For George, Cole And Duke
Blue Heron Records (No Catalogue No.) Harry Allen and Friends
For a new label which places artistic integrity rst, Blue Heron Records hit the jackpot when it decided to feature the compositions of three of the 20th century’s greatest popular composers in its first release. It couldn’t have found a better instrumentalist to interpret their music than tenor saxophonist Harry Allen who has been playing the music of Gershwin, Porter and Ellington for many years, continually finding inspiration in their peerless melodies. Like an irresistible rock in storm of changing musical fads, Allen is resolute as he continues to find new things to say as he mines these golden nuggets from the seemingly endless treasures of The Great American Songbook, his style anchored in his early in influences, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. He’s comfortable with these songs and it shows here as he plays with authority, elegance, intimacy and, on Happy Reunion, with a touch of sensuality. One is reminded of the legendary Zoot as he swings effortlessly through Love For Sale, spiced with Latin rhythms by percussionist Little Johnny Rivero who is on three tracks. The rest are by a quartet with Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie, a sparkling and nimble soloist; bassist Nicki Parrott, who not only anchors the session but sings delightfully; and Chuck Redd, a swinging pulse on drums and a superb vibraphonist. If I was to single out one track, and it wouldn’t be easy, it’s Gershwin’s How Long Has this Been Going On with Allen and Asherie complementing Parrott’s vocal in a trio setting.
– Kevin Jones
Kurt Elling and The Branford Marsalis Quartet Okeh Records
Upward Spiral is a collaboration of two highly talented and creative jazz artists Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis. Elling’s rich baritone voice spans four octaves and showcases both astonishing technical mastery and emotional depth alongside the alto and tenor saxophones of Marsalis. Featured on nearly all tracks are Marsalis’ long time, freewheeling rhythm section- the pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and the drummer Justin Faulkner. Elling has repeatedly proven his prowess for working with star instrumentalists and quartets having recently won a Grammy Award for his tribute to the famed collaboration between saxophonist John Coltrane and vocalist Johnny Hartman. Marsalis, also a Grammy winner, is a flexible and ambitious artist renowned for his work on classical evergreens and for his crossover into lm soundtracks and the blues. Featuring fresh arrangements of Songbook staples I’m A Fool To Want You, Blue Velvet and There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York, jazz standards like Jobim’s Só Tinha de Ser Com Voce and Lester Lee’s Blue Gardenia, adding ‘standards-to-be’ like West Virginia Rose with music and lyrics from pianist Fred Hersch and Practical Arrangement from Sting and Robert Mathes, this new artistic alliance is an unforgettable stellar showcase of both instrumental and vocal jazz expertise.
– Barry O’Sullivan
The Hawk Relaxes
Prestige (Moodsville) PRCD 8106-2
In the late 1950s the jazz LP reviews in Down Beat magazine had a section called Old Wine, New Bottles featuring reissues from the ever expanding catalogue of jazz’s rich legacy. A few years later when Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were the pre-eminent tenor saxophonists and many critics were in the thrall of the so-called “new thing”, one of the twin pillars of the instrument (Lester Young was the other), recorded a session which would not only enrich this legacy but confirm that Coleman Hawkins was still a musical giant. Released on the label’s Moodsville series devoted to ballads, this 28 February, 1961 date nds Hawkins blowing in magisterial splendour on a repertoire from the classical age of popular American songwriters. With his sound warm and mellow, Hawkins raises the bar far above what could be called mood or background music as be tting someone who recorded jazz’s greatest saxophone solo (Body And Soul in 1939). Hawkins was going through a renaissance in this period, mainly because he usually surrounded himself with young musicians and this date is no exception: guitarist Kenny Burrell (enough said); pianist Ronnell Bright who would later be pianist, arranger and conductor for a number of singers including Sarah Vaughan; a 21-year- old drummer Andrew Cyrille who would find fame with avant garde; and bassist Ron Carter, who would be a member of one of Miles Davis’ greatest groups. As for the music, Frank Sinatra would have been envious of Hawkins’ soulful reading of More Than You Know and his conservations with Burrell on Moonglow and Just A Gigolo are worth the price of the album alone. Memorable.