Haven't really touched on mainstream jazz much lately, not since the Smoke Sessions CDs for Harold Mabern and Vincent Herring. So here's a group of four recent purchases that have tickled my fancy and caught my ear. All are highly recommended.
What can be more mainstream or better than Oscar Peterson and Ben Webster, "During this Time" (Art of the Groove 2014), especially when Peterson's trio includes Tony Inzalaco on percussion and the inestimable Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (NHOP) on bass. this set was taken a live recording at the 84th NDR Jazz Workshop in December of 1972, sadly just a few months before Webster passed away in Amsterdam. It's a nice set, well-recorded and featuring both a CD and DVD of the event. The songs include "Perdido", "For All We Know", "Cotton Tail" and "In a Mellow Tone" among others, and if Webster's sound is just a tad less dynamic than on earlier sets, he is still great, while Peterson is as good as ever and NHOP excels.
Sticking with the saxophones, there's a new one from one of the young lions -- Javon Jackson, "Expression" (Smoke Sessions 2014), a third live performance and another outstanding set. Jackson has incredible support here from Orrin Evans on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, and McClenty Hunter on drums. Smoke is a great setting for jazz and that comes through in the excellent sound, the dynamic play, and grateful audience response to this set of ten songs. Jackson is strong on a set of standards, covers from some great jazz players like Wayne Shorter and George Cables, and five of his own tunes. His ballad to his late cousin "Lelia" is a standout, but then so are tunes like "88 Strong" dedicated to McCoy Tyner as well as the standard "When I Fall in Love." The Smoke Sessions label is producing some standout live jazz -- this is the third this year, with another set for April under the leadership of David Hazeltine.
Bruce Barth, "Daybreak" (Savant 2014) is another hit in a long line of hits for the veteran pianist. His group includes Steve Nelson on vibes, Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, Vincente Archer on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums. Barth compose 7 of the 10 pieces and the others are "Triste" by Jobim, "In the Still of the Night" by Cole Porter, and "So Tender" by Keith Jarrett. Stafford and Barth are unaccompanied on "So Tender" and luxuriate in the beautiful melody. The trio of Barth, Archer, and Coleman impress on the Jobim opener, and Nelson and Barth are special on "In the Still of the Night" which opens with a bouncy lead from Nelson. But that's just three pieces, the remaining 7 each have their moments in the sun as well.