conductor, piano.