Tag Archives: Bucky Pizzarelli

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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Nairn Jazz Festival 1996: Ruby Braff/Scott Hamilton

Published in The Herald on August 20, 1996

Ruby Braff/Scott Hamilton, Nairn Jazz Festival

Another successful Nairn Jazz Festival came to a close on Sunday night with the kind of fabulous all-star concert which fans haven’t seen in a long time – unless they were lucky enough to be at some of the Nairn events earlier in the week. Once again, promoter Ken Ramage gambled on expensive big names, but once again it paid off with a capacity crowd and music of the highest calibre.

Cornet star Ruby Braff and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton were the main headliners, but this excellent six-piece outfit also featured classy piano man John Bunch, guitar genius Bucky Pizzarelli and Brits Dave Green (bass) and Allan Ganley (drums). Unlike some of the jazz festival concerts we’ve seen recently at Edinburgh, this one was leisurely, civilised and good-natured.

Braff, who had apparently lived up to his reputation as a difficult and highly strung customer at Thursday night’s concert, was all smiles and hilarious wisecracks. His playing throughout was every bit as polished as it sounds on record, but twice as funky. The presence of his old pals Bunch and Pizzarelli no doubt contributed to his performance: it’s unlikely that he would have been half as relaxed in the company of a Scottish pianist and guitarist.

As for Hamilton, he and Braff formed a mutual inspiration society within this great band, egging each other on most memorably on Sunday, Just One of Those Things, and a cheeky Jeepers Creepers. New Nairn-comers Bunch and Pizzarelli were also dazzling in their virtuosity; the self-effacing pianist’s elegant style a joy to experience live after years of listening to his recordings.

I’ve found my notes on this concert. Here’s the list of numbers played.. During the first half, Braff complained about the heat under the lights and asked, good-naturedly, if they could be extinguished. “An electrician could do it,” he quipped. After a 40-minute interval, the second half was played in near-darkness, with moths swirling round the bells of Braff’s and Hamilton’s horns – like the cigarette smoke in Herman Leonard’s famous photos of Lester Young’s sax.

* Just You, Just Me

* Rockin’ Chair

* Poor Butterfly

* Cherokee (Scott Hamilton & rhythm section)

* Easy Living (rhythm section)

* Indiana

* Just One of Those Things

* The Days of Wine and Roses

* Skylark (Scott Hamilton & rhythm section)

* Jeepers Creepers

* Yesterdays (without Scott Hamilton)

* Sunday

* Take the A Train

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Norwich Jazz Party 2011: Monday evening

The last night of the Norwich jazz jamboree started in what has become its traditional style: with Jim Galloway’s Sandy Brown set. One of the joys of this jazz event for me personally – and one which I always remind myself about during the hellish seven-hour train journey from Glasgow – is the chance to hear Galloway and assorted British and American stars execute with panache the very distinctive music written by the late, great Scottish clarinettist.

This was the third Sandy Brown set in as many years and, as usual, the quirky and catchy Brown originals were a delight to hear – Blues-A and Own Up proved to be the ideal tunes for getting the night’s party started. Galloway takes great care to avoid duplication of numbers played in previous years so I finally got to hear the evocative Harlem Fats and, for this outing of the Sandy Brown songbook, he also included some of the arrangements that Brown played from the musical Hair. Personally, I could listen to the Brown repertoire all night – and would have welcomed the chance to hear such previously played numbers as Go Ghana and Africa Blues again.

This year’s Sandy line-up bore a close resemblance to the 2009 version: the wonderful Rossano Sportiello again proving to be the perfect pianist for this witty music, and drummer Chuck Riggs and trombonist Ian Bateman both similarly reprising their parts. Stepping into what have been Bucky Pizzarelli’s shoes in previous years, guitarist Dave Cliff did a terrific job. Each year there has been a different trumpeter – we’ve had Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart and this time Duke Heitger who certainly measured up to the previous incumbents despite being unfamiliar with Brown and his music.

One trumpeter who always makes a point of listening to some of the Sandy Brown set but who hasn’t yet had a chance to get stuck into Jim Galloway’s uplifting arrangements is Warren Vache. He was partnered with tenor saxophonist Houston Person for his final appearance of the Jazz Party, and it was a heavenly match, especially when it came to the set’s two ballads, Once in a While and These Foolish Things, both of which were played as lovely, relaxed duets.

And speaking of ballads, tenor saxophonist  Scott Hamilton – another great master of the genre – produced some magical moments on Monday, most memorably a dreamy take on the rarely played Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.

It was, however, the clarinettists – Alan Barnes, Bob Wilber, Ken Peplowski, Dan Block and Scott Robinson – who dominated the closing set of the 2011 Norwich Jazz Party. And, in a superb set, one number stood out above all others: Pee Wee’s Blues, written by Pee Wee Russell, who was described by Alan Barnes as “possibly the most technically brilliant clarinet player who ever lived”.

Not only did it boast a terrific, Pee Wee-esque solo from the great Bob Wilber but it will also be remembered for Scott Robinson’s masterstroke: by way of homage to the slightly oddball Russell sound, he hummed the first part of his solo into his horn – with wonderfully lyrical results.

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CD Recommendations

Carol Sloane: We’ll Meet Again (Arbors Records ARCD 19400)
*****
Dearest Duke, Carol Sloane’s last CD on Arbors, was a glorious affair which showcased her breathy, lyrical voice with just piano and Ken Peplowski on clarinet or tenor sax. Peplowski is reunited with Sloane on this collection of love songs and once more his playing is a dream, whether he’s accompanying or soloing. Veteran guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and bassist Steve LaSpina add their stylish playing to the mix, while an uncredited Aaron Weinstein (violin) guest-stars on a few tracks. One of the best CDs of the year so far…
Stan Getz All-Star Groups: Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz AMSC997)
*****
It’s difficult to get beyond the first disc in this double CD: it’s so sensational. Stan Getz’s 1957 encounter with the Oscar Peterson Trio is one of the must-have jazz albums and features tour-de-force performances all round. Getz blows I Want to Be Happy into smithereens, aided and abetted by the driving piano of Peterson, while the ballads are nothing short of sublime; Getz’s tenor at its most tender and beguiling. The other classic albums included are the 1955 Hamp and Getz (with vibes legend Lionel Hampton) and Jazz Giants, a superb all-star LP also from 1957.
Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond: The Duets – 1975 (Verve 0602527068633)
****
Duo albums are a rare treat – especially when they’re as beautifully executed as this one, which was recorded in 1975. Pianist-composer Dave Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond had the idea for the album when they played some duets together on a jazz cruise that year, and after listening to the results which had been recorded by the BBC (one of those original tracks is included here), they resolved to make an LP on dry land. Showcased in this setting, Desmond’s melancholy alto has an ethereal quality, while Brubeck’s piano is suitably haunting.
John Bunch: Do Not Disturb (Arbors Records ARCD 19403)
*****
The much-loved American jazz pianist John Bunch died in March at the age of 88. This wonderful trio album (with guitarist Frank Vignola and bassist John Webber) is his final CD. Recorded late last year, it gives little evidence of Bunch’s frailness as he swings energetically and as gracefully as ever through a typically diverse selection of numbers ranging from bop tunes to lesser-played Duke Ellington. Stand-outs include the Duke’s title tune, Sonny Rollins’ Doxy and Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: John’s Bunch

Last year I arrived at the Norwich Jazz Party just as pianist John Bunch was leaving. One of the reasons I booked myself in for the full weekend this year was so that that wouldn’t happen again. But John’s death in March left us all deprived of his elegant playing. His loss was keenly felt at this year’s event – but he was paid an affectionate tribute by several of his regular bandmates under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton.

Unlike some musicians who trot out the same tunes at every opportunity, or at least have a couple of numbers associated with them, John always liked variety in his repertoire, and his taste was wide-ranging.  So it was tough even for someone who knew John as well as Scott Hamilton did to concoct a set in tribute to him.

“None of us could come up with a whole  set of John Bunch things,” admitted Hamilton, who kicked off proceedings with a gorgeous take on the ballad Be My Love before launching into John’s memorable arrangement of Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz. This dynamic number, with its sudden changes of tempo,  gave everyone in the band – Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums) – a chance to shine.

Of course, the set had to end with John’s Bunch, the song which Hamilton said John wrote for Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. This was a rollicking, rousing number with nods to boogie woogie and it inspired a powerhouse performance from Hamilton in particular.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: Django & Sandy

Two jazz legends were celebrated in sets featuring the delightful soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway and the grand old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli at this year’s Norwich Jazz Party.

First up was Djangology, a Howard Alden-led tribute to the ever-popular guitarist Django Reinhardt. As you’d expect from a Djangly set, this was a joy from start to finish – and it gave all the front-liners in the sextet a chance to shine, not least Alden himself who dazzled on such finger-busters as Nagasaki and Rose Room.

Tenor saxophonist Dan Block contributed a sublime and sultry bossa nova version of Insensiblement (which he’d never played before), while Bucky Pizzarelli’s  take on Nuages was a tour-de-force performance. Swaying from side to side and looking like the Pied Piper as he played his soprano sax, Jim Galloway entranced with his exquisite solo on the languorous Manoir de Mes Reves.

Galloway took centre stage the next night for his sequel to last year’s Sandy Brown set. The 2010 Sandy Brown tribute set was every bit as thrilling as the 2009 one. Galloway was in his element, and no wonder: Brown’s music is nothing if not uplifting.

It was a treat to hear such unusual, rousing melodies as Africa Blues and Everybody Loves Saturday Night being played live, and with such style and good humour. And Galloway did a great job of sounding like himself while evoking the quirkiness and spikiness of the late clarinettist’s playing.

He was undoubtedly spurred on by the enthusiasm and talent of the rest of the band. Randy Reinhart was superb on trumpet duties; his hot but unfussy style of playing perfectly suited to the Brown sound. Bucky Pizzarelli resumed his role from last year, while trombonist Roy Williams brought an authentic British touch to the band and seemed – like everyone else in the room – to be having great fun with the material.

God, I wish someone had recorded it for YouTube.  Surely it’s time Galloway got to record this stuff with one – or both – of his Norwich line-ups. Bagsy a seat in the recording studio ..

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