Saturday, December 1, 2007

Cool Jazz Rooms

"Jazz Memories" by Various Artists, is a stellar introduction to the Ultimate Jazz Experience—Whether you're relatively new to jazz, like me, or a dyed in the wool blue note aficionado, this compilation is an extraordinary 20-year retrospective of jazz history with some of the best works from the golden age of jazz.

The double album collection features jazz divas including Billie Holiday crooning My Man, Sarah Vaughan's Embraceable You, and Ella Fitzgerald's sultry How Long Has This Been Going On—all national jazz treasures. A real surprise was Dinah Washington's Easy Living. I've only heard her warhorse renditions and it was refreshing to hear her sing a sweet ballad.

Then we have the jazz immortals "Satchmo" Louis Armstrong viscerally trumpeting us through Dixieland with Dear Old Southland, and Count Basie's bebop rendition of Shoe Shine Boy; while on the other side of the jazz continuum, we've got Stan Getz tickling the ivories, Thelonious Monk's classic Blue Monk as well as Duke Ellington's Lotus Blossom. And then there's the cerebral Miles Davis' groundbreaking Tune-Up (say, is that 'Trane on the sax?).

"Jazz Memories" is yet another Amie Street solid gold sleeper. I love the fact that we get to hear such a wide range of music on Amie Street Music—from new indie artist hot off the press, er, Garageband—to fabulous vinyl classics that I would never otherwise listen to. It made me curious and want to know more about these musicians. (Keep an eye out for a copy of Herman Leonard's companion book which has some great stories about the musicians.)

I was surprised to learn that the longest track on the album, Tune-up, which, at first I found difficult to connect to, was really two songs in one. About 4 minutes in, When the Lights are Low kicks in and it's sonorously beautiful with several solos.

From what I can glean, the track Tune-Up/When the Lights are Low is from Miles Davis' groundbreaking 1956 Prestige album, Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet.

There's a great backstory attached to the Prestige label—it seems that Miles had to fulfill his Prestige contract with new work and so he just kept jammin' with his newly formed quintet.

The music Miles' quintet produced during the 24-hour marathon mother of all jammin' sessions was so hot, it resulted in three groundbreaking albums including the last one Cookin'—which also debuted My Funny Valentine. Whether it's Rollins or Trane on the mellifluous sax is moot, it's still all pure Miles on the trumpet and it put both Davis and Coltrane on the map.

These are all clean tracks of major hits from the major jazz label vaults—not muddied side B recordings. Blue Monk is my personal fave and Art Tatum's Willow Weep For Me is a close second. No, make it Frenesi, no, make it St. Thomas...aww, just buy the whole album. I suspect we'll be seeing some more compilation albums from this label in the near future.

An aside, I noticed that some tracks seem to cut out early, most noticeably Jitterbug Waltz and My Man. But then I had trouble downloading the album and had to download it song by song. You can hear some faint hissing on Blue Monk but considering when it was recorded, it's pretty clean. I checked Tune-up against another
download music services and the Amie Street track is definitely cleaner, clearer, brighter.

As I sad earlier, jazz is not normally my forte, so I was delighted to find how accessible and personable the album was with its collage of songs with just the right juxtaposition of cerebral and visceral. "Jazz Memories" is one of those rare albums that opens up new rooms in your head.

                         —Maureen Hurley
© 2007 12/9/2007 for Amie Street Music

go to Amie Street News to read the review.


mail said...

Yes- Jazz Memories is great...and thanks for the Herman Leonard mention. His out of print book "Jazz Memories" is beautiful and available on our website....he'll also sign it for you!

Maureen Hurley said...

Thank you for making this compilation, and comment.

I went to Herman Leonard's site and I loved the photos. I'm a photographer too and I know stellar work when I see it, having done a long stint with independent newspapers in Sonoma county.

One assignment was to cover the first few Russian River Jazz Fests. That's how I met Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Florie Dearest, Scatman Crothers, Adam Macowicz, etc... taking photos backstage for days on end...

I guess all that jazz sunk in somewhere...only to coalesce when I found your album!


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