August 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Gil Evans Orchestra: Out of the Cool
Gil Evans, piano, arrangements; Johnny Coles, Phil Sunkel, trumpets; Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson, Tony Studd, trombones; Ray Beckenstein, Eddie Caine, Budd Johnson, Bob Tricarico, reeds; Bill Barber, tuba; Ray Crawford, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip, percussion
Impulse!/Universal/Acoustic Sounds (LP). Creed Taylor, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Ryan Smith, remastering.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

Out of the Cool is nearly as striking an album now as it must have been when it hit the bins in 1961. Not only is it Gil Evans's masterpiece and his best album that didn't front Miles Davis as a soloist; it's a peculiar masterpiece, stretching modal jazz to minimalist extremes yet soaking with swing. The first track, the 15-minute "La Nevada," pivots from G major to G minor-7 as several of the players take a crack at a solo. They're riveting. If Johnny Coles's trumpet solo sounds like Miles Davis's on "So What," from Kind of Blue, it's because Evans laid that loose-harmony path for Miles on 1950's Birth of the Cool.

But Out of the Cool isn't all laidback: Evans's arrangements of Brecht & Weill's "Bilbao Song" and George Russell's "Stratusphunk" teeter through some stormy dissonances, and throughout there's a vibe of riveting mystery—although Elvin Jones, Coltrane's drummer at the time, keeps the voyage on track with his insistent, syncopated rhythms.

This Acoustic Sounds QRP pressing comes very close to the sound of the Impulse! original. Piano, percussion, guitar, bass, and horns all waft through what seems to be a vast space(perhaps the result of subtly mixed echo) with tonal colors, crisp transients, and bloom intact. Trombones lack some of the oomph heard on the original pressing, and in the few spots where horns play loud in unison, there's some distortion—a problem with the original as well. Otherwise, no complaints at all.—Fred Kaplan

Harold Land: Westward Bound!
Harold Land, tenor saxophone; eight others
Reel to Real RTR-CD-006 (CD, available as download, LP). 1962/1964/1965/2021. Cory Weeds, Zev Feldman, prods.; Jim Wilke, eng.; Dave Sikula, sound restoration
Performance ****
Sonics ***

Great stuff keeps coming, on several labels, from Jim Wilke's huge stash of tapes recorded at the Penthouse in Seattle in the 1960s. Previous releases have included the famous (Cannonball Adderley) and the all-but-forgotten (Jack Wilson). Harold Land is somewhere in between. He played and recorded with many of the major musicians of his time—Clifford Brown, Thelonious Monk—but he never really broke through. Land was "in between" stylistically. He was smoother than the hard boppers but edgier than saxophonists of the West Coast "cool school," like Getz and Mulligan.

Westward Bound! comes from three Penthouse gigs. The tight 1962 working band has Carmell Jones on trumpet. The short-term 1964 and 1965 groups have Hampton Hawes on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums, respectively. It is wonderful to hear them all again: Carmell for his quick incisiveness, Hampton for his casual elegance, Philly Joe for the bombs he drops all over "Blue 'n Boogie."

But Land is the story. Every time he solos, whether on burners like "Vendetta" or rapt ballads like "Who Can I Turn To," his ideas flow, seemingly without special effort, from some wellspring of inspired logic deep within him. He thought in long forms and his improvisations were whole, finished designs. His sound, dark and slightlythroaty, was instantly likable. And he swung like nobody swings anymore.

This nicely produced package contains recollections from eight authorities including Sonny Rollins, who said of Land, "I don't remember Harold making a mistake."—Thomas Conrad


Hasaan Ibn Ali: Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album
Hasaan Ibn Ali, piano; Odean Pope, tenor saxophone; Art Davis, bass; Kalil Madi, drums
Omnivore OVCD-411 (CD). 2021. Nesuhi Ertegun, Patrick Milligan, others, prods.; Tom Dowd, Michael Graves, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics **½

This brilliant Philadelphia pianist's only previous appearance on record was on The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan, released in 1965. A quartet album under Hasaan's leadership was recorded a few months later but mothballed when Hasaan was jailed on drug charges. A fire destroyed the master tapes in 1981, and Hasaan passed away three years later. Tapes made from dub plates were discovered in 2017, containing all but one original track plus three alternate takes. Restored and remastered, these have now been issued, and though the sound lacks the clarity and presence of a contemporary recording, the music more than compensates.

Upstaged by Roach's busy drumming on Legendary, Hasaan's piano is here overshadowed by his disciple Odean Pope's saxophone, presumably at Hasaan's behest. Pope says Hasaan was a formative influence on John Coltrane, and his squalling horn sometimes echoes "Giant Steps." Hasaan's playing is dense and knotty, inspired by Thelonious Monk and Elmo Hope and years ahead of its time, yet he meshes tightly with Art Davis and Kalil Madi's more conventional accompaniment.

The compositions, all by Hasaan, feature oblique melodies and quirky-jerky rhythms. "Atlantic Ones," which opens and, in a second take, closes the album, is boldly aggressive, with Pope and Hasaan waxing Trane-ish. "Viceroy" and the title track sport similarly thorny themes, with Hasaan splashing dissonant chords and glissandos under Pope's twisting lines. "Richard May Love Give Powell" is the most languid tune on a set that crackles with ingenious energy.—Larry Birnbaum


Chris Potter Circuits Trio: Sunrise Reprise
Chris Potter, saxophones, clarinets, flutes; James Francies, keyboards; Eric Harland, drums
Edition EDN1171 (CD, available as download, LP). 2021. Chris Potter, prod.; Josh Giunta, eng.
Performance ***
Sonics ***½

That Chris Potter sits very near the top of the saxophone world proves that jazz is a meritocracy. He looks more like a middle-aged accountant than a jazz heavyweight. All he does is play his bad ass off, sublimely.

He has made many fine records. Sunrise Reprise is not one of them. To be sure, it has some wonderful moments. "The Peanut" is an inspired five-minute performance that sustains a domain of creativity only elite players know about, where virtuosity serves soul-baring plaintiveness.

Potter's Circuits Trio is an electric band. James Francies plays synth and keyboards, and Potter adds a sampler and keyboards to his many reed instruments. Press notes talk about the album's emphasis on "groove." Electricity and groove are not necessarily limiting. The trio's great drummer, Eric Harland, keeps the groove complex and the energy relentless. The problem is mostly Francies. Like many operators of digital musical devices, he can't resist turning knobs and hitting switches. He generates a large variety of sonorities and colors, but he floods the soundstage with twitterings, oscillations, swoops, and squawks. The clutter intrudes on Potter's space.

The first four tunes include passages in which Francies recedes and becomes a supportive accompanist and Potter unleashes the excitement he is famous for, in onslaughts of ideas, arcs of increasing intensity. But there are long waits between such fulfillments. The sprawling 24-minute last track, "Nowhere, Now Here/Sunrise Reprise," could have been interesting at half that length, with the indulgences and dead spots edited out.—Thomas Conrad

Zavato's picture

This is a superb album- I've had it a few months now

Gregor Samsa's picture

Jim Wilke continues to host The Art of Jazz on KXNX on Sunday afternoons. It's a master class on the topic.