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June 2007

Andy Martin/Jan Lundgren Quartet
How About You?
Fresh Sound Records
Frank Collett Trio
Music From the Movies
Fresh Sound Records
Joe La Barbera Quintet
Native Land
Jazz Compass

The collaboration of American trombonist Andy Martin and Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren is a triumph of musicality over virtuosic display. Each has technical ability to burn; they set a North American land speed record in “Yesterdays.” Still, throughout this collection, Martin, Lundgren, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera are in the service not of exhibitionism but of the creative possibilities in a dozen classic songs. They affirm that in an era of modal structures and improvisation beyond the edge of standard harmony, the song form is still an inexhaustible source of challenges and opportunities for fresh ideas.

Discussions of Martin’s work inevitably refer to his hero Frank Rosolino. The comparison is apt in terms of facility, control and range, but Martin has less acid and more bottom in his tone and a gliding approach to lines that make him unique. The empathy between Martin and Lundgren—previously evident in Martin’s It’s Fine…It’s Andy! (Fresh Sound)—results in brilliant versions of familiar standards including “The Song Is You,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” and “Gone With the Wind,” as well as infrequently performed pieces like “Tabú” and the overlooked ballad “A New Town Is a Blue Town.” Lundgren’s work here, elegant and thoughtful at all tempos, equals his best on record. La Barbera and Berghofer, an unsung giant of the bass, are superb throughout.

Frank Collett’s trio CD is also devoted to standard songs, all from motion pictures of the 1930s and ’40s. The list of titles, including “I Remember You,” “Tangerine” and “Laura,” is a reminder of how movies from that era enriched popular music. With La Barbera and bassist Tom Warrington, Collett performs the songs without flash, which is not to say without verve or drive. With modulations in the bridge and suggestions of left-hand stride, his “Cheek to Cheek” recalls the flair of Astaire and Rogers in Top Hat, the film that introduced the song. Collett’s treatment of “It’s a Most Unusual Day” makes one wonder why more jazz players haven’t adopted that 1948 tune. Collett applies distinctive harmonic touches to “I Wished on the Moon” and “”It Could Happen to You.” His three solo pieces, “Laura,” “At Last” and “Tara’s Theme,” are pleasant, but Collett’s deepest invention comes when La Barbera and Warrington are aboard.

The Martin-Lundgren and Collett CDs bear the stamp of producer Dick Bank, an avatar of thoroughness. Each has a 32-page illustrated booklet packed with information about the musicians, analysis of the performances, photographs and reproductions of sheet music covers.

Joe La Barbera, drumming exquisitely in three disparate settings, is a crucial common factor among these CDs. His quintet on Native Land has Warrington on bass, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, saxophonist Bob Sheppard and pianist Alan Pasqua. La Barbera is a successor to the late Shelly Manne not only in technique and style, but also in adaptability and in sensitivity to soloists. Like Manne, who inspired him, La Barbera is in constant demand. His melodic thinking, expressed in a compelling unaccompanied solo on the track called “Manne-risms,” also surfaces in his compositions.

Five of the nine pieces are La Barbera’s, including the title tune, with its suggestion of American Indian dances. “Native Land” has a fierce soprano sax solo by Sheppard, an intriguing inside/outside chorus by Jenkins and a riveting drum solo by La Barbera. This is an adventurous band working with adventurous material, taking risks even with familiar pieces—as in the mutual improvisation during “Just in Time”—yet delivering accessible music. The album includes a splendidly jaunty version of Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own.” Pasqua and Sheppard (on tenor sax) duet to great effect on “For All We Know.”

These three CDs share an important contributor in addition to La Barbera: Talley Sherwood, who was the engineer for all of them. The depth and pure, honest sound that Sherwood achieves harken back to the days of two-track stereo recording by masters like Roy DuNann, Wally Heider and Rudy Van Gelder.

Originally published in June 2007
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