Sam Chell's Choices for 2006

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Since the past exists only in the present, my 2006 rankings are highlighted by retro blue: previously unreleased material by Old Blue as well as the out-takes comprising Diana's Blue not to mention the return of Silver's Blue. Finally as a fan of music and literature, kudos to Ornette who, along with Noam Chomsky, shows us during these divisive times that, at the deep syntactical structures of human consciousness, we all share a common language. With that, here are the two Top Ten lists (listed from best to good) that have spoken to me most incessantly and insistently over the past year and continue to do so into the new one.

Ten Best New Releases (along with first-time issues of old recordings)


Frank Sinatra
Sinatra—Vegas
Reprise Records
2006

You have to go back to his mid-career Capitol sessions with Riddle to experience fully the master storyteller and artist sublime, but this 4CD/1DVD collection of out-takes and previously unreleased Vegas dates, 1961-1987, still demonstrates why, among all 20th- century entertainers, Sinatra was most assuredly Da Bomb.


Sonny Stitt
Work Done
Highnote Records
2006

Few musicians have sustained as many physical and mental shocks throughout the course of a nomadic, non-stop and frequently solitary career as Sonny Stitt. More often than not, the peripatetic saxophonist would arrive in town, call up the best local rhythm section and try to...Continue


Joe Lovano
Streams of Expression
Blue Note Records
2006

All of the critical acclaim that this recording has received may paradoxically have been injurious to its popularity with jazz followers. It's not Birth of the Cool or Miles Ahead, but Streams of Expression, in addition to its artful arrangements, is perhaps the most accessible and agreeable project to date by the first saxophonist since Coltrane and Rollins, Gordon and Getz, to achieve a truly original, instantly identifiable voice on the instrument.Continue


Charles Mingus
At UCLA
Sunnyside Records
2006

The actual title of this CD is Charles Mingus: Music Written for Monterey, 1965. Not heard...played in its entirety at UCLA. Vols. 1 and 2. The apparent overkill of the title prepares us for more of the same in the accompanying booklet, which contains three essays written for the present release along with some illegible artifacts provided by Mingus himself—the original liner notes, a sample of his hand-written draft, and a snippet from a comic strip he created to advertise his record club...Continue


Diana Ross
Blue
Motown Records
2006

This album is an eye-opener, especially after all the negative press and peer criticism that followed the R&B queen's starring role in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues...Continue


Mort Weiss
The B3 and Me
SMS Jazz
2006

Although the temptation to retitle this session Bambi Meets Godzilla is a powerful one, the encounter is neither a laughing matter nor a foregone conclusion. Mort Weiss is the Rip Van Winkle of jazz, a musician who dropped out of the scene and ignored his clarinet for forty years before making an incredible, possibly unprecedented, recent comeback...Continue


Ornette Coleman
Sound Grammar
Sound Grammar
2006

The only time I've fallen asleep during a concert—deeply at that—was during a long set by Coleman at Carnegie Hall, but I awoke convinced that the loss was entirely mine. Now it's Ornette who has returned to recording after a ten-year sleep. And once again he demonstrates that what we mistook for freedom is instead serendipity made possible by a musical thinker as systematic as he is visionary.Continue


Spike Robinson
The CTS Session
Hep Records
2005

Spike Robinson stayed away from music and his horn until he was 56 years old, then made the jump to "playing for a living," recording over twenty albums with artists such as Al Cohn, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Red Mitchell, Mundell Lowe, Ellyn Rucker, Ray Brown and Victor Feldman. Recorded in 1998 but released only recently, this final recorded session by the little-known, underrated tenor man from Kenosha, Wisconsin is a supremely satisfying encounter between a master musician and a rhythm section that once comprised the Stan Getz Quintet.Continue


Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron
Ballads
Cam Jazz Records
2006

Pity bassist Marc Johnson. He was an integral part of Bill Evans' trio during the pianist's final year, an extraordinary valedictory culminating in two monumental sets, Last Waltz and Consecration (Fantasy, 1980/2002), only to be orphaned upon the pianist's sudden death at the completion of those remarkable recordings....Continue


Christina Crerar
Little Jazz Bird
Independent
2005

It only seems there are more talented jazz divas than listeners, but it's a competitive field, to say the least. Despite strong bids by Karrin Allyson, Cheryl Bentyne, Ann Hampton Callaway, Tierney Sutton, and Diana Krall (to name a few), Christina Crerar's Little Jazz Bird is an overachiever that keeps winning my heart and respect along with repeated playings. In fact, it takes the gold in every event except the commercial one.Continue


Ten Best Reissues


Hank Mobley
Another Workout
Blue Note Records
2006

I can scarcely remember the last time an anticipated "new" release has afforded as much immediate pleasure as this one. Go with a single horn player—arguably the most melodically fertile tenor saxophonist of his time—and give him the support of a rhythm section once cherry-picked by Miles Davis. The result is not merely predictable excellence but music that's...Continue


The Horace Silver Quintet
Silver's Blue
Epic Records
2006

Horace Silver has always been an effective, if limited, catch-phrase soloist, an exemplary hard bop accompanist, and a brilliant miniaturist as a composer...Continue


Kenny Dorham
Quiet Kenny
Prestige Records
2006

The title of this 1959 date, Quiet Kenny, is almost redundant, less descriptive of the session than of Dorham himself, who plays no differently here than in the explosive groups of Blakey or Silver. Thoughtful, playful, lyrical but never effusive, Dorham is, as Dan Morgenstern calls him in the notes for this latest RVG edition, the most "poetic" of trumpet players...Continue


Donald Byrd
Royal Flush
Blue Note Records
2006

One of a handful of Rudy Van Gelder remasters released this past August, Royal Flush would be welcome if only because it's the recording debut of Herbie Hancock. Looking all of fourteen in the photo included with the accompanying booklet (he was 21 at the time), Hancock plays like a seasoned pro on what was, in fact, his actual "maiden voyage." Even apart from the pianist's brilliant playing, Royal Flush is a winning hand played by trumpeter Donald Byrd, arguably the best recording date under his leadership.....Continue


Kenny Dorham
Trompeta Toccata
Blue Note Records
2006

Leave it to the least showy, most thoughtful of trumpet players to compose and perform a Trompeta Toccata (show piece) and make it work...Continue


Serge Chaloff
Boston Blow-Up!
Capital Records
2006

One of two precious recordings by the Woody Herman band's nearly-forgotten 4th brother, whose hard life and harder death is belied by the expressive delicacy and sheer musicality of his playing, Serge Chaloff shines on this beautifully conceived and tightly executed session. Often referred to as the first modernist on the big horn, the "Bird of the Baritone" also shows the influence of the old masters like Harry Carney in his glowing sound, assortment of vibratos and articulations, and attentiveness to nuance, subtlety and variety.Continue


Dexter Gordon
Gettin' Around
Blue Note Recordings
2006

"Tower of Power," "Long Tall," "LT"—you don't acquire such noms de troubadour by being retiring or inconspicuous in your approach to making music. Indeed, Dexter Gordon is such a forceful presence and commanding storyteller that he can be a heavy load, requiring nothing less than the listener's undivided attention. Gettin' Around, a 2006 release of a Rudy Van Gelder-remastered 1965 session, reveals a more dulcet and demure Gordon.Continue


Tony Bennett and Bill Evans
The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album
Fantasy Records
2006

To capitalize on the renewed interest in Tony Bennett during the year of his attaining octogenarian status, Fantasy has just reissued The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. A remastered edition was released as recently as 2003, but this time around five alternate takes have been added to the disc, one that for many listeners is the only Bennett "Duets" session that matters. It's a recording, moveover, that supports the designation of Bennett as an "American Classic" more persuasively than the recent blown-up production album bearing that title...Continue


Sarah Vaughan
After Hours at the London House
Mercury Records
2005

It's best not to assume you have this recording, even if you do. Vaughan recorded two albums entitled After Hours—one a 1961 Roulette session with bass and guitar accompaniment, the other this recently reissued 1958 Mercury recording featuring the legendary singer joined by guest musicians from the Count Basie band, including Thad Jones and Frank Wess, along with her regular tight rhythm section anchored by Richard Davis and Roy Haynes. Continue


The Horace Silver Quintet
Horace-Scope
Blue Note Records
2006

It's highly doubtful there's been a more instantaneously infectious recent release than this new Rudy Van Gelder edition of a 1960 Horace Silver master session. Without as much as a pickup note, the opening measure places the listener in stride with as irresistible a tune as Silver ever composed...Continue


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