Tuesday, December 26, 2023




This was another year when historical gems from the world of jazz were discovered, thoughtfully curated, and sonically improved where possible before being released to a dedicated and anxious audience of fans. The producers of many of these important releases dedicate time, effort, and expertise to make these often-overlooked recordings into wonderful keepsakes. They assemble rewarding windows into the lives and music of some of the art's most revered jazz artists as they went about their workmanlike business of creating and performing music often in live performances. These releases were, at times, recorded without the knowledge of the performers for personal use by fans for posterity, or maybe for reasons that deemed them unworthy of being commercially released. They capture the artists and their bands in an unlacquered, unrehearsed, at times rough but often brilliant process of spontaneous creation. The releases can be released in both vinyl and CD/digital formats and the packaging can be miniature pieces of art that include beautiful booklets that accompany the music. They have detailed track listings and compositional notes, rare photographs of the artists, authoritative recollections from writers and interviews of musicians of note, essays from producers, band members, and associated jazz aficionados that can put the recording into a historical perspective with inside knowledge. A veritable treasure chest of jazz information for the fan.

I have received several releases from this year that are worth notice. Here are a few of my favorite releases that I can recommend.

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah: Released September 15, 2023, by Luaka Boo Records. This is a new boxed set of a remastered version of the original recording of the same name from 1977 including two never-before-released performances of his "Harvest Time." Made with Sander's permission.

For those who have always been influenced by Pharoah's playing and his connection to the spiritual, this recording is a window into some of his most inspired work from that time.  You can really let the vibe of his music take you to a special place.

Pharoah Sanders, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Vocals; Bedria Sanders, Harmonium; Steve Neil, Bass; Tisziji Munoz, Guitar; Greg Bandy, Drums: Clifton "Jiggs" Chase, Keyboards; Lawrence Killian, Percussion. 

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy: Evenings at the Village Gate: Impulse Records released July 2023. 

These are various cuts from Coltrane's quintet with Eric Dolphy and their live performances recorded at New York City's Village Gate during the group's stay at the club in August of 1961. In the spring of that year, Trane had released his popular "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, but by summertime, he had signed with Impulse, a new record label, and he was already less moved to follow the path of commercial success. His alignment with Dolphy was a short-lived one, but you can hear that these two were heading in similarly expansive directions. It's an important link in the chain of Trane's musical evolution that should not be missed and there are rare photos and some illuminating comments from saxophonist Branford Marsalis and jazz journalist Ashley Kahn. The sound quality is not as bright or definitive as we would like- it was recorded with a single ribbon microphone that was hung over the band as a test for the club's recently updated sound system- but it's hard to fault any chance we get to hear these guys in their prime exploring to create new directions.

John Coltrane, soprano and tenor saxophones; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute: Art Davis, double bass; McCoy Tyner, piano; Reggie Workman, double bass; Elvin Jones, drums. 

Bill Evans: Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965-1969): Elemental Music, released 

Treasure is an appropriate name for this gem of a compilation from Bill Evans in his solo, trio, and orchestra format. It shows the different ways Evans adapts his playing to match the diverse settings and changing bandmates. Besides offering several beautiful solo performances, it's just a treat to hear Evans and his liberating approach as he plays with three distinct trios; one with European master Neils-Henning Orstead Pedersen on bass and the drummaster Alan Dawson; one with Pedersen and Danish drummer Alex Reil; and one with his long-time bassist compatriot Eddie Gomez and sometime trio drummer Marty Morell. The two CD box set includes thirty-eight selections, some multiple takes on his well-explored standards like Waltz for Debbie and Time Remembered. Evan's work in front of the Royal Danish Orchestra features some empathetic arranging and conducting by the Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. This must-have set is produced by Zev Feldman who continues to surprise and delight with his informative well-written notes and the high quality and diversity of his releases.

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  1-3 Evans, piano; Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alan Dawson Drums:

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  4-8 Evans, piano;Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alex Reil, Drums; 

Bill Evans Trio: CD 1, 9-14  Evans, Piano: Eddie Gomez, bass: Marty Morell drums with the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra & The Danish Radio Big Band w/ Palle Mikkelborg Trumpet/arranger/Conductor

Bill Evans Solo and Trio :  CD 2, 1-16

Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio: Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings: Resonance Records, released November 2023

The gentlemen at Resonance have once again unearthed and released a 2 CD  jewel of a record. Guitarist wizard Wes Montgomery performed at the New York City jazz club the Half Note in 1965 with the Wynton Kelly Trio. The trio included Kelly on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and a rotating bass chair that featured Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Larry Ridley, and Herman Wright on various nights on bass. At the time, the music was broadcast over the radio by host Alan Grant on his "Portraits in Jazz" series. The originally released album Smokin' at the Half Note is an iconic Montgomery album that features the trio on a night with Chambers on bass and was released in 1965. It was recorded live at the club in June of 1965, but Verve producer Creed Taylor re-recorded the takes of three of the songs ("Unit 7", Four on Six" and "What's New") for the album again in September at Rudy Van Gelder's Studio in NJ.  This album features seventeen songs all recorded live at the Half Note and with the four different bassists. Because it has been restored and preserved from the original dates this release is a more detailed chance to hear Wes and the trio perform in all their glory. Great interviews with Bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern, and bassist Marcus Miller just add to the experience. The Producers George Klabin, Zev Feldman, and Richard Seidel should all be commended for such a memorable put-together snapshot of jazz guitar history. 

Amhad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 The third in a series of brilliant releases from the pianist Amhad Jamal and his varying trios are titled Emerald City Nights and are curated by the seemingly never-sleeping producer Zev Feldman.  The series covers live performances recorded at Charlie Puzzo's Seattle Jazz Club The Penthouse from 1963 through 1968 and to say that these recently released gems are priceless is an understatement. It's nice to know that Producer Zev Feldman got the now-passed pianist -the master musician left us on April 16, 2023, at the age of ninety-to give him his blessing to release these recordings from the Penthouse's archives. The album includes Jamal on piano, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Frank Gant.  The two previous releases found Jamal with additional players like Richard Evans on bass and drummers Chuck Lampkin and Vernal Fournier on drums on various cuts. When you listen to the three 2 CD albums in succession you are treated to a time capsule glimpse into a period from Jamal's working development. I'm especially pleased that each album stands by itself with no song being repeated between the six-disc set of selections! On the latest release you get to hear Jamal's mind working through his own interpretations of such classics as Earl Garner's "Misty," Jobim's Corcovado" Mande;'s "Emily" and Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky." It's like having your own Jamal piano trio in your living room.

Some other worthy historically rewarding releases this past year include:

Steve Davis Meets Hank Jones Vol 1 on Smoke Records Recorded 2008. It may be the last recording made with the great pianist and includes Steve Davis' soulful trombone and sympathetic bass work by Peter Washington. 

Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High from 1975 is a reissue on ECM Records of the original recording. This three-song album, although the 21-minute "Heyoke"  feels more like multiple explorations in one, includes the enigmatic Canadian trumpeter and a stellar supporting group that includes Keith Jarrett on piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack De Johnette on drums. Jarrett is expansive and Wheeler a tonal delight.

Dave Brubeck Quartet Live from the Northwest 1959: Brubeck Editions:
This live recording finds the iconic group in their prime at Multnomah Jazz Club and Clark College, both in the Portland, Oregon area. The personnel includes leader Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond as his alto saxophone foil, a particularly lively Eugene Wright on bass, and the inimitable Joe Morello on drums. The group is a joy to hear as they are one of the earliest jazz groups to have approached the then poorly serviced college audience where they toured extensively and became country-wide popular.

Chet Baker: Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland: Jazz Detective Records. Recorded on two dates for the KRO radio jazz program Nine O'Clock Jazz in the Netherlands. The 2-CD set predominantly features a whispery Baker on horn and voice along with pianist Phil Markowitz, Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass, and Charles Rice on drums. There are also a few songs where Baker is accompanied by Fran Elsen on piano, Victor Kaihatu on bass, and Eric Ineke on drums. Relaxed session that adds a little more depth to Baker's discography from his European days.

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