Jazz survives in the studio, but the smaller groups thrive in live surroundings, particularly intimate clubs.
For that reason, Virgin Records' new subsidiary Night Records has done us a favor by releasing its initial batch of four live recordings, which spotlight Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Cannonball Adderley and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.Night Records founder Joel Dorn says his label "is about live music. We think it's the height of the art. A number of amateur recordists have made their tape collections available to us. This music, never intended for commercial release, is a living history of what happened over the last 30 or 40 years in clubs, concerts, festivals and on the air."
McCann's "Les Is More" (Night CD 2-91591) is especially satisfying because clubs are his turf and he feeds off the audience. This album is the result of more than 500 tapes McCann had in his collection. The nine cuts selected by Dorn feature such notables as Leroy Vinegar, Eddie Harris, Sam Jones, Ray Brown, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Louis Hayes, Stanley Turrentine and vocalists Carmen McRae and a young Roberta Flack, who plays piano and sings "All the Way," a tape that was recorded three months before she signed her contract with Atlantic.
Tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris, who as a teenager used to play for change on the streets of Chicago with Bo Diddley, became known to the general public with his version of the theme from the film "Exodus." His gritty style and electronic experiments have been part of the scene for 30 years. His album "A Tale of Two Cities" (Night CD 2-91589) was recorded in hometown Chicago and in San Francisco. As is true with all four of the releases, it's difficult to determine exactly when all the cuts were recorded, but several of Harris' recordings are in the 1978-83 era.
Cannonball Adderley's "Radio Nights" (Night CD 2-91590) was recorded by jazz jock Alan Grant in 1967-68 at New York's Half Note and features Cannonball's quintet and sextet, two of his best. His alto, pianist Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones on bass and drummer Roy McCurdy handle "Stars Fell on Alabama." Brother Nat Adderley and his cornet joins in for "The Little Boy With the Sad Eyes," a frenetic "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Midnight Mood." Louis Hayes replaces McCurdy on drums, and tenor man Charles Lloyd completes the sextet on "The Song My Lady Sings," the driving "Work Song" and "Unit Seven." This is Cannonball at his apex.
Kirk, who died a couple of years after suffering a stroke in 1975, is remembered for his eccentric style of playing three horns at once and other deviations from the norm. There is some of that on "The Man Who Cried Fire" (Night CD 2-91592), but the range of his creativity is on display, too. He is best known for the tenor and flute, including his penchant for talking while playing the flute. But this album includes two numbers in which Kirk plays a rarely recorded clarinet. One is the "New Orleans Fantasy" and the "Black and Crazy Blues," an album highlight. As a teenager Kirk toured the Midwest with R&B bands, and "Night Train" is an example of his honking tenor during those years, a style he discarded in later years.
Speaking of New Orleans, Pete Fountain's "Swinging Blues" (Ranwood CD RDS 1002-P) doesn't offer anything new or unexpected but, if you enjoy Fountain's Dixieland style, there's 67 minutes of it in this package.
Little Danville, Ill., has produced its share of celebrities, e.g., Gene Hackman, Donald O'Connor, Dick and Jerry Van Dyke - and Bobby Short, a fixture for decades at New York's Carlyle Hotel. Atlantic Records has released a 2-CD set titled "Bobby Short is K-R-A-Z-Y for Gershwin" (608-2), which includes 33 cuts, more than 11/2 hours of Short and George Gershwin, which should satisfy the most avid of followers. I would guess most of the originals were recorded in the 1950s and '60s. Regardless, a collaboration like this stands up against time.