Indeed, Bay Area-based Hightone seems to be in a rich seam at the moment, with both contemporary releases and, through the Testament and HMG imprints, important reissues from the likes of Jessie Mae Hemphill and Otis Spann. Frankie Lee's The Ladies and the Babies, originally put out more than a decade ago by Hightone, itself is a minor soul-blues classic that deserves a much wider audience.
Much more restrained is Hello Friend, an album produced by stellar entertainer Bill Cosby as a tribute to his late son, Ennis. You might wonder whether the world needs another version of the Jazz Messengers' favourite, "Moanin'": but the band assembled for this session - including master pianist Cedar Walton and inventive horn players Bobby Watson and Lester Bowie - give it and other well-known numbers, such as Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" and Horace Silver's "Senor Blues", more oomph than is usually the case with such projects.
Meanwhile, Manu Dibango, the African saxophonist who was a pioneer in fusing the continent's traditional sounds with jazz influences, is at Ronnie Scott's, Frith Street W1 from Monday (9 Feb) until next Saturday, with Israeli-born pianist Jonathan Gee in support.
On Tuesday (10 Feb), another saxophonist, Tommy Smith, begins a run at the Pizza Express jazz club, Dean Street, W1. Still only in his early thirties, the Scottish-raised performer has an impressive track record, and with a band featuring Julian Joseph, has great capacity to surprise.
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