This is as close to Latin purist Mongo as we have heard in recent years, an eight-piece salsa band – including several members of the 1997 Tito Puente ensemble, like trumpeter Ray Vega, altoist Bobby Porcelli and tenorman Mitch Frohman – playing a brace of Mongo classics and Latin jazz pieces live before a hushed crowd in Seattle's Jazz Alley. There are no pop covers, one electric instrument (a bass), lots of extended jazz solos (Porcelli and Frohman really burn on the pioneering Afro-Cuban classic "Manteca"), and an unusual (for Mongo) emphasis on the timbales on many tracks, which shoves the rhythms closer to the salsified Puente manner. However, tracks like "Juan Jose," "Home" and "Bonita" do have the smooth Mongo cha-cha and guajira grooves, and elsewhere, Mongo lifts himself out of the background often enough to deliver some stirring polyrhythmic conga salvos.
This is an album that should not have worked. LaVern Baker (a fine R&B singer) was joined by all-stars from mainstream jazz (including trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Vic Dickenson, tenor-saxophonist Paul Quinichette and pianist Nat Pierce) for twelve songs associated with the great '20s blues singer Bessie Smith. Despite the potentially conflicting styles, this project is quite successful and often exciting. The arrangements by Phil Moore, Nat Pierce, and Ernie Wilkins do not attempt to re-create the original recordings; Baker sings in her own style (rather than trying to emulate Bessie Smith), and the hot solos work well with her vocals.
Although best-known for his work in mainstream swing settings, guitarist Howard Alden has long been interested in later periods of jazz. On this superior outing, he doubles on seven-string acoustic and electric guitars (which allow him to add basslines). Lew Tabackin is on four of the ten numbers (three on tenor, one on flute) and pianist Renee Rosnes appears on six songs (including a duet with Alden on "Warm Valley"), while bassist Michael Moore and drummer Bill Goodwin are on seven. Alden takes "My Funny Valentine" and "After All" as unaccompanied solos but it is his meetings with Tabackin, particularly on exciting versions of two complex Herbie Nichols songs ("House Party Starting" and "The Gig") that are most notable. Recommended.
The third "complete" Pete Johnson CD put out by the European Classics label features the great boogie-woogie pianist in three different settings. There are eight formerly rare piano solos from 1944 that cover a variety of moods, five selections with a hot Kansas City octet which includes trumpeter Hot Lips Page, tenorman Budd Johnson and two vocals from the young Etta Jones, and eight intriguing numbers in which Johnson is gradually joined by an additional musician on each track. "Page Mr. Trumpet" is an exciting outing for Hot Lips, and the other top players include clarinetist Albert Nicholas, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham and tenorman Ben Webster. A particularly exciting release.
While one might reasonably prefer this, that or the other recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, one should still take the time to listen to this 1997 recording of the work played on the harpsichord by Masaaki Suzuki on BIS. For one thing, Suzuki is the conductor of BIS' series of Bach Cantata recordings and it is interesting to hear what he can do on his own without other musicians as intermediaries.
Though he has shown a mastery and affinity for both electric and acoustic axes, Tommy Emmanuel's Higher Octave debut, Midnight Drive, finds him focusing almost exclusively on warm yet frequently aggressive acoustic melodies, complemented here and there by the raw, plugged-in energy of Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. The overall mix is the kind that smooth jazz lovers find easy to swallow, but offers more bite and adventure than most like-minded releases in the genre. Smooth jazz radio may find an easy mark with a laid-back take of Sting's "Fields of Gold," but Emmanuel's other tracks dig deeper, showing off a stylistic chameleon drawing from the many phases of his career. His soft pop side comes out on power ballads "No More Goodbyes" and "Stay Close to Me," the latter reminding us why guest saxman Warren Hill's biggest hit to date was called "The Passion Theme." Emmanuel's more aggressive blues-rock side (honed no doubt by a few years in the progressive mid-'80s ensemble Dragon) emerges with Carlton's help on "Can't Get Enough." The striking contrast between the pastoral, folksy roads of "Drivetime" and the disc's best track, "Villa de Martin" best reflects the gamut of Emmanuel's approaches.
Recorded during Marc Bolan's U.S. visits during 1971 and 1972, Spaceball is the first full re-counting of four American radio sessions previously made partially available as a bonus LP within the Marc label's Till Dawn compilation in 1985. Eight songs, taped in L.A. in 1972, are reprised from that set; 11 more are collected here. The overall mood of the two CDs is sparse, but astonishingly dynamic, with the earliest session – taped for WBAI, New York, in June 1971 – especially remarkable. It opens with a pair of unaccompanied Bolan performances, previewing the as-yet-unreleased "Cosmic Dancer" and "Planet Queen." The guitar heavy "Elemental Child" follows, a surprising inclusion given the song's freak-out dynamics, but it's an effective piece, all the more so after bandmates Mickey Finn and bassist Steve Currie join in a few minutes into the song.