"Misterioso" was Monk's seventh overall disc, and second cut during a pair of sessions at the famed Five Spot in 1958. The quartet personnel includes tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who adapted his rapid-fire style to fit the jutting refrains and challenging structures of "Nutty," "Blues Five Spot," and the title track, as well as an intriguing (if a bit unorthodox) version of "Just a Gigolo." Whether it was John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Rouse or Griffin, every saxophonist who worked with Monk had to make adjustments for his marvelous, distinctive approach to melody and rhythm. You can hear Griffin reacting and responding within these songs, while incorporating his ideas and quotes in his solos. The duo of bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and the great Roy Haynes also nicely worked off Monk's sometimes unexpected stops, twists and shifts. Art Blakey takes over drum duties for the final medley, a wondrous blend of "Bye-Ya" and "Eipstrophy" that wraps one of Monk's best Riverside releases. While Monk's writing and playing seldom resembled the laser-like methods of his fellow bop pioneers, his compositions were legendary for their flair and humor, as well as their intriguing patterns. This quartet wasn't the band that earned him pop culture fame, but it was still an excellent ensemble. "Misterioso" was an wonderful example of their brilliance in a live setting.
"Moon Beams" gathers performances from two early '60s dates. The marvelous bassist Scott LaFaro's innovative accompaniment and soloing had been a key part of Evans' first trio. LaFaro's 1961 death left Evans personally and musically depressed. There were many who wondered if he would ever either return to the instrument or lead another trio. Then a late year engagement where the group included Chuck Israels convinced Evans he could indeed reform another trio. It also helped that Israels and drummer Paul Motian established a rapport close to what was there with LaFaro. The disc's 11 songs are taken mostly from "Moon Beams," with a few culled from "How My Heart Sings." The beauty in Evans' sound, and lyricism in his phrasing, are usually the things cited about Bill Evans. But his rhythmic inventiveness and harmonic acumen sometimes get lost in the praise heaped on his style. The subtle maneuvers songs like "Stairway To The Stars," "It Might As Well Be Spring," "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "In Love In Vain" are often astonishing, especially since they are executed with such ease and precision. Israels didn't attempt to replicate LaFaro's remarkable, adventurous technique. Instead, he established a different presence on the bottom of pieces that proved equally effective. Motian provided the ideal third component in terms of pace and sensibility. Producer Orrin Keepnews was initially concerned an album focused on ballads would be too sedate. His concerns were unnecessary. The new Evans trio showed with "Moon Beams" that slow and romantic music could be played with just as much ferocity and depth as blazing uptempo numbers.
Any recording with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach would be special. "The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall" became a phenomenon. The 1953 event at Toronto's Massey Hall also included a performance from a 16-piece big band of Canadian musical stars. Sadly, the end was near for Parker, the man who turned jazz upside down with his uncanny skill and incomparable tone. This would be the last time Parker and longtime friend and comrade Dizzy Gillespie worked together. Indeed, all five legends were now stars. Everyone but Roach (then just 25) was currently leading a group (and he would soon become famous in that regard as well). Parker and Gillespie swapped hosting duties song by song, and the quintet only did six numbers. But each was a gem, and several ("Perdido," "Salt Peanuts," "Hot House" and "A Night in Tunisia") proved definitive versions. Gillespie's amazing upper-register runs, Parker's furious, gorgeously articulated flights, Powell's leaps and melodic flurries, Mingus' huge lines (many later overdubbed because the single stage microphone didn't pick them up) and Roach's exceptional rhythms merged to make this a modern jazz showcase. "The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall" is a testament to one of those immortal nights in jazz only a handful ever hear and see first-hand, but millions subsequently enjoy.
Curtis Salgado "Soul Shot" (Alligator)
Many topflight blues instrumentalists are also fine vocalists, and vice versa. But few are as good in both categories as harmonica ace Curtis Salgado, who's been a West Coast stalwart for decades and formerly co-led the Robert Cray Band during its rise to stardom. Salgado, thankfully recovered from some health problems, turns soul wailer on his newest release (the first for Alligator). His songs choices range from surprising ("Love Comfort Zone," a Parliament/Funkadelic tune by George Clinton and Gary Shider) to inspired (Charles Hodges' "Nobody But You") and rewarding (Otis Redding's "Love Man" and Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Strung Out.'). He never opts for imitation, bringing a fresh, engaged and intense approach to every rendition. He ably explores a wealth of emotions and situations, from surprise ("She Didn't Cut Me Loose") and joy ("Baby, Let Me Take You in My Arms") to indecision ("What You Gonna Do?" and "A Woman Or The Blues"). Salgado's harmonica playing is rangy and animated, especially on the signature cut "He Played His Haarmonica." His fierce licks add a bright edge to several other numbers. Salgado's backed by a tight five-piece main unit, plus occasional guest stars and a horn section. "Soul Shot" also displays his compositional touches, as he co-wrote four of the 11 pieces. Rather than tapping into rock or country sources, Curtis Salgado opts for R&B and gospel influences on "Soul Shot." In the process, he expands blues' frontiers without straying too far from the basic roots.
Tab Benoit "Legacy: The Best of Tab Benoit" (Telarc)
Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit has forged an impressive album niche over his 13 years with Telarc. While always keeping the blues at the center of his work, he's included aspects of numerous other genres from country and Cajun and soul. This new anthology gathers 14 strong tracks from that catalog, several Benoit originals, as well as some outstanding covers and collaborations. The country pieces include "Shelter Me," a tender Julie Miller/Stephen P. Miller piece, and "Comin' On Strong," a Billy Joe Shaver testimonial which also features both Shaver and Wayon Thibodeaux joining Benoit for a delightful vocal. Benoit turns to classic soul with a fine cover of Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine," and joins Kenny Neal for an entertaining romp through Screaming Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You." Benoit ventures into more contemporary terrain with "The Blues Is Hear To Stay," where he's joined by Cyril Neville." He swaps robust licks and ambitious solos with Jimmy Thackery on "Whiskey Store," "Bayou Boogie," and "Nice and Warm." Still, he's really at his best on his own material, especially "Muddy Bottom Blues" and "Darkness," trio pieces with bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Darryl White, as well as "Night Train" (not the Jimmy Forrest special) and "Medicine," a number co-written with Anders Osborne, who also joins him for some spirited guitar exchanges. Tab Benoit's been a champion of Louisiana music his entire career, and "Legacy" documents the finest pieces from his time on Telarc.