Monday May 21

Favorite listening from 2000

As a rule, my favorite recording is the one I'm listening to at any given moment. But here are a few that entered my collection in the past year [2000] no matter when they might have been issued and spent a lot of time on my turntable or in my CD player. They're listed in no particular order.

Father Knickerbopper

1. Chubby Jackson and His Orchestra: Father Knickerbopper (45 EP, Columbia B-2017)

This collects the four--well, three out of four--spectacular performances that bassist Jackson's big band recorded for Columbia in the late '40s. The title track is a high-speed, high-pressure bebop screamer. The most memorable performance is "Tiny's Blues," aka "TNT Blues," a composition and arrangement by the late great drummer-composer Tiny Kahn. Jackson even sings on one track, opening the band's performance of George Wallington's Godchild" with a wordless bop vocal statement of the classic theme.

These performances are the complement to the eight that Jackson recorded for Prestige in 1950. You can get those on Fantasy OJCCD-711-2, Gerry Mulligan Quartet/Chubby Jackson Big Band. The Columbia EP is, of course, out of print.

2. Meredith Willson and His Concert Orchestra: Modern American Music (LP, Decca DL 8025)

Look, I'm sorry about this. But it's not my fault that so many interesting recordings cross my path on out-of-print vinyl. This one even appears to be an early LP reissue of a set of 78 rpm sides and it suffers from the dull, canned sound that afflicted many of those repackagings and convinced many music lovers that sound technology had taken a wrong turn when the LP came out in 1948. (Sound familiar?)

The great appeal here then is the music. The LP comprises ten short compositions by contemporary American composers. Most of the composers are quite well known. The compositions, on the other hand, are all but unknown and there's a thrill to uncovering "new" works by Duke Ellington ("American Lullaby"), Harold Arlen ("American Minuet"), Ferde Grofe ("March for Americans"), Vernon Duke ("American Arabesque"), Sigmund Romberg ("American Humoresque").

This is a wonderful piece of '40s Americana, one that we'll never get to hear in any better form, unfortunately.

3. Joe Viola Plays Manny Albam (Berklee Jazz in the Classroom Vol. III)

Joe Viola is a reed player who performs all parts in these recordings of two Manny Albam works. Side one has "Six Pieces for Eight Reeds" and side two offers "Sounds from the Sax Section" with the added starters of a jazz rhythm section.

I'm a great lover of Manny Albam's composition and arranging in the jazz vein. These are almost classical in character, especially the Six Pieces. Viola's multitracked performances are perfectly on target throughout. This LP is a treasure that I'll be returning to again and again for enjoyment and illumination.

4. Triple Play Stereo: POP + JAZZ = SWING (Audio Fidelity Stereodisc 3P-AFSD 5978)

Audio Fidelity put out a few of these Triple Play LPs in the early '60s. It's a gimmick, but a cool one, and one that would be even more effective on CD than LP because of the near total elimination of interchannel crosstalk.

Here's the schtick: Benny Golson wrote dual arrangements for complementary pop and jazz compositions--a pop string orchestra arrangement and a jazz band arrangement. The strings are isolated in the left channel, the jazz group in the right. The performances are synchronized so you can listen to both at once, hearing a jazz band with string cushioning. You can also turn the balance control and listen to the jazz group alone or the string orchestra alone.

Call it an early interactive disc, if you will.

It's great fun and good music. And the jazz group is an all star aggregation: Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and more.

5. Joe Mooney: Lush Life (Koch Jazz KOC CD 8524)

This is a perfectly presented reissue of a rare classic that I didn't think I'd ever hear on CD. Mooney's laid back vocals and delicate yet persuasive Hammond organ swing are irresistible.

6. Pony Poindexter: Gumbo! (Prestige PRCD-24229-2)

I knew Fantasy would get around to reissuing this coveted collector classic. But I never dreamed that they'd expand it with four unissued tracks by Poindexter and five by tenor sax legend Booker Ervin with organ legend Larry Young. What a treat!

7. Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Hey, It's Me (Left Coast Clave Records LCC0001)

It's great jazz by pianist Levine whose credits include work with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, and Cal Tjader as well as Woody Shaw and Stan Getz. The group is essentially a jazz piano trio with added Latin percussion, but the Latin tinge runs through all the members so the performances are more cohesive than some where the conga player sounds like more like a visitor than a participant.

The added joy here is the spectacular recorded sound. I have more than a few recordings where the horrid piano reproduction makes me wonder if my CD player or amplifier might be malfunctioning. This one makes clear that my hardware is doing just fine and a lot of music software sucks.

8. Sarah Vaughan: Linger Awhile (Pablo PACD-2312-144-2)

Here's another surprise from the vaults at Fantasy. This CD opens with Sass's swinging vocalizing at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Norman Granz had Verve's mikes set up to record Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. He let the tape run while Vaughan performed and since she was under contract to Mercury,
simply shelved the result. Now we can hear these fine Vaughan performances after only a 43 year delay.

The rest of the disc has alternate takes from recording sessions that Vaughan did for Granz's Pablo label a couple of decades later. The combination makes this the Sarah Vaughan disc to own if you don't own any other, or the one to add to your Vaughan shelf as a splendid retrospective of an extraordinary singing career.

9. Duke Heitger and his Swing Band: Rhythm Is Our Business (Fantasy FCD-9684-2)

This is the very best swing revival disc I've heard. The key is in the title. This hot little band knows what jazz rhythms sound like. They swing. Most of the heavily publicized "swing" bands have recycled rock drummers thudding along. From the first cymbal ride that opens the first track ("Swing is Here"), it's clear that the band enjoys the kick of a real hot
jazz drummer in the person of Chris Tyle.

Everybody else in the group is just fine, too. Leader Heitger is a hot trumpet player in the Bunny Berigan and Roy Eldridge tradition. And don't miss guitarist Rebecca Kilgore's punchy vocal on "Murder He Says."

10. Sandra Collins: Tranceport 3 (Kinetic Records 5648-2)

According to a website I found, Collins's music is progressive house/trance. I have no idea what the hell that means. But I'm not alone. I first heard this amazing mix of sounds playing in the background at a record store in Seattle's university district. The guy on duty said I could find it in the techno section, but
it sounded a much more finely crafted than they typically invigorating but brash and noisy techno stuff I've heard.

In fact, in spite of the overall density of sound and total reliance on electronics, this has a lot in common with the music produced minimalists like Stephen Glass.

One thing I promise you, you'll never find a better disc to exercise both your system's deep bass response and its treble extension and smoothness. But take it in small (10 to 20 minute) doses. It's rich listening.

11. Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 Complete (Columbia/Legacy C2K 64932)

This is an amazing reconstruction of Ellington's historic 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival and more. What originally appeared on two LPs is expanded with 100 minutes of new music. And the astonishing live performance of "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo In Blue" is in stereo! That treat is due to the happy accident of finding a mono tape made by the Voice of America that the producers combined with Columbia's own single channel recording from a different mike to get honest two-channel reproduction which is more real-sounding and musical than you'll hear from any major label's current output.

(A similarly astonishing example of stereo serendipity also involves Ellington and dates back to the Cotton Club band. This, too, arose from finding two mono masters of the same music recorded at the same time with spaced microphones. True stereo from 1932! Look for Stereo Reflections in Ellington. It includes some really fine air checks from the '40s, too.)

12. Linda Presgrave: In Your Eyes (Metropolitan Records MR1119)

It takes guts, talent, creativity, and inspiration for a pianist to open her debut CD as a leader with a cover of Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues." Linda Presgrave does just that and all but takes ownership of the tune. A slight adjustment of phrasing sheds new light on the ingratiating tune and makes the listener want to find out what more Presgrave has to say about jazz today and yesterday.

On this CD she says a lot and all of it is worth hearing.