Quickies: Prestige Records, Patrizia Scascitelli, Jessica Lurie, The Tiptons Sax Quartet

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by Pico

We’ve been long overdue for another “Quickies,” as there’s been way more new releases to talk abput than there’s time to talk (as usual). Nonetheless, the show must go on and the word has to get out.

This variation has a certain theme. Well, sort of. We start with a compilation that celebrates the recording achievements of an historic jazz record company. After that, we shift gears to examine recent recordings by some very talented jazz musicians who all happen to be women. Even today it’s often erroneously assumed out of hand that all women in jazz are torch singers, but there are plenty out there who are accomplished instrumentalists and composers, and many are making a splash in the nearly impossible-to-break-into New York jazz scene. In the proud tradition of Mary Lou Williams, Shirley Scott and Emily Remler, these ladies are forces to be reckoned with in a man’s world. Or at least, what used to be a man’s world.

Various Artists The Very Best Of Prestige Records

You don’t see me giving as much as a passing glance to “various artists” compilations of previously issued tracks; they usually are too uneven for me to sit through all the way through. Other times, I’d rather just listen to these songs in their original contexts. So the very appearance of such a compilation on this space should get your attention.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the old jazz record marque Prestige had been responsible for a heckuva lot of classic jazz recordings in the fifties and sixities. Modern Jazz Quartet, Lee Konitz, Eric Dolphy, Red Garland, Sonny Rollins, Pat Martino, Charles Earland all made some great records for this historic label. And lets not forget all those great albums Miles recorded in the mid-fifties right before and after he had assembled his first great quintet with Coltrane.

Last week, Concord Records (the current owner of Prestige’s rich catalog) issued a collection of some of the best cuts from the label’s golden 1949-1969 era. The Very Best Of Prestige Records is a audio history lesson into some of the best jazz of that time, from Konitz’s historic remaking of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” to Martino’s smokin’ conga-driven “Waltz For Geri.” In between are three classic tracks from Miles, including “My Funny Valentine.” Rollins and Coltranes’ famous encounter “Tenor Madness” is in here, as is another big saxophone summit meeting “Very Saxy” by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Buddy Tate, Coleman Hawkins and Arnett Cobb.

I could go on, but suffice to say these twenty-five tracks were generally very good choices. I might have pulled one of the three Miles cuts and inserted, say, a mid-sixties Sonny Criss track in its place, but that’s nit-picking. Even if you already own a lot of the albums from which these recordings were culled from, the consistently high quality found in The Very Best Of Prestige Records makes listening to each of these tracks side-by-side a whole new experience.

Patrizia Scascitelli Open Window

Some pianists are more composers and other are more players. Scascitelli leans in the former direction, but her performing skills didn’t prevent her from playing alongside the likes of Don Cherry, Buster Williams, David “Fathead” Newman and Clifford Jordan. And once again, we’re giving a warm spotlight to yet another Italian-born jazzer.

Scascitelli’s latest offering Open Window brings to bear some of her formal classical background, with a couple of multi-part compositions and the utilization of shifting moods and tempos. The melodies have a certain level of sophistication to them that can also by considered classically influenced, while remaining firmly in the jazz realm. The “Open Window” suite confirms her delicate composing and arranging abilities perhaps the best on this album.

Scascitelli employs a base quintet that includes a trumpet, flute and trombone front line, which she supplements on a few tracks with guitarist Michelle Marie and fellow Italian-born Ada Rovatti on tenor and alto saxophones.

Out since January of this year, Open Window gives listeners a nice sonic “view” of Patrizia Scascitelli’s musical scenery, and her light, graceful style is like letting in a cool breeze to your years.

Like Rovatti’s highly recommended The Green Factor, Open Window comes to us courtesy of Piloo Records.

Jessica Lurie Ensemble Shop Of Wild Dreams

Jessica Lurie can be considered a multi-multi-musician: someone who can proficiently play a wide variety of instruments and a wide variety of musical styles. In Shop Of Wild Dreams, which went on sale in January, she throws in all these spicy ingredients into her gumbo, making it one hearty, tasty dish.

Lurie plays alto and tenor saxes, flute accordion, baritone ukulele and on some cuts, even sings. Supported by a band that included keyboards, guitar, acoustic bass, drums, percussion and a couple of less mainstream instruments like banjo and “tape recorder,” the music is often “jazz” for lack of a better description. Lurie liberally mixes in folk, rock, avant garde, Eastern European and New Orleans stylings. Somehow it makes for a coherent, compelling record, held together by an adventurous, carefree attitude that serves as the catalyst for music that’s loose but never pointless.

From the second-line folk beat of “I Don’t Care If I Don’t Care” to the exotic klezmer shadings of “Grinch” to the banjo-powered whack jazz of “Pinjur,” Lurie puts her expansive range to good use.

Never boring, a
lways creative, Shop Of Wild Dreams is bound to become one of the most unique and stimulating recordings to come out of that delectable netherworld between jazz and non-jazz this year.

Purchase: Jessica Lurie – Shop Of Wild Dreams

The Tiptons Sax Quartet Laws Of Motion

If you never heard of The Tiptons Sax Quartet before, the quickest way to describe them is as an all-female version of the World Saxophone Quartet. But it would also be grossly unfair to dismiss them as WSQ clones, either, because they are so open-minded about the music they play. As explained by the band themselves, “Our music is a high energy blend of ‘twisted folk’ with world music, second line, funk, jazz, and Eastern European influences thrown into the mix of mainly original material.”

If that seems to fit the description I gave for the Jessica Lurie Ensemble record above, that’s because Lurie herself is a member of this quartet, and her bandmembers (Amy Denio, Sue Orfied, Tina Richerson, with Chris Stromquist on drums) are of a like mind. In addition to playing alto, tenor and baritone saxes and clarinet, the girls lend their voices for singing and for even a delightful Eastern European (?) rap on “Sind'” (check out the video below) that they are able to insert among the blowing without disturbing the vibe.

Three of the front four contribute compositions that are full of character and create challenging settings for themselves. Lurie’s title track from Shop Of Wild Dreams is in this collection (as well as “Number Six”), and frankly, it sounds even better here than it does on her own album. The rich, brassy sounds of all those saxes never leaves you wanting there to be a guitar or piano; they handle all the chores just fine by themselves, and then some.

Back in the Swing Era, all party music was driven by a lot of horns. The Tiptons Sax Quartet Law Of Motion makes me wonder why party music couldn’t be that way again.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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