This week, I recommend a pair of superb orchestral jazz CDs, new music from a cutting-edge Blue Note artist, and two terrific rock sets [above, Olympic diver Katherine Rawls by Edward Steichen, 1931]...
Dig arrangers Gil Evans and Thad Jones? Then you're going to love the Bill Kirchner Nonet's Lifeline (Jazzheads). Recorded live in 2001, Bill's arranging style is just as multilayered and brooding as Evans' charts and as shrewd and mighty as Jones'. Songs latch onto a mood and develop with sharp elegance and intelligence, telling a story and building to a point. The nonet features Bill (composer-arranger, conductor), Dick Oatts (ss, as, fl, alt-fl, clar, pic), Ralph Lalama (ts, fl, a-fl, clar), Kenny Berger (bs, b-clar, fl), Bud Burridge (tp, fl-hn), Andy Gravish (tp, fl-hn), Douglas Purviance (b-tb), Carlton Holmes (p), Chip Jackson (b) and Ron Vincent (d). Give a listen to Joe Sample's Fancy Dance, Marshall Hawkins' Brother Brown, Bill's Lifeline Suite and Denny Zeitlin's Quiet Now. Sample here at iTunes and download here at half the price.
The Fatum Brothers' Jazz Orchestra's Live in Chicago shows off this Chicago band's swing and dexterity. Michael (trumpet) and John Fatum (drums) know a thing or two about raising a room's spirits. For this, their second album, the Brothers Fatum have chosen a smart range of tracks that includes Stablemates, They Can't Take That Away From Me, Lazy Day and Donna Lee—the latter of which features extraordinary playing by the sax section. Sample the tracks above as well as Rain on Sunday and Mr. Q. It's great to hear that young bandleaders are still hungry and ambitious.
Trumpeter Takuya Kuroda is part of the jazz-R&B upheaval going on at the Blue Note label headed by A&R wizard Don Was. On Rising Sun, produced by José James, Kuroda mixes acoustic jazz with hip-hop beats, synthesizers, samples and Fender Rhodes. The result is a compelling foot-tapper with horns. Featured here is a cover of Roy Ayres' Everybody Loves the Sunshine, taken as a slow groove. The argument will certainly continue over whether this is jazz or not in the traditional sense. It's definitely jazz's next move. It's uncertain if this new wave grinds to a halt or moves forward but for now the music is exciting and fresh. Green and Gold and Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow are pretty tough to resist.
Before Rod Stewart began cashing in on the American Songbook in 2002, he was a fairly edgy rocker and balladeer with a soulful, sandpapery voice. A former member of the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces, Stewart went solo in 1971, when his first album included the massive hit Maggie May. On Rod Stewart: Rarities (Mercury), a two-CD set, we hear early versions and alternate takes of familiar Stewart songs and they serve as a fascinating look under the hood at his studio experiments. Tracks include Pinball Wizard, an early version of Country Comforts, early versions of So Tired, and an early version of Maggie May—on which the lyrics did not yet include the song's title name.
As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week, few rock-blues guitarists could rival Johnny Winter for sheer speed and innovation. True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (Sony), a four-CD boxed set, covers Johnny's career across eight labels and 27 albums—from 1968 to 2011. There are many live recordings, including previously unreleased tracks from the Atlanta Pop Festival.