By Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West
Here are a handful of recent CD releases in jazz – or within striking distance of jazz – from some personal favorites of mine who made their first indelible marks in the 1960s. Gabor Szabo was a true one-off, a Hungarian refugee who found his own distinctive staccato sound on an amplified acoustic guitar and used it restlessly to explore many currents running through that decade. When his old bandmate in Chico Hamilton’s group, saxophonist/flutist Charles Lloyd, was making his first attempts to fly solo, he brought Szabo along in a quartet that at one time included Ron Carter on bass and Pete La Roca on drums. It was thought that the group left no recordings, but lo, the diligent archeologists at Resonance Records have unearthed a couple of tapes of Lloyd’s freewheeling band stretching out at some length live, taken down in good-to-excellent sound at Slugs Saloon and Hudson Hall in New York City, circa 1965. It’s highly unusual to hear Szabo in a freebop situation tumbling happily around the place with Lloyd on “Sweet Georgia Bright” for nearly 18 minutes, venturing at times into Coltrane country. “Slugs’ Blues” evolves from a standard blues into something freer and unpredictably open-ended. There are two different takes of Szabo’s mesmerizing vamp, “Lady Gabor,” which are more representative of his way of casting a spell on one chord and his early experiments with feedback as Lloyd displays his breathy manner on flute. The two-CD package is called Manhattan Stories, and though 85 minutes may be on the short side for a double album, these precious tapes are given Resonance’s house deluxe packaging treatment. I have always been fond of A&M Records’ early years in the 1960s, during which the label cultivated an American pop goulash with a strong Latin flavor that could reach across generations – an unusual feat in a polarized time. The two leading groups of that period were label co-founder Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Sergio Mendes and Brasil `66 – and the astonishing thing is that not only are both leaders still very much active in their 70s, they don’t stand still. They keep updating and changing their surroundings while remaining true to their own personal sound. Mendes’s latest album Magic on Sony’s historic OKeh label continues the pattern of his last three Concord albums, getting transfusions of new juice from 21st century urban North America while remaining pretty much the same jazz-influenced pianist that he has always been. Whereas in the Brasil `66 days, the Mendes sound was smooth, subtle, sexy, and streamlined, now it is loud, bright, in-your-face, and sassy, with a rattling beat and brass not unlike that of soca at times. There are a lot of cameo vocal appearances from north and south of the equator – will.i.am and Cody Wise with their auto-tune device in full alien cry, current soul favorite John Legend, the Brazilian institution known as Milton Nascimento (sounding huskier than ever), and as always over the last four decades, the unmistakable lead vocals and harmonies of Gracinha Leporace (Mrs. Sergio Mendes). Mendes continues to keep up with the times, yet without losing the anchor of Brazilian samba and Bahian rhythms; it’s always Carnaval time for Sergio these days. On his new CD In The Mood (Shout Factory) Alpert is iconoclastic enough to not include the implied title tune. Rather, he shifts attention another Glenn Miller standard “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” all decked out with an irresistible electronic boogie. Alpert is also writing again, the attractive “Zoo Train” being the standout of a brace of new material. With the new Herb Alpert comes echoes of the old Alpert; “Don’t Cry” is an outgrowth of samples from his innovative treatment of “Summertime” from a nearly-forgotten 1971 Tijuana Brass album of that name. “Let It Be Me” and “Spanish Harlem” are electronic transformations of tunes from even further back in time, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Volume 2 from 1963. There’s more jazz feeling in the Alpert trumpet than ever, yet all of this was telegraphed in his style from the beginning of his career; it’s just more fully developed and up-front now. And for all of this album’s reliance upon electronic backings, overall it’s a rather elegant-sounding recording, very different from the street-dancing razzmatazz of Mendes, yet just as full of renewed vitality.