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The Stan Kenton Story (4CD)
The Stan Kenton Story (4CD)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stan Kenton Story, 26 Aug 2011
Stan Kenton seems to raise more heat and less light than most jazz musicians outside the avant garde. Many of the more hide bound big band fans consider him an abomination, others consider him an inspiration. Undoubtedly he led an important band for many years, sometimes wildly exciting, always with immaculate musicianship, frequently adventurous, but occasionally taking matters just too far.
You get all of that on this box set, which covers the years 1941 to 1947, probably his most popular years.
Disc One covers the early band, which didn't have a very good rhythm section and could be a bit stodgy. Matters improved when Eddie Safranski joined on bass and from then the rhythm section and the whole band was superb. There were hits like 'Eager Beaver', 'Artistry In Rhythm', 'And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine', and 'Tampico', fine soloists such as Boots Mussulli, Vido Musso and Buddy Childers, and fine arrangements from Gene Rolands.
Disc Two ups the ante with arrangements by Pete Rugolo, and solos by such as Bob Cooper, Ray Wetzel and Chico Alvarez. Disc Three is similar with people like Kai Winding coming in. The arrangements, both on the ballads and the swingers are as near to perfection as the arrangers art got at the time.
Disc Four strikes off in a different direction towards progressive and to latin jazz. It contains both flagwavers like 'Peanut Vendor' and right next to it serious, almost mathematical compositions like Bob Graettinger's 'Thermopolae', which are not always easy but do repay that extra attention.
There is no doubt Kenton is an interesting man to follow. This is probably the best example of his work from the mid forties, containing all the major stuff and a lot of lesser known treasures as well. As ever with Proper, the production shows how reissues should be done, with accurate personnels and a detailed booklet describing both the career and the music.
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Saxophone Colossus
Saxophone Colossus
Offered by rbmbooks
Price: 20.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saxophone Colossus - Sonny Rollins, 17 Aug 2011
This review is from: Saxophone Colossus (Audio CD)
Not a lot you can say about this really. Rollins was (is?) one of the three or four greatest tenormen in the history of the music, and this is generally considered to be his supreme achievement. It was recorded in 1956. Rollins had been recording since 1949, without ever particularly setting the world alight, but this is when it all came good. He is a young man who suddenly realises he can do pretty much anything he wants to on his horn. He plays with the vigour and enthusiasm of youth, taking all manner of chances but succeeding every time. The musical ideas flood out, almost unstoppable.
Of course he has help. Tommy Flanagan on piano is as elegant and melodic as ever, second only, if he was, to Hank Jones. He solos and accompanies perfectly, but always with inner strength. It's not just pretty. Doug Watkins, on bass, provides a powerful heartbeat for the music, and Max Roach, not always my favourite drummer, this time curbs his excesses, and provides a swinging sympathetic accompaniment.
A nicely varied collection of tunes, as well. 'St. Thomas' is an attractive calypso which may or may not have been composed by Sonny, but has become a standard. 'You Don't Know What Love Is' is taken as a ballad but without sentimentality, with a number of quirky lines and quotes from Rollins which add to the individuality of the performance without spoiling a most attractive tune. 'Strode Rode' is fast and at times aggressive. 'Moritat' ('Mack The Knife') guys the song in an opening dance band chorus in 2/4 time but then turns into a subtle and detailed investigation of an interesting tune. The masterpiece is usually said to be 'Blue Seven' in which Rollins indulges in a compelling dismantling and then reconstruction of the tune. All of which sounds a little academic, but it's not. The whole record shows vigour and swing.
One thing to bear in mind. This disc was recorded by Prestige, a small label run on a shoestring by a couple of guys in New York. In the fifties, when they were producing this, they were also recording the best of the MJQ, Coltrane, Monk, Miles, plus lesser heroes such as Mobley, McLean, Donald Byrd and so on. I don't suppose they will benefit when you buy this (which you should) but they do deserve thanks.

The Eminent J. J. Johnson - Volume 1 (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition)
The Eminent J. J. Johnson - Volume 1 (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition)
Price: 6.32

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eminent, Vol 1 - J J Johnson., 4 Aug 2011
This is not the same as the original Blue Note version from some years ago. This and Volume 2 have now been sorted out into their constituent sessions and Volume 1 now consists of the entire session with Clifford Brown. Everything else has gone onto Volume 2. With J.J.on this disc are Clifford Brown, Jimmy Heath on tenor (and baritone in some ensembles) and a rhythm section of three quarters of the then MJQ, minus only Milt Jackson. So, it's pretty much an ideal group for the time (1953) and each and everyone of them plays at the top of his game. You couldn't want much more.
'Lover Man' is an attractive ballad feature for J.J. and John Lewis, and the other horns drop out completely on 'It Could Happen To You'. 'Sketch 1' is a slightly more formal composition by John Lewis, involving tempo changes and some appealing ensemble sounds. That sounds slightly off-putting, but it's not third stream and does repay repeated listening. The remaining three tunes, 'Capri', 'Turnpike', and 'Get Happy' also appear in alternate versions and are bright swingers with good solos all round.
Brownie was the top trumpet of the time and shows why here. Melodic and swinging throughout, he shows what a loss his early death was. J.J. is as fast and smooth as ever, but shows real content in his solos, which wasn't always the case. Jimmy Heath plays well, again swinging throughout, and sounding a bit like Hank Mobley. I suppose the difference is that Mobley made a number of near perfect records in the late fifties just because he was such a class act, but with Jimmy you always know there's a lot of vigorous paddling going on underneath.
The rhythm are pretty nigh perfect. Kenny Clarke was always one of the great drummers and John Lewis, in addition to being a most individual soloist, doesn't just comp but sets up a whole series of comments and counter melodies.
For me, probably the best record J.J. ever made.

Cypress Grove Blues
Cypress Grove Blues
Price: 8.20

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Skip James - Complete Early Recordings, 23 July 2011
This review is from: Cypress Grove Blues (Audio CD)
Oh dear! This disc includes some of the greatest of early Mississippi blues, but this is not the record to buy. The surface noise on many of the tracks is so bad it is virtually impossible to listen to the music. I know these tracks were originally recorded by Paramount who seem to have been a pretty cheapskate operation notorious for bad recording quality but the remastering for this reissue is wholly inadequate. This must have been obvious to anybody listening to the disc before issue. Skip James' music deserves far better treatment than it received here. Nobody would dream of treating the music of Bach in this way and within its own field this is just as important.
This is all of the 1931 session which was featured in Wim Wender's film 'The Soul of a Man'. It was Skip's only recording session until his rediscovery many years later and it forms one of the classics of Mississippi blues. It is a total one off, as Skip doesn't sound like anyone else, didn't particularly influence anyone else and wasn't particularly influenced by anybody else. But, he was one of the greats.
His voice is very flexible, sometimes strong, sometimes quite weak, often high pitched but not really falsetto. Frequently the effect is eerie. His guitar playing has a clean sound, he can be quite fast but is often hesitant. Only it isn't hesitancy, it is how he saw the music, because the gaps all go to form part of beautifully realised miniature compositions. He plays piano on six tracks, dissonant, hesitant, swinging, but always apt.
The music is a mixture of blues of all sorts, dance tunes and religious songs. All come out as totally original. Some of them are acknowledged classics, such as 'Devil Got My Woman', '22-20 Blues', 'Cypress Grove Blues', and 'I'm So Glad' but all are very special. All sound as if Skip James' own particular hell was just round the corner and he knew it.
This session is one of the very few you can describe as indispensable, but unfortunately, not on this disc.
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Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961
Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahmad Jamal - Cross Country Tour, 13 July 2011
Ahmad Jamal was frequently said to be a cocktail pianist and spent much of his career not being treated terribly seriously by jazz critics. At first hearing he could sound superficial, bland, and a bit tricky, but he was nothing of the sort. Miles Davis, a somewhat surprising admirer, said 'He knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement and the way he phrased notes and chords and passages'. Ahmad had a beautiful light touch, a sense of dynamics that made everything he played a composition and not just an improvisation and an exquisite sense of rhythm that made everything he played swing. His timing was such that he seemed to be able to float above the beat at the same time he was swinging. His performances were always structured and quite carefully arranged which I suppose is what gave rise to the 'cocktail' comments but there was always an awful lot more going on than that.
These are live performances from various club dates from 1958 to 1961 with the trio with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernell Fournier on drums. For me, this was far and away his best trio. Crosby had started off in Fletcher Henderson's band in the thirties. He was a fine player, offering lithe and swinging support, and playing a full melodic role in the arrangements. Fournier was, would you believe, a blues drummer who had recorded with Jimmy Reed, but had become a superb player with the brushes. Both were vital parts of a trio that worked together as a unit.
Virtually all the tunes are standards and include hits such as 'Poinciana' and 'Music, Music, Music' (yes, Ahmad had hits, which is probably another reason why he attracted the 'cocktail' tag). There is much variety in the music and not a weak moment anywhere.
This is masterful stuff and if you have steered away from Jamal in the past, this is the ideal record to change your mind.

Bags & Trane
Bags & Trane
Price: 7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Milt Jackson - Bags and Trane, 3 July 2011
This review is from: Bags & Trane (Audio CD)
When this record first came out it didn't get very good reviews. It was thought to be fairly sub-standard Coltrane, playing without his usual force, and with a rhythm section that didn't give him adequate support. In fact, it is a very good record indeed. The problem may have been that it was recorded just before 'Giant Steps' but not released until some time later, by which time a sea change had taken place in Coltrane's style and he just wasn't playing this way any more. He made much fine music before that change and this disc fits well into that body of work.
Trane plays throughout with an easy loping swing. He was always a superb ballad player and excels on 'Stairway To The Stars' and 'The Night We Called It A Day'. He unleashes his formidable technique on the fast 'Be-Bop' and plays convincingly in a bluesy manner on the remaining tunes, not all of which are blues.
The blues feel to the disc comes mainly from Milt Jackson, who was always a master of that style. He plays well throughout and there is little point in singling out individual tracks. Hank Jones is his usual impeccable self and Paul Chambers a tower of rhythmic strength on bass. Connie Kay suffered some flack when this was first issued but plays well, lightly swinging and punctuating rarely but always to the point.
There are better Trane records around, such as 'Blue Trane', but this is a pleasing example of his work pre 'Giant Steps' and the other four musicians can hardly be bettered, individually or together.

Climax Rag
Climax Rag
Price: 14.75

4.0 out of 5 stars Percy Humphrey - Climax Rag, 11 Jun 2011
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This review is from: Climax Rag (Audio CD)
Not an earth shattering record but very enjoyable. Percy Humphrey leads a fine band of New Orleans musicians through a varied programme of music recorded in 1965. He came from a family prominent in New Orleans jazz for three generations and his two brothers Willie and Earl were also respected local musicians. He never left New Orleans and earned his living outside jazz for most of his life, although he did lead the Eureka Brass Band for many years. He was a very good lead trumpet, setting out the melody clearly, controlling the sound and direction of the music but never being over loud. Very effectively he starts some tunes by playing the melody quietly accompanied by the rhythm section alone, and then, when the mood and tempo are set, the rest of the band joins in. He plays quite a lot of growl trumpet which is not all that common in New Orleans music, but it does not detract. Anyway, if it was good enough for King Oliver, it's good enough here.
Albert Burbank is on clarinet and featured extensively. He darts in and out of the ensemble, a mobile and fluent player with a smooth tone. Trombone is Jim Robinson, who does a magnificent job, filling in the ensemble and giving it enormous rhythmic impetus. The rhythm is George Guesnon on banjo, Alcide Pavageau on bass and Cie Frazier on drums who together form the perfect base to the whole performance. So by and large it's a pretty good band.
Recording quality is good. There are alternate takes to most tunes, but the differences are sufficient for this not to be a problem.
Although Percy Humphrey is not the best known of New Orleans trumpets this is a very good example of that style.

Elmo Hope Trio
Elmo Hope Trio
Offered by Hottest Sounds Around
Price: 25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Elmo Hope Trio, 2 Jun 2011
This review is from: Elmo Hope Trio (Audio CD)
Elmo Hope was bedevilled by drug addiction throughout his adult life and also seems to have suffered from a chronic inability ever to be in the right place at the right time. So, there aren't all that many recordings of his around and most of those that there are don't receive all that much attention. Which is a pity, because most of them are pretty good, this one included.
It was recorded on the West Coast in 1960 with Jimmy Bond on bass and Frank Butler on drums. Elmo had lost his cabaret card in New York for drugs related matters and moved to the West Coast. He seems to have found it musically stifling there and moved back to New York fairly quickly, returning to more drugs trouble, imprisonment, obscurity and an early death.
Whilst on the Coast he worked with Curtis Counce and Harold Land, recorded 'The Fox' with Harold (one of the indisputably great modern albums) and did this trio session.
It's not quite his best work but not far off. All tunes bar one are originals, and are a nice mix of up tempo and ballads. The piano style is very similar to Bud Powell, although without quite the same superhuman energy, with fast single note lines broken by dissonant chords. He swings throughout, aided by a fine rhythm section. On slower numbers the chording and use of tremolo come more to the fore and create a mood sometimes deeply tragic. The whole disc is a very fine example of bop piano played by a man who is said to have worked with Bud Powell in creating the style in the first place.
There still are examples of Elmo's work around, from the early session with Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson on Blue Note, through the Prestige sessions with such as Donald Byrd and John Coltrane to the later obscure stuff on his return from the West Coast. All of them are worth listening to, but the present disc is probably as good as most of them.

Trio Live
Trio Live

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sam Rivers - Trio Live, 26 May 2011
This review is from: Trio Live (Audio CD)
This was reissued as part of a series by Impulse called 'The New Thing'. Impulse had a big back catalogue of new wave jazz from the sixties and seventies, including some of the most important music in that style including, for example, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and the like. I don't think this was a direct reissue, but appears to have been put together from two live recordings in 1973, bits of which had appeared on other records.
'Hues of Melanin' is in three parts and played by a trio of Rivers, Cecil McBee and Barry Altschul. It seems to be one long improvisation separated by small gaps as Sam switches from soprano, flute and vocals in Part One to piano in Part Two to tenor in Part Three. The music is driving and aggressive. Both bass and drums are quite prominent but do not solo extensively. Sam's soprano is angular, the flute not terribly successful. The instrument is just not consistent with this degree of aggression. The vocal section consists of screams and shouts which doubtless mean something to Sam but do not to me. The piano is surprisingly successful considering it is not an instrument for which Sam is particularly known. The tenor is far and away the best of the instruments he plays and Sam shows his mastery. It's a pity this section is relatively short. 'Suite For Molde' takes the remaining two tracks and follows a similar format. Arild Anderson replaces McBee on bass and is more sustaining although less percussive and not quite so fast fingered. There is no piano and, thankfully, no vocals. The tenor section, again much the best, is much longer.
The sleeve note refers to Lewis Worrell also being on bass but he does not seem to be and this must be a mistake.
If you are in sympathy with the style, which by and large I am, this is a good example of it, although it does have its longeurs. Sam was one of the very best tenor players to emerge as hard bop began to turn into the avant garde and this is a good example of his work at a slightly later stage of his career. To me it doesn't match up to the beautiful work he did on Blue Note, like 'Fuschia Swing Song' but a decade had gone by and things were different.
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Really Big [Keepnews Collection]
Really Big [Keepnews Collection]
Price: 8.10

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jimmy Heath - Really Big!, 15 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I agree with every comment Marco Lombardi makes in his review, but why he only gives the disc 3 stars I don't know. It's a lovely disc, a pleasure throughout, and well worth 5 stars.
In 1960, when this was recorded, it was quite unusual to accompany a modern tenor player with a big band. It's not really a big band, ten men including Jimmy, but big enough to shout when it has to. In fact, the band is one of the reasons for the success of the disc. Brothers Percy and Albert form a formidable rhythm section, swinging fiercely but never unduly interfering, the arrangements by Jimmy are warm (but never insipid) and swinging, and the solos are all of the highest quality.
Nat Adderley has most of the trumpet solos (albeit on cornet) but Clark Terry has a couple, including an entertaining duet with himself on trumpet and flugelhorn on 'Picture of Heath'. Tom McIntosh solos pleasantly on trombone. Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton share the piano duties and both solo well. Big brother Cannonball pops up on alto to raise the temperature at length two or three times.
Jimmy is featured at length on all tracks. He has a pleasing tone, a little like Hank Mobley which can't be bad, swings without fail on every track, and delivers a heartfelt tribute to his wife on 'Mona's Mood'. There really isn't a weak point anywhere on the record. He had a long career from the late forties onwards, and although never one of the really big names, was much respected.
He was a good honest player and on this disc, in some very fast company indeed, everything came together to be just right.

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