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2022 Listening Report Round-up: Some Jazz Vinyl That Got Away By Ahmad Jamal, Tony Williams and Kenny Burrell

Mark Smotroff catches up on some releases which he didn’t get around to reviewing last year…


When reviewing albums, one of the challenges most every reviewer faces is the reality that you can’t possibly cover everything that gets released for many reasons beyond the scope of this round up. That said, following are several records that I have listened to in 2022 but never got around to formally reporting on. All of these recordings are of a very high-quality, mastered off of original tapes and pressed on high-quality vinyl that is quiet and well centered. Here is a quick run down of some jazz releases on vinyl that got away from me last year:

Ahmad Jamal’s Emerald City Nights Live at the Penthouse – Award-winning producer Zev Feldman’s kick-off release for his new Jazz Detective record label is a tasty treat for fans of pianist Ahmad Jamal.  Featuring previously unreleased live recordings made at The Penthouse in Seattle, across two very deluxe two-LP 180-gram vinyl sets both of these recordings capture the artist in full flight live without a net. Of the two releases, I preferred the 1965-1966 performances, perhaps because it was a little more forward leading stylistically; I got the sense from listening that Mr. Jamal had some — perhaps — more sympathetic players supporting him on this album.  But both sets sound great, especially for live recordings that are more than 50 years old! Each comes with a lovely full sized booklet featuring new essays including reflections by Mr. Jamal himself.  If you’re a fan of Jamal’s music you’ll want to get Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1963-1964 and Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1965-1966 on these sweet Jazz Detective vinyl editions (available in your favorite record stores or online (click the titles above to jump to Amazon links). 

Kenny Burrell: I finally got my hands on one of the nice Tone Poet reissues of this classic 1956 album by the legendary jazz guitarist originally issued on the Blue Note Records label. Notable to many for its cover art by a pre-fame Andy Warhol, this really quite beautiful album sounds timeless in part due to its recording pedigree (captured by Rudy Van Gelder in living Mono!). The support musicians here add to the classic vibe including Kenny Dorham on Trumpet, Frank Foster and J.R. Monterose on Saxophones, Tommy Flanagan on Piano, Bass support from the likes of Paul Chambers and Oscar Pettiford as well as drumming and percussion from the likes of Kenny Clarke  and Candido. Not too shabby! Of course the performances are exemplary as he covers now-classic tunes like Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy,” Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” and Bennie Moten’s standard “Moten Swing.”  This reissue benefits from all the Tone Poet joys including remastering from original tapes by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio and manufacturing on 180-gram vinyl at the respected RTI facility. The packaging is outstanding and they even recreated labels for the discs similar to how they appeared in the 1950s. This album is a no brainer to get if you love jazz guitar and the music of Kenny Burrell.  You can still find this eponymously titled release in many record stores and online (click here)

Tony Williams’ Play Or DieThis was a curious re-release of a 1980 album which was apparently never quite properly released back in the day. Ominously titled Play Or Die, this album finds the jazz drumming legend teaming up with keyboardist Tom Grant and a bassist many of us know from Frank Zappa’s late ’76-’78 era band — and just before he joined new wave pop sensations Missing Persons in the early ‘80s — Patrick O’Hearn.  Sonically, this music feels somewhat akin to where Jean Luc Ponty and groups like Happy The Man were going at this time, featuring futuristic synthesizer-driven progressive compositions into the jazz-rock fusion equation. The opening track “The Big Man” meanders a bit but I like keyboardist Grant’s very Frippertronics like fills. “Beach Ball Tango” is kind of a jazz fusion-y twist working off the central riff of The Byrds “So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star” (by way of Gary Numan, perhaps).  I think you get the idea. A non essential release for many, I’d suspect, but if you are a fan of Williams’ playing you’ll want to get it. Pressed on standard weight vinyl and housed in very simple packaging, the album still sounds very good. This album is also in the stores now and available online (click here)

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