The bad news first: Dr. John's latest CD release was recorded on an electric piano whose timbre becomes tiresome, and he's covered most if not all of the 17 tunes here before. The producer, Joel Dorn, given 120 tapes to work with, brags about issuing here the very first tape he listened to. What kind of lazy attitude is that? Couldn't he have picked some new material for Mac's following to chew on?
That said, the performances here, culled from two nights at New York City's Lonestar Cafe in December 1986, are very, very good. By that time Mac had played a lot of solo piano gigs generated by the success of his two early-80s solo piano CDs on the Clean Cuts label, and his chops were up. "Junco Partner" is particularly beautiful, with some rich new gospel-inflected chords and a striking intro that may be a whole 'nother tune, for all I know. "Iko Iko" is full of previously unrecorded lyrics that Mac can seemingly conjure up on the spot.
Accompanying this audio CD is a short-but-sweet 25-minute DVD. Mac growls his way through some basic questions and plays a little piano to illustrate points. Subjects covered include the primacy of Fess and Ray Charles, the influence of T-Bone Walker and second-line rhythms. There's nothing really unexpected, but it's wonderful anyway, and makes this project a must-have for the Doctor's many fans. As they well know, he's as fun to watch as he is to listen to. --Tom McDermott
Dave Holland Quintet
Extended Play -- Live at Birdland
Bassist/composer Dave Holland has continually provided the jazz public with a string of superior recordings. Sure, he's noted for his participation with Miles Davis during the trumpeter's initiation of jazz-fusion back in the 1960s and early '70s. But since then, Holland-led units have been the recipient of numerous poll awards, and widespread acclaim emanating from the global jazz community.
This release showcases Holland's Quintet captured "Live at Birdland" -- in fact, it's the group's first live recording. Long considered one of the finest outfits in the business, the band on this two-CD set offers a glimmering snapshot of Holland's chirpy melodies often utilized as vehicles for improvisational expressionism. On the opening 21-minute number titled "The Balance," the quintet garnishes a tuneful theme with punchy, little big band-style horn charts amid sinuously executed shifts in tempo. Here and throughout, multi-reedman Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks and vibist Steve Nelson receive ample soloing space. Moreover, the artists weave complex arrangements with smoothly executed, bop-style movements.
The soloists explore divergent angles via their climactically oriented improvisations. Yet they seldom, if ever, lose focus, as their overall line of attack remains firmly rooted within a structured methodology. And while Holland's bass playing is somewhat legendary, drummer Billy Kilson is emerging as a major force within jazz circles. As this rhythm section minces controlled firepower with supple grooves and feverishly constructed swing vamps. Other highlights feature the ensemble's garrulous, interleaving choruses in concert with a few blithely enacted passages. In sum, Holland's latest venture stands as a top pick for 2003. -- Glenn Astarita
Joey DeFrancesco featuring Joe Doggs
Falling in Love Again
Philadelphia, Pa.-based Hammond B-3 stylist Joey DeFrancesco synchronizes a love vibe with crooner Joe Doggs throughout this sprightly set. The producers capitalize on Doggs' moniker by promoting a bit of good cheer, complete with a photo of a listless looking basset hound gracing the CD cover.
This outing is centered upon a collection of spiced-up renditions of standards, such as "All or Nothing at All," "Pennies From Heaven" and others. Doggs' buttery voice and relaxed delivery is reminiscent of the better-known jazz vocalist, Little Jimmy Scott, while DeFrancesco leads the charge via his fluent attack and soul-drenched grooves. Here, saxophonist Red Holloway along with guitar heroes Pat Martino, Kevin Eubanks and others of note lend their formidable talents to this undeniably swinging set.
With Cole Porter's "Love For Sale," trumpeter Elijah Davis' breezy, muted lines counterbalance Doggs' understated lyricism. Yet at times, the ensemble uncannily melds a Texas roadhouse-type vibe with West Coast-like sensibilities due to a hodgepodge of blithely arranged, medium- and up-tempo swing vamps.
DeFrancesco pushes and prods his bandmates, thanks to his blistering single note runs and rhythmically oriented comping on "Secret Love," whereas Doggs sings behind the tempo, amid an easygoing gait. And while the musicians don't reinvent the proverbial wheel, they realign the tried and true with a modernistic approach that shines forth in a rather grand way. --Astarita