New jazz-oriented vocal groups are so rare that this ensemble, four of whose five members studied at Ithaca College, must be welcomed as a step in the right direction.
Darmon Meader is the key figure: singer, composer, arranger, tenor saxophonist. The others--Peter Eldridge, Kim Nazarian, Sara Krieger, Caprice Fox--are co-writers, contributing lyrics or music for the originals, which are halfway between profound and trivial.
Their five-way blend is splendid; the instrumental backing, sometimes using synthesizer and sequencer programming, is too aggressive at times, as if the group is a little too anxious for commercial success. "Caravan" has interludes of scatting and polysyllabic vocalese. (The inclusion of printed lyrics was invaluable.)
Of the originals, "National Amnesia" aims at social significance, "Dare the Moon" is one of those cheerful wish-upon-a-star ditties; the wordless "Baroque Samba" with its choral introduction is charming; "Street Party" has a melody too unpartylike for the words. The program closes with the brief, slow, pensive "Come Home."
There are no outstanding solo jazz vocalists in New York Voices, though Fox and Krieger come closest. In any event, this is a most promising debut.
"SPHINX." Allegro Jazz Ensemble. Mobile Fidelity MFCO 898. **** 1/2
Jazz critics in the Soviet Union voted this the foremost jazz group in the U.S.S.R. Clearly the Soviets take their fusion seriously; within this hour-plus of very contemporary music are two suites: "In This World," in four parts, and the three-movement "Legend," followed by the hard-boppish title number and the extended "Portrait." All were composed by the keyboard soloist, Nikolai Levinovsky. Conception, performance and recording are exemplary, with just the right balance of fusion and jazz elements, touches of humor and some high-octane cooking. Igor Butman, the group's tenor saxophonist, has since moved to the United States and recorded with Grover Washington. The use of synthesizers is effective; the bassist, Viktor Dvoskin, is outstanding. Allegro may well trigger a situation that could find American musicians copying their Soviet counterparts.
"ELLINGTON MASTERPIECES." The American Jazz Orchestra, conducted by John Lewis. East-West 7 91423-2. *****
Is it Duke or is it Memorex? The old ethical question resurfaces as this repertory ensemble interprets 15 works from Ellington's golden age.
Instead of Duke at the piano you have Dick Katz, copying a solo note for note off the original record. On trumpet there is John Eckert, copying a solo from Cootie Williams that Williams inherited from Ray Nance. Loren Schoenberg, better known as a Lester Young disciple, here suggests Ben Webster. And so forth.
A statement in the notes, that Duke's music was "all there in the score," is false. Much of this band's music was in the hearts and fingers and creative minds of Johnny Hodges and all the other giants who were integral to Duke's triumphs. Their solos can never quite be replaced.
Nevertheless, whether or not you are familiar with the originals, be advised that these are masterful re-creations. "Ko-Ko" and "Main Stem" and "Jack the Bear" never sounded better. On "Conga Brava" and "Cotton Tail," Schoenberg does indeed seem to be ad-libbing.
Under Lewis' guidance, the charts (copied off old records, because Duke left few complete written scores) sound magnificent. Heretical as it may seem, I believe this version of "Bojangles" is even greater than the original.
Lewis himself replaces Katz at the piano to play the first three choruses of "Rockin' in Rhythm" in his own style, and it just may be his finest hour.
It boils down to this: Which versions do you prefer, the derivative ones in digital sound, or the originals in mono? While insisting that the creative credit must go to Ellington, it's still possible to take six of one \o7 and\f7 half a dozen of the other.
"THE BENNY GOODMAN YALE ARCHIVES, VOL. 3." Music Masters CIJ 60157 X. *** 1/2
Never before released, these 20 tracks stem from a week Goodman spent in Brussels in 1957, with a group that included Zoot Sims (prominent in both big band and small group numbers), trumpeter Taft Jordan and vocals by Jimmy Rushing and the elegant, sadly neglected Ethel Ennis.
Though hoarse and sometimes goofing around with the lyrics, Rushing is his indomitable self; he even does "A Fine Romance" as a duet with Ennis. Goodman's clarinet has its moments, but he seems awkward at times and even fluffs. What makes this an intriguing set is that along with a few old familiar items there are little-known charts by Bobby Gutesha, Sid Feller and even Gil Evans.
"GULA MATARI." Quincy Jones. A & M CD 0820. ***
Only four cuts and 34 minutes here, and they are loaded with special effects: a female vocal group here, a quartet of celli there, a bass marimba, a guitarist who whistles while he works (Toots Thielemans), a bassist who sings while he plays (Major Holley). The title tune is somberly dramatic; "Bridge Over Troubled Water" becomes a soul vocal waltz, but the Miles Davis blues "Walkin' " and Nat Adderley's "Hummin' " have a touch of that old big-band sound and moments by Milt Jackson and Hubert Laws.
"SONNY SIDE." Ken Peplowski Quintet. Concord Jazz CCD 4376. ***
At 31, Peplowski is another of those rare younger men who lean to jazz traditions. A highly promising clarinetist and a warm, Websterish tenor soloist (he also plays agreeable alto on "Alone at Last"), he is backed by a conservative rhythm section that wakes up in "Half Nelson," a Latinized treatment with good solo work by pianist Dave Frishberg.