Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shearing in the Sixties - Part 3

Jazz Moments - The George Shearing Trio (Capitol, 1962 – issued 1963): This record captures George Shearing away from his hugely popular Quintet of the time and puts him in a piano-trio setting for the first time since 1948 that allowed the pianist to prove to critics of his popularity that he could still swing with the best of them. Here Shearing is paired with bassist Israel Crosby (1919-62) and drummer Vernel Fournier (1928-2000), both of whom rose to acclaim as part of pianist Ahmad Jamal’s famed trio (1956-62) as well as recording together for pianists Earl Washington and Duke Pearson. Fournier (who later converted to Islam and took the Muslim name Amir Rushdan) joined Shearing’s group for the 1961 Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays album, which preceded Jazz Moments, staying through to 1963’s Rare Form!, rejoining Ahmad Jamal shortly thereafter for a couple more years. Israel Crosby was struck with a heart attack and died only two months after waxing this (supposedly) live recording, caught at New York City’s Basin Street East on June 20 and 21, 1962. Even though Crosby had joined Shearing’s Quintet, he didn’t survive long enough to record anything more with the Quintet, much to Shearing’s chagrin. Crosby, according to Shearing, “played bass parts that were so beautiful you could never write anything that good. He was one of the most inspiring musicians I played with.” This trio is remarkably compatible and sounds wonderfully cohesive together. It’s a shame more of this trio wasn’t recorded. Crosby and Fournier fall right into Shearing’s bag – which is considerably different than Jamal’s, more chordal and classically-oriented and, suffice it to say, inclined more towards swing – covering such well-known staples as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “What’s New,” “Like Someone in Love,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” Gone With the Wind,” “It Could Happen To You,” the lesser-known big-band staples “Symphony” and “Wonder Why,” Shearing’s exciting “Blues in 9/4” (featuring a lovely spot for Crosby), Charles DeForest’s ballad “Heart of Winter” and Bay area pianist (and founder of the Carousel and Jubilee labels) Gene Megs’ pretty “The Mood Is Mellow.” The Jamal trio had, of course, already covered “What’s New” and “Gone with the Wind” (both 1958, from the famed Pershing set),”It Could Happen to You” (1958), as well as “What Is This Called Love” and “Like Someone in Love” (both 1961, from the Alhambra concerts) and it’s instructive to hear how differently the two trios handle these performances. Shearing, probably aching to break out of the Quintet mold at this point sounds completely at home with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier. Jazz Moments, which was surprisingly not included on the Mosaic set of live Capitol Shearing performances (perhaps because it wasn’t actually a “live” recording), was issued on CD by Blue Note Records in 1998, but it is now out of print. Import copies of the CD may still be available through some retailers.

Shearing Bossa Nova - George Shearing (Capitol, 1962 – issued 1963): Caught up in the Bossa Nova craze that swept through jazz and popular music in the early 1960s, pianist George Shearing makes – perhaps – the first of his 1960s records that marks itself of its time. Released in May 1963, Shearing Bossa Nova find’s Shearing’s piano set off rather remarkably by sensitively deployed woodwinds and “Brazilian rhythm,” all arranged to immaculate perfection by the great Clare Fischer, who had already arranged quite a number of Cal Tjader albums as well as several Bossa Nova albums on Pacific Jazz for the great saxophonist Bud Shank, who is surely one of the unnamed reed players heard here. The well-tempered program mixes such cleverly considered Bossa Nova standards as “One Note Samba,” “Desafinado” and “Manha de Carnaval (Morning of the Carnival)” with jazz standards “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Blue Prelude,” done up in a refreshingly Bossa Nova style that sounds entirely compatible with the Latin styles Shearing popularized in the past. Also included here is Ralph Melendez’s pretty “Nevermore,” bassist on the session Ralph Peña’s “Algo Novo,” Shearing’s “Black Satin” (the title track to his 1957 album), guitarist Laurindo Almeida’s “Amazona’s Legend,” Clare Fischer’s “Samba da Borboleta (Butterfly Samba)” and the now standard “Pensativa,” here in its second recorded performance following its first appearance on a Bud Shank record. Shearing sounds absolutely at home here, which prompts one to ask why he didn’t further explore either more Bossa Nova music or albums coated in Brazilian rhythms? Perhaps it just wasn’t his bag. Or maybe Capitol didn’t want him to veer too far from the lucratively lush loveliness of the orchestrated Quintet sound. Guitarist Laurindo Almeida is no doubt another of the unnamed musicians featured here – prominently on “Desafinado,” “Nevermore,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Algo Novo,” “Black Satin” and his own “Amazona’s Legend” (which has not been recorded elsewhere) – as he is distinctively featured (though mysteriously unnamed) and considered one of the first musicians who introduced Bossa Nova to the United States. Additionally, Almeida was under contract to Capitol at the time and the company was all about pairing Shearing with Capitol recording artists like Nat King Cole and Nancy Wilson. Almeida had waxed Viva Bossa Nova! for Capitol a few months earlier, an album that also featured “One Note Samba” and “Desafinado” covered on Shearing Bossa Nova, as well as the April 1963 release of Ole! Bossa Nova! that precedes Shearing Bossa Nova by one catalog number. It’s a shame – and a shock! – that the company didn’t see fit to name Laurindo Almeida on the record. This would have made a notable duo record for both the pianist and the guitarist. The lovely Shearing Bossa Nova has yet to appear on CD.

Touch Me Softly - The George Shearing Quintet with String Choir (Capitol, 1963): This is the George Shearing Quintet’s first album with strings since Satin Affair (1960) and the Quintet’s first credited appearance on record since San Francisco Scene (1960). Like Concerto for My Love (1962), the strings were arranged by Shearing himself. But while none of the Quintet members are credited, the conductor of the strings is listed as Milton Raskin (1916-77), a little-known pianist, lyricist and studio musician (Shearing and Raskin shared the same duties the year before for Nancy Wilson’s Hello Young Lovers). The program is made up of mostly melodic standards that scream of an overly forced sensitivity like “You’re Blasé,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,“ “Suddenly, It’s Spring,” “Sunday, Monday, or Always” and “In A Sentimental Mood” and near-miss standards like “Just Imagine,” “The Blue Room,” “Lollipops and Roses” and “Just As Though You Were Here.” The program is enlivened as much as is possible by two “new” pieces, the moody “Wait for Me,” written by composer and cabaret singer Charles DeForest (1924-96) that provides a nice, slowed-down “Caravan”-styled ambiance and Stan Hoffman and Dick Allen’s too sentimental title cut, which was also recorded by Shirley Horn in 1963 for an unissued Mercury album. While Touch Me Softly has its share of enjoyable moments, there is a sense that the quintet-with-strings thing had run its course. Coming six years after Velvet Carpet, the entirely too polite Touch Me Softly barely registers outside of Shearing’s nice piano work on “Try a Little Tenderness” “Sunday, Monday, or Always” and “In A Sentimental Mood,” decent string arrangements for the Billy May-inspired “Just Imagine” and the rollicking “Caravan”-like groove of “Lollipops and Roses,” and classic Quintet sounds on “The Blue Room,” “Wait For Me” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” Touch Me Softly has not yet been issued on CD.

Jazz Concert - George Shearing Quintet (Capitol, 1963): Not only is Jazz Concert, recorded on February 16, 1963, at the Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, the first George Shearing Quintet album issued without strings since the also-live San Francisco Scene (1960, issued 1962), it also presents an entirely new Quintet that George Shearing was not unduly impressed with. “This is undoubtedly the best group I’ve ever had,” enthuses the pianist in the album’s liner notes. Vibist Gary Burton, who was 20 at the time and already signed to his own recording contract with RCA, makes his first appearance with the Quintet here – although half of Latin Rendezvous, which came out several years later and long after Burton had left the Quintet, was recorded the night before this particular performance. Also new to the Quintet was LA-based guitarist John Gray (1924-?) – a last-minute replacement for the Quintet’s regular guitarist, Ron Anthony – and Chicago bassist Bill Yancey (1933-2004). Former Ahmad Jamal drummer Vernell Fournier (1928-2000) had been with the Shearing Quintet since 1961 and Armando Peraza (b. 1924), who joined the group for one song that is not featured on the LP, had played on and off with the Quintet since 1953. The LP’s program consists of a mere six performances – Richard Carpenter’s “Walkin’,” made popular by Miles Davis a decade before, “Love is Just around the Corner,” a solo piano rendition of “I Cover The Waterfront,” a trio take on “Love Walked In,” another Ray Bryant cover (“Bel Aire”) and former Shearing guitarist Dick Garcia’s “There with You” (the album’s most classically Quintet-sounding piece) – that are distinctly longer than usual for a Shearing record. No track is under four minutes and “Love Is Just around the Corner” clocks in at nearly 12 minutes! This allows for considerably more and welcome improvisation than most Quintet records have previously been allowed. Even for a concert performance, Shearing and company sound, if not entirely solidified (they had been together for only two weeks by this recording), certainly rekindling the fascination of spontaneity that had left the group some years before. The sound is rougher around the edges and more jazz-inclined than almost any Quintet performance since 1955’s The Shearing Spell, due in no small measure to the edgy and enlightening additions of Burton on vibes and Gray on guitar. The entire February 16, 1963, Santa Monica concert was captured and all 13 pieces, including two trio pieces, two solo piano pieces and a finale featuring Armando Peraza, were intended to be released on a double album. For some reason, Jazz Concert was issued as a single album with only six of the pieces the band performed that night included on the program. The entire concert program is, however, included on Mosaic’s 1994 five-CD box set The Complete Capitol Live Recordings of George Shearing, which has sadly been long out of print.

Rare Form! - The George Shearing Quintet (Capitol, 1963 – issued 1966): Recorded live at San Francisco’s famed Black Hawk club on Friday, July 5 and Saturday, July 6, 1963, the superb Rare Form! captures The George Shearing Quintet, featuring vibist Gary Burton, guitarist Ron Anthony, bassist Gene Cherico (a Burton associate from Berklee, who had already played on albums by Toshiko Akiyoshi, Paul Desmond and Burton himself), drummer Vernel Fournier (in his last recorded performance with the Quintet), in, if not “rare,” then pretty tip-top form. It is, as the sleeve’s hyperbole says “a superb ‘live’ performance,” where the Quintet sounds perfectly in tune with one another and certainly an aggregate improvement over the already quite-good Jazz Concert, recorded earlier in the year. The extraordinarily well-conceived program here features the Harold Arlen standard “Over the Rainbow” (which Shearing’s Quintet waxed in 1951 and then again in 1972), “The Sweetest Sounds” and “Look No Further” from Richard Rodgers’ 1962 Broadway musical No Strings (Rodgers’ only Broadway score without a collaborator), Bud Powell’s classic and tremendously delivered “Hallucinations,” George & Ira Gershwin’s lively “They All Laughed,” Doug Marsh’s “Why Not?” and Ruth Lowe’s 1939 ballad “I’ll Never Smile Again.” There is also a pleasantly higher-than-usual preponderance of Shearing originals here too, including the pretty “Sunny” (co-written by Milt Raskin and obviously not the predictable Bobby Hebb hit), the up-tempo post-bop of “Station Break” and the lush and lovely – almost funky! – but hardly bopping “Bop, Look and Listen.” While Rare Form! probably tries a little too hard to sound like The George Shearing Quintet of yore, there is an energy and excitement here – particularly evident in Mr. Shearing’s own playing – that had been lacking in many of the Quintet’s previous records. One has to wonder why Capitol held this album from release for nearly three years. By late 1966, when this record was finally issued, not only was this edition of the Quintet long since gone (Burton was making his own waves with his rock-oriented jazz records), this style of music was certainly long past fashionable. A true shame. What’s here is absolutely wonderful. Rare Form! was issued as a single album with only ten of the 17 pieces recorded by Capitol. All 17 tracks were included on Mosaic’s 1994 five-CD box set The Complete Capitol Live Recordings of George Shearing, which has sadly been long out of print.

Continue to Shearing in the Sixties – Part 4

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