Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ella Fitzgerald - Ella in Hollywood (1961)

Ella in Hollywood is a live 1961 album by Ella Fitzgerald, with a jazz trio led by Lou Levy, recorded in Hollywood, Los Angeles. This album features Ella at the height of her vocal powers, one month before the recording of her most critically acclaimed studio album, Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!. Ella in Hollywood features several songs that serve as starting points for Ella's seemingly effortless scat solos ("Take the 'A' Train" is considered one of her best scat performances on record), and a selection of beautiful ballads balance out the album. For many years, the album was only available on CD as a Japanese import, but in April 2009 Verve finally gave it a worldwide CD release.

There’s nothing rare about a joyous Ella Fitzgerald recording; the woman exuded joy in nearly every note she sang. Yet the level on these sessions soared higher and plumbed deeper. Gary Giddins, the veteran critic and author of “Jazz,” agrees. “This ranks on the top shelf of her live recordings,” he said. “It’s about as good as it gets.” The 1961 Crescendo gig, which took place from May 11 to 21 (with one night off), was booked as an afterthought to begin with, a time filler between a European tour that Fitzgerald and her quartet had begun in February and a monthlong stay at the Basin Street East in New York that June. Norman Granz took the unusual step of taping every set. But in the next year alone he and Fitzgerald recorded six studio albums, most of them with large orchestras, including two of her eight heavily promoted songbook albums, each devoted to standards by a prominent American composer. In this context it’s not so surprising that the Crescendo tapes received short shrift. “My guess,” Mr. Seidel said in a phone interview, “would be that Norman Granz was just recording Ella so much at the time, and was probably focused much more on her big studio projects.” Granz did pull 12 tracks from the roughly 14 hours of material recorded at the Crescendo and released them that year as an LP called “Ella in Hollywood.” But the album didn’t do well, perhaps because it sounded so strange. In between the songs, for reasons now unknown, someone spliced in loud applause that had been recorded in a large concert hall, making the whole album seem artificial. (The Crescendo was a nightclub of 200 seats). Whatever the reasons for the flat reviews and scant sales, the executives of Verve — which Granz had sold to MGM in 1960 — put the Crescendo tapes in the vault, where they were forgotten for the next 27 years (this refers to the 4-CD boxset also released by Verve in 2009).

Track listing:
1. "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" (Steve Allen) – 2:33
2. "I've Got the World on a String" (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler) – 3:44
3. "You're Driving Me Crazy" (Walter Donaldson) – 3:23
4. "Just in Time" (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne) – 1:56
5. "It Might as Well Be Spring" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers) – 3:07
6. "Take the "A" Train" (Billy Strayhorn) – 9:04
7. "Stairway to the Stars" (Matty Malneck, Mitchell Parish, Frank Signorelli) – 3:56
8. "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)" (Sam Coslow) – 4:05
9. "Satin Doll" (Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Strayhorn) – 2:53
10. "Blue Moon" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) – 3:17
11. "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home?" (Charles Warfield, Clarence Williams) – 3:41
12. "Air Mail Special" (Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Mundy) – 5:26

* Ella Fitzgerald - Vocals
* Wilfred Middlebrooks - Bass
* Lou Levy - Piano
* Gus Johnson - Drums
* Herb Ellis - Guitar

Recorded live, May 11- May 21, 1961, Hollywood, Los Angeles

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bill Frisell - Music for the Film of Buster Keaton - The High Sign ; One Week {Elektra Nonesuch 1995}

“The most inventive and compelling guitarist to emerge in more than a decade” (Oakland Tribune), composer/guitarist/bandleader Bill Frisell trains his unique compositional lens on the silent film works of 1920s comedic phenom Buster Keaton, forging Music for the Films of Buster Keaton: Go West and The High Sign / One Week, two remarkable recordings representing the sixth and seventh additions to Frisell's Nonesuch catalog.

Music for the Films of Buster Keaton provides a deeper look at Frisell’s longstanding fascination with Americana (also explored in his earlier Nonesuch releases This Land and Have a Little Faith). In a musical storytelling of the rises, falls and comedic/tragic mishaps of Buster Keaton’s most memorable screen personae, the voice of Frisell’s signature guitar presides conversing, pondering, scheming over vignettes of fluctuating rhythms, tempos and moods, weaving the particular atmosphere of placid tumult so intrinsic to Keaton’s work and life. After a New York City performance accompanying the films, the New York Times said, “Mr. Frisell’s scores perfectly balance the need to be abstract and the need to be literal ... [He has] recurring motifs that suggest the new American possibility of the time, motifs redolent of the sort of optimism heard in some country music, blues and jazz.”

Both Go West and The High Sign / One Week feature the Bill Frisell band, a tightly knit trio in which longtime collaborators Kermit Driscoll (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) flank Frisell’s inimitable fretwork, exhibiting a level of communication for which Frisell’s ensembles are renowned. Formed in 1986, the band often conspired with such notable talents as clarinetist Don Byron, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, and accordionist Guy Klucevsek, among others. ”

Track Listing:
1 Introduction 0:37
2 The High Sign Theme / Help Wanted 0:42
3 Target Practice 1:16
4 The Blinking Buzzards 1:06
5 Good Shot / Swearing In / Shooting Gallery 2:30
6 Chase / Cop 5:45
7 The High Sign Theme / At the Home of August Nickel 1:10
8 Chase / Caught 3:21
9 The High Sign Theme 1:56
10 One Week Theme / The Wedding 0:27
11 Reckless Driving 1:39
12 Construction 0:49
13 Oh, Well / The Piano 3:12
14 Fight 2:05
15 Oh, Well / Bath Scene 1:42
16 Housewarming Party and Storm 2:32
17 One Week Theme / Aftermath 2:19
18 Here Comes the Train 0:44
19 Oh, Well 0:49

Bill Frisell, acoustic and electric guitars
Kermit Driscoll, acoustic and electric basses
Joey Baron, drums and percussion

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nikos Skalkottas (1904-49) Music For Violin And Piano

Nikos Skalkottas produced his abundant compositional legacy in virtual obscurity. Even some of his close colleagues and family members had no idea he was a composer. A half century after Skalkottas' early death, the Greek composer is finally getting his due. Gunther Schuller's Margun Music has published a significant handful of scores, while BIS continues what hopes to be an ongoing survey of his music. In certain respects, it's a miracle that the music has survived at all. Much of Skalkottas' prolific output only exists in manuscript; tracking it all down amounts to a detective job from hell. For instance, only the second movement survives from Skallkotas' first of four Violin Sonatinas recorded here. It's a three-minute curio that aptly can be described as "Schoenberg meets Samba".

Much of Skalkottas' music, in fact, evokes the lilting, cosmopolitan sound world of the composers who made up "Les Six", yet the grammar is thoroughly rooted in Schoenberg's gritty, uncompromising 12-tone lexicon. Hints of catchy melodies flicker in and out of thorny chordal bushes and spiky rhythmic cells. Skalkottas is fond of abrupt endings. Each of Sonata for Solo Violin's four movements, for example, concludes in midthought, as if the composer simply decided to stop in his tracks and give his feverish pen a rest.

While it makes programming and marketing sense to build a CD release around all the Skalkottas violin music, it's best to absorb these dense, quirky works in small doses. Start with the oddly engaging Little Chorale and Fugue, then proceed to the larger-scaled Fourth Sonatina. Then choose an encore from any of the five concluding miniatures at the end of the disc. Georgios Demertzis and Maria Asteriadou dive head first into this strange, insidiously original music, playing with ferocity and musicianly abandon. Powerful stuff. ~Jed Distler,

Track listing:

Sonata for Solo Violin (1925)
1. I. Allegro furioso, quasi Presto 2'33
2. II. Adagietto 2'42
3. III. Allegro ritmato 1'41
4. IV. Adagio - Allegro molto Moderato 5'40

Sonatina No.1 for Violin and Piano (1929)
5. II. Andantino 2'50

Sonatina No.2 for Violin and Piano (1929)
6. I. Allegro 2'13
7. II. Andante 2'20
8. III. Allegro vivace 2'01

Sonatina No.3 for Violin and Piano (1935)
9. I. Allegro giusto 2'55
10. II. Andante 5'06
11. III. Maestoso - Vivace 3'17

Sonatina No.4 for Violin and Piano (1935)
12. I. Moderato 3'26
13. II. Adagio 6'49
14. III. Allegro moderato 2'51

Little Chorale and Fugue (c.1936/37?)
15. Adagio 1'16
16. Moderato 1'40

17. March of the Little Soldiers (c. 1936/37?) 0'50

18. Nocturne (c. 1936/37?) 4'53

19. Rondo (c. 1936/37?) 1'18

20. Gavotte (1939) 1'36

21. Scherzo (c. 1940?) 2'22

22. Menuetto Cantato (c. 1940?) 2'14


Georgios Demertzis, violin
Maria Asteriadou, piano

BIS CD-1024, 1999 10/10

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan - Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi (1957){DCC GZS-1074 1995}

"This is the least satisfying of Gerry Mulligan's celebrated sax duet albums for Verve, but that's mainly because Getz and Mulligan switch instruments on the second half (a lame idea considering that Stan's sound on the tenor was as rare and unique as Mulligan's fluidity on the baritone). Thankfully, the CD reissue adds bonus cuts of them playing their respective horns..." sez a Mr. Nick Dedina reviewing this CD for

Of course, we know better (or do we?) and will cherish this wonderful album for two reasons, the first one being playing the guess-who's-playing-the-bari-on-this-number and a more obvious one, i.e. the cracking enjoyment of listening to two of the greatest horn men in jazz at the peak of their artistic powers, happy holidays all...

Track Listing:
1. Let's Fall in Love
2. Anything Goes
3. Too Close for Comfort
4. That Old Feeling
5. This Can't Be Love
6. A Ballad
7. Scrapple from the Apple (bonus track)
8. I Didn't Know What Time It Was (bonus track)

Gerry Mulligan (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Stan Getz (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Lou Levy (piano); Ron Carter (bass); Stan Levy (drums)

Recorded Oct. 12, 1957 for Verve Records (monaural)