Hits & Misses August 1997

Hits and Misses – Mini Album Reviews
August 1997

  1. Wynton Marsalis/Blood on the Fields/Columbia
    This Grammy winning, uh, I mean Pulitzer Prize winning album will take up a portion of your life to hear in one setting, but that is the best way. Although once you get by the group’s sing-song introductions to just about every track, each individual song holds up own it’s own. Cassandra Wilson’s ever expanding reputation will continue to grow with this collaboration. Jon Hendricks and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra also shine. The NARAS people have no choice but to add more Grammy Awards to Wynton’s mantle, after all, in their long history, what NARAS member has ever won a Pulitzer. (EDITOR NOTE: Check local listings this month for PBS broadcast of Wynton Marsalis’ Blood On The Fields.)
  2. Joyce Cooling/ Playing It Cool/Heads Up
    Looking at the cover of this album, one may think, wow, w hat a great marketing ploy to have Sandra Bullock pose suggestively on the cover of a contemporary jazz album with a guitar, that great American phallic symbol. Well it wasn’t just Miss Cooling’s very good looks that got her a record deal. Even more so than the albums of one of her co-producers, guitarist Ray Obiedo, this record captures the essence of that very vibrant San Francisco electric jazz scene. Every melody included on this eleven track gem is handled deftly by the guitarist and blends effortlessly with the computers working behind her. Obiedo, is a master at that and his mark on this album is huge. As a vocalist, Miss Cooling is adequate when used sparingly. On the one track where she does expand her range, her one weakness is exposed, but, even then her guitar work is so tasteful, it doesn’t matter. One of the better contemporary jazz albums of the year inside and out.
  3. Phillipe Saisse/Next Voyage/Verve Forecast
    We were truly amazed that the diminutive French man had so much success at NAC radio with his last voyage, the truly wimpy Masques. His ex-boss, Chaka Khan, must have shaken the boy up after she heard that piece of tissue. Somebody did. That’s not to say Saisse still isn’t content to keeping his self-indulgent new age electronic noodling to himself, but this time out Saisse is not hiding his jazz/funk roots. Just the title of the opening track gives a hint of the point, Land Of The Flying Funk. Okay? And that’s the warm-up. The next track is a acid-jazz romp of Bobby Timmons classic Moanin’, which was Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ only hit single back in the early 60’s. It’s a perfect bop/post-bop/discofunk/70’s-laced dance anthem made by a European, and hey ain’t that what acid jazz is? Even Blakey could dig the percussion grooves Saisse tracks on his sequencers. The rest of the album does a hidden valley, kind of up and down thing after the scorching openers, but the peaks are well worth hearing.
  4. Kevin Hays/Andalucia/Blue Note
    The young pianist comes out in a trio format this time, produced by the newly crowned head of A&R at Blue Note, Bob Belden. Belden replaces Steve Schenfeld who moves on to GRP, which should be an interesting mix. Hays obviously picked the right guy to handle his new release and the young pianist has reasons to be at every promotion meeting wondering how come they’re not doing more. After all, he has handed the venerable company it’s finest piano trio record it’s released in years. It’s sort of reminiscent of some of Herbie Hancock’s great Blue Note albums in the 60’s, except Hancock always had a horn section. Hays fills his lines with sweeping cascades and beautiful melodies that seem to evoke the presence of soft string or horn pads. Ron Carter, a veteran of many a Hancock session, offer supple support here on his bass, and the drummer is Jack DeJohnette who grew up with Hancock in Chicago, is the drummer. Half the tracks are truly memorable originals and among the one Carter composition and four covers, the Lennon-McCartney classic And I Love Her stands out.

  1. David Benoit/American Landscapes/GRP
    Benoit is still patching together records with a Vince Guaraldi lick here, a Ramsey Lewis voicing there and a string section that sounds as if they were added as an afterthought. Even the folks in the Phillipines, where the Southern Californian is a god, should get tired of his act of being some modern day Aaron Copland and playing like some jazzed up Liberace.
  2. Horace Tapscott/Thoughts of Dar a Salaam/Arabesque
    While it’s always nice to hear a forgotten post-bop legend get another chance to record, this L.A. legend comes up a big short. There’s no doubt he’s been giving his piano a workout through his recording absence because the technique displayed is abundant. But the tunes, most of them by Tapscott, don’t seem to work well as such, and the other two members of the trio aren’t clicking, including bass player/producer Ray Drummond. On the two standards included , Bird’s “Now’s The Time” and Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo’ the pace is quick, and the technique is there, but the sax, and something else is missing.
  3. Paul VornHagen/Parisian Protocal/School Kids Records
    On the back of this album is a press clipping touting this Ann Arbor reedman/vocalist as “Michigan’s answer to Harry Connick.” That alone is reason not to pick this album up, but the curiosity as to whether the critic meant that in a flattering way or not was too much too overcome. Actually this is not a bad record, except when he sings. If I was Connick’s attorney, I’d sue. Fortunately there are only two vocal tracks, the rest is displaying VornHagen’s talent on a multitude of reeds of which he seems stronger on tenor and weakest on baritone. It’s not the greatest recording and many of the standards drag. (The drummer, Randy Marsh, on Monk’s “Hackensack” took the title literally.) What is intriguing are the three originals. The guy can play and obviously he can write. He should be doing more of both.
  4. Mehmet Ergin/Beyond The Seven Hills/GRP
    zzzzz…..zzzzzz….. Oh that’s a long flight to Instanbul. Here’s is Turkey’s answer to Peter White. The Turkish smooth jazz station but really have their rotation tight. America’s only indigenious music has proven time and time again to be quite adaptable to any music of the world and there are a few Turkey musicians who have it down. Ergin’s not one of them. Sure there’s flavor of his homeland with the wailing string instruments and the odd meter. You expect that. But you also expect that flavor not to be awashed in a sea of cliched contemporary jazz lines designed totally for airplay. Like many choosing to tailor their music for radio, Ergin loses the feeling in whatever he was trying to do by looking for suitable formulas. And this from a fan of Ottmar Liebert, the Gypsy Kings and Tuck Andress. This guy seem to be emulating some smooth jazz artist, just not the right ones.