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Tom Harrell: A Horn Sound for the ‘90s

“Stories.” Tom Harrell. Contemporary C 14043. ****

Best known as Phil Woods’ sideman for the past five years, Tom Harrell emerges here as arguably the trumpeter/composer for the 1990s, if his health permits. His sound is exquisite, his phrasing logical and his style reminiscent, at times, of Clifford Brown.

Among his six compositions, the beguiling “Song Flower” and the extended waltz treatment of “Stories” stand out. He is well served by the robust tenor sax of Bob Berg (ex-Miles Davis), and the young Danish pianist Niels Lan Doky. Guitarist John Scofield, who joins the group on three cuts, seems a trifle incongruous on “Viable Blues” but is compatible in the Spanish-tinged “Water’s Edge.”

As the notes point out, Harrell has succeeded despite a condition that has plagued him for 20 years; suffering from schizophrenia, he takes powerful medication to control his chemical imbalance. Many observers who have noted his lethargic appearance on the bandstand with Woods are unaware of the personal triumph represented by his ability to transcend the illness. Bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Billy Hart complete the band in this well-balanced set.

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“A London Bridge.” Milt Jackson. Pablo 2310-932. **** 1/2

Recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s in London, this does full justice to all concerned: Jackson’s vibes have never been more compelling; Monty Alexander is well represented as composer (“Eleuthera”) and pianist, Ray Brown as bassist and composer, and drummer Mickey Roker supplies the solid undercurrent. “Captain Bill” by Brown is a tribute to Count Basie; fittingly, it’s a blues that modulates from F to D Flat, as did “One O’Clock Jump.” Alexander even strums the piano strings for a Freddie Green-like effect. “Close Enough for Love” is a wondrous blend of composer (Johnny Mandel) and interpreters. “FSR” (by Brown), meaning For Sonny Rollins, is based on the same chords as Rollins’ “Doxy,” always a happy hunting ground for improvisers.

“Full Circle.” Jackie & Roy. Contemporary C-14046. ****

Mr. & Mrs. Kral have been doo-be-doing it since 1948, and it never grows stale. The purity of Jackie Cain’s intonation is the focus in her solo outing on “Sleigh Ride in July.” Among the wordless vocals are “For Jackie & Roy,” written for the duo by George Shearing, and Kral’s title tune. Bob Cooper’s tenor sax and Conte Candoli’s trumpet are helpful throughout.

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“Holiday for Swing.” Buddy De Franco/Terry Gibbs Quintet. Contemporary C-14047. *** 1/2

“Holiday for Strings,” the opening cut, is an unswinging tune that most jazzmen have been avoiding for 45 years. “Serenade in Blue” (done in double-time) and Charlie Christian’s “Seven Come Eleven” come off better, as do Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” (complete with street-noise effects), De Franco’s shuffle-beat “Chad’s Bad” and Gibbs’ “Fickle Fingers.” The leaders (with a rhythm section that includes Gibbs’ son Gerry on drums) are still the Goodman and Hampton of be-bop.

“Eastern Rebellion.” Cedar Walton/George Coleman. Impulse MCAD 33102. **** 1/2

Two giants of latter-day beyond-the-mainstream music are dually represented as players and writers: Pianist Walton wrote “Bolivia” and “Mode for Joe,” Coleman plays energetic tenor and wrote “5/4 Thing.” Coltrane’s “Naima” is another intriguing track; “Bittersweet,” by the late Sam Jones, bassist on the date, completes this vigorously inventive and valuable reissue of a 1975 session.

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“The Final Performance.” Al Cohn with Al Porcino Big Band. RazMTazJazz 44003 (c/o Sutra, 1 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010). ***

Stone Cohn fans will put up with the problems: sound balance from adequate to mediocre, with Cohn’s robust tenor off mike at times. Led by U.S. trumpeter Al Porcino, this German orchestra played well during a live session at a club in Karlsruhe, West Germany, in March 1987 (10 months before Cohn’s death). Four of the arrangements were by Cohn. Best cuts: Artie Shaw’s “Back Bay Shuffle” and Cohn’s own “The Goof and I.”

“Louisiana Suite and Other Instrumentals.” Thomas Talbert Jaz Orchestra. SeaBreeze CD SB 107-2. *** 1/2

Given limited distribution on its release in 1978, this newly remixed CD displays Talbert’s writing talent in 11 originals, five of which constitute the suite. The 14-piece band is at ease with his straight-ahead tonal works, a couple of which do capture an updated New Orleans flavor.

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