Steve Kuhn, box sets, Gillespie alumni
January 1, 1970Three jazz pieces this week: today's review of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Stars set at Regattabar on Wednesday; yesterday's Jazz Notes roundup of five new CD box sets; and last week's Jazz Notes, a profile of pianist Steve Kuhn (plus a short item on the Centennial Collection of jazz CDs and DVDs), which as promised ran this week after being bumped last.
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Gillespie Alumni keep songs alive
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 30, 2004
John Birks Gillespie was not just a great trumpeter. He was also a cofounder of bebop, an extraordinary bandleader and songwriter, and — more than a decade after his death — the inspiration for the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Stars, a revolving collection of his veteran band members who keep his memory alive in concerts. Alumni on hand for Wednesday night's show, the first of four at Regattabar, were Slide Hampton on trombone, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Larry Willis on piano, John Lee on electric bass, and Dennis Mackrel on drums. Out sick, alas, was the alumnus with the greatest marquee value of his own, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.
Even so, the small crowd willing to forgo a few innings of Game 4 of the World Series got its money's worth and more, the first set being extended an extra half-hour to make up for the cancellation of the second.
The fun kicked off with Gillespie's "Woody 'n' You," which, Hampton explained afterward, Gillespie had written for Woody Herman's band during a time when Dizzy's own bands weren't getting much work. It was the first of several such snippets of history that Hampton, the group's music director, would slip in.
The set continued with Gillespie's "Con Alma," Vernon Duke's "I Can't Get Started With You," and Gillespie's "Fiesta Mojo" (more evidence, noted Hampton, of Gillespie's role in bringing the Latin and Afro-Cuban influences he loved to jazz). Brecker blew flugelhorn on "Fiesta Mojo," and Willis was energetic and percussive on piano.
Lest anyone forget Gillespie's equally important role in bebop, the group followed with Sonny Stitt's bop classic "The Eternal Triangle," which Gillespie had recorded with Stitt and Sonny Rollins. These five consummate pros were sharp all night long, but the Stitt tune brought them particularly alive; Mackrel's solo here was as impassioned as his earlier one had been polite.
Hampton played a dazzling solo on the Benny Golson ballad "Whisper Not" next, then outdid even that on the set's closer, Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." Brecker was back on flugelhorn for "Tunisia," and after each member of the quintet had taken a solo turn, Hampton and Brecker each played a few bars totally unaccompanied before returning triumphantly to the song's famous melody.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Box sets: five from the vaults
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 29, 2004
The autumn box set season is upon us, when jazz labels dig through their vaults and begin offering attractively packaged jewels in hopes of inspiring holiday gift-giving. Five such efforts to cross our desk recently are particularly noteworthy.
"Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964." Columbia/Legacy's latest lavish compilation from the great trumpeter's vast oeuvre. Its seven CDs cover the transitional period between the disbanding of Davis's early '60s rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb and the launching of his second great quintet with the 1965 album "E.S.P."
The set begins with a group Davis assembled for an April 1963 recording date in California, with George Coleman on tenor saxophone, Victor Feldman on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Frank Butler on drums, but by disc 2 Feldman and Butler have been supplanted by Herbie Hancock and 17-year-old Boston prodigy Tony Williams, respectively, and the quintet to come was now already 80 percent in place. Three tunes apiece from discs 1 and 2 became Davis's classic 1963 album "Seven Steps to Heaven."
Aside from four previously unissued outtakes from those two studio sets, everything else in this set — 5 discs' worth — was recorded live, much of it released domestically in the mid-'60s on "Miles Davis in Europe," "My Funny Valentine," and "Four and More." Coleman is eventually replaced on tenor sax by the more adventurous Sam Rivers for a July 1964 concert in Tokyo, and Wayne Shorter finally takes over for Rivers on the last disc, from a blistering performance in Berlin that September. Though most of the material is already available elsewhere, here it's in one spiffy package, with exemplary notes by former Globe writer Bob Blumenthal.
"Chet Baker, Prince of Cool" (Blue Note). Subtitled "The Pacific Jazz Years" (for the defunct label of that name), the set is made up of choice selections from 1952-1957, sensibly divided, one disc apiece, by the headings "Chet Sings," "Chet Plays," and "Chet & Friends." The first features that hauntingly fragile, feminine-sounding voice of his on standards like "My Funny Valentine" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily." The second features Baker's trumpet sans vocals on records he led, often with Russ Freeman on piano. The third has him in short-lived collaborations with fellow big names such as Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, and Stan Getz. Noted jazz author Ted Gioa contributes a deft historical overview/appreciation to this collection of Baker at his best — "eternally young and preternaturally pure."
"Jimmy Smith Retrospective" (Blue Note). Thirty-seven of the 38 tracks on the four discs are culled from the greatest jazz organist's career from 1956 to early 1963. Smith is accompanied, as he was in those years, by sidemen as stellar as Lou Donaldson, Blue Mitchell, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, and Stanley Turrentine. Other highlights include crisply informative notes, numerous photos by Blue Note's legendary house photographer Francis Wolff, and Smith's treatments of such tunes as Horace Silver's "The Preacher," Ray Charles's "I Got a Woman," Donaldson's "Pork Chop," and his own "The Sermon" and "Midnight Special."
"The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note" (Telarc). The title of this set refers to the jazz club in New York. There is nothing new here: The four discs from this three-night, March 1990 reunion of the pianist's 1950s trio with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown (joined by drummer Bobby Durham) were put out one per year from 1990 to 1993. But this is exhilarating music from genuine legends. The first two of the individual discs, "Live at the Blue Note" and "Saturday Night at the Blue Note," won three Grammy Awards between them. The notes by British jazz writer Alyn Shipton accompanying the set are slighter than those of the sets above, and the packaging is a good deal less elaborate.
"Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost" (Revenant). This nine-disc collection — the biggest, strangest set of the five — consists of rare and unissued recordings by the free-jazz legend from 1962 to 1970. Included is a 1962 pairing with Cecil Taylor in Copenhagen; trio work with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray in New York in 1964; and Ayler's performance at the 1967 funeral of John Coltrane. Extras include two discs of sometimes bizarre interviews with Ayler, who seemed to suffer from religious mania toward the end of his short life (his body was fished from New York's East River in 1970, an apparent suicide at age 34); a 208-page hardbound book; and a peculiar assortment of memorabilia. Revenant doesn't quite toss in the kitchen sink, but close. It may be over the top for even most jazz buffs, but hardcore fans of Ayler and free jazz have been slavering for this set since word went out it was in the works. Based on a single-disc sampler sent out by Revenant, at least some of Ayler's musical explorations here are worth the excitement.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Pianist Steve Kuhn loves his space
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 27, 2004
Listen to pianist Steve Kuhn play, and you'll notice a mixture of classical and jazz elements. But there's another combination in his music that's just as critical: the meeting of sound and silence.
Kuhn, at 66 one of jazz's elder statesman, has a deep appreciation for the use of space in music, an appreciation that has only grown over the years. "When you're younger you tend to want to tell your life story in every chorus," he says. "Over the years, I've learned that you don't have to say everything at once. The spaces and the silences are just as important as the sounds."
Kuhn, who brings his trio to Scullers tonight, uses that approach to gorgeous effect on his latest CD, "Promises Kept."
Released earlier this year, it features his signature pristine sound, along with exquisite strings. The title pays tribute to his Hungarian immigrant parents, whose support and encouragement enabled Kuhn to make a life for himself in jazz.
When Kuhn got his long-dreamed-of chance to record with a string orchestra, he chose Carlos Franzetti to orchestrate and conduct. Franzetti, to Kuhn's surprise, was already a fan of Kuhn's music.
"His playing is totally personal," says Franzetti. "When he plays right away, I can tell that's Steve Kuhn playing, and that's what impressed me most."
Kuhn says he asked Franzetti "to leave the music as porous as possible and avoid falling into the Muzak schmaltz area. It's not background music by any means. For me, reaching people on an emotional level is really what my goal is. If I can do that, they may hate the music, and that's OK — as long as there's no indifference. That's the worst thing: 'Oh, yeah, that's sort of interesting.' To me, that's a slap in the face."
Tonight's appearance is a homecoming for Kuhn, who, though born in Brooklyn, spent his formative jazz years in and around Boston. When he was 12, his family moved to Newton, and he began studying with the renowned piano teacher Margaret Chaloff.
"She really had to undo what I'd learned, technically speaking, and sort of re-educate me," Kuhn says. "In terms of what she taught, basically the simplest way I can say it is it's the Russian school of piano technique, and that's about getting a true piano sound — the kind of sound that the piano is supposed to get."
Kuhn kept up intense studies with Chaloff all through Newton High School and, in his early teens, began backing her son, saxophonist Serge Chaloff, in gigs around town. Kuhn continued performing with a trio of his own while majoring in music theory at Harvard, then received a scholarship in 1959 to a short-lived music school in Lenox, where his classmates included Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, and the faculty included Gunther Schuller, George Russell, Kenny Dorham, and the entire Modern Jazz Quartet.
He moved to New York afterward and served short stints in the bands of Dorham, John Coltrane, and Stan Getz. But mostly he has led his own groups since then, among them several outstanding trios of piano, bass, and drums.
For the Scullers show, he and David Finck on bass and Billy Drummond on drums will perform a mix of about 70 percent jazz standards and 30 percent originals.
"I have those classical influences, obviously," he says, "but in my heart of hearts, jazz music is what always made the hair on the back of my head stand up."
Bean's big birthday
Coleman Hawkins would've turned 100 next month had he lived that long, but the celebration of that milestone is already underway — along with ones commemorating the 100th birthdays this year, more or less, of Fats Waller (born 1904), Glenn Miller (1904), Duke Ellington (1899), Benny Goodman (1909), and Artie Shaw (1910) — via RCA Victor's Centennial Collection of CD/DVD anthologies.
Each of the six CDs provides a worthy overview of the featured artist's work, but the Centennial packages take things a step farther by bundling each CD with a DVD of rarely seen archival footage.
For the Hawkins anthology, that means seeing Bean soloing on the cigarette-smoke-filled set of an ancient and short-lived New Jersey TV show called "Jazz Party," in the company of folks such as Pee Wee Russell, Sonny Greer, and Hawkins's tenor sax alter ego Lester Young.
Visual highlights of the others include Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, and others standing up and blowing with Ellington and his orchestra, and a 2001 interview with Shaw in which the swing great and autodidact says why the music of Miles Davis strikes him as more enduring than that of Dizzy Gillespie.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company