THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: Latest MPS Vinyl Reissues

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Germany’s MPS label has just dropped a quintet of 180-gram vinyl reissues. According to MPS, “Edel:Kultur unties another bundle of re-releases from the catalogue of the iconic MPS label situated in Germany’s Black Forest. The newest package from the Reforest the Legend series embraces the decade of 1970-1980, and covers a wide diversity of styles. Once again sound engineers Christoph Stickel and Dirk Sommer have scrupulously remastered the original recordings. The resulting Edel:Kultur releases are high quality 180g Vinyl pressings enclosed in record jackets containing the original artwork.” Our Jazz Desk editor takes a closer look (and listen)… [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

 Monty Alexander Trio – Montreux Alexander

Alexander’s seventh release for MPS, Montreux Alexander is a document of the pianist’s trio live at the Montreux, Switzerland Jazz Festival in June 1976. As the liner notes explain, neither Alexander nor his rhythm section – bassist John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton on drums – had any advance idea of what songs they would perform. The sharpness of the performances belies that; while there’s a palpable sense of spontaneity on the six well-known tunes in the trio’s set, it’s all impeccably played. A ten-minute reading of Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues” is an effective melding of smoky, late-night club ambience and sophisticated polish. Every now and then, Alexander breaks out of the bluesy mold – often for a mere measure or two – and delivers his melodic lines in another style.

Perhaps Morris Albert’s “Feelings” was less of a cliché in the mid ’70s than it is today, but Alexander’s trio gives the song a suitably understated reading that makes it more effective than it would otherwise be. Still, it’s the weak point of the set, veering uncomfortably close to easy-listening lounge jazz. It’s redeemed slightly by Alexander’s silky-smooth delivery.

Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” enlivens things greatly. The tune jumps and swings, and the uptempo blues arrangement features some tasty three-way musical dialogue between the musicians, eliciting applause less than a minute into the tune.

Nat Adderley’s classic “Work Song” is oddly understated for its first 20 seconds or so; from there it blasts out of the gate. Playing more subtly than in the typical readings of the song, Alexander’s trio still has some fun with playful key changes. Clayton’s bass is showcased here.

Henry Glover’s 1956 composition “Drown in My Own Tears” had, by 1976, been recorded by many artists including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Alexander mines the tune’s gospel roots, calling to mind – but not aping – Charles’ reading of the chestnut.

The set closes with the American traditional “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” After Alexander plays a brief melodic figure, Hamilton takes the cue and dives in with some nice brush work of his own. After a minute or so of back-and-forth, the band kicks into a swinging rendition that brings the house down. Deftly-placed glissandi up the ante, and the crowd responds in kind. Nearly 30 seconds of applause wraps up the release, available on 180-gram vinyl in a beautiful, sturdy (albeit non-gatefold) sleeve.

Joe Henderson et. al. – Mirror, Mirror

Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone
Chick Corea – piano
Ron Carter – bass
Billy Higgins – drums

One of the most consistently thrilling qualities of jazz is the manner in which artists team up in different combinations, often just for a single session. Whether onstage or within the confines of the recording studio, the result of these musical summits is always open to chance and circumstance; therein lies much of its appeal.

And while 1980 was nobody’s idea of a high point in jazz, this set for MPS – recorded not in Germany’s Black Forest but in a Los Angeles studio – has all the thrill and musical interplay one could hope for from the four superb artists who took part.

There are no electronics to be found here: the piano and bass are acoustic instruments, and the live-in-the-studio vibe is very much apparent. Six numbers – three per vinyl side – are on offer: one by nominal bandleader Henderson (Joe’s Bolero”), two each from the pens of Corea and Carter, and one standard, “What’s New.”

Ron Carter’s “Candlelight” is primarily a showcase for Joe Henderson’s mellifluous sax work, though near the song’s end Corea takes a largely unaccompanied solo turn. The bassist’s “Keystone” features some appealing unison playing from Corea and Henderson. Higgins turns in some splashy yet controlled drumming.

As one might expect from reading the title, that drumming is at the center of “Joe’s Bolero.” But there’s much more in the way of melody here than in Ravel’s somewhat monotonous classical piece. Henderson’s sax here is unbridled – detractors might suggest “out of tune” – but the one-chord workout is fascinating in its own way.

“What’s New” is the shortest cut on Mirror, Mirror; it’s also among the most tradition-minded reading in the set. Placed between “Joe’s Bolero” and the final track, it’s an example of thoughtful sequencing. The record closes with “Blues for Liebestraum,” a lengthy workout in which all four players push the boundaries of the blues form, often all “soloing” at once. It’s a tasty closing to an album that may have escaped the notice of many jazz fans on its original release. The 2016 MPS reissue is 180g vinyl inside the label’s customary high-quality packaging.

Freddie Hubbard – The Hub of Hubbard

Don’t let the relatively generic cover art of The Hub of Hubbard dissuade you from checking out this 2016 reissue of an album originally released in Germany in 1970 (and in the US two years later). Cut in the Black Forest for the German MPS label, this four-tune set features trumpeter Hubbard blowing impressively while backed by pianist (Sir) Roland Hanna, Richard Davis on bass, and drummer extraordinaire Louis Hayes. (Eddie Daniels is on hand for tenor sax, too.)

The ensemble charges right out of the gate with Vincent Youmans’ “Without a Song,” an example of deceptive labeling if there ever was one. It’s a song and a half. Hubbard and Daniels trade licks throughout.

Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” is controlled cacophony, a fine example of jazz’s technique of using a song as little more than a mere canvas upon which to paint an original work. All five players are in fine form as they blast full speed ahead through the seven-plus minute performance.

“Blues for Duane” – a Hubbard original composition – is sexy and swaggering, yet still somehow subtle. Davis’ bass holds things together nicely, and the tune has an even more “live” feel than the record’s other cuts.

Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” ends the album on a sultry, romantic note. A bit of (natural?) reverb on Hubbard’s horn lends just the right melancholy air to this understated piece. Hanna occasionally reaches inside his piano for some clever and effective strumming of the strings; that zither-like effect would be used to good effect at roughly the same time (1969) by Keith Emerson on ELP’s “Take a Pebble.”

The album’s original gatefold sleeve is reproduced here, with a liner note essay in both German and English. Oddly, the essay doesn’t match up with the record’s sequencing, but that shouldn’t take away from the listener’s enjoyment.

Note that since this is a straight reissue of the original LP, the bonus track found on CD releases (Hanna’s “Muses for Richard Davis”) is not included here.

Baden Powell – Images on Guitar

This 1973 album for MPS is listed on Wikipedia as a live recording; it’s “live” only in the sense that it was cut that way in the studio. Recorded October 1971 at MPS’ Black Forest studio, Images on Guitar features Brazilian guitarist Powell (born Baden Powell de Aquino) backed by Ernesto Gonsalves (bass), Joaquim Paes Henriques (drums) and Alfredo Bessa on atabaque and other percussion. Janine de Waleyne shares vocals with Powell.

Four of the tunes here are vocal-led, four are instrumental. One of the latter – “Sentimentos – Se Voce Pergunta, Nunca Vai Saber” is a Baden Powell solo. All tunes are very much in the acoustic Brazilian style made popular by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Powell and a select few others.

“Petit Waltz” is perhaps the disc’s most effective number: its first half features a finely-textured performance by Powell and Bessa; only after that has run its course does the rest of the band join in. Powell accents his precise and expressive chording with a bit of picking, but it’s mostly a showcase for the effective uses to which guitar chords can be applied.

The crystalline voice of Waleyne is equally evocative when warbling wordlessly (“Ate-Eu”) or singing in Portuguese (“Violao Vagabundo”). On the latter, she engages in some scat vocalizing; even if we don’t understand her language, the emotions come through loud and clear.

The most playful and upbeat tune on the set is “Blues a Volonté.” Its composers – Powell and Waleyne – smartly hybridize Brazilian musical forms with North American blues structure; the result is thrilling and invites repeat plays. It’s the clear highlight of Images on Guitar.

Powell’s solo “Sentimentos” slows things back down, presenting an intricate and pensive performance from the guitarist. “E de Lei” features a descending melodic line that gives Powell plenty of room in which to do some interesting things with his instrument; it’s also the least “Brazilian-sounding” tune in this collection.

Images on Guitar closes with the unimaginatively-named “Canto.” Thankfully the song is more creative than its title. With a Spanish feel, it’s mysterious and slightly foreboding tune with lots of space between the notes; those spaces – and Waleyne’s wordless vocals – only add to the mystery.

The 2016 reissue features a gatefold sleeve with black-and-white photos plus liner notes in German and English.

The Oscar Peterson Trio – Walking the Line

Recorded in MPS Records’ Villingen, Germany studio over four days in November 1969 (and released the next year), Walking the Line features pianist Oscar Peterson joined by bassist Jiri Mraz and drummer Ray Price.

Peterson is absolutely on fire from the very start, with a reading of Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” There’s a sense of subconscious connection among the three musicians as they charge through eight tunes, most taken from the pages of the Great American Songbook.

The pianist shows that – had he wanted to – he could have been a soul-jazz giant by showcasing the record’s sole original composition, “Rock of Ages.” Playing a mile-a-minute, Peterson never misses a beat on the ivories. It’s a five-and-a-half minute thrill ride that will leave the listener wanting more.

But the trio shifts gears for “Once Upon a Summertime,” wherein Mraz shares the spotlight with Peterson. The kinetic “Just Friends” is the briefest track on Walking the Line, but in terms of notes played, it’s among the fullest. Price’s drums propel the tune along at a high rate of speed.

The high energy performance continues on Side Two with “Teach Me Tonight,” a bluesy, swinging number. “The Windmills of Your Mind” is built upon a challenging percussion foundation courtesy of Price. Peterson and Mraz glide effortlessly across that tricky foundation, turning in engaging performances.

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” finds Peterson simultaneously intricate and understated; his band mates even more so. The number would serve as a fine set closer. But instead that honor goes to a reading of Cole Porter’s “All of Me,” delivered in style.

The Oscar Peterson Trio recorded and released several albums in the very early 1970s; all are recommended. There have been many reissues of Walking the Line since its original release, but the 2016 gatefold-sleeved vinyl reissue from MPS will be hard to beat.

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Bill Kopp is the Blurt Jazz Desk editor. You can bug him directly at his most excellent music blog, Musoscribe.

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