Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson virtually define the history of jazz vibraphone. Red Norvo, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton, among others, have also made significant contributions. But it was Hampton, in the pre-bop era, and Jackson, in the post-bop years, who essentially laid out the instrument's jazz vocabulary.
Both endure as potent creative forces. At 87, Hampton--apparently fully recovered from a mild stroke earlier this year--not only continues to perform but continues to do so with vigor and imagination. Jackson, 72, is still a mainstay of the Modern Jazz Quartet and still a player whose solos almost always proffer a crash course in how to swing.
Coincidentally, both have just released CDs that place them in unusually contemporary settings.
"For the Love of Music"
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Hampton's destination with this aptly titled album becomes clear from the first funk sounds of the opening track--a re-harmonized, newly arranged version of his classic number "Flying Home." And, amazingly it works, enlivened by Hamp's playing, the honking saxophone of Joshua Redman and a small-ensemble rendering of the fiery big-band chart.
But this is just the start. Stevie Wonder pops up on the next track and Chaka Khan, Tito Puente, Grover Washington Jr. and Dianne Reeves on others. The stylistic range is all over the place, from a couple of lovely, Miles Davis-tinged standards with Wallace Roney, Ron Carter and Roy Haynes, through the R&B of Khan and Norman Brown, the salsa of Puente, the easygoing fusion of Washington, the romping scat singing of Reeves and the boogie-woogie of Hamp's own tune "Mojazz."
He cruises through everything with convincing musicality, always in context, continually adding small touches to personalize a remarkably expansive collection of styles. Hampton may be adding years, but he's not getting old.
"Burnin' in the Woodhouse"
Jackson surrounds himself with a hard-driving pack of young lions on his third outing on Qwest. It would be difficult to go wrong with the lineup of Redman (tenor saxophone), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Jesse Davis (alto saxophone), Benny Green (piano), Christian McBride (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums).
But this recording doesn't come together. The passages with the horn players and the rhythm section are competent and straight-ahead, if not notably exciting. Although Payton has a few especially fierce moments, each of these musicians has performed better elsewhere, both in their own albums and in various combinations.
The real problem seems to be between Jackson and the rhythm team. Unlike the subtle urgency of his connection with Modern Jazz Quartet associates John Lewis and Percy Heath and Connie Kay, he never quite manages to get into a similarly propulsive pocket with Green, McBride and Washington. Only rarely--here and there on "A Bell for Bags," "In the Woodhouse" and "Soulmates"--does he perform with the hard-swinging, rhythmic vitality that is a fundamental characteristic of his music. Jackson is probably incapable of playing uninteresting jazz, but this is not his finest hour.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).