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Music Reviews

Jazz CD Music Reviews - Part 4 - July, 1997

By John Sunier

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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Miles Davis Miles Davis and Gil Evans
The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings Miles Davis, trumpet; Gil Evans and his Orchestra; Arrangements and originals by Gil Evans.
Columbia 67397 (6 CDs, 442 Minutes) ($125 retail)
Performance: *****
Audio: *****

The unique collaboration of the greatest trumpet player in modern jazz with the most innovative large-group modern jazz arranger/composer produced some of the most gorgeous jazz albums ever recorded, and they're all in this super-lavish, though compact, boxed album. As Davis observed himself, Evans and Duke Ellington individually changed the whole sound of orchestral jazz. The textures of the best of these orchestrations are unlike anything done before, incorporating classical elements and structure (and even actual classical pieces) yet always swinging madly. The three masterpiece albums here are Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Also included is the less successful but enjoyable bossa nova influenced Quiet Nights, plus two short suites never before released, and a couple of numbers with vocalist Bob Dorough.

Over 116 tracks are here, and all of the material was newly and skillfully remastered from the original session tapes using Sony's Super-Bit-Mapping process for greater low-level clarity and resolution. Since some of the original LPs and CDs of these albums were not exactly audiophile level sonically, this is a welcome offering. The new-found sonic clarity defines and explains Evan's often complex and yet subtle orchestrations. A nearly 200-page illustrated booklet is bound into the album, with excellent liner notes by Columbia's George Avakian (who originally signed Davis to the label), by Quincy Jones and others. The original LP sleeves are reproduced for the CD sleeves bound into the album, along with all the notes on the rear, which of course end up in such a small point size that an electron microscope would be really handy for reading them. This is one of my minor beefs with the collection. A stronger one is the way the notes and disc sleeves are bound together with a brass (!) binding over about one inch of the material. This impractical and clumsy arrangement makes it impossible for the booklet or sleeves to lie flat for access or reading, the whole thing straining to constantly snap shut like a clam.

The fifth and sixth CDs are rehearsal takes, alternate takes and bits of studio patter. There are up to a dozen takes of the same tune in some cases! Miles and Evans worked well together, and though I became bored listening to all of the outtake material there didn't seem to be any of the occasional violent scenes from Miles in the studio. I question the advisability of including two complete additional CDs of these little leftovers from the sessions, which are probably of interest primarily only to rabid-collector-types. A less costly four-CD package in one of those LP-size boxes such as Mosaic offers would have been preferred and would have allowed for actual-size LP jacket reproductions plus readable original liner notes. Still, the set is very special and should convince many Davis-Evans fans to buy this music all over again for the second or third time in spite of the unwanted extras. (I suppose with DVD, now, the studios are going to sell us our favorite movies yet a second or third time too!)

John Sunier

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The Swedish Jazz Kings It's Right Here for You
The Swedish Jazz Kings, featuring Roy Williams, trombone
Opus 3 CD 19404 (HDCD), distr. by May Audio Marketing, 74:40 total
Performance: *****
Audio: *** **

Many modern jazz fans have a snooty attitude toward traditional jazz, regarding it as "moldy fig" music, but with a group as skilled and exciting sounding as this one, such a narrow attitude would prevent hearing one of the best CDs of any sort of jazz released this year. The various ensembles here range from quartets to sextets and are drawn from a group of fantastically talented Swedish players who sometimes also appear as Tomas Ornberg Blue Five. Since the band doesnąt have a regular trombonist, they invited American jazzman Williams to join them for these sessions.

The fourteen tracks are mostly taken from originals of the 1920s by such as King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Clarence Williams, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds, Fletcher Henderson and King Creole. None of them are chestnuts you would find on a typical "Dixieland" CD, e.g., Sheik of Araby, Copenhagen, etc. These are not the slavish imitations of the British trad jazz movement of a few decades ago, but rather, bursting with energy up-to-date treatments. For example, on Potato Head, Blues trumpeter Bent Persson roars through a stop chorus originally played by Armstrong. While the typical trad player would simply play Armstrong's original solo note for note, here we have a new version that is brilliant, original, but still in the style of Armstrong.

Also up-to-date are the sonics on these sessions, mastered on highly-tweaked analog open reel the same as all of Opus 3's product. Their purist mike techniques, and even more, their uncanny choice of the perfect hall for each recording session, have made Opus 3 a choice of discriminating audio buffs looking for completely natural reproduction without "hi-fi" gimmickry. Recording engineer Jan-Eric Persson has always achieved superb ambient information in his stereo product, which decodes for a natural surround soundfield better than most Dolby Surround CDs. This is the first of his releases I have heard using HDCD encoding, and with proper HDCD decoding, the ambient information is even more pronounced and of higher resolution, as are low-level details at the front channels. Talk about soundstaging! Close your eyes, and each instrument is right there in front of you! Such a phenomenon was easy with many of Opus 3's superb LPs and a perfectly set up analog turntable system, and with others, such as the famous Jazz at the Pawnshop, but not many CDs have had quite this level of you-are-thereness until recently.

John Sunier

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For Aunt Louise For Aunt Louise
David Murray Quartet: Murray, tenor sax & bass cl.; John Hicks, piano; Fred Hopkins, bass; Idris Muhammad, drums.
DIW 901, 65:25
Performance: *****
Audio: ****

This is another of the many terrific sessions with top black American jazzmen recorded in New York or Los Angeles by the Japanese especially for their large and enthusiastic jazz collectors, and if we're lucky, perhaps imported to the U.S. for that minority of collectors here who care. Murray is considered by many the top voice on the tenor sax today. He has a rich and smooth tone, and the acrobatics of some his solos are amazing indeed. He can do the loft jazz raucousness with the best of them, but this is a very tonal album.

Three of these seven lengthy tracks are Murray originals, with one from his matchless pianist John Hicks. The title tune is really the subtitle to Murray's Fishin' and Missin' You. It has a relaxed loping sort of mood that seems to fit someone waxing nostalgic and not in a big hurry to get anywhere. Murray's basement-strolling bass clarinet solo is a cool kick on this one; if Gerry Mulligan was still with us, I'd put the two of them together for a session. The closing Concion de Amor en Espanol doesn't sound especially Espanol-ish to me, but it's a lovely tune that provides plenty of melodic and harmonic material for a variegated series of exciting solos by all members of the quartet. This is one of those cardboard-jacket CDs, and the notes are only in Japanese, but don't let that stop you from a very enjoyable hour-plus of some marvelous quartet jazz.

John Sunier

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© Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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