Ella Fitzgerald – Ella at Zardi’s

Ella Fitzgerald

Title: Ella at Zardi’s

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Label: Verve Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 1, 2017

 

 

There are many CDs available by Ella Fitzgerald, so why is this one special? If you are reading this, you already know of her many of the treasured recordings—with Louis Armstrong, with Chick Webb, throughout the definitive Songbooks, and her many other live concert performances. But this recording from February 2, 1956 marks a major turning point in her career, one where impresario Norman Granz arranged the transfer of her recording contract from Decca Records to his personal management and to his label Verve Records. The setting for this particular CD is Zardi’s Jazzland, a club in Los Angeles, where Ella is backed by Don Abney (piano), Vernon Alley (bass), and Frankie Capp (drums).

Granz had included Ella in his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts beginning in 1949 as each program’s only vocalist. During those years he had time to form his ideas for extending her career vastly beyond the “workmanlike” support she received from Decca. Granz recorded this night during the final days of this engagement. Yet, he never released it, perhaps due to its casual informality, preferring to create a more dramatic launch to her career at Verve. Accordingly, he had booked a trip to the studio just four days later to begin recording The Cole Porter Songbook, the start of her songbook series that celebrated so many wonderful composers and provided a large part of the foundation for the documentation of the Great American Songbook.

But it is this very informality that makes Ella at Zardi’s so engaging. Apparently, attendance at the club during the three weeks was light, and Ella remarks, “Where were all of you during the past 2 ½ weeks?”  That doesn’t stop her from responding to many requests to show her appreciation, acknowledging Van Alexander and Gordon Jenkins among those present. Candidly she says several times, “I don’t know all the lyrics,” but that doesn’t stop her from creating each distinctive performance.

She thanks a member of the audience for reminding her of one line of lyrics as she sings “Tenderly.” Before starting, she asked the audience to help her recall a portion of the lyrics to “Gone with the Wind” but then jokingly sings that they are a bit too late, incorporating this ad lib without interruption in the song. Even “A-Tasket, A-Tasket” reemerges in this program as a celebration of Ella’s roots, anchoring her continuing legacy and greatly appreciated by her fans.

The two sets from Zardi’s (each introduced by Buddy de Franco) languished in Verve’s vaults for over 60 years, perhaps because Granz simply had bigger ideas for her recordings. Is this Ella’s BEST recording?  No, but it is perhaps the one that is the most FUN to hear. It represents the turning point in the career of a great jazz artist, for without Granz we would not have her many remarkable recordings from studios, clubs and concert halls around the world. Together, they extended the body of vocal jazz performances available for our enjoyment today.

Norman Granz frequently said, “You can hear from the first bars of Ella’s performance if this is to be a jazz session.”  This is clearly one of those. That becomes evident from the first song onward as Ella demonstrates her many talents to personalize her performance, employing her unique harmonic and melodic variations intermixed with shifts in tempo to enrich each song. Ella is relaxed, and her creative passion is on full view. You won’t regret purchasing this CD even if you, like me, already own and treasure many of Ella’s recordings.  It will bring you joy and remind you of her absolute passion and commanding artistry.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad
Professor Emeritus of Marketing, IU Kelley School of Business
Author: Born to Play: Ruby Braff’s Discography and Directory of Performances

 

 

 

 

Wes Montgomery – In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording

Wes Montgomery
Title: In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Vinyl (2 discs with collector postcards), MP3

Release date: January 26, 2018

 

In my experience, official releases of recordings are, years later, sometimes followed by bootleg reissues. In this case, that sequence is reversed.  These recordings, from a Wes Montgomery concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on March 27, 1965, are being officially issued for the first time by Resonance Records, in collaboration with Montgomery’s family and French ORTF Network. On this performance, Wes is backed by Johnny Griffin (tenor sax on four titles), Harold Mabern (piano), Arthur Harper (bass), and Jimmy Lovelace (drums).

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So what do we have?  This is the finest live recording by one of the three most important guitarists in jazz history, in my view, linking Wes with Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Yes, there have been others possessing great talents, but these three were all formative artists in different ways.

Superficially, Wes’s recording career can be divided into four stages:

  1. As a sideman with Lionel Hampton (1948-1950);
  2. As an emerging artist (1950-1959) when he mostly performed with his brothers or other Indianapolis-based musicians and recorded for World Pacific and Pacific Jazz Records;
  3. As a featured artist (1959-1963) when he then emerged as a heralded new talent on Riverside Records, releasing a series of albums that are hallmarks in the history of jazz guitar.
  4. As a popular jazz guitarist after he moved to Verve and then A&M Records and became an artist who reached a broader audience with his recordings but without ever losing his focus on performing in the “Riverside era style” in concerts and clubs.

This recording from Paris is perhaps the finest from this final stage of Wes’s career.  His touring group of the day is joined by noted saxophonist Johnny Griffin on several of the tunes.

Resonance Records has become a primary source for remarkable releases of previously unissued recordings by Wes, all produced with the highest audio and production standards that truly honor his legacy. It is fitting that the company has released the present recording, the latest chronologically in this family of recordings that began with performances from Wes’s early years in Indianapolis and, a few years later, performing before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club, and with pianist Wynton Kelley performing in a club in Seattle (these are linked to reviews in earlier issues of Black Grooves).

In Paris has some wonderful music. Performances range from up tempo versions of “Jingles” and “To Wane” to a beautiful slow ballad, “The Girl Next Door.” But there are really no single highlights. The musicians perform as a team, collectively inspired by the occasion. There is simply no point in singling out individual tunes for this is truly a remarkable performance throughout. It is every bit the equal of Wes’s best albums, ever. We are so fortunate that it was recorded and is now available in superior sound.

When I compare this recording to an earlier bootleg issue on Definitive Records in my collection, I am impressed by the quality of the remixing from the original tapes that increases the richness and power of the performance. The album notes explain that Wes avoided flying and only toured Europe on this single occasion (the 32-page booklet includes essays by Vincent Pelote, Pascal Rozat and Resonance producer Zev Feldman). Fortunately, this resulted in bootlegged recordings from Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and England, along with a televised program produced by the BBC from London.  But this release of a 1965 performance in Paris is the highlight, and one of the finest in Wes’s career.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Professor Emeritus of Marketing, Kelley School of Business

Author: Born to Play: Ruby Braff’s Discography and Directory of Performances

Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ in Seattle

Smokin
Title: Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Limited Edition LP, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

This is Resonance Records’ fourth CD release of classic performances by Wes Montgomery, clearly making this label one of the major documenters of Wes’s remarkable career. The first three releases capture Wes’s earliest days performing in Indianapolis and as a leader and member of other small groups.  Smokin’ in Seattle captures his final recorded performance with the Wynton Kelley Trio in a club setting in Seattle two years before his early death. Every follower of Wes’s career must own these four releases.

Wes Montgomery’s earliest recorded appearances were captured when he was a member of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra, including his first broadcasts in 1948 and continuing on studio recordings released by Decca continuing through early 1950. Resonance Records has played a major role in extending Montgomery’s early recorded legacy with its previous releases, In the Beginning (including the separately issued LP titled Live at the Turf Club), Echoes of Indiana Avenue, and One Night in Indy. The former couples an overlooked Montgomery Brothers session for Columbia Records in 1955 with live performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis captured in August 1956. The second adds other live recordings from clubs in Indianapolis in 1957-1958, while the latter adds a performance before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club in 1959.  Wes lived in Indianapolis and was known to local jazz fans, explaining the location of most of these recordings.

Wes’s national reputation began to develop when Pacific Jazz and World Pacific released recordings by the Montgomery Brothers in 1957 through 1959; however, Wes’s career skyrocketed with his move to Riverside Records in October 1959 following the release of his third and classic album for that label, The Incredible Jazz Guitar in January 1960. Almost immediately, guitarists began to flock to clubs to observe Wes and to study his unique style of playing in octaves.  Resonance Records’ third Montgomery CD, One Night in Indy, dates from just months before the start of Wes’s Riverside recordings. All of these Resonance CDs were previously reviewed in Black Grooves.

Wes moved to Verve Records in 1964, capitalizing on his growing fame, and toured Europe in 1965 where a number of bootleg recordings capture his performances on television and in various concert and club settings with small groups. Verve captured his first recording with the Wynton Kelly Trio in an exciting performance in June 1965 at the Half Note; however, Verve increasingly focused on Wes performing as featured soloist with large jazz orchestras and emphasizing more ‘popular’ songs to broaden the sales of his releases. This ultimately led to the final phase of Wes’s career, when he moved to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records.  While these became ‘pop’ recordings, Wes never lost the unique elements of his style.

The latest release from Resonance is Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse, which again features Wes with the Wynton Kelly Trio, is taken from a live FM radio broadcast during a club engagement in Seattle on April 14 and 21, 1966. This places the recording six months after the Montgomery-Kelly Verve release. Other recordings of this notable pairing have appeared, featuring them in 1965; however, Resonance captures their final recorded encounter.  The CD, while clear and well-recorded, is not quite up to the standard of top studio quality sound in capturing the sound of Wes’s guitar; however, the overall quality of the performances more than compensate for this slight imperfection. The musicians complement one another throughout, and Wes performs with gusto. Truly, with this release, Resonance Records has made another notable contribution to the jazz legacy of Wes Montgomery. Jazz fans throughout the world should celebrate.

The CD features the Wynton Kelley Trio (Wynton Kelly on piano, Ron McClure on bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums) on four of the performances, adding Wes as the featured artist on six others. Unfortunately two of those six are faded out due to union-imposed restrictions on the length of live broadcasts from clubs. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy.

Wes and Wynton had recorded together several times, beginning with a Riverside session led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1961.  Among the included songs, Wes had previously recorded “Jingles” during the Riverside session with Jackson and “What’s New” and “If You Could See Me Now” with the Wynton Kelly Trio released in their album on Verve. “West Coast Blues,” Wes’s original composition, was a staple in his repertoire, including its first appearance on The Incredible Jazz Guitar.

It is important to point out that the Jobim tune listed on the disc is identified as “O Morro Nao Tem Vez,” while to my ear it is actually “O Amor em Paz (Once I Loved).”  This is but a small distraction and in no way detracts from the care taking to assemble a wonderful release that includes interviews with several musicians and others with connections to the production and original session.

Contents (* features Montgomery on guitar): There Is No Greater Love (7:56) — Not a Tear (6:29) — *Jingles (4:31) — *What’s New (4:51) — *Blues in F (2:44) — Sir John (8:10) — If You Could See Me Now (5:54) — *West Coast Blues (3:56) — *O Morro Não Tem Vez (6:15)  (see note in above paragraph) — *Oleo (2:08).

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays – The Debut 1966 Village Vanguard Recordings

thad-jones
Title: All My Yesterdays – The Debut 1966 Village Vanguard Recordings

Artist: Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra

Label: Resonance Records

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3, Streaming

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

Did you ever wonder where the musicians in the bands that appeared on various television variety shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s—such as the Mike Douglas Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, and the Dick Cavett Show—went after work? Well, an important part of this answer is disclosed in this two-disc CD set from Resonance Records. The musicians gathered at the Village Vanguard—sometimes in the audience, but more often as members of perhaps the most distinctive jazz big band of the past fifty years. Some reviewers referred to this group as simply THE Jazz Orchestra, capitalizing THE for emphasis. But let’s first set the early foundation for this wonderful collaboration.

The recording careers of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis intersected many times and spanned similar decades. Jones made his mark with Count Basie and his appearances on recordings stretch from the ‘50s until his death in 1986. Lewis, who began with Ray Anthony and continued with Stan Kenton, was active as a session drummer throughout his career. Lewis’ first recording dates from 1949 (with Anthony), and he was a regular in clubs and studio sessions led by many well-known musicians and vocalists alike through the ‘80s. The first time that Jones and Lewis recorded together was in a studio in Chicago booked by Argo Records for a session led by James Moody, released as “Great Day.” It preceded the sessions on this CD set by three years.

Unlike other Resonance releases, over half of the tunes on All My Yesterdays previously appeared on a CD released by Alan Grant in collaboration with BMG Records. The notes to this Resonance release state that Grant’s earlier release was unauthorized, despite the fact that Grant, a noted jazz deejay, directly facilitated the organization of the band and its appearance at the Village Vanguard. Grant’s release also included his brief interview with Mel Lewis that was broadcast a week prior to the opening performance at the Village Vanguard. While this interview is excluded from All My Yesterdays, the Resonance set importantly adds five previously unreleased performances. By including a thick booklet containing many interviews with the musicians, Resonance makes this a truly definitive and wonderful production, taking a place alongside an earlier compilation by Mosaic Records of the majority of commercially released recordings by THE orchestra.

The style of the performances on All My Yesterdays is inclusive, ranging from elements that sound like traditional swing arrangements (hear Hank Jones’ Basie-tinged piano introduction to “Ah, That’s Freedom” on the second CD) to almost free form (such as the alto solo on “The Little Pixie”). Across this range, the band integrated soloists inside original arrangements, producing landmark recordings that demonstrate much of the history of jazz from the ‘30s through the ’70s. Jones was truly the creative leader providing the charts, but Lewis contributed the rhythmic unity and momentum that anchored each performance, seemingly both relaxed and propulsive at the same time.

The first CD opens with a thundering performance of Thad Jones’ original composition, “Back Bone.” Voices of band members and other musicians in the audience are heard throughout, shouting words of encouragement. The house was full and passions were high, while the level of creativity in the performances disappointed no one. Section work was tight, and soloists were inspired. The second CD’s highlight is a wonderful performance of “Lover Man;” however, the unique passion of band and audience on the first CD provides many high spots. We are truly fortunate that this special debut was captured so well on this recording. And by the way, the sound quality on these new CDs is absolutely beyond reproach. Resonance provides a wonderful release that you will enjoy, especially if you appreciate the evolution of big bands in the history of jazz music.

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Two New Stan Getz Releases on Resonance

stan getz moments in time

Title: Moments in Time

Artist: Stan Getz

Label: Resonance Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

 

getz gilberto 76'

Title: Getz/Gilberto ’76

Artist: João Gilberto with Stan Getz

Label: Resonance Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

 

While these two new CDs from Resonance—Moments in Time and Getz/Gilberto ‘76—are sold separately, they are taken from the same engagement that featured Stan Getz’s quartet performing at Keystone Korner, a famous club located in San Francisco, the week of May 11-16, 1976. João Gilberto was regularly featured during the final portion of each set during this engagement. Overall, as a jazz enthusiast, I prefer the first CD to the second where Getz solos in a supporting role on only half of the included performances.  But more about that later. All recordings are previously unreleased and selected from the archive held by the owner of the club.

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Getz gained early fame as a member of the Four Brothers in Woody Herman’s Orchestra. His solo on “Early Autumn” remains a delight to hear. But perhaps his reputation grew the most following the release of his album Desafinado, with Charlie Byrd, that introduced bossa nova rhythms to U.S. listeners. This album also marked the beginning of his relationship with João Gilberto as a composer and later, as a performer when they toured along with Gilberto’s then wife Astrud and released subsequent albums on Verve and Columbia. Getz continued to perform at (mostly) a high level throughout his lifetime, and some readers may be familiar with his final statements captured in his final recording fifteen years later in 1991 with Kenny Barron, released as People Time.

The first CD, Moments in Time, includes three tunes Getz had not previously recorded, namely “Infant Eyes,” “Cry of the Wild Goose,” and “Peace.” Two ballads in particular reflect how Getz’s style continued to evolve from earlier stages in his career. His more traditional roots are clear in his luscious performance of Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” while his more assertive attack is evident in Wayne Shorter’s composition “Infant Eyes.”  The latter performance demonstrates the high level of cohesion obtained by this quartet. To me, the only drawback in the CD is that “Con Alma” is simply too long due to portions of repetitive playing that diminish its overall impact. Listening to this album is a delight even though it does not appreciably extend the depth of Getz’ overall discography. For that reason, some may pass it by despite the quality of the performances.

The second CD, Getz/Gilberto ’76, features João Gilberto. Getz only participates as an occasional soloist, limited to solos on alternate tracks beginning with the second. To me, Gilberto’s smooth voice is not sufficient to sustain my interest throughout the album.  He sings in a delicate, whispering style, but does create interest by taking liberties with the rhythmic pulse of each tune. His approach is most effective on “Aguas de Marco.” Also, the sound quality on this CD is somewhat harsh to my ear, accentuating Gilberto’s sibilants and Hart’s cymbals and sharpening Getz’ sound. This deprives the recording of some of the warmth and richness it deserves. For these reasons, I clearly prefer Moments in Time. Despite the historical interest of Getz/Gilberto ’76, it will appeal more to completists.

Other recordings by each principal artist, whether together or apart, are superior to these new releases. This is much less of a problem with Moments in Time although, to my ear, two tunes on that CD have a somewhat thin sound and also fail to capture the richness of Getz’s lush tone. Perhaps they may have been recorded on a different evening?

The album liner notes suggest that there may be additional releases from the Keystone Korner archive in the future, featuring other artists. This would be most welcome if they match the quality of Resonance Records’ two previous releases containing selections from this valuable archive featuring Freddie Hubbard and Jaki Byard with Tommy Flanagan.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest

bill evans_some other time

Title: Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest

Artist: Bill Evans, with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette

Label: Resonance Records

Format: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: April 22, 2016

 

Bill Evans’ earliest issued recordings date from 1943, but his fame began to develop with his heralded recordings for Bill Grauer at Riverside Records, beginning with New Jazz Conceptions in 1956. He recorded as a sideman before and after that debut, including recordings led by Tony Scott, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, and Charles Mingus; however his most famous early affiliation, beginning in 1958, was with Miles Davis, interspersed with occasional recordings with other emerging stars, including sessions led by Cannonball Adderley and Chet Baker. One could simply not imagine a richer apprenticeship for a career that continued until a final recording on September 8, 1980, fittingly called His Last Performance. (For those with ties to Indiana University, two of George Russell’s recordings with Bill Evans also included our own beloved David Baker and, with regard to the rich jazz legacy of Indianapolis, a later recording led by J.J. Johnson.)

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Evans can be enjoyed at many levels. His early Riverside recordings were criticized by some as resembling “cocktail piano.” Time clearly does not honor such comments made by some early critics. Throughout his career, Evans remained faithful to improvisational approaches that constantly reflect the underlying melodies. His love for certain tunes was clear; however, the rhythmic and harmonic variations that increasingly entered his vocabulary as a performing artist established his reputation as one of the finest pianists and artists in the history of recorded jazz music. His rich legacy survives in various studio, concert, and club recordings, as well as in a large number of bootleg issues. His popularity has led to multiple releases over the years packaged as deluxe box sets that document all stages of his career.

Some Other Time is simply the latest released recording in his career, featuring a full day of recording captured on June 20, 1968, in the legendary studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer in Germany’s Black Forest. A number of recordings on his MPS/Saba/BASF label featured pianists, and the sound quality of all that I have heard is superb. When the label was acquired by Universal/Verve, the series of albums by Oscar Peterson was featured in two fine CD sets. This recording by Bill Evans would fit nicely into that series. Due to problems obtaining legal rights, this music remained unissued until now, perhaps because of Evans’ ongoing relationship with Verve Records at the time.

The late 1960s was a busy recording time for Herr Brunner-Schwer, and this session is nestled chronologically amidst several releases by one of Europe’s most famous jazz groups, the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band, a group he extensively documented on MPS records. Fortunately, despite his busy schedule, there was time for this relaxed, invited studio performance following Evans’ appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The Verve album released from that performance won Evans his second Grammy ® award, yet another indication of the level he reached in this trio with DeJohnette (drums) and Gomez (bass). Perhaps the fact that DeJohnette played the piano before shifting his attention to drums played a role in framing their relationship?

Some Other Time is one of the finest recordings in the recent series of releases by Resonance Records. Evans is relaxed. His approach is pure. The surroundings suited him. The sound quality is ideal, capturing subtle nuances in the performance of these fine tunes. Recordings with this particular version of the trio can only be heard in one other place, the box set The Secret Sessions (Milestone 8MCD-4421-1), although the musicians are also included in another released recording with John Lewis. Perhaps recordings will surface some day from the Trio’s subsequent four week booking at Ronnie Scott’s club in London, for that, too, was a special place.

The notes that accompany this new release are well prepared; however, I am personally moved to add that the first CD closes with the finest and most moving performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” that I have ever heard. It may be just my mood of the moment, but Evans’ performance strikes me as deeply personal and reflective. It rightly serves at the chosen title for this remarkable album. Emotional responses to musical performances are always very personal, and others may obviously disagree with me on this point, as I might even feel at a different time. But this tune was positioned as a climax near the end of Bernstein’s On the Town, and in that role caused us to think about what may lie in our futures. Evans’ future was clouded by the legacy of his drug use, but here he fills us with a sense of awe, wonder, and hope.

Obviously I am a fan of Evans’ artistry, holding many of his audio and video recordings in my personal collection. Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest serves two purposes: to provide an introduction for those who have not listened to Evans before, and to deepen the appreciation of his talent for those who, like me, have enjoyed many of his recordings in the past. Long ago, when I had a weekly radio program on a Purdue University student-run station, I used Evans’ recording of “The Washington Twist” as my theme song. That takes me waaaay back. But this music, while recorded in 1968, is truly for all of us today.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

 

Sarah Vaughan – Live at Rosy’s

sarah vaughan live at rosys

Title: Live at Rosy’s

Artist: Sarah Vaughan

Label: Resonance Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

This recording provides a classic illustration of the difference between an artist and a performer. Sarah Vaughan lived many of her songs, harnessing her famous range of four octaves, her marvelous breath control, and her masterful control of time and rhythm to create unique interpretations of each composer’s creations. She was an artist who engaged her audience during her live performances, and never more than in an intimate club setting like the one captured on this recording. The balanced program intermixes up tempo and ballad performances, demonstrating how she left her distinct imprint on songs regardless of any tempo. On this release, Vaughan is  accompanied by Carl Schroeder (piano), Walter Booker (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums).

I have most of her recordings in my personal collection. This is one of the best of her live performances, standing alongside her wonderful performances at Tivoli Gardens (available on two EmArcy CDs) and later ones released as Live in Japan and More Live from Japan (issued on two Mainstream CDs and later by Mobile Fidelity). After Billie Holiday, Sarah and Carmen McRae provide the foundation for jazz vocalists, an opinion shared by many of their fans. This recording can be a wonderful introduction to her work for anyone who is not already familiar with her performances and recordings.

At the time of this recording, Sarah was beginning to record for Norman Granz’s Pablo Records. Granz paired her with notable artists including Count Basie, Benny Carter, Zoot Sims, Frank Wess, Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, and other notable jazz artists. Those albums from her Pablo years are certainly among her finest, catching her at the height of her powers. That does not diminish memories of earlier albums, including a memorable one with Clifford Brown, but this release is truly special. Granz once said he could tell from the opening if Ella Fitzgerald planned to perform a “jazz set.” Here, Sarah’s performance opens with “I’ll Remember April” and clearly establishes that this will be a jazz session. Even the ballads reflect her creative imprint as she bend notes and improvises around melodies.

In short, this is not just another recording by this great jazz artist.  While the roots of her early bop singing are evident, she ranges far beyond her earlier skills in these performances.

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I tend to favor the performances on the first CD in this set. In “I’ll Remember April,” her performance flows “across the bars,” reminiscent of Lester Young’s unique sense of time. Her treatment of the verse to “Poor Butterfly” is simply gorgeous and brings applause from the audience as she conveys the sense of longing that the composers intended, often overlooked when others only perform the melodic chorus. Her ability to create beauty is also evident in her approach to “If You Went Away.”

On “East of the Sun,” she is only accompanied only by Walter Booker’s solid support on bass, demonstrating her strength. This is but one of the ways she brings variety to these performances. “Somebody Loves Me” is performed with a delightfully fluid tempo, but it ends abruptly, perhaps due to editing?

Humor even surfaces when someone in the audience mistakes her for Ella Fitzgerald and requests “A Tisket a Tasket.” Sarah laughs and even mimics Ella’s inflections when she compiles. Fun to hear once, but perhaps not something for repeated listening. On “Fascinating Rhythm” she briefly mimics an operatic style of delivery, again delighting he audience.  It is clear that Sarah developed a relationship with her audience during this performance.

But humor is not the main event. Throughout this recording, Sarah alternates up tempo and ballad performances that can please all. Her detractors sometimes feel that her delivery can emphasize her mastery of technique at the expense of emotion. That is certainly not true here as she leaves her unique imprint regardless of the tempo.

My one reservation is that, to my ear, the equalization on the recording elevates the sound of Jimmy Cobb’s cymbals , making the sound harsh at times. This is a matter of personal preference, and others may certainly disagree. But this does not detract from the qualities of being a true artist that is evidenced in Sarah’s performance in this recording.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Wes Montgomery – One Night in Indy

One Night in Indy

Title: One Night in Indy

Artist: Wes Montgomery featuring the Eddie Higgins Trio

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 15, 2016
 

 

With its latest release, One Night in Indy, Resonance Records brings us their third volume in what will be known as a treasury of mostly unknown early recordings of legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. This release, from a performance recorded in Indianapolis on January 18, 1959, is certainly as exciting as the two that preceded it (In the Beginning and Echoes of Indiana Avenue), and reflects top-level performances by four emerging jazz artists: Wes Montgomery (guitar), Eddie Higgins (piano), unknown (bass), and Walter Perkins (drums).

Let’s begin with a few words about both Eddie Higgins and Wes Montgomery to set the stage. Higgins’ first recording was made early in 1957, and he appeared on many sessions the following year recorded by the Chicago-based Argo Records. This reflected the growing recognition of his talents among his fans in Chicago. The One Night in Indy performance, sponsored by the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC), was mid-way during Eddie’s time with Argo and nine months before he was recorded accompanying Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Yet, despite his growing reputation, Eddie’s first documented performance outside the Chicago area was with Jack Teagarden in Florida in 1963, some four years later.

Clearly the IJC was among the earliest groups to recognize Eddie’s talents and commit funds to bringing him with two others to Indianapolis for this appearance. The notes to the CD state that the drummer was Walter Perkins, also growing his reputation in Chicago while recording on Argo Records with Ahmad Jamal. A likely candidate for bass would have been Bob Cranshaw, since he had recorded with Eddie twice at about this time on Argo Records, and a bit later in the appearance with Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival; however, when contacted by the CD’s producer, Bob said that this was not him and could not provide any further information. Thus, the bassist remains unidentified, but perhaps other musicians recording for Argo Records could be candidates? Anyhow, the Trio was likely all Chicago-based and probably very familiar with each other’s styles.

Montgomery’s first recordings pre-date Eddie’s by a decade—with Lionel Hampton beginning in 1948—and then a five year gap until he recorded with his brothers at Columbia Records’ New York studios in June 1955. A year later, he was captured on a recording live in Indianapolis. Both performances have been released on Resonance Records, and capture Wes’s earliest development of his unique use of octaves in his soloing. Wes’s fame exploded following the release of his recordings for Riverside Records beginning just nine months after this IJC performance.

One Night in Indy captures Eddie and Wes on the threshold of their growing fame. The tracks on the CD average about eight minutes, allowing lots of space for creative solos and exchanges. Opening with my personal favorite, “Give Me the Simple Life,” the level of interplay among the musicians suggests that it was not the first tune performed that night. Eddie begins with a few pulsing chords leading to Wes’s swinging solo, first voiced with his unique octave style and then alternating with single note lines. Eddie follows and, after a bass solo, this leads to a series of conversational guitar-piano exchanges to close the performance. These delightful exchanges convey the sense of excitement the musicians shared in their unique bandstand encounter. The bass player and drummer provide excellent support throughout, leaving no doubt in my mind that this is a functioning trio and not a pickup group.

On “Prelude to a Kiss,” Wes adopts a richer but denser initial approach that contrasts nicely with Eddie’s light arpeggios that continue throughout his solo. Wes dances through the final bars showing appreciation for Eddie’s contribution, concluding a track that’s delicate and delicious throughout. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” starts in a call and response mode between Eddie and Wes, then Wes takes the first solo while the Trio provides firm support. Eddie solos next, while Wes drops into the background a bit, injecting some notes for selective emphasis as the tempo accelerates. A series of short exchanges follow, with all four musicians participating. They incorporate some short interpolations, among them are rapid allusions to “Give Me Five Minutes More,” “Great Day,” “Lady Be Good,” and other tunes that reflect their joy of performing together.

Their approach to Neil Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” can only be described as mellow. Wes and Eddie both have extended solos in this sensitive performance, although Eddie seems to be in the lead, while Wes and the unknown bassist provide rhythmic support, underscoring the collaborative nature of their rendition. Next comes a fine medley of two tunes, listed simply as “Ruby, My Dear” in the accompanying notes, though the performance begins with a solo from Eddie on “Ruby” and then seamlessly segues to “Laura” where Wes solos.

The CD closes with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” opening with a nearly 3 minute performance and solos by Wes. Perhaps he is even sending a signal to the Trio that they should now feel at home in Indianapolis and return often? Certainly the CD provides proof of IJC’s gracious hospitality.

At this point, a bit of additional background on the recording might be helpful, extending and clarifying the information included in the liner notes. Continue reading