Le Coq Records’ ‘The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1’ Is A Compilation That Is Actually Worth Hearing

Courtesy: Le Coq Records

Independent jazz label Le Coq Records is working hard early in he new year to put its footprint on the music world.  That was already made obvious last month through Latin jazz singer Andy James’ new album Tu Amor.  The label also has new music from Rick Margitza on the way Friday, as well as a new collection of songs titled Trio.  That latter record, schedule for release Feb. 19, brings together jazz legends John Pattituci, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Bill Cunliffe for a collection of songs that will entertain and engage listeners in its own right.  The three musicians are also featured on another recently released Le Coq Records record, the compilation set titled The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1.  The eight-song collection, also the first of this year’s new releases from Le Coq Records, is one of the first great jazz records of 2021.  Released Jan. 8, the 52-minute presentation stands out in part because of its featured songs, which will be addressed shortly.  The performances of said songs adds its own touch to the record’s presentation and will be discussed a little later.  The songs’ sequencing rounds everything out, completing the record’s presentation.  It will also be discussed later.  When it is considered along with the songs and the group’s performances thereof, the whole makes The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 a surprisingly entertaining and engaging compilation record.

Le Coq Records’ recently released compilation record The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 is a presentation that jazz aficionados of all walks will enjoy.  That is a strong statement, considering that it is first and foremost a compilation.  Compilations are, after all, typically little more than space filler presentations that acts and labels use to fulfill contractual obligations for given acts.  In this case, this compilation breaks that mold, opting instead to profile a group of superstar jazz musicians and their talents through a series of originals and covers.  That collection of songs in itself forms a solid foundation for the compilation.  That mix of originals and covers is evenly split through the record with four of each.  In terms of the covers, the record takes listeners all the way back to 1920, with a cover of the famous Al Jolson song ‘Avalon’ and as recent as 1959, through a cover of Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue.’  Along the way, listeners are also taken back to 1931, with a cover of the Duke Ellington hit ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ and to 1936, with another Eillington hit, ‘Caravan.’  Those songs are both well-known and lesser-known, giving audiences a specific range of works at least in terms of the covers.  The originals meanwhile offer their own engagement and entertainment.  ‘Theme for FLOTUS’ for instance, which opens the album, is a modern jazz work that lends itself lightly to comparisons to works from the likes of Yellowjackets.  ‘Tu Wero Nui’ (roughly translated, it means ‘Your Great Challenge’) is another modern jazz work that will appeal to fans of said genre.  ‘Log Jammin’’ meanwhile harkens back to the work of the late, great Vince Guaraldi in the Peanuts TV specials.  It is in itself a special presentation hat changes things up in this record.  That will be discussed a little bit later.  ‘There You Go,’ the last of the originals featured in this record, takes audiences back to the Latin jazz clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s.  The use of the Latin percussion, drums, keyboards and horns collectively is certain to keep listeners engaged and entertained throughout the course of its four minute, 33-second run time.  When this song and the other originals are considered wholly with the record’s equally enjoyable covers, the whole of that mass makes the record’s musical makeup reason enough in itself for jazz aficionados to hear this recording.  It is just one part of what makes the recording work as well as it does.  The performance of the songs adds its own appeal to the presentation.

The performances of the songs featured in The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 build on the foundation formed by the songs themselves.  Every jazz lover knows the steady, driving beat of the drums in ‘Caravan.’  It is a rhythm that is unmistakable.  The same applies with the clear Middle Eastern influence in the horns.  The Jazz All Stars’ take on the timeless classic gives that original a whole new identity.  Rather than using the same sense of mystery that is exuded through the original, the group instead gives the song more of a funky update here, making an opus that sounds more like something out of the 70s than the 1930s.  It lets the piano and vocals take center stage instead of the horns, which were front and center in the original song.  Gone, too from this rendition, are the Latin percussion elements used in the original.  The sax solo is yet another new touch that is certain to grab listeners’ attention.  Now with all of this in mind, for all of the updates that the group makes in this rendition, the original composition is still there.  It is, simply put, a composition that likely will not immediately grab listeners, but will possibly grow on some.  No doubt it will divide listeners, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  It means that the song will have achieved its goal of standing out, regardless.

‘Avalon’ is another cover that has received a whole new identity through the Jazz All Stars’ performance.  The original song is a sort of waltz style composition.  The balance of low brass, Jolson’s vocal delivery and what may be a string arrangement comes together to make the song a unique presentation in its own right.  Fast forward all the way to 2021 and the Jazz All Stars’ take on the song has taken it in a whole new direction.  The group’s approach here does still have a light waltz approach, but instead has more of a Latin approach.  The addition of Jake Langley’s guitar work and Cunliffe’s work on piano combines with those Latin influences to make the song a light work that sounds like it came right out of the 1960s instead, in some high society gathering.  It is yet another performance that is certain to divide audiences, but ultimately to the good because it has so re-imagined its source material.

As noted already, the original tune ‘Log Jammin’’ while original, harkens back to the work of the late, great Vince Guaraldi for the Peanuts TV specials.  The live performance of this song featured herein is another example of the importance of the performances of the featured songs.  The pairing of the vintage keyboard line from John Beasley with the horns and laid back groove of drumming great Marvin Smitty Smith immediately conjures thoughts of the works that Guaraldi composed during his career.  One can almost see Charlie Brown and company out on their adventures as the group performs.  It is a wonderful throw back to a greater era of jazz that still manages to hold its own against Guaraldi’s works, showing once more why even the performance here is so important to note.  When this performance and the others examined here are considered with the rest of the featured performances, the whole of that aspect make even clearer what makes this composition so engaging and entertaining.  The performances are still not the end of what make The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 a success.  The sequencing of the record’s songs rounds out its most important aspect.

It is clear in listening to The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 that plenty of thought and consideration went into its sequencing.  As has already been noted, the record is composed of both covers and originals.  Going deeper into that discussion, the covers and originals are clearly and intentionally divided.  The first half of the album is fleshed out with the originals while the album’s second half – its other four songs – is composed of the group’s covers.  One could argue that it would have made just as much sense to mix and match the originals and covers to make things even more interesting.  However, by dividing the two halves so distinctively, the group (and officials with Le Coq Records) took a road less traveled.  It made for a more natural progression, going from the original works right into the covers.  It actually makes for a much smoother progression for the album, and ensures even more that listeners will remain engaged and entertained. 

On yet another level, the sequencing is important to examine because of its impact on the songs’ energies.  ‘Theme for FLOTUS’ opens the album on a decidedly upbeat vibe.  It starts of lightly before gradually building as it progresses.  ‘Tu Wero Nui,’ which is interestingly enough the second longest track in this collection, immediately relaxes listeners after the energy of the album’s opener.  Things pick back up from there over the course of the next two songs – ‘Log Jammin’’ and ‘There You Go’ – before relaxing again somewhat in the group’s cover of ‘Afro Blue.’  The energy rises all over again in the record’s next two songs, the group’s covers of ‘Caravan’ and ‘Rockin in Rhythm’ before finally relaxing one last time in the noted cover of ‘Avalon.’  That finale is a wonderful way for the record to close out after the clearly well-thought out sequencing of the rest of the record.  It is a nice gentle accent to the record that will leave listeners feeling fulfilled by the time the song ends.  When this aspect of the record’s sequencing is considered along with the sequencing of the songs themselves, and with the songs and performances thereof, the whole makes the whole of this record more than just another throwaway compilation record.  It is a profile of great songs by great artists past and present that gives listeners the best of the old and new alike.  It gives great hope that The Jazz All Stars Vol. 2 will come sooner rather than later.

Le Coq Records’ compilation record The Jazz All Stars is a presentation that jazz aficionados across the board will find engaging and entertaining.  It is not just another run-of-the-mill compilation.  That is proven in part through its featured songs, which are a mix of new and old alike.  The performances of the songs makes for its own interest, as even the covers are not just copy and paste compositions.  They are works that give their source material whole new identities while still paying tribute to a point, to those works.  At the same time, the originals take listeners to great eras of jazz gone by, too.  The sequencing of those songs both in regards to themselves and their energies rounds out the most important of the album’s elements.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation.  All things considered, the record will leave listeners hoping The Jazz All Stars will follow sooner rather than later.  The Jazz All Stars Vol. 1 is available now.

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