"AT HOME." Janis Siegel. Atlantic 81748. Siegel reveals here what her Manhattan Transfer membership has never quite concealed: that she has the individual prerequisites for a solo album.
Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" is a blockbuster of a tension builder. A great minor key mood, bits of vocal overdubbing, Mitchell Forman on synthesizer and David Sanborn on alto sax add up to a powerful opener. Bob Dorough's "Small Day Tomorrow" and the old Helen Humes blues "Million Dollar Secret" (the latter with Branford Marsalis on tenor) reveal two other, and wholly different, aspects of Siegel's personality.
"Black Coffee," though overproduced, has its moments. "From Vienna With Love," a ballad credited to Friedrich Gulda and Jon Hendricks, makes effective use of a cello.
That's five good cuts out of nine. Counterbalancing them are "Bob White" and "Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes," two 50-year-old songs, proving that yesterday's pop trivia are today's sad camp. "Night Trane" is a forgettable original. As for "Malibu," Siegel has done Benny Carter a disservice by fitting his beautiful melody with an indifferent lyric and a clumsy new title, "The Cruel Master of My Dreams." 3 1/2 stars.
"DREAM." Susannah McCorkle. Pausa 7208. Forget those well-meaning reviews that compare McCorkle to Billie Holiday, whom she does not remotely resemble. She sounds like Susannah McCorkle, which is all that's needed. Two cuts here, Paul Simon's "Train in the Distance" and the Leiber-Stoller "Longings for a Simpler Time," are mini-masterpieces: superb melodies, poignant lyrics, sung by a woman who knows it all. "All of Me," with its vocalese adapted by the late King Pleasure and based on an Illinois Jacquet tenor sax solo, deserves special mention. Also worth noting are an old Apollo Theater-type song called "Just for a Thrill" by Lil Armstrong, Cole Porter's "At Long Last Love" and Jobim's "Triste" sung in Portuguese and English. Splendid backing by a rhythm section, augmented by either Gene Bertoncini on guitar or Frank Wess on tenor sax. To all these virtues add McCorkle's warmth, spirit and versatility. Eureka! A 5-star album.
"FOUR FOR ALL." Sphere. Verve CD 831674-2. This adventurous acoustic quartet has branched out from a Thelonious Monk repertoire (only one of his songs is heard here) to a program largely drawn from the pens of its members: two tunes each by pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Buster Williams, one by saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Barron's "Baiana" typifies the group's collective mind set and broad range of moods--gentle, contemplative, quirky, jaunty. Williams' "Air Dance" and Ellington's "Melancholia" are heard on the CD version only. 4 1/2 stars.
"QUARTET WEST." Charlie Haden. Verve 831 673. The bassist's new unit brings his old Ornette Coleman teammate, drummer Billy Higgins, together with Ernie Watts on saxes and Alan Broadbent, whose piano commands much of the attention; he swings unpretentiously and knows the value of space. Watts, on the other hand, tends to overexert himself. He is most at ease, switching from tenor to alto, in Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," one of two cuts omitted from the LP version. Haden has one solo bass cut that doesn't quite justify its 7 1/2 minutes. Originals by Coleman, Pat Metheny, Haden and Charlie Parker help round out a commendable collection, closer to the mainstream than has been Haden's custom. 4 stars.
"THE PRESIDENT PLAYS." Lester Young/Oscar Peterson Trio. Verve 831 670. Exemplifying the advantages of CD over LP, the compact-disc version (61 1/2 minutes) includes four cuts not on the album, actually five in effect, since there are two takes of "It Takes Two To Tango," an oddity in that Lester Young sings. He showed no more respect for lyrics, or for any other convention, than he had for the sound of the tenor sax when he revolutionized it in the Swing Era. This extremely casual series (apparently all 13 tunes were recorded in the same afternoon) at times sounds more like a rehear, yet the solos by Young, Peterson, Barney Kessel and the backing by Ray Brown and drummer J.C. Heard are virtually a definition of small group swing. 4 stars.
"LIFE FLIGHT." Freddie Hubbard. Blue Note 85139. In this Janus-faced album, Side 1 is another "Let's get Freddie to do something commercial" venture. He has been that route (and abandoned it) several times before, but on this occasion, with George Benson and Stanley Turrentine as guests, it comes off inoffensively. Side 2, with the trumpeter leading a straight-ahead quintet in two of his own works, achieves a splendid level of Hubbard heat in the title tune; after the placebo of Side 1, it's potent medicine. 3 1/2 stars.
"MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAYS THE MUSIC OF BILLY STRAYHORN." Concord 326. Overshadowed by Duke Ellington, Strayhorn's genius has been inadequately recognized. In this quartet tribute (Jerry Dodgion, alto sax; Steve La Spina, bass; Joey Baron, drums), McPartland brings out the exquisite melodic grace of "After All," "Lush Life," "Isfahan" and others. Though she submerges her personality to Strayhorn's, the result is a triumph for all involved. A neat pace-changer is the tongue-in-chops version of "Take the A Train," for which Dodgion wrote a bop variant; in fact, the tune itself is heard only during the final chorus. 4 1/2 stars.
"NOW YOU KNOW." Makoto Ozone. Columbia 40676. Using a group that varies from cut to cut and from two to five pieces, Ozone is more at ease in a relaxed love song such as "You Are in Love" than on the other tunes (all Ozone originals), in which the rather thin sounds of Steve Kujala's flute or John Abercrombie's guitar are added. Kujala, however, comes to life eloquently in the duo number "Passage." It is curious how far Ozone has moved from his earlier Oscar Peterson direction; nowadays he's closer to Bill Evans. 3 stars.