by Will Shapira
I've been listening to and collecting jazz recordings since the early 1950s. I can say without equivocation that no label has surpassed Arbors Records under the direction of Mat Domber and wife Rachel Domber in the production of top-quality jazz recordings. Their musicians seem to constitute a kind of theatre-like repertory company of the highest level.
Here are capsule reviews of some of their latest:
- The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Guys and Dolls. Eddie Erickson and Rebecca Kilgore do the era-evoking singing to a T, backed by Allen, tenor sax; Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, bass, and Chuck Riggs, drums. This superlative CD proves yet again that this Broadway show is and will continue to be an endless source of material for jazzers mature and talented enough to interpret it.
- Carol Sloane: Dearest Duke. One of our greatest veteran jazz singers applies her special touch to some of Duke Ellington's greatest hits, supported only but beautifully by Brad Hatfield, piano, and Ken Peplowski, reeds.
- 5 For Freddie: Bucky's Tribute to Freddie Green. Fellow guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli honors the (mostly) rhythm guitarist (and composer) for the Basie band for so many years, with John Bunch, piano; Warren Vache, cornet; Jay Leonhart, bass, and Mickey Roker, drums.
- John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing is Still the King. Some standards, some lesser known tunes from the swing era performed by Sheridan, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Barrett and Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Block, Ron Hockett and Scott Robinson, reeds; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Phil Flanigan, bass, and Jake Hanna, drums, all of whom understood what the Swing Era was and swinging is all about.
- The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More with Feeling. Perhaps not as well known as he should be, Bodner, 90, will delight veteran fans and newcomers alike with this collection from his prime years of mostly standards. It displays Bodner's superb conception, tone and complete mastery of the clarine with support by a large and highly talented cast.
If these and other excellent Arbors disks are unavailable at your favorite music store, shame on them! Contact them via http://www.arborsrecords.com/; (800) 299-1930; email@example.com or 2189 Cleveland St., #225, Clearwater FL 33765 and remember to ask for a catalog.
ERWIN HELFER TRIO: CARELESS LOVE (The Sirens Records
This Is Better than I Thought It Was Boogie; Careless
Love; Paris But I Don't Know Why; Blue Monk; On the Sunny Side
of the Street; Georgia; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; Make Me
a Pallet on the Floor; All of Me; I've Got It Bad and That Ain't
Reviewed by William J. Schafer
Erwin Helfer is back with his driving boogie and blues and goodtime
jump music, and this CD is at least as fine as his award-nominated
2001 CD, I'm Not Hungry But I Like to Eat-Blues! Helfer
is joined by bassist John Whitfield and drummer Avreeayl Ra, who
provide solid support for Helfer's rumbling blues.
Helfer is a 50-year veteran of the Chicago blues-and-boogie scene,
and he carries on the tradition of original eight-to-the-bar men
like Jimmy Yancey and Cripple Clarence Lofton. (He helped promote
and record these survivors of the 1920s.) He even bows here to
the indestructible Mama Yancey with "Make Me a Pallet on the
Floor." But he is also a convincingly original extender
of tradition, and he does not hesitate to reach outside the barrelhouse
piano bag for materials and ideas.
Witness here his use of eccentric modern piano master Thelonious
Sphere Monk's most popular composition, "Blue Monk." On
Helfer's keyboard it sounds like something straight from Chicago's
South Side while still retaining the lyrical poignancy that makes
it an enduring pop tune. Likewise, when Helfer taps Monk's
master Ellington for the pop-flavored "I've Got It Bad and
That Ain't Good" (which started life as an instrumental tone
poem), he re-injects it with a solid blues feeling closer to Leroy
Carr's meditative blues than Ellington's suave piano style.
Helfer's impromptu solo opener ("This Is Better . . .")
shows off his skills at extemporaneous boogie, which does indeed
turn out well. He also is unaccompanied on a gawky original, "Paris
But I Don't Know Why," which seems to ache for lyrics. On
the ancient blues "Careless Love," Helfer squeezes out
long lyrical lines from the primordial days of the music, and pop
numbers like "Georgia" and "All of Me" become
essays in the art of late-night barroom piano, both conventional
and interestingly original. Helfer's quirky and fearless
approach to the keyboard keeps any material from sinking into cliché or
standardized phrasing. He often sounds like a man stoked
up and on the edge of losing control, which adds a keen tension
to his playing and makes any three-minute track a small sonic equivalent
of the man on the flying trapeze.
The highlight of the disc for me is the final track, a rip-roaring "Jambalaya" on
which Avreeayl Ra's drums (of all sizes and pitches) turn into
something like a Balinese orchestra and thrust Helfer along on
their own tsunami of impulse. The whole CD is highly listenable
and intense, and it reminds us why boogie piano has survived every
change of taste and shift of style in popular culture. It
is as solid and foursquare as an old upright piano in a dusty barrelhouse,
waiting to be heard.
Available from The Sirens Records, P.O. Box 1997, Highland Park,
IL 60035-1997 or www.thesirensrecords.com.
DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE A.K.A. IRVING BERLIN: FROM OUT
OF THE PAST (JumpStart DB04) 61:18 min.
Everybody Step; Let Me Sing and I'm Happy; I'll See You
in C-U-B-A; Settle Down In A One-Horse Town; Russian Lullaby;
Come to the Land of the Argentine; Araby; Keep Away From the
Fellow Who Owns An Automobile; How Many Times; The Song Is Ended;
Soft Lights and Sweet Music; When You Walked Out Somebody Else
Walked Right In; A Pretty Girl is Like A Melody; An Orange Grove
in California; Lazy; When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam';
Roses of Yesterday.
Reviewed by Michael Steinman
To use an old musicians' expression, some people seem to be asleep
on Dan Block -- they don't know his heroic talents as well as they
should. He is a whiz of a clarinet player, standing up in the reed
section of Vince Giordano's Nighthawks to give out two choruses
in the manner of the pre-1935 King of Swing, or, in any context,
approaching the instrument as it should be played, with a glowing
tone and the right notes. He's also a tenor player of great skill
and feeling, able to play a creamy, evocative ballad or to stomp
as the great Forties players did. A fine alto saxophonist, a pleasing
singer, someone well-versed in musical history, too. But Block
isn't a recreator trapped in 78 grooves. He thinks seriously about
the music in ways some musicians do not, so each of his CDs has
been thematically intriguing, not just a group of good guys running
through some tunes in the studio. His 2003 Irving Berlin project
is remarkable on a number of levels, with not a whiff of academic
musicology about it. For one thing, even the apparently familiar
repertoire on this CD is no longer played much, except for those
bands who use "The Song as Ended" as a closing theme.
Almost half the songs were new to me except as titles in a discography.
But what is most pleasing here is not just Block's superlative
playing, but the way he has used a brilliant cast of friends (and
characters) -- John Sheridan, piano; Peter Ecklund, cornet; Vince
Giordano, bass/bass sax; Marty Grosz or Matt Munisteri, guitar;
Art Baron, trombone; James Alsanders, drums; Greg Cohen, bass;
Andy Stein, violin, and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings -- to summon
up different musical worlds for a most fulfilling hour. The CD
offers fleet trio performances by Block, Sheridan, and Alsanders
that I would put up against the Thirties Goodman Trio; languorous
duets with Sheridan, and brilliant cross-fertilizations, mixing
the early Ellington band and the Venuti-Lang combos ("One-Horse
Town," "Araby," "The Song is Ended," a
riotous "How Many Times") or suggesting a pocket-sized
Lunceford band on "Automobile." These sessions show how
thoughtful musicians like Block and his gifted friends can play
music from 1912 and beyond in ways that are neither dull nor formulaic.
Most CDs, no matter how star-studded, seem too long; this delightful
one is over too quickly.
Available from the Allegheny Jazz Society, 283 Jefferson St.,
Meadville, PA 16335 for $15 postpaid. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAXINE SULLIVAN: THE 1950S: SWINGING MISS LOCH LOMOND 1952-1959
(Baldwin Street Music BJH-314) 77:00 min.
Surprise Party; St. Louis Blues; Accentuate The Positive;
I'll Remember April; The Lady Is A Tramp; Piper In The Glen;
Boogie Woogie Maxine; Molly Malone; If I Had A Ribbon Bow; Barbara
Allen; Turtle Dove; Jackie Boy; A Brown Bird Singing; The Folks
Who Live On The Hill; I Didn't Know About You; Ah, Sweet Mystery
Of Life; Loch Lomond; I'm Comin' Virginia; Oh, No John; When Your
Lover Has Gone; Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies; St. Louis Blues: I Didn't
Know About You; I'm Beginning To See This Light; Loch Lomond;
Just Like A Gypsy; A Brown Bird Singing.
Reviewed by John Nelson
Maxine collectors, you're in for a treat. There are no fewer than
27 titles on this excellent CD, only two of which have been previously
issued on CD. What's more, the accompanying groups are led by such
people as John Kirby, Ray Bloch, Lionel Hampton and Dick Hyman.
Producer Ted Ono has written a six-page "insert" with
comments on all the sessions plus full details on the life and
times of Maxine Sullivan during the fabulous `50s right up to her
demise in 1987.
You will not find a boring moment on any of these tracks. For
good measure, you get two versions of Maxine's inevitable "signature
tune," "Loch Lomond," and there are also extended
efforts on "St. Louis Blues" (time 4:44), "The Folks
Who Live On The Hill," "When Your Lover Has Gone," and "I
Didn't Know About You." Just run to your favorite major record
store and demand this gem of a CD.
Failing that, you can go the mail order route: Baldwin Street
Music, Ted Ono Productions, Box 80, 552 Church Street, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4Y 2E3. Phone (416) 340-8899, fax (416) 352-5987,
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