Friday, October 24, 2014

TOP STORY >> Lennox, Hutcherson on Blue Note; Impulse back

Leader editor-in-chief

Annie Lennox’s new CD, “Nostalgia,” from Blue Note includes a stunning version of “Strange Fruit,” an anti-lynching song usually associated with Billie Holiday, who recorded it in 1937.

Lennox’s live music video posted this week by the Guardian newspaper is even more amazing. (Click here to view video.) After watching the three-and-a-half-minute video as she sings in a long red dress in front of an orchestra, you have to leave your computer, go outside for a minute and shake your head as you think about the power of music and how it can move us.

At the end of the video, the orchestra sits silently, as if the musicians are as moved by her performance as we are.

A pop sensation since she started out in the 1970s with David Stewart in the Tourists and the Eurythmics, Lennox sings mostly American standards on her new CD.

In addition to “Strange Fruit,” she also sings soulful versions of Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and “I Cover the Waterfront,” as well as wonderful covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Memphis in June,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “The Nearness of You,” along with the Gershwins’ “Summertime,” Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “September in the Rain,” Sammy Fain’s “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” and Chilton Price’s “You Belong to Me.”

A nice program without a dull moment. Lennox trimmed this program of 12 songs from a list of more than 40 standards she considered recording, so there’s plenty more for a second and a third volume.

The great vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, who started recording for Blue Note at the age of 22 in 1963 (on Jackie McLean’s “One Step Beyond”), has returned to the label after a long absence with “Enjoy the View.” He leads an all-star group that includes David Sanborn on saxophone, Joey DeFrancesco on organ and trumpet and Billy Hart on drums, featuring compositions by Hutcherson, Sanborn and DeFrancesco.

Hutcherson’s mid-1960s Blue Notes are among the best from that venerable label, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Hutcherson’s “Dialogue” CD gets a top crown rating in the “Penguin Guide to Jazz CDs” and features such jazz giants as Andrew Hill on piano, multi-reed player Sam Rivers (who grew up in North Little Rock), trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers.

“Dialogue” is free-form jazz that has inspired Hutcherson’s current group to play at the top of their form. Sanborn, DeFancesco and Hart do a fine job evoking the music of those classic Blue Note records, but to hear Hutcherson play as well as he does at the age of 73 is something we should be grateful for.

Wayne Shorter, another labelmate from the 1960s, continues to perform at the age of 81. Blue Note last year released his “Without a Net,” a compilation of recent live recordings.

Those nostalgic for the 1960s will be pleased that Blue Note has revived the Impulse label, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. Known as “The House That Trane Built,” because of John Coltrane’s prodigious output there from 1961 until his death in 1967, Impulse continued sporadically in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a reissue label, although it also issued originals with Henry Butler, Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner and others, including “Underground: Live at Small’s,” which showcased young jazz artists who performed at the little jazz club in New York’s Greenwich Village.

But Impulse, with its black-and-orange label and spine, is going strong again under the Universal Group, which also owns Blue Note and Verve, another storied label that’s almost 70 years old.

The newly reactivated Impulse has just released a new CD with Butler, the blind New Orleans piano dynamo, who has teamed up with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9 Orchestra on “Viper’s Drag.” This is New Orleans jazz going up Dixie Highway to New York: It’s hot jazz updated a century later. It kicks off with Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag,” and moves on to Butler’s “Dixie Walker” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” “Wolverine Blues” and “King Porter Stomp,” Andy Gibson’s “I Left My Baby” (popularized by Jimmy Rushing and the Count Basie Orchestra), and several more Butler originals, including “Dixie Walker” and “Henry’s Boogie.”

Butler calls this music “rhythm IN blues.” He and Bernstein and the band play old-time jazz and blues and swing brought up to date “with modern flavors, agile arrangements and a vitality that never allows the historical focus to limit itself,” according to the informative liner notes by Ashley Kahn, author of “The House That Trane Built,” “Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album” and other books.

This is the band Stephen Colbert should hire next year for his new “Late Show” on CBS.

Another Impulse CD showcases a concert by bassist Charley Haden and guitarist Jim Hall recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1990. It’s a 75-minute program of classic jazz (Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround”) and Haden’s “First Song” and “In the Moment” and Hall’s “Down from Antigua” and “Big Blues.”

This is not a flashy program, but it’s a CD you want to listen to over and over. You’ll hear the gentle interaction between these two great musicians and the response from an appreciative audience.

Sadly, Hall passed away last year and Haden earlier this year.

Impulse has issued an-other duet CD, “The Art of Conversation” with the Philadelphia-born pianist Kenny Barron and the British bassist Dave Holland. Recorded last spring in New York, the CD features compositions by the two musicians, along with Charley Parker’s “Segment,” Monk’s “In Walked Bud” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream.”

They keep the conversation going for almost an hour, and it’s always dazzling and provocative, like listening to Bud Powell and Paul Chambers, but this time in superior stereo.