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Music Reviews
Jazz Music Reviews - Part 1 - June, 1996


By John Sunier/Benjamin J. Foster

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Ratings:    
  ***** Extraordinary
  **** Good
  *** Acceptable
  ** Mediocre
  * Poor

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Hidden Treasures
Bob Kindred, tenor and baritone sax, with guest artists Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Clark Terry, trumpet; Fred Sherry, cello; Dave Samuels, vibes

Milan 7313835731-2
Distributed by BMG, CD, 64:20

Performance: starstarstarstarstar
Audio Quality: starstarstarstarstar

Where has this saxist been? Kindred truly is a musical treasure, and his illustrious guest list shows that many of his kindred performers also admire his clean and direct playing. Classical clarinetist Stoltzman says he wishes he could play Mozart Like Bob Kindred plays jazz! In addition to the above players, Bill Mays and Bill Charlap share the piano position, and the venerated Grady Tate is the drummer on some tracks, sharing with percussionist John Kaye. The 11 tracks range from standards like "Body and Soul" to hits from Sonny Rollins, Mal Waldron and Billy Strayhorn, plus some originals. Each track has a different instrumentation -- from solo piano to quintet. "Soul Eyes," the longest, is a gorgeous vehicle for clarinet, cello and vibes. This one stands out distinctly from the mass of tenor-based albums.

John Sunier

Beethoven Wrote It... But It Swings!
"Swingin' the Classics" 78s by all star bands of the 30's & 40's, incl. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Red Nichols, Claude Thornhill, John Kirby, Raymond Scott and Xavier Cugat.

Sony Classical (sic!)
SMK 62268
mono CD, 66:29

Performance: starstarstar
Audio Quality: starstarstarstar (Good restorations!)

Songwriters had been borrowing tunes from symphony and opera at least since 1917 when Chopin was plundered for "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," but it was in the late 30's or early 40's that big bands took to swinging the classics in a major way. There was much indignation from stuffy quarters about such sacrilege of longhair melodies, but with today's musical cross-pollination plus the recent surge of interest in classical music, these 23 fun tracks are now up to date. The title track is the rarest of them all and the only vocal, with hilarious l939 lyrics sung by "Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol." The Thornhill and Les Brown tracks are especially nice arrangements; some others work and some don't. Classical chestnuts swung here include the "Bolero", "O Sole Mio", "The Minute Waltz", "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", "Humoresque", "Procession of the Sardar", and "The Sabre Dance". If this collection was as scratchy, rumbly and distorted as most CD reissues of old 78s used to be, it would be of strictly historical interest -- for those able to "hear through" the awful sonics. But with recent sophistication in selecting proper styli and EQ, and various computer cleanup processes such as Sonic Solutions, Weiss, and CEDAR, many reissues are now thoroughly listenable. This is one of the best!

John Sunier

Encounters
Jessica Williams, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Mel Brown, drums

Jazz Focus JFCD005
CD, 69:51 (Avail. fr. Jazz Focus Records, 2217 - 23rd St. SW, Calgary, AB T2T 5H6, Canada)

Performance: starstarstarstarstar
Audio Quality: starstarstarstar

Pianist Jessica Williams is well known up and down the West Coast, and from several recordings over the years. Her style is direct, spontaneous and imaginative without venturing too avant and losing listeners. The album was taped live to two-track DAT at a club in Portland Oregon during one evening's sets, in order to preserve the spontaneity. The audience sits close to the performers and stays as quiet as at an MJQ concert, and there was fortunately no PA system. The result is a feeling of really being there, and pleasure in following the often unpredictable turns of tune that Williams' fingers take us on. "If I Were a Bell" is a major work at nearly 14 minutes; "The Sheikh" is an original, and Monk-fan Williams winds up with Thelonious' rousing "We See." As with most minimal-miked live tapings, this CD decodes beautifully on any surround system.

John Sunier

Planet Squeezebox
Accordion Music from Around the World

A boxed set of 3 CDs plus an illustrated 56-page booklet
Ellipsis Arts CD3470
Over 3 hours total

Performance: Varies
Audio Quality: Varies, of course

The accordion is making its way into more and more pop music without being laughed at, but this fascinating compilation proves it to have been the most versatile reed instrument around the world for a long time. Over 40 different international musical traditions are sampled in the 51 tracks of this collection, aided by the photos of performances and detailed notes about their music. Many of the tracks are unavailable elsewhere.

The jazz, classical and tango attracted me the most. The major discovery was the single track by Alice Hall, who in the 1940's played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. She's the Horowitz of jazz accordion. But the countries that the squeezebox has found a home around the world also turned out to be just as interesting reading about as well as listening. These included folk traditions of Egypt, Bulgaria, Indonesia, France, Basque country, Columbia, Cape Verde, Brazil, Quebec, Italy, Ireland, Dominican Republic and elsewhere. Of course an accordion sampler wouldn't be worth anything without some healthy stomping tracks of Cajun, Zydeco and Tex-Mex music.

There's some bizarre accordion discoveries here too. One is a sort of Bavarian punk accordion trio; another is a strangely beautiful but difficult to describe brand of Finnish accordion music. Of course, there are many polka tracks, and one of the most unique interpretations is Guy Klucevsek's avant-garde new music polkas. The use of the instrument in such cultures as South Africa, Indonesia and the Arab world were new to my ears. Some of the history of the accordion and its various iteration around the world are also documented in the very attractive booklet with the set. I'll be sure to remember this album is in my large library -- partly because it's one of those non-standard sizes that sticks up twice the height of a normal CD.

John Sunier

Love Songs
Billie Holliday
Distributed by Columbia "Legacy"
CK 64853, CD-Single
$16.99, 47:34

Performance: starstarstarstar
Audio Quality: starstarstarstar

Billie Holliday or Lady Day as she was known, brought to the world of music a normal, non-polished feel. Coming out of the era of vaudeville and speak-easys, Holliday developed her own particular style from the artists of her day. From the earthy gut sound of Louis Armstrong, to the smoothness of Frank Sinatra, musicians were influenced. This CD brings to life Billie Holliday in all of her glory. Sony Corporation has digitally remastered sixteen of her favorite love songs. All of the songs are standard hits, and give the listener a glimpse at Holliday's non-emotional interpretation. She truly believed that the song should sway the listener, not the overall performance. This CD is for those who are seeking music from an earlier era and want to know more about the jazz of the 1930's and 1940's.

Benjamin J. Foster

Red Hot Jazz: The Dixieland Album
Canadian Brass
Distributed by Philips Classics; Marketed by PolyGram Classics & Jazz
432 999-2, CD-Single $14.99, 62'43"

Performance: starstarstarstarstar
Audio Quality: starstarstarstarstar

New Orleans Jazz and its offshoots is the theme for this 1992 recording by the world famous brass quintet known as the Canadian Brass. Masters of intrepretation in nearly every style they manage to tackle, the Brass treat listeners to a full palette of Amercian Jazz styles and textures. Whetting the appetite are such old time favorites as "Black Bottom Stomp," "Kitten on the Keys," and "Bill Bailey." The rendition of a jazz funeral in "Nearer My God To Thee" will have you wanting to visit New Orleans and see this happening first hand. The intent of Jazz is to promote activity and to communicate to its audiences the feeling and emotions of the performer. This could not be more true with The Dixieland Album. It will definitely have your toes thumbing and your body moving. An excellent choice to chase the "blues" away.

Benjamin J. Foster


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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