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Quickies: Josh Nelson, Steve Allee, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Hunter/Bobby Previte

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It's been hard to get my head out of the jazz idiom lately. That hadn't limited the variety in my listening that much, since "jazz" covers so much musical ground. For this go-around of Quickies, the first two selections aren't all that dissimilar but then the style goes to way-back for the third one then way-forward for the last one. Read on to see what I mean…

Josh Nelson Let It Go
At twenty-eight years of age, jazz pianist Josh Nelson is a comer on the scene with already a lot of skins on the wall (Louis Armstrong Award, John Phillip Sousa Award, semi-finalist in Thelonius Monk Piano Competition). He brings a love for film scores and pop-rock into his jazz, as well as the influence of contemporaries like Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Nelson is a fine if not very distinctive piano player, but the real draw in this CD comes from his compositions and his utilization of his band to interpret them well. He shows a lot of depth and lyricism in his self-penned songs this early in his career. I like the spiritual, contemplative waltz "Introspection On 401" most of all. Combined with Seamus Blake's sax I thought I was listening to a Kenny Garrett song at first. "Leaving Here" highlights Nelson's lyric-writing abilities as well as the warm vocal talents of Sara Gazarek. Of the handful of covers on the album, the Beach Boys' "Tears In The Morning" stands out most of all for it's soulful rendering. The title cut ends the record on a The Bad Plus vibe.

Steve Allee Colors
Yet another jazz pianist, but while Nelson used primarily quartet and quintet settings, Steve Allee is trio all the way.

This is Allee's first trio record, and a departure for him, as he is more identified with crossover jazz. What the heck, though, if Bob James can do it, why can't Allee? Actually, Allee pulls off the change-up rather well. All but two of the ten tracks presented here are his originals and with Bill Moring on acoustic bass and Tim Horner on drums, Steve leads fresh-sounding, tight ensemble work to hard swinging bop. He also adds Latins influences to the mix, as in the percussive interlude on "Bubbles" and the samba-flavored title cut. One of the covers, "Yesterdays" is nicely reworked with a nifty, shuffling arrangement. This record isn't destined to rack up end-of-year awards but it's hard to find any notable faults with it, either. It will satisfy any craving for no-nonsense, yeoman piano jazz.
stachmo2
Louis Armstrong Live At The 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival

Concord Records is the rapidly expanding independent jazz record company which has had a busy year already with released albums by John Fogerty, Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney (via their partnership with Starbucks). If that wasn't enough, they launched a new label dedicated to releasing previously unavailable recordings of live performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The inaugural releases, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of that festival, features separate CD's by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk and Sarah Vaughan.

I'm going to highlight Satchmo's concert, from opening night of the first festival in 1958, if for no other reason than it being a reminder of what a supreme entertainer he was. His gregariously warm personality, humor, brash trumpet and one-of-a-kind gravelly voice. No matter how far jazz had come since he made it a major art form back in the twenties, many decades later he was still able to flawlessly demonstrate why it became viable and vital in the first place. And unlike many who followed him, he saw no difference between jazz music and pop music; after all, jazz was popular music up until his final hit with "What A Wonderful World" in 1964. He took Fats Domino's then-recent hit "Blueberry Hill" and gave it his personal, tender touch. Other crowd pleasers like "St. Louis Blues" and "When The Saints Go Marching In" are covered as well.

The other big names in the Monterey Festival series has, like this one, good recording quality and presents legends at or near their peaks. But nobody could put on a show like Armstrong. Here's more proof of that.

Groundtruther Altitude
I was really looking forward to Charlie Hunter's recent release Mistico
and aside from of couple of tracks it let me down some. He just didn't seem to be quite as adventurous as he was before, especially in the nineties. But one listen of Groundtruther's Altitude makes it apparent that Hunter was saving up all his wigginess for his occasional side project Groundtruther with drummer/sampler Bobby Previte.

Truth be told, Hunter has probably never been wiggier than on this record. With Previte providing a warped audial wash of electronics and sampling, Hunter is left free to run around with scissors. And they brought along Medeski, Martin and Wood organ mutant John Medeski along to play in the sandbox with him. Medeski, needless to say, is born to play Groundtruther's brand of freakish blend of acid jazz, rock and experimental electronica. The sound they make is, as Mark Saleksi put it, "extra-terrestrial music." Even the acoustic CD "Below Sea Level" sounds alien ("Above Sea Level" is the electric side of this double CD set), if somewhat more abstract.

When it comes to Charlie Hunter, that's what I'm talkin' about.

"Quickies" are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases. Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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