Posts Tagged ‘Concord’

Dave Brubeck: The Definitive Dave Brubeck on Fantasy, Concord Jazz and Telarc

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Highlights from Brubeck’s pre- and post-Columbia years

By collecting early ‘50s sides waxed for Fantasy and post-70s sides laid down for Concord and Telarc, this two-disc set tells the story of Brubeck before and after his time at Columbia. The selections taste his earliest work with an octet, trio work with Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty, and his initial liaisons with saxophonist Paul Desmond. It skips the seminal quartet formed with Joe Morello and Eugene Wright, and rejoins Brubeck in the early 80s in a group that included his son Chris on electric bass and bass trombone. Though the original versions of Brubeck hits “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo Ala Turk,” aren’t here, the distinctive elements – Brubeck’s blocky chords (magnificently played with competing hands on “Look for the Silver Lining” and chasing one another up and down the keyboard on “This Can’t Be Love”), Desmond’s brilliant tone, and the exploration of percussive arrangements and unusual time signatures – are all heard both early on.

The later sessions find Brubeck rejoined by clarinetist (and original octet member) Bill Smith, and later by alto sax player Bobby Miltello. It’s hard to call this set “definitive,” given that many of the full source albums are in print, but it’s a good introduction for those who know Brubeck’s iconic Columbia releases and have never delved into his earlier catalog. His response to Tjader’s vibes is particularly interesting, as they’re both playing percussive melody instruments – something absent from the more famous quartet. This set also provides an opportunity to hear the directions Brubeck took as an elder statesman with a literal next generation of players. A selection of live tracks show how Brubeck, Desmond and the other players lit up in front of an audience (this is even more evident on  the 50th anniversary reissue of Time Out). The twenty-page booklet includes discographical data, photos, cover and label reproductions, and extensive liner notes by Brubeck’s longtime manager/producer/conductor (and this set’s curator), Russell Gloyd. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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Ray Charles: Rare Genius – The Undiscovered Masters

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Spruced-up set of Ray Charles vault finds

Of course, this should really be titled “The Previously Undiscovered Masters” since they’ve obviously been discovered at this point, but that quibble aside, this is an impressive set of ten tracks that were, for one reason or another, left in the can. Waxed in the 70s, 80s and 90s at Charles’ RPM International Studios, some of the tracks emerged from the vault completely finished, and some were fleshed out with matching contemporary arrangements. There’s soul, blues and jazz, as one would expect from a Ray Charles album, but there are a few examples of his affinity for country, as well. A cover of Hank Cochran’s “A Little Bitty Tear” is sung as gospel blues, and the album’s biggest surprise is a finished duet with Johnny Cash covering Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?” The latter, produced by the legendary Billy Sherrill in 1981, has Cash singing lead in his resonant baritone while Charles provides soulful electric piano and backing vocals. Charles sounds terrific on all ten tracks, elevating the players (both then and now) with his soulfulness. Producer John Burk (who helmed Charles’ last album, Genius Loves Company) has done a magical job of melding the vintage productions with the new work, creating an album that’s a  great deal more cohesive than you’d expect from a set that began its life as disparate vault recordings. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Sings for Lovers

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Brother Ray sings the highs and lows of love

Concord’s “For Lovers” series features catalog selections from vocalists and instrumentalists exploring the joys and heartaches of love. Singer-pianist Ray Charles is a natural fit for this series, with his soulful vocal delivery, emotional playing, sophisticated arrangements and broad appetite for material. These sixteen tracks are drawn from his post-Atlantic pop recordings, with nearly half dating back to his first few years on ABC. The rest are drawn from the late-60s through the mid-70s, and skipping over his late-70s return to Atlantic there’s a 1993 cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a 2006 re-orchestration of his 1970s cover of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On.”

Producer Nick Phillips mixes iconic hit singles “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Ruby,” and “Here We Go Again” with lower charting entries, the seasonal favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside (sung in duet with Betty Carter) and intelligently selected album tracks. It’s the latter – the lesser-known picks – that make this collection unique. Highlights include a version of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You” that’s so soulful, it’s hard to match it with Paul McCartney’s sugar sweet rendition on With the Beatles, and his intimate reading of the Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” features a terrific piano solo within Sid Feller’s restrained arrangement.

The broad range of Charles’ musicality is represented in selections from jazz player Don Redman, country artists Don Gibson, Red Steagall, and Eddy Arnold, tin-pan alley scribes Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Mitchell Parish, and George and Ira Gershwin, pop writers Leon Russell, George Harrison, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and theater and film composers Meredith Wilson, Victor Young, Ned Washington and Heinz Roemheld. The latter’s “Ruby,” which riginally appeared in the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, was recorded by Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson, and brought to its greatest prominence with this yearning, hopeful-yet-wary 1961 recording. Across these selections, Charles is variously backed by orchestra and chorus, strings, horns, and piano and organ-led jazz combos.

With more of Charles’ catalog appearing on download services, you might opt to put together your own collection of his love-related songs. But unless you’re deeply familiar with his catalog you’d miss some of the selections Phillips includes here. Charles won a Grammy® for his cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” but sixteen-years later you might have forgotten how poignant it sounds in Charles experienced, 63-year-old hands, and the album track “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” shows a delicate jazz chemistry between Charles and Betty Carter that’s buried by the annual revival of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This is finely programmed set that’s a nice spin for those who want to hear a side of Ray Charles beyond the hits. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: The Spirit of Christmas

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

RayCharles_TheSpiritOfChristmasThe genius of soul’s Christmas album back in print!

Surprisingly, this 1985 album is Ray Charles’ only Christmas album. Recorded with a sizzling band and guests that include trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Rudy Johnson, guitarist Jeff Pevar, and the Raeletts, this is (despite the wintery cover photo) a warm and soulful album of Christmas and holiday songs. Charles and his co-arrangers (James Polk, Larry Muhoberac and Bill McElhiney) stretch out across soul balladry, jazz, horn-lined swing, choral harmony, and blue country. There’s a lot of style packed into this album’s ten tracks. Concord’s reissue (the first in twelve years) adds the Ray Charles/Betty Carter duet “Baby it’s Cold Outside” to the original album, extending the running time to 47 minutes. This is a solid shot of rhythm and soul for your holiday party. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: The Genius Hits the Road

Monday, September 28th, 2009

RayCharles_TheGeniusHitsThe RoadFresh remaster of Ray Charles’ 1960 ABC-Paramount debut

When Ray Charles left Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, he also sought to expand his stardom on the pop carts, solidifying the crossover success he’d begun with the single “What’d I Say” and the album The Genius of Ray Charles. The first outing for his new label was this 12-song release, whose travel- and place-related theme was sufficiently broad to leave Charles room to roam. The song list was compiled from numbers familiar to Charles and others pitched by his new producer Sid Feller. The titles include tin pan alley classics, Dixieland standards, trad jazz and pop numbers and even the nineteenth century minstrel tune, sung here as gospel with the Raeletts, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

The productions are backed by brassy orchestrations, lush strings and chorused vocals, leaving only short spaces for piano and sax solos. The upbeat numbers are sizzling, swinging supper club jazz, and the ballads, especially Charles’ tour de force interpretation of Hoagy Charmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” are deeply soulful. A few of the songs play like novelties today (and perhaps did so in 1960), but Charles gives each his complete his attention and has fun on lighter numbers such as the boastful “New York’s My Home” and the gleeful “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” Still, even Charles’ effort can’t save a jokey call-and-response version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

By this point in his career, Charles was marketing himself more as a vocalist than a pianist, but his mastery of the keys can be heard in the rolling notes of “Basin Street Blues” and the dreamy flights of “Moonlight in Vermont.” The seven bonus tracks on this reissue duplicate the first four appended to Rhino’s 1997 version, including the chart-topping “Hit the Road Jack” and a swinging soul take on Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Newly added are a romantic version of “The Long and Winding Road,” the country-soul original “I Was On Georgia Time,” and a ham-and-cheesy cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Rhino’s bonus picks of “I’m Movin’ On” and “Lonely Avenue” were more solid outings.

These tracks aren’t the gutty jazz and soul of Charles’ Atlantic period, nor the groundbreaking interpretational work he’d unleash on 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. They’re a way-point, a transition between Charles’ roots as a jazz player and his future as a pop crooner. The material is a mix of novelties and well-selected chestnuts, and though the orchestrations can get a bit strong, Charles holds down the center with a voice that makes it all worth hearing. As his first top-10 pop album, and hosting his first chart-topping pop single (“Georgia on My Mind”), there are enough winning cuts, particularly the ballads, to merit adding this to your collection. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Robben Ford: Soul on Ten

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

RobbenFord_SoulOnTenBlues, rock and jazz guitarist captured live

It’s hard to believe, but guitarist Robben Ford is marking his 40th year as a working musician, having moved to San Francisco to form his first band in 1969. Stints with Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Tom Scott’s L.A. Express eventually led to the founding of the Yellowjackets and a solo career. Ford’s early work in the blues gave way to jazz sets with Miles Davis and the forging of a progressive sound that melds blues, jazz and rock. This latest release features eight tracks taped live at San Francisco’s Independent, and two more recorded live in the studio.

Ford and his backing trio of bass, drums and B-3 organ work through severa; catalog favorites, including the roaring guitar instrumental “Indianola” on which Toss Panos’ drums drive as Ford brilliantly intertwines rock and blues leads with jazz chordings. Ford’s guitar shows plenty of muscle on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and the straight blues medley of Elmore James’ “Please Set a Date” and Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” give both Ford and organist Neal Evans a chance to show off their licks.

Ford revisits “Nothing to Nobody” here for a third time; originally released on 1999’s Supernatural, and played live on 2004’s Center Stage, this eleven-minute take makes room for some funky solos by Ford, Evans and bassist Travis Carlton. Ford recalls the rock-soul sounds of San Francisco’s ballrooms with wah-wah pedal workouts on “Supernatural” and “There’ll Never Be Another You.” The two studio tracks that close the CD sound out of place, and could have better been replaced by more tracks from the gig. As it is, the titles only reach back to 1999, though the blues covers give a feel for Ford’s earlier roots. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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Ray Charles : A Message From the People

Friday, June 19th, 2009

RayCharles_MessageFromThePeopleBrother Ray takes stock of America in 1972

Originally released in 1972, A Message from the People, was one of Charles’ last albums for his own Tangerine imprint. The ten songs, arranged by Quincy Jones, Sid Feller and Mike Post, take stock of post-60s America, consolidating the progress of the civil rights movement, but not casting a blind eye to the continuing plight of a black man in America. The album opens with a rousing version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Based on a poem used to introduce Booker T. Washington at a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in 1900, the song version was adopted by the NAACP as the Negro National Anthem, and became a favorite at black churches. The celebratory mood fades with Charles’ powerful cover of the Whisper’s “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong” and its contemplation of injustice and social invisibility.

Charles continues to alternate hope and concern as the gospel-soul “Heaven Help Us All” gives way to the questioning “There Will Be No Peace Without All Men as One.” The album’s second half finds Charles’ stretching into pop material with covers of Melanie (“What Have They Done to My Song, Ma”), Dion (“Abraham, Martin and John”), and John Denver (“Take Me Home, Country Roads”). None are revelations, though Charles mines a deep vein of soulful sorrow with Dion’s work. The album closes with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” that would eventually become one of Charles’ signature performance pieces; at the time, however, it failed to attract much attention. This is a good album, but doesn’t live up to the promise of its first three tracks. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Volumes 1 & 2

Friday, June 19th, 2009

RayCharles_ModernSounds12The genius of soul re-imagines the Nashville songbook

Originally released on ABC-Paramount in 1962, Modern Sounds in Country and Western, was a revelation, both for fans of country music and for fans of Ray Charles. The former had never heard their favorites orchestrated with the depth of soul brought to the table by Ray Charles, and fans of the genius singer had never before heard him indulging his love of country songwriting so deeply. Nashville had adapted to brass and strings in an attempt to create crossover hits, but their charts and players never swung with the sort of big band finesse and bravado of these arrangements, and their vocalists rarely found the grooves mined by Charles. The second volume, issued the same year, follows the same template, with Nashville standards rearranged and conducted by Gerald Wilson and Marty Paich, and recording split between New York and Hollywood.

Having been a country music fan since his youth, Charles evidently didn’t hear any line that would separate him from the Nashville songbook. His recording supervisor, Sid Feller, was tasked with gathering songs, and ABC, thinking the whole ideas was a lark, left the pair alone to follow Charles’ muse. The album spun off four hit singles, including a chart-topping remake of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and a heartbreaking cover of Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me” that fell just one rung shy of the top. Marty Paich’s strings brilliantly underline and shadow Charles’ vocals, adding atmosphere without ever intruding or overwhelming the singer or the song. Track after track, Charles, his arrangers and his band find wholly new ways through these songs, turning “Half as Much” into mid-tempo jazz, layering string flourishes into “Born to Lose,” laying the blues on “It Makes No Difference Now” and punching up “Bye Bye Love” and “Hey Good Lookin’” with big band sizzle.

Volume two may not have been as much of a surprise, but neither was it a second helping. Gerald Wilson’s soul vision of “You Are My Sunshine,” expertly rendered by Charles and a swinging horn section, leaves few traces of the song’s mid-20th century origin. Charles, spurred by backing vocals from the Raeletts, sounds like he’s reeling off a personal tale of devotion rather than singing someone else’s lyric. The Raeletts provide an edge to side one’s New York sessions, with the Jack Halloran Singers sitting in on side two’s Hollywood takes. Both album sides yielded hit singles, including a pained reading of “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and a slow, mournful take on “Your Cheating Heart.” As with the first volume, Charles finds a directness in country songwriting that matches the expression he developed with the blues.

Country music and Charles’ career each received a boost from these albums. Nashville expanded its audience outside its core region, Nashville songwriters found new ears for their songs, and Charles gained an influx of fans who might otherwise have never bought R&B records. These were all lasting marks, as Charles’ fame continued to expand, and country music gained new flavors for its crossover dreams. Concord’s reissue includes the two volumes’ original twenty-four tracks, full-panel cover art (front and back!), original liner notes for each, and new liners by Bill Dahl. Volume one previously appeared as a standalone CD in the 1980s, but the complete volume two only appeared on the (out-of-print) box set The Complete Country & Western Recordings 1959-1986. This single disc is the perfect way to get Charles’ 1962 country sessions in one sweet package. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]