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Jarrett, Camilo Top Chart-Toppers


The current Billboard jazz and contemporary jazz charts reveal that there's not only an amazingly wide swath of styles on the market for the jazz buyer, but also that consumers are quite varied in their tastes, embracing albums both worth celebrating, as well as those worth passing up.

Two top-notch recordings are by pianists: Keith Jarrett's "Bye Bye Blackbird" and Michel Camilo's "Rendezvous."

"Blackbird," a tribute to Miles Davis, finds Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette wistfully interpreting such classics as "I Thought About You," "Straight No Chaser" and the title track with considerable elan. On "Rendezvous," Camilo, who combines Oscar Peterson's technical prowess with an ardent Latin side, explores 11 tunes, from a succulently slow take of "Caravan" to the evocative original "Remembrance."

And there's Dave Grusin's "Homage to Duke," a pleasant if not exactly adventurous look at Ellingtonia where Clark Terry adds occasional sparks.

On the contemporary jazz chart, which rates the top sellers among albums that emphasize a blend of jazz, pop, R&B and other modes, Michael Franks' "Dragonfly Summer" is exemplary. Franks, his all-but-transparent voice in fine form, tackles a number of listenable originals, as well as the "I Love Lucy" theme, all deftly arranged by Jeff Lorber, the Yellowjackets and others.

The chart-topper, George Benson's "Love Remembers," is one of several albums that gets mixed marks, along with Alex Bugnon's "This Time Around," the Rippington's "Live in L.A." and Art Porter's "Straight to the Point." These albums all have solid moments--Benson plays much more than usual for a pop-leaning album, Bugnon delivers a Herbie Hancock-esque piano style that's stimulating--but just not enough of them.

Here is a look at some other recent releases:

*** Horace Silver, "It's Got to be Funky," Columbia. The pianist's crack debut with a major label finds him leading his nine-piece Silver Brass Ensemble, with guest saxophonists Red Holloway, Branford Marsalis and Eddie Harris (the latter two on two tracks each).

The overall mood is jubilant and in the groove, with Silver writing splendidly and achieving refreshing results. Holloway's warm, open sound is highlighted, Marsalis shows he can play be-bop on "The Hillbilly Bebopper" and Andy Bey vocalizes several of Silver's sometimes-too-cute lyrics.

** Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, "Live at Montreux," Warner Bros. One wonders about the wisdom in making this album. Davis was only a few months from his death when, in July, 1991, he attempted to play some of the most challenging material of his career: selections from classic albums such as "Miles Ahead" and "Sketches of Spain," from the late '50s and early '60s.

Backed by a large orchestra, Davis is obviously not up to his high standard, fluffing notes consistently and letting trumpeter Wallace Roney handle the main of the soloing. The music, employing the original arrangements by Gil Evans, is still haunting, and it's poignant to hear Miles trying to return to his prime. But ultimately one keeps remembering Davis' classic recordings and, in comparison, this one is noticeably lacking.

*** Gonzalo Rubalcaba, "Suite 4 y 20," Blue Note. The Cuban piano whiz is heard here for the first time in a quartet format, with trumpeter Reynaldo Melian the sole horn--bassist Charlie Haden makes a few cameos. The music is mostly soft and dulcet, depicting the pianist's affinity for tender playing. The program is eclectic, and rewarding: Lennon-McCartney's "Here, There and Everywhere" is taken very slowly, as is "Love Letters." The leader's dark, profound touch and sure-footed soloing sparkle on each number.

CRITIC'S CHOICE: The Swinging Sheppards, a four-flute ensemble led by Buddy Collette, and featuring pianist Gerry Wiggins, performs Saturday afternoon at the Pedrini Showcase Theatre, located in Pedrini Music in Alhambra.

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