Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lost in '10

One cannot acknowledge the year’s creative contributions without noting its losses. This year seemed unusually disproportionate in the number of creative voices that moved onto another plane. Here, I note only those whose artistry has had particular impact on my life. I certainly recognize that many, many others have departed the Earth this year. But I hope this feeble remembrance repays a small portion of the enrichment these creative voices have provided to me.


28: Billy Taylor, 89, American jazz pianist and composer, heart attack.
26: Teena Marie, 54, American singer and composer.
24: John Warhola, 85, American museum founder (The Andy Warhol Museum) and brother of Andy Warhol, pneumonia.
21: Jack Tracy, 83, American editor (Down Beat) and music producer (Chess, Mercury).
19: Harold Blanchard, 80, American jazz pianist, arranger and composer.
19: Trudy Pitts, 78, American jazz organist, pianist and vocalist, pancreatic cancer.
15: Blake Edwards, 88, American film director, producer and screenwriter (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's), pneumonia.
9: James Moody, 85, American jazz saxophonist and flautist, pancreatic cancer.


27: Irvin Kershner, 87, American film director (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back), lung cancer.
12: Henryk Górecki, 76, Polish composer, after long illness.
3: Hotep Idris Galeta, 69, South African jazz pianist, composer and lecturer, asthma attack.


28: Walter Payton, 68, American jazz bassist and sousaphonist, complications from a stroke (father of Nicholas Payton).
20: Harvey Phillips, 80, American tuba player, Parkinson's disease (Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Gunther Schuller, John Lewis, Quincy Jones, Gil Evans, Orchestra USA, Pat Williams, Gary McFarland).
18: Marion Brown, 79, American jazz saxophonist.
7: T Lavitz, 54, American musician (Dixie Dregs).


28: Arthur Penn, 88, American film director and producer (Bonnie and Clyde, The Missouri Breaks), heart failure.
27: Buddy Morrow, 91, American jazz musician and bandleader.
27: Ed Wiley, Jr., 80, American jazz and R&B saxophonist and singer, injury from a fall.
19: Buddy Collette, 89, American jazz saxophonist.
12: Claude Chabrol, 80, French film director (Madame Bovary, Story of Women).
8: Hadley Caliman, 78, American jazz saxophonist, liver cancer.


23: George David Weiss, 89, American composer ("What a Wonderful World", "Can't Help Falling in Love", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"), natural causes.
14: Herman Leonard, 87, American jazz photographer.
14: Abbey Lincoln, 80, American jazz singer and actress (For Love of Ivy, Nothing But a Man).
10: David L. Wolper, 82, American film and television producer (North and South, Roots, The Thorn Birds), heart failure and Parkinson's disease.
8: Jack Parnell, 87, British musician and bandleader (The Muppet Show), cancer.
1: Robert F. Boyle, 100, American art director and production designer (North By Northwest, The Birds), natural causes.


29: Martin Drew, 66, British jazz drummer (Oscar Peterson), heart attack.
14: Gene Ludwig, 72, Pittsburgh-based jazz organist.
12: Paulo Moura, 77, Brazilian saxophonist (Herbie Mann, Cannonball Adderley) and clarinetist, lymphoma.
6: Harvey Fuqua, 80, American rhythm and blues singer (The Moonglows), and record producer (Marvin Gaye), heart attack.


26: Benny Powell, 80, American jazz trombonist (April in Paris), heart attack following spinal surgery.
24: Francis Dreyfus, 70, French record producer (Disques Dreyfus).
16: Garry Shider, 56, American musician (Parliament-Funkadelic), complications from brain and lung cancer.
15: Busi Mhlongo, 62, South African singer.
9: Harold Ivory Williams, 60, American jazz musician (with Miles Davis on On the Corner, Big Fun).
5: Danny Bank, 87, American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and flautist.


16: Hank Jones, 91, American jazz pianist.
9: Lena Horne, 92, American singer and actress (Stormy Weather, The Wiz).
7: Francisco Aguabella, 84, Cuban-born American jazz percussionist, cancer.
1: Rob McConnell, 75, Canadian jazz musician, cancer.


22: Gene Lees, 82, Canadian jazz historian, critic, editor, lyricist, singer and author, heart disease.
13: Steve Reid, 66, American jazz drummer (James Brown, Arthur Blythe, Miles Davis’ Tutu), throat cancer.
8: Malcolm McLaren, 64, British musician and band manager (Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, Bow Wow Wow), mesothelioma.
2: Mike Zwerin, 79, American jazz musician and jazz critic, after long illness.


27: Peter Herbolzheimer, 74, German jazz musician.
20: Erwin Lehn, 90, German composerand conductor.


15: Art Van Damme, 89, American jazz musician and accordionist, pneumonia.
15: Gloria Coleman, American jazz organist, married to tenor great George Coleman.
13: Jamil Nasser, 77, American jazz musician, cardiac arrest.
6: Sir John Dankworth, 82, British composer, conductor, jazz musician.


27: J. D. Salinger, 91, American author (The Catcher in the Rye), natural causes.
13: Ed Thigpen, 79, American jazz drummer, after long illness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trudy Pitts - R.I.P.

I was very sad to learn today of the December 19 death of the great Philadelphia organist Trudy Pitts, who contributed far less to the recorded jazz canon than she should have, but was expert enough to make an impression upon me – and many other listeners – on the too-few recordings she made.

These recordings include several 45s on Coral (1962’s “Theme from “Exodus’” / “I Really Mean It” and 1963’s “Meetin’ Place” / “Swingin’ Bonnie”) and her better known albums on the Prestige label, Introducing the Fabulous Trudy Pitts (Prestige, 1967 – featuring the single “Steppin’ in Minor”), These Blues Of Mine (Prestige, 1968) – these first two albums were combined on one CD titled Legends of Acid Jazz: Trudy Pitts with Pat Martino (Prestige, 1999) - A Bucketful of Soul (Prestige, 1968), The Excitement of Trudy Pitts (Prestige, 1968); as well as other discs such as Me, Myself and I (Scorp Leo) and Live at the Great American Music Hall (Doodlin’, 2009).

Ms. Pitts could also be appreciated on Pat Martino’s excellent El Hombre (Prestige, 1967), Willis Jackson’s extremely obscure Star Bag (Prestige, 1968), Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Other Folks’ Music (Atlantic, 1976) as well as a few tunes on Kirk’s The Return of the 5000 Pound Man and Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real.

Ms. Pitts performed live, mostly with her husband of more than 50 years, drummer Bill Carney (aka Mr. Carney, then later Mr. C), mostly in Philadelphia, but also in many venues throughout the world - and often with some of jazz’s best known players. The great lady, who was not only a tremendously wondrous pianist but also, since 1991, an educator at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, was a spirited musician who could breathe glorious life into any musical situation.

Ms. Pitts will be missed by many...especially those who care about music and the organ tradition that she plied beautifully and tirelessly. Here is the Philadelphia Inquirer obit:

Trudy Pitts Carney
By Dan Hardy and Vernon Clark
Philadelphia Inquirer

Trudy Pitts Carney, 78, a Philadelphia-born jazz organist, pianist, and vocalist who played with many jazz greats over a career that spanned more than four decades, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday, Dec. 19, at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

She had been living in West Oak Lane with her husband, William Theodore Carney II - Mr. C. - a percussionist with whom she had a long musical partnership and a marriage of more than 50 years.

Mr. C. had a band called the Hi-Tones in the mid-1950s. "He was quite the cat back in the day with his little band," said Bob Perkins, a longtime DJ at WRTI-FM (90.1).

Shirley Scott had been Mr. C's organist, and Trudy Pitts replaced her when Scott left. They married a few years later.

"Trudy was one of my favorites," Perkins said. "I often told her that she mixes genres of music like no one I ever heard. She was classically trained; she played in the church and assimilated jazz. She could put them all together, complementing all and offending none. That was her strong suit. When you have that kind of suit, you don't need anything else."

Mrs. Carney was born in South Philadelphia and stayed in the area all of her life, said her daughter, Anysha.

She played with jazz greats John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, among others, her daughter said. Actually, "she didn't play with them; they played with her. Just about whoever you could mention played with her."

Mrs. Carney was perhaps best known for her work on the Hammond B3 organ, which she helped popularize in the 1950s and '60s.

"She was a major, major artist in the evolution of that instrument," said Pat Martino, a Philadelphia-born jazz guitarist who played with Mrs. Carney and her husband and who was a longtime friend. Martino played on Mrs. Carney's 1967 album, Introducing the Fabulous Trudy Pitts, and its follow-up, These Blues of Mine.

"They were a team, in every way," Martino said of the couple.

Mrs. Carney "was completely fluent in the language of music, in every way," Martino said. "She had the ability to take the shape of whatever she was poured into - she was so good under any circumstance."

Beyond Mrs. Carney's musical abilities, Martino said, "she was an exceptional individual who transcended her gift as an artist and became transcendent as a person. She was magnificent - she radiated the presence of love under every condition I've seen her in."

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Carney is survived by her son, William Theodore Carney III - TC III, a jazz vocalist.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Best in '10 - The Music

Chim Chim Cheree - Eric Alexander Quartet (Venus): One of today’s most interesting tenor saxophonists, Eric Alexander, helming one of jazz’s best groups, with the legendary Harold Mabern on piano, the undersung Joe Farnesworth on drums and, in this case, John Webber on bass, takes on the repertoire of the great John Coltrane and comes up with a winning and tremendously unpredictable tribute. While Alexander has obviously been influenced by Coltrane, among others, and has in the past covered any number of the tenor giant’s standards (“Soul Eyes,” “My Favorite Things”), compositions (“Giant Steps,” “Lazy Bird,” “Naima”) and tributes (Bill Lee’s great “John Coltrane” – originally from the sadly forgotten Clifford Jordan’s book), here the program mostly concerns itself with Coltrane’s “inspiration.” The set certainly has Coltrane’s stamp all over it, mostly in ballad and medium-tempo formats. But of the eight well-chosen pieces here – all played by Coltrane between 1956 (“On The Misty Night”) and 1965 (“Chim Chim Cheree”) – only three are Coltrane originals, all mid-period glories: “Dear Lord” (1965), “Pursuance” (1964), from A Love Supreme, and “Wise One” (1964). Like Archie Shepp on his terrific and early tribute Four for Trane, Eric Alexander never copies or mimics Coltrane like many others would. He manages to maintain his own distinct sound, aided in no small part by Mabern’s beautifully characteristic support, and correctly conjures the spirit of Coltrane’s influence rather than holding a mirror up to the music. It’s the thing all tributes should be made of. The disc is beautiful from start to finish, but the cookers – “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Pursuance,” a spritely “Afro Blue” (concluded with a quote of “Impressions”) and the sumptuously shiver-inducing “Wise One” are keepers. Chim Chim Cheree suggests Eric Alexander and company can do more with the Coltrane legacy – or other legacies – while still maintaining a strong and vital legacy of their own.

Beautiful Dreamers - Bill Frisell (Savoy Jazz): The always innovative guitarist Bill Frisell formed an unusual trio of guitar, viola and drums for his first release away from Nonesuch in many, many years, Beautiful Dreamers. It’s another one of the guitarist’s jazz-oriented explorations of Americana. But somehow this one makes more sense than nearly everything Frisell has laid down in that realm since maybe 2002’s The Willies (that includes last year’s strangely disaffected Disfarmer). Teaming up with string player and Seattle native Eyvind Kang, who first worked with the guitarist some decade and a half ago on the album Bill Frisell Quartet (and then again on 2002’s Richter 858, 2004’s Unspeakable,> 2007’s disappointing Floratone and 2008’s History, Mystery) and Ron Miles’ long-time drummer Rudy Royston (the guitarist featured on Miles’ 1996 album Woman’s Day with Royston), Frisell comes up with one of his most natural sounding outings of Americana jazz in some time. This trio has an unbelievably cohesive chemistry that dispels the myth that Frisell has said all he has to say in this mode. There are a stronger than usual batch of Frisell originals here including “Worried Woman,” “Winslow Homer,” “A Worthy Endeavor,” “No Time To Cry” and “All We Can Do.” Plus, the covers are highly unusual and especially well selected and include Stephen Foster’s old-timey “Beautiful Dreamer,” a wicked cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Benny Goodman’s “Benny’s Bugle,” A.P. Carter’s truly delightful “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Each of these have a minimum of what is typically considered improvisation – but like great classical interpreters, these three find ways to enumerate the possibilities within the realm of the terrifically notable melodies. It’s beautiful music to consider or just enjoy.

Jasmine - Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden (ECM): This unbelievably beautiful disc came about after pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden participated in a film about Haden. The two hadn’t recorded together in thirty years (!) and opted to get together in Jarrett’s home studio to just see what would happen. The result, recorded (according to Jarrett’s notes) three years ago, is Jasmine, named for a night-blooming flower. The idea was to provide a program of romantic ballads intended for after-dark play. It’s gorgeous stuff, lovingly delivered by two pros who know how to play with great sensitivity and deep emotional conviction. Surprisingly, most of the program is new to both players. A very few of the eight songs on this beautiful menu , all standards or near standards, had been previously recorded by these fire-brands, on low burn for this particular affair: Haden had previously recorded “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life” for his 1999 disc The Art of Song; Jarrett recorded “Body and Soul” (whose performance here has been nominated for a Grammy Award) with his Standards Trio for the 1990 recording The Cure while Haden recorded the song with Pee Wee Russell, Art Pepper, Don Cherry, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Ruth Cameron and several times on his own, specifically for Quartet West (1987) and Night and the City (1998, in duet with pianist Kenny Barron); Jarrett also recorded “Don’t Ever Leave Me” with his Standards trio for the great 1994 Live at the Blue Note set as well as on the solo 1998 recording of The Melody at Night, With You. The rest of the program has probably been covered by every jazz pianist known to man. But Jarrett, with Haden’s more than bountiful support, make these tunes their own. Hard to believe this intimate and timeless music wouldn’t be appreciated by many in or outside of the jazz persuasion at any time. But it surely ranks as one of 2010’s best releases.

Vitoria Suite - Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring Paco De Lucia (EmArcy): Not only is this suite one of the finer orchestral jazz presentations in many a year, it is one of trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis’ finest-ever outings. Absolutely Ellingtonian in its conception and delivery, Marsalis makes exceptional use of the tremendously peopled Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to construct an engaging, exciting and an especially enlivened performance. Vitoria Suite is a 12-part work, inspired by what Marsalis calls “the 12 measures of the blues.” It is written in tribute to the Spanish city, Vitoria-Gasteiz, which holds an annual jazz festival at which Marsalis regularly performs. Marsalis was asked by the festival’s curator, Iñaku Añua, to construct a blues. But so inspired, he came back with a 12-part suite that celebrates both the American blues and Spanish musical traditions in tribute to the festival, the city and “an entire culture.” The result ranks on par with some of Ellington’s suite work, with tremendous contributions from Ryan Kisor, Ted Nash, Sean Jones, Sherman Irby, Victor Goines, Marsalis himself (“Blood Cry,” “Iñaki’s Decision”) and special guest, Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia (“Buleria El Portalon,” “Deep Blue (From the Foam)”). There are many strong compositions here, aided in no small part by some absolutely stunning performances by all concerned.

Portrait in Seven Shades - Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra/Composed by Ted Nash (Jazz at Lincoln Center): Of note here too is the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s other 2010 release, the extraordinarily lovely Portrait in Seven Shades, a suite of seven pieces composed by JALC member Ted Nash, each named for a different artist and their particular inspiration. Wynton Marsalis’ solo performance on “Van Gogh” snatched a Grammy Award nomination this year for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. But, like Vitoria Suite, there is much else here to enjoy: from the Miles-ian “Dali” (boasting an appropriately superb Bitches Brew-era solo from Marcus Printup – recall, if you will, that it was writer Greg Tate who suggested that Miles himself was going Dali on Bitches Brew) and the great and grooving “Picasso” (featuring Vincent Gardner on trombone and Marsalis again, sounding positively like he promised all those years ago). Unlike Vitoria Suite, however, Portrait in Seven Shades draws nicely from a rich wealth of orchestral jazz influences outside of Ellington, from Count Basie and Oliver Nelson to many more West Coast models such as Gerald Wilson and, of course, Henry Mancini (Nash’s father and uncle were major contributors to Mancini’s orchestra). Another highly recommended JALC performance.

Jabulani - Hugh Masekela (Gallo): This is a personal favorite, one of Hugh Masekela’s best albums in many a year and one of the legendary South African trumpeter’s finest ever performances on record. A celebration of traditional African wedding songs of yester year, Jabulani flows over with beautiful, joyous songs, filled with hope, great happiness and a positive sense of love that is life affirming. It is everything that so much of Hugh Masekela’s best music has always strived for. It’s also the most comfortable and inspired the trumpeter (who is on flugelhorn throughout here), vocalist and musical Svengali has ever sounded on record – from the very first track to the last. With very little pretense or artifice, producer Don Laka and Hugh Masekela concoct a program of eleven dynamic tunes. Of note are “Sossie,” “Fiela,” “Bambazela” (which Masekela brilliantly worked into his 1984 medley “The Seven Riffs of Africa” from Techno-Bush), “Iph’ Indlela” (probably best known to American ears by the stunningly gorgeous version Harry Belafonte did on the Grammy Award winning album from 1965, An Evening With Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba), “Tsoang Tsoang,” “Makoti (Bride)” (which Miriam Makeba sung with the Skylarks in 1959 before leaving South Africa), “Mfana” (which Masekela cut in 1968 as part of an American studio group called The Johannesburg Street Band as “No Passport” for the album Dancin’ Through The Streets - it was later re-titled “Awe Mfana” when it was included on the 2006 CD compilation Hugh Masekela Presents The Chisa Years – 1965-1975 (Rare and Unreleased)), “Uyeyeni” and a surprisingly effective Asiatic take on “No Harvest (Asilimanga)” (which Miriam Makeba performed so memorably in 1968 on her miraculous Makeba album, which also featured a cover of this disc’s “Iph’ Indlela”).The magnificent Jabulani is unquestionably one of Hugh Masekela’s very best.

54 - Metropole Orkest / John Scofield / Vince Mendoza (EmArcy): Named for the number of musicians performing here, 54 is an interesting celebration of John Scofield’s well-known guitar groove fronting Vince Mendoza’s excellent and undeservedly not as well-known orchestrations. Scofield and Mendoza had initially worked together on Mendoza’s 1990 album Start Here (as well as two tracks on Jimmy Haslip’s 1993 album Arc), but here – both well-traveled veterans – coalesce particularly well into what sounds like a seamless partnership. For better or worse, there’s really nothing new here. Scofield’s “Carlos” and “Peculiar” were originally heard on the guitarist’s Groove Elation!, while “Polo Towers” comes from Uberjam, “Honest I Do” and “Twang” come from Grace Under Pressure, “Imaginary Time” comes from What We Do and “Out of the City” comes from Hand Jive (mostly all of his great records of the 1990s). Both of Mendoza’s only pieces here, “Jung Parade” and “Say We Did,” come from Instructions Inside, a 1991 album that also featured Scofield. It makes for a rather unusual listening experience, but not an unsatisfying one. This day in age, though, something like this could only have been done outside US recording studios (London, in fact), and it’s all driven by the funky fire Scofield’s doing almost exclusively these days. While it may have been preferable to hear Mendoza compose an all-new program for Scofield to perform in more of the jazz mode the guitarist made his name with (and the way he’s so perfectly captured on Eddie Henderson’s latest, For All We Know), there’s nothing wrong with taking so many great – and mostly funky – tunes and doing something new and fun with an entire orchestra. Scofield, who sounds better here than on almost any album he’s done over the last decade or so, is peerless. Too few guitarists (or many other instrumentalists) can sound this funky and this creative all at once. Mendoza’s backgrounds are shimmering perfection, and much lighter than usual. 54, surprisingly nominated for a Grammy Award this year, is well performed music that is great fun – the way music is meant to be.

Aurora - Patrick Williams The Big Band (ArtistShare): In his first big-band album since 1998’s Grammy Award-nominated Sinatraland (nominated for his sterling arrangement on “In The Still Of The Night”), the great composer Patrick Williams – who is probably better known these days for his film and television scores – comes up with a real winner, and a dynamic and seemingly necessary reminder of what good big-band jazz is all about. This is not only imaginative jazz – and, really, how many people are making imaginative jazz these days? – it is top-shelf jazz: fun, swinging (helmed by the great Peter Erskine, who is the absolute go-to guy for good swinging jazz big band music these days), melodic and filled with good improvisation from great players and some truly fabulous writing. Soloists include trumpeters Chuck Findley (“Aurora”) and Warren Luening (“Heat,” “There You Go Again”),flugelhorn player Arturo Sandoval (“Song for a Pretty Girl”), trombonists Andy Martin (“Aurora,” “Mandeville”) and Bob McChesney (“Mandeville”), alto saxophonist Tom Scott (a major contributor to the composer’s 1973 Grammy Award winning classic Threshold on “Aurora,” “One More Dream” and “There You Go Again”), tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard (“Aurora,” “Heat” and “There You Go Again”), flautist Hubert Laws (“Fanfare for a New Day”), clarinetist Eddie Daniels (“The Sun Will Shine Today”), pianist Tamir Handelman (“There You Go Again”) and legendary studio percussionist Paulinho DaCosta (“Aurora”). Highlights are plentiful here, but my favorites are “Song for a Pretty Girl,” “Mandeville,” “Heat,” the Grammy Award nominated (for Best Instrumental Arrangement) “Fanfare for a New Day” and the Grammy Award nominated (for Best Instrumental Composition) “Aurora.” Aurora is an utterly enjoyable listening experience and, quite simply, a masterpiece of contemporary big-band jazz.


The Organization - Gil Mellé (Intrada): The music of Gil Mellé isn’t celebrated near as often as it should, by either jazz listeners or film score enthusiasts. The soundtrack to this 1971 film had been programmed for a record release that never happened, until 2010, when Intrada rescued this terrific score from obscurity for CD release (sadly limited to only 1000 units). The CD’s publicity says it best: Gil Mellé had his work cut out for him in 1971 when he scored the third film in the landmark “Mister Tibbs” trilogy that began in 1967 —both previous films were scored in trend-setting fashion by Quincy Jones. This third film, The Organization, introduced a grittier, more realistic tone. Rather than continue scoring in a manner similar to the earlier installments, Mellé brought a fresh new approach to the character, infusing it with music full of vibrant brass and tense strings and layering into the fabric a strong experimental veneer. It is a relatively brief score by most standards, playing in deliberate manner just when needed. But when it plays it is given a high profile which adds much to the pace and excitement of the film. Producer Walter Mirisch chose Mellé for The Organization on the advice of sound engineer Don McDougall. This was a return to his musical roots with a combination of jazz ensemble and traditional symphonic orchestration. The music is carefully spotted, often defying expectations regarding music in a particular scene. The result is music that fully displays Mellé’s influences and experiments with music concrète—including John Cage’s use of unexpected and natural noises—as part of the sonic palette of the score.

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol V, Stuttgart - Art Pepper (Widow’s Taste): Saxophonist Art Pepper was well recorded in the studio and on the road from 1975 until his death in June 1982. Given the amount of performing he did live, it’s probably no wonder that many bootlegs have surfaced since the saxophonist’s death. Pepper’s devoted widow, Laurie, has been doing an extraordinarily loving job of showcasing some of these performances on her own Widow’s Taste label. This terrific two-disc set, recorded in Stuttgart, Germany on May 25, 1981, is one of them. Comprised of several fan recordings - which have been re-mastered to stunningly pristine effect - the performance finds Art Pepper captured remarkably well with pianist Milcho Leviev (the veteran of Don Ellis, Airto and Billy Cobham who, like the bassist here, had played on and off with Pepper since 1978), bassist Bob Magnusson (Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, John Klemmer) and drummer Carl Burnett (The Three Sounds, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Burrell). This is the same group that was first assembled on a 1978 Japan-only recording (Art Pepper Memorial Collection: My Laurie) and was also captured on the third “unreleased” set issued by Mrs. Pepper’s Widow’s Taste label that was caught live a few weeks earlier in Croydon, England. The quartet performs ten wondrously long pieces, a mix of Pepper originals and jazz standards, and delivers each with a resourceful creativity and invigorating zeal that is mesmerizing. Of note here is “Landscape,” the stunningly hypnotic 24-minute “Make A List (Make A Wish),” “Patricia” (written for Pepper’s daughter), “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” the more poetic than usual “Over the Rainbow” and the fiery set closer “Cherokee.” This was my introduction to the powerful magic of Art Pepper.

The Cincinnati Kid: Lalo Schifrin Film Scores, Vol. 1 (1964–1968) - Lalo Schifrin (Film Score Monthly): This exceptional five-disc set chronicles some of the strongest and best of Lalo Schifrin’s early film music, all done while he was under contract to MGM in the mid 1960s. Some of it has previously been issued on long-out-of-print records (Music From the Motion Picture: Once A Thief and Other Themes, The Cincinnati Kid, Sol Madrid plus the 45’s of “The Haunting,” “Medical Center” and “Venice After Dark”/”Our Venetian Affair”). But most of the music on this collection has never been issued before and appears here for the very first time, including the entire score to Rhino (1964), the entire score to Once a Thief (1965), all the original music from The Cincinnati Kid (1965), all the music from The Venetian Affair (1967), the entire score to Sol Madrid (1969) and obscure themes to Schifrin-scored TV shows The Mask of Sheba (1970) and Earth II (1971). While much of the work ranks as some of Schifrin’s earliest in American film, it also stands as some of the composer’s most enjoyable and memorable music in the medium. The entire five-CD set, save for a few tracks, is in excellent stereo sound, remastered from the original 35mm three-track scoring masters (for the original soundtracks) or ¼” two-track album masters (for the record albums). The excellent liner notes are by Schifrin authority Jon Burlingame. The amazingly comprehensive track-by-track commentary can be found at Film Score Monthly’s web site. Amazing…and essential.


California Concert – The Hollywood Palladium (Masterworks Jazz): In 2010, Sony’s Masterworks Jazz imprint commendably celebrated the 40th anniversary of CTI Records with the release of a half dozen of the label’s finest issues (including Hubert Laws’ exceptional, never on CD Morning Star) and this, the most complete version of the legendary California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium ever heard, newly re-mastered from the original eight-track masters. The new two-CD set doubles the content of the original five-song, two-LP release with five additional tracks – three of them never-before released – and restores the original concert sequence for the very first time ever. It also represents the best sound these performances have ever had. The cast of participating musicians on this date reads like a “who’s who” of jazz for 1971, when the concert was recorded. The now legendary assemblage is peerless and includes George Benson on guitar, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Hubert Laws on flute, Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Hank Crawford on alto saxophone, Johnny Hammond on organ and electric piano, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Cobham on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. It is one of the finest recordings in the whole CTI catalog and it contains all of the label’s star performers of the time at their very best, in often exciting interplay with one another, playing their CTI hits including “Red Clay,” “Sugar,” Fire and Rain,” and “It’s Too Late” as well as the newly added gems, “So What,” “Straight Life” and “Impressions.” This newly constructed concert program is an absolute classic, filled not only with great players playing at or above their best, but also brimming with some of the era’s most definitive music. This is an essential addition to any jazz collection and a strong argument for just how good jazz could be in the early 1970s – especially for those who think otherwise: proof positive that CTI Records not only had much to say to jazz listeners of the day but to true music lovers of all generations.

Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary - Miles Davis (Columbia): The original title of this album was meant to be Listen to This and no better appellation applies to the original 1970 album (which took five separate purchases over some fifteen years before making any sense to me) or this incredible set. Here producers Richard Seidel and Michael Cuscuna have assembled in one giant box the original LP, perfectly reproducing Abdul Mati Klarwein’s striking and memorable cover art, the album on two CDs plus two newly discovered alternate takes and four single edits (none of these six tracks appeared on the 1998 box set The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions), a never-before issued CD of a terrific 1970 concert at Tanglewood featuring the Bitches Brew material, a never-before issued DVD of a fascinating 1969 concert in Copenhagen, with a smaller Davis group captured three months after the album was recorded and a stunningly beautiful booklet detailing the origin and importance of this music. All told, it’s a remarkable celebration of some especially remarkable music. A compendium of two concerts from this period – one at Newport in 1969 and the other, the great, never-before officially issued Isle of Wight concert in 1970 – will be issued in February 2011 as Bitches Brew Live and will duly help complete this magnificent presentation.

Hawaii Five-O - Morton Stevens (Film Score Monthly): One of the most sought-after of rare-groove soundtrack albums of all time is the 1970 Capitol soundtrack to Hawaii Five-O, the CBS television show starring Jack Lord (and James MacArthur, who died in October of this year) that ran from 1968 to 1980. The music was composed by the West Coast Director for CBS from 1965 to 1977, Morton Stevens (1929-91), and featured one of TV’s best and best-known themes of all time, made famous in 1968 by The Ventures. The album, containing some of the coolest and jazziest soundtrack cues on record has long eluded fans and long been desired as a CD release. Fortunately, the great Film Score Monthly – no doubt prompted by the recent resurrection of the show with an all new cast – was granted permission exactly forty years after the LP’s original release to finally bring the Capitol album out on CD. There are no extra tracks, alternative takes or anything from the show’s actual score. No matter. It’s hard not to love each and every one of the dozen performances featured here, many spotlighting LA’s finest session players and – in many cases – members of The Ventures, all uncredited. TV music expert Jon Burlingame’s inspired, informative and incisive notes are worth the price of admission alone. While it’s unbelievable that Morton Stevens isn’t better known today, this release of the great Hawaii Five-O is an excellent reminder that Stevens deserves to be held in as high acclaim as other such oft-celebrated film/TV groovers as Schifrin, Goldsmith, Fielding, Grusin and any number of others are. This is a stone-cold classic that deserves to be heard and appreciated by as many people as possible.

Jazz Raga - Gabor Szabo (Light in the Attic): A long hoped-for dream of seeing this unusual relic of the psychedelic 60s (and a time when jazz ideas were more inspired), finally came true this year when Light in the Attic issued this East-meets-West classic, featuring some of Gabor Szabo’s best music and some of his best guitar playing and the debatable quality of his overdubbed and out-of-tune sitar. I find it to be absolutely perfect…and would never want to change a thing. A lot of the guitarist’s best music was featured here and the obscure album probably ranks in the top five of all the guitarist’s 21 solo albums. It’s also quite nice to hear Szabo’s “Galatea’s Guitar” – from the guitarist’s excellent 1968 recording, Dreams - featured on the soundtrack to this year’s Golden Globe nominated film The Kids Are All Right.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best in '10 - The Films

The Ghost Writer - Whenever Roman Polanski constructs a thriller, he manages to take you some place you haven’t been before. When it works (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and Frantic), it’s an incredibly powerful experience. When it doesn’t (The Ninth Gate, Bitter Moon), it’s just silly. Here, it works surprisingly well. Given the “impossible” Cape house (a set) and all the green screen backgrounds (and the fact that someplace in Germany doubles for Cape Cod), it’s rather remarkable that The Ghost Writer succeeds at all. The best thrillers all have a tremendous sense of place. And Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant) all have an extremely strong sense of place – to say nothing of the brilliant Chinatown. Perhaps it’s because Polanski’s got a durable and believable story here – by Fatherland author Robert Harris – based on seemingly realistic events and worked by an especially expert and believable cast including Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams (who probably knows this sort of thing inside and out, though her pouty, sad look seems hard to believe – especially during the film’s wonderfully invigorating climax), the great Tom Wilkinson, Eli Walllach and Timothy Hutton. Unfortunately Kim Cattrall (using a horrid British accent) is brought in to imitate Emmanuelle Seigner, much as Mrs. Polanski imitates Ms. Cattrall – much better – in Dario Argento’s awful Giallo. It’s a shame Ms. Seigner couldn’t have been here. Many other fine character actors are here, though. The key to this intriguing puzzle has something in common with Harris’ own Enigma and the film finally provides the incredibly great Ewan McGregor, as the unnamed “Ghost” (shades of Rebecca), with a meaty role that more than one or two people can appreciate. This is the best thriller I’ve seen since The International.

Harry Brown – Michael Caine gives a riveting performance as an aging and friendless widower who rebels against the youthful corruption he sees all around him and is forced to live with every day. I’ve seen Harry Brown described as “Death Wish in London.” But this plays more believably and rings truer on so many more levels, aided by scripter Gary Young’s perfectly subjective viewpoint, first-time director Daniel Barber’s incisive way of telling a story with very few words, Martin Ruhe’s fires-of-hell cinematography and some extremely beautiful and believable performances by Emily Mortimer, David Bradley and Michael Caine in one of his very best lead performances in years (face it, Caine is great in everything he does). The performances of the actors playing the young thugs are memorable too. Interesting how the film’s ultra-generic title – Caine’s ultra-generic character’s name – calls up any number of curiously-related film allusions: Dirty Harry, Harry Palmer, Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown (or Jack Carter). This is a great film, with at least one extraordinarily powerful set piece, choreographed at a drug dealer’s lair.

Red Riding - This excellent exploration in overwhelming, long-term corruption set in West Yorkshire, England, was produced in three parts totaling some 300 minutes for Britain’s Channel 4 in March 2009, but never made it to American video screens until 2010. It’s the kind of thing American cable TV channels would never touch or falsely glamorize in some bizarre way: gritty and realistic, sad and scary, thought-provoking and philosophical. Each surprisingly well-connected part, scripted by Tony Grisoni based on David Peace’s novel, was directed dramatically differently by a different director: the best of the three, In The Year of Our Lord 1974, was directed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots, Brideshead Revisited) – with a sensationally adept performance by hottie and the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield, as journalist Eddie “Scoop” Dunford; In The Year of Our Lord 1980 was directed by James Marsh (Man on a Wire) – with a remarkably intuitive performance from Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Cry of the Owl) as Peter Hunter; and In The Year of Our Lord 1983 was directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Shopgirl). There are many great British actors here, all doing a tremendous job, giving realistic performances with no trace of the usual American react-to-green-screen crap that passes for acting these days. Sometimes it’s so painful, yet still so hard to look away. Special kudos to actor Robert Sheehan as B.J., who gives one of the most sensational performances of all here.

Shutter Island - Author Dennis Lehane has a special talent for writing about haunted individuals. He doesn’t deal with ghosts and the supernatural. But his work often seems so otherworldly that it seems to take place on another plane of existence. Here, Martin Scorsese directs one of Lehane’s novels in one of the most phantasmagorical methods imaginable, yet what he conceives is utterly correct and completely appropriate. Shutter Island is nothing like Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River or Ben Affleck’s excellent Gone, Baby, Gone. It’s more like Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliantly under-valued Marnie (1964), where we are dropped into someone’s private hell and, just like the character in the movie, horrifically unable to escape. Scorsese provides many filmic clues to this horrific place – mostly from Hitchcock (Rebecca, Suspicion, Vertigo, The Birds and, of course, the obviously green-screened fakery that recalls so much of Marnie’s painted backdrops and rear-screen projection) but also from a few Fritz Lang films, George Cukor’s Gaslight, Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase, Robert Wise’s The Haunting, Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor and, even one of my faves, Alan Parker’s Angel Heart. Leonardo DiCaprio impresses as Teddy Daniels (a lot of what he does here is heart-wrenching) – more than he has ever done on screen outside of Gilbert Grape or Catch Me If You Can - but an expert cast including Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earle Haley (doing a grown up The Day of the Locust shtick) all positively shine here. Like Michael Mann’s terrific Collateral, Shutter Island is manufactured to look natural. But even though this film looks unreal, its truths stick with you long after the charade is over – just like what usually happens in a Dennis Lehane story. The music score, supervised by Robbie Robertson and consisting of existing pieces of 20th century classical work, is as utterly perfect and as brilliant as the John Adams music used for I Am Love. This is one film I never expected to appreciate, much less even like. But it grabs me over and over again.

A Single Man - This jolt of bravura filmmaking came as a complete surprise. The perfectly simple story, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel and written, financed (!) and directed with exceptional beauty by American fashion designer (!) Tom Ford, comes together (or apart?) like some sort of Chinese puzzle, though it’s refreshingly more European in its unraveling. Neither judgmental nor resolute, it is like a tone poem on the beauty and ugliness of living and the up and down joys of life. Revolving around a spectacular performance by the great Colin Firth, who plays George, a British college professor in California in 1962 who has lost his lover/partner/longtime companion/significant other/whatever-you-call-it these days (or then), Jim, to a car accident, A Single Man is a fairly common story about an everyman who experiences loneliness on a profound level. Firth is, however, uncommonly good here. He can convey more in a glance than many can with pages of dialogue or CGI effects. It is one of the great film performances of all time – though the great actor will no doubt win accolades for less controversial roles. This is one of the finest performances Julianne Moore has ever given too, as Charley, George’s best friend, an alcoholic divorcee who copes with sever loneliness in her own way(s). Nicholas Hoult, who plays a pivotal role as the young Kenny, is much better than he should be (he really is quite a fine actor) but he’s probably just too beautiful to be believed in the role he plays. Still, he neither escapes any sense of believability nor eludes the belief that he can somehow save George’s life. Ford, with the help of Spanish cinematographer Eduard Grau, sculpts a truly elegant looking piece of cinema here too, from George’s beautiful Mercedes coupe to the gorgeous Schaffer house in Glendale, California, designed by Modernist architect John Lautner. It all looks and sounds so 1962 (like Mad Men, whose star, Jon Hamm, has an unbilled voice cameo here). But it feels completely perfect and timeless.

Honorable Mention: I Am Love - yet another great Tilda Swinton performance, this one in a Russian form of Italian (!), about the dangers of a parent discovering passion after a lifetime of avoiding it; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first – and to date – best adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s popular novels, intricately executed with exceptional performances by Michael Nygvist as Mikael Blomkvist and, especially, the fearless Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander; and Zombieland, which is much more fun than many such movies made to be fun actually are.

Waste of Time: Alice in Wonderland, Giallo, Inception, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - all directed by folks I’ve greatly admired.

Notable DVDs: Ellery Queen Mysteries, Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Peter Thomas Sound Orchester “The Big Boss”

After gaining popular exposure on American television in The Green Hornet (1966-67) and, later, Longstreet (1971), martial arts great Bruce Lee made his film debut in Chinese film director Wei Lo’s Tang shan da xiong (1971). Now a cult favorite, and a superb display of Lee’s abundant talents, Tang shan da xiong had become Hong Kong’s highest-grossing film of all time in 1971.

When Cinerama, the film’s German distributors, got hold of the film, not only did they have no idea who Bruce Lee was, they thought Wang Fu-Ling’s traditional music score would sound much too foreign to Western ears to make any sense or help the film make much money. They changed the title of the film to The Big Boss (the film was called Fists of Fury in the U.S.) and brought in composer Peter Thomas to score the film for all the places the film would show outside of China. Curiously, though, Wang Fu-Ling retained musical credit on all prints of the film (and it's worth noting that Joseph Koo composed new music and used stock music from Don Peake's The Hills Have Eyes for the Cantonese-dubbed version of the film in the early 1980s).

Thomas (b. 1925), was best known at the time as composer of the great German Edgar Wallace and Jerry Cotton films and had only the year before laid down the tremendous and memorable Chariots of the Gods? score. His style had a signature like no other. He calls it “crazy jazz” and it came out no matter what he was doing – and it usually sounded just right: slightly comical, but certainly swinging and action-oriented. He was excited to take this project on.

The budget was, of course, limited. So Thomas composed music for only about half of the film and used pieces from his vast cornucopia of library tunes to complete the score. Here, for the first time ever, is the score to The Big Boss (All Score Media/Chris’ Soundtrack Corner, 2010). Interestingly, Peter Thomas had contacted Wang Fu-Ling to ask his permission to “affect” his music. But in the end, Thomas, didn’t even want to hear the original soundtrack before setting out to do what he wanted to do. And, of course, The Big Boss is all Peter Thomas.

The result is an absolute gem, not only maintaining the tuneful “crazy jazz” of Thomas’ previous scores, but actually prefiguring the entire Blaxploitation craze – which both Lalo Schifrin and John Barry would incisively tap into for later Lee films. The Big Boss is one of Peter Thomas’ most grooving and exciting action scores.

Highlights include such jazzy signature Thomas moments as “Big Boss Theme,” “Hard Drugs,” the funky “The Amulet,” the ballad “China Love,” the Vegas-y “Malaparte Sinus,” “Blood & Dead Friends” (my favorite track here), “Revenge & Corruption” and “He [sic] Fist of Fury.” There are subtle hints of oriental inducements (“Big Boss Theme,” “Finding the Drugs,” “Big Boss and His Friends” and “Blood & Dead Friends”), but more in the manner of the Western-oriented Charlie Chan or Fu Manchu epics rather than Schifrin’s studied approach to 1973’s Enter the Dragon. Still, they are subtle and hardly worth disapproving of.

It’s not easy to tell here which of the tracks are original to the score and which are from Thomas’ music library, but I’m willing to bet the library music – which actually accounts for less than half of the soundtrack – probably includes the more electronic-oriented music, such as “Communication in Hyperspace,” “EKG,” the Batman-sounding “Moontown,” “Dream for Two” and “Bruce Lee Forever,” which astute listeners will recognize as “Beige Turtleneck” from the terrific Peter Thomas compilation of library tunes Moonflowers & Mini-Skirts (Marina, 1998).

Suffice it to say, that The Big Boss works well when it’s all put together and is an excellent addition to the pantheon of Peter Thomas Sound Orchester discs out there.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shearing in the Sixties - Part 1

Indefatigable pianist George Shearing recorded frequently and popularly in many formats during the 1950s after he was signed to Capitol Records in 1955: with his famed quintet (The Shearing Spell, Latin Escapade, Latin Lace, On the Sunny Side of the Strip, Latin Affair, Shearing on Stage!), as a soloist (The Shearing Piano), with brass (Burnished Brass, Satin Brass), with strings (Velvet Carpet, Blue Chiffon), with strings and woodwinds (Black Satin, White Satin) and with voices (Night Mist). A good deal of these albums found their way onto CD, if only because of the long-dormant bachelor-pad music craze of the 1990s – which, of course, means many of the CDs are only available used or on eBay.

There was also the spate of productive and popular pairings Shearing and his quintet made with others, including Pittsburgh native Dakota Staton (In The Night, 1957 – issued 1958 – featuring several strong instrumentals); Peggy Lee (the genuinely exciting Beauty and the Beat!, 1959); Nancy Wilson (The Swingin’s Mutual, 1961); George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers (1961); and the extremely popular yet entirely too subdued Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (1962 – said to be one of Shearing’s personal favorites). Many of these recordings have remained in print on CD.

George Shearing recorded just as amazingly into the 1960s, but with far less accolades. Maybe it’s because after he had brought his successful sound to a major label, the label tried to jerry-rig the formula into ill-conceived or ill-timed formats.

Shearing, who turned 91 in August, became famous in 1947 when he formed a quintet featuring piano, guitar, bass, drums and vibes. The true significance of this was the technique that Shearing himself developed where the vibes player doubles the piano’s melody on a lower octave. George Shearing credits the Glenn Miller Orchestra's reed section of the late thirties and early forties as an important influence in the development of this sound. But it caught on quick and the Shearing Quintet enjoyed tremendous popular success as a result of it.

The popularity of the Shearing Quintet naturally offended many jazz critics and jazz die-hards that don’t believe jazz should cross over into the popular mainstream. Capitol gave Shearing ample opportunity to be recorded frequently and be heard by even more people – something which surely attracted the pianist to the label in the first place. During the last half of the 1950s, Capitol – which had Frank Sinatra on the roster at the time – did much to frame Shearing in the best possible way.

But as music and the music industry changed in the 1960s, Capitol faltered rather substantially in their domination of Shearing’s productivity (look at how poorly the company dealt with The Beatles at the time). Still, Shearing managed to produce a great wealth of good music during the decade. Somehow history has not given these records their proper due. Here’s my shot at doing just that.

Continue to Shearing in the Sixties – Part 2

Shearing in the Sixties - Part 2

Satin Affair - The George Shearing Quintet with String Choir (Capitol, 1960 – issued 1961): Like Shearing’s earlier quintet-with-strings records, Velvet Carpet, White Satin, Blue Chiffon and Black Satin, the luxurious Satin Affair is intended to create “a modern mood of romance.” In other words, it’s dinner-for-two music. It’s unapologetically beautiful too. Billy May’s strings – which are co-authored by Shearing himself, so they work well with what the quintet aims to achieve – are never too much. Regrettably, Shearing’s piano is in the background much of the time too. But, predictably, when Shearing comes out to play, he comes out swinging. No casual or dreamy program is likely to put a stop to that. But it never departs from the mood. The program is Shearing’s typical array of standards (“Early Autumn,” “Stardust,” “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” and “My Romance”), Shearing originals (the Chopin-esque “It’s Not You”), not quite standards from the canonical writers (Kern and Mercer’s “You Were Never Lovelier,” Styne/ Comden/ Green’s “The Party’s Over,” Burke/ Hampton/ Mercer’s “Midnight Sun,” Arlen and Gershwin’s “Here’s What I’m Here For” and Rodgers and Hart’s “I Like To Recognize the Tune,” which Shearing’s “new” quintet revived for the 1994 Telarc CD That Shearing Sound), Quintet vibist Warren Chaisson’s “My Own” and Torrie Zito’s lush Latinate “Bolero #3.” While nothing stands out particularly here, it’s worth remembering that nothing was meant to stand out on records like this. To me, Satin Affair provides a warmer, more festive musical spirit during the holidays than any number of Christmas albums do, which is why my house alights with Shearing’s quintet-with-strings music during the holidays in addition to the essential Christmas with The George Shearing Quintet (Telarc Jazz, 1998). Satin Affair was issued on CD as part of a two-fer with Shearing’s Concerto for My Love by the British BGO label in 1996 and is no longer in print.

The Shearing Touch - George Shearing - String Choir Conducted by Billy May (Capitol, 1960): Here, George Shearing lends his distinctive pianistic “touch” to a dozen piano themes made famous by other jazz pianists. Aided by Billy May’s terrifically employed string choir, Shearing is often on his own here, without the mirroring vibes and the Latin percussion of other Quintet records of the time. Shearing and May reflect on such piano jazz classics as Fat Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall” (as well as “Autumn Nocturne” and “Tonight We Love,” based on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, both of which Thornhill first popularized), Eddie Heywood’s “Canadian Sunset,” Felix Arndt’s ragtime hit “Nola” (popularized by pianist Vincent Lopez), Andre Previn’s terrific “Like Young” (which, along with “Snowfall,” Henry Mancini covered beautifully the year before on an album coincidentally titled The Mancini Touch) and Erroll Garner’s “Misty.” Several other standards that have piano-based origins, such as “Autumn Leaves,” “Sunrise Serenade” and “Bewitched” are included here as well. Shearing plays magnificently throughout and while he often sounds rather too polite in his respect, he does come to life with strong individual performances of “Autumn Leaves,” “Misty” (which just begs for an interpretation by the Quintet that surprisingly never happened, at least on record), “Like Young,” “Honeysuckle Rose” and “One O’Clock Jump.” May provides some truly engaging string commentary throughout, buttressing the pianist with a swinging verve that keeps even the slowest of these numbers from meandering too much. May leans often on the pizzicato lushness of the strings to give a waltz-like quality to so much of the program and outdoes himself on “Nola,” “Canadian Sunset,” “Like Young” (particularly during the bridge) and “Snowfall” especially. Surprisingly, The Shearing Touch has not yet been issued on CD, despite a 1991 compilation CD issued by Capitol’s budget division, Pair, misleadingly given the same title as this LP. Beware, the 1991 CD is not the same as the 1960 LP.

San Francisco Scene - The George Shearing Quintet (Capitol, 1960 – issued 1962): The George Shearing Quintet’s first live recording since On The Sunny Side of The Strip (1958) is this well-programmed date captured at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium on April 28, 1960. Cuban percussionist Armando Peraza, who toured and recorded with the Shearing Quintet from 1953 through 1963, is added to make the Quintet a sextet on “Cocktails for Two,” “Lullaby of Birdland” and “My New Mambo.” The program alternates swingers like Ray Bryant’s gospel-funk “The Be-bop Irishman” (written for the Jo Jones Trio) and Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw” with such standards as “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid” and “Cocktails for Two” (which Shearing recorded with Frank Weir in 1946) and ballads like “I’ll Be Around,” Shearing’s Bach-infused solo take on “This Nearly Was Mine” and the gorgeously appropriate “When April Comes Again” with such group originals as guitarist Dick Garcia’s “Monophraseology,” conga master Armando Peraza’s “My New Mambo” and Shearing’s own standard “Lullaby of Birdland.” The Quintet performs with predictable professionalism, but one could wish the songs were a little longer or a bit more involved. The concert’s highlights are the crowd-pleasing up-tempo grinders “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid,” “My New Mambo,” “The Outlaw,” “Monophraseology” and the superb and infectiously Latin-ized take on “Lullaby of Birdland” that elicits an electrifying feature for Peraza which audibly makes the crowd go crazy. The complete content of the San Francisco Scene LP is 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. Surprisingly, the album has not yet been issued in a single CD format.

Mood Latino - The George Shearing Quintet (Capitol, 1961): Although Shearing’s Quintet was either recorded or named for a number of additional records after this, Mood Latino represents if not the last of the classic Shearing Quintet records, then certainly the last of the Quintet’s records in a purely “Latin mood” (1965’s Latin Rendezvous, which includes songs from the Mood Latino sessions, is really little more than a collection of outtakes). The unidentified quintet is, of course, augmented here by the bongos and conga of the righteous and rightfully credited Armando Peraza, who was a significant part of this musical aggregate’s success. But Mood Latino gets a refreshing uplift from the unnamed flautist, who adds an attractive zest to the overall proceedings. The rather unusual program is well conceived to deliver Latin twists on such standards as “Blue Moon,” “Day by Day” and “You and the Night and the Music,” the ballads “The Night Is Young and You’re So Beautiful” and “All Through the Day,” and such off-beat stuff as Charles DeForest’s “Yesterday’s Child,” Torrie Zito’s “Salud,” pianist Dante Varela’s “Tintilin,” and Quintet guitarist Dick Garcia’s very pretty “Blue Rainbow.” Armando Peraza contributes two typically festive and melodic boleros, “Jackie’s Mambo” and “Te Arango la Cabeza,” while the group excels particularly nicely on Ernesto Lecuona’s popular “Say ‘Si Si’.” Shearing himself takes some fiery – though entirely too brief (everything about this record is too brief) – yet imaginative solos on “Salud,” “Tintilin,” “Jackie’s Mambo,” “Say ‘Si Si’” and “Te Arango la Cabez – making these highlights of a fine, yet surprisingly little-known album in the Shearing Quintet discography. It’s easy to fit this music into the “easy listening” mold that yielded so many of Martin Denny’s records. But Shearing, nudged no doubt by Peraza, raises the bar just a little bit higher here. Predictably, Mood Latino has never been issued on CD.

Concerto For My Love - George Shearing with Orchestra and Choir (Capitol, 1961 – issued 1962): George Shearing sets his piano here against an orchestra of strings, woodwinds and voices in tribute to that already overpraised and hugely overanalyzed thing called l’amour. It is the pianist’s first orchestral recording since the far more engaging The Shearing Touch, even though Shearing waxed only three other records (San Francisco Scene, The Swingin’s Mutual! and Mood Latino) in between this one and that. The pianist himself provides the arrangements here, understandably gesturing toward the sort of romanticism frequently heard in his ballad style and something that is utterly appropriate for an album of songs all (except one) including “love” in their title. A choir of male and female voices “ooh” in orgiastic support and “ah” in heavenly consummation for “Portrait of Jennie,” “Answer Me, My Love,” “Love Letters,” “Portrait of My Love,” “In Love In Vain” and Shearing and Charles De Forest’s oddly titled “Love Child,” perhaps a sly reference to what comes out of all of this love. On these numbers Shearing’s piano too frequently tinkles along in a Chopinesque manner, while the orchestral flourishes often primp and preen in such a way that suggest a weepie from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Shearing alternates the vocalese pieces with trio-and-orchestra arrangements that find the pianist getting much needed rhythmic support from a bassist and a drummer on “I’m in the Mood For Love,” “I Wish You Love,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Love is the Sweetest Thing,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “Lady Love Be Mine.” The rhythm section not only helps the pianist regain the strength of his distinctively romantic touch on the keyboard but also helps beef up the otherwise florid orchestral arrangements. Shearing hides some real jewels on this set, including “Love is the Sweetest Thing,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Lady Love Be Mine,” and the first half of both “Love Letters” and “In Love In Vain.” The trouble is the rest of the album really weighs these goodies down. Concerto For My Love was issued on CD as part of a two-fer with Shearing’s Satin Affair by the British BGO label in 1996 and is no longer in print.

Continue to Shearing in the Sixties – Part 3

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