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Live Jazz in Spotlight


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This is the maiden voyage for a new All About Jazz column devoted to the recordings of live jazz music. It is the ostensible extension of the recently completed triptych, The Ten Best Live Rock Recordings , The Ten Best Live Jazz Recordings and Live Jazz - The Best of the Rest .

Primarily an improvisational art, jazz and its unique invention are best experienced in a performance setting. That notwithstanding, where jazz clubs or talent are scarce, live recordings provide an acceptable and often preferable alternative.

Each month this column will consider a number of live recordings. These releases will include new discs, re-releases, and older recordings demanding reconsideration. Most of the recordings considered will be jazz, but other genres will also be included. In any event, the music discussed will be as it is best heard— Live.

B3 Bombers
Live at the Green Mill
Alltribe Records ATRO724

Live at the Green Mill (the Green Mill being the home base for such notable song stylists as Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling. Invading this hallowed ground like a hot Delta day are the B3 Bombers, who lay waste to everything in their path with high funk sanctification. Lead by drummer Clyde Stubblefield (of NPR's Whaddaya Know fame) grounds a crack septet of like-minded funkmiesters. If Stubblefield provides the beat, B3 specialist Dan Trudell provides the grease and guitarist Mike Standal the fire to heat it with. Add the holy trinity of alto and tenor sax and trombone and you have a heaping plate of soul food, steamy and fine. James Brown's "Make it Funky" has Stubblefield providing the godfather's vocal part in a fine manner. Stubblefield proves he can sing the blues on a corrosive "Sweet Sixteen," Standal's staggering guitar propelling the song to its zenith (check out trombonist Joel Adams's duet with Stubblefield and subsequent solo—intense). Dan Trudell's "Cumulus Day" is a tip to "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" sure to please, like the rest of this very fine recording. Visit the B3Bombers and Alltribe Records.

The Fred Hersch Trio
The Fred Hersch Trio—Live at the Village Vanguard

Palmetto Records PM 2088

Cincinnati Ohio-native Fred Hersch is perhaps the finest piano balladeer performing today. On his Palmetto Records debut, recorded live at the famed Village Vanguard, Hersch stays close to home with the majority of the tunes being his own sensitive and expressive compositions. Joined by Drew Gress on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums Hersch displays his more than considerable talents as bandleader. This is Hersch's first live recording since his excellent 1998 faculty recital at the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall. Characteristic of most of the pianist's shows, Hersche begins with Monk. Here, "Bemsha Swing" is given the royal treatment with a lengthy Hersch introduction that segues perfectly into the total rhythm package that propels Monk through the trio's tasteful vision. Hersch's own "Phantom of the Bopera" betrays his bop chops and allows Waits to show off with an excellent drum solo. The remaining standards, "Some Other Time" and "I'll Be Seeing You" are Hersch's ballad vehicles. This is what he does best. Add to that his propensity for covering more modern jazz, that propensity is illuminated with the "Miyako/Black Nile" Wayne Shorter medley, a piece that supports another fine solo from Waits. This is superb jazz performed in the best venue possible.

Dexter Gordon
XXL—Live at the Left Bank

Prestige PRCD11023-2

This is a companion disc to the previously released LTD Live At the West Bank (Prestige PRCD 11018-2, 2001). The music on both discs was recorded on a May afternoon in 1969 at Baltimore's Left Bank Society. On XXL, only three pieces appear, betraying the title, explained on the back of the disc; "XXL: three extra-long tracks, by Long Tall Dexter." They are lengthy, the longest (Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" clocking in at 23-plus minutes). Long a staple of Gordon's band book, the tenorist and his able band give the jazz standard a major workout with all parties taking advantage of ample solo space. Gordon takes two other very familiar tunes for a spin in "Misty" and a rollicking "Love for Sale." Like LTD, XXL 's sonics leave a bit to be desired. But, no matter, the performances are fresh, urgent, and well explored.

Benny Green and Russell Malone
Live at the Bistro

Telarc Jazz 83560

Live at the Bistro is an excellent duet recording by pianist Benny Green and guitarist Russell Malone, both of whom find themselves stablemates at Telarc Jazz. Messrs. Green and Malone are very well suited to one another as they both purport a similarly lyrical style and approach to the blues. The Bistro of this concert is of the St. Louis variety, where the duo appeared June 28-29, 2002. Fourteen songs plus a single alternate take where assembled for this recording. The pieces range from the older well-established war horses (Monk's "Ask Me Now" and Benny Carter's "When Lights are Low") to the newly christened as jazz standards (the Bee Gee's "How Deep is your Love" and "Killing Me Softly"). The two young musicians share empathy, perhaps developed when each interned with the Master—Ray Brown. Each is very respectful of the other, setting up a perfect circumstance for music making.

Omar Sosa
Ayaguna—Live Duo Concert with Gustavo Ovalles

OTA Records 1010

On the heels of the Grammy®-nominated Sentir (Ota 1009, 2001), Omar Sosa's most recent endeavor, a live recording, Ayaguna, roars out the Caribbean with the force of a Category 5 Hurricane. Joined by percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, Sosa proves and proves again why he may be considered one of the greatest pianist/composer/musicians to emerge from the tropics. Born in Camagüey Cuba, Sosa was conservatory-trained as a percussionist before moving on to the piano. His percussionist's leanings are in dense evidence in his piano playing. His style might best be described as a Latin Cecil Taylor with melody and direction. Permeating his music is a very thick Western Classical Music element that is tempered with the heat and humidity of his home country. More incendiary than Gonzalo Rubalcaba and more on-the-edge than Chucho Valdes, Sosa is THE jazz pianist to watch, as is proven on Ayaguna.

Veteran record producer Joel Dorn resurfaces with Hyena Records, an imprint of the California-based SinDrome Records. For his first four releases, Dorn visited his archives and elected to release music first comprised all of Night Records's output. Released in the early 1980s, these four albums were culled from hours of soundboard recordings and sound, it anything, like documentaries, or more appropriately, documentary soundtracks. Let's look—

Rashaan Roland Kirk
The Man Who Cried Fire

Hyena Records TMF 9302

Jump right on over to "Multi Horn Variations" and hear Rashaan Roland Kirk boldly reinterpret Paganini's 24th Caprice in Am for Violin in ways that could have scarcely been considered by Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninov, or Paganini himself. At once, the variations are Jazz, Klezmer, Polka, Classical, Blues, Country, and anything else one can hear from that brilliant breath. Rashaan Roland Kirk is an artist of the same ilk as Ray Charles and Ry Cooder. Kirk had a health sense of humor. On this recording, he criticizes Miles Davis for his electric leanings and then launches a perfectly respectable "Bye, Bye Blackbird" on trumpet. Kirk was always full of surprises. These recordings were pulled from several mid '70s performances Kirk played at San Francisco's Keystone Korner. The sound is acceptable and the music is unmatchable. Dig this version of "Mr. P.C."

Cannonball Adderley
Radio Nights

Hyena Records TMF 9303

Cannon loomed larger than life over the alto saxophone landscape after the death of Charlie Parker. Collected from live radio broadcasts from the old Half Note in New York City, this music finds Cannon leading his most famous band composed of his brother Nate Adderley, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. There are several Cannonball standards here. "Working Song" and "Stars Fell On Alabama" were fixtures in the Adderley band book. "Fiddler on the Roof" makes a surprising appearance here. The song environment tends toward the blues, as is often the case with Julian Adderley bands. The soloing is uniformly fine and exciting.

Eddie Harris
A Tale of Two Cities

Hyena Records TMF 9304

Eddie Harris, the Baddest M***er F***er his ownself. Sans the electronics (for most of the record), Harris plays one of his most straight-ahead and satisfying recitals on A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities are San Francisco and Chicago and the year was 1978. For those listeners who think that Eddie Harris is only about novelty electric saxophone tunes, listen to "Cherokee" and tell me he does not know his way around the Be Bop vernacular. "Loverman" is a straight-ahead tour de force while "Illusionary Dreams" is the same on the electric side. "Sonnymoon for Two" has Harris playing piano and a trumpet (with a saxophone mouthpiece). Eddie Harris had nothing if not a sense of humor and this recording captures that perfectly.

Les McCann
Les is More

Hyena Records TMF 9305

This is perhaps the oddest release of the four offerings from Hyena, but it is still compelling. Pianist Les McCann is found in a variety of settings on this disc. Sometimes he is the leader, sometimes the sideman, and sometimes the inspiration. Gospel and blues heavily influence his piano style. These songs were drawn from the private tape collection of the pianist and show him with Roberta Flack, Carmen McRae, and Cannonball Adderley. Highlights include interviews with McCann throughout the disc. It is good that this and all of the Hyena releases are here. They bring back a bit of history long asleep.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet
In San Francisco (Limited Release Remaster with 20-Bit K2 Super Coding)

Riverside RCD-1157-2

Julian Adderley is showing up everywhere. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco was recorded at the old Jazz Workshop October 18 and 20, 1959, an auspicious year in jazz and the career of Cannonball Adderley considering that he had recorded, with Miles Davis, Kind of Blue in March and April of the same year. Here, Adderley has left the Miles fold to pursue his own blues-drenched, funky vision. ...in San Francisco, in its current incarnation, consists of six lengthy performances. Bobby Timmons is on hand from Art Blakey and brings with him "This Here" which is worked out by Julian and Nate Adderley, as well as, the pianist. Adderley standards "Bohemia After Dark" and "Spontaneous Combustion" are well considered. Added to the re-releases, Monk's "Straight No Chaser," which Adderley had been on hand to play in the Miles band, is kicked up in the funk department, with Nate Adderley giving and exceptional solo. The sonics are superb, making this release a valuable one.

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