Pianist Billy Childs has straddled the line between contemporary pop jazz and more mainstream pursuits. His latest trio effort, BEDTIME STORIES (32 Jazz 32215), pays homage to the legendary Herbie Hancock and its success is made largely through Childs' avoidance of cliché. For one thing, some lesser-known Hancock originals are included among the obvious picks, such as "Dolphin Dance" and "Maiden Voyage." Even more attention-grabbing is Childs' choice of tunes that fit the overall mood of the session but don't have a direct link with Hancock, such as the soul classic "Ain't No Sunshine" and Sting's "Fragile" (remember however, that Kenny Barron was the first to find beauty in this pop standard and subsequently record it). Bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy Hart round out this terrific trio and help make this one of the few tribute discs that speaks with its own voice while shedding new light on the subject at hand.
Along with alto saxophonist Paul Winter, pianist Denny Zeitlin was part of an effort by Columbia Records to introduce the jazz stylings of these Ivy League artists to a wider audience during the mid to late '60s. Zeitlin would go on to record four dramatic albums for Columbia (only two of which are currently available on CD) before disappearing into obscurity. Primarily working these days as a practicing psychiatrist, Zetilin does come out of the woodwork on occasion, such as with the exquisite 1981 duo album with Charlie Haden, TIME REMEMBERS ONE TIME ONCE. His most recent release, AS LONG AS THERE'S MUSIC (32 Jazz 32218), was recorded for the Japanese Venus label in 1997 and is now being reissued stateside by 32 JAZZ. At first glance it seems that this is nothing more than another run of the mill trio date covering familiar standards, but appearances can be deceiving. Zeitlin impresses with energized arrangements and unfolding improvisations that are artfully supported by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster. Bravo!
Among a small but distinguished stable of artists assembled by producer Orrin Keepnews for his short-lived Landmark imprimatur in the '80s, Bobby Hutcherson made the most of the relationship, recording six albums for the label between 1984 and 1991. The last of these, MIRAGE (32 Jazz 32214), has recently been reissued and it features a muscular quartet with pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Billy Drummond. Although this would mark the first time that Hutcherson and Flanagan had recorded together, you'd never know it by the relaxed and stimulating results. A pervasive Brazilian influence marks the proceedings with the inclusion of Barry Harris' "Nascimento" and Jobim's "Zingaro." In addition, two transcendent duets with Hutch and Flanagan, Monk's "Pannonica" and "So In Love," complete a thoroughly gratifying set that gets an extra kick by the inclusion of Drummond.
A true legend in every respect, bassist Sam Jones was active on the jazz scene for nearly three decades. In addition to being in demand as a sideman, Jones led a few dates of his own for Riverside in the '60s and then again in the '70s and '80s for a number of smaller labels. SOMETHING IN COMMON (32 Jazz 32217) brings together the complete 1977 Jones album of the same name cut for Muse Records, while adding three tracks from a Cedar Walton session entitled FIRM ROOTS. It's a strong ensemble that the bassist leads, including Cedar Walton, Slide Hampton, Blue Mitchell, Bob Berg, and Billy Higgins, and a great set of charts runs the gamut from Walton's "Bolivia" to Mitchell's "Blue Silver." While not nearly as exciting, the additional cuts with just the trio of Jones, Walton, and drummer Louis Hayes act as a potent dessert following the rich main course.