The Complete Art Pepper at Ronnie Scott's Club, London, June 1980, a 7-LP boxed set released by Pure Pleasure Records, is a total surprise and a sheer delight.
Art Pepper, who died in 1982 at the age of 56, was not only one of the great alto saxophonists of his era but a self-transformer to boot. In the early 1950s, he routinely ranked No. 2 in Downbeat polls (beat only by Charlie Parker), then vanished in the '60s (locked up in various prisons on drug charges), only to emerge in the mid-'70s with a totally different sound.
Consider this a wish list from someone who loves owning classic jazz albums reissued on clean, thick slabs of virgin vinyl, preferably cut at 45 rpm—but who’s weary of seeing the same titles pop up over and over again with each slightly new format (180g, 200g, single-sided 45, clarity, etc.). I understand the impulse: certain labels and titles have a mystique (e.g., Blue Note and Blue Train); they’re surefire winners; it’s an uncertain business, so go with the sure thing.
The Jazz Journalists Association, a group of mainly New York-based jazz critics and writers, handed out its 2007 awards Thursday afternoon. Here are the winners, followed in parentheses by the musician that I voted for in each category:
One of my favorite jazz bands, Ben Allison’s Medicine Wheel, is playing at the Jazz Standard Nov. 4. Allison is an enticing bassist and composer, agile and inventive, flitting from Herbie Nichols to film noir to raga, ska, funky blues, and straight-ahead jazz without showing a seam, loosening his wit, or abandoning the melody or the swing. The band is first-rate (regular readers will recognize most of them): Frank Kimbrough, piano; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Ted Nash and Michael Blake, reeds; and Michael Sarin, drums.
Ben Goldberg's Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (on his self-owned BAG Production label), is an album as seriously playful as its title. There's a deceptive looseness in the music's rhythm, veering toward New Orleans bar stomp, but braced by modern harmonies (Steve Lacy, Monk, and Andrew Hill are heavy influences), and swung from an early Ornette-ish sense of blues (one of Goldberg's 9 originals on the album, "Study of the Blues," is a Cubist riff on the opening bars of "Lonely Woman"), though rooted more in Coleman's deep melody than his Free velocity.
Ben Webster and Associates is one of the loveliest albums put out in the past couple years by Speakers Corner Records, the German-based audiophile reissue house. (Its LPs are distributed in the U.S. by Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds.) Recorded in 1959 on the Verve label, it features Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Budd Johnson on tenor saxophones; Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Ray Brown, bass; Jimmy Jones, piano; Leslie Spann, guitar; Jo Jones, drums.
My column on the best jazz albums of 2010 is in today’s edition of
Slate, replete with strategically selected 30-second sound clips, illustrating my points (to the extent—very limited—that 30-second clips can do that). Here’s the list, minus the mini-essays and the sound clips, but I’ve written about all of these albums over the past year in this blog.
My annual piece on the Best Jazz Albums of the Year appears in today’s edition of Slate (for which I write a regular column, though usually on foreign and military policy). This time, I also drew up two lists of the Best Jazz Albums of the Decade—one for new recordings, the other for previously unreleased historical recordings (treasure troves of which were excavated this past 10 years). Readers of this blog may recall reading about most of these albums in this space.
Bill Frisell's Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz) is one of the most gorgeous new albums I've heard in a while. It's in the tradition of his "Americana" albums (Disfarmer; History, Mystery; Ghost Town; Gone, Just Like a Train; This Land), but here he burrows deeper into the roots. There are traces of folk, bluegrass, minimalism, western-blues, as well as certain modes and improvisational cadences of jazz. The ensemble is the 858 Quartet. . .
Bill Frisell’s new CD, Big Sur (Sony Masterworks/OKeh Records), is at once a reprise and a departure. It features the string musicians from his 858 Quartet, last heard two years ago on Sign of LifeFrisell on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts, cellothis time augmented by the versatile young drummer Rudy Royston. The album also features 19 new Frisell compositions, lithe and lyrical, yet laced with more complex harmoniessubtler, darker, and more sinuousthan anything I’ve heard from him before. . .
Watching Bobby Bradford and David Murray on the bandstand together at the Jazz Standard Saturday night (see my last blog entry) inspired me to take another listen to the only CD that paired them together, Death of a Sideman, recorded in 1991 under Murray’s name but featuring nothing but Bradford compositions, eight tracks’ worth.
The first two pressings from Music Matters Jazz arrived the other day. This is the new audiophile company that reissues classic stereo albums from the Blue Note catalogue on two slabs of 180-gram vinyl mastered at 45 rpm, packaged in a gatefold cover with not only a facsimile of the original cover but, inside, five finely reproduced photos from the session, taken by Blue Note’s masterly inhouse photographer, Francis Wolff. This is exciting stuff for jazz-loving audiophiles.