Hits & Misses September 1998
Arthur Blythe & David Eyges
Jazz Showcase:Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Miles Davis
Hank Marr – Chris Bennett – Charlie Hunter
|Arthur Blythe & David Eyges
Arthur Blythe is hardly provincial, having led eclectic ensembles that featured the tuba and cello, instruments rarely associated with jazz. The alto saxophonist is no stranger to playing avantgarde music, having been a sideman with free jazz legends Horace Tapscott, David Murray, and Lester Bowie. Today’s Blues has Blythe in a duo setting with electric cellist David Eyges. The adventurous potential of the two instruments is appealing in it of itself.
The serene bowing of Eyges on a bluesy “Prayer” is eloquent unencumbered playing and unveils the possibilities that the cello has to offer jazz music. Blythe drops in on the abstract “Worker Bee” with harsh lyricism, as he calmly digs in and scales upward and back downward in delightful fashion. Blythe’s agile alto glides through “My Sun Ra,” a one-man soliloquy that is his most lyrical moment of the outing.
The majority of CIMP recordings terrorize the casual listener, but for the most part, Today’s Blues are brief but tangible encounters between two underexposed musicians. The explorative arrangements are played to their full potential and are thoroughly rewarding. The dynamic duo, who moonlight as mild mannered free jazz innovators, have made sure that for now, free jazz does not become an endangered species.– Fred Jung
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Founded in 1949 by Bob Weinstock, Prestige Records had in its heyday an artist roster that included Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Art Pepper, and John Coltrane, all of whom recorded some of their most substantial material for the label. Sold in 1971 to San Francisco’s Fantasy company, those classics renamed OJC: Original Jazz Classics, have been Fantasy’s “bread and butter”. The latest repackaging of those best sellers comes in the form of the Jazz Showcase series, a best of from the best there ever was. Completely remastered, the Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins editions are superb.
The Sonny Rollins Jazz Showcase includes his tenor anthem “St. Thomas,” originally recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey on June 22, 1956 and originally released on Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus album and “I’m An Old Cowhand,” originally recorded in Los Angeles on March 7, 1957 and released on Way Out West.
The John Coltrane issue contains a evocative version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” originally recorded in Hackensack on January 10, 1958 and released on Lush Life, featuring the exquisite cast of trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Louis Hayes. Coltrane’s gentle side is captured by “Stardust, also recorded in Hackensack on July 11, 1958 for the album Stardust.
The Miles Davis collection involves “If I Were A Bell” from his 1956 release Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. A quintet that was comprised of John Coltrane, pianist Garland, bassist Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” was first released on the 1954 classic Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants and stars the vibraphone talents of Milt Jackson and pianist Thelonious Monk.
For a long time, Prestige was “the label” where “the artists” made their names. It may not have that kind of weight now, but it did and forever will. The Jazz Showcase series is an attractive collection of the best that the best had to offer. They truly do not make them like they used to.
– Fred Jung
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Hank & Frank/Double Time
The sub-title to this album is the cleverly worded “a frank-ly marr-velous tribute to the Count,’ and on the cover is a shot of a Count Basie-like sailor’s hat sitting on a keyboard. And if you turn the album over, Marr’s resemblance to the Count may have you looking twice. Other than that, Basie seems to have no influence on this album. Long time Basie-ite Frank Foster appears here on what must’ve been a really bad day or the budget was so low, he didn’t want to fix the bad notes.
And Marr doesn’t touch the piano. He plays organ throughout. There are fine ingredients for a Basie tribute, but the organ stops that Marr uses don’t come close to matching either the Fats Waller influenced organ playing of a young Count Basie or the unique style of Wild Bill Davis’ organ when he played with the Basie organization. None of the three cover tunes are associated with Count Basie, and the eight originals, seven by Marr, one by Foster show more of the personal muse of the composers than of the Count.(I listened to Paris In April several times, and other than the dyslexic title, I didn’t get it.)
The bright spot, without a doubt, is the ready steady guitar of veteran Cal Collins. He takes the role of Basie rhythm master Freddie Green and takes to it like Al Pacino acting in a gangster flick. It’s his own method though that shines on the ballad. For what ever reason, this is poorly constructed jazz record, which may be why the company went with the Basie hook.– S.B. Mandela —- top —- Chris Bennett
Less is More
It’s possible that this vocalist finds herself in the dilemma of most jazz singers who also write. For a label debut, they feel they want to strike the right balance of originals and standards. Some singers, like Cassandra Wilson early in her career, pull it off, because not only are the originals strong, but the standards are arranged in such a way that the singer makes it their own.
Then there are those singers, like Holly Cole, who compositions pale so much in comparison to the standards, that even though delivered heart-felt, the new ones come off flat. Bennett’s problem seems to be that she is no where near the stylist that can make a chestnut her own, however, her own material drips with emotion. Not recognizing her strong point, Bennett labors through the standards throughout most of this recordings. Less would have been more.– S.B. Mandela
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The three most important components of jazz singing are personality, personality, personality. Chris Bennett’s new release Less Is More lacks all three essential ingredients. Bennett’s lackluster quipping on “Isn’t It Romantic?” is surprisingly poor for a former Broadway singer. Emotion is not always easy to convey to the listener, but the Rodgers and Hart melody should have been easy to produce a soulful offering. The same holds true for the feeble “People Will Say We’re In Love.” Bennett fails to make any attempt to uplift the lyrics and provide any sentimental meaning for the words and interest in her vocal rambling fades quickly.
It takes character and charm to make a Jobim tune work, and again Bennett’s deficiency blunders the melody on an uninspired “Dindi.” The metamorphous of the glorified lounge singer is killing the art of jazz singing. Less Is More is not making the situation any better. Less of Less would have been nice. Thankfully there are plenty of fine, valid female vocalists in jazz such as Shirley Horn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diana Krali, and Cassandra Wilson.
– Fred Jung
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It is a difficult task to produce a viable, marketable jazz album without falling into the slack, overproduced trappings of popular music. Charlie Hunter, the Bay Area wizkid who once took the jazz world by storm with his signature eight-string guitar playing, is no exception. It would be harder to criticize Hunter’s shortcomings if he were not such a gifted guitarist. Return of the Candyman is marred by repetitive quotes and uninspired licks. Hunter, who is capable of hard-edged, angular creativity and who is comfortable and fluent in bebop, free, rock, hip-hop, and funk genres, is still searching to replace the void left by the departure of tenor saxophonist.
Dave Ellis, whom Hunter made his most substantial material with. It is a
shame that the music on Hunter’s new Blue Note release is so bland, because he had at his disposal arguably pound for pound, the finest vibraphonist on the scene today in Stefon Harris. Harris is the one exception and tries desperately to rescue the music from lingering In obscurity. The tunes all plod along and are void of any creative energy and although Harris beams with restless energy, he is hampered by the inconsequential material.
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