Published: November, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Jazz CD reviews

By Michael Fortes

Alex Budman and the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Instruments of Mass Pleasure


Ah, the jazz orchestra. A financial nightmare, and a true test for a leader. Saxophonist/clarinetist Alex Budman is one of the latest brave souls to take on the jazz orchestra, and to his credit, the results are fresh and enjoyable, especially when diving into Latin grooves. Taking over the leadership post after founder Christopher Pitts relocated to Boston in 2000, Budman's 16-strong big band breezes through 9 pieces, including 6 original Budman arrangements, on Instruments of Mass Pleasure. Being that they are Monday night regulars at San Francisco's Jazz at Pearl's, it should be no surprise that this ensemble sounds as tight and professional as they do. Bravo!

Conrad Herwig

(Criss Cross Jazz)

Soul-jazz lives! Accomplished trombonist Herwig takes a decidely different path in following up last year's Que Viva Coltrane with a set a 7 originals cast in the mode of the classic '60s B3-fueled romps by the likes of Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. Aided by Seamus Blake on tenor and soprano, Kyle Koehler on Hammond B3 organ, Gene Jackson on drums, and the fine guitarist Mark Whitfield - this ensemble's coup de grace - Herwig delivers an album that holds its own with the classics of an earlier era, never sounding too studied and always swinging. Obligation is just the record to check out if you've been (heaven forbid!) growing tired of your old 1960s Blue Note records.

Herlin Riley
Cream of the Crescent

(Criss Cross Jazz)

Drummer Riley steps out on his own, after drumming in the Lincoln Center Jaxz Orchestra for the past ten years, with his second album as a leader. Drawing on the talents of his bandmates from his other high-profile gig - Wynton Marsalis' band, Wynton included - Riley presents 8 originals, plus one written by reed player Victor Goines. These perfect performances have a good variety of rhythmic approaches to them, from the funky "Trouble in Treme" to the touchingly somber "To Those We Love So Dearly," the Latin groove of "Dancing with Desire," and "Trombone Joe," a tune most evocative of the great crescent city.

Cannonball Adderley
Money in the Pocket

(Capitol Jazz)
(Capitol Jazz)

Cannon is revisited on disc with one old set and one 'new' one. Money In The Pocket is a previously unreleased 1966 concert recording of his quintet (featuring Joe Zawinul on piano) from which only a few edited performances had appeared on 45s. Unlike the similarly billed Mercy, Mercy, Mercy album, this set really was recorded at Chicago's The Club. With "The Sticks" being the lone tune also featured on the Mercy, Mercy, Mercy album recorded later in the year, Money In The Pocket serves as an enjoyable historical addendum to that classic recording, highlighted by a smokin' rendition of "Fiddler On The Roof."

Domination, on the other hand, is a studio creation at the helm of producer David Axelrod, recorded one year earlier. Cannon's sextet (including Zawinul, trombonist J.J. Johnson and brother Nat on trumpet) is augmented by Oliver Nelson's orchestra. It's a pleasant enough recording, but the real treat here is the bonus track - a 20 minute Zawinul piece called "Experience in E" which is actually drawn from a 1970 session previously released as Cannonball Adderley Quintet & Orchestra. The piece is filled with twists, turns and sections that keep it from ever sounding like run-of-the-mill jazz orchestra fare.

David Axelrod
The Edge: David Axelrod at Capitol Records 1966-1970

(Capitol Jazz)

Capitol pays tribute to producer David Axelrod with this attractive compilation of some of the many sessions he helmed in the late 1960s. An example of his successful Lou Rawls productions is here, Rawls' rendition of the Blood, Sweat & Tears hit "You've Made Me So Very Happy" (preceded by one of Lou's trademark monologues), as is a Cannnonball Adderley track and a couple of odd pieces by actor David McCallum. But the meat of the disc is drawn from the three records Axelrod released under his own name. The productions comprising Axelrod's 1968 album Songs Of Innocence are supposedly the beginning of jazz fusion, though they sound more like just really progressive pop to these ears. Think of what the missing link between Brian Wilson's Beach Boys masterpiece Pet Sounds and the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin might sound like, and you'll have an idea of how Axelrod's solo productions sound.

The Mizell Brothers

(Blue Note)

Brothers Fonce and Larry Mizell funked up Blue Note records in the '70s, taking the label further into territory slightly removed from jazz. This disc rounds up eleven examples of their sublime work. Examples of their well-known Donald Byrd productions are here, of course, such as the classic "(Fallin' Like) Dominoes" and "Think Twice" (the latter presented in a new remix). Bobbi Humphrey and Rance Allen are here as well, but point your attention to the previously unreleased Gary Bartz tune "Funked Up" featuring Syreeta. It's a hard-hitting, up-tempo, nasty piece of funk that any funk ethusiast should hear.

Blue Note Trip

(Blue Note)

The DJ collective Jazzanova pulls out their vinyl LPs and spins a continuously danceable program of '60s and '70s Blue Note records, from acoustic sides by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver to electric funk by Donald Byrd and Bobbi Humphrey, among many others. Each disc begins and ends with the sound of a diamond stylus riding the grooves of a record, and as the liner notes state, many of these recordings really do come from Jazzanova's actual vinyl records. The segues are fantastic, successfully bridging two very different eras of music and showing just how consistent (and enjoyable) the Blue Note sound really is.

Nancy Wilson
Guess Who I Saw Today: Nancy Wilson Sings Songs of Lost Love
(Capitol Jazz)
Save Your Love For Me: Nancy Wilson Sings The Great Blues Ballads

(Capitol Jazz)
The Great American Songbook

(Capitol Jazz)

Capitol has taken to surveying Nancy Wilson's span of recordings from 1959 to 1969 and breaking up the highlights into 2 neat little anthologies and one sprawling one. Her sharp yet smooth, pointed yet subtle delivery of her classic signature "Guess Who I Saw Today" highlights its titular compilation, which also includes the likes of "When Sunny Gets Blue" and "You Can Have Him" among its 14 selections. Save Your Love For Me is one selection longer, and is a perfect platter for when the lights are down low. "All Night Long" is particularly haunting, and the lyrical revision on "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You" is amusing. Either of these two single-disc collections would probably be enough to satisfy the casual Nancy Wilson fan.

For those who can't get enough, The Great American Songbook still might prove a challenge. The material is all top-notch, and Rod Stewart won't be topping these interpretations any time soon. But at 44 songs spread across 2 jam-packed compact discs, the set is a bit long. Best to break it up and listen in chunks.

That the decade of time during which these songs were recorded saw numerous changes in the personnel backing Ms. Wilson enhances rather than mars the listening experience is a testament to the excellence of the players, producers, and engineers involved. And of course, to Nancy herself, and her unique style. These discs represent a very enjoyable re-examination of her Capitol catalog, a re-examination which hopefully many others will enjoy as well.