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Hampton's the Host of This Propulsive Party

July 07, 2002|HOWARD REICH

****

LIONEL HAMPTON & HIS BIG BAND

"Live at the

John Anson Ford Amphitheatre"

Phillip Records

Vibes virtuoso and bandleader Lionel Hampton doesn't perform much anymore, so anyone who values his rhythmically propulsive approach to music-making will welcome the sheer energy and drive of the performance captured here.

Recorded live in Los Angeles in 1998, when Hamp was a mere 90 years old, the two-CD set vividly documents the excitement of the occasion. You can hear it in the hard-charging ensemble playing on "Hallelujah Again," the nimble reed and brass solos on "Brand New Baby," the whinnying blues riffs on "Soul Serenade" and the lush colors of "A Night in Tunisia." Even amid this orgy of orchestra color, however, Hamp's vibes playing stands out, as in his whimsical solos on "Hamp's Boogie Woogie."

Granted, Hampton at 90 wasn't producing as much sound and fury as in earlier days, yet his elegant melodicism and piquant chord choices prove difficult to resist. And his soft and tender vocals on "What a Wonderful World" hardly could be more poignant. This set (which opens with performances by Ernie Andrews, Gerald Wiggins and the late Harry "Sweets" Edison) likely will stand as Hamp's last recording. As such, it's an indispensable CD.

****

ORBERT DAVIS

"Priority"

3Sixteen Records

Among jazz connoisseurs, trumpeter Orbert Davis long has been considered a soloist on the ascent. With the release of this breakthrough recording, Davis' moment may have arrived.

The brilliance of his technique, the maturity of his conception and the high polish of his arrangements make "Priority" one of the most persuasive jazz recordings of the year. Each track makes a vivid statement, from the hard-bop spirit of Davis' title track to the sly rhythmic swagger of Ryan Cohan's "Ask Me Nicely," from the explosive energy of Davis' aptly named "Relentless" to the seductive melodicism of "Block Party."

Joined by such formidable players as tenor saxophonist Ari Brown, bassist James Cammack and guest vocalist Kurt Elling, Davis has created something of an instant classic. And check out the bonus track, a revelatory, historic account of "Weatherbird," in which Davis and pianist Cohan recall the inspired partnership of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines.

*** 1/2

BARRELHOUSE CHUCK

"Prescription

for the Blues"

The Sirens

Classic jazz, blues and boogie from the South Side of Chicago will flourish so long as Barrelhouse Chuck is at work.

In his newest release, a welcome solo outing, the singer-pianist asserts himself as a veritable one-man-band. Listen to his exquisitely ornamented piano lines on Leroy Carr's "My Own Lonesome Blues," rolling boogie rhythms on Carr's "Mean Mistreater Mama" and all-over-the-keys virtuosity on Sunnyland Slim's "Johnson Machine Gun," and it's clear that Barrelhouse Chuck has become an important advocate for historic repertoire. At the same time, he builds on the achievements of the giants with the beauty of his keyboard touch and the melancholy tone of his vocals.

*** 1/2

DARIUS de HAAS

"Day Dream:

Variations on Strayhorn"

PS Classics

Although singer Darius de Haas has contributed to a number of high-toned recording projects in recent years, including Michael John LaChiusa's 1999 musical "Marie Christine," with this solo release he announces himself as a potentially major jazz vocalist.

Offering sometimes radical reappraisals of jazz standards by composer Billy Strayhorn, De Haas proves fearless in recasting these tunes in original, distinctive ways. Generally, he leans toward slow tempos, dreamy moods and unabashedly idiosyncratic phrasings, but this seemingly leisurely approach allows him to explore otherwise forgotten details of such well-worn fare as "Take the 'A' Train" and "Lush Life." His pairing of "Passion Flower" and "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" is particularly effective, reminding listeners that Strayhorn's best tunes stand as art songs worthy of meticulous interpretation.

*

Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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