Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

DECEMBER 8, 1997: 

Pat Dinizio Songs And Sounds • (Velvel)

On his first solo effort apart from his tenure as lead singer/songwriter for the Smithereens, Pat Dinizio doesn’t make a radical departure from his previous musical stomping grounds. Aside from a few tentative steps in some divergent directions, Dinizio mainly sticks to what he does best.

After 17 years of playing with the Smithereens, you would expect a certain amount of experimentation on a solo flight, but in Dinizio’s case this is minimal. Still, longtime fans of the band will probably be scratching their heads in wonder at the string-drenched opening cut, which reminds me of nothing so much as Elvis Costello covering a Moody Blues tune. A bit scary, to say the least. But fans will undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief at the familiar Smithereens sound surging back on the second track, with its aggressive bass line, meaty guitar melodies, and complex harmonies.

Despite the presence of his band’s signature sound on this album, Songs And Sounds still offers more variety than Dinizio’s previous work. A montage of male banter provides the blitz of an intro to “Running Jumping Standing Still,” while the pleasing “Liza” is an unself-conscious lullaby with a touch of “Norwegian Wood” about it. The saxophone lead and filigrees of the jazzy ballad “No Love Lost” is a successful softer touch for Dinizio, while the excellent “You Should Know” has a global U2 sound that’s never appeared before on earlier band-related material. Yet Songs And Sounds still showcases Dinizio’s forte. “Today It’s You” is a short, sweet taste of vintage Fab Four pop with biting lyrics and an ear-grabbing hook that’s trademark Smithereens.

The Pat Dinizio Foursome: classic Smithereens fare and then some

Aside from the opener, the only other incongruous note is found on the closing track, a moody cocktail number that’s pleasant, but sounds as if it belongs more on a Harry Connick Jr. CD than on an album by this hard-working Jersey rocker. Although Songs And Sounds exemplifies Dinizio’s considerable talents and confirms his status as the driving force behind the Smithereens, maybe in the future he should leave the crooning to Connick. – Lisa Lumb

Jim Hall, Paul Desmond, and Milt Jackson • (CTI reissues)

In the ’70s, veteran producer Creed Taylor’s CTI label often mixed older, established musicians with younger, up-and-coming stars. CTI albums were known for their all-star rosters, their highly produced recordings, and their high-gloss photo album covers. Legacy/CTI has begun to reissue many classic CTI titles with 20-bit remastering, alternate takes, and nice repackaging. Three of the best from this new reissue program are Milt Jackson’s Sunflower, Paul Desmond’s Skylark, and Jim Hall’s Concierto.

Sunflower, released in 1973, features vibemaster and Modern Jazz Quartet mainstay Jackson with a hot rhythm section of Miles Davis alumni: Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on electric piano, and drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham. Strings mix with Jackson’s vibes to impart a cool, relaxed tone to the disc. There’s plenty of fireworks, though, especially when Jackson and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard trade blistering licks. And even on the slower tunes, Cobham’s percussion fury is barely contained, with a simmering energy always threatening to burst out. Overall, though, this is a uniquely beautiful album, and remains a favorite after all these years. Especially wonderful is Freddie Hubbard’s extended masterpiece, “Sunflower.”

Also from 1973, Paul Desmond’s Skylark finds the former Brubeck alto saxophonist opening with “Take Ten,” a variation of his hit with Brubeck. Desmond has a highly individualistic sound (he once said he tried to “make his sax sound like a dry martini”) and it comes across well on this finely recorded and remastered disc. The song selection covers standards (a Hoagy Carmichael title track), classical (a Don Sebesky arrangement of Purcell’s “Music For A While”), and pop (a bossa version of Paul Simon’s “It Was A Sunny Day”). Guitarist Gabor Szabo, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald form a solid and highly inventive rhythmic backbone for Desmond’s beautiful and inspired alto work. Three alternate takes showcase Desmond’s great soloing.

Desmond joins guitarist Jim Hall on Concierto, along with Chet Baker, drummer Steve Gadd, pianist Roland Hanna, and (surprise!) bassist Ron Carter. This 1975 gem is an eloquent understatement of guitar finesse and beauty, with Baker and Desmond both offering numerous moments of pure brilliance. The 19-minute title track, Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” is widely recognized as a masterpiece, rivaling the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of this tune that was the centerpiece of Sketches Of Spain. Many consider Hall’s Concierto CTI’s greatest release.

The above recordings are some of the finer items in the CTI catalog (another CTI gem that’s begging to be reissued is tenor saxophonist Joe Farrell’s remarkable Moon Germs). All of the above share a certain highly produced gloss, but the power of the individual performances and artists makes each of them unique recordings.

This high-gloss production wasn’t always a good thing, and a number of albums on the label seemed to sacrifice musical quality in favor of a clean, slick, and perceivably marketable “CTI sound.” In this way, CTI can be seen as a seminal force in the contemporary jazz movement, focusing on a commercial sound as opposed to allowing musicians to create whatever music they chose. Fortunately, this was not always the case, as Skylark, Sunflower, and Concierto clearly show. On all three of these records, the musicians produced powerful recordings that still sound great today. – Gene Hyde

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