You can count the U.S. record labels on one hand that remaster and package historic jazz recordings properly. There's Mosaic, with its glossy boxes aimed at the curious completist. There's Universal, with its high-end, 7-inch sets of remastered artists on specific labels (Wes Montgomery on Verve, Dinah Washington on Mercury, etc.). There's Uptown, with fascinating, quirky releases on Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and others. And now there's Resonance. [Photo by Saul Leiter, Walk with Soames]
As I wrote yesterday, Resonance—which will release Wes Montgomery: Echoes of Indiana Avenue on Tuesday—has managed to find a formula to do everything right. What does "everything right" mean? For a jazz label to turn me on and make me spend, it has to hit all of the following hot buttons:
- Set must feature a must-have artist
- Recorded material must be worthy of release
- Sound must be clean, with instruments close to the mikes
- Liner notes must be informative and authoritative
- Cover must be simple and dramatic, playing on jazz's cool nocturnal mystique
When these five elements converge, a jazz label has a hot property on its hands. Too often companies fall short on one or more of these points, either by releasing stuff by artists who simply aren't going to draw interest or material from top artists that sounds lousy. [Photo by Jeff Carter, At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma, c.1957-59]
Lousy doesn't seem to be Resonance's bag. After having coffee in New York on Thursday with the label's media whiz and producer Zev Feldman, it sounds like they are committed to repeating the magic of the new Wes Montgomery CD in other releases coming down the pike. [Photo: Harry Callahan, Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953]
How refreshing and exciting. Never-before-heard jazz by top artists playing material that sounds great in a CD set with informative notes and an intriguing cover. I'm so in.
Giacomo Gates's The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron was one of my favorite albums of 2011. If you missed it, dig samples. Giacomo is one of the great voices around today. Here's Gun from the Scott-Heron album...
Ornette Coleman radio. Next Friday (March 9), WKCR-FM in New York will present its annual Ornette Coleman Birthday Broadcast—24 hours of the free-jazz alto saxophonist. You can tune in on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Count Basie in 1959. We tend to think of Count Basie as a pianist of accents—a note here and there to punctuate or set up the band's power. But dig the Count working the ivories here on Basie Boogie (followed by Lil' Darlin'). Thanks to Armin Büttner for the clip...
Santa Barbara, Calif. Author and pal Leslie Westbrook just published the Insiders' Guide to Santa Barbara—a town she knows well since she lives there. If you're heading out that way, pick up a copy. A ton of stuff to do, eat, drink and enjoy. You'll find the guide here.
CD discoveries of the week. If you dig sophisticated trio conversations, pianist Luis Perdomo's Universal Mind (RKM Music) is well worth exploring. The three musicians exchanging ideas here are Perdomo, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Drew Gress. Every track is an in-depth musical discussion, not three different lectures. Each artist weaves his ideas in and out of the other's concepts, pushing and pulling along the way. What you hear are songs that celebrate teamwork. At times, this album reminded me of a light-falling rhythmic rain. To hear what I mean, dig Just Before and Unified Path I. You'll find this one at Amazon.
New York is increasingly becoming an international jazz brain trust. Musicians still flock to the city from around the globe because the media and history are here. But to stand out, you have to be darn good and then some. Saxophonist and composer Jurgen Hagenlocher and his group are superb. Leap in the Dark (Challenge) has a fusion flavor but resists the temptation to fly off the handle, remaining lyrical and handsome throughout. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Matt Wilson's An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto) features a tight quartet (Arts & Crafts) executing tastefully. The band features Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Gary Versace on keyboards, Martin Wind on bass and Wilson on drums. There are originals as well as John Scofield's You Bet, Jaco Pastorius' Teen Town and a seriously sensual Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon). An eclectic album unified by artists working together just right. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Where Time Stands Still (CSR) by Triosence—featuring singer Sara Gazarek—is a wonderfully breezy jazz-folk album that lifts you up. This German band is popular in Europe, and with Los Angeles vocalist Gazarek on board, this effort straddles jazz and folk sweetly. Gazarek has a forceful yet tender intonation that is disarming. She pulls you in and compels you to absorb the determination of her delivery. The lovely songs here are originals, mostly by pianist Berhard Schuler, and Gazarek aces each one with a warmth that seems imported from the late '60s. Folk vocals with a jazz backdrop. You'll find this one at Amazon.
On Uh!Oh!, vocalist Hetty Kate and the Twenty 20s put a hip, downtown spin on a range of familiar jazz tunes, blues and originals. Hetty and the band are from Australia, but they know how to update the familiar. Two prime examples: the title track (originally recorded in 1960 by the Nutty Squirrels) and I've Got Your Number (with a clever Killer Joe bass line). Hetty has a relaxed retro-metro sound. Think Peggy Lee on a Vespa. You'll find this one at Amazon.
When a duet is done just right, the musicians sound like two otters tearing around playfully. On Heartmony (First Orbit Sounds), guitarist Hristo Vitchev and pianist Weber Iago bounce off with plenty of zest. There's also lots of space on this mostly acoustic jazz journey, with patient, reflective playing and stoic statements. This is a gentle work that makes you think, which is really the point of music. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Want some serious country rockin'? Kevin Kinney's A Good Country Mile mixes folk motifs with ripping hard-rock guitar wails. Joined by drummer Anton Fier and the Golden Palominos, Kinney's wooden-match vocals bring enormous energy and depth to the material while Fier keeps the energy high on the kit. I'd love to crank up this one in a '60s VW Beetle on the first day of spring driving up along the Hudson. Solid stuff all the way through with plenty of acoustic and electric twang. Think Bob Dylan meets ZZ Top. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Oddball album covers of the week. As the home market became increasingly important to record companies' bottom lines in the '50s, fidelity was a major selling point. Living-room record buyers were looking for a sensation—music that could stack up to what their phonographs and speakers could deliver. As the sonic craze began to catch on, record-company art directors built the acoustic sensation into the graphics, creating their own series of bottom lines. It seems the organ was routinely treated to a series of seismic circles while arranger-leader Gerald Wilson got the zig-zag treatment.