When Lester Koenig produced Burning Spirits for Contemporary in 1970, jazz was moving in many different directions. Commercially, jazz had lost a lot of ground to rock and R&B, but creatively, it was incredibly healthy and offered a wide variety of options – everything from fusion, soul-jazz, and funky organ combos to bossa nova, Afro-Cuban jazz, modal post-bop, cool jazz, and Dixieland revivalists. Sonny Simmons represented free jazz, which was considered jazz's lunatic fringe (certainly in bop circles) but was exciting and invigorating if you understood what was going on.
1978's First Light marked Richard & Linda Thompson's first time in a recording studio after three years away from music, and it suggested they were still getting warmed up as performers; a year later, Sunnyvista found them in much stronger form and a significantly more upbeat frame of mind. Sunnyvista is the wittiest and most joyous album Richard & Linda made together; while several of Richard Thompson's trademark meditations on romance at it's least successful are on hand, "Why Do You Turn Your Back" manages to generate an unusually soulful groove, "Lonely Hearts" captures the melancholy country feel that First Light never quite caught, and "Traces of My Love" finds a winning warmth in its sadness.
Bob Brookmeyer has been so busy as a writer since the mid-'60s that his valve trombone playing has been somewhat underrecorded. This quartet set with pianist Alan Broadbent (who also plays a bit of synthesizer), bassist Eric Von Essen and drummer Michael Stephans) finds Brookmeyer in top form on four standards and a quartet of his originals (including "Later Blues," "Tootsie Samba" and "Who Could Care"). His valve trombone playing had grown and evolved through the years and, although he still had the cool tone, Brookmeyer's solos are often quite complex while not completely abandoning chordal improvisation. This Concord release is well worth picking up.
It was only fitting that vibraphonist Cal Tjader launched the Concord Picante label with this release for Tjader did a great deal to popularize Latin-jazz. This was not his strongest effort (the solos of Tjader and flutist Roger Glenn are not all that substantial) but the drumming of Vince Lateano and the percussion of Poncho Sanchez keep the momentum flowing on these likable performances.
This CD reissue brings back one of the oldest recordings ever issued by the Concord label, a set that was already nine years old when it debuted. Drummer Shelly Manne heads a strong quintet comprised of trumpeter Conte Candoli, altoist Frank Strozier (who doubles on flute), pianist Mike Wofford and bassist Monty Budwig. Although the musicians are all associated with the West Coast hard bop tradition, there are plenty of moments during this stimulating set when they make it obvious that they had been listening with some interest to some of the avant-garde players, allowing the new innovations to open up their styles a bit. The fresh material (two standards and a pair of originals apiece by Strozier, Wofford and pianist Jimmy Rowles) inspire the soloists and the music is not at all predictable. Worth investigating.
At times, McDuff demonstrates how soul-jazz organ stars used to make albums back in their '60s heyday, playing then-current pop hits like "The Age of Aquarius" and the theme from Mission: Impossible (which, thanks to cinema, was a hit all over again in 1996 when this CD was made). We also hear McDuff trying out his vocal cords for the first time on Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry"; actually, he merely talks the lyrics over the rhythm section – and at 70, he's entitled to this charming lark.
Pianist Jaki Byard's first recording as a leader was not released domestically until this 1988 CD. That fact seems strange for Byard is absolutely brilliant on the solo piano set. Many of his selections (all nine tunes are his originals) look both backwards to pre-bop styles and ahead to the avant-garde including such numbers as "Pete and Thomas (Tribute to the Ticklers)," "Spanish Tinge No. 1," and "One, Two, Five." The most remarkable selection is "Jaki's Blues Next" which has Byard alternating between James P. Johnson-type stride and free form à la Cecil Taylor; at its conclusion he plays both styles at the same time. A highly recommended outing from a very underrated pianist.