Hits & Misses September 1997

Hits and Misses – Mini Album Reviews
September 1997

  1. Barbara Dennerlein

    For years the German organist has been mixing her style of Larry Young/Jimmy Smith inspired B-3 organ grooves and eclectic jazz. If there is such a thing as accessible avant-garde, Miss Dennerlein has perfected the formula on her highly charged new effort. Just knowing that saxophonist David Murray, tuba player Howard Johnson and guitarist Mitch Watkins are all on the set should alert astute jazz fans that some serious listening is required. But Dennerlein layered grooves and funky rhythms never allow either the musicians or her angled melodies to get in the way. Already a star on her native continent, this could be the album that allows her to cultivate a wider American audience than just those lucky enough to hear her live in New York City.
  2. Joe Henderson/Porgy & Bess/Verve
    Neither Sting or Chaka Khan are strangers to jazz musicians. Each has their obligatory Miles story, which gets them into the club. Chaka recorded with him on her CK album, and Sting stole his bass player Daryll “Munch” Jones. But for some unknown reason, Sting is the one who seems to get the respect of the jazz audience and this record won’t help her case. In the early 80’s, Chaka Khan made a brilliant album with Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White titled Echoes Of An Era.

    Sting had an incredible band soon afterwards that featured Munch, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Jeff Watts and others. Chaka sung jazz with her band. Sting played pop in front of a jazz group. Each one makes a cameo on Henderson’s remake of the Gershwin’s boys black opera and Sting is the thief again. He is absolutely delightful and playful on It Ain’t Necessarily So, while Chaka seems restrained, almost trite on Summertime. She seems to be hoping for a hit while Sting is just having a good time and it shows. If you really want to hear Chaka Khan sing jazz, check her out with George Benson, Miles and Dave Grusin on the aforementioned CK album or Echoes Of An Era. She also sings lovely with Joe Sample on her last album with Rufus Live At The Savoy and her lyrics and her version of A Night In Tunisia with Dizzy Gillespie & Herbie Hancock from her album What’cha Gonna Do For Me is a fusion classic. Oh and the rest of the Porgy & Bess album, which comes out in October, is wonderful. Joe Henderson will win another Grammy, his record sales will once again keep the jazz department at Verve working for a few more years and his status as the premiere living post-bop saxophonist will be exalted even higher. This album also confirms trombonist Conrad Herwig as one of the rising stars in jazz.

  3. Kevin Mahogany/Another Time, Another Place/Warner Brothers
    We’ve seen some of the outtakes from the film Kansas City, and had they kept all of Mahogany’s scenes, he’d be a big star today. But since Robert Altman dropped him on the cutting room floor, the singer from KC has had to keep concentrating on his rising recording career. For this, his fifth album, he brought along his buddy, guitarist Dave Stryker from nearby Omaha, and hooked up with the New York rhythm section of Cyrus Chestnut, Ben Wolfe and Clarence Penn on piano, bass and drums respectively. The results could be Mahogany’s breakthrough album. It should at least bring him from under the shadow of Joe Williams, who he’s been unjustly compared to. More than his self-titled major label debut a few years ago, this album shows a much lighter side of Mahogany. He and Stryker collaborated on a very funny song called Fix It In The Mix, and country and western singer Randy Travis doesn’t hurt the credibility of the effort on his duet with Mahogany. Joe Lovano lends his powerful sax on a couple of tracks including Free, which is one of two gut wrenching songs from the potentially explosive songwriting team of Pamela Watson and Pat Metheny.
  4. Joe Sample/Sample This/Warner Brothers
    Inspired by the acid-jazz heads sampling his old Crusaders tunes, and in an effort to generate even larger royalty checks for his great grandchildren, Sample has re-recorded 14 of his best tunes that he originally did with the Crusaders and in his early solo career. That fact alone should have half of our readers already out the door to their nearest record store. With George Duke producing and bringing his cousin, Diane Reeves, for one tune, Sample must have known this was a winning idea. For true Crusader fans, it should be an experience to hear tunes like Snowflake and Chain Reaction, which were high energy smokers with the group, broken down to its very essence with Sample’s piano and a rhythm section. With so many jazz artists recording tribute albums to other artists, Sample did the right thing in paying tribute to one of the most underrated jazz composers of our time, himself.

  1. Randy Brecker/Into The Sun/Concord
    This man is one half of the ground breaking Brecker Brothers horn section that combined with half of the James Brown horn section that produced some of the horniest funk ever on the classic P-Funk albums Chocolate City and Mothership Connection. This man was once married to Eliane Elias, one of the most beautiful and talented musicians to ever come out of Brazil. This man has put out a Brazilian/funk record that does damage to the legacies of George Clinton and Eliane Elias. If this is all he learned from them, he definitely wasn’t paying attention. No wonder she left him.
  2. Charles Earland
    /Blowin’ The Blues Away/High Note

    Only Dr. Lonnie Smith is taking more advantage of the Hammond B-3 Organ revival than Earland. With a new album out, another coming out this month and a new record deal and a jazz cruise in his honor, the Mighty Burner hasn’t had his tour book this filled since the glory days of Black Talk and More Today Than Yesterday back in 1969. But his albums are starting to sound the same. With his predictability, he’s taking the term revival too literally. The formula is just about the same. A number of jazz standards ( this time three by Horace Silver) and a couple of modern pop tunes are done probably in one take and that’s that. If you have any of his last three albums, just change the melody and chord changes to Anita Baker’s Sweet Love or the Isley Brothers’ For The Love Of You keep the horn pads and the solos and it’s the same record. At least he left the smooth jazz alone and didn’t remake a Kenny G tune like he did a couple of albums ago.
  3. Enrico Rava/Italian Ballads/Musicmasters
    We always thought music was the universal language. This very talented Italian trumpeter has definitely taking the low road this time out with some traditional melodies from his homeland played as short and succinctly as possible. The vocalist Barbara Carisi does stand out though the material is well beneath her. Not that the songs are bad, au contraire,… oh, that’s French.. There’s a couple of Fellini tunes that are better left in the hands of Nino Rota if not Hal Wilner. And the last person I heard perform the European standard More with as much syrup was on one of those Music Of Your Life elevator music stations. I’ve never been, but Italy has to sound better than this.
  4. Patrice Rushen

    When Miss Rushen was making the transition in the 70’s from be-bop playing child prodigy phenom to sexy young pop star, it took her a couple of albums before she got it completely right with her classic Patrice album. After years of being a first call music director for some of the biggest tv productions of the late 80’s and early 90’s, she once again is making a transition, this time to veteran smooth jazz star. It will take her a couple of albums to get it right.