8 years ago

Volume 11 Issue 5 - February 2006

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  • Toronto
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DISCS OF THE MONTH - BLACK HISTORY MONTH The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes Billie Holiday Verve 8000429102 (6 Discs) For many, Billie Holiday is the jazz singer. Her relatively short career can be divided in two: the young, intuitive, joyful artist of the last half of the 1930s documented on Columbia records; and the '40s world-weary, stylized torch singer on Commodore and especially Decca sides. This 100-song collection of Holiday's 1952- 57 work for the various Norman Granz labels regains some qualities of the young singer. The 1952 sessions feature the likes of Charlie Shavers, Oscar Peterson, Benny Carter, Flip Phillips and Ray Brown as well as others from the Granz/JATP stables. I especially like 26 tracks from August 1956 and January 1957 Hollywood sessions when a dream band of Harry "Sweets" Edison and Ben Webster are the front line, and the rhythm section has Jimmie Rowles, Barney Kessel, Red Mitchell (or Joe Mondragon on 4 sides) and Alvin Stoller. But the last 12 tracks, a complete LP, don't really fit: done in 1959 for MGM, they were her final recordings, done with an indifferent Ray Ellis-led studio orchestra, and she's not in good voice at all. On the rest, as in the '30s, Billie's accompanied by small groups of great players using uncluttered arrangements and the results are very good indeed. The material isn't all bittersweet and suffering, as was the mournful image of Holiday by then. She reminds you she's a rhythmic master on What A Little Moonlight Can Do, and Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. Most of the songs are the cream of American writers: Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. One caveat - the packaging. It's a slightly odd-sized tin box that may not fit your shelves, but the real horror is inside: a Jacob's Ladder thingy to hold the discs and 60-page booklet. It makes handling the discs an affair best done by a nimble-fingered cardsharp. Ted O'Reilly Ralph J. Gleason Celebrates Duke Ellington Duke Ellington Eagle Eye EE39100-9 (DVD) This DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment is an excellent Duke Ellington compilation with 1965 footage from Basin Street West, the Monterey Jazz Festival plus a performance of Ellington's Sacred Music from Grace Cathedral. The music is intercut with interviews by Ralph Gleason, mostly with Ellington, but also with the likes of Earl Hines and Dizzy Gillespie as well as some insightful comments by Harry Carney, who spent virtually his entire career with the Duke and was the anchor of the band. But the Ellington interviews contain the real meat. He was always "on" and rarely did the microphone or camera ever get underneath the projected persona, but we are given some fascinating glimpses of what made the man tick. We also learn that Mood Indigo was composed while he was waiting for his mother to finish making dinner one night and that In My Solitude was written in twenty minutes standing outside a recording studio while waiting to get in, but that Sophisticated Lady took a month to complete because he could not resolve the bridge. Fans of his music will be familiar with the Sacred Concert material. This performance in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco in September of 1965, is a bit ragged in some passages and the sound is less than perfect, but the magic is there and the added element of being able to see the performance as well hear it certainly adds to the pleasure of this aspect of Ellington which became increasingly important in the later stages of his amazing career. Strongly recommended listening and viewing, and if you have friends who are Duke Ellington devotees, this would make an ideal gift. Jim Galloway The Essential Sonny Rollins -The RCA Years Sonny Rollins RCA Victor/Legacy 82876 71778 2 This two-CD set celebrates the 75th birthday of tenor titan Sonny Rollins. The material comes from the half dozen albums he made for RCA between 1962 and 1964. Prior to signing with RCA Rollins had taken a twoyear sabbatical from both personal appearances and recording. In spite of the lavish praise he'd always received from critics Rollins felt insecure. The emergence of players such as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman was caus- ing him concern. And he certainly didn't look forward to being eclipsed by this new wave of jazzmen. I remember reading about Rollins "woodshedding" on the Williamsburg Bridge, and trying to imagine what he'd sound like once he reappeared on the scene. But when his first RCA album - The Bridge - came out it seemed somehow anti-climactic. Most Rollins fans liked it, and it received good reviews, but I think we were expecting something a little more radical. Listening to these sides now one realizes just how very special they are, particularly the pieces with guitarist Jim Hall. The rapport these two men share can only be described as "sui generis". Then there are all the other sides of Sonny Rollins. We hear his Caribbean roots in much of the music and a mastery of "free jazz" in the challenging live session with trumpeter Don Cherry. If that's not enough, there's also his summit meeting with boyhood idol Coleman Hawkins, the father of the tenor saxophone. A fine overview of Rollins' two years at RCA. Don Brown The Soul of Nina Simone Nina Simone RCA/Legacy 82876-71973-2 I am new to the Nina Simone fan club. Her voice, with its reediness and fast vibrato, is an acquired taste. However, this combination CD/DVD (CD on one side of the disc, DVD on the other) has given me a better appreciation for Simone's talents. While the variety and depth of the performances on the CD are impressive, it was the DVD that really converted me. To watch her perform is a revelation. She sings with such focus that all the emotion comes through in her voice. None of it is expended in facial expressions or dramatics. It's all in the voice. Yet, in sharp contrast, she plays the piano in an aggressive and at times, haphazard style. The DVD covers three different concerts starting with the Ed Sullivan show in 1960, complete with cocktail dress and neat hairdo, performing a Bach-inspired Love Me or Leave Me , to the Harlem Festival in 1969, in African-style hair and dress, performing the anthemic, Young, Gifted and Black. What a difference a decade makes. The CD showcases her inventiveness and soulfulness and is a compilation of material recorded mostly in the 60's: diverse songs like Since I Fell for You and Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. It culminates in a stunning version of l Loves You Porgy. Young, gifted and black, indeed. Cathy Riches 70 WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COM F EBRUARY 1 - M ARCH 7 2006

RUSSELL WATSON AmoreMusica { THE VOICE RETURNS! "The People's Tenor" is back with his fourth album of arias and love songs. "All the songs are about love, music, peace, happiness and hope ... It's a record to hold hands to ... It's a different sound ... It's about Russell Watson singing from the heart and I don't think I've ever done that before." - 8000443902

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