Thursday, July 3, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Jeff Colella and Putter Smith, Miles Davis, John Intrator and Sébastien Felix, and the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra….

Jeff Colella and Putter Smith, Lotus Blossom (The American Jazz Institute/Capri)
The duet format in jazz is the most intimate form of musical conversation. It is also the most challenging, in terms of keeping that conversation lively, interesting and profound. This project by L.A.-based jazz players Jeff Colella on piano and Putter Smith on bass is one of the few that reaches a level deserving of any superlative you can think of. Yes, it’s that wonderful. 

In addition to exploring one original apiece (Smith’s “Desert Passes” and Colella’s “Gone Too Soon”) and guitarist Larry Koonse’s “Candle,” the pair explore three exquisite tunes associated with Bill Evans (“Time Remembered,” “You Must Believe in Spring” and Miles Davis’s “All Blues”), Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and  Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You.” The latter is a clear favorite amid these splendid eight tracks. “Gone Too Soon” is a poignant yet upbeat salute to the many musicians who left the planet prematurely, but live on through the music they left us. Do yourself a favor, listen in on the conversation.

Miles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore (Columbia / Legacy)

Here’s another one for the compleatists. This four-CD set is the third volume of the label’s Bootleg Series of previously unreleased (or only bootlegged) live performances by Miles Davis. This one features the trumpeter’s four-night stand at promoter Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East music emporium in New York City, released for the first time in its entire full-length unedited form. The boxed set includes one disc for each of the concerts, June 17-20, 1970, that Miles and his group performed at the Fillmore East, when his band opened for singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.

These performances featured the double keyboard powerhouse with which Davis toured for a few months, with Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea played electronic organ and Fender Rhodes, respectively. The other band members were Steve Grossman on saxophones, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. The box also includes three different tracks from an April 11, 1970 concert at Graham’s Fillmore West venue in San Francisco by the same band minus Jarrett.

John Intrator and Sébastien Felix, Open House (Savarez)

If you’re a lover of the classic gypsy jazz sound that Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt hatched in the 30s, this one’s for you. Violinist John Intrator and guitarist Sébastien Felix have collaborated with a wide-ranging group of friends and family to create what amounts to a delightful gypsy jazz house party. Felix hails from a highly regarded French gypsy jazz family. American-born Intrator, who has lived in Switzerland since 1968, is a devotee both Grappelli and Claude “Fiddler” Williams, who was a colleague and mentor. Guitarist Howard Alden joins the party for two tunes, “”Along Came Betty” and “Tenderly,” while saxophonist Jacques Ducrot is aboard for four tunes. The 15 tracks on Open House swing mightily.

Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Habitat (Justin Time) 

Saxophonist Christine Jensen is a formidable talent, particularly the way she composes and arranges for her Montreal-based big band, the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra. There are inescapable comparisons to New York’s Maria Schneider in terms of the grand scope of Jensen’s writing, the sourcing of her varied inspirations, and the lush sound of her ensemble. This is not a bad thing. They even share a band member, Jensen’s sister, the very fine New York-based trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

Favorite tracks: “Nishiyuu,” which was inspired by a 44-day, 1,500-kilometer trek six young Cree Indians made from northern Quebec to Ottawa to raise awareness about problems facing Canada’s indigenous populations; “Intersections” (a musical stroll up Montreal’s bustling Rue St-Laurent, featuring CJJO six soloists); and “Sweet Adelphi.” Tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas turns in some spectacular work as the featured soloist on “Nishiyuu.” “Sweet Adelphi” showcases the Jensens, Christine on soprano sax and Ingrid on trumpet. The tune has been has been played and recorded in a variety of contests over the years. This CD marks its recording debut in an orchestral context. Bravo.

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