Timeless Portraits and Dreams (Telarc CD-83645) * * * *
Pianist Geri Allen has never shied away from the big themes but this must be his most monumental disc to date.
It takes in solo piano, a band and then, instead of an orchestra, there’s a jazz chorus to provide the grand setting.
The spiritual tradition is highlighted by the use of vocals, not only from the wordless gospel harmonies of the chorus but also from jazz singer Carmen Lundy who is featured on a couple of tracks and by the big-voiced classical tenor George Shirley, who calls to mind someone like Paul Robeson.
This disc is full of references to black America’s heroes, from Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, not forgetting Lil Hardin Armstrong, whom Allen credits as the "architect of the modern jazz band" and as the pianist who, way back in the Hot Five days, was the "first to liberate the left hand".
Players on this long and wonderfully structured album include Jimmy Cobb on drums, Ron Carter on bass and, of course, Wallace Roney ("Mr Allen") on trumpet.
Who Let The Cats Out? (Heads Up HUCD 3115) * * * *
A guitarist who combines jazz sensibility with rock power and an interest in world music too, who has a big toothy smile, long dark hair and features Richard Bona in his band. Are we talking Pat Metheny? Nope. It’s the other one.
While Stern, a former Miles Davis sideman, must always live in the shadow of Metheny, it doesn’t seem to bother him very much. He has developed his very own distinctive style both of guitar playing, and of composition and arrangement.
There are quite a few celebrity guests here, including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer Dave Weckl and keyboard maestro Jim Beard, but it’s in the lower areas of the sonic range that Stern really packs in the big ones: bassists include Chris Minh Doky, Bona, Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten and Meshell Ndegeocello.
The tunes range from full-on fusion romps to delicate and lovely ballads and there is also a stately anthem seam that Stern has explored on most of his recent discs.
The "other one" makes good.
Sweet Talker: The Best Of… (Grappa GRCD 4219) * * *
Newcomers to jazz might think that there has been a recent upsurge in talent from Norway, but this disc, celebrating the singer’s 50th year performing, is a reminder that there has always been a very strong jazz community among the fjords.
The consistence of Krog’s performances, from 1963 to 2005, is remarkable. She has a great voice and a style which transcends the different jazz styles of the passing decades.
And there are some great sidemen including tenor sax legends Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp and Warne Marsh, bassists Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Red Mitchell, pianists Kenny Drew and Steve Kuhn. Husband John Surman is here too, of course. Krog is no slouch as a composer either.
If you like what you hear here, Grappa has also released Krog’s duo disc with guitarist Jacob Young and a set with the Bergen Big Band directed by John Surman.
Alan Barnes & Scott Hamilton
Zootcase (Woodville WVCD112) * * * *
We’re in swing saxophone heaven here as two of the solid gold favourites in clubs around the country get together with the similarly loved Dave Newton Trio.
They work hard and make it sound so easy, tipping their collective hats to Zoot Sims, Coleman Hawkins, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington along the way.
Barnes switches between alto and baritone while the American, now settled in Britain, sticks to his creamy tenor.
Usually with this kind of stuff, thoughts turn to museum jazz and preserving the past in aspic – not so when Barnes and Hamilton are on the stand, for this is vital, living and breathing jazz to stand beside the best of the current crop.
Steve Lacy & Mal Waldron – At The Bimhuis 1982 (Daybreak DBCHR 75249)
Some of us had the huge privilege to hear these two musicians at the Brecon Festival shortly before Waldron died. Now Lacy has followed him.
But this is much more than a treasured souvenir of a great partnership – this previously unissued recording is outstanding music, rich with the essence of spontaneous creation.
Lacy is close and as blunt as always as he spells out the repeating phrases of his own Blues for Aida. Waldron starts out with simple holding chords before building more complexity and tension into his accompaniment.
After a tune from each of them, the rest of this Dutch club gig is given over to their composer of choice: Thelonious Monk.
While ‘Round Midnight is a fairly concise version by their standards elsewhere, Epistrophy is a wider-ranging exploration.
Every Lacy session is a masterclass in saxophone technique, and this is no exception.
But what is also striking is how these two men complemented each other so well – they really were the perfect fit.