Decades after their deaths, Miles Davis and John Coltrane are still two of the biggest names in jazz. Both are major influences on today’s jazz world even as the contemporary scene continues to evolve.
It is not every month that one can report on new studio albums by both Miles and ‘Trane. While neither of these discs should be considered essential classics, they are of strong interest, particularly the Coltrane release.
Miles Davis’ Rubberband was originally recorded in 1985 right after he departed from the Columbia label to start a new association with Warner Bros. Records. The trumpeter was primarily interested in putting together a new electronic funk band, one that would team his often-muted trumpet with younger players, performing danceable music. However after a year, it was decided that his developing project with Marcus Miller (which resulted in Tutu) was more significant. What became known as the Rubberband project was shelved although a few of the numbers were played in concert by Davis. 34 years later the music is being released for the first time, with quite a few “adjustments.”
Guitarist-singer Randy Hall, drummer Vince Wilburn Jr, and bassist Attala Zane Giles were the forces behind the release of the recordings (some of which were not in the best of shape) being updated and modernized, often adding in new rhythms. Originally Davis planned to have Al Jarreau and Chaka Khan take vocals. In the new version, there is one recent vocal apiece by Ledisi, Medina Johnson, Lalah Hathaway and Randy Hall
The results are interesting and intriguing but probably will not satisfy many Miles Davis fans. His trumpet is just one part of the ensemble and only a couple of his solos find him stretching himself much. While there are appearances by altoist-flutist Michael Paulo, the late tenor-saxophonist Bob Berg and guitarist Mike Stern, the electronic ensemble-oriented music lacks a strong personality or any memorable melodies. It is available from www.amazon.com.
Last year’s CD of “new” John Coltrane music, Both Directions At Once, was a major release featuring the classic Coltrane Quartet in excellent form in 1963. In 1964, Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones were hired to perform on the soundtrack of the French Canadian film Le chat dans le sac, an independent film that was soon forgotten. It seems a bit odd that few in the jazz world knew about the Coltrane project, but for the saxophonist it involved just one day in the studio and he apparently never saw the film. He simply answered most of the requests of the director Gilles Groulx, playing concise remakes of some of his earlier songs.
Blue World features the quartet performing two versions of “Naima,” three of “Village Blues,” and one apiece of “Blue World” (which was based on “Out Of This World”), “Like Sonny” and “Traneing.” Only the latter song and “Blue World” exceed six minutes. It is particularly interesting hearing Tyner on “Naima” since he was not part of the original studio version, and to hear Coltrane interpreting “Like Sonny” which he had recorded in 1960 and rarely played since.
While Blue World is not as significant as Both Directions At Once since it does not contain any startling new pieces, those who love John Coltrane’s music will certainly want to pick it up. It is available from www.vervelabelgroup.com.
Tadd Dameron (1917-65) was arguably the most significant arranger-composer to emerge during the classic bebop era (1945-60). He gained experience writing for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie during 1940-45 and then during the bop years several of his songs (most notably “Hot House,” “Good Bait,” “Our Delight,” and “If You Could See Me Now”) became standards. While he led groups and record dates on an occasional basis after 1950 (including dates featuring Clifford Brown and John Coltrane) and arranged several albums, he never became a household name.
Baritonist and altoist Paul Combs is the perfect person to perform a set of mostly unknown Tadd Dameron compositions. Combs is the author of the book Dameronia – the Life and Music of Tadd Dameron. In his research he came across a dozen superior songs that were either only recorded once (such as “A La Bridges” which was cut by Harlan Leonard) or never at all. The quality of the generally unknown material is quite high and quite a few of the tunes could become standards in the future if enough musicians discover this project.
Mostly utilizing quintets with trumpeter Derek Cannon, either Bill Cunliffe, Melonie Grinnell, Ken Cook or Kamau Kenyatta on piano, Alex Frank, Rob Thorsen or Jeff Denson on bass, and Alex Aspinall or Richard Sellers on drums, Combs (who is particularly individual on baritone) brings to life such numbers as “Moon From The East,” “Don’t Forget It,” The Search” and “The Rampage.” His arrangements make most of the songs sound like they were being performed by a top notch hard bop group from around 1960. Danielle Wertz takes fine vocals on “Take A Chance On Spring,” “Never Been In Love” and “Weekend” that add to the value of this release.
Anyone with even a slight interest in Tadd Dameron, bop or straight ahead jazz should pick up this significant release which is available from www.summitrecords.com.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
The Navy Swings
(Sounds Of Yester Year)
While a word association game would invariably pair together Dave Brubeck with “Take Five,” the pianist-bandleader was quite popular years before that 1959 recording. His musical partnership with altoist Paul Desmond stretched back to the late 1940s and the first Dave Brubeck Quartet dates from 1951. While the early groups included quietly supportive bassists and drummers, by 1957 the group featured the assertive drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright.
In 1958, Wright was absent from the quartet for two months with Joe Benjamin as his able fill-in. During that period, the Brubeck Quartet was featured on four editions of the 15-minute radio series The Navy Swings. Sponsored by the U.S. Navy with an announcer who read plugs for joining the Navy, the series gave Brubeck an opportunity to play three songs during each show in addition to using his “The Duke” as its theme. Brubeck was also heard in short interviews that included him talking a bit about his overseas tours.
This CD from the British Sounds of Yester Year label (available from www.cityhallrecords.com) features the Dave Brubeck Quartet on a dozen numbers including standards (such as “Take The ‘A’ Train,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Tangerine”) along with Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” and such lesser-known songs as “I’m In A Dancing Mood,” “Sounds Of The Loop,” “Thank You,” and “Nomad.” The cool-toned music swings, sticks to 4/4 time (this was a year before the quartet dived into exploring more exotic time signatures) and features highly individual playing from both Brubeck and Desmond.
This is an excellent addition to Dave Brubeck’s large discography.
Live In Europe
This is the fourth of four Louis Armstrong CDs put out by the Dot time label (www.dottimerecords.com). Unlike the first three, most of the music on Live In Europe has been out before although just released by mostly tiny labels. The great Armstrong is featured with two different versions of his All-Stars, from Paris on Feb. 22-23, 1948 and Berlin from Oct. 12, 1952.
Due to the Musicians Union recording strike of 1948, that year’s All-Stars (with trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Earl Hines, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Big Sid Catlett) did not have many opportunities to record in the studio, and those were in 1949. The Paris broadcasts start out a bit rough with a presentation made in French, a brief “Muskrat Ramble,” a so-so version of “Rockin’ Chair,” and Bigard’s feature on “Rose Room.” However things pick up from then on, with jam session renditions of “Royal Garden Blues,” “Panama,” “Mahogany Hall Stomp” and “Them There Eyes,” and fine renditions of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and “Black And Blue.” While Hines (who had just joined the group) is not heard from much, Teagarden and Bigard are both in excellent form and Armstrong sounds inspired by the stiff competition, playing with plenty of power. The music is full of fire and much more spontaneous than many of the All-Stars’ performances in the 1950s.
The 1952 All-Stars (with trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Bob McCracken, pianist Marty Napoleon, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Cozy Cole) find Armstrong putting on more of a well-rehearsed show. McCracken was not with the band long (Edmond Hall would soon take over) and Young, who spent more than a decade with the All-Stars, was a new member. Velma Middleton sings on “Lover Come Back To Me” and a humorous duet with Armstrong on “Can Anyone Explain”; both of those performances were previously unissued. Best from the 1952 set are “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans,” Young’s feature on “Coquette,” and “A Kiss To Build A Dream On.”
While not flawless, Live In Europe is full of fun and high energy, making this an excellent addition for Louis Armstrong collectors.
Dick Hyman & Ken Peplowski
Counterpoint – Lerner/Loewe
Counterpoint, a set of duets by the ageless pianist Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski (heard on clarinet and tenor) is both predictable and full of wild surprises. The predictable part is in the excellence displayed by the two brilliant musicians. Despite their many years of constant performing, they continue to stretch themselves and never seem to be short on enthusiasm.
As for the surprising part, while they are performing a set of music by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the result is not a set of swing-oriented performances. The music always swings but Hyman (who came up with arrangements that range from mere frameworks to sketched-out charts) and Peplowski play very adventurous improvisations that will keep one guessing. The themes are there but sometimes the chord structures disappear for a time and quite frequently one or the other musician takes the music into unexpected areas. Somehow they always keep track of each other and eventually come back to the piece while taking listeners on some colorful journeys. The death-defying improvisations by Hyman and Peplowski consistently make the impossible seem logical.
The repertoire ranges from familiar themes given unusual treatments (including “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Almost Like Being In Love,” and “On The Street Where You Live”) to rarely performed obscurities such as “Waitin’ For My Dearie,” “They Call The Wind Maria,” and “A Jug Of Wine.”
This consistently surprising set is well worth several close listens. It is available from www.arborsrecords.com.
Home With You At Last
Gerry Niewood, a significant tenor, alto and soprano-saxophonist and flutist, is best remembered for being a key member of Chuck Mangione’s groups during 1968-76 and on an occasional basis in later years. He died in a plane crash when he was 65 and on his way to a job with Mangione in 2009.
His son, Adam Niewood, is an excellent soprano and tenor-saxophonist with his own sound and a style that is complementary to that of his father. In Aug. 2010 he recorded a lengthy tribute to his late father, performing Gerry Niewood originals with an all-star quartet that included guitarist John Scofield, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, all of whom producer-drummer Bill Goodwin knew and was able to get for the project. In 2015 Niewood Plays Niewood was released by SteepleChase.
Now, a second set of music from the 2010 sessions has been released. As with the first CD, the music is all by Gerry Niewood, taken from 80 songs discovered in notebooks after his passing by his widow. Home With You At Last starts and ends with the title track, a brief and touching ballad. The other four numbers (“The Gentle Soul,” “Essence,” “Autumn Colors,” and “Winds Of Change”) have picturesque themes, feelings of melancholy and joy, and are played at length by the quartet.
Adam Niewood, who naturally had mixed feelings during the sessions, is in excellent form, taking particularly individual solos on soprano although his tenor playing is also very good. Scofield is restrained but typically distinctive as he digs into the material, Patitucci has a few solo spots, and DeJohnette is mostly in a supportive role. Those three giants are each tasteful throughout and perfectly willing to let Adam Niewood, a strong talent, be the main star of what must have been an emotional project.
Featuring memorable material that is worthy of exploration by other musicians, Home With You At Last is available from statesidemusic.com.
June Bisantz & Alex Nakhimovsky
June Bisantz is a subtle and quietly swinging singer with a soft and cool-toned voice. Her two previous albums (Let’s Fall In Love and It’s Always You) were tributes to Chet Baker. She is also a visual artist who is Professor Emeritus of Art & Design at Eastern Connecticut State University. Alex Nakhimovsky, who has collaborated with Ms. Bisantz since 2005, is a pianist-composer who has worked with such notables as Jackie McLean, Benny Golson, Sheila Jordan, Rena Marie, and Jazzmeia Horn.
For Love’s Tango, a 32-minute EP, Bisantz and Nakhimovsky co-composed six songs that are mostly bossa-novas and sambas along with the title cut, a tango. In addition, there is a very brief Nakhimovsky instrumental (“Prelude To A Wish”). Utilizing a rhythm section, occasional horns (including trombonist Steve Davis), and three strings (violin, viola and cello), they have created a pleasing set of love songs that include “Eleven Note Samba,” “A Wish That Came True,” and “It’s You.” The varying tempos, moods and grooves give Love’s Tango more variety than expected.
June Bisantz’s soothing yet quietly heated vocals, the melodic material, and the high musicianship make Love’s Tango a memorable listening experience. It is available from www.junebisantz.com.
Champian Fulton & Cory Weeds
Dream A Little
Pianist-singer Champian Fulton and altoist Cory Weeds are longtime friends who have worked together in different contexts. Weeds, who owns and runs the Cellar Live label, is an excellent bop-oriented saxophonist whose solos are both melodic and a bit explorative. Fulton plays superior swing-oriented piano, can sound like Erroll Garner whenever she likes, and is a personal singer who sounds like she would have been very much at home in the 1940s and ‘50s yet does not sound dated.
Dream A Little, which was recorded at a house concert, features Fulton and Weeds as a duo, performing nine standards plus the pianist’s “Lullaby For Art.” Champian Fulton, who sings on half of the songs, is such a solid pianist that one never misses the bass or drums. She gives Weeds a solid foundation to float over, yet challenges him to stretch himself a bit. Among the highlights of the colorful duets are “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Pennies From Heaven,” “Tangerine,” and “Save Your Love For Me.”
This easily enjoyable outing is a delight and available from www.cellarlive.com.
Don’t Walk Away From The Stove
Back in the 1910s, string bands were popular. These units often played ragtime, folk songs, bluesy material, and pop songs. However due to the rise of jazz, the strings were mostly replaced by horns by the early 1920s. But what if that development did not happen and 1920s jazz used mandolins, banjos and guitars as lead instruments instead of cornet/trumpet, trombone and clarinet?
It might have sounded a bit like the music on John Hasbrouck’s Lp. Hasbrouck, who is mostly heard on mandolin but also occasionally plays guitar and banjo, utilizes several different units throughout the 15 songs on this album. Ranging from duets to a sextet but mostly using a trio or quartet, Hasbrouck is joined by other Chicago-based players on guitars, bass, banjo, and/or percussive instruments. They perform vintage standards (including “Angry,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Mean To Me” and “If I Could Be With You”) along with a few lesser-known songs (“Cold Mornin’ Shout,’ “Chicago Tangle,” “Chinese Break Down” and “Harrisburg Itch”).
The quiet performances are gentle (even when taken up-tempo) and swing while often sounding unusual. How often does one hear a mandolin in jazz when it is not Gypsy Swing or touched by bluegrass?
One can look at the enjoyable music on Don’t Walk Away From The Stove (a title that is not explained) as hints of a future that never arrived in jazz. It is available from www.johnhasbrouck.com.
While somewhat forgotten today except by record collectors, Arthur Fields (1888-1953) was a significant contributor to the music scene for over 30 years. He was a prolific singer who was on over 1,800 recordings, a songwriter (although none of his originals, even his biggest hit, World War One’s “It’s A Long Way To Berlin But We’ll Get There,” are remembered today), vaudevillian, radio personality, popular hillbilly artist in the 1930s, disc jockey, and music publisher. Born Abraham Finkelstein, he first sang in public in 1904 when he was 16. When he joined the Guy Brothers Minstrels a year later, he reinvented himself as Arthur Fields. After a great deal of freelancing, he found success in vaudeville starting in 1910 and his first songs were published the following year. In 1914 Fields made his initial record (Irving Berlin’s “Along Came Ruth”) and his recording career began, continuing until 1942.
Anthology is a long overdue retrospective of Arthur Fields’ recording career. While he was not a jazz singer, he articulated words clearly, had a good voice, displayed plenty of spirit, and was an important early pioneer. Particularly interesting from the jazz standpoint are a pair of his recordings from 1917. “Everybody Loves a ‘Jazz’ Band,” which was recorded slightly after the first jazz recording (“Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band), was actually released first and has Fields singing with wit and some accuracy about the joy of discovering jazz. His version of “Darktown Strutters Ball” is the earliest example of an all-black band (Ford Dabney’s group) accompanying a white singer.
Other highlights include several World War I. songs (including “Over There” and “How Ya Gonna Keep Them Down On The Farm After They’ve Seen Paree”), an early version of “Ja-Da,” tributes to General Pershing, William Jennings Bryan and baseball, the hillbilly hit “Eleven More Months and Ten More Days,” a serious version of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (made famous by Spike Jones), and his final recording, a privately recorded medley from 1951 of “It’s A Long Way To Berlin,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and “Carolina In The Morning.”
Accompanied by a 32-page booklet, the Arthur Fields Anthology will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in early recordings and singers. It is available from www.archeophone.com.
Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band
The Gordian Knot
(Music Of Content)
Gordon Goodwin has done the near-impossible in his career. A very inventive arranger-composer, he has not only played regularly with his orchestra (the Big Phat Band) during the past 20 years but attracts large crowds whenever they perform. Due to inventive marketing, knowing how to put on a show, and not being shy to display wit, Goodwin’s orchestra ranks as one of the most popular big bands in jazz.
But more important, especially to those who acquire their recordings, is that Goodwin’s music is fresh, lively, creative and full of surprises. The Gordian Knot, which has nine of his originals plus “Summertime” and the theme to “The Incredibles,” contain no throwaway tracks or slow moments.
Starting with the funky “T.O.P. Adjacent” which features altoist Eric Marienthal, the highlights include the largely arranged “The Gordian Knot” (displaying a modern classical influence along with the spontaneity of jazz), the heated “Kneel Before Zod” (which includes a hot spot for Goodwin’s tenor), the introspective (and sometimes gloomy) “Lost In Thought” (featuring trumpeter Mike Rocha), an explosive bit of trumpet by Wayne Bergeron on an episodic “The Incredibles,” the whimsical “Sometimes I Rush” (which of course speeds up several times), and the eccentric and wild hoedown of “Deja Moo.” Among the soloists who make a strong impression (in addition to the one’s mentioned) are guitarist Andrew Synoweic, tenor-saxophonist Brian Scanlon, trombonist Andy Martin and singer Vangie Gunn who displays a strong set of pipes on “Summertime.”
The Gordian Knot is full of spirited ensembles, humor and creativity. It is available from www.bigphatband.com.