Wednesday Apr 25

Favorite listening from 2008

Here are ten recent [2008] favorites in no particular order. As usual, if I were to construct a similar list next week, it could differ considerably.

1. Andy Bey: Ain't Necessarily So (12th Street Records)

This rewarding live set waited over 10 years for its release. I can't imagine why there was such a delay.

The performances took place at Birdland in May of 1997. It says in the backgrounder that came with the disc that Bey's gig was "sandwiched in...between Kurt Elling and Jimmy Scott" and stylistically that's where Bey's singing fits. But I'd rather listen to Bey than either of those somewhat better known vocalists.

Bey's idiosyncratic way with a song is more personal than Elling's homages to Mark Murphy, but Bey's open approach has some similarities to the ways that Murphy takes with certain songs. Like Scott, Bey tends away from overt swing but, like the late Shirley Horn and unlike Scott, the jazz pulse is always very much present.

To top it off, Bey plays a hell of a piano.

2. Deep Blue Organ Trio: Folk Music (Origin Records)

The title of this CD may mislead some. Bobby Broom, Greg Rockingham, and Chris Foreman (guitar, drums, and Hammond B3 organ respectively) have put together a highly rewarding and accessible set of classic organ trio jazz. People Music would be more apt.

But no matter. It's the music, not its label, that counts and this is a CD that you'll go back to again and again for a dose of enjoyable invigoration.

3. Andrew Cyrille Quintet: Ode to the Living Tree (Evidence)

Ode to the Living Tree CD

This 1995 session was, according to drummer-leader Cyrille, the first jazz recording recorded and engineered in Senegal, West Africa. Note the mention of engineering. This is one of the best sounding jazz CDs I've ever run into. Listen to the duets between Cyrille and Senegalese drummer Mor Thiam that open and close the CD. You'll find yourself wondering what Dakar's XIPPI studio knows that so many studios in the US and Europe don't.

The quintet includes David Murray (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Oliver Lake (alto sax), Adegoke Steve Colson (electric piano), and Fred Hopkins (bass). This, along with leader Cyrille, is a short roll-call of "outside" jazzers, but the performances here are less wildly abstract than one might expect.

4. Warne Marsh Quartet: Music for Prancing (VSOP/Mode)

Prancing CD

I'm happy to see that this wonderful LP has been reissued by VSOP on both CD and vinyl. Tenor sax giant Warne Marsh is joined by pianist Ronnie Ball, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer Stan Levey for this 1957 set of standards and originals based on familiar chord progressions.

Marsh was supposedly a cool player. Listening back over the decades, there's little question that "hot vs cool" and "east vs west" divisions had very little to do with the music itself and more to do with marketing, sociology, and other incidentals that matter little today.

5. Wardell Gray: Plus Erroll Garner (Crown)

Wardell Gray LP

This entry is partly a tease and partly a cry for help. I have here one of those super cheap Crown LPs from the '50s. Side One has the Gray-Garner stuff--two long versions of "Blue Lou" and "Just You, Just Me" from a 1948 west coast jam session probably organized by Gene Norman.

Norman's sessions were patterned on the Jazz at the Philharmonic model. They're hectic, but fun, displaying occasional brilliance and like the Warne Marsh set mentioned above, refute the association of cool with the west coast. The sound is pretty bad, but I understand that the CD versions (on various labels but all bearing the Way Out Wardell title) are more listenable. They contain additional material from the same live performances, too.

But it's the music on the flip side of the LP that puts it in a listing of favorites. There are three glorious tracks by Gray and rhythm. These are studio recordings, probably from the early '50s, so the sound is a lot better than that of the jam session tracks. The backup trio is not identified, but the piano player is almost certainly Gerald Wiggins.

The tunes are all originals, presumably composed by Gray: "Reunion," "What's Up," and "Hideaway." The tracks are long enough for Gray (and Wiggins) to stretch out a bit and explore the nooks and crannies of the lovely lines and chord changes.

The problem here is that except for a single used copy of the LP offered by mydadsrecords.com, there's no current source I can find for these performances. The only other online mention of the session is a citation of a tape dub that's in the Special Collections section of the J. Willard Marriott (yes, THAT Marriott) Library at the University of Utah.

The Utah citation is particularly intriguing because it mentions two other tunes that probably were recorded at the same session: "Zingo" and "A La Mode." It says, however, that the tracks were dubbed from the Way Out Wardell LP (erroneously identified as being on the Columbia label but with the correct catalog number of the Crown disc). No other references associate the quartet tracks with that release.

If anyone out has more information than I've been able to unearth, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

6. Duke Ellington: The Liberian Suite (Columbia LP, currently available on Ellington Uptown CBS CD)

Liberian Suite LP

This is supposedly one of Ellington's lesser works of extended form, but it has a lot to offer. The introductory Al Hibbler vocal, "I Like the Sunrise," and the five numbered Dances that follow form a marvelously unified statement. There are fine solo contributions by perennial Ellingtonians like Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, and Ray Nance along with contributions by sometime Ellingtonians Al Sears, Al Killian, and Tyree Glenn (on vibes as well as trombone).

7. Gottschalk: American Piano Music, Amiram Rigia, piano (Decca LP)

This mid-'60s Decca LP offers ten of the seventeen tracks collected on a similar Smithsonian-Folkways CD. The folk elements of many of Gottschalk's composition and his New Orleans Creole roots make even his lighter works of interest in the development and documentation of American music.

Rigia seems to be accepted as the premier interpreter of Gottschalk's piano pieces. I haven't heard much from others and given the excellence of these presentations and the lovely recorded sound, I don't intend to go looking.

8. Bob Brookmeyer Small Band: Live at Sandy's Jazz Revival (Gryphon cassette)

This is indeed a very small band: Brookmeyer on valve trombone, Jack Wilkins on guitar, Michael Moore on bass, and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The music is relaxed yet punchy, in typical Brookmeyer style.

The recording is an impeccable remote with a transporting you-are-there sensibility.

9. Clark Terry: Remember the Time (Mons Records)

Clark Terry CD

Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton, and Dado Moroni. Need I say more? Actually, I do. You can add the meticulously swinging trombone of Mark Nightingale (not having heard much from him, I had to look up to see if he was using the valve instrument--he's not) and the pretty darn good enough alto sax of George Robert.

And don't overlook the German engineering. It's wonderfully tight, dry, and real.

10. Jorge Negrete: Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes (RCA Victor 45 rpm EP)

This is a Mexican 45 EP, apparently a memorial collection released in 1953 soon after Negrete's death. I spotted it at an estate sale. It was in immaculate condition and the commentary on the back made clear Negrete's major standing in Mexico. So I risked a buck and took it home to give it a listen.

Although Negrete's name was new to me, the title song of the EP was not. I immediately recognized the tune as "The Three Caballeros," used in Disney's animated feature of the same name. A bit of online research disclosed that Negrete was a screen star as well as a singer and "Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes" was the title song for a movie he made a few years before Caballeros.

Negrete's own vocal version is, of course, more totally musical than that of Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, and Panchito. And the other three songs on the EP also have great feeling (sometimes comic) and musicality.

Negrete is worth hearing and it's easy to do so. There are various collections available from the usual online sources. I note that the 15 Exitos Inmortales de Jorge Negrete CD includes all four songs on the vintage EP that I'm enjoying so much.