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Index of SEMJA reviews


Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


Tenor and soprano saxophonist Steve Wood has been a prominent member of the Detroit scene for many years, but he is not well represented on recordings. He has more than made up for it with Deep Woods (CORD SWCD 3342-2). The sax man is joined by some of the finest players from Michigan: Paul Keller on bass, Phil Kelly on piano, and Ron Jackson on bass. The tunes are mostly jazz standards, with the exception of the one blues on the date, "ODPR Blues," a very nice original by Wood, on which the leader shows his fine sense of the form. Wood sticks to his main horn — the tenor — except for the first track, "Invitation," which features his rich-toned soprano. From the fast acrobatics of "Donna Lee" to the quiet meditations on the Coltrane ballad "Central Park West," Woods plays first class traditional modern tenor, running through the changes with fluid confidence, without resorting to licks and clichés. He pays homage to the tradition, but has a style that is definitely his own. There is a warm sense of emotional involvement that permeates his playing at all times. All of this is more than helped by his associates, who react in style to his phrasing and provide strong rhythmic support. Kelly's tasteful solos are an added delight. His talents are well displayed on Kenny Barron's "Voyage," played as a sax and piano duet.

Chris Collins teaches jazz at Wayne State and plays quite a bit in Detroit and surrounding areas. On his latest CD [ Chris Collins Quartet, Urban Solitude (Harriet Jazz HJ 002, 810-752-2935) ] he is joined by Dennis Tini on piano, Ray Parker on bass, and David Taylor on drums. The leader penned all the of the tunes, except for "Very Early," written by pianist Bill Evans, but made famous among saxophonists by Stan Getz. Collins is a hard driving tenor man with a bite to his sound, who loves to vary his articulations for expressive purposes. Even when he pays homage to Getz, he soon muscles in on the tone, and takes off in his own directions. Drive and swing are the catchwords here and the rhythm section is right there with him. Collins is a tenor virtuoso, who loves to show his amazing command of the tenor. He also has an imaginative sense of melody and harmony; his own compositions served as vehicles to explore a variety of moods and tempos. He has a big, expressive sound and likes to play with phrases as with a basketball, throwing them in the air, or playing them backwards. His cohorts are right there with him and provide imaginative solos of their own.

Pianist Dennis Tini comes to the fore on his own recording, Time Will Tell (Nicoletini NTM 001, 248-476-1436), in duet with Collins. This time the compositions are by the pianist, with a Brubeck standard and two Collins pieces added in. There is a broad range of styles represented here, from very slow ballads to burning swingers. Brubeck is represented not only by the opening "In Your Own Sweet Way," but also by means of an only slightly disguised "All the Things You Are," under the title "Bach's Things," which is really a reflex of the way the famous pianist used to play the Kern piece. The whole disc is a fine example of musical empathy; two highly accomplished musicians who know each other well work in tandem but also do their best to provide some surprises along the way.

The late Bill Dowdy was for many years a mainstay of the Battle Creek jazz scene, playing with local and visiting musicians, teaching in university jazz programs, and running a well-known substance-abuse prevention program in the community. He was best known, however, for the years he spent on the road with The Three Sounds. He made many recordings with the famous trio, but has not been well represented on recordings since then. His last recording put out to date is Bill Dowdy Jazz Trio plus Dee Dee McNeil, Live! at the Discovery Theatre (Deee Square Records). The CD captures a hometown concert during which Claude Black joined the drummer on piano, and Elgin Vines on bass, and, on most numbers, by singer Dee Dee McNeil. The trio pieces are relaxed and swinging, somewhat reminiscent of the style of Dowdy's best known trio, but pianist Black has his own style of bluesy bop that differs from the funky stylings of Gene Harris, who played in the Three Sounds. When McNeil joins the trio, the heat comes up a notch, as she likes to dig into songs and gets sassy fairly soon. All four musicians love to swing and at this concert they were at the top of their game.

Dave Usher's name has long been associated with jazz in Detroit. Although he now runs a successful business in town, in his youth he ran a record company in concert with Dizzy Gillespie. DeeGee Records did not last long, but quite a few famous dates came out under the name of the label, including those by Dizzy and Milt Jackson. In 1956, when Gillespie took his resurrected big band on a State Department tour of South America, the trumpet player asked his old friend to come along and record some of the concerts. After more than forty years on the shelf, these exceptional performances are now available on two compact discs: Dizzy in South America (Red Anchor, 2 volumes, CAP 933 & CAP 934. 313-849-2333). Some of these sides were available at one time on a bootleg LP, but most of them are made public for the first time. The sound quality is excellent and the band was in fine form. Dizzy was in particularly good shape during this tour and soars above the band with some of his finest solos of the period. This was a superb redaction of the band, fired up by the forceful drumming of Charlie Persip, featuring some great soloists, including Frank Rehak and Melba Liston on trombones, Phil Woods on alto sax, and Benny Golson as well as Billy Mitchell on tenor. Mitchell was prominently featured, and one is reminded again of the magnificence of the "colossus of Detroit"he burns on the opening "Cool Breeze," and never lets up. The arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones (who also works in the trumpet section), and Melba Liston, among others, are well known from other recordings by this band, but these performances, with such fine solos, are among the best by this short-lived band. Mitchell and Gillespie knew how to fire up an audience and you can hear the reaction in the background. No matter how many times one has heard "Manteca," it is impossible not to be excited by the version on volume 1, complete with all the familiar routines. On every number the leader demonstrates repeatedly why many critics thought that he was at his best in front of a big band.

Those interested in the Motor City jazz tradition might be interested in two recent reissues. Introducing Kenny Burrell (Blue Note 24561) is a two-CD set that reproduces the first three LPs recorded for Blue Note in 1956 by the guitarist. He is joined by other prominent Detroiters, including Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins, and Louis Hayes.

From the same era comes Yusef Lateef: The Last Savoy Sessions (Savoy Jazz 92881-2), with reissues of about half of Lateef's classic recordings for the label. These are exceptional recordings by any standards, and it is good to have them back in circulation. Lateef's mighty tenor, flute and oboe are joined by Bernard McKinney, euphonium, Terry Pollard and Hugh Lawson, piano, Bill Austin and Ernie Farrow, bass, and Frank Gant and Oliver Jackson, drums. It is particularly gratifying to be reminded again of the fine piano playing of Terry Pollard. Herb Boyd provides some excellent liner notes.

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