"DIANE SCHUUR & THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA." GRP GR 1039. Power is the key word here; the power of Schuur's not-always-mellow tones, and the power of the press hype that has attempted to establish her as the new jazz singer for the 1990s.
The lady does indeed have the makings of a first-class addition to the ranks, as is best evidenced on such ballads as "Travelin' Light" and "We'll Be Together Again." She does well with "You Can Have It," a song by Morgan Ames (who co-produced the album) and Frank Foster, who leads the band. Aretha Franklin's "Climbing Higher Mountains," a gospel-tinged piece, carries conviction, but she should never have tried "Every Day." The comparison with earlier versions is too obvious.
Schuur's problem is a tendency to overstate, as in the synthetic growls on "Travelin' Blues" and the anxiety attack a half-minute before the end of "I Just Found Out About Love." The less hard she tries, the better the results.
The CD version contains two extras, "Until I Met You" and "I Loves You Porgy." The notes by John S. Wilson are inaccurate (it is not true that Helen Humes never sang the blues with Basie) and uninformative. Who wrote the arrangements? Who played those trumpet, tenor and trombone solos?
Commercially, this will be a big record. The band kicks consistently. (The session was taped just three days before the death of guitarist Freddie Green.)
There is irony to the inclusion of Carmen Bradford in Schuur's long list of "thank you" credits. Bradford, who has been this orchestra's regular vocalist since before Basie died, has yet to record an album with the band. 3 stars.
"TIME WAS." Bud Powell Trio. RCA Bluebird 6367-2-RB CD. Powell (1924-66) was the star-crossed pianist on whose experiences the movie " 'Round Midnight" was partly based. He was to be-bop piano what Charlie Parker was to the alto sax: the first inspired innovator. His best years are represented on other labels, mainly Blue Note. As the honest notes by Doug Ramsey concede, he was not at his peak during these 1956-57 dates for RCA ("Some of the tracks have the detachment of a lounge performer"), but there are several cuts in which Powell's energy and conviction return, mainly the original tunes, the be-bop standards ("Shaw Nuff," "Swedish Pastry") and George Shearing's "She" (Powell and Shearing were mutual admirers). Fine backing by George Duvivier on bass and Art Taylor on drums.
"VERSES." Wallace Roney. Muse MR 5335. A former Art Blakey sideman (who isn't?), the 27-year-old trumpeter demonstrates, as the notes point out, that "the lessons of youth are being applied and extended; Roney is prepared to become one of the models that still younger generations of jazz-loving trumpet players will follow." His muted solo on Bill Evans' "Blue in Green" and his infectious explorations on a blues called "Float" show where he is heading. The rhythm team of Mulgrew Miller on piano, Tony Williams on drums and 20-year-old bassist Charnet Moffett is supportive and inventive. Gary Thomas on tenor sax completes the group.
"ARTIST'S CHOICE." Gary Burton RCA Bluebird 6280-2-RB. Burton was years ahead of his time in bringing real meaning to the term fusion . Using everything from a one-man band (on "Norwegian Wood" he plays piano and bass marimba as well as vibes) to a 10-piece ensemble playing segments from Carla Bley's "A Genuine Tong Funeral," he touches every idiomatic base: Brazilian ("Chega de Saudade"), country-Western (a Chet Atkins-produced session with songs by Bob Wills and Bob Dylan), through every kind of chamber jazz from melodic to abstract. Much of the diversity, all achieved within the parameters of the vibist's distinctive but chameleonic personality, can be credited to the writing by Burton, Bley, the exemplary bassist Steve Swallow and Burton's former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, Michael Gibbs. Recorded between 1963 and 1968, these works are as timely as tomorrow. 5 stars.
MARSALIS STANDARD TIME." Wynton Marsalis. Columbia FC 40461. Marsalis twists the time around on "April in Paris," tries a little tenderness on "Goodbye," turns bassist Bob Hurst loose on "A Foggy Day" and presents his pianist Marcus Roberts, who senses the beauty of the melody on "Memories of You." Except for two Marsalis originals (a personalized blues and a delicate, muted "In the Afterglow") the trumpeter's mature approach to old pop songs is the focus. Incredibly, the verbose notes by Stanley Crouch manage to plow through some 2,000 words without once mentioning George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Juan Tizol, Ray Noble, Eubie Blake or Hoagy Carmichael. These men merely composed the melodies without which there would have been no standard time. 4 stars.
"BILLY ECKSTINE SINGS WITH BENNY CARTER." EmArcy 832-011-2. No, Benny Carter doesn't sing; the misleading title means that Carter's alto sax is prominent throughout and, in fact, is as much responsible for the CD's success as Eckstine. The alarming width of the singer's vibrato, as evidenced on occasional TV appearances in recent years, is relatively well controlled here. Though the years do show, there's enough of the old warmth in that burnished baritone to bring nostalgic pleasure to those who knew him as one of the vocal royalty of the 1940s and '50s. He has no trouble dealing with the rangy "Memories of You" and swings buoyantly in "World on a String." Helen Merrill appears as guest vocalist only on the first and last cuts (more would have been welcome). Bobby Tucker, Eckstine's eternal pianist, anchors a splendid rhythm section. 3 1/2 stars.
"THEORY OF ART." Art Blakey. RCA Bluebird 6286-2-RB. These late-'50s sessions were cut four years before Blakey's most famous alumnus, Wynton Marsalis, was born. Blakey at this time had a weak pianist and bassist, but the robust alto sax of Jackie McLean and the rock-ribbed Johnny Griffin tenor are reasons enough to check this out. On the two final cuts (issued for the first time on this CD), the band grows from six to nine pieces, Wynton Kelly has replaced the narcoleptic pianist and Lee Morgan's trumpet is in cheerful ascendancy on "Social Call." 4 stars.
"CLAP HANDS, HERE COMES CHARLIE." Charlie Barnet. RCA Bluebird 6273-2-RB. Barnet's was the only white band to play the Apollo and other black theaters regularly. The best of these 21 tunes make the reason clear: On "The Duke's Idea," "The Count's Idea," "The Gal From Joe's," "Rockin' in Rhythm" and, of course "Cherokee," the band outswung anyone except Basie, Lunceford and Ellington. Lena Horne, the Barnet vocalist for several months, sings "You're My Thrill." Arrangements by Barnet, Horace Henderson, Andy Gibson and several head routines kept the fire burning. On the copy received, four pages are missing from the notes, eliminating details for the first five tracks and even the annotator's name (Ira Gitler). 4 stars.