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Le Jazz Hot Now on Video

PARIS REUNION BAND

Proscenium Entertainment VSH 10004.(Box 909, Hightstown, N.J. 08520) ***

Proscenium has entered the jazz video stakes with a series of sessions recorded in West Germany. Despite its title, “Paris Reunion Band” was taped live at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart, with a group of Americans most of whom have worked together off and on since 1984.

Of the original members heard here, Nathan Davis is a Pittsburgh-based teacher and saxophonist; the bassist Jimmy Woode, an Ellington alumnus, has lived for many years in Vienna; Woody Shaw is the New York trumpeter, and Walter Bishop, a veteran bop pianist, is also New York based. The band’s regular pianist, Kenny Drew, is represented here as composer of the first number, “Tune Down.”

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Two recent additions are Nat Adderley on cornet (who plays his own standard “Work Song”) and Curtis Fuller on trombone, featured in a very busy and unfolksy “Old Folks.”

The sloppy ensembles suggest a lack of rehearsal (had they just jumped off the plane from Paris?); but Shaw’s eminently personal horn graces “Sweet Love of Mine,” and the sax work of Nathan Davis and Joe Henderson counteracts some desultory interludes.

OREGON. Proscenium Entertainment VHS 10005. *** 1/2

Oregon’s eclecticism is well represented in this live set taped at the 1987 Freiburg Arts Festival. The musicians’ sensitive interplay takes them through a series of semiclassical, modal, New Age and Indianesque works, among them the familiar “Icarus” with its bass sitar-like drones, and “Leather Cats” with Glen Moore. The tabla work by Trilok Gurtu, a percussion expert from Bombay, and Paul McCandless on oboe and English horn, stand out in this polyethnic program.

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SUPER DRUMMING. Proscenium Entertainment 10003. ** 1/2

The participation of Louie Bellson on three of the 10 cuts is the only point of interest here, though fellow drummers will no doubt relate well to the contributions of Cozy Powell, a rock drummer from England; Gerry Brown, reportedly Lionel Richie’s favorite drummer; Nippy Noya and Pete York, who share the percussion excursions on “Collapso Calypso,” and a backup band that includes Brian Auger and Gerd Wilden on keyboards. The supposedly grand finale in which all six drummers take part is anticlimactic. The notes claim that these men constitute a “Who’s Who” of jazz and rock drumming--possibly the overstatement of the year. Recorded sound (in a cathedral in Ulm, West Germany) is just about adequate.

EGBERTO GISMONTI. Proscenium Entertainment 10006. ****A one-time student of Nadia Boulanger, Gismonti here displays his mastery of what he has called “Brazilian funk,” both on guitar (for the first four numbers, two of which he plays unaccompanied on 12-string acoustic guitar) and piano (on the last three compositions). Videotaped live in Freiburg, it’s a fascinating close-up (literally) of his approach to a highly charged music that is often more essentially rhythmic than harmonic.

Gismonti is backed on some tunes by six-string guitar, synthesizer and percussion. The amazing crisscrossing of rhythms at the piano suggest that if Thelonious Monk had been raised in Brazil, and had enjoyed such phenomenal technique, this is how he might have sounded.

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“COM-PACT, adj.: marked by an arrangement of parts or units closely pressed, packed, grounded or knit together with very slight intervals or intervening space.”

Would that it were so. Make that “no intervening space at all.”

Space (on the record shelves) becomes ever more sparse as the endless flood of jazz CDs seems less and less compact.

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Space (on the printed page) is limited to the point at which the reviewer finds himself unable to deal with more than one CD out of 10 (and the occasional LP, though these are by now few and far between).

We should be content that so much of jazz history is being re-enacted through the CD reissue projects at Fantasy, CBS, RCA and elsewhere, but the process of selection is ever more hazardous. If very few items with a rating under three stars appear nowadays, it is by no means due to the shortage of mediocre albums, but rather because of the need to draw attention to the cream rather than the crud.

JUMPIN’ IN THE FUTURE. Gunther Schuller. GM 3010 CD (167 Dudley Rd., Newton Center, MA 02159) ****

As if his gigantic contribution to the literature of jazz were not enough (witness such books as the recently published “Swing Era”), Schuller’s ability to practice what he preaches is resplendently displayed here.

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The sessions came about when George Schuller chanced across a collection of his father’s old compositions and arrangements, mainly from the 1950s, most of which had never been performed in public. It was decided to rehearse them with a Boston orchestra by the name of Orange Then Blue, in which the younger Schuller plays drums.

The results are startling. If Gunther Schuller is not the most original of composers, he is at least (like his role model Gil Evans, to whom these performances are dedicated) an arranger of transcendent skill.

Do not be disconcerted by the opening title, “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” It is a sort of fantasy-apotheosis based mainly on the first four notes of the theme. Closer to the Gil Evans image are “Summertime,” “Blue Moon,” “Anthropology” and “Yesterdays.” Of the three Schuller originals, the title number is the most astonishing; written in 1947, it was decades ahead of its time, with polyphonic textures and exploratory harmony then virtually unused in jazz.

Orange Then Blue is stronger as an ensemble than as a showcase for soloists, though the presence of Howard Johnson on bass clarinet in “Night Music” is of interest. But first and foremost this is Gunther Schuller’s personal triumph.

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NO MORE BLUES. Susannah McCorkle. Concord Jazz CCD 4370. ****

McCorkle’s switch to Concord should be a helpful career move. Fast-forward past the first two tunes (why does she set up such hurdles for herself as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Swing That Music”?); cut three is “The Ballad of Pearly Sue,” a delightful song by Gerry Mulligan (words and music). Funny and feminist, it will bring joy to the heart of Stacy Rowles. Prominent in the generally commendable backing are Ken Peplowski on tenor sax and clarinet, Dave Frishberg on piano (one tune is his own hilarious “Can’t Take You Nowhere”) and Emily Remler on guitar. McCorkle, whose Portuguese on “No More Blues” sounds flawless to these ears, has a penchant for picking out little known verses to well known songs, as on “Do Nothing” and “Who Cares?” Perfect on every level--phrasing, timbre, and an ear that can hear grass growing--McCorkle is the best of the entire crop of jazz singers to come to prominence in the 1980s.

PORTRAITS. Clark Terry. Chesky JD 2 (Box 1268, Radio City Stn., NYC 10101.) *** 1/2

Backed only by piano, bass and drums, Terry uses a familiar premise (tributes to other trumpeters) but never abandons his own style; in fact, Clyde McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” is truly sublimated. “Autumn Leaves” and “Ciribiribin” on muted trumpet and “Sleepy Time Down South” on fluegelhorn are affectionate but still non-imitative dedications; “I Can’t Get Started” has some of the original Bunny Berigan warmth that inspired Terry, but ends less dramatically. Of the two vocal cuts, “Finger Filibuster” is another long scatting-the-blues excursion, but “Jive at Five” is original and charming. A second horn would have given this session a touch of ensemble diversity.

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