Published: September, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Jazz CD reviews

By Michael Fortes

Smith Liebman Esen Jackson

(Tone Center)

Get past the tacky cover art, and what you'll find is a fairly decent electric jazz recording that, lo and behold, seems to be drawing some inspiration from '70s and '80s Miles Davis in a good way.

Saxophonist Dave Liebman did play with Miles briefly in the early '70s, so he was bound to carry some of that over with him. The rest of the combo - drummer Steve Smith, keyboardist Aydin Esen and Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar - plays with verve and gusto. Best of all, this combo knows to keep the sonic trappings of those prior combos - namely primitive sounding synths, vocoder and synth drums - out of the mix.

Anyone who still thinks that the only thing that came out of later era Miles and Weather Report was smooth jazz and bad instrumental music masquerading as jazz needs to hear this disc for an example of musicians who get what the masters were aiming for in their misunderstood late-period works. You'll never hear Decoy the same way again.

Fusion For Miles - A Guitar Tribute
(Tone Center)

Dave Liebman also appears on this umpteenth tribute to Miles Davis, which serves as much as a backgrounder for Flashpoint as it does a feature for the guitarists on each track.

The band - Liebman, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Alphonso Johnson on bass, Larry Goldings on organ, Jeff Richman on guitar, and various guest lead guitarists - certainly create their own vibe and groove on these classic Miles tunes. However, none of them match the raw intensity of the originals. The ones that at least capture the imagination more than the others are "Serpent's Tooth," "Nefertiti" and "Eighty One," by virtue of the fact that Miles never himself reimagined them with any of his own electric ensembles. "Splatch" could also get a special mention for the rhythm section's successful journey away from the tune's '80s heritage.

Bottom line: electric Miles fans will find plenty to enjoy, while electric Miles detractors still won't be won over. And again, what's with the cover art?

Ahmad Jamal
The Legendary OKeh & Epic Recordings

Like a more bouyant Nat King Cole during his legendary trio days, the way Ahmad Jamal plays his piano on these early 1950s recordings is hard not to bring a smile to one's face. He had the same type of combo as Nat's trio, though of course there's no singing here. Just three cats, hep to the jive, swingin' and galloping with that strange horsey clipity clopity on tracks like "Love For Sale" and "Billy Boy."

Everything from the original Epic LPs The Ahmad Jamal Trio (LN 3212) and Ahmad Jamal (LN 3631) is represented here, in a different sequence and curiously omitting "Slaughter On 10th Avenue." Dig it.

Woody Shaw
Stepping Stones

By the late '70s, there wasn't really anyone else around who could challenge Woody Shaw as the premier jazz trumpeter of his day. Even if there was, it would still be a tough call. Woody played with unparalleled skill, and had he struck out on his own 15 years earlier, maybe his name would have been more well-known. As it turned out, the revival of acoustic small-combo jazz would be dominated by Wynton Marsalis and other "young lions" at the dawn of the '80s, and Woody would die unsung before the decade's end.

The 1979 live album Stepping Stones, recorded at the famed Village Vanguard in New York City, is re-released for reconsideration in today's much more varied and inclusive, but probably no more lucrative, jazz market. Its cover art is completely re-done, making it an outwardly more attractive package than the monochrome cover of the original LP. What's more, three tunes are added to the program (though one from the original LP, "It All Comes Back To You," was left off).

Aided by Carter Jefferson on tenor and soprano, Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Clint Houston on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, Woody actually passes on the trumpet in favor of cornet and flugelhorn. The band really cooks, stretching out on a bunch of 10+ minute hard bop jams that are a little short on memorable idiosyncrasies, yet packed with brilliance nonetheless.

Bob Brookmeyer & Friends

The secret weapon in this unique session is the drummer, the one and only Elvin Jones. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer also had enlisted old friend Stan Getz on tenor, and he in turn brought vibes player Gary Burton on board (read the liners, apparently the session wasn't quite as 'friendly' as the album's title implies). With these three particularly adept at playing it cool, Elvin manages to kick the proceedings up a notch, aided quite ably by Herbie Hancock on piano and Ron Carter on bass. The resulting originals and standards are a little fiercer than typical Getz fare, though not as insane as Elvin's trips with Coltrane. The cherry on top is Tony Bennett dropping in to sing "Day Dream."

The music here occupies a nice in-between place that's fascinating and enjoyable to hear, with everyone putting in strong performances. Perhaps the tension during this recording was a good thing.

Elegance: The Birth of the Modern Jazz Quartet

MJQ is sort of legendary in jazz, but I've often found them bland in comparison to early sessions like those represented on this new Savoy compilation. The personnel is more or less the same, just the MJQ name and 'sound' had yet to be established. The performances here are lively, engaging, and highly enjoyable - more in the bebop style than what MJQ would later be known for. It's a great companion to the self-titled Milt Jackson disc on Blue Note that covers more of the same ground.

Penthouse Serenade: The Debonair Erroll Garner

Another piano trio with lots of personality. The prevailing vibe here is like that of a honky-tonk - you can practically hear Erroll smirking as he watches some sexy dame saunter off with a sharp-enough dressed man to the rhythm of his tinkling piano keys. It's the kind of shtick that could wear thin after too long, but fortunately, this collection is none too long and every track is a winner.