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Thanks largely to zealous treasure hunters like Zev Feldman, archival live recordings by modern jazz masters continue to be unearthed. Two of the following releases launch a new label — Feldman and co-producer Corey Weed’s Reel to Real — tantalizing fans with notions of what might still remain in the vault. Hopes are high that future releases will match the quality of these four.
Swingin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966 – 1967 (Reel to Real) presents selections from four live gigs by Cannonball Adderley’s classic Mercy, Mercy, Mercy quintet: brother Nat on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums. Highlights include “Back Home Blues” — likely the alto saxophonist’s only recording of the Charlie Parker tune — and an extensive romp through Zawinul’s “74 Miles Away.” A reading of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” which Cannonball delivers with dramatic, saccharine vibrato, is the album’s least successful number. But for most of these sessions, the famed group burns as expected. Cannon’s delightful between-songs patter and an eight-page booklet containing interviews, essays and photographs further illuminate why he’s so revered.
Another Reel to Real production, A Soulful Sunday: Live at the Left Bank, captures vocalist Etta Jones during a 1972 concert date with pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Billy Higgins. (The rhythm section opens the set with an up-tempo version of the theme from Love Story that’s miraculously devoid of schmaltz.) It’s a winning combination. Walton, a decidedly active accompanist, provides evocative, nudging commentary. As usual, Jones sounds confident and soulful as she covers a variety of chestnuts, including “If You Could See Me Now,” “Exactly Like You” and, most movingly, “You Better Go Now.” The album concludes with her best-known cover, “Don’t Go to Strangers,” during which she intentionally mimics Billie Holiday; it’s fun, if you like that kind of showmanship. Listeners can then imagine the singer leaving the stage while the trio continues with spirited exit music. As with the Adderley set, the album contains an eight-page booklet containing insightful interviews about the late singer.
Recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal Memories (HighNote), a 1989 duo performance by alto saxophonist Frank Morgan and pianist George Cables, is an intimate affair. Morgan chose the tunes and, no surprise, he leaned on bebop classics — three by Bird, one by Diz, one by Monk. The duo reprises Morgan’s “Blues for Rosalinda” and Cables’ “Helen’s Song” from their fine 1986 studio album Double Image, but these versions are livelier and more memorable. Morgan’s edgy tone pairs surprisingly well with the more romantic-sounding pianist, and they manage to sustain their dance without either one ever stumbling. The concert ends with a winning medley — a brief, dreamy reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” followed by an upbeat blues, “Billie’s Bounce,” that does indeed bounce and bop.
Woody Shaw’s unfortunately truncated career — he died in 1989 at age 44 — receives a boost with the continued discovery of unissued live recordings. And this two-CD set, Live in Bremen 1983 (Elemental), showcases the trumpeter at the height of his artistic powers. Backed by a rhythm section that had been seasoned for three years (pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Stafford James and drummer Tony Reedus), Shaw sounds ignited. His crackling, cascading phrases fuel his sidemen, as well, and their solos on “Rahsaan’s Run,” for example, are uniformly blistering. The nine tunes include a standard (“You and the Night and the Music”), a far more obscure tune (“Diane,” from the 1927 silent film Seventh Heaven), four originals by Shaw and two by Miller. Raucous and muscular, this recording is an essential contribution to Shaw’s legacy.-Sascha Feinstein
Feature photo by Tom Copi.