1995 Records To Die For Page 11

Russ Novak

GATO BARBIERI: Last Tango in Paris(original soundtrack)
Gato Barbieri, tenor sax; Oliver Nelson, orchestral arrangements
United Artists UA-LA045-F, (Spanish) Liberty 29 (both LPs, nla). AAA.

A haunting theme, sensuous orchestration, dense rhythmic textures, tango-influenced jazz. Good, not great, sound; but remember, it's the performance that counts.

For classical Latin arrangements of popular tunes, superb sound, and perhaps the best digital recording yet, get Orquesta Nova's Salon New York (Chesky JD86). Tango is the music of regret, and both of these recordings have it in spades. Tango and Latin music are alternatives to jazz and classical music for serious listeners; both recordings demand repeated listenings.

PAUL BLEY: The Nearness of You
Paul Bley, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Billy Hart, drums
Steeplechase SCS 1246 (LP). Nils Winther, prod.; J. Anderson, eng. AAA. TT: 49:36

This is the most perfectly recorded jazz trio I've heard. Sound is sweet, the bass is not overmiked, and it has a fully dimensional soundstage. The Nearness of You follows a formula I'm particularly fond of: an avant-garde artist going back to his roots to play classic ballads and jazz. The music is very introspective and emotional---no bombast. The brushed-cymbal and snare-drum work is sensitive, while the interplay with bassist McClure reminds me of the immortal Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro pairing. Not listed in Schwann Spectrum, but available as an import CD. For the vinyl, try Rick Ballard Imports, (510) 822-1277.

ELLA FITZGERALD: Like Someone in Love
Verve MG V-4004 (LP), 314 511 524-2 (CD). Norman Granz, prod.; Andrew Nicholas, digital remastering. AAA/ADD. TT: 69:41

Ella Fitzgerald's finest hour on Earth, and the other great jazz/pop vocal album in American history. Ella sings of sweet longing with a youthful voice recorded at its height. Her vibrato, and every vocal intonation, are completely in the service of the lyric. Frank DeVol's unintrusive arrangements have enough latitude to allow interpretation of the lyrics, while Stan Getz and Ted Nash weave beautiful obbligatos around Fitzgerald's voice. I rank Like Someone in Love even higher than Ella's Songbook series---it still gives me goosebumps.

The sound is serviceable, not exceptional. But then my rating scale gives 99 points for artistic achievement, 1 point for sound.

Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Jimmy Cleveland, J.J. Johnson, trombone; Phil Woods, alto sax; Walter Booker, bass; Roger Kellaway, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Frankie Dunlop, drums; others
Impulse S9111 (LP, nla), MCA MCAD-39107 (CD). Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Bob Thiele, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 33:13

A jazz icon who builds up enormous inner tension in his best work, Rollins is not well represented by Analogue Productions' audiophile boomlet reissue of Way Out West. The 10-minute exposition of "Alfie's Theme" on this recording demonstrates great excitement and transcendental communication between musicians.

The Bridge (RCA Bluebird 07863-61061-2) or On Impulse (MCA/Impulse MCAD-5655) follow closely for performance, with his RCA recordings giving perhaps the best combination of sound and artistry.

FRANK SINATRA: Sings for Only the Lonely
Capitol ST 1053 (LP), CDP 7 48471 2 (CD*). Voyle Gilmore, prod. AAA/ADD. TT: 59:54*

Sinatra's ultimate achievement, and artistically the greatest pop/jazz recording ever. Only the Lonely's desperately sad songs cannot be listened to casually---wait until late at night, when it's quiet and you can have a drink. Sinatra and Riddle make heavy use of rubato, the quality of subtly varying the tempo to heighten interpretation and draw the listener in.

The recording is very good, though you can hear a bit of tape hiss. The CD is better than the LP, which, because images are diffuse, seems to have some phase problems. Frank's voice is a good system-tester: any hollowness or nasal quality point to midrange/upper-bass problems; his voice should be warm, intimate, with well-defined enunciation and not too much sibilance.

Dick Olsher

BILL EVANS TRIO: Waltz for Debby
Bill Evans, piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; Paul Motian, drums
Fantasy OJC-210 (CD), Riverside RLP-9399 (LP). Dave Jones, eng.; Orrin Keepnews, prod. AAD/AAA. TT: 38:25

This Fantasy reissue, companion album to Sunday at the Village Vanguard and featuring material recorded at the same session, belongs in every serious jazz collection. These virtuoso performances were recorded live in a club acoustic---my recipe for great jazz.

This is no pleasant cocktail music à la Opus 3's Jazz at the Pawn Shop. Evans's legato style bubbles with subtle shadings and feelings, and LaFaro's bass work is nothing short of amazing. The autumn-twilight mood combined with the remarkable "you are there" spatial impression consistently pushes my buttons. (XVII-9)

GENE AMMONS: The Gene Ammons Story: Gentle Jug
Gene Ammons, tenor sax
Prestige PCD-24079-2 (CD only). Esmond Edwards, prod.; Bob Porter, reissue prod.; Rudy van Gelder, eng.; Phil De Lancie, digital remastering. AAD. TT: 78:00

Feeling tired and stressed out? Give Uncle Gene a spin. Besides perfect pitch, Ammons' other special gift was a melodic sense that allowed him to effectively convey feelings at slow tempos. Here is a great jazz ballad player given full scope to spin his charm.

This Prestige CD reissues two of Ammons' Moodsville LPs: Nice an' Cool and The Soulful Mood of Gene Ammons, from 1961 and '62. The venue in both cases was the van Gelder Studio, where Master Rudy was able to create a warm tonal balance and a believable spatial perspective. Although the later session is more uniformly excellent, the entire disc is a joy.

Wes Phillips
The horrible thing is that I don't consider R2D4 a silly concept---this music makes my life worth living. My big question is: Five? Five lousy records? I just know that, in a life-threatening situation, my adrenal system would give me enough go-juice to carry my entire jazz record cabinet---after all, mothers can lift buses off their babies. What this reminds me of most is an ancient musician joke that Steve Goodman set to music:

Girlfriend: If B.B. King and I were both drowning, which one of us would you rescue?

Guitar player: Oh, baby! How could you even ask me such a question? I've never heard you play no blues!

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in B-flat, Op.97 ("Archduke")
Alfred Cortot, piano; Jacques Thibaud, violin; Pablo Casals, cello
EMI References C 051-00857 (LP). Keith Hardwick, transcription eng. AAA. TT: 36:08

I know this 1928 recording is mono and that some of the original sides are noisy---even in Hardwick's exemplary transfer---but hail fahr, I reckon a man ought to be allowed to choose what he's willing to die for. The piano trio found its first true voice in the Cortot/Thibaud/Casals ensemble---perhaps also its finest. This performance has never, ever been surpassed in the 66 years that separate us from it. Cerebral, muscular, impassioned---this ensemble's empathy with the text transcends even their technical mastery of it. This is the apotheosis of music-making.

ARTHUR BLYTHE: Lenox Avenue Breakdown
Arthur Blythe, alto sax; James Newton, flute; James "Blood" Ulmer, guitar; Cecil McBee, bass; Bob Stewart, tuba; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Guillermo Franco, percussion
Columbia JC 35638 (LP). Doug Epstein, eng.; Bob Thiele, prod. AAA. TT: 39:58

What a band! Yet, when this record was released, only DeJohnette and McBee could have been considered "names." Anchored by a monster-groove rhythm section, the band locks-in to a self-perpetuating ebb and flow; when one soloist flags, the next leaps in---giving this session the relentless drive of an all-night block party. Here we have modern jazz that never strays far from the dance; a rich, bubbling stew---rendered irresistible by the clarity and ungimmicky honesty of the recording. To die for? You could dance yourself to death.

Walt Michael, hammered dulcimer, guitar, mandolin, vocals; John Kirk, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Mark Murphy, bass, cello, vocals; Frank Orsini, fiddle, viola, vocals; Marty Cutler, banjo
Front Hall FHR 033 (LP only). Bill Spence, eng.; Walt Michael, Bill Spence, prods. AAA. TT: 41:50 Still available! To order, call: (518) 765-4193.

This is the first disc that I play whenever I make changes in my system, because it gives me a sense of "home." This is uncomplicated music, played to an exacting standard---a paradox reflected in the complex shadings with which it renders such "simple" concepts as Home, God, Love, and Yearning. But mostly I'm just seduced by its relaxed, warm, natural sound. I played this once for a new acquaintance; he said that it told him more about me than the six months of phone conversations we'd had previous to that. His comprehension told me just as much about him.

Jerry Lawson, lead tenor; Jayotis Washington, first tenor; Jesse Russell, second tenor; Herbert Rhoad, baritone; Jimmy Hayes, bass
Capitol SM-791 (LP). Eric Malamud, Stan Krause, Dave Dashev, prods. AAA. TT: 25:42

This extremely natural recording is of five human voices in the closest harmony---spiritually as well as musically. "Chain Gang," "It's You That I Need," "Gypsy Woman," and even "Let It Be" get definitively soulful, vibrantly funky a cappella interpretations. But for me, the centerpiece of this record is "The Sun." As Jimmy Hayes's deep, rich bass voice caresses the verse, the other four come in---with the tightest major chord you've ever heard---on the chorus, and it's exactly like, well, the sun coming out from behind the clouds. I'd die for anything that made me feel this good.

Songs of the Sephardim, Vol.III
Derek Burrows, bagpipe, mandolin, guitar, saz, psaltery, dumbek, flutes, percussion, vocals; Lisle Kulbach, violin, medieval fiddle, kemenje, pipe, shawm, percussion, vocals; Jay Rosenberg, guitar, oud, cornet, tenor chalumeau, dumbek, percussion, vocals; Judith Wachs, soprano chalumeau, psaltery, saz, shawm, percussion, vocals
Mnemosyne Mn 7 (LP). Ralph Dopmeyer, eng. AAA. TT: 46:24

Why is this record different from all other early-music records? Passion---warm and consuming---informs this emotionally present disc. Suffused with longing, Small Miracles---quoting its liner notes---"radiates a spirit which dances over the bridges of time." I feel connected to the people who sang these songs, thought these thoughts, and felt these feelings. Although the performers play more than 20 instruments in the course of the disc, individual songs are sparsely inhabited; vocal and instrumental lines have lots of air and space around them. The sound is rich, alive, open, and clear---I've never heard better.