Various Artists: Jazz For Japan (2011)
In the wake of the barrage of natural and man-made disasters that struck Japan in early 2011, a large group of fine musicians got together for Jazz For Japan. One of the strongest compilations of the year, all proceeds are being donated to help the victims of this great tragedy.
The standards featured on this two-disc compilation album come from heyday eras of jazz bigwigs including Herbie Hancock, who wrote four of the set's fourteen tracks, Stanley Turrentine, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, Wayne Shorter, Nat Adderley, John Coltrane and Jimmy Dorsey. The A-listers of contemporary musicians who donated their time to this compilation do a great job of respecting the source materialsimilar enough as to not destroy the classics, but taking some liberties and straying just far enough away to keep things feeling fresh and revitalized.
The opening "Maiden Voyage," with pianist Billy Childs assuming Hancock's roll, is one of the few tunes that doesn't deviate far from the original, but that isn't a bad thing. The players feel tight and sound great, but avoid any grand departures. What gives it some new air is its being recorded with newer technology; this isn't 1965 anymore.
The mellow "Sugar" features tenor saxophonist Everette Harp, doing well in the lead with strong support from guitarist David T. Walker, who hits the tune's sweet spot with a short solo near the song's end. On "So What," Miles Davis' trumpet parts are replaced by alto saxophonist Tom Scott, while Paul Chambers' double-bass is assumed by electric bassist Nathan East. The solos avoid replicating the originals too closely, helping to keep it fresh.
"Footprints," with Rickey Minor and The Tonight Show Band, the current house band from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, is the first of four tracks featuring multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Marcus Miller, heard here on bass clarinet while, on the highly revered golden age standard, "Body and Soul," Miller takes the lead beautifully on electric bass, with pianist Herman Jackson's light touch complimenting him nicely.
Surprisingly, there is only one Japanese artist featured in the set, but it's definitely a good one. Keiko Matsui has been internationally active for the past thirty years, with twenty albums to her credit. Here, the acclaimed pianist performs "Cold Duck Time," which also marks the only appearance of saxophonist Boney James, who helps spice things up on this hip track with a driving pace.
The rest of the set is more or less on par, with disc one feeling a wee bit stronger than disc two, though that's not to suggest the second disc is weak. The overall scope of Jazz for Japan hits a mark of quality and production which is often hard to find amongst the abundance of mediocre jazz releases these days.
Track Listing: CD1: Maiden Voyage; Sugar; So What; Sophisticated Lady; Footprints; Work Song; What a Wonderful World. CD2: Mr. PC; Body and Soul; Cold Duck Time; Watermelon Man; Invitation; Cantaloupe Island; I'm Glad There is You.
Personnel: Steve Gadd: drums (CD1#1, CD1#3, CD1#6); Tom Scott: sax (CD1#1, CD1#3, CD1#6); Billy Childs: piano (CD1#1, CD1#3-4, CD1#6, CD2#6); Nathan East: bass (CD1#1-3, CD1#6); Everette Harp: sax (CD1#1-3, CD2#5); Clarence McDonald: piano and electric piano (CD1#2, CD2#1, CD2#5, CD2#7); Ndugu Chancler: drums (CD1#2, CD2#1); David T. Walker: guitar (CD1#2, CD2#1); Del Atkins: bass (CD1#2); Christian McBride: bass (CD1#4, CD2#6); Ricky Minor & The Tonight Show Band (CD1#5); Marcus Miller: bass clarinet and bass (CD1#5, CD2#1, CD2#3, CD2#5); Wayne Linsey: piano (CD1#5); Paul Jackson Jr.: guitar (CD1#5); Teddy Campbell: drums (CD1#5); David Delhomme: electric piano (CD1#5); Kevin Ricard: percussion (CD1#5); Raymond Monterio: trumpet (CD1#5); Miguel Gandelman: tenor sax (CD1#5); Garret Smith: trombone (CD1#5); Randy Ellis: alto sax (CD1#5); George Duke: electric piano (CD1#6); Deron Johnson: piano (CD2#2); Larry Goldings: organ (CD2#2); Chuck Berghofer: bass (CD2#2); Peter Erskine: drums (CD2#2, CD2#6); Herman Jackson: piano (CD2#3, CD2#7); Boney James: sax (CD2#4); Keiko Matsui: piano (CD2#4); Ricky Minor: bass (CD2#4); Tom Brechtlein: drums (CD2#4); David Paich: electric piano (CD2#4); Lee Ritenour: guitar (CD2#5); Kenny G.: soprano sax (CD2#5); Alex Acuña: drums, congas (CD2#7); Alphonso Johnson: bass (CD2#7); Herman Jackson: piano (CD2#7); Bob James: piano (CD2#8).
Record Label: Avatar Records