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Jazz - Part 7 - May, 1999

Dennis Davis

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"Sketches of Spain"

Miles Davis

Columbia; CS 8271

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This is one of the classic collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Evans arranged and orchestrated four albums with Miles Davis -- 'Miles Ahead', 'Porgy & Bess', 'Sketches of Spain', and 'Quiet Nights'. 'Sketches of Spain' is based in part on Spanish compositions, most notably Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto de Aranjuez" and Manuel de Falla's "El Amor Brujo." A small orchestra is conducted by Gil Evans supporting Miles' haunting trumpet sound. 'Sketches of Spain' belongs in the record collection of every jazz fan, and anyone thinking about becoming one. The record received poor reviews when released, but has produced a healthy stream of royalty revenues for the last four decades. It is not my favorite Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration ('Porgy and Bess' is), and, in many ways, it does not compare well to traditional performances with classical guitar rather than jazz trumpet. However, listened to late at night in just the right mood, it is a hauntingly beautiful record.

The original release of 'Sketches of Spain' was on the Columbia '6 eye' label, and the earliest pressings have a "deep-groove", meaning that a groove is pressed into the vinyl in the label area, about 1 3/4" around the spindle hole. Copies of this record have long been treasured, not only as an artifact of great music, but as an audiophile collector's item. I would not personally rank 'Sketches' in the very top drawer of best sounding Miles Davis records, but a good pressing is very good sounding indeed.

A couple of years ago, Mosaic Records released 'Miles Davis/Gil Evans Complete Columbia Studio Recordings' (MQ10-158), a ten LP box, which included 'Sketches of Spain.' Now, Classic Records has released 'Sketches of Spain' as a stand alone album. CBS has also recently issued a new CD remastering of 'Sketches' in its Legacy edition. I've not heard the CD, but own copies of each of the three vinyl versions. Suffice it to say, each is different sounding, and there is no clear cut winner as the best sounding version. While the Mosaic version comes in third best, the original and the Classic remaster each have advantages over the other. The biggest differences relate to the sound of Miles' trumpet. The original sounds somewhat 'warmer' with more 'air', while the Classic has better pitch definition. If you can afford both, indulge yourself. But if you don't want to spend the $50 or more needed for a pristine original (not to mention the energy to find one), don't hesitate for a moment to get the Classic Records reissue.

For reference, full track listing:

1. Concierto De Aranjuez
2. Will O' The Wisp
3. The Pan Piper
4. Saeta
5. Solea

- Dennis Davis -

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"Live at the Village Gate"

Thelonious Monk

Prevue; CD PR 9

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Prevue is a division of Classic Records, which made its reputation reissuing audiophile vinyl, and then branched out into mastering gold CDs. The Prevue division apparently has no such audiophile pretensions. Prevue has released 19 titles, and as far as I can tell, they are all from the Xanadu Records catalog. Xanadu was one of the top bebop labels in the 1970s and 1980s, releasing new dates by Kenny Barron, Jimmy Heath, Sonny Criss, Tommy Flanagan, and many others. It also issued many obscure sessions (by well known artists) such as the one under review here.

This session was surreptitiously recorded on November 12, 1963 (only days before President Kennedy was assassinated) by Richard Alderson, an engineer and jazz fan, who hid a microphone above the stage and ran the microphone cable into an adjacent apartment to a recorder. It was originally released by Xanadu Records in 1985. Not surprisingly, the quality of the recording is low -- not as bad as Monk's 'Live at the Five Spot Discovery!' (Blue Note CDP 0777 7 99786 2 5), but this record is not a historic recording in the same class as the Five Spot date. The Five Spot session included John Coltrane and memorialized one of the great jazz groups at its peak.

This session has Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums. Monk's 1960s groups (which recorded for Columbia) were once considered second class Monk by many. That opinion has faded with time as critics have reassessed the sessions and found them to compare favorably with Monk's Riverside recordings. This session is looser and more energetic than the studio recordings released by Columbia. If you insist on top quality sound, by all means stick with the Columbia studio sessions of this group. But if you want to hear what the group sounded like live in a small club, with the energy and drive that go along with a live performance, by all means pick up this disc. Listen especially to the extended drum solo on Rhythm-A-Ning or any of Charlie Rouse's solos. I certainly would have loved being at the Village Gate on the evening of this performance.

For reference, full track listing:

1. Rhythm-A-Ning
2. Body and Soul
3. Evidence
4. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
5. Body and Soul (alternate performance)
6. Jackie-ing

- Dennis Davis -

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"Wholly Earth"

Abbey Lincoln

Verve; 314 559 538-2

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With the passing of Betty Carter last year, we are left with (in my opinion) one truly great female vocalist from the 1950s. I will admit up front that my favorite female singers have long been Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, and Betty Carter. None of these singers could sing the text of a phone book and make it sound good, like Ella Fitzgerald could do in her sleep. All three emphasized drama and lyrical expression over sounding beautiful. Lincoln, in fact, holds Holiday as her heroine, and has recorded two Verve releases as Billie Holiday tributes. Of the three, Lincoln was perhaps the most political, and this tendency often caused her difficulties in getting work. By the same token, Lincoln has created a legacy of some of the rawest and most heartfelt jazz vocal singing on record. For example, her raw emotions on 'We Insist! Max Roach's -- Freedom Now Suite' (1960) with Coleman Hawkins, Olatunji, Booker Little and others, helped create a timeless record of the upheaval of the early civil rights movement . She followed that recording up with 'Straight Ahead', also on Candid Records, in 1961. Teaming up with Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, and Mal Waldron, she created another classic, this time with more traditional jazz material, but still evoking the same emotional range as she demonstrated in the Roach led session. These two records are the best place to start an Abbey Lincoln collection, but should by no means be the end of your exploration.

Lincoln has been recording for Verve since 1990, and has produced a string of fine records for that label. She is still going strong as she closes in on 70 years of age. Last year, my two favorite live concerts were one by Lincoln and another by Max Roach, playing separate dates at Yoshi's in Oakland, California. This recording may be her best yet for Verve. She is backed by a quartet including Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and marimba, Marc Cary on piano, John Ormond on bass, and Alvester Garnett on drums. Several guests, including Nicholas Payton on trumpet and flugelhorn, weigh in on some tracks.

Lincoln opens the album with "And It's Supposed To Be Love", the sole "political" piece of the album, about a physically abusive relationship. Seven of the ten songs are written by Lincoln, and they are all strong both lyrically and musically. In fact, most of her compositions are so well crafted that they deserve to become standards, if only we are blessed with the future jazz divas to do them justice. In addition to her own songs, she sings "If I Only Had A Brain" -- taken from the Wizard of Oz tune, and manages to make it sound fresh and original. Bobby Hutcherson's vibe playing is outstanding throughout. This is a deeply felt album and highly recommended. The sound quality is quite good, but not award winning by audiophile terms.

Tracks for reference:

1. And It's Supposed to be Love
2. Midnight Sun
3. Wholly Earth
4. Look to the Star
5. Another World
6. Conversations with a Baby
7. If I Only Had a Brain
8. Another Time, Another Place
9. Caged Bird
10. Learning How to Listen

- Dennis Davis -



© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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