Tito Puente, The Best of

It's redundant to call any Tito Puente collection 'the best of,' because every time the man picked up a drumstick or mallet, he gave the best he had to offer. The daunting and unenviable task of compiling the best among the dozens of tracks El Rey made for Concord was made easier by dividing this collection between Puente's more danceable pieces and his jazzier arrangements. Disc one's 12 tracks serve up the New York-Puerto Rican soul and Afro-Cuban rhythms--with mambos, merengues, cha chas, and rhythmic bursts hopping about. Puente's most famous composition, "Oye Como Va," appears in a rousing live version that justifies its status as one of National Public Radio's 100 most influential songs of the 20th century. Disc two showcases the strong soloists and arrangers that have always been jewels in Puente's musical crown. The amazing transformation that the legendary percussionist and his arrangers put on the most identifiable music is concentrated here as songs strongly associated with other artists, such as "On Broadway" (George Benson), "Take Five" (Dave Brubeck), and "Sun Goddess" (Ramsey Lewis) get elevated by Puente's Latin-fire, signature handprints. This is an essential disc for any serious collector of Latin jazz.

Jimmy Smith The Sermon!


The Sermon! is a 1959 album by jazz organist Jimmy Smith. It was produced by the Blue Note record label. Allmusic's Lindsay Planer described the album as "a prime example of Smith and company's myriad of talents". At Saturdays Web Inauguration I opened the festivities with the Sermon.

Jimmy purchased his first Hammond organ, rented a warehouse to practice in and emerged after little more than a year. Upon hearing him playing in a Philadelphia club, Blue Note's Alfred Lion immediately signed him to the label and his second album, The Champ, quickly established Smith as a new star on the jazz scene. He was a prolific recording artist and, as a leader, dubbed The Incredible Jimmy Smith, he recorded around forty sessions for Blue Note in just eight years beginning in 1956. Albums from this period include The Sermon!, House Party, Home Cookin', Midnight Special, Back at the Chicken Shack and Prayer Meetin'.

Jimmy Smith put the Hammond B-3 organ on the jazz map for good in the 1950s. The Sermon, dating from 1958, is among his best recordings, featuring the exceptional lineup of trumpeter Lee Morgan, altoist Lou Donaldson, tenorman Tina Brooks, guitarist Kenny Burrell, drummer Art Blakey, and others. Smith's smooth, vibratoless sound perfectly suits the nimble and prodding leads of the player as he touches on R&B, soul, blues and, of course, gospel. This brings us to "The Sermon," which is reason enough to seek this gem out. Smith's group takes the title tune out for a 20-minute, fully improvised, slow-blues stroll, during which each player shares the spotlight. The soul-stirring feeling set in motion by Smith rubs off on the other musicians to make this tune and album a defining moment in organ jazz, and even in soul music. The Sermon stands as a sparkling gem in the Rudy Van Gelder reissue series.



Herbie Hancock, Inventions and Dimensions


One of my favorite jazz selections was an album by Herbie Hancock called Inventions and Dimensions. Recorded on August 30, 1963 for Blue Note Records when Herbie was only 23 years old. The album was also re-released in the mid-1970s as Succotash. This album was not as commercially successful as his two previous albums or as successful as some of his later releases. Artistically however; it is a giant that a true jazz enthusiast must have in their library.

This third album for Herbie Hancock chose a very rhythmic setting for his completely improvised compositions. Supported only by bassist Paul Chambers and percussionists Willie Bobo and Osvaldo Martinez, the pianist creates each tune from scratch and the results are astonishing. The bonus track, an alternate take of 'Mimosa', has previously only been available as part of a box set. Rudy Van Gelder remastered edition Blue Note 2005.

I own both the LP and the CD and for years have enjoyed giving this as a gift to some of my jazz friends only to hear in amazement how they could’ve missed this music.

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Bill Evans, Village Vanguard Recordings







Have you ever gone to a hotel bar or a jazz club where there was a piano trio playing (piano, bass and drums) and you really couldn’t appreciate the performers because the audience was so inattentive and boisterous?  The Complete Village Vanguard recordings by Bill Evans are just that with a major exception the audience was laser focused on the performers and you could hear a pin drop. When I entertain, I play these selections and they invariably capture everyone’s attention and not just jazz enthusiast.

This collection recorded June 25, 1961, has long since acquired legendary status. The unique voicings of Evans have influenced over a generation of jazz pianists who have followed him, weaves one masterpiece after another with bassist Scott LaFaro a promising composer and phenomenal bassist and the equally valuable drummer Paul Motian. The interplay between them is intoxicating throughout each of their five sets from the final day of a summer gig at the Village Vanguard NY, NY. 

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Jutta Hipp, Europe's First Lady of Jazz


Jutta Hipp was born in Leipzig, Germany. She mostly worked in bebop and cool jazz. I just recently discovered her work some seven years after her death in 2003. She is one of those obscure figures in jazz whose whereabouts were a mystery for sometime.  After I discovered this particular CD (Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims) I set out on a journey to collect her entire work I was extremely impressed and have loved her interaction with tenor saxophone players of the bebop era particularly Zoot Sims.

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Gregory Porter, Lion in the Subway


Gregory Porter a local talent who has just rocked the international national music scene with his release called Liquid Spirit. He was recently rewarded with the 2014 Grammy award for the best jazz album of the year.

Born in 1971 in Los Angeles California Gregory came to my attention two years ago and with talent like this I wonder why it took so long to catch my ear.

His debut album, Water, released in 2010 via Motéma Music, was nominated for Best Jazz Vocal album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. He was also a member of the original Broadway cast of It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. His second album, Be Good, which is my personal favorite contains many of Porter's compositions, was released on February 14, 2012, and garnered critical acclaim for both his distinctive singing and his compositions, such as "Be Good (Lion's Song), "Real Good Hands", and "On My Way To Harlem". The title track was also nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.

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Kenny Burrell, Blue Lights


Blue Lights is an album by American jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell recorded in 1958 and released on the Blue Note label as two 12 inch LP's entitled Volume 1 and Volume 2. The cover features artwork by Andy Warhol. Any has done other Album Art for Blue note Records but that will be an article on its own.  The album was subsequently reissued as separate CDs and a two disc set combining Volume 1 and Volume 2.

My favorite selection comes from Volume 2 and is entitled Autumn in New York. His lyrical rendering of this popular tune places me 3000 miles away on a park bench in either Central Park or Battery Park in New York City. This music was recorded over 50 years ago; however the quality of these pressings whether purchased on vinyl or CD are masterful.


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Cécile McLorin Salvant, Woman Child


A fresh face, a fresh voice, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant is destined to be the next great lady of jazz.

Her new CD entitled Woman Child evokes strong comparisons to The Divine One (Sarah Vaughan).  She is not a copy she has her own interpretation and style, however when I listen to the selection I Didn't Know What Time It Was I hear a young and vibrant Divine One.


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