It's still a strange year!
Until a couple of weeks ago I was complaining to myself about the lack of new releases that were becoming available. Understandable in as much as most artists rely on working in close proximity to other performers as well as having sessions supervised by a producer, and that hasn't been possible, except in exceptional circumstances. To counter balance this a lot of the large companies have been digging in the crates to find "unreleased material" and that's where I'll start this review of what's been released, before then moving on to some of the new stuff that seems to have appeared in abundance during the last couple of months.
Miles Davis: Merci Miles! Live at Vienne.
NOT the Miles you might expect from his classic period(s)- this is Miles stretching out with a completely new band, that includes Kenny Garrett on Sax and Deron Johnson on keyboards. There are a series of very long tracks ('Human nature' clocks in at 18:02) and a couple of Prince penned songs . Overall on the double CD set there are just 8 tracks. It's a fascinating insight into the ideas that were driving him on in this relatively late period of his career. Whether you like it or not, I guess, depends on the realtionship that you have with his recording with his two classic bands. Overall, after a lot of listening I like this.
Nina Simone: The Montreux Years.
Collected from the private collection of Claude Nobs, the organiser of the festival this 2 CD set contains in CD2 a single performance in full from 1976. It's essential listening, if only to hear a consumate performer win-over an audience that, at the outset seems indifferent. It needs to be listened to in whole, not just parts. CD1 contains a mixture of material from other years (including another couple of tracks from 1976) in which she mixes her 'hits' with some items from across the rest of her catalogue. . It's a set that anyone vaguely interested in her artistry ought to own, if only to banish any lingering doubts about her ability as a live performer.
Jimmy Smith: Groovin' at Smalls Paradise (Volumes 1&2)
Somewhere along the way I lost both my vinyl copies of these albums, and doubted that they'd ever return. The Spanish label Jazz Images has re-released them (all but 'Imagination' which wouldn't fit onto a CD that runs out at 79 minutes of recorded sound) and it's been worth the wait. It's Smith stretching out in a late night club setting with some amazing support from Eddy Mcfadden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums. If forced to pick my favourite tracks I'd go for the opener 'After hours' and 'Slightly Monkish'. . The Penguin Guide to jazz rates this as probably the best ever Smith album - some claim for someone so prolific - but it must be up there because of its sheer vitality and drive.
Then there are the new releases!
Julian Lage: Squint.
Prior to this album, I've always thought that Lage has never really fulfilled his undoubted talent on records. A move to Blue Note seems to have rectified that situation. All but two of the tracks are self written and mostly the tracks are in trio settings or Lage playing solo. The result is a wonderully laid back album that has given up more with repeated listenings. Dave King on Drums and Jorge Roeder on bass are unobtrusive but meld well with (largely laid back ) approach that Lage has demonstarted on this album.
Dave McMurray: Grateful Deadication.
Who'd have thought that the Grateful Dead would provide such fertile ground for a jazz album? This rifle through the extensive catalogue of Dead music led me back to the original albums, and to discover that McMurray has realised a whole gamut of sound that was lurking within.My favourite tracks are "Dark Star" - not just because bettye LaVette has added vocals, but also because Bob Weir appears on the track - "Franklin's Tower" has McMurray on baritone, and the longest track "Touch of Grey" is a great reminder of how great composer Jerry Garcia could be. If you're unfamiliar with " The Dead" this ought to lead you back to the originals!
Samara Joy: Samara Joy.
Just once in a while a set of "standards" rises above the average and this is just such an album. Winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan vocal prize, Sanara Joy has the kind of voice that stands out from the rest of a very crowded field. The album orginally appears to have been crowd funded, and if that is the case then full marks to the producer (Matt Pierson) for putting together such an empathetic backing group, and especially for commissioning Pasquale Grasso to undertake the guitar work. The album is a mixture of 'obvious' stadards but also a couple that mark out a nod to Sarah Vaughan, but also a memory of the nat King Cole Trio. Not normally my kind of stuff, but I realy like this.