| H I T S
- Ed Palmero Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa /Astor Place
From the same label that gave us the JazzUSA ‘Zine Top Ten album of 1996, “The Latin Side Of John Coltrane,” by Conrad Herwig, comes another tribute gem. Like Herwig, saxophonist Palmero is a relatively unknown working New York musician given a big budget, some big names and a chance to tackle a favorite composer. And like Herwig project, this works. Unlike Herwig, Palmero has chosen to tackle someone not usually associated with jazz. The guest stars are all folks long associated with crossing jazz genres including former Miles Davis guitar rocker Mike Stern, ex-Spyro Grya vibraphonist David Samuels and Yellowjacket horn man Bobby Mintzer. It’s been suggested that Zappa had a horn section that could match any intricate harmonic structure of any jazz band. This album gives that argument some credence. Besides, Zappa’s bands helped launched the careers of keyboardist George Duke and violinist Jean Luc-Ponty. There’s some classic Zappa included on the set including “Peaches En Regalia” which can also be found in many jazz fake books, as well as “King Kong” which Ponty has also recorded and “Who Are The Brain Police,” And what would any jazz tribute to Zappa be like without a tune from his jazziest album “The Grand Wazoo,” Palmero chose “Waka/Jawaka.”
- Cassandra Wilson & Jacky Terrason/ Rendezvous/ Blue Note
Name the city, give Wilson the phone book, turn on the tape player and Blue Note would probably have a hit. The company has yet another one of its struggling acts riding the coattails of the incredible career of the Mississippi country girl. Terrason does get a chance to spotlight his playing with a few tracks that Wilson lays out on. But those tunes are just fillers to the legions of jazz fans who will be delighted to here Ms Wilson once again tackle standards like she did on her classic Verve album “Blue Skies.” Since her move to Blue Note, she has developed her country thing more reserving the Great American Songbook for projects with her label mates. As expected, she takes a number of twists and turns especially on “Tea For Two” which she does at an excruciatingly slow ballad. Kenny Davis and Lonnie Plaxico, two of the most underrated bassists in jazz join in the fun on many tracks.
| M I S S E S
- Richard Smith/ First Kiss/ Heads Up International
For years, Eugene Oregon native Richard Smith toiled with his guitars in the contemporary jazz bands of saxophonist Richard Elliot and fellow Eugeneian Dan Siegel. He was hardly in anonymity as both Elliot and Siegel always allowed him ample space in the studio and on stage. Finding Richard Smith’s excellent albums, on the other hand, was like an exhausting treasure hunt. While those albums, particularly the first one, 1988’s “Puma Creek,” are consistent with the smooth grooves of the day, the melodies don’t lay there like they do on this one. Smith’s soloing also seems much more restrained on the release. One of the truly nice guys in L.A., Smith has never had a problem not only recruiting big names but also getting the most out of them. Besides the Jeff Lorber and Rippingtons recordings, and a few guest shots with vocalists, Smith is the only person to make Kenny G sound like he knows what a groove is. On this album, Smith uses his boss, Elliot, wimpy but hot guitarist Peter White and trumpeter Tony Guererro who shows less emotion than usual. The covers, Luther Vandross “Never Too Much” and the Crusaders “Put It Where You Want It” are wallpaper that should covering the airwaves of wimpy instrumental stations all over the country. It’s a shame, that now that Smith has some distribution behind his music, he cops out.
- Horace Silver/ Prescription For The Blues/ Impulse
If you’re one of the thousands of Horace Silver fans who have been waiting for him to break out since his major label comeback earlier this decade, the wait is still on. At least on this one, he’s finally returned to the quintet format, in fact he’s using the fabled Brecker Brothers horn section that he used 25 years ago. And like the every album since his comeback, the soloing on this record is exquisite. Silver continues to re-invent his style with less and less of that Bud Powell flavor, and more of something that seems to be all his own. The problem with this album, like the three proceeding it, particularly the two on Columbia, is that the compositions are weak and seemed forced. The Hardbop Grandpop just don’t have those lines cutting the funk out of the jazz like he used to. The ballads in particular are dis-angled lines that don’t seem to function properly. There’s no telling what the RX is but Silver should look into a better pharmacist.