Thursday, February 27, 2014

Billy Cobham - The Art of Three

These musicians are legends, needing no introduction. They have have played with every key figure in the encyclopaedia of modern jazz. All three are also band leaders in their own right with recording experience that spans over 50 years. Billy Cobham, as leader of the band, is most famous for his fusion albums in the 70s which have been heavily sampled by a whole new generation of artists. 'Spectrum', for example, was the basis of 'Safe From Harm' by Massive Attack. This album is a radical departure from the rest of Bill's recorded work as it is the first time he has recorded an album of straight-ahead jazz standards. The album has been anticipated for a long time by his many fans who cover genres as diverse as jazz, hip-hop & rock. It must be stressed that this album is very much a jazz CD and not a dance floor record. It is however, a superb album. - Product info (

Billy Cobham formed the Art of Three with fellow seasoned artists Kenny Barron and Ron Carter, who had known each other for several decades prior to this 2001 European tour, but had rarely played as a unit. This CD includes excerpts of two concerts, and while the drummer is listed as the leader, this is essentially a meeting of three all-stars with no one player dominating the spotlight. Beginning with a spry "Stella by Starlight," featuring Barron's playful piano, Carter's inventive accompaniment, and Cobham starting on brushes and switching to sticks, the trio sizzles from the very start. Carter's "New Waltz" is a tender tune, suggesting a parent teaching a young child a few basic dance steps in the intimacy of home. Barron's lively "And Then Again" blends a delicious bop line in the style of Bud Powell, with Carter and Cobham fueling his flight, while they also offer a rollicking treatment of Powell's "Bouncing with Bud." The setting of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" focuses more on the lyricism of the piece than an overly brooding air, as it is often played. It's hard not to think of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, or Bill Evans when a jazz group plays "Someday My Prince Will Come," but this trio adds a catchy introduction that combines beauty with a bit of tension before seguing into the familiar waltz tempo of this Disney-associated theme. The group followed up this excellent CD with two more from a tour of Japan in 2003; the obvious chemistry between them merits future reunions as well. - by Ken Dryden, AMG

Artist: Billy Cobham
Album: The Art of Three
Year: 2001
Label: In & Out
Runtime: 73:50

1. Stella By Starlight (Ned Washington/Victor Young) 10:43
2. Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer/Jacques Prévert) 10:00
3. New Waltz (Ron Carter) 6:55
4. Bouncing With Bud (Bud Powell) 7:02
5. 'Round Midnight (Bernie Hanighen/Thelonious Monk/Cootie Williams) 7:56
6. And Then Again (Kenny Barron) 11:25
7. I Thought About You (Johnny Mercer/James Van Heusen) 10:26
8.  Someday My Prince Will Come (Larry Morey/Frank Churchill) 9:19

Billy Cobham (Drums)
Ron Carter (Double Bass)
Kenny Barron (Piano)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sonny Clark - My Conception

Sonny Clark's conception of modern jazz is not far removed from his peer group of the late '50s, in that advanced melodic and harmonic ideas override the basic precepts of swing and simplicity. What sets Clark apart from other jazz pianists lies in his conception of democracy to allow his bandmates to steam straight ahead on compositions he has written with them in mind. Though the bulk of this session features the marvelous trumpet/tenor tandem of Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley, it is drummer Art Blakey whose demonstrative presence is heard in full force. He's kicking the band in his own distinctive, inimitable way, rambling through the opener "Junka," based on the changes of "You Go to My Head" with his brand of bomb drops, hard accents, and indefatigable swing. Simply put, this is hard bop at its very best. Several of Clark's very best works are present and accounted for, including two takes of the definitive "Minor Meeting." The second version with Byrd and Mobley has a wonderfully subtle, Asian flavored ascending and descending melody, but the so-called initial recording includes guitarist Kenny Burrell, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, and drummer Pete LaRoca, and sounds quite different. A calypso intro from the drummer yields a different palate, as Burrell in particular takes charge. "Eastern Incident" with the Burrell-Jordan tandem also takes a Far East tack, a completely relaxed line with Jordan smoother than Mobley. "Royal Flush" is also one of Clark's all-time keepers, a true beauty in Latin dress with slight harmonic inferences. This is for the most part a hard swinging date, the exceptions being the cute, sweet, basic shuffle "Blues Blue," a dramatic two-chord progression on "Some Clark Bars," and the third track featuring a Grant Green styled Burrell for the fleet "Little Sonny." Kudos to the great bassist Paul Chambers who plays on all of these cuts with Clark, and is unquestionably in his prime. Except the extraordinary Leapin' and Lopin, this album of contrasts, depth, and spirit showcases Clark's dual concepts brilliantly, and is only a half step below his best. - by Michael G. Nastos, AMG

This welcome collection pairs two late-1950s sessions that sat in the Blue Note vaults for decades after they were recorded. It offers a variety of gifts for the Sonny Clark fan. First, there is the matter of sidemen. The March 1959 session that spawned the first six tunes boasts the presence of tenor Hank Mobley and drummer Art Blakey, both found in inspired form here. Mobley is bright throughout, playing with a bit more fire than usual while producing tender and moving work on the ballad title track. Blakey, meanwhile, is an animal (listen to his fury on "Minor Meeting"), goading and prodding and steering from the background. The final three songs, from December of 1957, include guitarist Kenny Burrell, tenor Clifford Jordan and drummer Pete LaRoca. Of course, Clark is the unifying theme. His compositions are crafty enough to keep things interesting but simple enough to allow assured, fluid improvisation. His piano work shows equal parts grace and grit, delicacy and drive, and his support of the other soloists is consistently interesting and lively. - by Marc Greilsamer,

Artist: Sonny Clark
Album: My Conception
Year: 1959
Label: Blue Note (2000, 24-bit resolution)
Runtime: 61:21

1.  Junka 7:30
2.  Blues Blue 7:18
3.  Minor Meeting (second version) 6:46
4.  Royal Flush (second version) 7:00
5.  Some Clark Bars 6:18
6.  My Conception 4:44
7.  Minor Meeting (first version) 6:54
8.  Eastern Incident 8:14
9.  Little Sonny 6:32

Sonny Clark (Piano)
Paul Chambers (Double Bass)
Donald Byrd (Trumpet) - 1-6
Hank Mobley (Tenor Saxophone) - 1-6
Art Blakey (Drums) - 1-6
Kenny Burrell (Guitar) - 7-9
Clifford Jordan (Tenor Saxophone) - 7-9
Pete La Roca (Drums) - 7-9

Friday, February 14, 2014

June Christy - Ballads for Night People + The Intimate Miss Christy

Ballads for Night People:
The music on this album features the popular singer June Christy in a ballad-oriented program. She is backed by trombonist Frank Rosolino, a French horn, a sax section, a rhythm section, and a harp, all arranged by her husband, tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper. One in a long string of Christy's Capitol recordings, this fine set (highlighted by "Bewitched," "Do Nothin' 'Till You Hear from Me," "Kissing Bug," and "My Ship") holds its own with the singer's best sets. - by Scott Yanow, AMG
The Intimate Miss Christy:
On June Christy's excellent run of albums for Capitol Records the vocalist was most often backed by Pete Rugolo's complex orchestral charts or by small, freewheeling jazz groups led by her husband, Bob Cooper. So The Intimate Miss Christy is a special treat for her fans as it finds the cool blonde singer backed only by Al Viola's guitar and Don Bagley's bass (though a flutist sits in on a few tracks). This guitar/bass-only approach was first popularized by Julie London and went on to be utilized by many other singers during this era. The backing not only suits the laid-back, cool jazz approach of June Christy perfectly, but it also means that the singer is never forced to strain too hard, as she sometimes did when working with the experimentally inclined Pete Rugolo. And while the vocalist usually put a dark emotional spin on her ballad readings, this album is definitely aimed more toward romantic entanglements than romantic regrets. The Intimate Miss Christy may be a fireside makeout album, but it's one that merits repeated listens even when the embers die out. - by Nick Dedina, AMG

Artist: June Christy
Album: Ballads for Night People + The Intimate Miss Christy
Year: 1959 + 1962
Label: EMI (1998)
Runtime: 70:39

1.  Bewitched (Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers) 4:56
2.  Night People (Fran Landesman/Tommy Wolf) 3:20
3.  Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me (Duke Ellington/Bob Russell) 4:06
4.  I Had a Little Sorrow (Bob Cooper/Edna St. Vincent Millay) 3:50
5.  I'm in Love (Danny Kaye/Christina Ferraris) 2:45
6.  Shadow Women (Arthur Hamilton) 3:13
7.  Kissing Bug (Billy Strayhorn/Joya Sherrill/Rex Stewart) 2:41
8.  My Ship (Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin) 3:58
9.  Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Duke Ellington/Bob Russell) 2:58
10.  Make Love to Me (Kim Gannon/Paul Mann/Stephen Weiss) 3:08
11.  Spring Is Here (Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers) 3:03
12.  Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard) 3:14
13.  I Fall in Love Too Easily (Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne) 2:30
14.  Time After Time (Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne) 2:22
15.  The More I See You (Harry Warren/Mack Gordon) 3:03
16.  Don't Explain (Arthur Herzog, Jr./Billie Holiday) 2:38
17.  It Never Entered My Mind (Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers) 3:31
18.  You're Nearer (Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers) 2:54
19.  Misty (Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke) 3:05
20.  Suddenly It's Spring (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) 2:44
21.  I Get Alone Without You Very Well (Hoagy Carmichael) 3:09
22.  Ev'ry Time (Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane) 3:20
June Christy (Vocals)
Norman Benno (English Horn, Bassoon, Oboe) - 1-10
Monty Budwig (Double Bass) - 1-10
Red Callender (Double Bass) - 1-10
Joe Castro (Piano) - 1-10
Buddy Collette (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Baritone Saxophone, Tenor Saxphone) - 1-10
Bob Cooper (Arranger, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone) - 1-10
Jim Decker (French Horn) - 1-10
Vincent DeRosa (French Horn) - 1-10
Chuck Gentry (Bass Clarinet) - 1-10
Joe Gordon (Trumpet) - 1-10
Kathryn Julye (Harp) - 1-10
Stan Levey (Drums) - 1-10
Mel Lewis (Drums) - 1-10
Shelly Manne (Drums) - 1-10
Frank Rosolino (Trombone) - 1-10
Bud Shank (Flute, Alto Saxophone) - 1-10
Al Viola (Guitar)
Don Bagley (Double Bass) - 11-22
Bud Legge (Flute) - 11-22
Teddy Brannon (Piano) - 11-22
George Foster (Drums) - 11-22
Jonah Jones (Trumpet) - 11-22


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