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Jazz Album Briefs: Jobim, Manhattan Transfer

November 29, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

"PASSARIM." Antonio Carlos Jobim and the New Band. Verve 833-234-1.

The godfather of the bossa nova has not lost his touch. Singing (at the piano) five songs in Portuguese and six in English--two of the latter with his own English lyrics--he has retained the light and gentle essence of this music with a simple, elegant six-piece group and five backup singers, with strings and/or woodwinds added occasionally. This is a family affair: His son plays guitar and wrote two songs, his wife and daughter are among the singers, as are the wives of his flutist and cellist.

Jobim is still the best interpreter of his own compositions. Particularly charming is the wittily autobiographical "Chansong," describing his return to the United States. ("The immigration officer asked me, 'Where have you been Mr. Bim? Where have you been, Joe?' ") Paulo Jobim's "Samba de Soho" is another melodic and lyrical delight. Here, in short, is the bossa nova in its pristine, unspoiled state. 5 stars.

"BRASIL." Manhattan Transfer. Atlantic 7-81803-1. Here, on the other hand, is what happened to the music of Brazil after those crazy North Americans got hold of it. Despite the presence of several Brazilians (among them, Djavan and Milton Nascimento), the synthesizer programming and elaborate prepared percussion thuds built a monument to overproduction. Djavan is a gifted composer, but Doug Figer's pseudo-hip English lyrics on "Soul Food to Go" and "Zoo Blues" are an embarrassment.

Some songs, with lyrics by Brock Walsh or Tracy Mann, are very literate and deserved a better fate than this rhythmic overkill. The best cut is the only one sung in Portuguese, "Capim," with Stan Getz as guest soloist. In short, the LP is technically flawless but creatively flawed. The Transfer might be well advised to return to the North American idiom that served them so delightfully in "Vocalese." 3 stars.

"SONGS OF CHELSEA." Blossom Dearie. Daffodil BMD 110 (East Durham, N.Y. 12423). So they aren't writing songs the way they used to? Think again. Dearie demolishes the theory with the hilarious "My Attorney Bernie" (by David Frishberg), the touching "What Time Is It Now?" (by Dearie, with lyricist Jack Segal), and "Let the Flower Grow" (a vocal duet with the composer, Jay Leonhart). She switches to electric keyboard for "C'est Le Printemps," words by Jean Sablon, which turns out to be the Francophiles' version of "It Might as Well Be Spring." Johnny Mercer's final work, "My New Celebrity Is You" (he bequeathed it to Dearie) is packed with ingenious rhymes. Every track, including the instrumental finale "Chelsea Aire" (written with her brother, Walter Birchett), is a winner. Chic, sleek and squeaky-clean, Dearie's is a voice in a million, soaring octaves above the rest. 5 stars.

"EVER SINCE THE WORLD ENDED." Mose Allison. Blue Note 48015. Producer Ben Sidran calls Allison the William Faulkner of jazz. At the very least, this unique philosopher/conservationist/survivalist is the ideal singer and pianist for his own cogent lyrics and apt melodies. Opening with the title song ("It's just as well the world ended--it wasn't working anyway . . . "), he moves on to "Top 40" ("When I make my top 40, big beat, rock 'n' roll record everything is gonna be just fine"). Eight cuts later (all but two of them self-written) he winds up with "I'm Alive" ("Some folks think I'm jive, but I'm alive.") Good support from Bob Malach, Arthur Blythe and Benny Wallace on saxes, Kenny Burrell on guitar. After a lull in his long recording career, old man Mose is back with a vengeance. 4 stars.

"CENTRAL CITY SKETCHES." Benny Carter and the American Jazz Orchestra. Music Masters 20126/7). Heading an all-star New York repertory group, Carter is in magnificent form as composer (of everything except his classic arrangement of Adam Geibel's "Sleep"), as alto saxophonist and, briefly, on trumpet, which he plays in the first (blues) movement of the title piece. This six-part suite, written for a concert last spring, is Carter's first extended work in many years, taking up the second of these four sides. Lew Tabackin on flute and Marvin Stamm on trumpet stand out among the other soloists.

On the other sides, much of Carter's best early work is updated: "When Lights Are Low," "Blues in My Heart," "Lonesome Nights" and "Symphony in Riffs" have made the decades-long transition with the same timeless grace that marks Carter's playing. On all but the last John Lewis, the conductor, sits in on piano, replacing Dick Katz. If it had not been for conspicuously poor mixing (notably in the sax section) and a weak trombone solo that interrupts the mood on "Blues in My Heart," this would have been a 5-star set. As it is, for a definitive cross section of mainstream big band music, 4 stars.

"SHUT YO' MOUTH!" Slam Stewart/Major Holley. PM Records 024. Both leaders bow their basses and hum--Holley in unison, Stewart in octave unison with the solos. The title cut is a sendup of "Close Your Eyes." "Tomorrow" is a perfect vehicle for what is primarily a comedy team, though Dick Hyman's piano (he co-produced) and Oliver Jackson's drumming are self-contained treats. After 38 minutes the bass/vocal trade-offs become too much of a good thing, but a good thing it surely is. 3 stars.

"CRYSTAL." Ahmad Jamal. Atlantic 81793. These 10 original compositions by one of the most pianistic of all pianists (no wonder he renounced electronics and stayed with the Steinway) add up to Jamal's finest album in years. "Avo," a fast waltz, stands out, but there are many passages of translucently intriguing beauty here. Sympathetic and well-integrated support is provided by James Cammack on bass, David Bowler on drums and Willie White on percussion. 5 stars.

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