“ASCENSEUR POUR L’ECHAFAUD.” Miles Davis. Fontana CD 836 305-2.
“AMANDLA.” Miles Davis. Warner Bros. 25873-2.
Three decades and as many evolutions in jazz history separate these intriguingly contrasted items.
“Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud,” the Louis Malle film released in the United States as “Frantic” and starring Jeanne Moreau, is unique: It’s the only movie for which Miles Davis composed (or ad libbed) all the music and recorded it with three French musicians and the American drummer Kenny Clarke.
Taped in 1957, this music includes 26 short cuts; 16 have never been released before. On the final 10, those that were actually used, a regrettable echo was added.
Watching the action on screen in a Paris studio, Davis soloed on a series of out-takes--many abruptly ended--switching from muted to open horn and varying the performances slightly from take to take. On several, he is in a mood that is preclusive of “Sketches of Spain” recorded two years later.
Almost worth the cost of the CD itself is “Motel,” which may be the longest continuous Davis solo on record--four minutes of inspired up-tempo jazz with a driving rhythm background.
“Amandla” is typical of the present-day Davis. In a sense, it is almost as much Marcus Miller’s album since he wrote most of the music and plays everything in sight (on the first cut alone he plays bass, keyboards, drums, guitar, bass clarinet and soprano saxophone). But there are valuable passages of Davis on muted horn. The title tune is among the more melodic and is the only one to boast an acoustic piano solo (by Joe Sample).
The most unpretentiously successful track is the final “Mr. Pastorius,” played simply by Davis on open horn, bassist Miller and drummer Al Foster in a welcomed change from the one- or two-chord monotones that dominate much of the footage.
“CEDAR WALTON TRIO PLAYS THE MUSIC OF BILLY STRAYHORN.” Discovery DSCD 955.
“JAY THOMAS WITH THE CEDAR WALTON TRIO.” Discovery DSCD 956.
Walton’s piano personality is sensitively attuned to the lyricism of such Strayhorn works as “Chelsea Bridge” (introduced by Andy Simpkins on bowed bass), “Day Dream” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” This generally successful enterprise is weakened by the intrusion on two tunes of Clifford Jordan’s reedy, nasal soprano sax.
Jay Thomas, a Walton protege from Seattle, is a protean performer. A fluent soloist on trumpet and fluegelhorn, he switches to flute (and Walton moves to an electric keyboard) for “Little Tear,” an Eumir Deodato song in which Becca Duran, Walton’s wife, makes a beguiling guest vocal appearance.
Five of the 12 performances are enhanced by a trombone quintet. To top it off, the amazing Thomas plays tenor sax, and admirably, on John Coltrane’s “Blue Trane.” Along with a set of standard tunes, the set ends with two Walton originals, one of which is the delightful “Midnight Waltz,” a flute-and-voice hum-along by Thomas. Not for nothing is this label called Discovery. If fame reaches him now, it won’t come a moment too soon; he is 38.
“THE WARM MOODS.” Ben Webster with Strings. Discovery DSCD 818.
“STORMY WEATHER.” Ben Webster. Black Lion 760108.
With sublime assistance from Johnny Richards’ arrangements for a string quartet, Webster’s tenor sax makes every song seem beautiful, whether the task is easy (as in “Nancy,” “There’s No You,” “But Beautiful,” “It Was So Beautiful”) or near impossible (as in “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” and “The Whiffenpoof Song”). Recorded in Los Angeles in 1960, this exquisite set alone should establish him among the immortals. Webster’s death date is wrongly listed as 1966; he died in 1973.
“Stormy Weather” was taped live at the Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1965. Not even Coleman Hawkins could match Webster’s tonal warmth and emotional depth. Niels Pedersen, then only 18, was already an astounding bassist; sympathetic piano by Kenny Drew and drums by Alex Riel completed the group.
“TELL IT LIKE IT IS.” George Benson A&M; CD 0815.
“THE OTHER SIDE OF ABBEY ROAD.” George Benson A&M; CD 0821.
It comes as something of a surprise to realize how dull the pre-vocal Benson could be. Actually, he does sing on the title tune and a couple of others in “Tell It,” but the instrumental material (mainly drawn from schlock pop songs) and the arrangements drag him down, despite sparkling guitar solos. The Beatles song collection, in which he sings more and benefits from Don Sebesky’s charts, are only 33 and 31 1/2 minutes; why not combine them?
“UPTOWN/DOWNTOWN.” McCoy Tyner Big Band. Milestone M CD 9167-2.
“SUPERTRIOS.” McCoy Tyner. Milestone 25873-2.
Surrounded by seven brass (including French horn and tuba), five saxes and rhythm, Tyner instills much of his customary personality into the setting. Five of the six compositions are his own, but only two are his arrangements. “Lotus Flower,” an exotic oddity, was composed by Steve Turre, who plays trombone and tosses in some eerie sounds on a didgeridoo (Australian aboriginal wind instrument). “Blues for Basie” finds Tyner indulging in his own form of (relative) simplicity in tribute to the Count.
“Supertrios” is a reissue, combining a double LP onto one economically and musically rewarding 77-minute CD with the honors divided among Ron Carter and Tony Williams on the first date, Eddie Gomez and Jack de Johnette on the second. The six originals, and his versions of Duke, Monk, Coltrane, Jobim, et al., add up to optimum Tyner.