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A pair of great jazz recordings from the present and the past


The Awakening Orchestra, "Interlude -- Atticus Live!-The Music of Jesse Lewis" (Biophilia)

I love this record.

We're living in a magnificent age for jazz orchestras, especially in Europe. And while we're at it, let's hear it for Brooklyn. What's happening in jazz there is routinely spectacular as this live concert recording by a 20-piece orchestra attests.

The background is this: the Awakening Orchestra of leader/composer Kyle Saulniers previously recorded a disc called " This Is Not the Answer: Vol.1." Before  a record comes out as no. 2 in that series, leader/composer Saulniers decided to record a whole interlude disc with his orchestra devoted to the music of composer/guitarist Jesse Lewis that Lewis had previously recorded on a disc called "Atticus." This then is clearly a heartening event of like-minded musicians giving each other ideas and bringing their own gifts to each other's work.

Guitarist Lewis is a post-rock jazz guitarist who has played by Chris Potter, Jon Irabagon, Mark Turner and David Binney. Some of Lewis' titles give you a sense of his witty  frame of reference -- "The Robert Frost Experiment," "The Pasture (You Come Too)" and "The Adventures of Dirt McGilliduddy." He is a truly lovely melodist. These are live performances of fascinating works, sumptuously orchestrated by Saulniers that take jazz orchestral music into new frontiers in the tradition of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider.

4 stars (out of four)

The Three Sounds, "Groovin' Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968" (Resonance)

The Three Sounds were never really The Three Sounds. They were pianist Gene Harris and solid, workmanlike rhythm sections, especially featuring bassist Andy Simpkins. Three drummers are heard on these mid-'60's recordings made during live appearances -- original drumnmer Bill Dowdy, then Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett. Some of the best bass playing I've ever heard from Andy Simpkins can be heard on their version of Neil Hefti's terrific theme song for Virginia Graham's theme song for her show "Girl Talk."

It is, paradoxically, one of the great jazz compositions of its time. It is far too seldom recorded and, in truth, Harris' version here isn't a patch on Ray Bryant's. Some of this is the sort of mediocre stuff that gave the group its reputation at the time. On the other hand, there is also, in much of it, the consummate authority of a first-rate jazz club entertainer ("Blue Genes.). It was the age of the great jazz blues/gospel pianist -- Ray Bryant, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann and Harris. Harris, at his best, was infectious as they come. All of these Resonance vintage recordings are vintage wonders when it comes to disc notes and presentation.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


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