Pianist Eliane Elias follows her Latin Grammy win for 2017's magnificent Dance of Time with this set of tunes from the iconic musical Man of La Mancha. During the mid-'90s, Elias was approached by Mitch Leigh, the Tony-winning composer of her musical; he'd followed her career and greatly admired her work. Accompanied by Neil Warner, arranger for the original musical, he commissioned the pianist to rearrange songs from the show. Elias was given complete freedom to choose which songs she wished to record. She hired two rhythm sections: One featured drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Eddie Gomez; the other bassist Marc Johnson, drummer Satoshi Takeishi, and master percussionist Manolo Badrena (who plays with both groups). Elias and her sidemen recorded nine songs live in studio. Unfortunately, the completed album was shelved due to contractual issues and seemed doomed to obscurity. Leigh passed in 2014 and never saw its release. Concord rescued the album and added it to their catalog some 23 years after recording.
For her entry into the increasingly popular Great American Songbook subgenre, Diane Schuur de-emphasizes the vocal histrionics that in the past have come close to spoiling some of her recordings and maintains a steady, clear, exuberant tone. Good move: one of Schuur's gifts is her multi-octave range, but she has often over-relied on it at the expense of whatever song she was singing. Here, she takes to the classic compositions of George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, and the like with a respectfulness and glee that allow her to frame and expose these culturally embedded lyrics and melodies without beating on them.
Other than a Prestige date in 1969, this was guitarist Tal Farlow's first recording in nearly 17 years. He is heard at a reunion with vibraphonist Red Norvo and matching wits with pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jake Hanna. Recorded at the 1976 Concord Jazz Festival, this was Farlow's first of six Concord albums, and it led to a slightly higher profile for him than during the past decade. Highlights of the joyous occasion include Norvo's feature on "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else," a heated "Lullaby of Birdland" and a colorful rendition of "My Shining Hour." Highly recommended to straight-ahead jazz fans.
Although best-known for his work in mainstream swing settings, guitarist Howard Alden has long been interested in later periods of jazz. On this superior outing, he doubles on seven-string acoustic and electric guitars (which allow him to add basslines). Lew Tabackin is on four of the ten numbers (three on tenor, one on flute) and pianist Renee Rosnes appears on six songs (including a duet with Alden on "Warm Valley"), while bassist Michael Moore and drummer Bill Goodwin are on seven. Alden takes "My Funny Valentine" and "After All" as unaccompanied solos but it is his meetings with Tabackin, particularly on exciting versions of two complex Herbie Nichols songs ("House Party Starting" and "The Gig") that are most notable. Recommended.
Longtime fans of reclusive Romanian pianist Radu Lupu will no doubt already know his handful of recordings of Brahms' piano music made in the '70s and early '80s for Decca – his recklessly imperious F minor Sonata, romantically dramatic D minor Concerto, inwardly brooding D minor Variations, and richly autumnal late rhapsodies, ballades, and intermezzos. But fans of Brahms' piano music who don't already know Lupu's recordings will be overwhelmed by what they'd heretofore missed. Lupu's full, round tone, his effortless virtuosity, his poetic intensity, and his soulful expressivity combine in unified performances of consummate artistry.
Strange as it seems, the main criticism about this CD and about Kenny Burrell's playing during the past couple decades is that he is often overly tasteful. On this set (which has six unaccompanied guitar solos, four duets with bassist Ray Drummond, and three trio numbers with Drummond and drummer Yoron Israel), Burrell is so loving of the melodies that he adds very little of himself other than his beautiful tone. Although the tunes are superior, none of these versions are definitive and the mellow results rarely rise above the level of background music.