Art Blakey – The Complete Columbia and RCA Albums Collection (Columbia Legacy): Christmas is box-set time and there are three new must-haves from the Sony stable. This one brings together seven releases from the acclaimed drummer and small band leader who was renowned for choosing the best young players. A lot of his classic albums might have been released on the Blue Note label, but these discs are by no means inferior. Musicians include Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmons. As well as the classic quintet formats, there is Blakey’s Percussion Ensemble on Drum Suite,and the novel delight of the hard bop drummer and crew playing show tunes from My Fair Lady!
- The other box sets are equally impressive. They are The Complete Columbia Live Albums Collection from Thelonious Monk (5 CDs) and The Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1959-1961 (10 CDs) from Duke Ellington (and just spare a thought for that Ellington productivity!).
National Youth Jazz Orchestra – Fifty (Whirlwind Recordings): NYJO, as it is more commonly known, is 50 years old, and is in exceptionally good health, as this double CD, recorded in the studio, shows. The band has expanded its range of jazz styles in recent years and the first CD comprises examples of its contemporary repertoire, complete with bespoke compositions from the likes of Jason Yarde and Kit Downes. The second disc tackles old favourites like St Louis Blues and Lullaby of Broadway, but even here the music is reformed courtesy of bright arrangements from director Mark Armstrong, among others. Famous alumni like trombonist Mark Nightingale and flautist Gareth Lockrane, together with saxophonist Julian Siegel and pianist Zoe Rahman are guest soloists. NYJO draws the best young players from all over the country into its ranks. There is a Yellow Jackets tune here arranged by Lichfield trumpeter and former NYJO member Nick Dewhurst, for example.
Espen Eriksen Trio – Never Ending January (Rune Grammofon): What you might expect from a Norwegian piano trio, and none the worse for that. In fact pianist Eriksen, with Lars Tormod Jenset on bass and Andreas Bye on drums, really does seem resolutely to fly the flag that was previously raised by Esbjorn Svensson and carried on by Tord Gustavsen. The accent is on melody, quiet groove and beauty in the tried and trusted manner, with any extraneous distractions curtailed. The rich bass and drums thrum of In The Mountains, with Eriksen moving down into the lower range of the piano as well, is a striking example of how for apparent simplicity to work there is always a lot more complexity hidden beneath it. Like that one, the other song titles are equally simple and direct: Grounded, Floating, Gravity, Cold Front. The only anomaly is one called Brian! Not that Brian surely?
Oran Etkin – What’s New? Reimagining Benny Goodman (Motéma): The Israeli-born clarinettist moved to the U.S. as a child and, mentored by Yusef Lateef, has combined his classical, jazz and Jewish musical influences into an enticing mix. Goodman is fertile ground for him; he focuses in the liner notes on the year 1935 when the great man was touring and finally breaking through to a wider audience: “The soulful cry of the blues and the wailing moan of the Jewish prayer made their way through the sound of Goodman’s clarinet into record players throughout America, and eventually the world. Etkin plays bass clarinet and tenor saxophone as well as the ol’ licourice stick, and has Sullivan Fortner on piano, Steve Nelson on vibes and Matt Wilson on drums. Charanee Wade is vocalist on two tracks. In addition to the title track we get Dinah, Why Don’t You Do Right, King Porter Stomp, Where Or When, Sing, Sing, Sing and more. Lovely clarinet playing and lovely band. True to the tradition and true to right now. Excellent, in a word.
John McLaughlin – Black Light (Abstract Logix): The 4th Dimension quartet of McLaughlin on guitars, Gary Husband on piano, synths and drums, Etienne M’Bappe on bass and Ranjit Barot on drums and vocals, continues to rip through the furious fusion seam these players have been mining for a while now. It is virtuoso muso-ship on a grand scale, fairly unrelenting in its displays of technical prowess, but in the way that happens when players are this good, the rapid pace ends up sounding more serene than frenetic. It’s good to have the konnakol singing of Barot to link 4D with the Mahavishnu Orchestra of McLaughlin’s earlier life, though I do feel there was more soul to that music than this – or maybe I am hearing the old stuff with the patina of nostalgia. He’s still the master, of course.
Anthony de Mare – Liaisons: Re-imagining Sondheim From The Piano (ECM): An amazing concept and an extraordiary achievement. The U.S. pianist and champion of contemporary music asked 36 composers from all fields of music to rework their choice of a Stephen Sondheim tune. Send in the composers! They include Nico Muhly, Steve Reich, Wynton Marsalis, Ethan Iverson, Fred Hersch, David Shire, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Frederic Rzewski. The results – they take up three CDs – are not only about Sondheim, they are about the 36 composers, and about modern piano playing as practised by de Mare. And it’s fascinating having a familiar phrase or melody pop out from such diverse and creative arrangments of the music. Surprising in every sense.
Categories: CD review