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Jazz Icons Series 3: Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, and Nina Simone

Reelin’ In the Years Productions

Like its excellent predecessors, the third installment of the Jazz Icons series presents some phenomenal performances of world class jazz artists captured in various live settings throughout Europe between the 1950s and 1970s. Available as a set or individually, each of the following DVDs is culled from mostly excellent footage and has painstakingly restored sound that is typically crystal clear. In addition, each artist gets the royal treatment with his or her own 24-page booklet featuring liner notes from family members and prominent jazz historians, as well as rare photographs and memorabilia. Once again, the Jazz Icons series is a phenomenal package that is essential to any jazzhound’s collection.

Cannonball Adderley Live in 63

In a time when jazz was dominated by performers who took an icily detached attitude toward their audience while playing heady compositions, Cannonball Adderley was a wonderful change of pace. Here we see him staying true to his Southern roots, having no qualms about visually expressing his joy onstage, frequently snapping, grooving, and laughing while engaging his audience in jovial banter, which was practically unthinkable in the austere jazz world of 1963. Musically speaking, he was rooted in the blues and swing, and those elements color his works, adding vibrancy and character. His sextet at this time was beyond impressive, including brother and songwriter Nat on cornet, the astounding Yusef Lateef on a variety of reed instruments, and a young Joe Zawinul getting funky on piano. Lateef’s beautifully unique, Eastern stylings create a wonderful counterpoint to Adderley’s bluesy sax, and the entire band is a very tight unit, especially on the groovy “Jive Samba.” The Swiss performance is in front of an audience while the German performance is not, and the difference becomes quite clear, as it is evident that Cannonball Adderley was a musician who truly fed off of the energy of the crowd.

- Brian Ferdman

Bill Evans Live ’64 – 75

As talented as he was, Bill Evans was far from a visually dynamic performer, and these concert clips certainly back up that notion. Hunched over his keyboard, Evans methodically plays notes without expressing any sort of visible emotion. However, his stoic demeanor belies his very expressive playing. Unfortunately, the collected songs on these performances are mostly ballads and there is a very similar quality to all of them. While Evans’ smooth and gentle style becomes readily apparent, the lack of visual or sonic variety is a detriment to this DVD. Although these songs certainly create a wonderfully mellow mood, after 98 minutes, it’s hard to avoid being lulled to sleep by Evans’ lush chords and blank facial expression.

- Brian Ferdman

Lionel Hampton Live in Belgium 58

In his introduction to the liner notes, Quincy Jones calls Hampton “one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century,” and that sounds like pure hyperbole until you actually watch the DVD. Of course, I’d heard Hampton’s terrific vibes before, but to actually see him perform is nothing short of a revelation and underscores just how historically important the Jazz Icons series really is. Surrounding himself with top notch musicians, Hampton is a one man spectacle of energy and showmanship that is simply joyous. I defy anyone not to be speechless by the end of “Sticks Ahoy,” an extended romp during which Hampton performs one of the greatest drum solos I’ve ever heard- on a single drum. It’s an utterly remarkable moment.

- Mark Burnell

Oscar Peterson Live 63 65

At the other end of the spectrum, the venerable Mr. Peterson barely moves at all. The other members of the trio, drummer Ed Thigpen and bassist Ray Brown, are barely any more animated in these three shows from Scandinavia, but it matters not because the intensity and quality of the playing is spellbinding. And even with this most unanimated of groups, the visual aspect of the shows are a treasure; from the subtle nods and cues between band members to Peterson’s fascinating habit of apparently mouthing every note as he played it. There isn’t a dull moment, either sonically or visually, and the highlights are simply too numerous to mention.

- Mark Burnell

Rahsaan Roland Kirk Live in ’63 & 67

There is genius, and then there is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The multi-instrumentalist was one-of-a-kind, turning the world on its head, as he played multiple reed instruments simultaneously to great effect. Kirk's virtuosity is a spectacle to behold, and it is fascinating to watch him effortlessly wield this arsenal of saxes, flutes, and more. Performing with his musical weapons hanging around his neck, Kirk deftly switches horns on a dime, throws two and three saxes in his mouth (somehow managing to create a great sound with them), and even plays a whistle with his nose. All of this reads like campy gimmickry, but the brilliant Kirk makes it sound incredibly natural, and if one ignores the visual image, it easy to envision an army of reed players doing the work of one virtuoso. This was the genius of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and these concerts showcase a master at work.

- Brian Ferdman

Sonny Rollins Live in ’65 & 68

While watching this DVD, it dawned on me that I was finally watching a musician play more notes per minute than Jerry Garcia at his noodliest. In truth, there are many valid comparisons between Rollins and Garcia; apart from the obvious shared love of pure improvisation, both seem to lose themselves in their own worlds when they play, both have a habit of dropping melodies from other songs into their solos, and both have a fondness for trying to find beauty in sonic dissonance. This pair of shows from Denmark, capturing a trio from 1965 and a quartet set from 1968, beautifully showcases the gamut of Rollins’ styles, from the bluesy to the modal bebop to a squonk factor of 10. It’s fascinating to contrast the two very different versions here of Rollins’ signature tune, “Saint Thomas.” The ’65 version is ten minutes of Rollins exploring the tune, weaving in and out of the main theme and exploring every nook and cranny, whereas in the ’68 version, Rollins allows his sidemen more freedom to put their own twist on the song, which results in an ending in quite different territory. Seeing Rollins pace around the stage like a caged tiger perfectly matches the restless exploratory nature of his music.

- Mark Burnell

Nina Simone Live in 65 & 68

This release finds Ms Simone in two very different modes. The earlier concert from Dutch television is as intense as a performance gets, consisting of nothing but in-your-face tales of racism and poverty. Even the humor in the audience sing-along-encouraged “Go Limp” is as dark as you’d expect from a song about being arrested in a race riot. Simone’s performance here of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” is spine curdling— starting from a bare whisper, she works herself into a trance-link frenzy of indignation and anger. The second concert is from London in 1968 and finds Simone wearing an African headdress and playing funkier music with a slightly lighter subject matter than that of the previous show. That being said, the closing “Why?,” a number about the assassination of Martin Luther King, is as sad and moving as music gets, and towards the end of it, Simone looks as if she’s about to burst into tears. It’s worth noting that there is a faint hint of background static for a good chunk of the London show, but when the performance is this good, such a flaw is barely noticeable.

- Mark Burnell

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