So many CDs, so little time. There are hundreds of review copies stacked up around here and no immediate hope of writing in depth about more than one or two. Therefore, I shall write not in depth about several. These mentions—a bit longer than tweets—point you toward albums that have impressed me on first or second listenings, CDs that I would like to hear again.
Tommy Flanagan, Jaki Byard, The Magic of 2 (Resonance)
In this previously unissued 1982 collaboration from San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, Todd Barkan introduces the pianists as two of the instrument’s “greatest virtuosos.” They then set about proving it at two grand pianos in six brilliant duets and three solo pieces each. Not identified by right channel-left channel separation, in the duets they meld and contrast in performances that sound like products of four hands directed by one mind. This is a treasure.
When Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Johnny Alf and other Brazilians were developing bossa nova in the 1950s, their influences included musicians on the west coast of the United States, among them Chet Baker. In turn, Baker’s music affected the development of many young Brazilian musicians. Two of them have acknowledged Baker in new albums devoted to music that he sang and played.
Luciana Souza, The Book of Chet (Sunnyside)
At tempos putting her in contention for the world championship of slow singing, Souza caresses 10 ballads. The sections of vocalise in her heartbreaking treatment of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and other songs show thorough understanding of Baker’s musicality. Larry Koonse’s guitar work at the head of the accompanying trio makes him a co-star of the album. In a CD released at the same time, Souza continues her series of duets with outstanding Brazilian guitarists in Duos III, including a breathtaking “Doralice” with Romero Lubambo.
Eliane Elias, I Thought About You (Concord)
Elias’s 14-song tribute to Baker duplicates only one piece in Souza’s Baker collection. Her fundamentally sunny approach highlights her singing and piano playing, with bassist Marc Johnson, drummer Victor Lewis, trumpeter Randy Brecker and guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves among the other musicians. Elias and Brecker shine in solo on “That Old Feeling” and “Just Friends.” She gives “Let’s Get Lost” a bright bossa treatment. Her way with “You Don’t Know What Love Is” recalls the wistfulness in Baker’s own recordings of a song that became a permanent part of his repertoire.
Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, The Gift (Leo Records)
A Brazilian tenor saxophonist of Elias’s and Souza’s generation, Perelman operates largely free of restrictions, including those of the normal range of his instrument. He sometimes takes it from the low register up into sopranino territory. He and his frequent pianist partner Matthew Shipp have recorded together profusely in a series of albums that can be startling one moment and all but becalmed in serenity the next. The Gift, with the remarkable Michael Bisio joining them on bass, is one their most satisfying joint ventures, not least because of the wryness of their humor. “A Ride On A Camel,” a descriptive title if there ever was one, is a case in point.
Kenny Wheeler Big Band, The Long Waiting (CamJazz)
Wheeler’s playing and arranging will be immediately identifiable to anyone even slightly familiar with his work. The composer and flugelhornist’s first big band album in more than two decades displays his customary virtuosity in all areas. Now 83, he plays with melodic inventiveness, harmonic daring and technical virtuosity that can raise eyebrows. Wheeler’s writing for the 19-piece band achieves excitement and passion while at the same time triggering feelings of nostalgia and melancholy. The band is filled with some of London’s most accomplished jazz soloists and studio musicians. With her vocalese, Diana Torto plays a role as valuable as that of any of the instrumentalists. I have been known rail against albums made up only of original compositions. I’m not railing against Wheeler’s. They are dazzling.
Sandy Stewart & Bill Charlap, Something To Remember (Ghostlight)
The pianist’s and his mom’s second album—following their 2005 Love Is Here to Stay—finds them as compatible as they have been since he was a baby. Headed for a big career after her 1963 hit “My Coloring Book,” Ms. Stewart set it aside to raise Bill and her other children with her husband, the composer Moose Charlap. Following Charlap, Sr.’s death, she reestablished herself in music, reminding listeners of her way with phrasing and the meaning of lyrics. This intimate collection of ballads has a superb version of Johnny Mandel’s and the Bergmans’ “Where Do You Start?” and a touching interpretation of Moose Charlap’s “I Was Telling Him About You. ” Throughout, there is son Bill’s signature keyboard touch and way with chords.
Larry Willis, This Time The Dream’s On Me (High Note)
Willis’s decades as one of the great journeyman pianists in jazz and the high regard for him in the profession have nonetheless left him strangely obscure in relation to the size of his talent. Anyone wondering why, won’t find the answer in this solo piano album. His playing on seven classic songs and three of his compositions has fullness of imagination and command of the instrument that throughout his career have had him in demand by groups as diverse as those of Cannonball Adderley, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Fort Apache Band and Roy Hargrove. Willis’s loving care of Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” his “Silly Blues,”—which is anything but silly—and an expansive “It Could Happen to You” indicate the breadth of his talent.
Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway, Duke At The Roadhouse (IPO)
You might think that Daniels and Kellaway were going off on a free jazz tangent in “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” if it wasn’t apparent that they were working from an arrangement. Whether the arrangement was on paper is beside the point. It may have been a product of the intuition that the clarinetist and saxophonist and the pianist have shared for years. “Arrangements while you wait,” musicians sometimes say in such spontaneous situations. Oh yes: the point. The point is that Daniels and Kellaway play just short of an hour of music by or associated with Duke Ellington, plus one original apiece, and they have their usual rollicking good time. There’s an added element here, harking back to Kellaway’s celebrated cello quartets. On some pieces, classical cellist James Holland sits in and executes perfect jazz solos. Kellaway wrote the solos for Holland, whose feeling for jazz phrasing allowed him to play them as if he’d concocted them on the spot. This music was recorded before an audience at a theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but it has the road house spirit.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 50th Anniversary Collection (Columbia Legacy)
This collection revives memories of signing off the 10 o’clock news and wandering through the French Quarter from Royal Street to St. Peter to spend a few minutes, or an hour, with the tourists enjoying the Preservation Hall band. One of the earliest tracks of the four discs happened a few days before I arrived in 1966 for the first of my two stints in New Orleans. The Preservationists had George Lewis, clarinet; De De Pierce, cornet; Billie Pierce, piano; Big Eye Louis Nelson, trombone; Narvin Kimball, banjo; Chester Zardis, bass; and Cie Frazier, drums. That’s a tough band to beat for Crescent City authenticity. For the most part, later editions capture the spirit if not always the individuality of what I tend to think of as the George Lewis band, even though under the hall’s banner it was essentially leaderless. I was lucky to be there during Preservation Hall’s golden age. Hearing this set, which covers 1962 to 2009, I feel lucky again. Maybe the golden age continues.