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An Embarrassment of Riches From Hamburg: Recent Releases From Nagel-Heyer


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This article was first published at All About Jazz in February 2001.

While Nagel-Heyer Records is breaking ground with contemporary jazz releases with their Nagel-Heyer 2000 Series, showcasing music by Terell Stafford, Wycliffe Gordon, Byron Stripling, and many others, the Hamburg-centered label's catalog continues to populate itself with the fine traditional jazz recitals that have long been their forte. I recently had the good fortune of receiving a glut of these recordings for my consideration and decided to address them all at once.

Harry Allen
Love Songs Live
(Nagel-Heyer 1014)

Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen has found a home at Nagel-Heyer. He is young and hip with his style steeped in Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Stan Getz. His playing is completely free of the black hole influence of John Coltrane. Not thought of as an innovator or composer, I consider Allen a supreme interpreter of the standards, a talent expressed purely on his latest release. Love Songs Live! is a compilation derived from several previously released recordings. These recordings include The Harry Allen Quartet The King Jazz Im Amerika Haus, Volume 1 (Nagel-Heyer 011); The Yamaha International All Star Band Happy Birthday Jazz Welle Plus (Nagel-Heyer 005); Harry Allen Quintet A Night at Birdland, Volumes 1 and 2 (Nagel-Heyer 007 and 010); and an unreleased Belfast concert with Dave McKenna. Betrayed by the title, this disc is colonized with ballads, all beautifully rendered with Allen's beautifully warm and informed tone. His soft vibrato caresses "But Beautiful," "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and "Stardust." His bands include label regulars Howard Alden on guitar, Randy Sandke on trumpet, and Oliver Jackson (in among his last performances) on drums. Nagel-Heyer has been repackaging quite a bit of music as of late and this release may work the best of all as a concept piece.

Mundell Lowe / Hendrik Meurkens
Mundell's Moods
(Nagel-Heyer 065)

Mundell Lowe hails from Laurel, Mississippi, hometown of bluesman Sam Meyers and opera star Leontyne Price. Lowe has performed with a rarified who's who in jazz that includes Billie Holiday, Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Sarah Vaughan, and Ben Webster. Since the mid-'60s, Lowe has been living on the left coast, composing film and television music and teaching. He brings his LA-refined country sensibilities to this collaboration with vibraphonist/harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens. Mundell's Moods contains no small number of original compositions, so this is not simply a rehash of swing, but an effort to further that well-established idiom. Empathy is apparent between the two musicians on the Meurkens originals "Windy Wendy" and "Mundell's Moods." Supported with Larry Porter on piano, Pat O'Leary on bass, and Chuck Redd on Drums, Lowe and Meurkens weave a seamless fabric of swing. That swing is gentle, sonics perfect, and performance fine.

The Danny Moss Quintet
Keeper Of The Flame
(Nagel-Heyer 064)

Parchment textured and masculinely raspy accurately describes the tenor tone of the Queen's Subject Danny Moss. Born in England in 1927, Moss has been a fixture on the English jazz scene for the past 40 years. Firmly established in the Swing idiom, Moss sways through a collection of Tin Pan Alley standards with his formidable quartet. Not once do these traditionalists venture into the Bop realm. "Moten Swing" is played with an understated reverence and "Cry Me A River" with a traditional heart. Charley Antolini's brush work perfectly accents Moss' dry tone on "Three Little Words," and John Pearce's piano is cohesive throughout. No "Moldy Figs" here, but don't be looking for "sheets of sound" either. This is music for those listeners who like their jazz straight-ahead and swinging.

Oliver Jackson
The Last Great Concert
(Nagel-Heyer 063)

Swing and Bop drummer Oliver Jackson died in 1994. The Last Great Concert details one of Jackson's final performances in Hamburg at the Fabrik on November 16th, 1993. Jackson was conceived as the leader of this date and he surrounds himself with the best that Nagel-Heyer has to offer. Fronting his septet are tenorists Harry Allen and Danny Moss along with trumpeter Randy Sandke and trombonist Jerry Tilitz. The disc is a swinger, with superior imput form all. Highlights are the vocals by Randy Moss' wife Jeanie Lambe ("Willow Weep for Me," "Satin Doll," and "It don't Mean a Thing." Jackson's drumming is understated but readily apparent. His sense of time is certain, as his the velocity of his swing. This disc is a fitting tribute to a great career.

Ken Peplowski
The International Allstars Play Benny Goodman, Volume 1
(Nagel-Heyer 025)

Sent with the new releases, this 1996 offering from clarinetist Ken Peplowski generated more than a little excitement among my peers and myself. The International Allstars Play Benny Goodman, Volume 1, is not simple a rote regurgitation of ancient solos, but instead is a true celebration, superior to Peplowski's Concord tribute to Goodman (Last Swing of the Century, 4864, 1999). Here, Peplowski leads an international group of musicians in a live Hamburg-recorded concert concentrated on Goodman's lesser-performed chestnuts. Joining Peps on clarinet are Antti Sarpila and Allan Vaché, all three who perform on a swinging medley of "Memories of You," "Poor Butterfly," and "Moonglow." Howard Alden plays an over-the-top solo "Stardust" and Mark Shane is tasteful throughout. I hope Volume 2 makes its way to me, as good as Volume 1 is.




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