Retro Reviews

Still Progressive

Eric Dolphy, Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee were all considered avant-garde jazz musicians when they first appeared in the 1950s and 1960s. In this expanded Retro Review, Thomas Cunniffe reviews new releases by each, and notes that all three still sound progressive today.

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James Newton: “The African Flower” (Blue Note 46292)

When it was issued in 1985, The African Flower featured some of the decade’s greatest jazz talents, from its leader, flutist James Newton to the sidemen, violinist John Blake, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, cornetist Olu Dara, vibraphonist Jay Hoggard and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. In this Retro Review, Thomas Cunniffe notes that while few of these musicians have retained their status as jazz stars, the original album remains one of the finest tributes to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn ever recorded.

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Clarence Gene Shaw in Chicago

In 1957, trumpeter Clarence Shaw left the music business after a violent argument with his employer, Charles Mingus. By 1962, Shaw was in Chicago and playing again . Now using his middle name, Gene, he recorded three superb LPs for Argo featuring the best of the Windy City’s musicians Thomas Cunniffe discusses those rare albums in this Retro Review.

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Ben Webster: “Soho Nights” (Resteamed 106/112)

When Ben Webster traveled from New York to London in December 1964 for an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s, he probably did not imagine that he would never return to the US. A new release by Stan Tracey’s Resteamed label captures Webster on his second night in London. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the disc and an earlier volume with music from a 1968 performance at Scott’s.

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Art Pepper: “Unreleased Art, Vol. 8: Live at the Winery” (Widow’s Taste 13001)

When Art Pepper was released from Synanon in 1972, he was hesitant to resume his playing career. He realized that the music he loved to play was also the conduit for his substance abuse. Yet, with the encouragement of his wife Laurie, Pepper gradually started playing again. Thomas Cunniffe reviews a brilliant 1976 concert recording from the Paul Masson Winery, recently issued by Laurie’s Widow’s Taste label.

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Art Pepper: “Live at Fat Tuesday’s” (Elemental 5990427)

For years, Art Pepper proved that being white and a Californian were not detriments to being a great jazz musician. However, even near the end of his career, Pepper believed he had to prove himself yet again. A newly released nightclub performance from New York’s Fat Tuesday’s finds Pepper performing exciting and emotionally ripe solos in front of an explosive rhythm section with Milcho Leviev, George Mraz and Al Foster. Thomas Cunniffe reviews this important recording in this month’s Retro Review.

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Charlie Parker with Strings (Deluxe Edition) (Verve 22596)

The exclusive recording contract between Charlie Parker and Norman Granz was beneficial to both parties. Signing Parker was a coup for Granz, who did not yet have the large stable of recording artists. Under Granz, Parker recorded with a wide range of musicians, and was able to realize a long-held dream of recording with strings. A new 2-CD collection of Charlie Parker with Strings includes nearly a full disc of unissued alternate takes. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the new collection in this month’s Retro Review.

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