A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: September, 2009

Recycled Goods (#66)

by Tom Hull

As noted last month, Recycled Goods is in limbo right now, looking for a new home, not finding much. For the time being I'm dabbling, noting things that pass my way, and sometimes (see ACN below) things that don't. Whatever fits in any given month goes up at the end (except, as it turns out, for the big In Series project below, which given its size straddles into next month). Would like to see more non-jazz, but for the time being that's how my bread is buttered. Promos for this project are way down, but one thing that has helped is being able to stream records from Rhapsody. Doing so poses some risks -- I don't spend as much time with an album, and I can't factor in the packaging and documentation. The former is probably less of a problem, especially for material I'm already acquainted with. The latter, however, is often one of the key reasons for favoring one compilation over another. So starting this month I'm noting the Rhapsody downloads with [R] after the grade.

One other change is that I'm introducing my three-tiered B+ division grading, which I've been using for almost everything else over the last 2-3 years. Most good records fall somewhere in the B+ range, and the range from top to bottom has proven useful. The three-stars are records I like quite a bit but can't quite commit to as a real A-list record. The one-stars are good, in many cases admirable, in any case beyond reproach, but otherwise I don't see any real reason to go out of your way to obtain them.

By the way, the 73 records below is some kind of record, eclipsing 64 in January 2006, 59 in November 2004, 58 or 57 on several occasions. I don't expect it to ever be matched, unless next month tops it. That's only a possiblity because I held back 50-some Verve Originals. The number of records reviewed in Recycle Goods is now 2492.

Inner Circle: State of Da World (2009, Shanachie): You can think of them as the Isley Brothers of Jamaica. Formed in 1968, still toking forty years and many changes later, they've passed through every style in the book from ska, rocksteady, and reggae to dancehall and dub, delving into roots and rasta, swearing allegiance to Ja and Ganja, but always listing slightly toward pop, suspiciously in fact. Their latest is laced with guests if not exactly guest stars -- Junior Reid, David Hines, Mutabaruka, Luciano, a couple of second-generation Marleys, someone d/b/a as Slightly Stoopid. Lot of that going around. B+(*)

Art Pepper: The Art History Project (1950-82 [2009], Widow's Taste, 3CD): Three discs, designated "Pure Art (1951-1960)," "Hard Art (1960-1968)," and "Consummate Art (1972-1982)." The gaps account for prison time, which would have been clearer had whoever put this together been better at dates: the first disc actually goes from a Stan Kenton cut in 1950 up to 1957. Another gap between 1960 and 1968 is buried in the prison-hardened second disc, and the third doesn't actually get going until 1977. Still, the eras are roughly correct. Aside from the Kenton, the first disc -- a best-of picked from a string of superb albums -- has a bright, fresh, clean sound with no extra lines or baggage, just virtuoso alto sax over impeccable west coast rhythm. The later material is more weathered and less choice. Most of the second disc comes from a previously unreleased set with pianist Frank Strazzeri -- rough stuff, Pepper fiercely determined to make up for lost time. The third disc adds a little angst to his extensively documented final period -- cf. the 16-CD Galaxy box, the 9-CD Complete Village Vanguard Sessions, scattered more/less legit live shots -- when everything he did seemed magical. A-

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (1966-67 [2009], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): You can't help but do a double take when the man from Saturn finds anything strange. The string instruments played by nearly everyone in the band -- rotating with their more/less normal instruments, although Marshall Allen's first credit is oboe, and the rhythm section mostly consists of log drums and tympani -- are unidentified but seem to include odd lutes and zithers from around the world. Seem, because they're pretty much unidentifiable: undulating waves of metallic bowed and plucked sounds crashing against the shore. The pieces move from "Worlds Approaching" to "Strings Strange" to "Strange Strange": the first is remarkable, especially for the drums, while the later pieces unravel a bit. One of Ra's many self-issued low-run LPs, augmented with a bonus track called "Door Squeak" -- an improv based on Ra repeatedly opening and closing a squeaky door. B+(***)

Johnny Winter: The Johnny Winter Anthology (1967-2004 [2009], Shout! Factory, 2CD): Albino bluesman, plays mean guitar and sings good enough to get by, most effectively on Dylan covers where the rage gives him an edge. Despite 37 years of career span, the compilation focuses so narrowly on hard blues and fast rock and roll, almost all covers, a couple synthesized by the Rolling Stones, that its homogeneity starts to wear on you. In his blues-to-rock-to-blues steadfastness Winter is sort of America's analogue to Eric Clapton, except that he never tasted the sweet sting of a slow one, or buried his troubles in mush. That could be integrity, or perhaps just limits. B

In Series

"Verve Originals" is yet another effort by Universal's Verve Music Group to recycle their substantial back catalog. When the era began, they dumped plain albums onto CD, then went back and tried filling up the extra length with more or less interesting extras in various degrees of enhanced packaging. Later they tried returning to the original configurations in their limited edition "LP Reproduction" series, mostly picking obscure early titles that had been long out of print. Verve Originals generalize the LPR idea: remastered sound, but no extras so some discs come in under 30 minutes -- generally speaking, anything pre-1970 is likely to be short, although there is at least one case of a double-LP fitting onto a single CD. The original artwork is recycled with a spine flag added to designate the series. Verve launched this series in 2007 and it's spread like wildfire with 138 titles at last count. Most are $11.98 list, one of those glass-half-full prices sometimes seeming like a bargain and sometimes a rip-off. (For comparison, WEA and Sony have been dumping vanilla reissues as cheap as $6.98 list, although what they've been doing is too scattershot to think of as a series.) The early reissues rescued some obscure 1950s titles -- Satchmo at Passadena was the title that first caught my eye, a 1954 LP I hadn't heard of although it turned out that the music was familiar. They later moved on to include much of the 1960s-vintage Impulse! catalog, including most of John Coltrane's albums, as well as a lot of GRP's later pop-jazz. Since they were mostly bringing out-of-print items back into print, the series tends to skip higher profile, continuously in print items. For instance, the series includes a cluster of Stan Getz's mid-1960s bossa nova albums, but omits is biggest hits, Jazz Samba and Getz/Gilberto. Most major artists have similarly patchy representation -- Coltrane is an exception, with even A Love Supreme repackaged for the series.

Thanks to Rhapsody, I wound up listening to virtually all of it, the exceptions being titles I already owned. I wound up with so much material I split the report into two chunks. The second installment, which focuses on the Impulse and GRP catalogs and will include a list of what I didn't review, will appear next month. For this month, I focus more on the early records, most by major jazz figures. Also most of the 1960s bossa nova craze, which ties into Getz but doesn't stop there. Most of the artists listed here are complete, but in a couple of cases I skipped over reissues of albums I already knew: their ratings are:

  • Stan Getz: At the Shrine (1954, Verve) B+
  • Stan Getz: Sweet Rain (1967, Verve) A-
  • Gerry Mulligan: Lonesome Boulevard (1989, A&M) B+
  • Oliver Nelson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961, Impulse) A
  • Oscar Peterson: Trio + One: Clark Terry (1964, Emarcy) A

Louis Armstrong and the All Stars: Satchmo at Pasadena (1951 [2009], Verve): One complaint is that Satch spreads center stage around too much, but Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, and Jack Teagarden earn their keep and their billing, and the sketch with Velma Middleton on "Baby It's Cold Outside" is an all-time classic; the only other problem is that it ends too soon, which is why I recommend the 4-CD version: The California Concerts, sadly out of print. A- [R]

Louis Armstrong and the All Stars: New Orleans Nights (1950-54 [2008], Verve): A short compilation of six good ole good 'uns, mostly from two-part 78s, some with original All Stars, some with latter day stand-ins; most of these warhorses have been done and done, but only "New Orleans Function" sounds forced, or maybe I just mean schematic. A- [R]

Count Basie: On My Way & Shoutin' Again (1962 [2009], Verve): The big band takes on ten Neal Hefti pieces, tightly arranged, immaculately played, but not as explosive as the band was a few years earlier; recording a couple weeks after the Cuban Missile Crisis, maybe Basie decided to cool off his atomic shtick. B+(*) [R]

Count Basie: Basie Land (1963 [2009], Verve): Billy Byers composed ten songs and sharpened up the charts, giving the stars more solo space while tuning up the machine. A- [R]

George Benson: Shape of Things to Come (1968 [2007], Verve): With Wes Montgomery dead, Creed Taylor picked up this agreeable substitute, then fed him to Don Sebesky for the cosmopolitan treatment; he holds up better than Montgomery did, and closes with a treatment of "Last Train to Clarksville" (the Monkees' hit) that is inspired kitsch. B+(*) [R]

George Benson: Tell It Like It Is (1969 [2008], Verve): Marty Sheller produced, adding a bit of Latin tinge, but there's no jazz interest here, just pop instrumentals -- the best a sly "My Cherie Amour" -- with Benson making his soul man move on three vocals, most successfully "Tell It Like It Is." B [R]

George Benson: I Got a Woman and Some Blues (1969 [2008], Verve): I.e., "I Got a Woman," "Bluesadelic," "Good Morning Blues," although I suppose one could argue that "Without Her" tries to tie it together; singing more with less voice, sounds more like the progression of a loser. [29:52] C [R]

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Soul Finger (1965 [2009], Verve): His run tripped up when he left Blue Note in 1964, but here he gets one more album out of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, adds Lucky Thompson, and shows his usual eye for talent in a young pianist named John Hicks; even wrote a song, something with a little Latin tinge. B+(**) [R]

Willie Bobo: Bobo Motion (1967 [2008], Verve): Add a little clave to insipid pop tunes like "Up, Up & Away" and you get . . . well, insipid pop cha-chas; the Neal Hefti and Joe Tex tunes are better, but the vocals sound like watered-down Santana, not that he/they could sing either. B- [R]

Luiz Bonfa: Composer of Black Orpheus Plays and Sings Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): Most of the title is small print, so could just be Bossa Nova; he plays guitar better than he sings, and the best things here are just guitar with a bit of percussion; the strings don't help. B+(**) [R]

Luiz Bonfa: The Brazilian Scene (1965 [2008], Verve): One of Brazil's major guitarist-composers, but wrapped up in strings and produced so lazily it's hard to tell. B- [R]

Luiz Bonfa & Maria Toledo: Braziliana (1965 [2008], Verve): Husband-and-wife do bossa nova, soft and seductive, of course, the guitarist even more so than the singer, not a major figure in her own right. B+(**) [R]

A Night at the Village Vanguard With the Kenny Burrell Trio (1959 [2008], Verve): With Richard Davis and Roy Haynes, a supple, rather quiet set that slowly sneaks up on you, finishing with masterful takes on Ellington and Monk. B+(*) [R]

Paul Desmond: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1969 [2008], Verve): A whole album of Simon & Garfunkle covers, tricked up as easy listening schmaltz by producer Don Sebesky, with Desmond playing so sweet your teeth hurt; at least nobody feels compelled to sing along. C- [R]

Bill Evans: The V.I.P.s Theme (1963 [2008], Verve): Movie music, backed by a string orchestra that manages to avoid being soupy or silly (although not by a lot), with the pianist more forthright than usual; given diminished expectations, not so bad. B [R]

Maynard Ferguson: Octet (1955 [2008], Verve): Stan Kenton's flashy young trumpeter leads a big enough band -- Georgie Auld, Herb Geller, and Bob Gordon on saxophones; Conte Candoli also on trumpet; Shelly Manne behind the drums -- through seven Bill Holman pieces (plus one Johnny Mercer) built for this kind of speed and precision. A- [R]

Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong: Porgy and Bess (1957 [2008], Verve): After two utterly delightful standards albums together -- Ella and Louis and Ella and Louis Again -- their third (and last) goes high concept, with Russ Garcia laying the orchestration so thick his stars can't get a word in for 12 minutes; the overkill is remarkable but tedious; the singers (and trumpet solos) marvelous; the songs often not up to snuff. B [R]

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella in Hollywood (1961 [2009], Verve): So much live Ella tends to run together, but this slice catches her at some sort of a peak, warm, funny, downright athletic when she scats, with Lou Levy and Herb Ellis bright spots on the band. A- [R]

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella in Hamburg (1965 [2007], Verve): Backed by Tommy Flanagan's trio, a quick, topical set of Ella being Ella, ripping through "Body and Soul," "A Hard Day's Night," "The Boy From Ipanema," "Old MacDonald Has a Farm," virtually anything that gets in her way, acing the standards making good fun of the novelties. B+(**) [R]

Stan Getz: Stan Getz in Stockholm (1955 [2008], Verve): The pickup rhythm section is a pleasant surprise, led by pianist Bengt Hallberg, who later went on to cut the legendary Jazz at the Pawnshop albums; Getz sticks to light and airy standards, closing upbeat with "Get Happy" and "Jeepers Creepers." B+(***) [R]

Stan Getz/Gerry Mulligan/Harry Edison/Louis Bellson and the Oscar Peterson Trio: Jazz Giants '58 (1953-57 [2008], Verve): Producer Norman Granz's favorite thing: an all-star jam session; four songs to stretch out on, plus a ballad medley which may be why the album tilts toward Getz, although Mulligan is the workhorse here, and Edison is as sweet as ever. B+(***) [R]

Stan Getz: Big Band Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): After Jazz Samba sold a bit, Getz returned to the Brazilian well many times, especially over the next two years; Gary McFarland arranged and conducted the snazzy big band backdrop, and Jim Hall took up the guitar, but the key player here is the saxophonist. B+(**) [R]

Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfa: Jazz Samba Encore! (1963 [2008], Verve): Getz's Jazz Samba breakthrough was cut with Charlie Byrd on guitar and Big Band Bossa Nova featured Jim Hall, but soon real Brazilians lined up to get in on the act, with guitarist-composers Bonfa and Jobim joining here; they tend to understatement, but Getz takes care of that. A- [R]

Stan Getz: With Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida (1963 [2008], Verve): For once the guitarist is as good as the material, and the Brazilian percussionists are tuned into that, which just goes to push Getz even further. A- [R]

Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto #2 (1964 [2008], Verve): A quickie follow-up to Getz/Gilberto, the most successful of Getz's bossa nova records, recorded live at Carnegie Hall; seems loose, disorganized, too much Gilberto, not enough Getz. B [R]

Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto: Getz Au Go Go (1964 [2007], Verve): Short live set; only three sambas to camouflage Gilberto's affectless vocals, the rest American standards that are at best quaint; Getz, of course, is sterling. B+(*) [R]

Stan Getz: Dynasty (1971 [2009], Verve, 2CD): Live in London with a guitar-organ-drums section he picked up in Paris: guitarist René Thomas and organist Eddy Louiss steer clear of soul jazz clichés, as does Getz, who's more likely here to come out fierce than to do his floating-in-air thing. A- [R]

Stan Getz: Apasionado (1989 [2009], Verve): Produced, arranged, and co-written by Herb Alpert, backed by a long list of studio hacks including strings (possibly fake), recorded two years before his death, this should be easy to dismiss, but Getz plays magnificently, and you have to pay close attention to even nitpick the backing. B+(***) [R]

Terry Gibbs and His Big Band: Swing Is Here!! (1960 [2009], Verve): Born Julius Gubenko, plays vibes, came up through the Dorsey, Herman, and Goodman big bands, has a ball with his own herd here; not sure who did the arrangements, but they're crisp, with sharp cats in the band and the vibes slipping and sliding over the crests. B+(***) [R]

Astrud Gilberto: The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965 [2008], Verve): A fluke star, whose nearly featureless voice was all that "The Boy From Ipanema" needed, catapulting her from wife of star João Gilberto to her own album; no such magic here, but Antonio Carlos Jobim dishes out delicious sambas, which Marty Paich waters down with strings. B [R]

Astrud Gilberto: Look to the Rainbow (1965-66 [2008], Verve): Gil Evans takes over the orchestration, having trouble toning it down so it doesn't upstage the singer; she is fine on prime Brazilian tunes we've learned to associate with her voice, but very weak in English. B- [R]

Astrud Gilberto/Walter Wanderley: A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness (1966 [2008], Verve): Wanderley's a Brazilian organ player swept up in the bossa nova craze, not very promising, but a better match for the singer than the elaborate orchestrations of Gil Evans. B [R]

Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy on the French Riviera (1962 [2009], Verve): Mostly Latin fair, with two songs from pianist Lalo Schifrin and two more from Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Hungarian guitarist Elek Bacsik throwing some curveballs; with 7 songs totalling 51:59, they get to stretch out a little; while Gillespie's played hotter trumpet, he doesn't disappoint here. B+(***) [R]

Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy Goes Hollywood (1963 [2008], Verve): Themes and hits from Exodus, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Lolita, a "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Days of Wine and Roses" -- smartly played by Gillespie's quintet, even on songs so set they can't bust them loose. B+(**) [R]

Dizzy Gillespie: The Cool World (1964 [2008], Verve): Nominally a soundtrack to Shirley Clarke's film about young people growing up in Harlem, the music written by Mal Waldron, set pieces that are carefully measured with none of the clichés or atmospherics that make up most soundtracks -- note that four song titles mention "Duke"; Gillespie's quintet includes James Moody on tenor sax and flute, and Kenny Barron on piano. B+(***) [R]

Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues (1955-56 [2007], Verve): Two late period sessions, some people find her broken down sound poignant, but I find it awkward, especially when she searches for an affect she used to find naturally; on the other hand, Verve's groups were stellar, and she held some sort of patent on magic. B+(*) [R]

Milt Jackson: At the Museum of Modern Art (1965 [2008], Verve): A live set with Cedar Walton on fleet bebop piano and James Moody floating by on flute; Jackson's vibes tie it all together, accenting the differences while retaining his trademark sense of swing. B+(*) [R]

Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina: Elis & Tom (1974 [2008], Verve): Regina doesn't have much more range than Astrud Gilberto, but she hits the right tone here for a set of classic Jobim, done simply or with full orchestra, sometimes the difference scarcely matters. A- [R]

Antonio Carlos Jobim/Gal Costa: Rio Revisited (1987 [2008], Verve): A live set covering the usual songbook from "One Note Samba" to "Corcovado," the seductive grooves lifted from the weak sound by Costa and a backing chorus. B+(**) [R]

Hugh Masekela: Home Is Where the Music Is (1972 [2008], Verve): Runs 76:33, a double LP fit onto a single CD; his ex-home is South Africa, and the more he looks back the harder he charges forward, eventually erupting in a well-earned vocal; some Americans in the band take a while to catch on, but saxophonist Dudu Pukwana is perfectly at home. A- [R]

Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Quartet: Blues in Time (1957 [2009], Verve): Five years later the same pair recorded the sublime Two of a Mind; this is more tentative, as two of the coolest saxophonists ever puzzle each other out. A- [R]

Oliver Nelson and His Orchestra: "Fantabulous" (1964 [2008], Verve): A big band session, deep and bluesy, with a lot of muscle and not much filigree, mostly deserving of its innovative exclamation. B+(***) [R]

Oliver Nelson: The Kennedy Dream (1967 [2009], Verve): A tribute to the late president, each piece introduced by a memorable speech fragment, followed by the big band loping through what inevitably winds up sounding like movie music, a bit too somber as if that's the necessary emotion. [29:02] B [R]

Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Song Book (1952-53 [2009], Verve): Part of the first round of songbook albums Peterson's trio cut for Norman Granz -- most of the series, but not Kern, were reprised in 1959; these were cut in marathon sessions to be sorted out later; classic standards, given a quick once-over that showcases Peterson's dazzling talent and effortless swing. B+(**) [R]

Oscar Peterson: Plays Count Basie (1955 [2008], Verve): Peterson and Basie adored each other, but Peterson never bothered with the idea of leaving notes out, so this feels well fleshed out, especially with guitarist Herb Ellis filling out a quartet that includes Buddy Rich. B+(**) [R]

Oscar Peterson with Strings: In a Romantic Mood (1955 [2008], Verve): One of the sillier ideas prevalent in the 1950s was that strings make a record romantic; another was that slow songs are even more so; Russ Garcia provides the strings here, turgid and vapid; makes you think about shooting everyone but the piano player. C [R]

Oscar Peterson & Nelson Riddle (1963 [2009], Verve): Two supporting actors in search of a leader, which should be the pianist, but he's neither loud nor aggressive enough to take charge, leaving you with swarms of strings and flutes and the occasional puddle of piano. C+ [R]

The Bud Powell Trio: Blues in the Closet (1956 [2009], Verve): With Ray Brown and Osie Johnson, mostly bebop tunes (including Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop" and "Woody n' You" and Monk's "52nd Street Theme"), played with typical flair. B+(**) [R]

Max Roach Plus Four: Quiet as It's Kept (1960 [2009], Verve): A pianoless group fronted by the two Turrentine brothers (Tommy on trumpet, Stanley on tenor sax), with Julian Priester on trombone and Bob Boswell on bass; the drummer's too tricky to file this away as hard bop, which leaves the horns a little uncertain. B [R]

Lalo Schifrin: Piano, Strings and Bossa Nova (1962 [2008], Verve): Argentine pianist, best known later for his soundtracks and quasi-classical Jazz Meets the Symphony fare, but at the time worked for Dizzy Gillespie; the arrangements are every bit as straightforward and obvious as the title. B [R]

Little Jimmy Scott: Everybody's Somebody's Fool (1950-52 [2008], Verve): Early, and rather starchy, sides with the diminutive singer backed by big bands led by Lionel Hampton, Billy Taylor, and Lucky Thompson, snarfed up from the Decca catalog; a reissue of a 1999 compilation, which seems like a violation of the series rules. B- [R]

Nina Simone: Let It Be Me (1980 [2009], Verve): Live set, small group, her piano prominent, her voice worn and weary, her key songs done better elsewhere, the extras dross. C- [R]

Jimmy Smith: Hobo Flats (1963 [2008], Verve): Actually, another Oliver Nelson big band album, the horns subdued, setting up the organ player for his title role; still, it mostly works, partly because they stay close to the blues where everyone knows his place, mostly because Smith is player enough to keep in front of this parade. B+(**) [R]

The Amazing Jimmy Smith Trio: Live at the Village Gate (1963 [2008], Verve): With guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Billy Hart, four tracks running a short 30:23; Smith's intensity is keyed up, but his energy tends to compress the sound into a dense ball of blues riffs, with Warren providing little relief. B- [R]

Jimmy Smith: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1964 [2007], Verve): Cover shows Smith and a buxom model back-to-back, the latter with a wolf head, the sort of cornball literalism that reminds me of Johnny "Guitar" Watson (except that Watson would have exposed a lot more skin); a big band thing with Oliver Nelson and/or Claus Ogerman, crisply played, the band lighting a fire under Smith who scuries to keep the organ out front, most impressively on "Women of the World." B+(***) [R]

Cal Tjader: Plays the Contemporary Music of Mexico and Brazil (1962 [2008], Verve): Arranged by Clare Fischer, who wrings any rhythmic complexity out of the music, leaving a soft, hapless backdrop for Tjader's vibes. C+ [R]

Sarah Vaughan and Her Trio: At Mister Kelly's (1957 [2007], Verve): With Jimmy Jones on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums, should be the sort of group that cracks Vaughan out of her statuesque diva pose and loosens her up, but it doesn't work out that way; note that this only has 9 of 20 songs on the 1991 CD. B [R]

Briefly Noted

Chick Corea: Tones for Joan's Bones (1966 [2005], Rhino/Atlantic): Before Scientology, before fusion even, a first album buried deep in the times: a standard issue hard bop quintet, with Woody Shaw's trumpet and Joe Farrell's tenor sax ricocheting over the rhythm, the pianist filling in gaps and flashing speed, showing a bit of grace when he carves some solo space on the title track. B+(**) [R]

Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Mister Kelly's (1958 [2007], Verve, 2CD): So much live Ella tends to run together, but two full discs picked from a three-week club run just overwhelms you with how much talent and verve she brought to such a wide range of material; the breakneck scat, the off-the-cuff lyric rewrites, you figure her metier is speed, then she drops a pure ballad like "Stardust" on you and just nails it. A- [R]

The Best of Connie Francis (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1957-62 [1999], Polydor): She was torn between two overlapping musical eras, posing both as a lush standards diva and as a feisty teen rocker with occasional bids for Hollywood; a big star for a brief time, she leaves five or six great fluke singles. A-

Inner Circle: The Best of Inner Circle: The Capitol Years (1976-77 [1993], The Right Stuff): A thin slice, distilling two albums from Jacob Miller's heyday, the first roots rasta reggae that pales only slightly from the top tier groups Island was popularizing, the second pitched more to the US market, not exactly the point. B+(**)

Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75 [2008], Cuneiform): British jazz-rock group, just guitar-bass-drums-keybs, but Nigel Morris and Hugh Hopper always find an interesting groove, allowing Gary Boyle to send out Wes Montgomery-sized strings of notes with John McLaughlin-inspired steeliness, and no vocals to spoil the mood; radio shots, unreleased studio work, some redundancies but they just add up to more. A-

Budd Johnson: Ya! Ya! [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1970 [2002], Black & Blue): An unsung hero, the guy who taught Ben Webster to play tenor sax, on a swing through France with Charlie Shavers on trumpet, pretty much as underrated as Johnson, and some local unknowns on "Body and Soul" and a batch of blues -- bread and butter, cheese and red wine. B+(**) [R]

Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964 [2009], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): An alto sax-drums free improv taped as part of "an all-night peace concert" at St. Peter's Church; interesting enough, cerebral with little flash, but short at 24:23; the record is padded out with Stu Vandermark's 2006 interview of a reticent Maneri, longer at 26:04, an extra you won't want to bother with twice and may not make it through once. B

Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra: Secrets of the Sun (1962 [2009], Atavistic Unhead Music Series): Recorded shortly after Ra and his Arkestra landed in New York, feels rough and scattered, with shifting lineups, even the regulars rotating instruments -- John Gilmore variously plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, and percussion, his credits also including space drums and space bird sounds -- while Ra's piano lurches hither and yon. B+(**)

Jimmy Smith: At Club Baby Grand, Vol. 1 (1956 [2008], Blue Note): Early on, a guitar-organ-drums trio live in Wilmington, Delaware; guitarist Thornel Schwartz never made a name for himself, but Smith is all over the machine, doing the things that made him famous, including enough ugliness in the lower registers to obviate the need for a bassist. B+(**) [R]

Jimmy Smith: At Club Baby Grand, Vol. 2 (1956 [2008], Blue Note): More of the same, "Caravan" giving the guitarist something sweet to chime in on, three more standards a lot of grist for the organ grinder. B+(*) [R]

Jimmy Smith: Plays Fats Waller (1962 [2008], Blue Note): Trio with guitar and drums, but they add very little to Smith's organ, this time taking nearly everything slow, painting famous songs so thick with pastels they're only barely recognizable. B [R]

Delroy Wilson: Dub Plate Style (1978 [2009], Pressure Sounds): This recycles 1978's 20 Golden Greats, which seems less a compilation -- only 10 songs reappear from any albums I could find -- than a dubwise synthesis, somewhat weak and underdeveloped as is often the case with the one-time child star, but increasingly groovewise as they wear on. B+(**) [R]

Tom Zé: Danç-Êh-Sá (2006, Tratore): Choppy Brazilian psychedelica, most likely so-named because it makes no sense that the broken riddims and nonsense rhymes could ever get under your skin and wrapped around your synapses, yet strangest of all this turns out to be catchy. A- [R]

Additional Consumer News

The recycle event of the month was the release of separate mono and stereo box sets of the complete works of The Beatles, along with new reissues of the 13 canonical albums and the 2-CD Past Masters miscellany. The new releases claim improved remastered sound. Not sure of most of the packaging details, even how many CDs are in each box. I grew up with the Beatles, know (or knew) every song by heart, becoming if anything too familiar with them. I own (or have owned) old editions of all of them, mostly CDs circa 1990. I hardly ever play them, and see no need to replace them. For the record, here's how I rate them:

  • Please Please Me (1963) A
  • With the Beatles (1963) A
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964) A-
  • Beatles for Sale (1964) A
  • Help! (1965) A+
  • Rubber Soul (1965) A
  • Revolver (1966) A
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) A
  • Magical Mystery Tour (1967) A-
  • The Beatles (1968, 2CD) B+
  • Yellow Submarine (1966-69) B-
  • Abbey Road (1969) B
  • Let It Be (1970) B [2003 Naked reissue: B+]
  • Past Masters, Vol. 1 (1962-65) A-
  • Past Masters, Vol. 2 (1965-69) B+

In other words, this was a band that could do virtually no wrong until the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team started to unwind. As Robert Christgau put it, three band members thought they were geniuses, but only one was, which became all the more obvious as the Fab Four went their separate ways.


Copyright © 2009 Tom Hull.