Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Jazz playlist - Summer 2004

I had been looking for this album for the longest time; I think I first heard it one Thanksgiving in Delaware, coming off the train and feeling any homesickness a hectic Harvard semester had inflicted evaporating as my uncle drove me home and this loomed in the background - that great family feeling... I love Midnight Blue - the consensus Burrell masterpiece; but as far as jazz guitar goes, I haven't strayed too far from Wes Montgomery and Grant Green and maybe George Benson.

Ben Webster - At the Renaissance
Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown
Art Blakey - Moanin

This is some of the finest bluesy, laidback jazz you're likely to hear. It's reminiscent of the lyrical atmosphere of Ben Webster's At the Renaissance session. Contrast Burrell's 'Round Midnight to Webster's Georgia on My Mind. Mellow and soulful.

Proof that lightning does strike twice in the same place. I had long thought that Sarah Vaughan's album with Clifford Brown was the pinnacle of albums pairing jazz vocals and horns. I was wrong, there are 2 peaks in this category - mixing my metaphors. The difference here is that the presence of the Cannonball Adderley band is more prominent and Nancy isn't featured on every track. In Sassy's album, the focus is on her voice (did she ever sing a false note?) and Clifford Brown's pyrotechnics are delivered in small doses. This album in contrast is a more balanced affair, two incredibly talented and tasteful stars playing with great empathy and an organic band.

(okay, okay, I know I'm ignoring Billie, Ella, Abbey, Nina, Betty and others)

A live album from one of the great stylists - she swoops, soars, scats, is brassy, is shy, flirts with you, seduces you but lets you know that she's too hot to handle, more woman than you can deal with. Oversized talent, a diva who never got her full dues, someone who like Ella was at home with the great songbooks of her time but who insisted on her own compositions and arrangements... A force of nature at her best on this album - you can feel the audience get into it and push her further... Her album with Ray Charles is similarly a great encounter between scary talents that ignored boundaries. The remixers (house, techno, garage) have rediscovered her in recent years and who can blame them.

Long before Biz Markie talked about 'making the music with your mouth", Jon Hendricks was there. He is the essence of scat and on the title track, which is unlike anything you've heard before, he reinvents the classic Miles Davis tune about the eponymous drug dealer, Freddie Freeloader. His friends are along for the ride and each take a solo and what solos: George Benson, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin !!! they add lyrics to the tune and replicate the intonations of the original instruments with their own amazing voices - all backed by a rhythm section including members of the original Miles Davis Quintet. The rest of the album is similarly playful; Hendrick's has made a great living but was unfortunately typecast as a gimmicky singer because of his his heavy stylized approach to his vocals.

Late era Satchmo, but one of his best albums; with great empathy for the bluesman who started it all, W.C. Handy. St. Louis Blues and Long Gone alone are worth the price. This is what blues is all about and some of the solos are very emotional; it also shows the extreme versatility of Armstrong's band.

Milt Jackson and Roy Ayers were not the only ones on the vibes. A great, and much sampled outing of soulful jazz - slightly Latin tinged (see Oye Como Va). Mellow rare groove and fodder for blue breakbeats that the best DJs would pull out when they want to impress you. A musician's musician.

A greatest hits compilation of the composer pianist best known for This Here, Dat Dere and Moanin' which was popularized during his stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Also very heavily sampled (see A Tribe Called Quest) and I can see why. Fodder for rare groove.

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