2002 Records To Die For Page 10

Chip Stern

STEVE DAVIS PROJECT: Quality of Silence
Steve Davis, drums; John Hart, guitar; Andy Laverne, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Tim Ries, drums
DMP SACD-04 (SACD/CD). 1999. Steve Davis, prod.; Tom Jung, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 51:31

Using an early prototype of Sony's Direct Stream Digital recording system, record producer-engineer-impresario Tom Jung's experimental session from fall 1997 is perhaps the finest example of the high-resolution potential of SACD as an improviser's medium. Drummer Steve Davis has an impeccable feel for the impressionistic potential of the modern drum set, and while he's more than capable of focused, melodically inflected grooves ("Yesterdays"), it is his ability to sculpt silence that makes sensual abstractions of "I Thought About You" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" so richly involving. The soundstaging depth, transparency, dynamic range, and resolution of low-level details—the sound of Davis' brushes swishing through the air on "One Two Three," the whirlpool of churning bass and mallet textures on "Freedom"—are positively surreal. Quality of Silence represents a brave new world of recorded sound. (XXIII-9)

SONNY ROLLINS: East Broadway Rundown
Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet (title track only); Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Impulse! IMPD-161 (CD). 1966/1995. Bob Thiele, orig. prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, orig. eng.; Michael Cuscuna, reissue prod.; Erick Labson, remastering. AAD? TT: 38:25

This classic trio recording was my initial exposure to Sonny Rollins, and the enigmatic, abstract quality of his phrases in the title track spoiled me for life. Rollins' first solo is a masterful thematic miniature in which his luminous timbre and Lestorian vistas of space tease Elvin Jones into some of his most ecstatic rhythmic ripostes ever. Ditto Freddie Hubbard, in one of his finest recorded solos. "Blessing in Disguise" finds Rollins playing a barrelhouse blues with Hawkins-like bravado, and he transforms the mawkish "We Kiss in the Shadow" (from The King and I) into a soaring aria over Garrison and Jones' serpentine vamp and bluesy release. This exceptionally ambient, dynamic example of Van Gelder's early work in his Englewood Cliffs studio captures the visceral immediacy of Garrison's attack and all the tonal nuances of his byplay with Jones, which were usually covered over by McCoy Tyner's piano in the Coltrane Quartet.

Zan Stewart

Gene Ammons, tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Art Taylor, drums; Ray Barretto, congas
JVC JVCXR-0033 (CD). 1960/1997. Bob Weinstock, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Akira Taguchi, reissue prod. AAD. TT: 36:02

The great tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons (1925-1974) could play the blues with such authority, verve, and feeling that he was often led to record inferior blues-drenched material that obscured his true gifts as a majestic swing-to-bebop jazzman. "Jug" had better luck on this timeless 1960 date, where he leads a quintet spotlighting the sublime pianist Tommy Flanagan, who died November 2001. In superb form, Ammons lyrically tours the changes of Charlie Parker's difficult bebop anthem, "Confirmation," breathes gusto into the warhorse "Stompin' at the Savoy," and reveals emotive depth in two classic blues, "Hittin' the Jug" and the standard "My Romance." Bassist Doug Watkins, drummer Art Taylor, and conga drummer Ray Barretto offer essential support. To boot, there's JVC's dynamic XRCD sound: robust, detailed, alive. An ideal album with which to explore modern jazz, if you haven't yet. (XX-12)

Chris Potter, tenor, alto, & soprano sax, bass clarinet, wooden flute; Kevin Hays, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums
Verve 314 549 433-2 (CD). 2001. Chris Potter, Jason Olaine, prods.; Joe Ferla, eng.; Greg Kalbi, mastering. DDD. TT: 71:29

A saxophone prodigy who's been heard with bop trumpet maestro Red Rodney and, currently, bass whiz Dave Holland, and is now establishing himself as a leader, Chris Potter has made numerous albums. Gratitude is easily his finest—and one of the top five records by any current thirtysomething modern mainstreamer. On this stunningly creative yet remarkably accessible album, Potter pays tribute to heroes of the jazz sax with scintillating treatments of originals and standards that reflect jazz's past and foreshadow its future while touching many moods: edgy, funky, wistfully lyrical, and rhythmically alluring. Throughout, Potter underpins his solos with penetrating tunefulness. Everything works, from the intoxicating Latin bounce of "Mind's Eye" and the heady exuberance of "The Sun King" to the intense beauty of "What's New?" and the make-you-shout jump of "The Visitor." The sidemen's stuff is right up there with the leader's, and the sound is focused and palpable.

John Swenson

PMG101 (CD). 2001. Tracey Freeman, prod.; Steve Reynolds, eng. AAD? TT: 56:18
With the current ill health of Meters mastermind Art Neville casting long shadows of doubt over the future of the pioneers of New Orleans funk, the ears of the Big Easy are tuning in to the next generation of the groove. Galactic has already carved out a huge swath of this territory, but the current buzz band of the genre is Papa Grows Funk, a unit that closely resembles the spirit of the Meters in style and content. John Gros, the principal writer and vocalist and a wizard of the Hammond B3, and drummer Russell Batiste Jr., both born and bred in the New Orleans family musical tradition, are the jalape;tno jelly that holds this funky sandwich together. Guitarist June Yamagishi has built a reputation as one of the hottest guitarists on the New Orleans scene since moving there from his native Japan. Marc Pero and Peter V split bass duties admirably, and saxophonist Jason Mingledorff completes the regular lineup. These cats are at the center of the jam-band vortex that is swirling through the city that care forgot. Their Monday-night gigs at the Maple Leaf are already the stuff of legend, and Doin It gets it all down masterfully.

FRANK ZAPPA: 200 Motels
Rykodisc RCD 10513/14 (2 CDs). 1971/1997. Frank Zappa, prod.; Bob Auger, Barry Keene, engs. AAD. TT: 91:53
Rock's greatest moments are measured by its most ambitious failures. Just as classic Greek tragedy measured the limits of the hero's ability to challenge the gods, rock is often at its best when attempting the impossible with suicidal determination. The careers of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison testify to this, and The Who's greatest moment, Who's Next, was assembled from the shards of the imploded Life House multimedia project. 200 Motels is Frank Zappa's unfinished movie, shot on video and released before shooting could be completed. The limitations of the film itself are obvious, but the soundtrack is the apotheosis of Zappa's worldview, a magnificent collaboration of the Mothers of Invention rock band (the Flo & Eddie edition) with the London Symphony Orchestra. This is probably the closest Zappa ever came to putting all of his brilliant ideas into a single package.

Sam Tellig

ANTHEIL: Orchestral Music
Ballet Méchanique, Serenade 1 for String Orchestra, Symphony for Five Instruments (second version), Concert for Chamber Orchestra
Daniel Spalding, Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra
Naxos 8.559060 (CD). 2001. Andrew Walton, prod.; Andrew Lang, eng. DDD. TT: 59:05

Quick—what famous American composer was born in Trenton, New Jersey on July 8, 1900? Give up? It was George Antheil, the self-proclaimed "bad boy of music" who hobnobbed in Paris during the 1920s with the likes of Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and Picasso. In the 1940s, Antheil moved to Hollywood and wrote for movies and television. Antheil was famous in the '40s, one of the most-often-performed American composers, but after his death in 1959 his music was all but forgotten. His Ballet Méchanique (1926, revised in 1953) is scored for glockenspiel, small and large airplane propellers, gong, cymbal, woodblock, triangle, two xylophones, four pianos, tambourine, small and large electric bells, and snare, tenor, and bass drums. Composer Randall Thomson dismissed Antheil's music "the very acme of demented modernism," which is exactly why I recommend it. If you're excited by Stravinsky—especially The Rite of Spring—you'll probably like Antheil. Moreover, this stunning recording of Ballet Méchanique will give your audio system a workout.

Of the other three works on this disc, Serenade 1 for String Orchestra has the most appeal. The outer two movements are nervous and edgy, the central Andante molto quite haunting. Had Antheil been listening to Shostakovich? Perhaps—the work was composed in 1948. Another fine disc from Naxos American Classics.

FRY: Orchestral Music
Santa Claus (Christmas Symphony), Niagara Symphony, The Breaking Heart, Overture to Macbeth
Tony Rowe, Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Naxos 8.559057 (CD). 2000. Tim Handley, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 61:13

These world-premiere recordings are from the Naxos American Classics series. William Henry Fry (1813-1864) lived a life of firsts, according to the liner notes: first native-born American to write a large symphonic work, first to write a grand opera, and more. What Fry called "symphonies" were more like fantasies or long overtures. Santa Claus, composed in 1853, follows a story line from the birth of Christ to Santa sliding down the chimney. The work is nearly half an hour long, and Fry's inspiration sometimes flags, but the finale makes up for it—the sound of reindeer hooves, sleigh bells, and "Adeste Fideles." Spectacular recording and fine playing, especially from the RSNO brass sections—those Scots really know how to blow. Buy it now to enjoy next Christmas. Fry wrote his Niagara Symphony for a P.T. Barnum "monster concert" in 1854. The gorge thunders with 11 timpani. For Fry, more was more. A spectacular demonstration disc and lots of fun, especially Santa Claus. Ho ho ho! Thank you, Klaus Heymann.