Audio News

May 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

May 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Sarah Vaughan: Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan, vocals; Clifford Brown, trumpet; Paul Quinichette, tenor sax; Herbie Mann, flute; Jimmy Jones, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
EmArcy/Universal/AcousticSounds (LP). Chad Kassem, reissue supervisor; Ryan Smith, remastering.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

Sarah Vaughan was the supreme jazz singer. Smoky lows, silky highs, precise articulation across five octaves, a keen connection with a lyric, boundless harmonic inventiveness, and a sense of swing, which swayed and simmered, front and center, always. Later, Vaughan barely hid her boredom when stuck with material that didn’t suit her, but at her peaks, with small ensembles, she was, and remains, matchless.

This eponymous album, recorded in December 1954 when Vaughan was just 30, ranks among her classics—and thus among the classics of jazz vocal albums. Midtempo standards (“Lullaby of Birdland,” “April in Paris,” “Embraceable You”); a top-notch sextet (with Clifford Brown, whose death in a car crash a year-and-a-half later, at 25, would cut short the career of a trumpeter rivaled only by Miles Davis); and Vaughan’s evocative, mesmerizing, naturally gorgeous voice—what more could you want?

Good sound? The sound here, better than you might expect from 66-year-old mono tapes, is more than good enough. Vaughan is particularly present—up close, full-blooded, and detailed—as are the horns when they solo. The other instruments are a bit distant but not hooded. There is a slight electronic haze over the proceedings, as on several Mercury recordings of the era, but it’s barely noticeable, except compared with, say, Ella Fitzgerald’s sonic jaw-droppers for Verve a few years later. The reissue—another collaboration between Universal Music and Acoustic Sounds—sounds markedly better than the original pressing. A must-have.—Fred Kaplan


Ocelot: Ocelot
Yuma Uesaka, reeds; Cat Toren, piano, Nord; Colin Hinton, drums, percussion, vibraphone
577 Records 5859 (CD). 2021. Yuma Uesaka, Cat Toren, Colin Hinton, prods.; Nolan Thies, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

When avant-garde jazz was invented, it became associated with turbulence and cacophony. It is different now. Artists like the three who call themselves Ocelot walk through doors opened by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler but use their freedom to pursue radical experiments in lyricism.

Much of their music is extraordinarily quiet. The first track, “Daimon II,” opens with a circling figure from Cat Toren’s piano, the most minimal of intrusions on silence. Then Yuma Uesaka’s saxophone murmurs a slow, melodic ritual. Colin Hinton enters with widely spaced, shuddering bass drum strokes. Listeners with patience and faith will be rewarded with a gradual ensemble intensification that is mysterious and intriguing. Each subtle thematic variation from Uesaka becomes more urgent than the last.

Ocelot flows into and out of many stark forms. Transitions between composition and improvisation are secrets. “Factotum” arrays constellations of aural images for 11 minutes: bell tones from Toren; submerged calls from Uesaka; soft thunder from Hinton. Collective seething develops subconsciously. You do not perceive it until it is upon you. The final track, “Crocus,” powerfully consummates this pattern. Toren barely touches provisional melodies. Hinton, on brushes, begins a slow insistence. Suspense builds. Uesaka erupts in quick, passionate runs, but Hinton stays with his perversely delayed beats and lets “Crocus” evaporate in unanswered questions. Such drama is only achievable when jazz is set free.

Avant-garde jazz, while quieter now, is still avant-garde.—Thomas Conrad


Jim Snidero: Live at the Deer Head Inn
Jim Snidero, alto saxophone; Orrin Evans, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums
Savant SCD 2193 (CD). 2021. Jim Snidero, prod.; Kent Heckman, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

Jim Snidero, like musicians the world over, saw his public performance plans blow up in 2020, but he caught one break: The Deer Head Inn in Pennsylvania arranged a socially distanced, limited-audience, indoor gig on Halloween. It became Snidero’s first live recording in 30 years.

The prevailing vibe of the night is affirmation. The members of Snidero’s hot quartet (see the listing in the header) all play like they have just been let out of prison. On the opener, Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” pent-up energy floods the room. Snidero has said that the occasion called for “comfort music,” and therefore he plays standards, exclusively. Most of them (“Yesterdays,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “Bye Bye Blackbird”) are taken faster than usual.

Yet the most compelling tracks are the ballads. Snidero plays “Ol’ Man River” to honor the Black Lives Matter movement. He lingers over the melody and renders human vulnerability in an alto saxophone sound that is one of the richest and purest on the planet. Grant Green’s “Idle Moments,” an appropriate choice for the pandemic, is lovingly suspended in time, with a rapt but firm solo from Orrin Evans. “My Old Flame” has a free, beautifully wandering intro from Evans that sets up Snidero’s improvisation on plaintive held notes: Those notes cannot contain their emotion and keep breaking out in quick, passionate runs that culminate in a soaring final cadenza. Charlie Parker famously played “My Old Flame”; his daughter Kim was in the audience at the Deer Head Inn on Halloween. At the end, she can be heard hollering “Yeah!”—Thomas Conrad

Published at Fri, 07 May 2021 17:27:59 +0000

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