Live at Newport '58
In the past few years some of the most momentous releases in jazz have been long-lost recordings made four, five, or even six decades ago. In 2005, the same year Blue Note unveiled a 1957 Carnegie Hall concert with Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, Uptown Jazz released a 1945 Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker show from New York's Town Hall. And in 2007 Blue Note followed up with a killer 1964 performance at Cornell University by Charles Mingus's most hallowed band. Many factors have contributed to the extraordinarily high profile of these releases, besides their obvious notability—not only is the jazz audience graying, but today's marketplace for the music is so subdivided that it's easy for canonical artists from the golden age to overshadow current players. I don't think this means that the jazz getting made now is lower quality, but there's no denying that the allure of the classics only seems to increase with time. Given how well rediscovered recordings have sold so far, the search for more is hardly over.
Producer Michael Cuscuna, who helped prepare the Monk-Coltrane tapes for release, found this superb recording of the Horace Silver Quintet headlining the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 while he was digging through the Voice of America tapes at the Library of Congress—the same vast trove where the Monk tapes were discovered. It's hard to imagine Live at Newport '58 causing the same kind of excitement, since Silver doesn't have the exalted aura of a Coltrane or a Parker, but it's still a wonderful addition to the pianist's catalog. Silver kicked off the ascent of hard bop by joining forces with drummer Art Blakey in 1955 to found the Jazz Messengers, and though he left the group a year later, the sound they'd forged would endure—and not just in Blakey and Silver's bands. A lean, streamlined successor to bebop, streaked with blues and gospel, hard bop provided the template for much of the small-group jazz that followed.
Until this release Silver had issued only one official live session, his classic 1961 album Doin' the Thing: At the Village Gate—an unusual state of affairs, considering the size of his discography and the importance of live performance to the jazz aesthetic. But what's more notable about Live at Newport is that it's the only recording to chronicle a short-lived version of Silver's quintet: at the time of the festival, the great trumpeter Louis Smith had only recently joined the lineup, and just a few weeks later he would return to his job as a music teacher in Atlanta. (The rest of the band—saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Louis Hayes—stayed together, and Blue Mitchell replaced Smith.) The music here complements Silver's studio work of the time, and on pieces like "Señor Blues" and "Cool Eyes," both first cut for the 1956 album 6 Pieces of Silver, the band takes advantage of the live setting to stretch out. The performances, while not necessarily revelatory, are crisp, fiery, and focused.
Just a Little Lovin'
The prerelease buzz around this record has been intense. The press so far suggests that Shelby Lynne, who's been singing for two decades without scoring a major hit, has turned the corner with this disc—a collection of tunes made famous by British pop-soul singer Dusty Springfield, rounded out by one Lynne original. "Her new album may or may not break down the fences that have stood between her and the general public," writes Rob Hoerburger in a six-page spread in the January 13 New York Times Magazine. "But . . . it was clear that Lynne had broken down a few of her own."
Barry Manilow, who counts himself among Lynne's fans, suggested as early as 2005 that she do an album of Springfield covers, and it's not hard to imagine why: on several of the records she's made since breaking with Nashville, especially I Am Shelby Lynne (Island, 2000), she sounds more than a little like Dusty. But Lynne and producer Phil Ramone, who once worked with Springfield, have radically altered the material. Lynne's backed by a lean quartet, not Springfield's full complement of brass and strings, and the ultrasparse arrangements, which at times sound almost fragile, give the music a naked intimacy not present in the originals.
It's not necessarily a mistake to put the focus on Lynne's voice. Her singing is rich and subtle, balancing gentleness and vulnerability with steely resolve, and she sounds better than ever on Just a Little Lovin'—an impressive feat considering the melodic and rhythmic trickiness of tunes like "The Look of Love" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart." But I wish that focus hadn't come at the expense of the arrangements. A tune like "Willie and Laura Mae Jones," one of several here that also appear on various versions of Springfield's classic Dusty in Memphis, loses its shape thanks to the backing band's tepid performance—the song might as well be a cappella for all they add. Along with the baffling choice to take every song at ballad tempo—even "I Only Want to Be With You," jubilant in Dusty's version, sounds leisurely and sedate—this weakness makes the record start to feel monotonous after a while. I appreciate Lynne's attempt to put her own stamp on these tunes, but to my ears she hasn't quite succeeded.
WHITE BLUE YELLOW & CLOUDS
Introducing White Blue Yellow & Clouds
(I and Ear)
Saxophonist and composer Matt Bauder has used the name White Blue Yellow & Clouds for a variety of projects over the years—I first saw it stamped on the labels of the uncased cassettes he sheepishly sold for a buck when he was living in Chicago. A solo multitracked affair, that tape included a strange a cappella version of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," a wordless original, and a take on the Spaniels' doo-wop gem "Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite." Bauder soon formed an instrumental group called White Blue Yellow & Clouds, but it played slow-moving Feldman-esque meditations—he didn't return to the doo-wop sound till after he left Chicago in 2001. Now based in Brooklyn, he's found plenty of fellow travelers to help flesh out his vision. On the new Introducing White Blue Yellow & Clouds they include jazz improvisers like New York trumpeter Peter Evans and Chicago bassist Jason Ajemian, Fred Thomas from the Ann Arbor indie-pop band Saturday Looks Good to Me, and Brooklyn sound artist Dan St. Clair.
The music mashes up black and white doo-wop styles from the 50s, secular Sam Cooke, and California pop a la Brian Wilson, but the occasional avant-garde flourish prevents it from sounding purely retro. The opening cut, an original called "Moonlight," is toothless Happy Days rock 'n' roll reminiscent of Sha Na Na, so square it's almost comic, but then Bauder starts in with the weirdness. The surprisingly soulful "Seeing Stars," which sounds like a sister to Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me," ends with a strange coda—after the song bumps to a stop, Jessica Pavone's multitracked viola and violin set up a discordant, bagpipelike drone. A cover of the Flamingos' "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" exaggerates the atmospheric reverb of the original, turning it into an unsettling murk. And Bauder's take on the Doc Pomus trifle "Hushabye" sounds even more wan and dyspeptic than the white-bread version released by the clean-and-squeaky Mystics in 1959—it helped convince me that he's poking fun at the artificial wholesomeness of the music even as he pays tribute to it.
Bauder still has it bad for the Beach Boys, and his affection here isn't colored by obvious irony. A new version of "God Only Knows" excises the verses to focus on cycling through the chorus, adding vocal layer after vocal layer until the carefully evocative instrumental tracks seem to dissolve in the background. "Cheer Up in Your Sleep (Daydream Believer)," a radical rewrite of the Monkees hit, sounds like Bauder's vision of Wilson's group exploring R & B, and the instrumental "Dotted Lines" could pass for a demo from the Pet Sounds sessions, with its reverb-kissed tick-tock guitar and Stuart Bogie of Antibalas puffing on a contrabass clarinet (a la "I Know There's an Answer"). Despite the self-conscious oddness of many of the treatments, Bauder is clearly genuinly fascinated with this stuff—Introducing is his love letter to an era he was born too late to experience firsthand.