Origin (Continued)

We’re examining some of the CDs that I couldn’t get around to during the gestation of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Today, more from the Origin label and one each from Jay Thomas, Mike Longo and Dizzy Gillespie.
New Stories: Hope Is In The Air: The Music of Elmo Hope. Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and Origin’s drummer proprietor, John Bishop, are the New Stories trio. The less famous peer of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Hope was a splendid pianist who left an impressive body of compositions. Three of them, “Dee-Dah,” “Bellarosa” and “Carving the Rock,” are familiar to many through an early Clifford Brown recording. Seales’s playing is less spikey, less loose, than Hope’s, and has a transparency that opens clear views into Hope’s unconventional harmonic constructions. Hope’s widow and collaborator, Bertha, plays piano on three tracks, with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. There are guest appearances by the underappreciated alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trumpeter Don Sickler. Roberta Gambini sings, beautifully, Hope’s “This Sweet Sorrow.” Anyone intrigued by this CD may want to check out Hope’s own work. Fantasy’s Original Jazz Classics catalog has six of his albums. Elmo Hope Trio with Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler is a good place to start.
Add the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra to the growing list of successful all-female groups. Well, almost all-female. The lead trumpeters and the drummer are men, but, to quote Joe E. Brown’s Osgood Fielding III character in Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect. On the evidence of Dreamcatcher, the band’s weakest point is soloing, but the section work is good and the ensemble generates a rolling swing on several pieces including Johnny Griffin’s “63rd Street Theme” and Kim Richmond’s “Big Mama Louise.”
The astonishingly talented trumpeter and saxophonist Jay Thomas is one Seattle jazz musician who does not record for Origin. That is because he has his own label, McVouty, named in honor of his former employer Slim Gaillard. If you don’t get the “McVouty” connection, you are required to immediately rush out and buy every Gaillard record you can find, starting with this box set. Thomas’s Accidentally Yours features two other extraordinary musicians, the former Ray Brown pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Wataru Hamasaki, a newly minted Japanese medical doctor who operates a tenor saxophone. In his photographs, Hamasaki looks like a freshly scrubbed teenager. With the perfect support of Keezer, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer John Wikan, Hamasaki’s expressiveness and tonal dynamics on his ballad “Time Out of Time” exemplify the qualities that make him a young tenor to keep your ears on. Questions of the relative fame of other trumpeters aside, Thomas is one of the finest improvising musicians alive, as he demonstrates here on trumpet, flugelhorn and soprano saxophone.
Laura Welland is a bassist and trumpeter developing into a singer with a clear soprano voice and considerable potential. She debuts on Love Is Never Out Of Season a collection of a dozen standards. Her rhythm section is Bill Mays, John Clayton and Joe LaBarbera, not a bad way to launch a career. Welland and Mays are a relaxed duo on “I’m Confessin’.” With the trio, she swings, of all things, “Be My Love.” The CD has no composer credits, an oversight unusual for Bishop’s labels, but an increasingly common — and aggravating — failing of many albums. Origin captions its photographs so that you know which musician is which. I’ve seen dozens of CD packages lately with mystery photos of the participants. Without identification, a picture of a big band is largely meaningless except, possibly, to friends and family of the players.
Photo anonymity is the only sin committed by Oasis pianist Mike Longo’s latest CD with his New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. The seventeen-piece band is rehearsed tightly and swings loosely. It has a few veterans — Longo, Sam Burtis, Santi Debriano, Gerry Niewood, Curtis Fowlkes — but Longo knows where to also find state-of-the-art musicians without household names. Tenor saxophonist Frank Perowsky, trumpeters Joe Magnarelli and Freddie Hendrix, guitarist Adam Rafferty and singer Hilary Gardner are among the notable young soloists, but to these ears Longo’s writing is the main attraction. He is immersed in the tradition of big-band arranging from Eddie Sauter, Ralph Burns, Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller forward, invests ballads with unsentimental softness and has a knack for the harmonic tang of impressionism in his voicings across the sections. He digs beneath “Lazy Afternoon” to rework the changes in ways that illuminate the melody and float Magnarelli’s flugelhorn solo on reed section passages that billow and swell. His way with the blues on two originals, “Bag of Bones” and “Mike’s Lament,” is delicious. He makes of Jobim’s “No More Blues” (“Chega de Saudade”) a fine romp punctuated by lusty, deep trombone interjections. Longo is not averse to giving another writer a showcase. Perowsky’s composition “Song of My Dream,” in his arrangment, with a nicely crafted lyric by Philip Namenworth and a stunning performance by Ms. Gardner, is an homage to Duke Ellington. It ends the album and keeps surfacing in my mind.
The memory of Longo’s former boss is not entirely well served by a CD on the Just A Memory label, Dizzy Gillespie: Salt Peanuts. Benny Carter, who admired Dizzy, put it perfectly when he said — privately — that the aging Gillespie was a prisoner of his own technique. Now that they’re both gone, I don’t mind quoting Benny. What I take him to have meant was that, unlike Louis Armstrong or Chet Baker, to use two disparate examples, Gillespie could not adjust his playing to the loss of the speed and range that still governed his conception. Dizzy’s humor, magnetic personality, singing and incomparable rhythm were strong to the end. Late in his career he could produce flashes of brilliance, but his trumpet chops were uneven, at best.
The night this was taped at the Rising Sun Celebrity Club in Montreal in 1981, he did a lot of fluffing and foundering, although in “Night in Tunisia” he nailed a couple of complex runs that could have come from 1949. Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr’s flute is clearly heard, but his tenor saxophone is often so far from the microphone that he might have phoned in some of his solos. Al-Khabyyr, whose birth name was Russell Thomas, was a solid, blues-inflected player who tended to contaminate his lovely melodic inventions with gratuitous honks and squeals. Guitarist Ed Cherry, when you can hear him, and drummer Tommy Campbell are in great form. Michael Howell’s electric bass is overmodulated into mush much of the time, an abuse chronic to that annoying instrument. If all electric bassists would take from Steve Swallow and Bob Cranshaw lessons in tone and restraint, this would be a better world. Dizzy’s love affair with the instrument has always been a puzzle.
This CD could serve as spirited party music, and it’s not hard to believe that the audience had a great time. Dizzy’s singing on “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” is a joy. It is difficult to imagine that Gillespie would have approved the recording’s release, but his estate okayed it. I doubt if I’ll listen to it often, but just a memory of his charm and charisma kept me with it and underlined how much I miss him. Len Dobbin’s liner notes supply helpful background.
That’s enough for today.

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