Terry Gibbs Legacy Band
The Terry Gibbs Songbook
(Whaling City Sound)

Terry Gibbs, who turns 99 next October 13, has had quite a remarkable career. One of the greatest vibraphonists of all time, Gibbs was a professional by the age of 12 (back in 1936). He became famous as a member of Woody Herman’s Second Herd, worked with Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson and the Benny Goodman Sextet, mastered bebop, and was a bandleader throughout much of his career. Gibbs led his orchestra, The Dream Band, during the late 1950s and early ‘60s, headed the regular group on the Steve Allen Show in the 1960s, and had a quintet with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. His memoirs, Good Vibes, is both quite informative and often hilarious. Gibbs was active into his early nineties before deciding to retire.

The Terry Gibbs Songbook is a special final musical project in Gibbs’ career. There is one major error in the liner notes that needs to be corrected. It is stated that because Gibbs helps out with the singing and plays some two-handed piano on the humorous and nostalgic “Now’s The Time To Groove,” he is the first musician to record in eight decades. Actually Benny Carter recorded in nine; however Terry Gibbs still has the record. In addition to recording commercially in nine decades (starting in 1946), if one counts a radio show on which Gibbs in the 1930s played some classical music (tapes still exist and briefly appeared on You Tube), he is the only musician ever to have recorded in ten decades!

While Gibbs occasionally wrote songs that he recorded as instrumentals through the years, this project is a bit different. 15 of the great vibraphonist’s compositions have been given lyrics and are sung by Danny Bacher, a fine jazz vocalist who could have fit in well with jazz groups in the 1950s. Eight of the numbers have words by Michael Dees while the other collaborators were lyricists Arthur Hamilton, Bobby Troup, Steve Allen, and Jerry Gladstone with two of the songs having lyrics by Gibbs himself.

Terry Gibbs’ music has always swung and this set is certainly no exception. He gathered together pianist Tom Ranier (also heard a bit on tenor), bassist Mike Gurrola, and his son drummer Gerry Gibbs, and was able to easily talk the two great swing tenors Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen into joining the group. While each song has a Bacher vocal, there is a lot of solo space for the tenors and Ranier. The tunes range from love songs (including the touching “I Was Loved”) and wistful memories of his life to plenty of joyful swing. Such titles as “I Can Hardly Wait For Saturday Night,” “Play And Sing,” “And That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “Stay With Me Tonight” (which during its closing part includes some Terry Gibbs vibes from decades ago), and the jazz waltz “Say Goodbye” are among the many rewarding songs on this set that could become standards in the future if heard by enough singers and instrumentalists.

Terry Gibbs has said on numerous occasions that this is his last recording. Hopefully when he turns 100, he will change his mind and do this again! In the meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of The Terry Gibbs Songbook which is available from www.whalingcitysound.com and www.amazon.com.

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Deuces Wild
(Paragon Ragtime)

Deuces Wild album | Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

During the past 20 years, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (under the direction of its founder Rick Benjamin) has been the premiere ensemble of its kind. The 12-piece orchestra,

which consists of two cornets, trombone, clarinet, flute or piccolo, piano, bass, drums, and a string quartet, is filled with musicians that are world class, versatile, and very well suited to interpreting the vintage arrangements. Deuces Wild, Paragon’s 20th release, is filled with the type of delightful music (dating from 1898-1922) that one has come to expect from the ensemble.

One gets to hear orchestrated ragtime, early blues, a few novelties, hot early dance music, waltzes, adaptations of classical themes, and even a very obscure George Gershwin medley. While eight of the pieces could be considered standards (although many are rarely ever performed these days), the other 17 are comprised of forgotten but superior pieces. Among the latter are such numbers as “Deuces Wild Rag,” “Bone-Head Blues,” “The Ragtime Bass Player,” “Peaches And Cream: A Delectable Rag,” Jerome Kern’s “The Siren’s Song,” “Slim Trombone” (during which Rebecca Ciabattari shows how the trombone was utilized as a humorous rhythmic instrument before jazz changed its role), and Arthur Pryor’s “The Victor Talking Machine March.” The Gershwin medley is taken from his very first score for a show (“La-La-Lucille”) and has six songs that few if anyone have ever heard since.

Rick Benjamin takes over on piano for Zez Confrey’s hit “Kitten On The Keys.” W.C. Handy’s original scores for “Beale Street” (which had four different themes), his “Yellow Dog Blues,” and Scott Joplin’s “The Cascades” are among the standards revitalized by the orchestra.

Rick Benjamin’s detailed and very informative liner notes are an added plus to this highly recommended release which is available from www.paragonragtime.com.

Noah Haidu

Noah Haidu began classical piano lessons when he was six, but as a teenager he was more interested in playing jazz, blues and r&b. He studied with Kenny Barron at Rutgers and he left college when he was 20 to perform in New York City clubs. Haidu has had the opportunity to work with such notables as Ambrose Akinmusire, Vincent Herring, Eddie Henderson, and Mike Stern. He had recorded six records as a leader (including 2020’s Slowly: Song For Keith Jarrett) prior to Standards.

On Standards, Haidu is joined by either Buster Williams or Peter Washington on bass, drummer Lewis Nash and, on four of the 11 numbers, Steve Wilson on alto. While in the brief liner notes Haidu mentions his love for the music of Keith Jarrett’s Trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette and their treatment of older songs, there is no attempt on this set to sound like them. In fact, the pianist displays his own sound throughout, and sometimes sounds closer to Wynton Kelly and other late 1950s pianists than he does to Jarrett.

The playing throughout is swinging and often-exquisite. Noah Haidu creates fresh statements on such songs as “Just In Time,” “The End Of A Beautiful Friendship,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and “I Thought About You.” The addition of Wilson (who cuts loose on “You And The Night And The Music”) adds variety to the set as does the solo piano version of “Skylark.” After performing nine standards, Haidu concludes the album with two thoughtful originals (“Last Dance I” and “Last Dance II”).

Anyone who enjoys swinging piano trios will definitely want to pick up Standards which is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com.

Michel Petrucciani
The Montreux Years
(Montreux Sounds/BMG)

Michel Petrucciani (1962-99) overcame a genetic disease (Osteogenesis imperfecta) that resulted in him being very short (around three feet tall) and having brittle bones to become one of jazz’s most brilliant pianists. He began playing when he was four. Bill Evans was an early influence but Petrucciani gradually developed his own sound and style, and he made the best use that he could of the time that he had.

The Montreux Years is comprised of previously unreleased (but very well recorded) performances by Petrucciani at the 1990, 1993, 1996 and 1998 Montreux Jazz Festival. Rather than emphasize the usual settings for the pianist (in a trio or playing solo), this collection adds to Petrucciani’s musical legacy. The first selection, “35 Seconds Of Music and More,” opens up the set by hearing him leading a boppish sextet. He is also heard on three extensive duets with bassist Miroslav Vitous (including “Autumn Leaves” and an uptempo version of “My Funny Valentine”), in a quartet with organist Eddy Louiss (their tradeoffs are quite dazzling), with his 1990 group that includes Adam Holzman on synthesizer (including his original “Miles Davis Licks” and a beautiful version of “Estate”), and playing solo.

No matter what the setting, Michel Petrucciani sounds quite inspired and original. He stretches himself and shows today’s listeners what a major talent he was during his all-too-brief life. Petrucciani’s The Montreux Years, released as part of an extensive series that benefits the Claude Nobs Foundation (named after the late founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival) is a gem that is available from www.bmg.com and www.amazon.com.

Taj Mahal
(Stony Plain)

Taj Mahal, who was born as Henry St. Claire Fredericks, has certainly had a diverse and productive musical life. In addition to singing, he plays the guitar, banjo, harmonica, and piano. Throughout his career, he has always been interested in earlier forms of music which he performs credibly and in his own way. This includes country blues, folk music, rock, music from West Africa, the Caribbean music and India, calypso, gospel, Hawaiian music, a band with four tuba players, and even some jazz. He is most associated with various types of blues.

Savoy is a change of pace and a tribute to his parents who met at the Savoy Ballroom in 1938. Mahal, who sings throughout in a slightly raspy voice a little reminiscent of Dr. John and plays a bit of harmonica, performs a set of swing standards with the only post-1950 song being “Killer Joe.” He is joined by a medium-sized group that has such top-notch jazz soloists as guitarist Danny Caron, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, Kristen Strom on flute and tenor, Charles McNeal and Lincoln Adler on tenors, trombonist Mike Rinta, and violinist Evan Price. Maria Muldaur sits in for a delightful vocal duet version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Among the other songs are such standards as “I’m Just A Lucky So-And-So,” “Mood Indigo,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” and “Caledonia.” Three background vocalists help out Taj Mahal on a few numbers.

The overall results are quite enjoyable. Taj Mahal (80 at the time in 2022) may have an untrained voice but he digs into the lyrics, he knows the material well, and good vibes consistently result. Savoy is a fun set that is available from www.stonyplainrecords.com and www.amazon.com.

Gaea Schell
In Your Own Sweet Way
(Saphu Records)

Gaea Schell first gained recognition as a pianist based in Southern California. Before then, she grew up in Alberta, Canada and had spent time in New York (including studying with Richie Beirach). In more recent times, she has become a fixture in the San Francisco jazz scene and mastered the flute in addition to taking occasional vocals.

On In Your Own Sweet Way, she teams up with the versatile guitarist Jordan Samuels (who sometimes shows the inspiration of Wes Montgomery), bassist John Witala, drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte, occasionally trumpeter Marco Diaz (who plays piano on one song) and, on three Afro-Cuban numbers, percussionist Carlos Caro.

While the excellence of her piano playing will not surprise those familiar with her earlier work, Schell’s excellent flute playing (particularly on the opening “Cava dell’Isola”) will be a bit of a revelation. She also contributed eight of the 11 selections and takes a pair of satisfying vocals including on “It Had To Be You.” Her music ranges from modern straight ahead jazz to some Latin numbers and she improvises confidently in her own voice.

Most of the performances are taken at relaxed and thoughtful (yet swinging) tempos with Gaea Schell playing melodically and with subtle creativity. Her interplay with bassist Witala and drummer Wyser-Pratte is a particular joy. In Your Own Sweet Way is available from www.gaeaschell.com.

Various Artists
London Brew

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the recording of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, some of the top and relatively young British jazz musicians gathered together to record new music inspired by that influential album. While none of the eight pieces on this double-CD are Davis compositions or remakes of the originals (although one is titled “Miles Chases New Voodoo In The Church”), and more up-to-date electronics are used (such as at the beginning of the lengthy “London Brew”), the basic style of Bitches Brew is brought back.

As Joe Zawinul said of Weather Report, “Everyone and no one is soloing.” The ensembles utilize repetition creatively and evolve gradually and ultimately logically. The biggest names among the musicians are saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings (who also plays clarinet) although each player makes strong contributions to the group’s sound. The band also includes guitarists Dave Okumu and Martin Terefe, Nick Ramm and Nikolaj Torp Larsen on synthesizers, violinist Raven Bush, Theon Cross on tuba, bassist Tom Herbert, drummers/percussionists Tom Skinner and Dan See, and Benji B. on decks and sonic recycling. The mixing of acoustic and electric sounds works very well and the results are quite coherent and colorful.

There are enough changes in moods, tempos, and textures to hold one’s interest throughout, particularly if one has open ears towards early fusion and Miles Davis’ 1970s recordings. London Brew, which is available from www.concord.com and www.amazon.com, is well worth checking out.

Ben Fox
Ben’s Bop

Ben Fox, a bassist who has been based in New Orleans for the past decade, recently organized Ben’s Bop, a quartet album with three younger players who he has often worked: pianist Yoshitaka “Z2”Tsuji, drummer Tanner Guss, and tenor-saxophonist Marty Peters. The emphasis is on straight ahead swinging with the musicians performing spirited versions of eight standards including one (“Taffy”) of which I am unfamiliar.

Two aspects to this release are particularly impressive. The songs are all given fresh treatments that sometimes contain surprises such as the change in rhythms during the melody statements of “This Here,” and the cooking version of “Remember.” The other songs are Cedar Walton’s “Ugetsu,” “Tea For Two,” Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” “Jubilation,” and “Afternoon In Paris.”

The other important element is that each of the musicians, while certainly familiar with the tradition of 1950s jazz, has their own sound. Certainly Peters on tenor does not sound like any of the historic greats and the same can be said for the swinging Tsuji. Fox takes occasional short solos and he and Guss are quite supportive of the lead voices, making subtle contributions throughout.

The result is an enjoyable set that invigorates jazz’s modern mainstream and gives listeners a good excuse to tap their foot. Ben’s Bop is available from www.benfox.co.

Roy Eldridge/Ella Fitzgerald
In Concert

Roy Eldridge Quartet/Ella Fitzgerald Quintet: In Concert (SteepleChase)

This is an excellent set of previously unreleased music, but its title is not that accurate. The fiery trumpeter Roy Eldridge is featured on the first two selections before the great Ella Fitzgerald sings nine songs. While all of the music was made at a concert in Copenhagen, Denmark on April 21, 1959 and the same rhythm section (guitarist Herb Ellis, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks, and drummer Gus Johnson) is heard throughout, Eldridge and Ella do not perform together.

That is a pity for both are in prime form. Eldridge takes explosive solos on “Soft Winds” and “Roy’s Riff” as if he was fully aware that, as a warmup act, for him it is “now or never.” His 15 minutes are full of musical fireworks even though the audience was clearly waiting for the singer to appear.

Ella swings hard on “Cheek To Cheek” and does not let up throughout her set. Whether it is her uptempo versions of “Alright, Okay, You Win” (which is full of witty references) and the scat-filled “How High The Moon,” the saucy “Whatever Lola Wants,” a beautiful “I Loves You Porgy,” or a surprising ballad version of “Lady Be Good,” Ella Fitzgerald shows throughout that, whether then or now, she had very few equals.

One can never have too much Roy Eldridge and Ella Fitzgerald in their collection. In Concert is available from www.amazon.com and www.steeplehase.dk.

Sonny Stitt
Boppin’ In Baltimore
(Jazz Detective)

Altoist and tenor-saxophonist Sonny Stitt was a master of the bebop vocabulary. He knew an endless assortment of licks in every key and could play flurries of notes during double-time passages with ease. He particularly loved extending the closing vamps of songs. While his alto playing was very close in tone to that of Charlie Parker, he had a more individual sound on tenor. A road warrior, Stitt played with a countless number of rhythm sections through the years, recorded prolifically and, like trumpeter Roy Eldridge, was always ready to challenge other horn players in bebop battles.

Sonny Stitt was in one of his best periods during the first half of the 1970s. Having gotten over a flirtation with the electronic varitone sax, in 1972 he recorded such classic studio albums as Tune Up, Goin’ Down Slow, and Constellation. Boppin’ In Baltimore, a previously unreleased two-CD set, features Stitt on Nov. 11, 1973 leading a quartet with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louis Hayes.

Stitt is heard in top form, whether stretching out on some medium-tempo blues (including the 19 ½ minute “Baltimore Blues”), standards (“Star Eyes” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”), and ballads (“Lover Man”). He sounds consistently inspired and gives one the impression that he would not have run out of ideas or energy if the performances were twice as long. The rhythm section is excellent but, even with Barron’s fine solos, Stitt is the star throughout.

This is a Zev Feldman production (co-produced by Cory Weeds) which means that, not only is the music memorable and the surviving players and the heirs properly compensated, but there is an extensive booklet full of interesting stories and information. Bob Blumenthal sums up the music, the Stitt family contributes some memories, and there are interviews of Barron, Hayes, Charles McPherson and Stitt himself (from the early 1970s). It is a classy package full of music that will delight bebop and Sonny Stitt fans that is available from www.thejazzdetective.com.

David Axelrod
Heavy Axe
(Craft Recordings)

Bernard Purdie
Purdie Good!
(Craft Recordings)

In the early 1970s, there were many instances of recordings where jazz, r&b and pop music were fused together in attempts to make creative music more accessible to the public. It differed from fusion which was a mixture of jazz with the sound, instruments and rhythms of rock.

Both of these recently reissued Lps from the Craft label could be considered pop/jazz of that era. David Axelrod’s Axe had potential although the leader’s arrangements kept the solos brief and the ensembles sound a bit dated. Altoist Cannonball Adderley (on “Get Up Off Your Knees”) and tenor-saxophonist Gene Ammons (appearing on “My Family”) are heard briefly on this 1974 album which finds Axelrod utilizing eight horns, eight strings, two keyboardists

(including George Duke), three guitarists (Johnny “Guitar” Watson is featured the most), drummer Roy McCurdy, and congas plus four singers. Other than a forgettable cover of “You’re So Vain” and Axelrod’s “Mucho Chupar,” this is an instrumental set that also includes Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” along with some originals. The results are pleasant but one wishes that Axelrod had let the musicians cut loose a bit.

One of the busiest drummers in the music business, Bernard Purdie was the house drummer for the Atlantic label and, by the time of his 1971 album Purdie Good, had already worked with a long list of major names including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Gene Ammons, and Jimmy Smith. He was less frequently heard as a leader but made the most of those occasions.

Purdie Good was the second album that the drummer headed and has him propelling six groove pieces with a group also including trumpeter Tippy Larkin, both Warren Daniels and Charlie Brown on tenors, and a six piece rhythm section that has both Ted Dunbar and Billy Nichols on guitars.

While Dunbar was the only musician on Purdie’s album destined for bigger things, his players form an infectious group sound, there are excellent tenor and guitar solos, and the material (three originals plus “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Montega Bay” and “Cold Sweat” ) are uplifted during these soulful treatments. Purdie, who mostly plays a supportive role, was probably smiling throughout the consistently appealing performances.

Both of these Lps are available from www.craftrecordings.com.

Sonny Rollins
Go West!
(Craft Recordings)

From Dec. 1955 to Oct. 1958, tenor-saxophonist Sonny Rollins recorded a remarkable string of brilliant albums including Worktime, Sonny Rollins Plus Four, Tenor Madness, Saxophone Colossus, Plays For Bird, Tour De Force, Vol. 1, Vol. 2, The Sound Of Sonny, Newk’s Time, A Night At The Village Vanguard, The Freedom Suite, And The Big Brass for the Prestige, Blue Note, Riverside and Metrojazz labels.

Rollins recorded all of that and it does not even include his work for Contemporary in 1957-58 which resulted in Way Out West and Sonny Rollins And The Contemporary Leaders. The three-CD box set Go West! reissues the latter two albums plus a third disc comprised of six alternate takes from the sessions that were first released in 1986.

Way Out West, which has a classic William Claxton cover photo of Rollins dressed as a cowboy, features the tenor in a pianoless trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. In addition to his original title song, Rollins plays two Western themes (“I’m An Old Cowhand” and “Wagon Wheels”) and three standards (including his “Come, Gone” which is based on “After You’ve Gone”). And The Contemporary Leaders matches Rollins with Manne, pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessel, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar with vibraphonist Victor Feldman making one appearance. The eight standards include such unlikely material as “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” “Rock A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” (made famous by Al Jolson), “You” (from The Great Ziegfeld), “In The Chapel In The Moonlight,” and the Dixieland standard “I’ve Found A New Baby.” Rollins enjoyed turning offbeat songs into heated improvisations and he sounds inspired throughout these performances. He is also in excellent form on the alternate takes that comprise the final disc.

Any jazz collectors who do not already have these albums are strongly advised to pick up the attractive Go West box which has a 44-page booklet that includes an extensive interview with Rollins about these sessions. It is available from www.craftrecordings.com.

Luciano Troja
To New Life

TO NEW LIFE | The Music of Earl Zindars | Luciano Troja

A few years back, the Italian jazz pianist Luciana Troja recorded a full set of music by Earl Zindars, At Home With Zindars. Earl Zindars played percussion with the Chicago Symphony early in his career, composed classical pieces, and wrote songs that his friend Bill Evans regularly performed. On To New Life, Troja plays eight more Zindars pieces (seven of them at a 2018 concert in Berkeley) in addition to recording four of his own originals at a studio session in Sicily in 2019.

Earl Zindars wrote compositions with very original chord changes that were harmonically advanced, often cinematic, thoughtful, and sometimes dramatic. It is fair to say that none were regulars at jam sessions. Luciana Troja, a virtuoso with his own sound, is the perfect pianist to interpret these pieces. His interpretations are often out-of-tempo, as if he were thinking aloud at the piano. Whether playing ballads or faster material, he puts a lot of feeling into Zindars’ complex melodies, making the music sound both creative and accessible.

Luciana Troja’s own songs are complementary to Zindars’ and continue the same exploratory and thoughtful mood. Both the earlier At Home With Zindars and To New Life (which is subtitled “The Music Of Earl Zindars”) are easily recommended, serving as tributes to Earl Zindars’ talents as a very original composer and to Luciana Troja’s mastery of the piano. They are available from www.lucianotroja.com.