Last week's workload was crushing, forcing me to forgo CD reviews over the weekend. Rather than wait until this coming weekend, I figured why not tell you about my latest favorites now...
Frank Wess—Magic 201 (IPO). You might think that the followup to the late Frank Wess' Magic 101 would be replete with tracks that weren't good enough for Magic 101. An absurd thought, since Wess didn't record junk. He knew only one way—smart and soulful. A few noteworthy tracks here from the September 2011 recording session: Blues for Ruby, a straight-up blues that put Wess in a Stanley Turrentine mode; a breezy It Could Happen to You; and a fitting end to Wess's last studio album—The Summer Knows, with Wess on flute.
Archie Shepp—I Hear the Sound (Archieball). Archie Shepp's Attica Blues was recorded in 1972, a year after the York State prison was stormed by police trying to end a siege but left prisoners and guards injured and dead. Shepp has reunited his Attica Blues Orchestra and the result is contemporary, eulogistic and superb.
Anders Bergcrantz—Plays the Panther (Vangurad). Bergcrantz is a trumpeter from Sweden and The Panther is an orchestral suite by Anna-Lena Laurin, a Swedish composer-pianist. The work is performed by Sweden's NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mats Rondin. The jazz-classical work is eclectic and rarely sits still or is predictable. Bergcrantz as featured as soloist on this large-scale, tempestuous work.
Giovanca—Satellite Love (Dox). If you love '70s soul and disco, you're going to dig this album. Singer Giovanca Ostiana is from the Netherlands and is never heavy-handed. Instead, her soothing, seductive vocals blend neatly with intelligently arranged loft-pop (Sade meets Dr Buzzard's Cory Day and Minnie Riperton). Best of all, the space-age soul-jazz instrumentals are dazzling—with touches of Chic, Koop and Shuggie Otis.
Thelonious Monk—Paris 1969(Blue Note). In 1969, Thelonious Monk was dealing with health issues, he lost his rhythm section and he faced pressure from Columbia, his label, to do the kinds of electric rock things Miles Davis was doing. He ignored all of it, and in Paris that December performed an exceptional concert. Fortunately, it was televised. Now it's a two-disc set—a CD and a DVD of the performance. The answer to your unasked question is yes, you do need to consider this one even if you have everything else. The DVD is exceptional and provides a bird's eye view of saxophonist Charlie Rouse and Monk running his hands along the keyboard as if they were harp strings.
Rosanne Cash—The River & the Threat (Blue Note). Johnny Cash's daughter, now 58, brings a sound to her new album that's closer to her dad's brandy of folk-country story-telling. All songs were written by Rosanne Cash and John Loventhal, who produced, arranged and played keyboards, guitar and other instruments. No two songs are alike and all will grab you, no matter what genre of music you enjoy most.
Marcos Pin and Yago Vazquez—Duology Session 1(FreeCode). Spanish guitarist Marcos Pin and pianist Yago Vazquez combine here for a short album of standards. Their joint attack swings, and the pair wrap around each other like clasped hands. Here's their take on Donna Lee...
The Doors—R-Evolution (Eagle Rock). This DVD is about the best I've seen on the Doors. Concert footage tends to bore me, but this is a gathering of their most interesting and rare TV appearances and band footage. Remember, two months before the Beatles Sgt. Pepper was released in June 1967, the Doors' single Light My Fire hit the radio and raced up the Billboard pop chart to #1. The song was overwhelming in its radical approach—upending the formulaic pop-rock sound that preceded it. The song triumphed thanks to its mystical, dream-like feel; puzzling lyrics; and sensual lead male vocal that seemed part hippie, part Rat Pack crooner. What's special here are the tasteful choices. All of the TV appearances are virtually unknown and eerie. The band is so far ahead of its time that everyone else on the shows seems to be standing still. Clips include a jerky Dick Clark asking the band awkward questions; a 1967 color lip-sync performance of Light My Fire taped outdoors in Malibu, Calif., aboard a fire engine; a color rooftop music video for People Are Strange kicked off by old-school deejay Murray the K in 1967; a color outdoor lip-sync in 1968 for Hello I Love You in Germany;Touch Me from the Smothers Brothers Show with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra standing behind the band and saxophonist Curtis Amy taking the solo; and stadium concert footage that shows just how treacherous it was to be that famous back then when today's security and crowd-control strategies were in their infancy.
Steve Davis—For Real (Positone). Trombonist Steve Davis has hit a tasteful sweet spot here—a mellow, hard bop configuration that keeps the feel gentle but enveloping. All the songs are Davis originals except for one (that one is by pianist Larry Willis)—and the results are so cohesive and melodic you'd think they were from the Blue Note catalogue. Tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton matches Davis' easy-does-it nocturnal feel. A gorgeous album.
Blue Highway—The Game (Rounder). I've come to realize that a great bluegrass album is a recording that you put on while you're working or reading and stays on because your ear likes it and your mind never argues with your ear. Blue Highway has been around for 20 years and the quintet has it all—dove-tailing instrumentals, rich vocal harmony and perfectly tied together arrangements. I defy you to sample a track and not fall in love with their sound and spirit.