Retro Reviews

NAT KING COLE: “HITTIN’ THE RAMP” (Resonance 2042)

In addition to being one of the world’s greatest popular vocalists, Nat King Cole was also an important jazz pianist in the years between swing and bebop. Many of Cole’s earliest recordings were made for radio transcription companies rather than commercial labels, but that didn’t stop Cole from leaving a group of recordings that showed his development as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist. A new set from Resonance collects 183 tracks recorded between 1936 and 1943, and reviewer Thomas Cunniffe notes that modern listeners will be able to hear stylistic developments and artistic breakthroughs that the original audiences probably missed.

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“THE PLAYBOY JAZZ ALL-STARS, VOLUME 2” (LP: Playboy PB 1958)

Don’t let the Playboy moniker throw you: The album under review does include a gatefold cover, but there are no nude photos inside. “The Playboy Jazz All-Stars, Volume 2” collected tracks by the winners of the magazine’s 1958 jazz poll, and aside from a few misogynist remarks in the liner notes, the album is completely family-friendly. In fact, it was one of the first jazz albums that the teenaged Thomas Cunniffe ever heard. In this Retro Review, he recalls this recording, his growing love of the music, and a very special Christmas present.

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NEWLY-RELEASED JAZZ (FROM THE 1960s)

It’s amazing what treasures can be found within a record company vault. In this month’s Retro Review, Thomas Cunniffe discusses two double-CD sets of previously unreleased 1960s recordings by a pair of iconic tenor saxophonists. “Getz at the Gate” is a 1961 live date with Stan Getz at his most aggressive (powered by the phenomenal Roy Haynes), and “Grits, Beans and Greens” presents two contrasting recording sessions led by Tubby Hayes.

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DIVERGENT CAREER PATHS

This issue’s Retro Review tells of two superb vocalists whose careers took different paths in the late 80s and early 90s. Lisa Rich was a rising singer with a new album ready for release when health problems sidelined her career. Betty Carter was at the zenith of her career, and was celebrated in a career retrospective at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The recordings have received belated releases, and Thomas Cunniffe discusses both in this essay.

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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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