Chris Slawecki

Sweet San Francisco Suite


Freddie Redd's San Francisco Suite: For Jazz Trio (Original Jazz Classics, 1990) captures a rare snapshot of the pianist expertly fronting a trio that romps through standards and originals -- most notably Redd's masterwork, a musical panorama of the City by the Bay drawn across three movements, the title San Francisco Suite.

Using only piano, drum and bass, Redd paints an expansive vision of San Francisco in broad and vivid colorful strokes. Its dawning "View Of the Golden Gate Bridge From Salsalito" awakens in hustling and bustling melody, the busy sound of morning city traffic (this same melody sings of "Barb" to begin the Suite's final movement). In between, Redd surveys "Grant Street (Chinatown)" through a twinkling oriental melody that somehow becomes the down-home Gospel classic "Down By The Riverside" before downshifting into barrel-house blues.

Other Redd originals also merit much praise. The elegant ebullience of "Blue Hour" suggests pianist Red Garland, and Garland's sly as a wink style twinkles through "Minor Interlude," too. And for some reason, the old-time sounding "Old Man River" suits Redd very well, as he wanders through its melody and harmony unhurriedly but powerfully, his piano swelling and ebbing, an irresistible force of music.

If you'd like to hear more Redd, Piano: East/West (OJC, 1991) puts selections by another one of Redd's trios together with quartet tracks led by pianist Hampton Hawes; Redd also appears as pianist on the trumpet/alto summit led by Art Farmer, When Farmer Met Gryce, (OJC, 1994).

Chris Slawecki

Stars On Stage


When a music fan learns too late that you've missed a once in a lifetime performance, "You should have been there" is one of the saddest expressions you can hear. But Concord's digital catalog allows you to revisit an amazing all-star performance from the 1976 Concord Jazz Festival, when Jake Hannah (drums), Ray Brown (bass), Hank Jones (piano), Red Norvo (vibes) and Tal Farlow (guitar) simultaneously shared their flawless talents On Stage.

Norvo begins by tapping out the intro to "The One I Love Belongs to Someone Else" like Fred Astaire on vibes, and he quickly pulls the rest of the ensemble into his enchanting dance. It's hard to capture Norvo's joyous, dancing sound in words -- it's much easier for your ears, especially when Jones' piano solo, tagging behind like a wagging tail, swings and sings in this same wonderful sound. Farlow steps into the spotlight during "A Time For Love/My Romance" with a guitar sound as solid and sleek, yet warm, as polished mahogany.

The principals wind up "Lullaby of Birdland" and "My Shining Hour" and let them fly, stretching each tune across eight minutes of jamming with not one single note sounding out of place. "My Shining Hour" is a great title to summarize On Stage -- Jones and Farlow and Norvo all sound so warm and bright. Though he mainly provides harmonic and rhythmic support to the other soloists, don't overlook Jones' beautiful solo meditation, "The Very Thought of You."

Chris Slawecki

Shaw's Historic Songs


If someone could play Song Of Songs (Original Jazz Classics, 1987) for you without telling you whose music it was, I'd almost dare you to NOT say you were listening to an undiscovered or rare gem by Miles Davis. Song Of Songs IS a rare, completely original gem of early 1970s trumpet fusion -- but it's from the mind and trumpet of Woody Shaw.

Shaw composed the furious and gentle, unshapely and beautiful Song Of Songs and recorded it in 1972 with an ensemble that includes pianist George Cable and three different tenor players, including Bennie Maupin. Cable carves the framework of the title track out of its shimmering African motifs -- like McCoy Tyner grounding and redoubling Coltrane's African flights -- while Shaw, screaming out notes that most likely don't even appear on his instrument, paints the sound in brilliant shades of red and blue. "Song Of Songs" doesn't end so much as it settles down to rest.

Maupin's tenor in "The Goat & The Archer" echoes Coltrane's searing, splintering sound in Davis' first great quintet, the early rumblings of subsequent explorations which sought to free be-bop into free-bop. "The Awakening" signifies the new forms of music -- multi-rhythmic and multicultural -- that would soon emerge from jazz, too.

Shaw's Concord catalog also features Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary, 1999), his debut as a leader and another prescient program recorded in 1970 with a literal "Who's Who" of jazz in the subsequent decade that includes Maupin, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz and Lenny White.

John C. Bruening

Front & Center


Throughout a three-decade career that spanned the 1950s, '60s and '70s, bassist and cellist Sam Jones was known as a solid and reliable sideman for some of the most prominent figures in jazz during the period, including Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Dorham, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson and many others. Right Down Front is a collection of 11 tracks culled from the three albums -- The Soul Society, The Chant and Down Home -- that he recorded on Riverside between 1960 and 1962, during his tenure with Adderley's group.

His session work during this brief period is widely considered to be his best, thanks to a combination of his own innate capacity to swing and the stellar lineup of collaborators who brought out the best in him.

The personnel roster on these tracks include Adderley and on alto sax, Nat Adderley on cornet, Jimmy Heath on tenor, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Victor Feldman on vibraphone, Ron Carter on bass and Ben Riley on drums. The full complement of pianists includes Wynton Kelly, Bobby Timmons and Joe Zawinul.

Jones plays cello on five of the 11 tracks, but it's generally the bass songs that come across most effectively, including the shimmering "Over The Rainbow," the fully orchestrated rendition of Miles Davis' "Four," and the swinging "Unit Seven," the only Jones original in the set. He does enjoy a shining moment on cello in the form of a rich and warm rendition of "Round Midnight."

Sam Jones's talent as a musician and composer was (and still is) often obscured by his status as a freelancer throughout most of his career. Right Down Front positions him exactly where the title suggests, in a prominent place where he finally gets his due.