For partisans of four-to-the-bar, swingin' mainstream jazz, one need look no further than the bouncy delights currently being served by Hank O'Neal's New York-based Chiaroscuro Records.
Indeed, the chronicle of O'Neal, a former CIA operative with an unquenchable penchant for New York's finest foot-tappin' improvisors, will soon be available in book form as "The Chiaroscuro Story." For the moment, though, the music's the thing, and a glorious thing at that with the likes of Clark Terry and Milt Hiton cookin' up a storm.
THE CLARK TERRY SPACEMEN (Chiaroscuro CRD 309): The redoubtable Clark Terry the creator of "Mumbles," a star of "The Tonight Show" in its New York incarnation with Jack Paar, and in the 1950s a mainstay of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie juggernauts is a one-of-a-kind incandescent flame whose charismatic warmth, peerless technique and absolute integrity have made the effervescent trumpeter/flugelhornist contemporary jazzdom's most effective ambassador.
These qualitites and more are front and center in this sleek little-big band date featuring Terry peers Phil Woods, Red Holloway and Haywood Henry on sax, trumpeter Virgil Jones, trombonists Al Grey and Britt Woodman, pianist John Campbell, bassist Marcus McLaurine and drummer Butch Ballard. With such dashing colleagues and Clark's own infectious joie de vivre, it's not surprising that it's a trek that rolls with Roycian urbanity and turn-on-a-dime Porche-like precision.
INCLUDED IS the peppery "Spacemen" which Clark wrote some 30 years ago for an Ellington recording date with the leader's characteristically bluesy and boppish trajectories lighting the way. There's also an effective sample of Clark's inimitable vocalise on Duke's evocative "Squeeze Me." Everyone plays with gleeful abandon, though Woods' impassioned alto and Holloway's smoking tenor are particularly prominent. In all, a sunny, fasten-your-seatbelt tour-de-force from start to finish. Terrific!
OLD MAN TIME, Milt Hinton (Chiaroscuro CRD 310): My, my, my . . . what a warm, feel-good session. Bassist Milt Hinton, "The Judge" perhaps the most beloved of jazzdom's oldsters still kicking up a fuss is in tip-top form with a double-disc treat featuring such redoubtable buddies as trumpeters Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Doc Cheatham; reedmen Buddy Tate, Eddie Barefield and Flip Phillips; trombonist Al Grey; pianists Derek Smith, Norman Simmons, Ralph Sutton, John Bunch and Red Richards; guitarist Danny Barker; drummers Bob Rosengarden, Garryck King, Gus Johnson and Jackie Williams; plus singers Cab Calloway and Joe Williams.
BORN IN Vicksburg, Miss., in 1910, the 81-year-old Hinton hasn't lost a step. His time is impeccable. And it swings, as much by understatement as by sheer gusto. Hinton's intonation is likewise perfection, whether booming from the top or bottom of his vibrant tessitura. And his sound? Well, he fairly defines such apt descriptors as rich, resonant and woody. Hinton's sophisticated harmonic understanding is yet another trump card. Indeed, he was among a handful of swing era bassists who made the transition to the farther reaches of bebop without dropping a chordal turn-around or segue.
But regardless of the groove, or style, or era, "The Judge" has always been the temporal and harmonic mediator. And by binding his bass-anchored rhythm sections into subtly interactive, pulsing dynamos, Hinton has always provided just the right nudge, or shove, or response to the literally thousands of jazz stars who've had the privilege of his earthy yet ethereal support.
AMONG THE delectables of this never less than ebullient compilation of tracks from the past several years are a beautiful rendition of "Time On My Hands" with Milt's lyric bass taking the lead; a joyous reunion with Danny Barker where the wily vets recollect good times and hard, between personal limnings of such touching heart-songs as "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' This Jelly Roll," "Mama Don't Allow It" and "Heart of My Heart"; and a poignant meditation on aging sung by Milt on the title track, "Old Man Time."
LAST OF THE WHOREHOUSE PIANO PLAYERS, Jay McShann and Ralph Sutton (Chiaroscuro CRD 306): Take a couple of matched Steinway grands, the warm intimacy of Rudy Van Gelder's fabled studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., the unerring and insinuating pulses of bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Gus Johnson, and then plunk down the likes of stylish ivory ticklers Jay McShann and Ralph Sutton, and voila! you've got the ingredients necessary for a sure-fired celebration of jazzdom's mainstream-cum-traditional heritage.
The linking up of two pianists is usually a tricky proposition. Here, though, the combo is perfection-plus. Partly, it's due to shared Midwestern roots. McShann, of course, is the greatest of Kansas City's living legends, a contemporary of the great K.C. keyboardists Count Basie and Mary Lou Williams, and an intimate associate of Art Tatum. Sutton, for his part, nurtured his developing jazz chops in St. Louis before departing for the Big Apple in the mid-1940s where he became a pillar of Gotham's downtown scene.
HERE, THE mood is conversational, often animated but also reflective. Indeed, one of the transcendent moments is the contemplative balladization of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," a venerable warhorse generally taken at a brisker than brisk gait. There are a couple of indelible McShann vocals including "'Fore Day Rider" and "Do Wah." But it's the pianists' synergetic interplay that keeps resounding, and pleasing, time after time.