Joel Miller, Tantramar (ArtistShare). The Canadian saxophonist and composer, summoning up scenes from his New Brunswick boyhood, pulls off the neat trick of creating pleasant sketches that have depth. The swagger of Miller’s tenor sax soloing and the complexity of the intertwining sextet lines he wrote make “Syriana” one of many highlights, the clever writing and allusion to Miles Davis in “Anonymity” another. The CD includes atmospheric vocal touches by Miller and Amelia MacMahon and an infectious gospel-cum-R&B romp called “Big Tiny.” Great fun.
Marc Copland, New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2, Voices (Pirouet). Copland employs harmonic audacity even as he creates an air of calm. He is abetted by the rhythm team of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, musicians in their seventies whose skill and daring set standards for those in their twenties. Copland applies his pianistic and conceptual skills so that no matter how far he takes the listener beyond expected limits of harmony, nothing sounds “wrong,” merely intriguing, often breathtaking. With one exception, the tunes are by Copland and Peacock. Peacock’s “Albert,” presumably with the late pianist Albert Dailey in mind,” has a jaunty Ornette Coleman flavor. Copland’s “River’s Run” has what it takes to start showing up as a jazz standard. Copland, Peacock and Motian offer, in addition to the originals, an inspired performance of a classic, Miles Davis’s “All Blues.”
Jack Sheldon, It’s What I Do (Butterfly).
It’s what those who know that he is a great trumpeter wish Sheldon would do more often on record. He is accomplished in singing and in blue comedy, but he does neither here. Sheldon simply (ha) performs with amazing flexibility, his distinctive bebop harmonic sensibility and the round, gorgeous tone that made hearts ache in movie theaters forty years ago when he played “The Shadow Of Your Smile” on the soundtrack of The Sandpiper. The tunes are by Coltrane, Davis, Monk, Strayhorn and Parker. Sheldon calls his excellent band The California Cool Quartet, which may lead to an assumption that this is warmed-over west coast jazz from the fifties, laid back and nonchalant. It is not. It is emotionally hot and timeless.
Larry Young, Unity (Blue Note). Unity was the 1965 album that brought Young to prominence and established that there was a place for the Hammond B-3 organ on the cutting edge of jazz. Elvin Jones is the powerhouse drummer on a session that also includes trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson at their peaks of creativity. This reissue in Blue Note’s Rudy Van Gelder series is a basic repertoire item and a terrific way to jolt yourself out of the winter doldrums.