Recent jazz releases -- A review of recordings from Cedar Walton, Vincent Herring, and more

American Experience

Recent jazz releases

Cedar Walton Among Friends (Theresa; CD)
Texas-born pianist Cedar Walton is such a ubiquitous presence on New York’s jazz scene that he’s sometimes taken for granted. Yet he has an unmistakably firm touch and impeccable time. His latest was actually recorded eight years ago in a nightclub. No matter; it’s one of his best. As his melodic rhythmic figures multiply, you sometimes wonder how he’ll get them all in before the chorus ends, but he invariably glides away from catastrophe. From the opening bars of ”For All We Know,” Walton is inspired, and so are his longtime accompanists, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Higgins. On ”My Foolish Heart,” vibes virtuoso Bobby Hutcherson adds dazzling, oblique variations. The final track, an unaccompanied medley of ballads that closes with a version of ”I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” is stunning. A-

Vincent Herring American Experience (Musicmasters; CD, T)
In a year of impressive recording debuts, this is a standout. Herring is a 25-year-old saxophonist (alto and soprano) who was discovered by his producer playing on a Manhattan street in 1984. He’s worked with everyone from Lionel Hampton to David Murray, though he’s best known as a member of the Nat Adderley sextet, where his blistering solos suggest the wallop and authority of his idol, Nat’s brother Cannonball Adderley. Herring sails through this savvy album with a spirit captured by the title of his strongest performance, ”Elation.” The way he interprets the written material — for example, the final chorus on ”V.H.1” — indicates how deeply he has absorbed the bop alto sax tradition. Three 1986 tracks, which should have been filed away as juvenilia, compromise the total rating. But the rest of the program is persuasive and generous. B+

The Jazz Passengers Implement Yourself (New World; CD, T)
You may have heard about the latest new-music scene on New York’s Lower East Side, centering around a rowdy little walkup called the Knitting Factory that attracts musicians who blend various styles. The Jazz Passengers are regulars, known as much for their wit and eclecticism as for their improvisation. Trombonist-singer Curtis Fowlkes and saxophonist-clarinetist Roy Nathanson are the group’s coleaders. Their brand of music is founded on the earthy basics of hard bop, overlaid with rhythm and blues, free jazz, pop, and a loopy sense of humor. Too many pieces are plagued by a stop-and-go jerkiness, but the result is still bracing. B

Carmen McRae and Dave Brubeck Take Five (CBS Special Products; CD, T); Lee Wiley Night in Manhattan (CBS Special Products; CD, T)
CBS Records has rescued from undeserved obscurity two oddball albums that are singers’ delights. McRae was never in better voice than during a 1964 engagement at Basin Street East opposite the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Every night she joined with Brubeck to sing a couple of his songs. The repertoire they worked up made for a unique tour de force: Brubeck’s songs are as tricky — in melody, harmony, and rhythm — as they are beguiling. A few (”In Your Own Sweet Way,” ”Take Five”) are classics, but highlights also include the virtually forgotten ”Melanctha,” inspired by the Gertrude Stein story. The composer’s wife, Iola Brubeck, cleverly met the challenge of fitting lyrics to this music. A

Wiley’s 1950 studio album perfectly captures the last remnants of elegant ”cafe society” nightlife, which she all but embodied in the 1930s. The songs are first-rate, including her own ”Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere,” and her expressive delivery suggests the conspiratorial intimacy of a speakeasy. What makes it unforgettable is the backup: a discreet string section organized by pianist Joe Bushkin, plus the serenely inventive cornet of Bobby Hackett. (An atrocious piano duo accompanies her on three selections, but she still gets her point across.) The result is pure romance. A-

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