LATEST ADDITIONS

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 0 comments

Back in 1969, five years before Vince Guaraldi jazzed up Christmas music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn conceived of and superbly executed this delightfully good-humored jazz version of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite."

Ellington and Strayhorn made up hip new names for Peter Ilich's originals, like "Sugar Rum Cherry" and "Toot Toot Tootie Toot" (Dance of the Reed-Pipes), but even without the novelty titles, you'd know The Duke was going for lightness and good humor.

The suite will be familiar to all, but the retelling as a jazz tale will be novel. The orchestra with Hodges, Carney, Gonzalves, Ray Nance and all the other great vets including drummer Sam Woodyard, swing their way easily through these rhythmically charged, nimbly struck arrangements.

My only criticism here are the short sides. Each is over too quickly.

The recording, produced in Los Angeles May through June of 1960 is clean, crisp and three dimensional, though the mix is more 3 track than stereo, with instruments panned fairly hard left and right with a prominent center fill and little to the its sides until you get to the hard left/right stuff.

Still, despite the somewhat dated staging, the recording quality itself is superb. The horns have a full, brassy swagger, the reeds plenty of buzzy warmth and Woodyard's drum kit is nicely developed with a juicy, woody rim shot that pops brilliantly and crisply chiming cymbals. Ellington's piano is also nicely recorded and there's an emphasis on close-miked percussion that helps make this an audiophile's delight.

A nice blend of direct, closely miked sound and chamber reverb produce a big, exciting picture you'll wrap your ears around with pleasure.

Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman's mastering and the quiet Pallas pressing make this reissue superior to the original, though if you have a clean one of those, you don't need this.

Though it was issued by Pure Pleasure last Spring, now's the time to remind you of this swinging Christmas record, perfect for right now!

I've been loving my original pressing for years. It's a record that comes out every Christmas. Get it and I guarantee it will become a tradition in your house every holiday season for years to come.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

Even if this record evaporated in a cloud of smoke after one play like the "Mission Impossible" tape it would be worth buying just to hear young Clifford Brown's suave take on the ballad "Easy Living", reproduced with such graceful authority on this double 45—especially if your previous reference was either the CD or the 1974 UA/ Blue Note compilation Brownie Eyes (BN-LA267G), which was all I've previously had. 

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

How many Diana Krall albums does one need? That's a personal decision of course. However, if you have more than three but no Shirley Horn albums in your collection, you have a few too many. Ditto Sarah Vaughan, Ella, etc. That's not meant as a slight against Krall. In fact I think she'd probably agree with me.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

Recorded in December of 1956 and released in the spring of 1957, this lushly arranged, string-drenched concept album collected a set of love ballads that Nat “King” Cole delivered with unerring intimacy and warmth.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

The problem with an album like this is that there are two basically disinterested constituencies: Nino Rota fans who want to hear the actual soundtracks and people who don't know who Nino Rota is, or Fellini for that matter, and don't really care who they are or what The Umbrellas have done to interpret Rota's music.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

It's an unacceptable prejudice and this review has nothing to do with me, but I admit to having had a problem with Lionel Hampton because he was a Nixon supporter. Isn't that ridiculous? I mean having a problem with it, not that Hamp supported tricky Dick. His politics are his of course, but this prejudice took hold during the 1970s.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

Even atheists will swoon for Mahalia's unlikely Sunday morning thanksgiving at the 1958 Newport Jazz festival.  Accompanied by piano,  organ and bass Ms. Jackson begins with the solemn song "An Evening Prayer" and then moves to a more celebratory  "I'm On My Way." Then it's back to the mournful  "A City Called Heaven."

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 01, 2010 1 comments

The CTI record label started by producer Creed Taylor in 1968 didn’t immediately get the respect it deserved from jazz snobs who found its musical output as glitzy as its glossy cover art. It was the "smooth” jazz label of its day. By the musical terms of the next decade CTI’s original musical vibe was almost “free jazz” compared to the next decade's elevator music slop labeled as “smooth jazz.” It was smooth alright, but jazz?

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