Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Charlie Hunter - Ready...Set...Shango!

Although it is never clear what "shango" is, this set by guitarist Charlie Hunter's quartet is quite accessible and enjoyable. Marketed as some type of new alternative jazz, the music in reality is bop-based and not that far from soul-jazz. The most unusual aspect of the set is that Hunter plays an eight-string guitar, which not only allows him to play basslines (there is no bassist on the CD) but at times to emulate an organ. Both tenorman Dave Ellis, who would soon start his own solo career, and altoist Calder Spanier have plenty of solo space, while drummer Scott Amendola keeps the music grooving and moving. The nine selections may all be originals, but the music is also tied to the swinging tradition. Recommended. - by Scott Yanow, AMG

This is funky, organ-driven soul-jazz, with one catch: there's no organ. Because Hunter fills the organ's role with his fluid eight-string guitar grooves, everyone wants to lump him into acid jazz or even rock. Hunter borrows a certain intensity from rock, but he also includes dynamic funk-oriented rhythms and jazz's improvisational aesthetic. Like many of the best of the soul-jazz albums, this 1996 release is predicated on emotion and feeling, not complex chord changes or technically impressive flurries. These nine originals use a variety of rhythms as improvisational springboards: joyous romps, slow grinds, soft Latin-tinged waves, and bluesy shuffles. Saxmen Dave Ellis and the late Calder Spanier can handle fragile melodic phrases as easily as from-the-belly wails. Hunter's guitar aims for tones, moods, and textures while he anchors the bass line with those extra two strings. - by Marc Greilsamer

Artist: Charlie Hunter Quartet
Album: Ready... Set... Shango!
Year: 1996
Label: Blue Note
Runtime: 52:34

1.  Ashby Man (Charlie Hunter/Calder Spanier) 5:18
2.  Teabaggin' (Calder Spanier) 5:41
3.  Let's Get Medieval (Charlie Hunter) 6:35
4.  The Shango Pt. III (Charlie Hunter) 7:49
5.  Dersu (Charlie Hunter) 6:48
6.  911 (Charlie Hunter) 5:22
7.  Shango...The Ballad (Charlie Hunter) 4:34
8.  Thursday The 12th (Charlie Hunter) 5:43
9.  Sutton (Calder Spanier) 4:44

Charlie Hunter (Guitar)
Dave Ellis (Tenor Saxophone)
Calder Spanier (Alto Saxophone)
Scott Amendola (Drums)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Freddie Hubbard - Fastball - Live at the Left Bank

This previously unreleased 1967 concert features Freddie Hubbard leading a quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin, pianist Kenny Barron (whose playing is somewhat muffled much of time and he is plagued by an obviously out of tune instrument), bassist Herbie Lewis, and drummer Freddie Waits. All of the tracks are extended blowing sessions for the group, especially featuring the leader's rapid-fire trumpet solos. Highlights include the bossa nova "Pensativa," a stunning arrangement of "Willow Weep for Me," and Hubbard's lively post-bop composition "Bob's Place." The overall performances more than make up for the erratic fidelity of this nonprofessional recording,  so fans of Freddie Hubbard will definitely want to pick up this CD. - by Ken Dryden, AMG

Artis: Freddie Hubbard
Album: Fastball - Live at the Left Bank
Year: 1967
Label: Label M (2001)
Runtime: 63:15

1.  Pensativa (Clare Fischer) 16:53
2.  Echoes of Blue (Robert Cunningham) 10:34
3.  Crisis (Freddie Hubbard) 12:31
4.  Willow Weep for Me (Ann Ronnell) 10:03
5.  Bob's Place (Freddie Hubbard) 13:11

Freddie Hubbard (Trumpet)
Bennie Maupin (Tenor Saxophone)
Kenny Barron (Piano)
Herbie Lewis (Double Bass)
Freddie Waits (Drums)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Barney Kessel - Contemporary Latin Rhythms

These three Barney Kessel albums, recorded for Reprise in the early 1960s, are true gems. Reprise dabbled in recording jazz artists during this time and these Kessel albums truly shine. I remember finding the Kessel "Breakfast At Tiffany's" on vinyl about 10 years ago and listening to it was a dream come true. I am so glad it is here on CD along with more of Kessel's work during that period. "Breakfast At Tiffany's" has a slight jazz flair. True, that Kessel did not choose to make it a hard core jazz album and we should be thankful for his decision. Instead, he plays it with sophistication and style, adding his signature jazz touches where they add depth to the score but never overdoing it. I highly recommend this collection. - by Johnny K, Amazon.com

What better way to start this review than with the following sentence: Contemporary Latin Rhythms by guitarist Barney Kessel (1923–2004), released in 1963, is one of the best Latin albums ever created… because it is actually an Exotica release! I cannot stress this assertion enough, as it is not overly well-known in these circles. Twelve musicians deliver ten different, presumably Latin cuts, but again, the prospect evoked by this album is not necessarily fulfilled. One Latin fan's flaw is an Exotica lover's advantage. Or as Stanley Wilson of Pagan Love (1961) fame fittingly states in the liner notes: "Latin music has moved much closer to our own." Thus, the presented material is surprisingly exotic and less about Latin clichés than you might imagine. Even perfectly normal North American tunes are featured here, and they are admittedly Latinized quite a bit. Their real driving factor, though, is and remains Exotica, I kid you not. Contemporary Latin Rhythms is roughly comparable to the already splendidly exotic and dreamy Gone Native (1957) by the New York Jazz Quartet, but even that album is more Latin than Kessel's artifact. Six renditions and four unique tracks by Barney Kessel made it to the green-tinged album. While Kessel is prominently featured with his guitar on all of the tracks, he lets each player shine nonetheless, holding back every so often in order to let the aqueous mallet instruments and silky brass sections unfold all the better. The album features drummer Stan Levey, bassist Keith Mitchell, guitarists Bill Pitman, Alton Hendrickson and Barney Kessel himself, a trio of percussionists comprising of Francisco Aguabelle, Edward Talamantes and Franck Capp, saxophonist and flutist Paul Horn, trumpeter Conte Candoli, the dedicated marimba player Emil Richards as well as vibraphonist Victor Feldman. The album is unexpectedly bright and coruscating, and only one out of ten tracks delivers a whimsical lamento that is so typical for Latin songs. Sambas are as present as delicately downbeat Exotica pieces. So without further ado, here is one of the lost Exotica classics which has much more in common with my favorite genre than with the usual Latin outings. - AmbientExotica.com

Artist: Barney Kessel
Album: Contemporary Latin Rhythms
Year: 1963
Label: Reprise (Japanese 24-bit dig. remestered, 2014)
Runtime: 30:46

1.  Blues In The Night (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) 2:39
2.  Days Of Wine And Roses (Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini) 2:30
3.  Latin Dance N°1 (Barney Kessel) 2:32
4.  Lady Byrd (Tadd Dameron) 3:30
5.  One Note Samba (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Jon Hendricks/Newton Mendonça) 4:15
6.  The Peanut Vendor (Marion Sunshine/Moises Simons/Wolfe Gilbert) 3:10
7.  Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Joe Davis/Osvaldo Farrés) 3:13
8.  Everytime I Hear This Song (Barney Kessel) 3:47
9.  Love (Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane) 2:47
10.  Twilight In Acapulco (Barney Kessel) 2:23

Barney Kessel (Guitar)
Red Mitchell (Bass)
Stan Levey (Drums)
Paul Horn (Saxophone, Flute)
Conte Candoli (Trumpet)
Victor Feldman (Vibraphone)
Al Hendrickson (Guitar)
Bill Pitman (Guitar)
Emil Richards (Marimba)
Eddie Talamantes (Percussion)
Francisco Aguabella (Percussion)
Frank Capp (Percussion)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chico Hamilton - Gongs East!

The best-known of all the 1950s Chico Hamilton Quintet sets, this is also the only early Hamilton music that has been fully reissued on CD. At the time, the drummer's group also included cellist Nate Gershman, guitarist Dennis Budimir, bassist Wyatt Ruther and the young Eric Dolphy on alto, bass clarinet and flute. Dolphy has quite a few short solos on this rewarding music, and the highlights of the date include "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Passion Flower," Gerald Wilson's "Tuesday at Two" and the exotic "Gongs East." Recommended. - by Scott Yanow, AMG

Former Gerry Mulligan Quartet drummer Chico Hamilton formed his own quintet in the mid-1950s and proceeded to record some of the best and most definitive music to emerge from the West Coast "cool" jazz school. He is probably better remembered today, however, for having introduced multi-reedsman Eric Dolphy to the world in the second incarnation of his band. GONGS EAST! was the first album released by that famed lineup, and it's a fine introduction to Hamilton, Dolphy and the subtler side of fifties jazz generally. At a time when the blues-based post-bop sound ruled the jazz roost, Hamilton was exploring Asian, chamber and avant-garde classical influences, with the ironic result that the leader/drummer is the least-featured player here. Instead, it is Dolphy - in a far more restrained and accessible form than his explosive later performances would lead one to expect - and cellist Nate Gershman who hold the spotlight for most of GE!, though the whole quintet does an outstanding job of realizing Hamilton's influential and historically quite underappreciated vision. All but one of the tunes are covers (and for some reason the track listing is completely jumbled), but the unique chemistry of this unit remakes everything with its own indelible stamp as slow, quiet grooves part like a soft fog, allowing the soloists to shine before closing again with a tinkle of chimes or the distant thunder of a Chinese gong. Now out of print, GONGS EAST! is well worth seeking out for anyone interested in fifties jazz and/or the duly celebrated musicians involved. For more from this combo, check out The Original Ellington Suite and Dolphy's Hot, Cool & Latin. Those were the days, indeed! - by Richard Luhrs, Amazon.com

Artist: Chico Hamilton
Album: Gongs East!
Year: 1958 (Discovery)
Label: Warner Bros. Japan (24 bit dig. remastered, 2014)
Runtime: 38:15

1.  Beyond The Blue Horizon (Leo Robin/Richard Whiting/Frank Harling) 3:01
2.  Where I Live (Gerald Wilson)  2:59
3.  Gongs East (Chico Hamilton) 5:06
4.  I Gave My Love A Cherry (Hale Smith) 4:04
5.  Good Grief, Dennis (Carlson Smith) 3:19
6.  Long Ago And Far Away (Ira Gershwin/Jerome Kern) 3:06
7.  Tuesday At Two (Gerald Wilson)  4:02
8.  Nature By Emerson (Fred Katz)  4:50
9.  Far East (Nat Pierce) 4:39
10.  Passion Flower (Billy Strayhorn) 3:05

Chico Hamilton (Drums, Gongs)
Eric Dolphy (Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet)
Wyatt Ruther (Double Bass)
Nathan Gershman (Cello)
Dennis Budimir (Guitar)


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