Johnny Griffin Live At Ronnie Scott's (IOR CD 77095-2 St. Date 6/8/10) the final recording session by the late, great Little Giant" of the tenor saxophone, documents a two-night engagement on the 27th and 28th of May in 2008 at the legendary London jazz club. A somewhat belated celebration of the expatriate leader's eightieth birthday, which had taken place the previous month, on April 24th, the eveings' festivities were greatly enhanced by the appearance of trumpeter/flugelhornist Roy Hargrove in the quintet's front line. Griffin and Hargrove had proven their compatibility years earlier when the former appeared on the young trumpeter's With The Tenors Of Our Time (along with Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman). This happy reunion, giving the two a chance to stretch out in front of an appreciative audience on some familiar material, is made all the more celebratory by Hargrove's exuberant presence. With fellow expatriates, drum master Billy Cobham and bassist Reggie Johnson holding down the rhythm section and the very capable British pianists David Newton and James Pearson at the keyboard, all the elements necessary for two truly festive evenings were in place.
Opening with an up-tempo rendition of the classic Lester Leaps In" (a tribute to one of the leader's primary influences, Lester Young), Griffin--who was long hailed as the fastest gun in the west"--proves that he hadn't lost much speed as an octogenarian, going toe-to-toe with his younger foil, as Cobham drums relentlessly stoked the flames. The two hornmen exhibit their romantic sensitivity on the leader's popular original When We Were Young," reprised from their Tenor of Our Times collaboration, and their more soulful sides on Clifford Brown's staple Blues Walk." Hargrove pays homage to Griffin with his beautiful composition Mentor," a thoughtful feature for his flugelhorn, and pianist/vocalist Paul Kuhn spells the group with his rendition of the Irving Berlin evergreen How Deep Is The Ocean." The quintet takes things out with two more Griffin originals, the swaggering The JAMFS Are Coming"--a tribute" to the jive assed members of the jazz community--and Hot Sake," a tour de force romp on the chord changes to What Is This Thing Called Love."
On Live At The Paradox (IOR CD 77098-2 St. Date 5/11/10), the futuristic sounds of the Sun Ra Arkestra Under The Direction of Marshall Allen are captured as they are always best heard, live, before an appreciative audience--in this case as part of ZXZW Festival in September of 2008 at the renowned Netherlands jazz venue well known for its dedication to presenting forward looking music. The Arkestra, under the direction of fifty-plus year member, multi-instrumentalist Allen for the last decade and a half--since the passing of Sun Ra and longtime colleague, tenorist John Gilmore --has continued to evolve musically, preserving the compositions of its founder and augmenting them with new works written by its current director. The fourteen-piece ensemble, here featuring longtime saxophonists Charles Davis, Knoel Scott and Danny Thompson and a powerful brass section with trumpeters Fred Adams and Cecil Brooks and Dave Davis on trombone and tuba, for the first time includes a keyboardist--Farid Barron, former pianist with the Lincoln Center Orchestra--sitting in the piano chair once occupied by Ra. The rhythm section is completed by guitarist Dave Hotep, bassist Juni Booth (of McCoy Tyner fame) drummer Wayne Smith, Jr. and percussionist Nelson Nascimento.
Opening with Allen's Space Walk," the band immediately takes off into the cosmos, with the composer's EVI (electronic valve instrument) and Barron's organ creating other worldly sounds on top of Nascimento's percussion. Sun Ra's classic Discipline 27-II" follows, a feature for the duelling baritones of Thompson and Ray Scott that segues into Ra's I'll Wait For You," with the band chanting its well known space traveling lyric. Knoel Scott is out front singing the standard Dreams Come True," with Davis's tenor and Barron's piano featured on the swinging arrangement. The Arkestra erupts into a cacophonous roar to introduce Ra's hard-bopping Velvet," one of the composer's earliest works, hearkening back to the band's Chicago roots. Three Allen pieces, the dissonantly melancholy You'll Find Me," the astral narrative Millennium" and wildly cacophonous Take Off" point to the band's future, as well as its faithfulness to its founder's message. Fletcher Henderson's Hocus Pocus" reaches back to Ra's early days with that great bandleader. The concert concludes with a rousing reading of Ra's Space Idol."
Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca makes his IN + OUT début with Continental Talk (IOR CD 77097-2 St. Date 6/8/10), featuring his long-time colleague saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic with the virtuosic rhythm team of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Steve Gadd and special guest trumpeter Randy Brecker, who says of the date, Ratko put together a great band and found beautiful original compositions for us to play on...
It was a very free session, musically speaking everyone played their hearts out." On the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2006 release Crossing the Border, which also featured Patitucci and Mitrovic (along with drummer Al Foster), Continental Talk displays Zjaca's considerable talent as a versatile composer, contributing ten of the disc's twelve pieces--the other two, by Mitrovic, range from the soulfully rhythmic straight-ahead to freewheeling sprawling modality. The band's considerable firepower, although always evident, is matched by the subtle musical sophistiication of the writing, such as on the beautiful opening minor blues Breakfast In Tokyo" and the lush voicing on the Latinish Portrait In Retrograde." Zjaca's lyrical acoustic guitar work is heard to great effect on his At the Crossroads," Home Again" and Anibas," but he's not afraid to rock out when called for, as on E Doubt," matching Brecker's forceful trumpet. Continental Talk will have critics and fans spreading the word worldwide about this great guitarist, poised to make his mark in America.