A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: November, 2008

Recycled Goods (#59)

by Tom Hull

October's washout wiped the cupboard bare. I've had beaucoups of distractions this month as well, but some easy marks in the jazz reissue arena got me going, and I finally faced the Nina Simone box. (Too bad Legacy, which for so long was so good to me, didn't send Love Train instead.) Nitpickers will note that the Todd Snider is neither old nor world, but he's appeared before in my best of year wrap-ups, and I figured what the hell -- ought to review good records I get gratis somewhere. Next time maybe I'll get to Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse.

Charlie Parker: Washington D.C., 1948 (1948 [2008], Uptown): Easily the most extensively documented jazz musician in history, with a smattering of legendary studio recordings and a huge number of more/less bootleg-quality live tapes, some no more than the alto sax solos cut out from the performance. Aficionados devour them all. I've never quite seen the point: even when Parker is at his most inspired, he adds little to what we already know from crisper sounding and better supported studio work. This new discovery starts with a very ordinary 7:39 bebop exercise led by Ben Lary and Charlie Walp, then spruces the group up by adding Parker and Buddy Rich, who both make a world of difference. Later the group drops down to a quartet, running through "Ornithology" and "KoKo," then they finish with a "Dixieland vs. Bebop" joust with Tony Parenti, Wild Bill Davison, and Benny Morton on "C Jam Blues." Nice solos by Rich and Parenti, and the aficionados won't be disappointed with Bird. B+

Nina Simone: To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story (1957-93 [2008], RCA/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): Package is 5.25 inches high, 11.25 inches wide, no deeper than a jewel box -- a combination that fits on no known shelving. Starts with 3 Bethlehem tracks (1957), 8 Colpix (1959-64), 5 Phillips (1964-65); ends with 1 Elektra (1993), the balance inexpensively culled from RCA's catalog, including live takes of older hits: about the same shape as the 2-CD Anthology from 2003, just longer, with more marginal stuff. Simone was courageous politically, cautious romantically, sometimes brilliant, but more often her covers were only as deep as her voice -- songs like "Mr. Bojangles" come off as mere exercises. This hits the key points, and stays away from the dross which dominated her RCA catalog, but offers no surprises. Documentation is good. B+

Todd Snider: Peace Queer (2008, Aimless): Eight songs, 26:32 total length -- these days that would count as an EP, even if it wasn't dashed off quickly, with an opportune cover of "Fortunate Son," two rough demos of a parable about a bully who wears himself down, two parts telling the story of Uncle Sam's fatal heart attack, a couple of war stories, and some liner notes just dictated into the microphone. I figure it's his final kiss-off not just to the Bush Administration but to the whole American empire, and I treasure every moment of it. A-

Briefly Noted

Chet Baker: Chet in Chicago (1986 [2008], Enja): Unreleased studio session, volume 5 in Enja's Chet Baker Legacy series, with Bradley Young's piano trio, working bebop standards, with sprightly piano, fine trumpet, and Baker whisking his way through his umpteenth "My Funny Valentine." B+

The Miles Davis All-Stars: Broadcast Sessions 1958-59 (1958-59 [2008], Acrobat): Ten tracks from four sessions, with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley missing one each, pianists ranging from Bill Evans to Red Garland to Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass except for the cut Candido drops in on; no surprises, at least until Coltrane catches fire on the last cuts, reminiscent of Bird's Roosts. B+

Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Always a subtle pianist, sneaking about here as bassist Scott LaFaro frequently leads and drummer Paul Motian invents his off-centric drumming; LaFaro died in a car crash ten days later, his legendary status secured this weekend, which also yielded Waltz for Debby, this record's only rival for the highpoint of Evans' career. A

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band: Showtime at the Spotlite (1946 [2008], Uptown, 2CD): Diz came up in big bands and preferred them well into the 1950s, but this is mostly a historical curiosity, predating his Latin binge with Chano Pozo, with raw audio roughing up sometimes spectacular solos; band members include Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke; Sarah Vaughan drops in for a cameo. B

Tom Lellis/Toninho Horta: Tonight (2008, Adventure Music): Piano-guitar duets, both sing but Lellis more, romantic yankee standards outnumbering the sambas two or three to one; both slow, sweet, more or less quaint. B-

Carmen McRae: Live at the Flamingo Jazz Club London May 1961 (1961 [2008], Acrobat): Barely accompanied by Don Abney's piano trio, eleven standards from "I Could Write a Book" to "They Can't Take That Away From Me," including obvious stops like "Stardust" and "Body and Soul" and the local nod "A Foggy Day (in London Town)," given readings at once textbook proper and delectable. B+

Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Himself (1957 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Solo piano, excepting one anomalous take of "Monk's Mood" with John Coltrane and Wilbur Ware; covers like "April in Paris" and "A Ghost of a Chance" are carefully dissected to reveal odd tangents, but the process is so slow and painstaking it's hard maintain interest. B

Jovino Santos Neto & Weber Iago: Live at Caramoor (2007 [2008], Adventure Music): Brazilian pianists do "Alone Together" and their own standards, a pure piano stroll through Brazil's sinuous rhythms, except for a nice bonus at the end, as Joe Lovano's soprano sax rides Jobim's "Wave." B

Lucía Pulido: Luna Menguante/Waning Moon (2006 [2008], Adventure Music): Hot-blooded, arch-voiced Colombian chanteuse, full of dramatic emotion, which translates less clearly than the New York jazzbos in her band. B+

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Copyright © 2008 Tom Hull.