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From Elektric to Akoustic With Corea

“CHICK COREA AKOUSTIC BAND.” GRP 9582. *****

For the musicians so empathetically involved here--Corea, his formidable bassist John Patitucci and his totally accomplished drummer Dave Weckl--this may well be their finest hour.

Everything went right. The sound quality on the group, at least in the CD version, is magnificent. The choice of tunes is admirable, using six standards followed by two new Corea pieces (“Morning Sprite,” “Terminal Baggage Claim”) and two of his earlier works (“Circles” and “Spain”).

The performances entail so many dimensions of color, character and melodic/harmonic invention that even such long familiar standards as “Autumn Leaves” and “Sophisticated Lady” make a strong impact. The opener, a very fast “Bessie’s Blues,” is credited to John Coltrane, but aside from the brief opening and closing theme statements it’s simply three wise men blowing the blues.

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The only complaint is non-musical: Corea is demeaning himself with these “kute” titles. We’ve had elektric, now he’s akoustic. What next: will he change his name to Korea?

“LOVE MADNESS.” Sherry Winston. Headfirst A 79-2. ** 1/2

Winston’s flute is impeccably recorded and her performance is flawless, but on too many cuts she could be any competent studio musician; the instant recognition factor is missing. Her personality is ironed flat by the strictness of her settings, a welter of synthesizers, percussion, bullfrog bass, background vocals and the pop-funk singing by Jocelyn Brown on one of those sophomoric “shall-we-do-it-tonight” songs. She is at her best on the final cut, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” Suggestion: next time, turn her loose.

“LOVE DANCE.” Ivan Lins. Reprise 9 25850-2. *** 1/2

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In his notes, Lins calls Jolie Jones, his executive producer, “the mother of the project.” That would make Quincy Jones the grandfather. The concept of an album mainly in English was no doubt smart in commercial terms. Ironically, he speaks it almost too well; the exotic charm of his own language is missed, though his melodies, notably a waltz called “The Art of Survival” and a five-star melody entitled “Evolution,” are engaging, and the English lyrics by Brock Walsh most attractive. Still, the two tracks in Portuguese, “Velas” and “Comecar de Novo,” aren’t likely to be the best remembered.

“HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY.” Stephanie Haynes. Trend TRCD 556. *** 1/2

Kudos to producer Albert Marx, whose track record for developing little known singers goes back to Sarah Vaughan in 1946. There is, in fact, a trace of Vaughan in Haynes. This collection of Jimmy van Heusen songs, with pianist Cedar Walton’s trio offering ideal backing, might have been even more effective as a live night club album. There are two little known tunes, “For a Moment of Your Love” and “I Could Have Told You.” But the strength here lies in the likes of “Like Someone in Love” (verse included) and “Moonlight Becomes You.” In terms of focal wardrobe, Haynes certainly knows the right things to wear.

“ARETHA’S JAZZ.” Aretha Franklin. Atlantic 7 81230-2. **** 1/2

This set of 1968 and 1972 items might as well be titled “Aretha’s Blues-Funk-Soul.” The jazz element is strong in the big band that backs her, but material by Big Maybelle, Curtis Lewis, Charlie Singleton and Sam Cooke is basically R&B.; Her sound was always jazz-drenched in a Billie-to-Dinah-to-Esther manner that works well on Holiday’s “Crazy He Calls Me” and Bernstein’s “Somewhere.” A wild version of “Moody’s Mood For Love” puts her head first into the jazz bag, and “Just Right Tonight” turns out to be a vocal version of an old Avery Parrish piano blues, “After Hours.”

“V.” Ralph Peterson Quintet. Blue Note 91730. *****

Peterson plays drums, but more significantly he is the composer of these six works, all conceived and executed with power, sensitivity and originality. Some of his music is complex (“Monief” is in 17/8, subdivided into two bars of 5/8 and one of 7/8), but “Bebopskerony” is just the blues. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard is a potent lead voice, with Steve Wilson (alto and soprano sax) at his side in a most promising debut, and Geri Allen again displaying her pianistic strengths. This group carries forward the noble Blue Note tradition into a new and exciting mold for the 1990s.

“RED, HOT AND BLUES.” Barney Kessel. Contemporary 14044. ****

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Vibes and guitar make a beguiling blend. So do piano and vibes. The three ringleaders here--Kessel on guitar, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Kenny Barron on piano--take the quintet through a completely satisfying mainstream-bop set of standards and originals. The stretched-out “Messing With the Blues” leaves space for bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Ben Riley to trade fours. “Barniana,” dedicated to Kessel, was composed by fellow guitarist Laurindo Almeida.

“UNDER NORTHERN LIGHTS.” Keiko Matsui. MCA D 6274. ***

One of the most attractive new additions to the fusion field, Matsui plays mainly synclavier in this pastiche of pop and New Age. (One of the two vocal cuts actually includes the phrase “A new age for the world has come. . . .”) She is a fluent soloist and a composer who seems to be finding her own way. Here and there are touches of guitar by Grant Geissman, saxophone or flute by Eric Marienthal.

“THE TRUTH IS SPOKEN HERE.” Marcus Roberts, RCA Novus 3051-2-N. *****

It is indeed. Roberts’ talent was only partially revealed in his recordings with Wynton Marsalis; here he reveals an amazing eclecticism both as composer and pianist. Marsalis himself and/or his saxophonist Todd Williams can be heard on several tracks; the late Charles Rouse plays tenor on three. Roberts runs the gamut from stride into incredibly intricate rhythmic knots on “Blue Monk,” captures the Ellington piano essence in “Single Petal of a Rose” and cooks in his best straight-ahead groove on “In a Mellotone.” Derivative or not, he is capable of original concepts, as his harmonically intriguing “Maurella” reveals. Elvin Jones on drums and Reginald Veal on bass round out the group in this inspiring debut, produced and annotated by Delfeayo Marsalis.

“RAINCHECK.” Nick Brignola. Reservoir CD 108 (276 Pearl St., Kingston, N.Y. 12401). ****

The baritone saxophone somehow lends itself to such ballads as “My Ship” and “Darn That Dream.” Brignola, one of today’s foremost master of the big horn, sets it aside now and then to display first-class facility on soprano and tenor saxes and clarinet. His rhythm team (Kenny Barron, piano; George Mraz, bass; Billy Hart, drums) leaves not a millimeter for improvement.


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