Harry Allen: New York State of Mind (Challenge Records CR73293)
Never having heard American tenor saxophonist Harry Allen playing with Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello before, I am now desperate to hear them live. This magnificent CD of New York-themed tunes has this duo at its heart; they bounce off each other brilliantly on such uptempo numbers as Singin’ in the Rain’s Broadway Melody. On the ballads, Allen’s tender, breathy and slightly melancholy sax (especially on an exquisite version of Autumn in New York) is complemented by Sportiello’s dreamy, eloquent piano. And there are some sublime contributions from in-demand trombonist John Allred.
Johnny Hodges Quintet: Buenos Aires Blues (Lonehill Jazz LHJ10373)
Even if you’ve long since been smitten with the sublime sound of alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, chances are you might not be familiar with the two albums which make up this magnificent CD: the first is a 1963 quintet session with the film composer Lalo Schifrin on piano, while the second is the 1962 strings LP, The Eleventh Hour, which was arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. Both are terrific, but the first, which features Hodges’s signature mix of Ellington numbers and his own blues (plus a couple of Schifrin originals), is a particular treat.
Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet: To Fred Astaire With Love (Jazz Lips JL765) *****
This superb CD comprises two joyous, mid-1970s, albums – the eponymous Astaire tribute and The Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet – recorded by the terrific group which featured on Tony Bennett’s sublime Rodgers and Hart LP during the same period. The partnership between cornettist Ruby Braff and electric guitarist George Barnes was a great one, characterised by warmth, swing, lyricism and sheer joie de vivre, and their sound was beautifully offset by a rhythm section of just guitar and bass. The 20 tracks are perfect examples of chamber jazz at its best.
Randy Sandke’s Jazz for Juniors (Arbors Records ARCD 19385)
Jazz albums for kids are nothing new but this one, which not only entertains but also educates, is something different. The concept of US trumpeter Randy Sandke – whose interest and style span the history of jazz – it tells the story of the formation of a jazz band, as a trumpet-playing tiger travels the world meeting fellow animal instrumentalists (as portrayed, musically, by such top-notch musicians as Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden and Wycliffe Gordon). Perfectly pitched at young ears, the CD also includes a slide show viewable on PCs.