The Rifftides staff is making its way through a few of the CDs that have accumulated while we paid attention to some of the other matters alluded to in the subtitle of this enterprise. You will find a previous installment two posts below, where October 23, 2012, will live forever in the archive, or as long as there’s an archive. At this juncture it is unclear when you will find the next in this series, but please keep coming back; there’s almost always something or other.
Tommy Cecil and Bill Mays, Side By Side: Sondheim Duos (CD Baby)
Stephen Sondheim’s theater songs are replete with terrific melodies. They are also loaded with harmonic surprises that lend themselves to improvisation—if the players have the intellect and chops to take advantage of them. Bassist Cecil and pianist Mays know how to capitalize on unusual turns in chord structures. Their keen ears and quick thinking serve them well in this chamber music encounter. Sondheim’s melody lines and chord changes in pieces like “Broadway Baby” and “Comedy Tonight” inspire Mays to now and then summon up Thelonious Monk; great fun, but it is Mays’ originality that wins the day. Cecil solos with imagination and a fat bass sound that is comfortable and consistent from the bottom of his range to the top. Highlights: Cecil’s stewardship of the enchanting melody of “Not While I’m Around,” Mays’ expressiveness in his solo on “Every Day a Little Death,” their refractive interaction on “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”
Terell Stafford, This Side of Strayhorn (MaxJazz)
The “side” of the title is the extensive cache of Billy Strayhorn compositions that did not achieve the prominence of “Take the ‘A’ Train” or “Lush Life.” Happily, the latter is included in the trumpeter and flugelhornist’s superb quintet album, but many listeners may not be acquainted with the Strayhorn gems “Multicolored Blue,” “U.M.M.G,” “Smada” and “Lana Turner.” Stafford’s playing in those pieces and others by Duke Ellington’s protégé and writing partner will be a stimulating introduction. On “Lana Turner,” without imitating Louis Armstrong he conjures up Amstrong’s spirit. Although in his solos there are also traces of trumpeters from Cootie Williams to Harry Edison to Freddie Hubbard, Stafford confirms that at 45 he is an independent voice, one of the most important trumpeters of his generation. Tim Warfield is on soprano and tenor saxophones in the front line with Stafford. They have fine support from pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall.
Brad Mehldau, Highway Rider (Nonesuch).
I have been trying to catch up with Brad Mehldau recordings. Maybe someday I will. This one has been out for a couple of years. It has the pianist with saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummers Jeff Ballard and Matt Chamberlain, bassist Larry Grenadier, and on several tracks an orchestra of strings and woodwinds. The playing is splendid throughout. The orchestral pieces have moments of disturbing beauty.
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Brad Mehldau, Love Songs (Naïve)
The first disc contains a song cycle for which Mehldau wrote music to poems by Sara Teasdale, Philip Larkin, e.e. cummings and other poets. He accompanies Von Otter, a glorious Swedish mezzo-soprano. The second disc allows Mehldau to project his personality, which is a match for Von Otter’s, in songs by a range of writers. Among them are Léo Ferré, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Speak Low: Songs By Kurt Weill (Deutsche Grammophon)
With an orchestra conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and piano accompaniment by Bengt Forsberg on some pieces, Von Otter sings nine songs from Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and others from Lady in the Dark, Happy End and One Touch of Venus. She runs the gamut from formidable in “Zorn” (“Anger”) to pleadingly seductive in “Speak Low.” This is how you would hear Weill in the theater—if you were lucky.