Abercrombie / Wall / Nussbaum
Despite their popularity, organ trios have a bad reputation in jazz. Perhaps it's the greasy grooves, or the domination of too many heavy-handed B-3 players. Guitarist John Abercrombie got his start three decades ago in Johnny "Hammond" Smith's organ combo. But since then, he's shown he's anything but a stereotypical chord cruncher or fatback slinger. He's traversed modal and bop, waxed lyrical and ethereal, gone all-out free and dug deep in rock and he seems sincere about each and every journey he takes. Abercrombie seems simply incapable of hitting a false note.
In addition to the multitudes of other multifaceted projects he leads or to which he contributes, Abercrombie in 1992 formed this organ trio featuring the outstanding Cleveland native Dan Wall on organ and the indescribably sensitive and intuitive Adam Nussbaum on drums. Abercrombie was already (and still is) a contributor to Jeff Palmer's organ quartets. But in Palmer's group there is a conscientious, almost cloying need to expand upon Larry Young's innovations. Abercrombie's trio, on the other hand, is often inaccurately branded with continuing the Larry Young tradition (as is any organ group that isn't mining the groove). But there's something different -- and more exciting -- going on here. This is a trio that is dependent on one another's aural creations. Much like Bill Evans' best trios (with Scott Lafaro or Marc Johnson on bass) -- and especially the Motian / Frisell / Lovano trio -- this is a creative, synergistic musical unit.
Perhaps because this is a live event (recorded at the Visiones club in New York July 13-15, 1996), Tactics is the best of this trio's three discs (there's also 1992's While We're Young and 1993's Speak of the Devil). It's an ideal showcase for all of Abercrombie's capabilities too (not counting his guitar synth work, which is not highlighted here).
As one expects from an ECM production,
it's beautifully recorded. Tactics
sounds as if it was made in a pristine studio. And though
every note Abercrombie, Wall and Nussbaum play is
improvised (based on certain simple patterns), none
fashion anything less than a thoughtful, unpredictable
and amazing pattern. Perhaps Abercrombie's guitar
dominates; but it is so only in how well Wall and
Nussbaum cushion the guitarist's ethereal inventions.
Included are two overly-performed standards ("You
and the Night and the Music" and "Long Ago and
Far Away," which further link this group to the
Evans and Motian trios). But Abercrombie and crew take
these tried-and-true pieces to different spheres than one
is accustomed. Nussbaum contributes one original, Dan
Wall has two (including the surprisingly funky "Bo
Diddy") and Abercrombie includes three of his own
("Sweet Sixteen," "Last Waltz" and
the superior Coltrane ode of "Dear Rain," his
inventive mix of "Dear
Tactics is very highly recommended and, thus far, one of the best new releases of 1997.
After a dozen years playing in his uncle's band, 40-year-old trombonist Clifton Anderson steps out of the Sonny Rollins group for Landmarks, his Milestone debut. This is a nice, polished mainstream set which mixes some bop and ballads with a couple standards and (surprise, surprise) a fun calypso. Anderson has an all-star lineup, with Monty Alexander, who's excellent on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Al Foster on drums and solid guest spots for Wallace Roney on trumpet ("Princess Neh Neh"), Victor See Yuen's percussion ("I Thought It Was Understood") and Kenny Garrett on alto ("Mommy"). If the presence of Roney, Garrett and Foster suggest a Miles Davis kind of thing, then we're clearly talking about the trumpet legend's Prestige dates from the mid-1950s (one of which even featured Rollins).
Anderson is an accomplished player who has the warm, swinging and flexible burnish of that other famous '50s bopper, Curtis Fuller. He's even willing to flirt with his own individuality occasionally, as he does in the beautiful and appropriately romantic "My One And Only Love," where he makes his trombone sound like a purring French horn.
He's also a writer of exceptionally well-crafted bop. "P. C. (From Whom All Blessings Flow)," "Mommy," "Landmarks Along the Way" and "Thanks" are all memorable, solid bop pieces that deserve additional interpretations elsewhere. Even on the slower songs, this group swings with earnest. It's not nearly as studied or reverential as is so much of what today's neo-bop young lions keep churning out. There are some genuinely nice musical moments throughout Landmarks that make it worthy of repeated listens. There's nothing groundbreaking about Landmarks. But it's highly recommended for lovers of trad-bop (the kind Prestige and Savoy made in the 1950s) and Sonny Rollins listeners familiar with Clifton Anderson's capabilities. A fine and promising debut.
Electricity is another one of an infrequent series of recordings by Bob Brookmeyer, who used to pop up all over the place throughout the 1950s and 1960s. While he's always been rooted firmly in the mainstream (Gerry Mulligan, the Concert Jazz Band, the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra and his own records on Verve), Brookmeyer has also consistently approached creative music in unorthodox ways (his two-piano quartet with Bill Evans, and his trombone jazz samba records). His greatest gifts, though, are his contributions to orchestral jazz. His tonal palette has many more shades than one expects. As a result, his compositions and arrangements often require more than one listen. There's much to appreciate in his music's richness and depth. Even though in his notes to Electricity, Brookmeyer writes, "I think that I'm looking more for meaning and worrying less about coloring the orchestra," he manages to achieve both here.
But Electricity, as its title may suggest, is by no means a look backwards. Many of Brookmeyer's six long tunes (ranging from seven to sixteen minutes each) are framed by John Abercrombie's thrashing electric guitar or cushioned by his tasteful guitar synth or other electronic keyboards. This March 1991 recording finds Brookmeyer fronting the excellent WDR Big Band (which also supports Mike Gibbs, Bernard Purdie and Eddie Harris on other recent Act Jazz releases). The German WDR Big Band, like the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, are all that remain of the great jazz orchestras - many of which Brookmeyer has successfully contributed to since the early 1950s!
All of these pieces have a progressive, story-like pattern to them, utilizing Abercrombie as the principal storyteller. "Farewell New York" is a 16-minute dirge that begins with Abercrombie's dissonant guitar-synth wail then progresses into march-like cadenzas to eventually find the guitarist in a more contemplative mood. Its intensity oddly recalls Elton John's "Funeral for A Friend." The album's strongest tracks, "Ugly Music" and "Say Ah" bring to mind those cool, jazzy soundtracks of Italian mystery films from the 1970s (i.e.: Deep Red). Abercrombie is simply amazing throughout. He can mine the wealth of innovations from Hendrix and Montgomery to Farlow and Frisell and yet never lose his own multiply talented identities.
One senses that Electricity more successfully achieves much of what Gil Evans was trying to accomplish in the late 1970s and 1980s with his own big bands. Aside from the lovely, almost simplistic harmonies and rhythmic patterns, Brookmeyer's choice of a main soloist with multiple talents (in this case, Abercrombie) is perfect. Some listeners may be discouraged that Brookmeyer didn't showcase his own beautiful and distinctive valve trombone (his only real features are brief ones in "No Song" and "The Crystal Place"). But that's a small gripe. Brookmeyer always reveals so much more as a musician in his orchestrations. For the small group fans, however, Challenge Records recently issued Brookmeyer's Paris Suite, a 1993-94 session which finds the valve trombonist leading a Dutch quartet.
Electricity is highly recommended to those who appreciate the lost art of orchestral jazz in a contemporary setting and, most especially, to fans of John Abercrombie -- who is nothing short of brilliant in his varied roles here.
This October 27, 1967, recording was always the best of Lou Donaldson's funky albums. It's just amazing -- given the material and the awful cover art -- that Blue Note put this back into circulation at all. If for nothing else, Mr. Shing-A-Ling is worth the investment for the ultra-funking "Peepin'" alone (featured for the first time on CD in last year's terrific The Best of Lou Donaldson Vol. 2). Composer and organist Lonnie Smith lays down a basic fatback groove and manages to glean a funk anthem that set the foundation for a whole decade worth of Lou Donaldson LPs ("Midnight Creeper" is a mere rewrite of this classic). Among Donaldson's big funk classics -- "Midnight Creeper," "Brother Soul" and "The Caterpillar" -- "Peepin'" reigns supreme.
The groove sets the tone for its talented principals to really strut their stuff: Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Jimmy Ponder on guitar and Idris Muhammed on drums. The credit goes to Donaldson, a talented original who learned from Bird how to structure clever solos and taught by example how to get his group to deliver one infectious line after another. This group even invests corny, overplayed tunes like "Ode to Billie Joe" and "The Shadow of Your Smile" with foot-tapping good groove. Mr. Shing-A-Ling is a hearty brew of some steaming funk.
Young alto player Antonio Hart seems to have spiced up his reverence for Cannonball Adderley with the more peppery fire of Arthur Blythe. Not a bad combination, but Hart's Impulse debut still leaves something to be desired. There's no shortage of professional, competent performances here, and his quartet is equally capable. Even guests like trombonist Robin Eubanks and the under-recorded Shirley Scott make brief, underwhelming appearances. Hart's lackluster originals and the variety of different groups make it clear that this is one of those records that attempts to showcase the leader's diversity -- hard bop ("The Community"), Latin ("Ven Devoroiame Otra Vez"), Woody Shaw-like Latinized modes ("Brother Nasheet"), basic blues ("Like My Own") and a (yuck) hip hop beat-jazz poetry reading ("The Words Don't Fit In My Mouth").
It never feels as if you're listening to one session by one artist. "Flamingo," the disk's sole standard, stands out due to Ms. Scott's support on organ. It is the easily the most interesting track here and Hart sounds more inspired this time out than he does elsewhere on his own tunes. It's a shame the talented Hart didn't stick with the organ combo throughout Here I Stand. It would have made this hodge podge sampler worth more than one listen.
The Latin Side of John
A great idea beautifully executed by New York trombonist Conrad Herwig. The trombonist/arranger/musical director chooses Coltrane's most accessible material from a period that arguably spawned his best, most memorable work (1958-1964), devised simple, exploratory frameworks for each (recalling veteran Chico O'Farrill), then assembled an outstanding collection of musicians. In addition to Herwig's sinewy trombone, there's Brian Lynch on trumpet, Dave Valentin on flutes, Ronnie Cuber on baritone, Richie Beirach (who contributed to some of the arrangements), Danilo Perez and Eddie Palmeri on piano, Andy Gonzalez (from the Fort Apache Band) on bass and Milton Cardona on vocals and percussion. Selections are outstanding: "A Love Supreme," "Blue Train," (where Lynch trades fours with Herwig), "Afro Blue" (great flute solo by Valentine), "Naima" (beautifully featuring Beirach), "After The Rain," "Impressions" and "India."
Throughout, Herwig solos flawlessly, with a sensitivity and fire that's reminiscent of the source of his tribute. Herwig's record, more than Joe Henderson's recent big-band event, sounds like a natural conclusion. The arrangements and performances work well together and the Latin environment seems a logical foundation for Coltrane's passions. One last note: Astor Place has done a beautiful job packaging The Latin Side of John Coltrane, sparing no expense for trendy art direction that recalls some of the very expensive covers Limelight Records put out in the mid 60s. Recommended.
Keystone Bop Vol. 2:
Here's Freddie Hubbard the way he was meant to be heard -- muscular, exciting, in good form and live on stage with outstanding guests and a top-notch band. Keystone Bop: Vol 2 Friday / Saturday is the second installation from a weekend series of sets recorded November 27-29, 1981, at Todd Barkan's long-gone Keystone Korner in San Francisco. The first issue of this great music came out last year on Prestige as Keystone Bop: Sunday Night. Most of the music from these two Prestige CDs was originally issued on vinyl in the mid 1980s by Fantasy as Keystone Bop, Freddie Hubbard Classics and A Little Night Music.
Hubbard fronts an excellent group here with his then-current working group (Billy Childs on piano, Larry Klien on bass and Steve Houghton on drums) and prominently features San Francisco residents / guests Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson at their very, very best. Keystone Bop: Vol 2 also adds the formerly unreleased "Round Midnight," a sterling showcase for Henderson, to the stew.
The trumpeter, having released a slew of forgettable fusion records on Columbia by 1981, blew the ears off listeners who thought he'd lost that unique ability of his with performances like this. Since then, Hubbard's edge has deteriorated because of physical (not commercial) problems -- although 1991's MusicMasters release, Live at Fat Tuesday's, often gets as good as this. Hubbard delivers long, exciting takes of superior blowing tunes like "One of Another Kind," "Red Clay" and "First Light." Not one is less than 17 minutes! Each of the talented participants gets to strut his stuff -- and they clearly like making music with one another. The audience undoubtedly gets its money's worth. You will too. Great stuff!
From the surprisingly successful Blue Note Cover Series comes this exceptional disc by multi-talented eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter. The 29-year old Hunter has made a thankfully unpredictable choice "covering" Bob Marley's influential and popular 1974 reggae classic Natty Dread. Hunter, heard here in a quartet with an alto, tenor sax and drums, resists the urge toward reverential readings and reggae clichés in this music. As a result, the soulful beauty of Marley's outstanding music shines through. Anyone familiar with Hunter's work in the ultra-cool quartet T.J. Kirk can expect another dose of thoughtful, sometimes funky - but always original -- takes on somewhat familiar material.
Charlie Hunter, like Bill Frisell and John Abercrombie, can wield any sound he wants to from his guitar (an eight-string is only slightly less weird than Ron Escheté's unimaginably difficult seven-string guitar). Hunter can make his axe wail like an organ, ring like a pedal steel, whine with Hendrix-like feedback or sing like Grant Green on an especially soulful day. Hunter is comfortable in just about any style imaginable too -- but he sticks mostly to very accessible playing. What he does with Marley's hit "No Woman, No Cry" is tender, passionate and unbelievably beautiful. Its origins are evident; but the liners spell out the influence of Bill Frisell and Ry Cooder (nice to see Cooder get his due for a change). Hunter's version has hit potential, and deserves to get widespread airplay. Everyone who heard this song while I played the disc (including my mother, who doesn't like jazz) was just hypnotized by it.
Another hit-worthy tune is the marvelous version of the anthem-like "Revolution" which features the reeds. Hunter also kicks out the jams here, crafting a John Patton /John Zorn /Ed Cherry-does-James Brown groove on "Bend Down Low." And there's something appealing about the '70s Jeff Beck funk of "Lively Up Yourself" and "Talkin' Blues" too. Throughout, Hunter sounds inspired and interested -- and the average listener will find as much to appreciate here. A very nice surprise worth checking out.
Another nice surprise is guitarist Fareed Haque's "cover" of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's 1970 "classic rock" album Deja Vu. Haque's incredible six-string talents (on classic guitar) and the acid-jazz appeal often overcome what could have been simply a smooth-jazz recollection of some hippy-dippy fun. A Blue Note concept (that must have sounded gimmicky on paper) turns out to yield some good, valuable music for the 1990s.
If you mixed Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley and Hank Crawford, you'd get Jesse Jones, Jr. He out-Manns Herbie Mann (on a hard, slow jam of "Comin' Home Baby") and at times even hints at Arthur Blythe ("Precious"). The alto player / flautist / vocalist makes his recording debut here at the age of 52 with a talent and groove that owes something to those better-known reed masters yet importantly maintains a swing, pulse and energy that's all his own. Soul Serenade nearly sounds as if it was one of those rocking Eddie Harris records on Atlantic. But Jones swings his own party here. "Papa Stopper" and "Jesma" is what Cannonball would be doing in the 90s - with brother Melton Mustafa doing fine by Nat. But Jones rips through it with a familiar vigor that arches in directions all his own. Jones trots out a welcome remake of the great King Curtis classic, "Soul Serenade," with an unmistakable, impassioned wail. Here, it is evident that Jones, like King Curtis and Paul Desmond (a favorite of Jones'), knows how to structure a solo: like a good story - a soul story. And so what if it's been told before.
Jones has a top-rate quartet backing him, including fellow Fort Lauderdale resident Lonnie Smith on piano and organ. It's great to hear Smith, who's gotten more interesting on organ in the last few years, solo on piano during "Comin' Home Baby" and "Precious." Soul Serenade loses steam during Jones' infrequent scat singing bits ("The Dap Kid") and suffers unnecessary ballads like "That's The Way Love Is." One senses, though, that a sound like Jesse Jones, Jr. isn't served well on record. His groove needs to be experienced in a club, where you can dig the greasy groove live and sanctify his brand of funky soul in person.
Although trombonist Nils Landgren has released several albums in his native Sweden since the mid 80s, Paint It Blue appears to be his first album available in the United States. Landgren, who calls his sextet the Funk Unit, has subtitled Paint It Blue, "A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley" and, as such, produced something that successfully brings some of Adderley's funk right into the 90s.
The most obvious choices for Adderley covers are this release's best tunes: "Walk Tall," "Why Am I Treated So Bad" and "Mercy Mercy Mercy." They rock hard in a contemporary groove without losing the integrity of their original identity. Landgren fares well on the not-so-obvious choices too: Nat's "Inside Straight" (1973) and Cannon's "Primitivo" (1962). Paint It Blue's best track, though, is the heavy-duty dose of Adderley-like funk, "You Dig," co-written by Landgren and two Unit members. "You Dig," which features the immediately identifiable tenor of Michael Brecker and the always-welcome trapfunk of Bernard Purdie, is Landgren doing what he does best -- letting his brassy bone slide with slick confidence all over the funk terrain.
Much of this record often recalls J.J. Johnson's underrated soundtrack music of the 1970s. Some of the tunes also feature brief, mercifully unobtrusive rap / vocals by Unit member Magnum Coltrane Price. The rest of Paint It Blue, while it has seemingly little more than a title connecting it to Cannonball's music, is notable for not being bone-heavy at all. That's due to Landgren's subtle talents and the utilization of the Unit as a group entity with equally talented players getting front-line attention.
Despite an unfortunate overabundance of slow jams (which, reveals the limits of Landgren's sparkle and wit, unlike Cannonball's), Paint It Blue does have enough solid jazz-funk to keep it going. For another approach to Cannonball Adderley's inspiration, interested listeners may also want to check out the Manhattan Project's quite good, recently-released non-funk disc, We Remember Cannon, on Evidence.
The Four Seasons
For nearly four decades now, French pianist and composer Jacques Loussier has been issuing peerless jazz versions of Bach's multifaceted music. Although that may sound like a novelty (remember Bachbusters?), Loussier understands both idioms well and is partial to no one particular genre, as he also includes touches of rock and the avant-garde in his style too. Loussier makes a successful case for defining music as simply music without pigeonholing it into genre. He often conjures images of John Lewis in his cool classicism, Ahmad Jamal in his earthy approach and adherence to space and, especially during solos, the intellectual emotionalism of Bill Evans. Because of his interests and talents in jazz, Loussier is nothing like Glenn Gould, another pianist who repeatedly explored Bach's terrain and wound up in different places.
When this approach works, Loussier devises unique, wondrous approaches to his material: the "Allegro" from La Primavera here and Bach's "Gavotte in D Major" elsewhere. When it doesn't, Loussier sounds like he's trying too hard to meld opposing styles to come up with something that sounds a little too forced: the Brubeck-ish "Presto" from L'Estate and the George Winston-in-a-trio version of "Allegro Non Molto" from L'Inverno.
Departing momentarily from Bach, Loussier here explores Vivaldi's well-known Four Seasons. In addition to the popular themes, Loussier invests these pieces with familiar styles - without ever taking leave of his crystal-clear vision and perfectly recorded sound. "Allegro" from La Primavera is reminiscent of Dave Grusin's "Mountain Dance" and could just as easily have come from a good Bob James record like BJ4. The acoustic Bob James style, heard on last year's Straight Up, is on call again in the "Largo" from "L'Inverno." And "Django" is clearly the model for "Allegro Non Molto" from L'Estate. Here, Loussier retains the clarity of Vivaldi's vision and even manages to structure a nice tribute to "Django" composer John Lewis.
Although it takes several listens to get acquainted with this music, it is an excellent showcase for Loussier's abilities to rethink the music, to explore it with wisdom and to work with a super-talented bassist (Vincent Charbonnier) and drummer (Andre Arpino) who are sensitive to what he aims to accomplish. As background music, The Four Seasons sounds pleasant, if not a little dry. But when attending to its many, many intricate charms, yields a rich listening experience that would appeal as much to a classical listener as to a jazz lover. I suspect fans of Keith Jarrett would probably like much of what Mr. Loussier produces here as well as on his previous Telarc disc Plays Bach and those Columbia discs, like Bach to the Future, he produced in the 1980s.
The Dream Team
Jimmy McGriff returns to Milestone (after a brief sojourn to Telarc) for a better-than-average outing on The Dream Team. This is as good as it gets -- at least lately. McGriff, an inventive and exciting blues and funk organist, spent the 1980s on Milestone and produced maybe one exciting performance -- "River's Invitation" from 1987's Steppin' Up (with frequent collaborator Hank Crawford). When he strayed to the small label Headfirst in 1991, he got down (and hip) with the terrific In A Blue Mood. But since then, he's been chuggin' out the standards and slogging out ho-hum lounge blues. The Dream Team sort of reunites the cast which initiated McGriff's Milestone tenure in the mid 1980s, The Starting Five: David "Fathead" Newman (who's right on the money here, recalling the glory of his Atlantic days), guitarist Mel Brown and funk trapsman Bernard Purdie. Jazz lost tenor great Rusty Bryant since then. But his replacement, ace alto / tenor man Red Holloway, fits in nicely here.
Things get off to a great start with the ultra-funky jam of David Newman's well-titled "McGriffin" -- and all the folks involved rise to the occasion with pure, kick-butt groove. "McGriffin," a great throwback to those early 1970s Prestige jams, seems ripe for sampling but then loses points when it fades after only seven minutes. McGriff and company dig deep into McGriff's jamming "Red Hot `N' New" and bluesy "Fleetwood Stroll." They even rock out Willie Nelson's "Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away." One wishes, however, that McGriff would quit trotting out warhorses like "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" ("Teach Me Tonight" is another frequently heard McGriff standard). But you can't deny the guy swings -- even when it sounds like he's fronting a wedding band. He's even mastered the new Hammond XB-3. Here, unlike his previous outing with Hank Crawford (Right Turn On Blues), he focuses the XB away from electronic gimmicks and more toward his classic and wonderfully identifiable B-3 sound. It's nice to hear Jimmy McGriff like this, and I highly recommend The Dream Team to the McGriff mob and those folks into some good contemporary acid jazz...but "McGriffin" makes a better title for this disc.
Live at the Fillmore '68
Live at the Fillmore '68 is an outstanding and welcome glimpse into the exciting musical invention of one of rock's most musically creative groups, Santana. It also offers much for jazz listeners to appreciate. At this point in the band's evolution it was called the Santana Blues Band and this quintet of young, talented and broad-minded musicians (featuring talented B-3 grinder / vocalist Greg Rolie) was still one of San Francisco's best kept secrets. What is most striking (especially on this disc) is that the young Carlos Santana had already perfected his own signature sound on guitar -- a wedding of wails and wild runs that benefited from the influence of both B.B. King and Gabor Szabo.
Long-time Santana fans will recognize many of the tunes here: "Jingo," "Persuasion," "Treat" and "Soul Sacrifice" especially. But these are looser, less polished -- and juicier -- versions than Santana's better-known, later performances of the same tunes. Rolie's vocals (which were never bettered throughout the band's subsequent years) are kept to a minimum over the two-disc set in favor of energetic Latin rock and exploratory blues rock.
The jazz influence, however, is unmistakable. "Treat," starting off with a two-chord blues exploration by Rolie on piano, is reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi's version of Donald Byrd's "Christo Redentor" then progresses toward Santana's expressive, Wes Montgomery-like cadenzas. "Chunk A Funk" has the feel of one of those late 1960s Blue Note funk tunes popularized by Lou Donaldson ("Midnight Creeper") or John Patton. Here, as elsewhere, Rolie is a revelation on the B-3, offering a heaping helping of Jimmy Smith-like soul.
"Conquistadores Rides Again" is a hot journey through Chico Hamilton's 1965 "Conquistadores" that brings out the Gypsy rocker in Carlos Santana's guitar groove. "Freeway," which topples over 30 minutes (!), starts rockin' that old Sam Lazar / Grant Green groove, slides into Santana's B.B. King-meets-Bo Diddley blues chug-a-lug, and then explodes into a genuinely rousing Willie Bobo-like percussion attack before rocking to its exciting conclusion.
The well-recorded Live at the Fillmore '68 deserves to be heard by jazz and rock listeners alike. It's a reminder of how rock could appeal to jazz lovers in the late 1960s (Jimi Hendrix is another). This music is electric, exciting and exploratory. Kudos to Columbia for letting it out of the vaults.
In the 1970s, Tom Scott was pretty bankable stuff. In addition to countless pop, jazz and film sessions, he blew out one catchy little tune after another on his own albums and those with the L.A. Express. He littered the Columbia vaults with some good easy-listening pop-jazz in the '70s: Tom Cat, Blow it Out, New York Connection and (one of my faves as a teen) Street Beat. Trouble is, Scott's simple little tunes and simpleminded playing on a variety of acoustic and electric wind instruments gets mighty old awfully fast. One or two listens and you get the idea. He meandered through the 1980s with nothing much left to say and pretty much withered to seed on a variety of worthless GRP outings since then.
Scott, once a promising Coltrane disciple who soon settled on money-making music, here brings back the "L.A. Express" concept, enlisting former studio associates Robben Ford on guitar, the tremendous Joe Sample on Fender Rhodes and occasional piano, Steve Gadd on drums and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. Nothing terribly exciting happens. But it's nice to hear him throw some bayou funk into dancehall numbers like "Tom Cat" and Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up." In fact, it's the old tunes like these and "Sneakin' in the Back" and "Dirty Old Man" that are the most fun to hear, chugging with an insistent and dirty groove. While it's short on solos or invention, Bluestreak is long on pleasant, easy-going funk.
Unfortunately, when Scott leads on soprano, much of the whole affair sounds like another one of those snoozy Grover Washington Jr. albums. You can't help but wish the guy would stick to his very identifiable tenor playing. L.A. Express fans won't be disappointed with Bluestreak - and it's good to hear Tom Scott play like he means it again. But even though Robben Ford takes some nice solos, it would have been preferable to hear this team plumb the depths of the unexpected and turn up a little more juice. It doesn't mean this disc isn't worth a listen: it's a pleasant return to form for Scott. Terrible cover art, though.
Got My Mojo
Workin/Hoochie Coochie Man
When compared to his Blue Note catalog, Jimmy Smith's Verve records have a reputation for being commercial. Despite artistic triumphs like Hobo Flats (1963), The Cat (1964), Peter & The Wolf (1966) and Bluesmith (1972), it could hardly get more commercial than these two albums, Got My Mojo Workin' from 1965 and Hoochie Coochie Man from 1966. Both albums contain an abundance of Smith's gutteral grunting and occasional raspy-voiced vocalizing (a weird combination of Keith Jarrett's moans and Muddy Waters' groans) and a program of rock cover tunes, well-known blues standards and contemporary big-band jazz. But Smith's organ grinding is faultless, swinging and when he solos, all is forgiven. The best of the material here is the four small-group tracks from Mojo, "Hi-Heel Sneakers" and "Mustard Greens" especially, where Smith's clever lines are ignited by Kenny Burrell's sterling guitar work.
Unfortunately, Oliver Nelson's arrangements often seem imposed as an afterthought on the rest of the material. By the time you get to the Hoochie Coochie Man music, things get a bit brassier. A harmonica consistently reinforces the blues orientation, but the goal is to crossover, much as Nelson's Impulse record Oliver Nelson Plays Michelle (recorded two months earlier) attempted. Again, when Smith solos, he rocks. The one magical moment here occurs on Nelson's intricate and evocative "Blues and the Abstract Truth." The song itself, first heard on Nelson's 1964 disc More Blues and the Abstract Truth, gets a marvelous workout here, due in no small measure to the energy and wit Smith invests in his straight-ahead abilities. Although this new twofer disc is correctly aimed at the acid-jazz crowd, it'd be nice, however, if Verve also brought back into circulation something like Peter & The Wolf, a much better document of the inspiration and invention of the collaborations between Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson.
Bravo for pianist Gene Harris, who seems to have recently and belatedly been discovered. After churning out dozens of fine records in the 1960s for Blue Note, Verve, Mercury and Limelight, then drowning in funk and disco records in the 1970s, he finally gave it all up and retired to Idaho. Bassist Ray Brown coaxed him back into playing in the mid 1980s and the two formed a terrific group that recorded frequently for the Concord label.
Since then, Harris has steadily been putting out a variety of first-rate discs with his own quartet, featuring the guitar handiwork of Ron Eschete. His latest on Concord, It's The Real Soul says it all. Like Joe Henderson, he's doing what he's always done best. It's just the rest of the world finally started paying attention.
Babe's Blues is from the Three Sounds, the Harris trio that made many fine records from 1958 through about 1968. It's one of those treats that's been collecting dust in Blue Note's warehouse since it was recorded 8/31/61 (the same session that yielded the group's Hey There). The title track -- a classy Monk-blues crash typical of early Randy Weston (the song's composer) -- was recorded 3/8/62, the same date which also provided tracks for the group's Black Orchid and Out of This World (both available on Japanese CD). Harris, aided by smooth, sympathetic bassist Andy Simpkins and subtle drummer Bill Dowdy, are in top form here, like a hip hotel lounge band with a wicked sense of the blues. Harris plumbs his specialty throughout, wresting the blues out of even the most mundane of tunes. The trio works the blues into well-worn standards like "Shiny Stockings," "Stairway to the Stars" and "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," and gives the gospel good time to "Babe's Blues," Ernest Tubbs' (!) "Walking the Floor Over You" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song." Those who marveled at Ray Charles' country-and-western renditions a full year later would have been mightly pleased with how Harris and company twisted the jazz out of the country.
A Twist of Jobim
This appropriately "smooth jazz" tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim is perhaps one of the best that's come out over the last few years. Like many of Jobim's records, it goes down like a smooth, relaxing drink. Producer, arranger and nominal leader Lee Ritenour has collected some fine talent, particularly frequent collaborator Dave Grusin, and crafted some very nice moments throughout. Highlights include "Water to Drink" (featuring Ritenour and Grusin), "Captain Bacardi" (an old Ritenour / Grusin staple with Eric Marienthal), "Lamento" (featuring Ernie Watts and Christian McBride) and "Mojave" (with the Yellowjackets and Ritenour). All lend their individual, and often surprisingly distinctive, talents to the collective soul of Jobim's beautiful melodies.
Much to his credit, Ritenour favors some of Jobim's finer, less exploited, tunes. The nicest surprise of all, though, is Herbie Hancock's smoking rendition of "Stone Flower," Jobim's truly under-appreciated maze of rhythm and chord changes from 1970. Hancock, who's lately made a career of inclusion among Jobim tributes, gets his only feature here and it's truly worth the price of admission. Hancock's dynamic playing, reminiscent of his work with Milton Nascimento, is as muscular and as sensitive as Jobim's tricky romance suggests. Although I could do without the vocals and the vocalists (El DeBarge on "Dindi," Al Jarreau and Oletta Adams on the annoying "Waters of March" and "Girl from Ipanema"), each singer, especially Jarreau, fits well into Jobim's universe, ably suggesting the romantic shores of Ipanema.
Great song choices (though I would've traded "Girl from Ipanema" for "A Felicidade") and a sensitive cast of talented players make A Twist Of Jobim worth at least a listen or two.
Spectrum: The Anthology
Tony Williams's pioneering electric trio Lifetime made two stunning, yet imperfect records in the early 1970s in Emergency! and Turn It Over. A reflection of the turbulence of its times and the new attitudes that were being shaped, Lifetime began life as one of jazz's first all-star power trios: the brilliant Larry Young on organ, the multitalented John McLaughlin on guitar and Williams, a complete arsenal of one on drums. Some of the music this group made was powerful and breathtaking. Some of it was downright pretentious and amateurish (especially whenever someone started singing). But even so, jazz audiences hated the group; it was rock listeners who were intuitive enough to pick up on this trio's amazing musical integrity.
Spectrum represents what could be amazing about Lifetime -- and, unfortunately, what could make it unbearable. But whatever your expectations about Spectrum, don't count on it being a complete chronicle of Lifetime's Polydor output (1969-73). It leaves out "Beyond Games," "Via the Spectrum Road" and "Something Spiritual" from Emergency! and "This Night This Song" and "Once I Loved" from Turn It Over. Both these records deserve to be heard in their entirety (both volumes of Emergency! were issued as one CD a couple years back). And it wouldn't hurt to hear lesser achievements like Ego (from 1971, without McLaughlin) and the more pop-oriented The Old Bum's Rush (from 1973, without Young) in full either.
Verve, instead of adding the unnecessary and seemingly costly decorative plastic sleeve to this set, could have added a third disc and put out all of Lifetime's Polydor material. The one bonus track here, a formerly unreleased version of "One Word" (the Mahavishnu tune with Jack Bruce's terrible vocals), should have remained unreleased.
Spectrum, which was released the same week the drummer died in February, is an unnecessarily incomplete retrospective. Even though the packaging does not claim it is complete, it is certainly implied. Release dates of the records are listed, but not the more useful recording dates. And John McDermott's liner notes seem to slip a few times in its chronology. For a better, more useful sample of Lifetime's achievements, pick up on the Emergency! two-fer CD instead.