Monday, June 21, 2010

CDs of Note...

Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. 5: Stuttgart (Widow’s Taste)
This latest in Laurie Pepper’s series of previously unreleased Art Pepper recordings was compiled from concert material on May 25, 1981. Pepper’s quartet played Stuttgart, Germany on the 14th night of a grueling 18-city, three-week tour of Europe and the U.K. This tight and adventurous band included Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. There is nothing new here because the tour focused on Pepper’s favored material, but since it was live jazz, everything was fresh.

The highlight of this two-CD set is the band’s stunning, Pepper-dominated 11-minute version of the beautiful “Yours is My Heart Alone.” Other terrific tracks include a 23-minute exploration of Pepper’s own “Make a List (Make a Wish)” and his shift from alto to clarinet on the chestnut “Avalon.” It sounds like Pepper knew his time was running out. Every note came from the heart - and meant something, just as it should. Thirteen months after this strong musical evening, Pepper died of complications from a stroke. In addition to the great music, the CD is accompanied by Laurie Pepper’s poignant and vivid reflections on the triumphs and challenges of those three weeks on the road in Europe.

Aruan Ortiz, Alameda (Fresh Sound/New Talent)

Cuban-born pianist Aruan Ortiz newest CD is a beauty. Currently a member of trumpeter Wallace Roney’s quintet, Ortiz is featured here on seven originals plus a jazzy new take on Chopin’s “Etude No. 6, Op.10” with his own quintet. The band includes saxophonists Antoine Roney and Abraham Burton, bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Eric McPherson. My favorites: “Liz’s Flower,” “Slow Motion” and “Green City,” which features a spirited musical conversation between Roney and Burton. Ortiz shifts to Fender Rhodes for his surrealistic “Landscape of a Dry Watermelon.”

Phil Wilson and Makoto Ozone, Live!! (Capri)
It is rare when you find a duo recording that ranks as truly exceptional. This one is exceptional for its instrumentation - piano and trombone, and because it was pretty much a career-maker. Twenty-eight years after its recording and LP release, Live!! at the Berklee Performance Center has been issued as a CD. Wilson, a longtime Berklee College of Music faculty member with an adventurous musical spirit, teamed up with then-student Ozone. The pianist shows right from the get-go on this recording that he was a fully formed, highly imaginative musician even at age 21. Savor every one of its six amazing tracks, for it really introduced him to the world. Sensitivity, imagination, rambunctiousness, swing, empathy. They’re all here in large doses - from both musical partners. If you missed it the first time, you have a chance to make up for that aural transgression.

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