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The University of Hartford

A Few of my Favorite Things 1998
By Doug Maine

    Let’s not call it a year’s best list. Just some of the jazz CD’s that I liked a lot and/or thought you should know about. Naturally, this is all a matter of opinion. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some good music, since there’s just so much of it. But these are recordings that I think have a multiplicity of good tunes and wear well in repeated listenings.

Thomas Chapin, Sky Piece, Knitting Factory

    Chapin, a Manchester native who passed away last February, is much missed. This is his last studio recording, and it features his long-time trio, with Mario Pavone on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. There’s a serene beauty to the title tune, on which he plays flute. His rendition of Thelonious Monk’s "Ask Me Now" is a balladic tour de force. The high-energy alto work, original composing style and group empathy are all in evidence. It’s a worthy statement from a musician who was at home in and out of the jazz tradition, able to engage even skeptical audiences through the joyful power of his music and the genuine warmth of this personality.

Marilyn Lerner, Birds Are Returning: Marilyn Lerner in Cuba, Jazz Focus

    This little known Canadian pianist is a formidable composer of lyrical (though not cloying) themes that are sturdy jumping-off points for envelope-pushing improvisation. Her seven originals are complemented by her beautiful treatment of Gershwin’s "I Loves You Porgy" and an energetic, polyrhythmic reworking of Horace Silver’s "Que Pasa." With flutist/soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett and a host of outstanding Cuban musicians, most notably saxophonist Yosvany Terry, the result is a recording that satisfies from beginning to end.

Chucho Valdes, Bele Bele en la Habana, Blue Note

    Finally, a major US label release from one of the great pianists of our time, best known as the long-time leader and musical director of the renowned eclectic Cuban band Irakere. Accompanied only by a bassist and two percussionists, we get massive doses of Valde’s headlong, close-to-the-brink soloing and a virtual seminar on the creative use of Afro-Cuban rhythms as he interacts with other members of his quartet. Now this is how you make a positive first impression!

Tom Harrell, The Art of Rhythm, RCA Victor

    This guy’s recordings seldom disappoint, thanks to his skills as an arranger and composer (an earlier tune of his, "Sail Away," has become a jazz standard). He elicits strong contributions from the likes of Dewey Redman, Greg Tardy, Danilo Perez and Romero Lubambo, and makes his own compelling statements on trumpet and flugelhorn. The tunes have finely detailed melodies, tone, color and texture, offering exquisite frames for improvisation.

Salim Washington & RBA, Love in Exile, Accurate

    RBA stands for Roxbury Blues Aesthetic, but though they are based just 100 miles up the road this fiery band is virtually unknown in these parts. Led by the Coltrane-inspired Washington, who plays tenor sax and flute, RBA also includes such Boston notables as reedmen Henry Cook and Kurtis Rivers and drummer Bobby Ward. They are joined on the recording by trombonist Kuumba Frank Lacy and long-in-exile pianist Joe Bonner. Washington is currently teaching American Studies classes on a fellowship at Trinity College -- let’s hope his presence in Hartford somehow leads to an area concert by his band sometime soon.

Danilo Perez, Central Avenue, Impulse!

    The Panama-born Perez brings a lot to the table: grounding in the jazz piano tradition, a love of Thelonious Monk whom he does not so much imitate as he evokes, a classical background and such a solid command of Afro-Cuban music that he moves easily in and out of it, creating his own new polyrhythmic, cross-cultural improvisational music. His trio can be explosive, romantic or pensive, and at various points on this CD is augmented by an Indian tabla player and a Panamanian folkloric singer. Central Avenue doesn’t overwhelm; it just sounds better every time you listen to it.

Bennie Wallace, Audio Quest

    Fairly prolific in the 1980’s, the Tennessee tenor man has kept a low profile over the last few years. Wallace has a big sound and plays energetic off-balance lines with wide intervalic leaps that recall the wit of Sonny Rollins and the gruff expressiveness of R&B honkers. Backed by Tommy Flanagan, piano, Eddie Gomez, bass, and Alvin Queens, drums, Wallace shines. There’s more of a straightahead jazz feel than on some of his earlier work, but listen to the saxophonist on Bill Strayhorn’s "U.M.M.G." and you’ll know that the quirky, compelling Wallace is alive and well.

Ron Holloway, Groove Update, Milestone

    Another Sonny Rollins-inspired tenor man with a varied date that includes two appearances by poet-vocalist-activist Gil Scott-Heron. A highlight is a funky , scorching version of Monk’s "Epistrophy." Even if Holloway is trying to update the early-70’s gestalt of funky music and political consciousness, the result is no meaningless trip down memory lane.

Tony Williams, Young at Heart, Columbia

    Although the great drummer left us in early 1997, this wonderful trio session from 1996 languished in the vaults until this past year. Pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Ira Coleman, with Williams, were the long-time rhythm section of the drummer’s quintet, a group that marked his return to acoustic jazz back in the mid-1980’s. Miller is a great pianist who seems to be without a record contract these days (shame on you record companies, you), so any chance to hear him is good news. My favorites include the Beatles’ "Fool on the Hill," very much an improvement on the cavity-inducing original, and Miller’s intriguing "Farewell to Dogma."

Warren Byrd & David Chevan, Avadim Hayinu, Reckless

    As anyone who’s seen pianist Warren Byrd play in person or heard his performances on WWUH’s "Jazz in the Wilde" CD knows, the Hartford native has a deep spiritual connection to music, as well as an irreverence and curiosity that leads him to experiment, to stir up the pot and see what happens. Those qualities are in ample supply on this album of duets with bassist David Chevan, director of the music program at Southern Connecticut State University and owner/operator of Reckless Records. Avadim Hayinu, subtitled Once We Were Slaves, explores music from both the Jewish and African-American Christian traditions, ranging from lilting and shouting gospel to dark mystical sounds that come to us across a couple of millennia. Clearly, this was a project close to both musicians’ hearts, as the resulting music bears out.

Rounding out the "Top 30" . . . .

David Murray, Creole , Justin Time
Joyce, Astronauta: Songs of Elis, Blue Jackel. (See review)
Marian McPartland, Just Friends, Concord
Tom Varner, The Window Up Above, New World
Christian McBride, A Family Affair, Verve
Vibes, Knitting Factory
Ken Peplowski, Grenadilla, Concord
Pete McGuiness, Sliding In, Kokopelli
Jeri Brown & Leon Thomas, Zaius, Justin Time
John Hicks, Billy Strayhorn Songbook, HighNote
Susannah McCorkle, Someone to Watch Over Me, Concord
Brad Mehldau, The art of the Trio, Vol. 2 and Songs: The Art of the Trio,      Vol. 3, Warner Brothers
Jane Bunnett & the Spirits of Havana, Chamalongo, Blue Note
Roger Kellaway, The Art of Interconnectedness, Challenge
Paul Motain-Bill Frisell-Joe Lovano, Sound of Love, Winter & Winter
Paulo Moura, Pixinguinha, Blue Jackel
Dewey Redman, In London, Palmetto
John Scofield, A Go Go, Verve
String Trio of New York with Anthony Davis, Music & Arts
Dmitir Matheny, Starlight Cafe, Monarch

Also, two indispensable reissues:
Art Tatum, God is in the House, HighNote
Louis Armstrong, American Icon, Hip-O

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1999

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