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A review of recent Jazz releases

A review of recent Jazz releases — Gary Giddins gives his take on releases from Wallace Roney, Ralph Peterson, Marian McPartland, and more

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A review of recent Jazz releases

The Women: Classic Female Jazz Artists 1939-1952 (Bluebird; all formats)
Don’t look to these entertaining anthologies for a comprehensive examination of the role women have played in jazz. Instead, expect marginal but worthy performances — odds and ends that usually get overlooked. The Bluebird album combines instrumentals and vocals, and turns up several gems. The eminently versatile pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, a celebrated architect of swing in the ’30s, demonstrates in four numbers from 1946 her early grasp of bebop as well as a unique approach to boogie woogie; both styles come into play on ”Hesitation Boogie.” Guitarist Mary Osborne, bassist Vivien Garry, pianist Beryl Booker, and the obscure tenor saxophonist Violet Burnside are also represented. Most of the singers — Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Mildred Bailey, Helen Forrest — need no introduction, but the selections by Una Mae Carlisle and Helen Ward are notable only for solos by such as Lester Young, and supper-club pianist and singer Hazel Scott has dated badly. The one undeniable masterpiece is Duke Ellington’s ”Transblucency,” sung without words by Kay Davis. B+

The Ladies: Ernestine Anderson, Etta Jones, Mary Ann McCall, Annie Ross (Savoy Jazz; all formats)
The period covered by The Ladies is 1946-55, when bop and blues provided standard settings for jazz singers. Anderson (heard in her debut, with an all- star Gigi Gryce band), Jones (swinging the blues with Pete Johnson), and the influential Annie Ross (backed by three-fourths of the Modern Jazz Quartet, plus Blossom Dearie on piano) went on to establish major cult followings. How innocent they all sound! The surprise is star-crossed Mary Ann McCall, best known for her work with Woody Herman, whose six selections haven’t seen the light of day in 40 years. Her alluring voice, husky projection, and confident phrasing have been unfairly neglected. B

Wallace Roney The Standard Bearer (Muse; all formats)
Ralph Peterson Volition (Blue Note; all formats)
The quintets heard on these two albums are drawn from the extraordinarily talented pool of young players working within the conventions of postbop mainstream jazz, and it’s no surprise to find a couple of women among the personnel — drummer Cindy Blackman on The Standard Bearer, pianist Geri Allen on Volition. Roney’s third album is something of a breakthrough for the trumpet player. He needs to work on his tone on ballads, but he’s clearly energized by the program of standards from the pop and jazz repertoires (plus one original). Tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas sounds a bit ripe at times, but the rhythm section is electrifying; Charnett Moffett’s bass lines ripple, Blackman keeps the snares snapping, and gifted pianist Mulgrew Miller commands attention with his accompaniments as well as his solos. B+

Peterson and his musicians are no less accomplished, particularly trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who asserts himself forcefully on ”On My Side.” But the record is sunk by undistinguished material and a disastrous sound mix that excessively favors the leader’s drums. After a while, you have to strain to hear anyone else on the session. C+

Marian McPartland Plays the Benny Carter Songbook (Concord Jazz; CD, T)
McPartland, a veteran pianist, radio personality, and jazz activist, had the inspired idea to record an album of compositions by Carter, perhaps the most admired living innovator in American music. She then trumped herself by having Carter play alto sax on several selections. His impeccable intonation and abundant ideas are beguiling, as always, and serve to inspire McPartland. This disarmingly elegant recital is refined but never antiseptic; the pieces, though written over a period of more than 50 years, have the constancy of a suite. A-