The Newest Picks: Carla Bley, Miles Davis, Chris Potter/Steve Wilson/Terrell Stafford, Woody Herman
In the center column, slightly south, you will find the latest Rifftides recommendations in Doug's Picks. We suggest two new CDs, an imperishable 50-year-old recording, a DVD of a blistering big band and a book held over from last time because reading hours have been few and far between around here lately and I'm not going to pretend I've read something I haven't.
Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, The Partyka Brass Quintet, Carla's Christmas Carols (Watt). Bley arranges nine classic carols with tenderness, wit, harmonic brilliance, wide dynamic range and a wry sense of nostalgia. She adds two of her own pieces, the gorgeous Jesus Maria" and Hell's Bells", a joyous concoction on I Got Rhythm" changes. Swallow's bass work, as always, is perfection. Prepare to be captivated by the brass ensemble and by the solos of trombonist Ed Partyka and trumpeter Axel Schlosser.
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia). Okay, this is the zillionth reissue, and it's not the first to include alternate takes, false starts or a second CD of performances by the classic Davis sextet. The difference? Columbia got the sound right - no forced reverberation, echo, clipping, compression or other digital-age engineering cuteness. This is how the music should sound. Nice packaging, too, retaining the original cover on a sturdy three-panel fold-out box. If you don't own Kind of Blue, this is the one. If you do, the improved sonics are worth considering.
Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Terrell Stafford, Coming Together (Inarhyme). This was to have been the recording debut in 2005 of the young tenor saxophonist Brendan Romaneck. That year he died at 24 in a traffic accident. In his memory, saxophonists Potter and Wilson, trumpeter Stafford and a fine rhythm section completed the project. Eight of the compositions are Romaneck's. Three are standard songs. Potter is compelling with a pianoless trio on My Shining Hour." Wilson and Stafford shine on Romaneck's daring Minion." Pianist Keith Javors, bassist Delbert Felix and drummer John Davis are strong throughout.
Woody Herman, Live in '64 (Jazz Icons). This captures Herman on British television long after he stopped naming or numbering his Herds. It was one his most exciting bands, driven by drummer Jake Hanna and bassist Chuck Andrus. Upstate New York terrors Joe Romano and Sal Nistico are fascinating in their contrasting tenor sax styles. Two underrated trumpet soloists, Paul Fontaine and Billy Hunt, stand out, as does trombonist Phil Wilson, a master of high-note eloquence. But it's the tout ensemble that grabs you. Woody is charming in his set-piece introductions. BBC sound and video quality are good.