Category Archives: CD reviews

The Sound of Fifty Summers

Getz:Gilberto coverFifty years ago, while the Beatles stormed America, an altogether cooler, more laidback craze breezed across the world. The summery, sultry, gently swaying sound of bossa nova, which had blown in from Brazil and captured the imagination of American jazz musicians, was showcased in a landmark collaboration between tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and a Brazilian quartet led by guitarist/singer Joao Gilberto and featuring music written by the great composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Getz/Gilberto was the album and it’s a landmark LP in jazz and pop history. It put bossa nova on the map, produced a chart-topping single, and made household names of both Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, the singer whose beguilingly unfussy, airy vocals helped make a hit of the album’s opening track, The Girl From Ipanema – which is now the second most recorded pop song in history (after the Beatles’ Yesterday). Getz/Gilberto was the first jazz album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. And now, to mark its 50th anniversary – and just in time for a Brazil-themed summer – it has been re-issued in a special edition CD.

It’s an album which has become so familiar and is so accessible, and its tunes – Corcovado, Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – so readily associated with bossa and so often now reduced to what’s tantamount to elevator music, that it’s easy to forget that this was all brand new and trendsetting back in 1964. Also, as the American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton says, “not only is it the best that Stan ever played – and that’s saying something – but it’s also one of those rare albums that is just perfect.”

Edinburgh-based alto saxophonist and Getz admirer Martin Kershaw agrees, and points out that it is a peerless example of “crossover” music. “We’ve all heard collaborations where we’ve thought ‘mm, that sounds like a slightly half-baked version of the two kinds of music that have been fused’, but that’s certainly not the case here. It feels like a finished article in that it just works so well. Getz himself sounds so comfortable in it .You don’t feel for a second that there’s anything forced or contrived about it; it sounds very natural. It’s an amazing collaboration.”

Whereas many jazz recordings of the period showcased a soloist or two with a rhythm section, Getz/Gilberto comes over as much more of a group effort; The Girl From Ipanema flows from Joao Gilberto’s soft Portuguese vocals – first hummed then quietly sung – into his wife’s breezy English vocals then Getz’s wistful tenor sax and Jobim’s gentle piano chords ….  The whole thing is soothing, undulating, languid, dreamy, romantic and a sort of comforting musical tonic for Americans living through turbulent times. This was a nation still reeling from the Kennedy assassination just a few months earlier. And not everybody was finding musical solace or distraction in the noisy invaders from Liverpool.

Stan Getz’s daughter, Bev, was ten years old when the album came out in 1964 and was present at many of the rehearsals and get-togethers before it was recorded the year before. Her impression of the atmosphere and personalities is exactly what anyone who loves the record would hope and expect. She says: “I found the Brazilians to be just such lovely, friendly, warm people; really gracious and fun-loving and kind. They were definitely not Americans, you could tell! They came to our house and we went to Joao and Astrud’s apartment, where they were staying in Manhattan, to rehearse – I remember being there a couple of times with my parents.

“And that’s when my dad heard Astrud singing – while she was doing the dishes. He said: ‘Let’s have Astrud sing the English lyrics’ – because they needed somebody to sing the English lyrics and I guess that’s how that came about.”

And the music? “I remember thinking how pretty it was – and how different to what I’d heard before. And my dad was quite taken with it – on so many levels. He referred to it as folk music; he said it’s beautiful music. He always loved folk music from all different countries, because it expressed who the people were from that country.”

Jobim, who was just one week older than Getz, told the saxophonist that he had written the songs on Getz/Gilberto while listening to and being influenced by the West Coast “cool school” jazz of the 1950s, a scene which Getz belonged to. So it really was a meeting of like minds on many levels, and a very organic music-making process. For Getz, who had recorded Brazilian music on his earlier Verve album, Jazz Samba, with the guitarist Charlie Byrd, this was the next step: recording it with the leading Brazilian musicians of the day.

The impact and success of the album – and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – took everyone by surprise. Bev Getz was oblivious to her father’s newfound pop star status -until, that is, he took the family to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium (“It was awful, I was completely unimpressed – you couldn’t hear a thing for all the screaming!”) and they were invited to go back to meet the Fab Four at their New York hotel after what turned out to be a historic concert.

Bev recalls: “We were in the lobby of, I think it was the Plaza, waiting to be escorted up and of course I was on tenterhooks. But then we heard that some fan had gotten up on to the roof and was threatening to throw herself off if she didn’t get to meet the Beatles. And that was it: we had to leave, because that became a whole big thing. And that was a huge disappointment in my life!”

Although he appreciated the opportunities and the fame which came with the success of The Girl From Ipanema and Getz/Gilberto, for Getz the musician, the association with bossa nova soon became a bit of a burden, and a bit of a bore. Bev explains: “He went with whatever he was feeling and hearing at the time. He did it, and then he moved on. And that’s what he did with the whole bossa nova thing – as a matter of fact he got pretty sick of it. Musically, he never stood still, he never stayed in one place. He was a creator so he wanted to create, he wanted to continue – and he was always being pulled back to the bossa.

“He didn’t resent it; he was just like “aaarrrggghhh!”. And in later years he would rarely play The Girl From Ipanema; he would play one of the ones that he really loved more, O Grande Amor. I think he threw that one into just about every set. It’s my favourite – and it was his too.”Getz, Gilberto & co

* Getz/Gilberto: Expanded Edition (Verve) is out now. Martin Kershaw plays every Thursday at the Playtime evening he co-founded at the Outhouse, Edinburgh (www.playtime-music.com)

* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday June 7th 

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CD Recommendations: May 2014

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole Live! (Fremeaux & Associes) Django a la Creole live sleeve

This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience so it’s no surprise that this CD, a selection of numbers recorded during its autumn 2012 tour, is nigh-on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and the exciting interplay with the superb lead guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For the Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.

The Radio Luxembourg Sessions: The 208 Rhythm Club – Volume 2 (Vocalion)Sandy Brown sleeve 

The 208 Rhythm Club was a half-hour programme broadcast on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1960s and featuring groups promoting new recordings they had made at the Lansdowne Studios, to be issued by EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. This CD comprises two terrific 1961 sessions recently unearthed and presented here unedited and remastered – one by Al Fairweather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars and the other by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (featuring Tony Coe and Joe Temperley). Everyone is on top form; the Fairweather-Brown session is a typically uplifting affair, featuring such classic Brown tunes as Glories in the Evening, Harlem Fats and Bimbo, while the Lyttelton one boasts a couple of stunning Ellington numbers.

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (Woodville Records) Scott Hamilton Dean Street Nights

Dean Street, as anyone who has ever sought out top-notch jazz in London knows, is the Soho address of the Pizza Express jazz club which, for decades now, has played regular host to the great American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who plays residencies there several times a year. This sensational session was recorded during a final night in his festive season run of early 2012, and it shows the one-time regular fixture on the British touring circuit in magnificent form, blowing up a storm with his longstanding London trio. Highlights include a gorgeous bossa version of Sweet and Lovely (with signature, masterful Hamilton intro), a riotous Jitterbug Waltz and a sublime If I Had You.

Live at Monmartre – Nicolaj Bentzon Trio featuring Winard Harper (Storyville) Live at Montmartre

A versatile Danish pianist, composer and conductor, Nicolaj Bentzon returned to his first love, the classic jazz piano trio, for two dates at Copenhagen’s famous Jazzhus Montmartre club last summer. Given that he’s the latest star of a composing dynasty that stretches back two centuries, it’s no surprise that Bentzon’s ten-tune set includes five original numbers – notably the gentle and classical-flavoured Flyv Fugi, Flyv and Cantilena Elegiaca. His style is exciting, occasionally explosive, and (as the liner notes say) effervescent, with traces here and there of the influence of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner.

Lee Wiley: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid) Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley (1908-1975) is one of the most criminally overlooked jazz singers but she was, and is, one much adored by musicians. Before Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first “songbook” album, the smoky-voiced Wiley had already earned the admiration of Gershwin, Porter and co with her classy, sassy, swinging and sexy interpretations of their songs. The quartet of LPs included here stem from the 1950s and include her sublime and iconic Night in Manhattan, as well as two classic big band/orchestra albums – the glorious West of the Moon, and A Touch of the Blues.

Curtis Stigers: Hooray For Love (Concord Jazz) Curtis Stigers Hooray For Love

Given his recent track record – of dishing up exclusively (as he put it) “sad songs or songs about sex” – you might expect Down With Love to be the title song of a Curtis Stigers album, but the soulful, craggy-voiced singer has clearly turned born-again romantic in the time since his last CD was released, and is spreading the word via a mixture of swinging standards and original numbers which are new but sound as if they’ve been torn from the back pages  of the Great American Songbook. The Gershwins’ Love Is Here To Stay is served up in a particularly tasty sextet arrangement (which evokes the groovy feel of Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles’s mid-1950s album Sweets) and is a treat to hear, but it’s those catchy new tunes – notably the title track and A Matter of Time – which linger in the mind more than the other classics.

Georgia Mancio & Nigel Price: Come Rain or Come Shine (Roomspin) Georgia Mancio

There’s a cool, classy elegance and balmy feel to this gorgeous new album from the London-based singer Georgia Mancio which – along with the voice, guitar and bass line-up (and one of the song choices) – recall the glorious Julie and Julie is Her Name records made by Julie London in the 1950s. Mancio, however, is no clone and stamps each number with her own style which is less pared-down and more daring than London’s. Her gentle, clear and beguiling voice is for the most part beautifully complemented by Nigel Price’s eloquent guitar, along with Julie Walkington on bass; stand-outs include a sublimely sultry Manha de Carnaval (well, the English language version, A Day in the Life of a Fool), a swinging Gone With the Wind and a breezily romantic Moonlight in Vermont.

Kate Daniels: Atmospherics (Loxford Records) Kate Daniels CD sleeve

Hers may not be the strongest, most arresting or distinctive voice but British singer Kate Daniels has created a strangely compelling collection of songs on this CD; an introduction to a style she intriguingly (and accurately, based on most of the evidence here) describes as “jazz noir”. These are moody, melancholy, midnight-y arrangements featuring such top British musicians as John Etheridge (guitar), John Horler (piano), Graham Pike (trumpet) and Tony Coe (tenor sax), and a voice that lends itself equally well to gently swinging ballads and gut-wrenching chansons.

Warren Vache & Alan Barnes: The Cobbler’s Waltz (Woodville Records)Vache- Barnes

If ever there were two players whose delight in each other’s playing is infectious, it’s the duo of American cornettist Vache and British clarinettist/saxophonist Barnes. Old friends and occasional colleagues, this pair clearly relish opportunities for collaborating – and that certainly shines through on this CD, even before you read Vache’s lively liner notes. More laid-back than their last outing on Woodville, this quintet recording (with top-drawer British rhythm section of John Pearce, Dave Green and Steve Brown) features an inspired mix of off-the-beaten track tunes as well as a couple of insanely catchy original numbers by Vache.

Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (Blue Note Records) Thelonious Monk Paris 1969

Also newly available on DVD, this is a rare recording of a late-career concert by the maverick pianist-composer Thelonious Monk (then aged 52) in the company of his longtime collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, plus a much younger bassist and drummer (17-year-old Paris Wright). Monk may have been past his creative prime, playing tunes he had played umpteen times before, and breaking in a new rhythm section – but this concert is hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding and it went down a storm with the Parisian audience. Maybe for those of us who aren’t Monk maniacs, the slightly more mellow, older incarnation of the pianist has a particular appeal. Veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had been resident in the French capital for a year, was invited up by Monk to sit in on the closing numbers.

Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle Records) Christine Tobin

Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks – an addition which brings a chanson-y feel to the proceedings.

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CD Recommendations: February 2014

Oscar Peterson & Ben Webster: During This Time (Art of Groove)Oscar Peterson & Ben Webster CD
Not only is this previously unreleased live quartet performance from 1972 available here in CD form, but the two-disc pack also includes a 64-minute DVD of the film footage of the concert so fans can enjoy a wonderful opportunity to watch two giants of jazz in all their seventies splendour (Peterson’s a vision in pink checked suit and Crayola Violet Red tie). The camera gets so close, in fact, that it’s possible to study the legendary tenor saxophonist Webster’s embarrassed facial expressions as his masterful solo on I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good is applauded, and to count the beads of sweat on the Peterson brow. Among the non-stop musical highlights are the funky Poutin’, a rollicking Cotton Tail and particularly gorgeous versions of such ballads as Duke Ellington’s sublime Come Sunday.
Various Artists: Unissued on 78s – Jazz & Hot Music 1927-1931 (Challenge Records/Retrieval Records)Unissued on 78s
As Chris Ellis’s liner notes make clear, the 24 tracks on this wonderful compilation may have appeared on LPs and CDs, but none were ever issued on 78s – and several have never previously been heard at all. If you want a flavour of the kind of hot jazz that the cool college kids were dancing to in the last few years of Prohibition, this CD is ideal. Featuring music by some of best white bands of the day, it boasts Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, the Dorseys, Hoagy Carmichael, Joe Venuti  and Miff Mole in its impressive line-up, as well as a raft of excellent but lesser-remembered musicians. Bix fans will delight in the rarely available Deep Down South plus Just Imagine, a track which fires debate about whether it’s Bix or a disciple playing. There’s even pleasure to be had in the Wodehouse-worthy names of such musicians as Snooks Friedman, Nappy Lamare and Fud Livingston.
Rene Marie: I Wanna Be Evil – With Love to Eartha Kitt (Motema)

Rene Marie CD
She may have sworn never to record a tribute album, but the American vocalist Rene Marie has produced a winner with this homage to Eartha Kitt, whose spell – as she eloquently explains in her fascinating liner notes – she first, unwittingly, fell under when Kitt played Catwoman in the Batwoman TV series and Rene was a black-female-role-model hungry ten-year-old. The homage only extends to the choice of songs and the spirit of sexual abandon that Rene Marie conjures up; her breathy, lush voice – thankfully, for those of us who find a little of Kitt goes a long way – is nothing like the original, and the arrangements are re-imaginings of the familiar Kitt versions. Her accompanying sextet features an impressive contribution from Adrian Cunningham on clarinet.
Scott Hamilton: Swedish Ballads and More (Stunt) Scott Hamilton - Swedish Ballads & More
The great American tenor sax star is now an elder statesman of the jazz scene and he seems to be recording more prolifically than ever. This new CD finds him in the company of a Scandinavian trio and playing mostly songs with a Swedish connection. As ever, it’s a joy to hear his big, authoritative tone, lyrical style and the easygoing bounce which gives way to some barnstorming swinging on the uptempo Swing in F. Hamilton is a master balladeer and this album’s stand-out is You Can’t Be In Love With a Fool, a pretty ballad penned in 1953 by a Swedish songwriter named Ulf Sandstrom, which is also notable for Jan Lundgren’s elegant pianistics.
Dominic Alldis Trio: A Childhood Suite (Canzona Music)Dominic Alldiss - A Childhood Suite
Four years ago, the English pianist, composer and arranger Alldis released Songs We Heard, a collection of piano trio improvisations on nursery rhyme themes. With A Childhood Suite he revisits 14 of these tunes, in the company of a string orchestra – and the results are lovely, with the strings adding a richness and cinematic quality to the proceedings, while contrasting with the lightness of Alldis’s piano touch. There are some memorable moments of witty interplay between piano and strings, notably on London Bridge and I Saw Three Ships, and a funky arrangement of Three Blind Mice that’s so catchy it could change the way you sing that tune ..
Liane Carroll: Ballads (Quiet Money)Liane Carroll CD
The unimaginative title of British singer-pianist Liane Carroll’s new album belies the unexpected choices of songs included. Against a backdrop of strings arrangements (particularly effective on the Sinatra classic Only the Lonely) or accompanied by guitar – as she is on such gorgeously simple and affecting tracks as the opener Here’s to Life and the slowed-down Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – Carroll sets out her stall as a passionate, gutsy interpreter of songs, with a larger-than-life musical presence and soul-oriented vocal style.

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CD Recommendations: April 2013

Scott Hamilton: Remembering Billie (Blue Duchess) Remembering Billie

Billie Holiday is a singer beloved by instrumentalists, and one whose distinctive repertoire has been celebrated by such wonderful, lyrical musicians as Ruby Braff, Chet Baker and Bobby Wellins. Now tenor saxophone giant Scott Hamilton offers his take on ten Holiday classics, in the company of his new, hard-swinging American trio/quartet. As ever, his big, soulful sound is a particular joy on the ballads, notably God Bless the Child and Good Morning Heartache, and it’s also a treat to hear Holiday’s 1930s small group hits getting the Hamilton stamp.

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus) 

EllingtonLast autumn’s Duke Ellington-themed tour by the SNJO was undoubtedly one of the best live Ellington experiences in Scotland, in living memory. This CD is a 16-track fusion of music from the five Scottish concerts and it not only captures the thrill of hearing a young band getting a kick out of the glorious Ellington repertoire, but it also showcases its world-class ensemble playing (especially that of the saxophone section), and such terrific soloists as Ruaraidh Pattison (alto sax), Martin Kershaw (clarinet), Ryan Quigley (trumpet), Tommy Smith (tenor saxophone) and the inimitable Brian Kellock (piano).

Sigurdur Flosason & Kjeld Lauritsen: Night Fall (Storyville Records) Night Fall

This CD is a wonderful introduction to the gorgeous, gentle sound and lyrical style of Icelandic alto saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason, and features a line-up of sax plus Hammond B3 organ, played by Kjeld Lauritsen); guitar, played by Jacob Fischer, and drums, played by Kristian Leith. Flosason excels throughout, particularly on ballads. The overall effect is of a series of laidback musical conversations, with the dialogue between sax and guitar especially pleasing. Indeed, the organ often gets in the way.

Heather Masse & Dick Hyman: Lock My Heart (Red House Records) Hyman cd

American piano virtuoso Dick Hyman (newly turned 86) has joined forces with the alto from the popular folk singing group The Wailin’ Jennies for this unsurprisingly classy duo album. Masse has a luscious, rich voice and refreshingly unfussy style, and serves up lovely interpretations of an eclectic selection of songs including two original numbers and two sublime Kurt Weill ballads. Only the title track, which closes the CD, disappoints since Masse morphs into what sounds like Betty Boop. Hyman remains as elegant, imaginative and dynamic as ever.

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CD Recommendations: January 2013

Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool (Moochin About)Jazz on Film CD

The second, stylishly presented, volume of five CDs’ worth of jazz movie soundtracks is, arguably, packed with more treasures than the first – it has a glittering cast of the creme de la creme of jazz. The title may not give much away but this set includes the original soundtrack recordings – all digitally remastered, of course – of eight movies from the period 1953-1961. Some are long-established as classic examples of jazz on film (Paris Blues, I Want to Live etc) but others – such as The Wild One – have tended to be overlooked. And most have been unavailable or hard to come by for the longest time.

Rachael MacFarlane: Hayley Sings (Concord Records) 

Rachael MacFarlane CD

Rachael MacFarlane – for those who, like me, had no idea – is the voice of Hayley in American Dad, the animated sitcom created by her brother (and fellow recently recorded singer) Seth. This lovely album comprises songs that she reckons her alter ego would enjoy singing, and is an unusual mix of pop numbers and standards performed with big band, small jazz combo and – in the case of a couple of the stand-outs, just guitar. MacFarlane has a beautiful, clear, pure voice which is best showcased on the slow, gentle and intimate versions of songs by Carole King, Paul Simon and Judy Collins.

Houston Person: Naturally (HighNote Records)Houston Person - Naturally CD

Soulful, majestic and funky are the best adjectives to describe the super-laidback tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who is now, incredibly given how hip he is, approaching his 78th birthday. This latest CD finds him in top form, in the company of one of his old army buddies, the pianist Cedar Walton, plus Ray Drummond (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). The ballads – a characteristically majestic My Foolish Heart and the Johnny Hodges/Duke Ellington rarity It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream especially – are particular standouts.

The Thelonious Monk Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection (Sony Music)

Thelonious Monk CD

Fans of the maverick pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, who died 30 years ago, in 1982, will rejoice in this attractively presented box set of the six quartet albums he recorded for Columbia between 1962 and 1967. Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse is his musical partner in crime on all these albums which include such classics as Monk’s Dream, Criss-Cross and Straight, No Chaser and mark the busiest period in his career which would go into decline in the 1970s.

Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve) Diana Krall CD

The Grammy Award-winning Canadian singer and pianist changes direction dramatically with this new album, her first with the producer T Bone Burnett. Rooted in jazz, but blurring the boundaries between various genres, it comprises mainly forgotten pop songs from the 1920s – but with a sprinkling of later tunes, notably the raunchy rock ‘n’ roll number I’m a Little Mixed Up and the country ballad A Wide River – and showvcases her sensual vocals in an occasionally very intimate setting (the exquisite title number is just Krall and Marc Ribot on guitar). Jazz fans will love the laid-back treatment of many of the numbers in the first half of the CD – but there’s something for everyone.

Scenes in the City: The Man Who Never Sleeps (Woodville Records) The Man Who Never Sleeps CD

A sextet which specialises in the repertoire of the late, great bassist and composer Charles Mingus (rather than a tribute band), Scenes in the City was the brainchild of bass player Arnie Somogyi who assembled a top-notch, all-British line-up for this project, including Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, who are both heard on alto and baritone saxes, and Mark Edwards on piano. A terrific introduction to the music of Mingus, the album features a lovely, atmospheric take on his Lester Young tribute, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

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CD Recommendations: September 2012

Scott Hamilton & Harry Allen: Round Midnight (Challenge Records) 

This reunion of two great US tenor saxophonists is very much a meeting of minds. Harry Allen was strongly influenced by the playing of Scott Hamilton as he grew up, but rather than coming across as an imitator, what’s clear here is that his unique, immediately identifiable sound – wispy, yet rough around the edges – complements Hamilton’s full-bodied, rich tone. They lead a super-swinging trio featuring ace pianist Rossano Sportiello through nine tracks which, surprisingly for them, includes only one ballad.

Daryl Sherman: Mississippi Belle (Arbors Records)

As Edinburgh Jazz Festival-goers discovered lastmonth, the American singer-pianist Daryl Sherman is a terrific entertainer whose frothy, coquettish vocals and swinging jazz piano make her a class act. On this CD Sherman celebrates the lesser-sung Cole Porter – a composer with whom she has a special affinity, since for years she played his piano in the Waldorf Astoria. Some of the songs here are a little too cabaret for jazz tastes but there’s still much for devotees of elegant mainstream jazz.

Joe Stilgoe: We Look to the Stars (Absolute) 

This is the second album from the singer/songwriter/pianist and raconteur who delighted Fringe audiences with his one-man show last year – and it’s a winner, though one which veers more towards pop than his last CD. The voice is very Buble-like, but the wittily-worded songs and catchy melodies are distinctly Stilgoe, with the poignant, Billy Wilder-inspired, (That’s The Way It Crumbles) Cookie-Wise and the jubilant I Like This One and Let’s Begin highlights alongside a gorgeous take on Waterloo Sunset.

Stan Getz Quartet: Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series Volume 29 (TCB) Recorded in Zurich in 1960 by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, this superb, swinging, six-track set by Stan Getz finds the tenor man at the peak of his pre-bossa nova powers. At the time of this concert, which was part of a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, Getz was living in Copehnhagen and had brought a Danish rhythm section with him. But en route to Zurich he fell out with his bassist and drummer so Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen were co-opted in from Oscar Peterson’s trio to join pianist Jan Johansson. The results are simply sublime.

Sophie Milman: In the Moonlight (eOne Music) 

Milman is a Russian-born, Israeli-raised and Toronto-based singer with a rich, luscious voice who sounds as if she has been around much longer than her twentysomething years, and who has a particular love of great lyrics. On this, her fourth album, she sings 14 love songs which were selected especially for the greatness of their lyrics. Several of these are given the full romantic treatment, with strings arranged by the great Alan Broadbent.

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CD Recommendations: June 2012

Martin Taylor & Alan Barnes: Two For the Road (Woodville Records) 

With the right combination of musicians, the duo can be THE most satisfying of jazz line-ups – and this CD is a perfect example. Martin Taylor (guitar) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) have created a beautiful, intimate, album which showcases their rapport and mutual respect and plays out like a series of conversations – some cosy chats, some playful banter and some lively debates. And you don’t have to be a fan of Taylor’s guitar monologues to get a huge kick out of his lovely, warm, lyrical playing on this CD. A joy.

Sonny Stitt: Now!/Salt and Pepper (Impulse! 2-on-1)

Two early 1960s albums from the underrated tenor and alt saxophonist Sonny Stitt appear on this CD. Now! (1963) finds him asserting himself mostly on the tenor, undoubtedly to shake off the Charlie Parker comparisons, but, with his driving, lyrical style and the Bird-like improvisations, the influence is still very evident. On Salt and Pepper (1964), accompanied by an almost identical classy trio (led by pianist Hank Jones), he goes head to head with the tenor man Paul Gonsalves with memorable results.

Harry Allen & Rossano Sportiello: Conversations – The Johnny Burke Songbook (CD Baby.Com/Indys)

An instrumental album paying tribute to a lyricist may seem a bit odd but American tenor saxophonist has a personal connection to Johnny Burke, the writer of such standards as It Could Happen to You, Pennies From Heaven and Like Someone In Love. All of these are included in this lovely CD which finds the eloquent tenor man well-matched with the elegant pianist Sportiello. Their pairing is magic on the ballads especially, and it’s a rare treat to hear some of the seldom played songs Burke co-wrote for Paramount movies as well as such “new” finds as I Wish You Needed Me.

 Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock: The Beale Street Blues (Cside) 

The fourth CD from Scotland’s swinging-est purveyors of hot, Chicago-style, jazz is another wee cracker. This time, the original quartet, headed by cornettist Mike Daly and clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess, is joined by their regular special guest Brian Kellock on piano – and the results are superb, notably such lesser-played numbers as Shim Me Sha Wabble and That Da Da Strain. Only possible quibble? I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure is such a pretty, poignant tune, it would be a treat to hear what Daly and Kellock could do with it at a slower speed.

Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) 

The quartet of 1950s/1960 LPs featured on this double CD showcases almost every one of jazz legend Benny Carter’s talents: as composer, arranger, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. These LPs also find him in the top-notch company of the likes of Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles, Frank Rosolino and Barney Kessel – all of whom play on the opening album, the terrific Jazz Giant – and Earl Hines. It’s perhaps not essential Carter – but a superb snapshot of the great man in his (very long) middle period.

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CD Recommendations – April 2012

Billie Holiday: The Complete Masters 1933-1959 (Universal)
As somebody who already owns everything by her favourite singer – but scattered across box sets, single CDs and LPs – I am thrilled with this exquisitely presented limited edition collection of all the master takes from her vast and varied career. It’s a shame not to have some of the best alternative takes, but great to not have two versions of the same tune back to back. And to be able to hear her go from radiant, ebullient, teens-to-twentysomething Billie on her joyful 1930s small group recordings, right through to her worn-out, but utterly compelling and sumptuous final (with strings) album, is a privilege and a treat.
Derek Nash Acoustic Quartet: Joyriding (Jazzizit Records)
British saxophonist Derek Nash’s first CD with his regular trio is a fresh, funky and engaging affair which features an imaginative selection of tunes, most of them originals by Nash himself but also such stand-outs as the Ennio Morricone’s unjustly neglected Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso and a Gerry Mulligan-inspired take on Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are. Nash is a lovely, melodic player who has a terrific rapport with his trio, particularly with the ever-elegant pianist David Newton.
Ruby Braff: Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz)
Wow. This is one of the best of these Avid two-CD sets that I’ve heard. The great trumpeter Ruby Braff was in his early thirties when these four late-1950s LPs were recorded – and his playing is sensational, as is the company he keeps (Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Freddie Green, Hank Jones – on vibes! – etc). In fact, it’s difficult to get past the first album, Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny, which finds him alongside the legendary clarinettist Pee Wee Russell and is an absolute gem, featuring a string of unforgettable, downright sexy takes on such evergreens as I’m Coming Virginia.
Bucky Pizzarelli: Challis in Wonderland (Arbors Records)
The octogenarian US guitarist Pizzarelli is still playing as superbly as ever. On this new CD, he pays homage to both the legendary Bix Beiderbecke and Bill Challis, the arranger who ensured that Beiderbecke’s masterful piano compositions were transcribed and saved for posterity. All four of those feature here (played on guitar, of course), alongside some other Bixian numbers and tunes of his era – plus Pizzarelli’s own title composition. He’s joined by his son and fellow guitarist John, and a string quartet featuring the violin whiz Aaron Weinstein. Delightful stuff.
Nigel Clark: Under the Stars (Circular Records)
While some solo guitar players seem to sap the life out of their material by picking it apart, stretching it out and extemporising ad infinitum, Glasgow-based guitar star Clark brings colour, energy and lyricism to whatever he plays – as effectively as if a whole band was performing. On the 16 eclectic tracks included on this, his first, solo album, his classy taste and love of (and respect for) a beautiful melody shine through – among the highlights are numbers by Jerome Kern, Carlos Santana, Antonio Carlos Jobim and a trio of original tunes.
Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Masters 1935-1955 (Universal)
The Ella Fitzgerald set in this superb new series of limited edition box sets may not – as the Billie Holiday one did – cover her entire career, but it takes in some of her finest work, notably this reviewer’s favourite Fitzgerald recordings, the duos with elegant pianist Ellis Larkins in 1950 (her first Gershwin songbook) and 1954. The 14 discs span the dynamic singer’s output from her coquettish debut with Chick Webb through to the 1950s when she exuded a downright regal quality on her ballads.
Charlie Parker: The Complete Masters 1941-1954 (Universal)
As with the other box sets in this limited edition series, this 11-disc collection is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject; this time, the legendary bebop pioneer and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. It traces his evolution – and that of bop – from his Kansas City beginnings in the mid-1940s with Jay McShann’s blues ‘n’ boogie-style band through to his sporadic final recordings before his untimely 1954 death (aged 35). Highlights include his electrifying encounters with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and his masterful strings albums.
Sidney Bechet: The Complete American Masters 1931-1953 (Universal)
The legendary New Orleans-born clarinettist and soprano saxophonist is the subject of the fourth and final of the superb new limited edition box sets from Universal. This collection isn’t comprehensive –  the recordings he made after settling in France in June 1950 aren’t included (so Midnight in Paris fans won’t find Si Tu Vois Ma Mere) – but it is an impressive 14-disc set nevertheless and spans his career from 1923 (though he first recorded in 1921) to 1950, by which time he was being feted by the younger generation.

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CD Recommendations: November 2011

Houston Person: Moment to Moment (HighNote) 

As anyone who’s heard the seventysomething American saxophonist Houston Person perform knows, he plays with an authority, a bluesiness and a robustness which mark him out as belonging to the Gene Ammons/Illinois Jacquet school of tenor sax. Those qualities, plus his lyricism and graceful handling of ballads, shine through on this CD which teams him with boppish trumpeter Terell Stafford plus quartet. Highlights include Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, Johnny Green’s I Cover the Waterfront, plus the bossa E Nada Mais.

Coleman Hawkins: Today and Now/Desafinado (Impulse)

To mark the 50th anniversary of Impulse! Records, a new series of two-album CDs is being launched. This double bill of 1963 LPs by the saxophone giant Coleman Hawkins is superb. Playing as beautifully as ever in the last decade of his life (and accompanied on both albums by a rhythm section led by pianist Tommy Flanagan), the Hawk is in raunchy form on the uptempo numbers on the first album, notably the sensational opener Go L’il Liza, and manages to make the bossa nova his own on a string of tracks associated with Stan Getz. The absolute stand-out, however, is the sublime Love Song (AKA My Love and I) from the movie Apache.

Warren Vache: Ballads and Other Cautionary Tales (Arbors Records) Few artists are brave enough to make an album entirely composed of ballads, but with American cornettist Warren Vache – one of the greats at wearing his heart on his musical sleeve – it’s a long overdue and natural decision. The 12 tracks featured here show that ballads come in many forms – sexy, bluesy and playful among them. Vache is at the top of his game these days, and is surrounded here by the best, including pianists Tardo Hammer and Richard Wyands, and special guests John Allred (trombone) and Houston Person (tenor sax).

Johnny Hodges: Second Set – Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) Attention Johnny “Rabbit” Hodges fans! Devotees of the slinkiest, sexiest alto saxophonist of them all should note that this double CD includes a Rabbit rarity: his 1958 strings album, Johnny Hodges Plays the Prettiest Gershwin, hitherto very difficult to come by. You may already have the other three albums (from the early 1950s) but the strings is a must; Hodges’s exquisite, swoonsome sax beautifully complemented by the Stuttgart Light Orchestra playing Russ Garcia’s elegant arrangements.

Scott Hamilton Scandinavian Five: Live at Nefertiti (Stunt Records)

Tenor sax king Scott Hamilton shows that he reigns supreme on this Swedish-made album (and DVD), recorded in a Gothenburg jazz club with a band comprising members from Sweden and Denmark. Devotees of Hamilton’s rich, full-bodied sax sound and swinging style may not find it as essential a buy as his recent duo CD with Rossano Sportiello but it’s a great find all the same, with Hamilton demonstrating how thrilling a live player he is, and that, when it comes to ballads, few can touch him.

Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!! (OJC Remasters) The pioneering alto saxophonist’s first recording session (from 1958) is, perhaps surprisingly for someone whose name connotes far-out, avant-garde jazz, extremely accessible – and very much in the bop idiom. Accompanied by a quartet featuring Don Cherry on trumpet and the hard-swinging Walter Norris on piano, Coleman powers his way through nine of his own compositions, showcasing his squawky yet appealing sound and conversational style in the process. Highlights include the immensely catchy The Blessing, Sphinx and the opening track, Invisible, which launched Coleman on unsuspecting listeners for the first time.

The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me (Arbors Records) 

The wonderful Italian-born, New York-based pianist Rossano Sportiello is the darling of the mainstream jazz scene these days – and this trio album shows why. He has a similar lightness and delicacy of touch as the late John Bunch, as well as a comparable combination of lyricism, swing and whimsical humour. This CD, on which he’s accompanied by Frank Tate (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), is a hugely enjoyable, classy affair.


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CD Recommendations: July 2011

Ben Webster & Johnny Hodges: The Complete 1960 Sextet Jazz Cellar Recordings (Solar Records) Released for the first time in its complete form, this is a historic encounter between two of the greatest exponents of the saxophone in jazz: tenor man Webster and altoist Hodges. It does not disappoint; in fact, it’s an absolute treasure, a must for fans of Hodges’s sinewy sound and/or Webster’s breathy tenor – and anyone who loves funky, blues-infused jazz. The dream team is swingingly accompanied by a quartet featuring Lou Levy (piano) and Herb Ellis (guitar), and this 17-track CD also includes five rare octet outings from 1961. Blues’ll Blow Your Fuse, Ifida and The Mooche-like I’d Be There (surely a tribute to their Ellingtonian background?) are among the many stand-outs.. Frankly, I’ve been playing this obsessively since before I even got my own copy (I had already worn out my dad’s) – and I’m hoping that that great tenor-alto duo of our time, Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes, unearth some of these brilliant tunes for their next joint outing..

Carol Kidd & Nigel Clark: Tell Me Once Again (Linn Records)

Vested interest declaration time: I wrote the liner notes for this, the first duo CD by the peerless Scots vocalist Kidd and her wonderful guitarist Clark. Their duets have long been highlights of Kidd’s concerts, and this collection of 12 songs shows why. This is musical storytelling at its best, and a superb example of the scope within the duo format: along with several exquisite ballads, the songs range from R ‘n’ B – You Don’t Know Me – to a bossa nova version of Stevie Wonder’s Moon Blue. There’s a lovely arc to this highly personal album which culminates, fittingly, with The End of a Love Affair.

Cal Tjader-Stan Getz Sextet (OJC Remasters )

Stan Getz’s playing is like a cool summer breeze, and this lovely 1958 album is as fresh and lovely-sounding as his more famous, subsequent, bossa nova LPs. He and vibes player Tjader have a great rapport, and, accompanied by a quartet that includes pianist Vince Guaraldi, work their way through a delicious mix of standards and Tjader-penned tunes, with Guaraldi’s joyful Ginza Samba a rousing opener. A gem.

Scott Hamilton & Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at Nola’s Penthouse (Arbors Records)

In recent years, the American tenor sax great Scott Hamilton and the nimble-fingered Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello have increasingly sought out each other’s musical company, and their affinity is evident on all ten tracks included here. The phrase “less is more” could have been coined for this supremely tasteful double act: Sportiello’s delicate touch and Hamilton’s soulful, breathy sax were made for each other, and the choices of off-the-beaten-track tunes – among them such ballads as the beautifully spare Wonder Why, A Garden in the Rain and In the Middle of a Kiss – are spot-on.

Karen Sharp: Spirit (Trio Records) 
Baritone saxophonist Karen Sharp graduated from the Humphrey Lyttelton band and is now established as an in-demand solo star, who fits perfectly into mainstream and contemporary line-ups. This quartet CD, which features her Tokyo Trio colleague Nikki Iles on piano, veers more towards the contemporary and features mainly jazz compositions written by pianists as well as some familiar movie/musical numbers. A terrific introduction to Sharp’s authoritative, always-swinging baritone sax style.

Warren Vache, Alan Barnes and the Woodville All-Stars: The London Session (Woodville Records) Having written the liner notes, I’ve been living with this CD for months – and I’m still finding more things to love about it. Cornettist Vache and multi-instrumentalist Barnes may have worked together many times but this album is as exciting as they come: it features them getting their teeth into some imaginative arrangements in a septet setting. Their delight in each other’s company is evident throughout, and both are at the top of their game, notably when tearing up such storming numbers as Molasses.

Various: First Impulse – The Creed Taylor Collection 50th Anniversary (Verve) To mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic jazz label Impulse!, founded by producer Creed Taylor, an impressive, four-disc (but LP size) box set has been released comprising all six of the albums that Taylor himself produced – plus some previously unissued rehearsals by John Coltrane. It’s a great collection, with classic recordings from Ray Charles (Genius + Soul = Jazz), Gil Evans (Out of the Cool), Oliver Nelson (Blues and The Abstract Truth), Coltrane (Africa/Brass) and Kai Winding (The Great Kai and The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones).

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