Jazz musicians love to play together. Sometimes they share a similar style, vision or attitude and that is all it takes for a group of musicians to come together to create some fantastic music. Here are some recent releases that have illustrious and talented players teaming up for a studio or live date.
The Hudson Project/(Stretch Records, 2000)
During the fall of 1998, four talented musicians went out on the road for the J D’ Addario Company. The purpose of the tour was hold clinic/workshops for fans, students and musicians. For the final performance at New York’s The Manhattan Center, it was decided to catch this legendary lineup on CD. This is the result. The four chosen musicians were guitarist John Abercrombie, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, drummer Peter Erskine and bassist John Patitucci. Erskine, Mintzer and Abercrombie are no strangers to each other as they played together on many instances throughout the 1980s while the younger Patitucci has plenty of experience through his work with Chick Corea. The performance consisted entirely of originals in which five of the songs were recorded for the first time. Erskine’s “Cats and Kittens” is far the most upbeat song on the album with its slow funky rhythms and ample space for both Erskine and Patitucci to stretch it out with polyrhythmic solos. Patitucci’s “The Well” is a slow emotional ballad that obviously pleased the bassist so much that he recorded it for his 2000 release Imprint (an excellent Concord Records release featuring Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Perez, Mark Turner, Giovanni Hidalgo and many others). Abercrombie’s “Little Swing” combines avant-garde and traditional jazz masterfully as he angular solos stretch the tune out yet the rest of the band keeps the fingers snapping. All four musicians have ample experience in blending jazz and contemporary sounds in bands like the Yellowjackets, Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, the Yellowjackets, Spectrum and Weather Report. This show is a continuation of that fusion.
The Stan Getz Quartet with Chet Baker/Quintessence Volume 2 (Concord Jazz, 1983, 2000)
No two musicians better embody the West Coast cool jazz sounds than trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonist Stan Getz. Armed with their respective instruments, these two took jazz beyond a musical boundary and returned music back to its story telling roots. Just as on the good old days, when song and dance served as major form of communication and used to convey trials and tribulations, Stan Getz and Chet Baker used their instruments to serve the same purpose. The bottom line is that both these musicians had a lyrical approach to their playing – the sounds from their horns emitted an emotion that the listener could relate. It did not matter if the song was a slow ballad or swinging up-tempo piece, Getz and Baker’s playing grabbed the listener at the soul. Despite these two’s dominance of the West Coast sound in the 1950s, their time spent together was rare – they recorded a handful of live dates in the 1950s. It would not be until a live date in Oslo, Norway in 1983 that the duo really got to shine their common lyrical mastery. Backed by bassist George Mraz, pianist Jim McNeely and drummer Victor Lewis, the two work through good old standards like George Shearing’s “Conception”, Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”, Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Line for Lyons.” These two may have been the later years of their performing years but their passion still ran deep.
Tal Farlow, Hank Jones, Red Norvo, Ray Brown & Jake Hanna/ On Stage (Concord Records, 1981, 1999)
There are so many jazz styles – avant-garde, free-funk, fusion, hard-bop, contemporary. These different styles are not for everybody as some are too “out there”, some have too much rock and roll and some are too cheesy. To many listeners, they simply want to hear some straight-ahead jazz – no uses of silence, no rocking backbeats and no plugged in saxophones. For those traditionalists, who like to swing and snap their fingers, this live album recorded at the 1976 Concord Jazz Festival is the perfect album. This quintet represents the “old school” of jazz, the players who became symbolic of the be-bop movement of both New York City and the “West Coast Sound” of California during the 1950s and 1950s. Boston born pianist Hank Jones was the older brother of famed musicians Thad and Elvin while bassist ray Brown was a veteran of the bands of Dizzy Gillepsie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Drummer Jake Hanna played with the Marian McPartland Trio while vibraphonist Red Norvo and guitarist Tal Farlow’s relationship together dates to the Red Norvo trio from 1959-1953. For this all-star performance, this quintet harks to the swinging days of yore with tunes such as George Shearing's “Lullaby of Birdland” and the closing combination of “Rose Room” and “In A Mellow Tone.”
Jonas Hellborg & Shawn Lane/ Zen House (Bardo Records, 1999)
Bassist Jonas Hellborg, a veteran of diverse bands such as Johnny “former Sex Pistol” Rotten’s PIL, Bill “master mixer” Laswell’s Material and John “jazz guitarist extraordinaire” McLaughlin, teamed up with longtime collaborators guitarist Shawn Lane and percussionist APT. Q 258 (from Aquarium Rescue Unit and Leftover Salmon) for this extremely ethereal live acoustic performance. Recorded before a small audience in a renovated barn in Sweden, these three create wonderful musical passages that reflect the acoustic music of many cultures. At moments, there are senses of the Middle East, American Jazz & Blues, African polyrhythms and above all, unique music. The three create layers of melodies that create continuous moments of thought and contemplation. All three musicians are virtuosos with their respective instruments and this intimate environment allows each musician to display their skills in a subtler manner. Although both Hellborg and Lane can rock out like the finest heavy metal players around while Apt Q. 258 is a veritable legend in jam band circles, this performance reflects a meeting of a Shakti-era John McLauglin on guitar, an acoustic Jaco Pastorious on bass and Mickey Hart on the percussion. Zen house is a perfect name for this album, for the music that was occurring in that barn that night definitely created an unbelievable karmic aura. The music shifts seamlessly from mood & melody, allowing the listener to drift off with the music and it varied energies. The Zen obviously was felt that night for it is more than tangible on this CD.
McCoy Tyner with Stanley Clarke and Al Foster (Telarc Jazz, 2000)
While the 1966 sideman gig with Turrentine displayed Tyner’s ability to work effectively as a sideman, 2000’s McCoy Tyner with Stanley Clarke and Al Foster (Telarc Jazz) features Tyner at the helm. For this album, Tyner recruited two of the most adept sideman available – the virtuoso bass playing of Clarke and the astute veteran drumming of Clarke. This recording shows exactly why Tyner is the legend that he is. Through the seven originals and three covers, Tyner plays every style in the book – be-bop, blues, funk, Latin. For the last forty years, he has played every type of music within the jazz idiom and this recording is an excellent recap of his career. In tunes like “Trane-like” and “The Night has a Thousand eyes”, thoughts of his time with Coltrane are evoked while “Once Upon a Time” reveals the slow ballad side of Tyner and “I Want to Tell You ‘Bout That” has funking out hard (with Stanley Clarke on electric bass). “Will You Still Be Mine” has Tyner and company returning to their hard bop roots while “Carriba” revisits Tyner’s recent experiments with Latin jazz.
Martian Solal/Johnny Griffin In & Out (Dreyfus Jazz, 2000)
Besides the teaming up of Turrentine and Tyner, there have been two other recent releases that highlight the talented tandem of saxophone and piano. One such release is In & Out (Dreyfus Jazz, 2000) by saxophonist Johnny Griffin and pianist Martial Solal. Since his earliest stints with Lionel Hampton in the 1940s, his recordings with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and the Jazz Messengers in the 1950sn and his collaborations with Eddie Lockjaw Davis in the 1960s, Griffin easily established himself as the "the world's fastest saxophonist". The Algerian born Martial Solal has made little impact in the United States but he is a veritable legend across the Atlantic where he recorded with Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt and Lee Konitz. These two seventy plus year old performers teamed up for the first time during the summer of 1999 to record the music for In & Out. After playing for five decades, the two professionals had no problem creating a great sounding record. The two work through a series of originals as well as a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t”. This album easily shows that one’s playing ability, passion and writing does not diminish through time. In the case of these two, it seems that their passion has actually increased as Solal and Griffin’s emotions spill out of every note they play.
Steve Grossman/Michel Petrucciani - Quartet (Dreyfus Records, 1999)
Steve Grossman is another saxophonist who has recently teamed up with a noted French pianist. In 1998, Grossman recorded the album Quartet (Dreyfus Records, 1999) with pianist Michel Petrucciani. Grossman is best know for his fusion/funk excursions with Miles Davis, Lonnie Liston Smith and Elvin Jones throughout the 1970s, but has since has developed his own niche as fine balladeer and lyrical player. Petrucciani, who suffered from osteogenensis imperfecta (a disease that stunted his bone growth), did not let his physical deficiencies hinder his own beautiful playing style. Along with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Joe Farnsworth, Grossman and Petrucciani work through series of ballads, swing numbers and slow blues tunes that shows that Grossman is much more than a fusioneer. Unfortunately, Petrucciani died of pulmonary infection in January of 1999. As a result, Petrucciani’s sole contribution to the album, “Parisian Welcome”, acted as Petrucciani’s last present to the jazz world.
Grand Slam – Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, George Mraz, Lewis Nash – Live at the Regattabar, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Telarc Jazz, 2000)
This session in the intimate Harvard Square jazz club may be one of the best meetings of the minds captured on disk. Each of these four players have established incredible musicians on their own and to have them share the stage for an evening of improvised music was a special treat for those who made it to the bar that night. For the less fortunate, there is this CD. Guitarist Jim Hall first burst onto the scene when he joined Jimmy Guiffre and helped establish the “West Coast” scene. He then moved to New York City to play with the great Sonny Rollins. During the 1990s, Hall, a member of the jazz old guard, has showed his youthful enthusiasm by joined up for an album with Pat Metheny and most recently, with Greg Osby for The Invisible Hand. Similarly, saxophonist Joe Lovano has recently played with Greg Osby but his credits also include stints with John Scofield, Charlie Haden as well as his own trio, quartets and nonet. In addition, Lovano and Hall both claim Cleveland Ohio as their hometown (the home of Telarc Records). The Czechoslovakian born bassist, George Mraz, played with Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz while drummer Lewis Nash has played on great 1990s albums by Kenny Barron and Kenny Burrell. With all of these accolades, one may suspect a “blowing session” as each player would want to grab the spotlight. Although Hall and Lovano provide all of the songs for the set, there is a strong emphasis on collective improvisations. The music at times is melodic and rhythmic (the Latin of Hall’s “Say Hello to Calypso”) but at other times, it pushed the boundaries of free playing (Lovano’s “Feel Free”). The one thing for sure is that the stage was full of four complete professional who had one goal – to push themselves musically but also entertain the audience. Mission accomplished.