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Gryphon Diablo 300

Life in the BubbleTelarc TEL 35453-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band first attracted my attention when I heard their second album, XXL, in surround sound (DVD-Audio, Silverline 2882069). I thought that the band was fabulous, and the use of surround most clever and appealing. There’s no surround on this CD, of course, but Goodwin’s band still sizzles.

ChameleonConcord Records CRE-34113-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Smooth jazz is a genre I usually avoid. It’s too . . . smooth. Calling it jazz seems blasphemous, as it’s so calculated to please. Drummer Harvey Mason Sr. has done his share of smooth jazz with Fourplay, but his long list of credits includes work with Herbie Hancock, notably on the groundbreaking Head Hunters, of four decades ago. Mason’s first album for Concord Records, Chameleon, leans more in the direction of Hancock’s funk jazz than of the laid-back approach of Fourplay, and Mason’s sure hand ensures that it grooves.

The Musical Voyages of Marco PoloWorld Village Music WVF 479092
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

In wanting to find recordings of new and different sounds that would show off my audio system, my audiophile journey has led me to explore many unique recordings I might otherwise never have come across. This winter, that journey led me again to a favorite label, World Village Music, and the explorations of another adventurer, Marco Polo.

Bring It BackJazz Village JV579001
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

The title track of Catherine Russell’s Bring It Back opens the album with a swinging blues punch in a traditional arrangement that still manages to sound fresh and up to date. Russell’s father was a jazz musician who worked with Louis Armstrong, among others, and Bring It Back reaches back to early jazz for its style and inspiration. Russell and her band ensure that the result isn’t a museum piece, but an affirmation of jazz in its many forms.

Beautiful LifeConcord CRE-34171-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Concord Jazz once released almost nothing but jazz recordings. The label’s name has since been changed to Concord Records, and now they seek out artists in transition who are embracing and reimagining a wide range of styles.

Diane Reeves is such an artist. Revered for her jazz recordings, on Beautiful Life she includes enough R&B, soul, pop, and Latin music that we can say that jazz is now merely an influence, not the main course. One thing Reeves hasn’t changed is her full, gorgeous voice -- now darkened and warmed, it sounds even better than before. Also intact are her accuracy of pitch and sensitivity of phrasing; hers is a great voice that has mellowed in the best possible ways. Terri Lyne Carrington produced the album, and seems totally committed to creating the sound that best shows off Reeves’s voice.

Keb' Mo'Okeh/Epic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-357
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment ****

Although Kevin Moore, better known as Keb’ Mo’, recorded his first album in 1980, he didn’t land on a major label until 1994, when Okeh Records, a subsidiary of Epic, released Keb’ Mo’. Mo’ had played and recorded with the late Papa John Creach (1917-1994) and had worked in other facets of the music business, but his stint with Creach led to jamming with other blues musicians and solidified his skills as a blues player. Keb’ Mo’ was a confident outing, with a contemporary sound that for the most part remained true to its roots.

Either WayNaïve NJ623611
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

The subtitle of this latest album from French jazz singer Anne Ducros is intriguing. From Marilyn to Ella? What’s the connection?

In 1955, Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to play the prestigious Mocambo club in Hollywood because of her race. Enter Marilyn Monroe. Fitzgerald told it this way: "I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. . . . [S]he personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him -- and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status -- that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman -- a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it."

Little Girl BlueRecords BCP-6028
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

Little Girl Blue was Nina Simone’s first recording, made in 1958, when she was 24. It was her only full album of songs for Bethlehem Records. The label’s other Simone title, Nina Simone and Her Friends, comprises four tunes remaining from the earlier record’s sessions, and four songs each sung by Chris Conner and Carmen McRae. Simone had left Bethlehem for Colpix Records by then, and was unaware that Bethlehem was going to issue another title under her name. She had sold the rights to Little Girl Blue back to them for $3000.

All Around ManOpus3 CD 23001
Format: Hybrid Stereo SACD

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

Unsuspecting listeners such as I might put on this disc and think that Bottleneck John must be one of America’s newest, greatest blues singers, up from the Deep South. I stand by “newest” and “greatest,” but Bottleneck John was born Johan Eliasson, in Sweden. Fifteen years ago he heard an Eric Bibb album, went acoustic, and developed an authentic blues style of his own.

Saturday Morning: La Buissonne Studio SessionsJazz Village JV570027
Format: CD

Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: *****

What a force of nature Ahmad Jamal is! At age 83, he could easily coast on his reputation and extensive discography, playing rote shows to appreciative audiences. Instead, he continues to push himself and, in the process, astonish jazz fans by making rhythmically challenging, harmonically audacious recordings. Saturday Morning is, by my count, his 62nd album as a leader, and it follows last year’s powerful Blue Moon. This time Jamal took his quartet -- Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley on drums, and Manolo Badrena on percussion -- into La Buissonne Studio, in France, for 11 tracks that crackle with energy and inventiveness.