Historians and some Duke Ellington fans look askance at the brief period he spent on Capitol Records (1953-55). This was a hectic period in jazz, with bebop in the near-view, hard bop coming along as well, and the big band was considered by many to be a relic of bygone eras. Yet Ellington persevered, and not without another adversity: the temporary loss of signature alto player Johnny Hodges, who was off leading his own bands. The resulting five CDs worth of material collected here show an Ellington band more aimed at repetition, both of its own repertoire, which had sounded better in the 1940s, and of other bands' material.
When many of the bop-based Young Lions who emerged in the '90s made it known that they were only interested in playing in the tradition and that they had no interest in avant-garde experiments, Jack Walrath insisted that he was playing out of the tradition and didn't shy away from an inside/outside approach. Walrath isn't as radical as Lester Bowie, but he certainly isn't as conservative as Wynton Marsalis, either. One of the many impressive albums he provided in the '90s, Journey, Man! finds the trumpeter leading a band he called Hard Corps and employs a cast of players you'd expect to find on a hard bop date, including Bobby Watson (alto sax), Craig Handy (tenor and soprano sax), Kenny Drew, Jr. (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums).
The passionate tenor saxophonist Billy Harper had not been heard on record as a leader in quite a few years when this superlative Evidence CD was released in 1995. Harper (who is joined by trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Francesca Tanksley, bassist Louie Spears, and both Newman Taylor Baker and Horace Arnold on drums) brings back the spirit of John Coltrane, performing a very spiritual and generally intense set of music. The five originals are highlighted by the title cut, "Quest" and the nearly 22-minute "Thy Will Be Done." This CD contains some of Billy Harper's finest playing in years.
If only for his melodic genius, Handel would have been forever acknowledged as one of history's greatest composers. These delightful sonatas for recorder provide abundant evidence to support that claim, and Marion Verbruggen's warm, resonant recorder and brilliant flute prove the perfect partners for bringing these rarely heard pieces to life.
Although accorded a substantial article in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, the German-born composer John Frederick Lampe (1702/3-51) remains largely unknown except to connoisseurs of 18th-century English music. Yet on the evidence of this disc, such neglect is hardly deserved, since Lampe possesses a rare gift for writing genuinely comic opera. The basis for his Pyramus and Thisbe of 1745 (subtitled ‘a mock opera’) is the famous play-within-a-play sequence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.