Released under the aegis of The Concord Music Group, this ongoing series of titles depicts Keepnews, to this day a man of discerning ear and literate mind, in the roles of fan, label founder and record producer. As a visionary strategist and one of the staunchest supporters this music has ever known, he, like the best of these CDs reflects the vigor and imagination of the art itself.
Wes Montgomery/Incredible Jazz Guitar (Riverside) ****: The title as it reads on the original cover graphics would seem to date this album, but on the contrary, like the Rollins set in this release, the simplicity of the sessions begets jazz at its most pure. The 24-bit remastering, as applied to all these discs, finds it fullest fruition in capturing this quartet’s use of space and the fluid unorthodox style of Montgomery himself doesn’t sound not much less revolutionary now than it did when this was recorded, almost a half century ago.
Nat Adderley/Work Song (Riverside) ***1/2: Keepnews maintained as much enthusiasm about the second line musicians he worked with, like Cannonball’s brother Nat, as the bonafide stars, and for the very same reason: he loved to find the best means to showcase their talent. This album belies its title somewhat in that the bouncy interplay amongst a fluid roster of seven players never flags; it helps, of course, to have Wes Montgomery in the mix but everybody plays like a star here, so the music becomes the real marquee item.
McCoy Tyner: Fly with the Wind (Milestone) **1/2: Though McCoy Tyner’s immediately recognizable piano regularly takes the spotlight—and it’s impossible not to notice the roiling rhythms played by drummer Billy Cobham—this album typifies the mainstream aspirations of jazz in the Seventies. The use of strings throughout these recordings, reminiscent of Creed Taylor’s CTI label, may limit its attraction for the hard-core enthusiast, but render it proportionately more listenable for the casual fan.
Sonny Rollins/Freedom Suite (Riverside): **** In stark contrast to the smooth veneer of the Tyner album is the stark setup of this Rollins session. Yet with nothing more than a drummer and bassist in tow, “Newk” creates an atmosphere almost as lush by making manifest the idiosyncrasies in his playing on standards. More importantly, the saxophone colossus also makes a truly profound statement, as much cultural as musical, in the nineteen minute long title piece.
Coleman Hawkins/The Hawk Flies High (Riverside): ***1/2 The flaunting of Keepnews’ ego that concludes the liner essay here may be prompted by the fact this work of the highly-revered icon of jazz saxophone was custom-conceived and executed by the author himself. That said, the proof is in the playing as Hawkins and co (a seven piece group mirroring mentor Louis Armstrong’s small ensembles) extract the essence of his big band work with Satchmo, rendering a template for modern jazz that, as such, is absolutely timeless.