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JAZZ | Spotlight

New Work From the Old (and Young) Guard

November 26, 2000|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman is The Times' jazz writer

Some of the heavy hitters of jazz have new albums this month, their arrivals no doubt timed to coincide with the Christmas gift-giving season. After all, someone with even a minimal knowledge of jazz will probably be aware of the fact that recordings by, say, Sonny Rollins or Oscar Peterson could make good holiday gift choices for the jazz fan in their families. So here's a look at the new releases from prominent artists, both younger and older.

*** 1/2 McCoy Tyner, "Jazz Roots" (Telarc Jazz). Tyner's great versatility allows him to function superbly in almost any setting, from edgy avant-garde to lyrical pop balladry--all without abandoning the instantly recognizable aspects of his style. But for many Tyner fans, his most engaging work is done in solo performance, a setting that allows him to remain in firm contact with his personal muse. And what is fascinating about this collection is the manner in which his musical identity persists, even as he works his way through a program ranging from "A Night in Tunisia" and "Pannonica" to "Summertime" and "Misty" (with a few originals thrown in for good measure). Tyner has dedicated many of the pieces to such jazz icons as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum and Bill Evans via tributes that are all the more effective because of the manner in which they display his world-class skills.

*** 1/2 Wallace Roney, "No Room for Argument" (Stretch Records). Roney is one of the four or five important trumpeters who emerged as one of the mainstream-oriented "Young Lions" of the '80s and '90s. But the albatross he has always carried has been his playing's striking similarity to that of Miles Davis. And he did not enhance his independence by performing as a Davis replacement in several revival settings. But stylistic similarities don't tell the whole story, any more than did Sonny Stitt's musical resemblance to Charlie Parker. On this release, Roney makes a case for the individuality of his creative vision, despite the continuing tonal resonance with Davis. Several of the tracks employ readings by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others to create jazz collages. But the most musically impactful moments are on the pieces in which Roney and his fine ensemble--saxophonists Steve Hall and brother Antoine Roney, pianist Geri Allen, keyboardist Adam Holzman, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White--simply stretch out into uncluttered, world-class improvising. The result is a step up in Roney's career, a path to musical autonomy that he would do well to pursue further.

*** Sonny Rollins, "This Is What I Do" (Milestone). It's been four decades since Rollins was first described as the "Saxophone Colossus," and the label is still as accurate today as it was then. This latest outing, a kind of 70th birthday statement (Rollins became a septuagenarian on Sept. 7), offers a clear view of how his playing--despite its continuing preeminence--has evolved since his powerful early years. Performing with regular associates--pianist Stephen Scott, trombonist Clifford Anderson, bassist Bob Cranshaw--as well as either Jack DeJohnette or Perry Wilson on drums, Rollins employs the conversational style that has become intrinsic to his soloing over the past decade or so. Different from his muscular, hard-driving youthful approach, it is a method that allows a wide range of emotional sounds while still retaining an extraordinary mastery of harmonic progressions. The program includes a few originals (one--"Salvador"--tapping into his Caribbean roots) as well as such typically offbeat Rollins choices as "Sweet Leilani" and "The Moon of Manakoora." Note, however, that the program is surprisingly short, totaling less than 50 minutes--extremely modest by current CD standards.

*** Oscar Peterson, "Trail of Dreams: A Canadian Suite" (Telarc Jazz). It was an interesting idea to present a collection of Peterson melodies celebrating the continental breadth of his native country with an orchestral setting arranged by Michel Legrand. The music is instantly accessible--typically hard-grooving Peterson riff melodies, lovely ballads, perky genre numbers such as the rollicking "Dancetron" and "The French Fiddler," as well as Legrand's atmospheric settings of area-inspired works such as "Banff the Beautiful" and "Morning in Newfoundland." Between the orchestral passages there are plenty of opportunities for Peterson's scintillating ensemble--guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Niels Henning-Orsted Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew--to stretch out in typically hard-swinging fashion.

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