Blue Note’s current longest serving artist delivers another heavyweight package of an album that demonstrates once more that Joe Lovano is certainly not resting on his laurels with all bar one piece being originals. His current group with whom he both records and tours, a rarity these days, includes bassist and leader in her own right Esperanza Spalding and fellow Blue Note musician and guitarist Lionel Lueke. A novel idea this time round has been to have two drummers performing together, a concept that was pioneered during the 1960s, and this adds a certain intensity to proceedings. The fast-paced ‘In a spin’ is a quite dysfunctional sounding composition that sounds like two horns (possibly overdubbed) playing with guitar while the freer number ‘Drum chant’ is devoid of any piano and Lovano alternates on soprano. Throughout the album there is a fine rapport between Lovano and Lueke with piano often featuring as a minimalist accompaniment. However, Joe Lovano is certainly not all hustle and bustle and his gentler side is demonstrate on the classic Ellington-Strayhorn ballad ‘Star-crossed lovers’ where the leader excels on tenor and this harks back to the terrific album he recorded back in the early 1990s with Michel Petrucciani. The album concludes with a heartfelt tribute to another collaborator, Paul Motion, on ‘P.M.’ A live recording of this group would make for an excellent follow up.
French violinist Stéphane Grappelli personifies a certain type of classic era jazz and his collaborations with gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt are among the zenith of jazz music recorded during the 1930s and 1940s right through to Reinhardt’s early death in 1953. It should come as little surprise, then, that Grappelli should wish to pay homage to that enduring rapport. By the 1950s Grappelli’s swing take on jazz had become viewed as somewhat passé by the new vanguard of French jazz musicians who were heavily influenced by the be-bop revolution occurring across the Atlantic. However, this album marked a turning point in Grappelli’s career and something of a return not only to form, but also to more positive critical favour. It was recorded in Paris and featured some of the top musicians of the day including French bassist Guy Pederson, Swiss drummer Daniel Humair and guitarist Pierre Cavalli. Several of the collaborative compositions that Grappelli and Reinhardt wrote are featured in newly updated versions here and these include the timeless classics such as ‘Minor swing’, ‘Nuages’ and ‘Daphné’. The John Lewis composition, and an obvious tribute, ‘Django’, that the Modern Jazz Quartet performed on numerous occasions fits neatly into the existing repertoire and there is equally the inclusion of a then rising American songbook standard in ‘Makin’ whoopee’. Perhaps the surprise addition is in fact that of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Pent up house’ which just goes to show that Grappelli could be equally receptive to the then modernists. There are no less than nine bonus cuts that date vary in date between 1947 and 1961. For those that may still be unfamiliar with the contribution of Stéphane Grappelli to the world of music, as well as the fabulous duets with Reinhardt, Grappelli also played an important educational role during the 1970s when a then teenage Nigel Kennedy was taught by the virtuoso player how to master the violin. By the 1970s the music that Grappelli and Reinhardt helped to pioneer was now part of French musical folklore and this was illustrated by the their music serving as the soundtrack backdrop to Louis Malle’s film on the occupation period in France, ‘Lacombe Lucien’. Stéphane Grappelli would return to this basic repertoire on countless occasions, but none have sounded fresher than those contained on ‘Django’. Tim Stenhouse
The major innovations that took place during the be-bop revolution could not have been achieved without the unique contribution of one Thelonius Monk and from the mid-1940s through the 1950s Monk cut music that was truly on the cutting edge of the music scene. By the early 1960s Monk was then entering into middle age and thus the music was a confirmation of that which preceded and a revisiting of his highly original compositions. The album contained within form 1962 actually went on to become his best ever seller and was the pianist and leader’s debut for the mighty Coumbia label. His quartet featured tenorist Charlie Rouse, with whom Monk would enjoy a long-term musical collaboration, bassist John Ore and drummer Frankie Dunlop (shortly to be replaced by Ben Riley). Where this re-issue scores highly over previous ones is that it pitches the new versions of Monk’s classic material side by side with earlier versions of the same numbers that were recorded at least a decade earlier and in some case dating back to 1947. This represents some thirty minutes of additional music and it is fascinating to compare and contrast the versions which vary sometimes in format as well as in interpretation. However, one brand new composition was included and has become a firm favourite in the cannon of Monk disciples and that is ‘Bright Mississippi’. Key numbers include the contrasting versions of the title track, the quartet versus trio version of ‘Bye-Ya’ and the quartet as opposed to the original 1956 quintet interpretation of ‘Blue Bolivar Blues’. Producer Teo Macero is on hand to oversee matters and does an excellent job just as he did with Miles Davis for the same label. A nice addition is an alternative album front cover photo featuring Monk. Tim Stenhouse
Tenor titan Sonny Rollins was prolific during the early to mid-1950s and cut some definitive music on the saxophone. However, by 1959 he was in dire need of a break and took a three year self imposed sabbatical from the recording industry. By 1962 he was ready once again to record and enlisted the considerable support of producer George Avakian who had done such a sterling job with the upcoming trumpeter Miles Davis during the mid-late 1950s on his first Columbia album ‘Round Midnight’. The pairing of Rollins with guitarist Jim Hall was a truly inspired one and the rapport between the two makes this album one to remember among those in the Rollins pantheon. The rhythm section was solid with bassist Bob Cranshaw who would be a staple on the Blue Note label while drumming duties are shared between Monk quartet member Ben Riley and Harry T. Saunders. The album combines two originals including the fiery title track alongside four standard numbers with ‘God bless the child’ a genuine standing out piece. A real bonus is the inclusion of some additional recordings, most notably two numbers from the ‘Jazz Casual’ series that was hosted by jazz critic and presenter Ralph J. Gleason (the whole session is available separately on DVD). Two alternative version of the original album complete a fine all round package. The extended sleeve notes of the original, written by George Avakian, are faithfully reproduced, while a Downbeat review of the time by Ira Gitler no less is included also.
If you have ever viewed the Bertrand Tavernier film ‘Round Midnight’, you are sure to have been impressed by the main protagonist Dale Gordon, played in real life by the late Dexter Gordon who was a totally convincing actor in the role. This introduced many new devotees of jazz during the mid-1980s jazz renaissance to the tenor saxophonist’s work and if you have ever wanted to know where to start off with his discography, this is now the first place of reference. Two classic albums are handily placed onto one CD that features Gordon in his mature prime period after struggling with drug addiction throughout the 1950s. By 1961 he had signed with the legendary Blue Note label and the two albums that are contained herein feature identical quartet sessions that stretch over three days in August (?) 1962 with the notable inclusion of Sonny Clark on piano. Of the two, ‘Go’ is regarded by many as Gordon’s ultimate musical statement and justifiably so. The ensemble playing is quite simply stupendous and the selection of material ideally suited to the deeply melodic approach that Dexter Gordon personified. It would be difficult to pick out individual numbers from such an outstanding release, but the title track, and a swinging ‘Love for sale’ are immediate standouts. The follow up, ‘A Swingin’ Affair’ is, in its title at least, a gentle nod to the music and style of Frank Sinatra. However, this is a resolutely modern 1960s recording with a Latin undercurrent to the magnficent ‘Soy Califa’ while there is a lovely original composition in ‘McSplivens’. Once again the ballads are of the highest order with ‘Don’t explain’ being a heartwarming tribute to Billie Holiday. No extras, but no none are needed when music is this sublime. Tim Stenhouse