Published: February, 2006, Rasputin Manifesto
Jazz CD reviews

By Michael Fortes

Raquel Bitton
Paris Blues
(RB Records)

When music transports you far away to desired places you can't get to otherwise, or simply can't afford at the moment, it's successful on a very important level. Raquel Bitton's Paris Blues hasn't been released yet as of this writing (it is scheduled to hit stores on the 21st of February), but I can already tell you it's an unqualified success.

Bitton's sweet, quavering yet controlled voice evokes the feeling of early 20th century Paris like few others singing in this day and age. She gives moving readings of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur," Django Reinhardt's "Nuages," and the Billie Holiday-associated "I'm A Fool To Want You." Singing in both French and English, Bitton also takes us directly to the streets of Paris by including songs originally recorded by French jazz singers Lucienne Delyle, Suzy Solidor and Leo Marjane.

To top it off, Bitton's accompaniment is stellar throughout, with a piano-bass-drums rhythm section augmented by violin, guitar, mandolin, and a full bevy of horns and strings in tasteful arrangements.

2006 could be a big year for this Bay Area resident, as Paris Blues coincides with the release of the concert film "Piaf…Her Story…Her Songs," in which Bitton is documented singing twenty Edith Piaf songs in tribute to the late French chanteuse. Keep an eye and an ear open…

Gianluca Petrella
Indigo 4
(Blue Note)

Add Italian trombonist Gianluca Petrella to the growing list of 21st century artists pushing jazz into new, exciting territory without totally abandoning the music's roots.

Petrella makes his Blue Note debut with Indigo 4, which also happens to be the name of the quartet Petrella leads on this set. Supported by Franceso Bearzatti on sax, Paolino Dalla Porta on bass, and Fabio Accardi on drums, the trombonist creates a sparkling blend of post-bob jazz and funky, hip-hop inspired rhythms that are almost certainly the product of Petrella's side gig as a DJ in hip Italian night clubs.

Released in Europe in 2004, Indigo 4 makes its US debut on February 21, 2006, boasting a set of original compositions that revel in the freedom afforded a piano-less combo, excepting the first track, "Tinkle, Tinkle." This tune does feature piano, albeit sampled and sonically staggered in a manner so jarring that it may cause one to think the CD is defective. It becomes clear that this effect is just a current production technique that sounds a little out of place on a jazz tune performed by a living, breathing group of musicians, and that these guys are in fact serious about what they do.

A couple of standards also receive fresh readings. "I Got It Bad" is transformed into an almost entirely new song in its bass and 'bone duet rendition. "Mood Indigo" is even more radically revamped, as the techno-inspired drumming provides a perfect bed for the ensemble to deftly punctuate the melody, state it stiffly and emphatically, and then push it far, far away.

Petrella's quartet certainly holds its own in the crowd of exciting jazz innovators like the Bad Plus and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Just when you thought the music couldn't get much scarier…

Dr. John and the lower 911
sippiana hericane
(Blue Note)

The Gulf Coast still can use all the help it can get to clean up and rebuild the wreckage left by Hurricane Katrina back in August. Stepping up to help raise some cash for that effort is legendary New Orleans singer-pianist Dr. John, with his budget-priced mini-LP sippiana hericane.

Obviously inspired by the tragic storm that decimated New Orleans and surrounding areas along the Gulf Coast, sippiana hericane serves up a small sampling of Dr. John's famous Cajun-flavored blend of jazz, blues and R&B. The set is book-ended with long and short versions of the gospel-tinged tune "Clean Water," with John pleading us to "lend a helping hand / help us save our land."

In between is the mostly instrumental four-part "Wade: Hurricane Suite," and the musical love note "Sweet Home New Orleans." The tone is determined and hopeful throughout, and 100% enjoyable, as one would expect from the ebullient Dr. John. It even sounds great outside of the context of the tragedy it is meant to address.

As stated on the back cover, "All proceeds go to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and The Voice of the Wetlands." Buy a few for your friends - they won't be the only ones thanking you.

Booker Ervin
Tex Book Tenor
(Blue Note)

Making its CD debut as part of Blue Note's "Connoisseur CD Series" is this once-lost 1968 session led by tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin. Apparently it was Ervin's prior sales that kept this great recording from being released when it was originally planned, though it did briefly appear posthumously in 1976 as part of a 2-LP set.

Ervin is supported by Woody Shaw on trumpet, Kenny Barron on piano, Jan Arnet on bass and smilin' Billy Higgins on drums. Barron contributes "Gichi" and Shaw provides "In a Capricornian Way," while the remaining three selections are Ervin originals. These are inspired performances, with that classic Blue Note sound, and being that the "Connoisseur" series is comprised of limited editions, Tex Book Tenor is fated to eventually retreat back to the vault where it has spent most of its life. Which is a shame, to say the least, but while it's still here, place this one at the top of your "must hear" list of archival jazz releases.