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Fantasy League

Berkeley-based jazz label unleashes two waves of classic SACD titles

By Greg Cahill

Fantasy Records' vast treasure trove of sanctified jazz material (encompassing the Riverside, Prestige, Pablo and Original Jazz Classics labels, among others) ranks among the Holy Trinity of jazz reissues, right alongside Blue Note and Verve.

So the recent release of two massive waves of Fantasy super-audio compact discs, including several classic jazz titles, is reason to celebrate. The new SACDs mark a commitment by the Berkeley-based label to release, on its own banner, titles that in some cases were licensed to small audiophile labels. Among the artists represented by these hybrid stereo and mono SACDs are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery and Eric Dolphy.

All of Fantasy's reissues employ the new recording process called Direct Stream Digital, which samples sound 64 times faster than the sampling rate used for standard digital recordings.

Here is a look at what's newly available:

Cannonball Adderley Quintet, In San Francisco (Riverside RISA-1157-6): The quintet on this SACD is the second operated by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who regrouped with his cornet-playing brother Nat after making his name as a sideman in Miles Davis' most popular bands. This 1959 live recording finds the then-new Adderley quintet at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco with legendary producer Orrin Keepnews in tow. The resulting album--a hard-bop masterwork that also includes the landmark soul-jazz hit "This Here"--is widely regarded as one of the most successful live recordings in the jazz canon due, in no small part, to a powerful, driving rhythm section that featured Bobby Timmons (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums). (Hybrid stereo)

Dave Brubeck Quartet, Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy FSA-3245-6): Yup, overlooked and under-appreciated, this 1953 date is one of pianist and composer Dave Brubeck's earliest recordings--his wife came up with the idea of getting college gigs at a time when most jazz musicians were struggling to be heard, and Oberlin College in Ohio, with its acoustically tuned chamber-music recital hall, provided the perfect venue for a live jazz recording. Jazz at Oberlin has some of Brubeck's and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's finest playing. Three of the five tracks are ballads that underscore the lyrical mastery of these players, but there also are lots of exciting moments to make the case that Brubeck was one of the most inventive pianists of his day. (Hybrid mono)

Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (New Jazz NJSA-8276-6): John Coltrane began his association with the Prestige label as a sideman with Miles Davis and continued there as a sideman for several other jazz greats. When Coltrane's own star rose, the label began repackaging these sessions on recordings that claimed Trane served as the leader. Actually two of the tracks on this release, recorded between 1957 and 1958, were recorded with pianist Tommy Flanagan as the leader. That said, Coltrane and Burrell play a prominent role in these sessions. The lyrical "Why Was I Born" brings their melodic talents to the fore. Buoyed by Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Coltrane and Burrell also explore a couple of blues numbers: Burrell's interesting composition "Lyresto" and the 1925 classic "I Never Knew." (Hybrid mono)

John Coltrane, Lush Life (Prestige PRSA-7188-6): Regarded as one of the best played and best sounding albums of Coltrane's career, 1958's beautiful Lush Life (with pianist Red Garland) finds this ballad master sounding decidedly Parkeresque as he glides through four standards and the original "Trane's Slo Blues." Trane would return to the title track five years later on a classic Impulse! label duo album with jazz singer Johnny Hartman, but this recording has a special quality all its own. (Hybrid stereo)

Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin' (Prestige PRSA-7129-6): The greatest small group in the history of jazz featured Miles Davis, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. This album was one of four-the others are Cookin', Steamin' and Workin'--culled from two marathon 1956 Prestige studio sessions with producer Rudy Van Gelder. Featuring joyous, straight-ahead swinging and melodic improvisation, this is a near-perfect album. It contains "If I Were a Bell," "It Could Happen to You," "I Could Write a Book" and several others. (Hybrid mono)

Eric Dolphy, Out There (New Jazz NJSA-8252-6): While the free jazz pioneered by Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Horace Tapscott and a handful of others was rejected at the time by many musicians and most listeners, the visionary saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flutist Eric Dolphy found a way to bring it into the mainstream This 1960 album featured a piano-less quartet that included Ron Carter's bass and cello to incorporate the spirit of adventure and abandon with which free jazz at its best infused freshness into jazz. And though Dolphy worked from chord patterns developed within structures that depart from ordinary 32-bar jazz and popular song forms--including 30-bar, 35-bar and 18-bar structures--he also observed standard practice with 12-bar blues, "Serene." This remains a post-bop milestone filled with intriguing explorations. (Hybrid stereo)

Bill Evans Trio, Portrait in Jazz (Riverside RISA-1162-6): The liner notes make a strong case that this is the album that redefined the piano trio, changed the way modern jazz pianists used harmony and influenced the course of jazz in the last half of the 20th century. Bill Evans' introspective chord voicings, his strength and lyricism, his melodic conception, all were major elements in the landmark Miles Davis' groundbreaking Kind of Blue recorded in November 1959 (and on which he shared keyboard duties with Wynton Kelly). The next month, Portrait in Jazz found Evans leading the ideal trio he had been conceptualizing for years. He was joined by virtuoso bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, whose interplay made them near equals with Evans. This album arrived during a highly creative period that shifted two years later with the death of LaFaro in a tragic car accident. (Hybrid stereo)

Gil Evans, Gil Evans and Ten (Prestige PRSA-7120-6): As an arranger, Gil Evans contributed three pieces to Miles Davis' 1949 landmark recording Birth of the Cool and later produced three LP-length recordings for the jazz trumpet great. In return, Davis convinced Prestige to give Evans a shot as a bandleader. Evans responded with an acclaimed album that featured innovative and textured arrangements written for 11 instruments but sounding like a full orchestra. Among the soloists are trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and saxophonists Steve Lacy and Lee Konitz. Evans makes his first recorded appearance as a pianist. This SACD for the first time offers the full spectrum of these masterpieces from original stereo tapes presumed lost for decades. (Hybrid stereo)

Wynton Kelly Trio & Quartet, Kelly Blue (Riverside RISA-1142-6): Jamaican-born pianist Wynton Kelly was a favorite accompanist of Miles Davis (one of those two pianists heard on Kind of Blue) and Cannonball Adderley. He recorded 15 trio albums for Blue Note (employing former Davis sidemen Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb), including the 1965 classic Smokin' at the Half Note with Wes Montgomery. While Kelly was a strong bop-based soloist, his ballad work was impeccable. This sextet features Kelly, Nat Adderley, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, flautist Bobby Jaspar as well as Davis section mates Chambers and Cobb. (Hybrid stereo)

Thelonious Monk, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Jazzland JZSA-946-6): Monk and Trane spent six months in 1957 working together at New York's Five Spot Cafe, a historic event that convinced critics of Monk's genius but that was never documented (a recently discovered live tape of a 1958 session there at which Trane subbed for Johnny Griffin has been released on Blue Note). That earlier collaboration was later immortalized in the three remarkable quartet selections that highlight this album; producer Orrin Keepnews managed to record those three studio tracks--"Ruby, My Dear," "Trinkle, Tinkle" and "Nutty"--though they did not see the light of day until the 1960s. Additionally, "Off Minor" and "Epistrophy" find Monk and Coltrane in a septet that included the great Coleman Hawkins. This CD also includes "Functional," an unforgettable Monk solo blues. Featured are Hawkins, Ray Copeland, Gig Gryce, Wilbur Ware, Art Blakey and Shadow Wilson. A remarkable recording. (Hybrid stereo)

Wes Montgomery, Incredible Jazz Guitar (Riverside RISA-1169-6): This is the album that put the jazz world on notice that one of its greatest, and soon to be most influential, guitarists had arrived. Signed to Riverside at the request of Cannonball Adderley, Montgomery wasted no time making his mark with such originals as "D-Natural Blues" (which quotes the opening line to "Heartbreak Hotel"), "West Coast Blues," and "Four on Six." Flanagan' astonishingly evocative work on "In My Own Sweet Way" makes the case for him being one of the most woefully underrated jazz players of all time. This 1960 album belongs in the library of every serious jazz lover. (Hybrid stereo)

Art Pepper, Art Pepper + Eleven = Modern Jazz Classics (Contemporary CSA-7568-6): One of the most idiosyncratic alto saxophonists of the post-Bird era, Art Pepper bridged the East Coast/ West Coast divide with this 1959 big-band recording that featured a red-hot 11-piece band and Marty Paich's great arrangements of songs by Parker, Gillespie, and Gerry Mulligan. This was a fertile period for Pepper, a heroin addict who had spent several years languishing in jail during the early- and mid 1950s. A cool-jazz masterwork. (Hybrid stereo)

The Quintet, Jazz at Massey Hall (Debut DSA-124-6): Talk about a jazz super group: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. This spectacular session--recorded in Toronto in 1953 and easily one of Parker's most accessible recordings--teamed Gillespie and Bird for the last time on record. These guys swing hard from the get go, as heard on the opening track, "Perdido," and never look back. Parker's burning solo on the Gillespie trademark "Salt Peanuts" is absolutely electrifying. An essential recording. (Hybrid mono)

Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness (Prestige PRSA-7047-6): Tenor Madness is probably most famous for its title piece, a celebrated collaboration between Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane--the leading new tenor saxophone stylists of the mid-1950s in their only recorded meeting. Throughout this face off, Rollins and Coltrane played the blues with, at and around one another in an exhilarating and inventive pace. This 1956 encounter helped set standards toward which players of the instrument have strived for decades. (Hybrid mono)

Zoot Sims, Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers (Pablo PASA-2310-744-6): Few could swing like tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, who honed his skills as a star soloist with such bandleaders as Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton. This late date--1975--is chockfull of Gershwin standards and features pianist Oscar Peterson and guitarist Joe Pass. Music critic Scott Yarnow has hailed the album as one of Sims' most exciting. No argument there. (Hybrid stereo)

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Web extra to the February 12-18, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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