TIME WAS you had to go downtown to hear what was happening on the local jazz scene. Now it seems more and more musicians are finding their way onto vinyl or tape. Most record on their own, but every so often, someone like vocalist Ronnie Wells is lured into the studio by an established band. Here's a look at some recent local jazz releases.
THE WIDESPREAD ORCHESTRA -- "Paris Blues" (Columbia FC 40034). The Orchestra wastes no time in introducing Wells as its new vocalist. Beginning with the opening track, a classy version of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" -- stamped with personalized solos from the horn section -- it's obvious that Wells' singing summons an emotional intensity missing from the band's vocal performances in the past. Her interpretations of two Duke Ellington standards -- "I Got It Bad" and "Prelude to a Kiss" -- are far more subdued, even meditative at times, but they are deeply affecting just the same. As for the rest of the album, several arrangements swing with elegance and ease, but none more compellingly than the band's brisk take of Count Basie's "Blow Top."
HOT JAZZ -- "Cookin' BT11254091). Like The Widespread Orchestra, this local octet exists to celebrate the swing era. While the album occasionally sounds as though it was recorded in a mine shaft, there's no mistaking the band's affection for the music of Ellington, Artie Shaw, Louis Jordan and Nat King Cole, or its ability to render a reasonable accounting of the music. Leader Brooke Tegler is an indifferent singer, but as a drummer he neatly propels the band through its charts, including several arrangements that showcase Jim Snyder's fluid lyricism on clarinet, Clyde Hunt's colorfully evocative trumpet and flugle horn and Earl Jackson's swaggering saxophones.
THE RAY DISNEY GROUP -- "Lonely Night" (Sonority 1001). Appearing Saturday at Park Place Cafe, Disney is a young musician who bears close watching. Though obviously well trained in both jazz and classical music, his impressive technique never overshadows his appreciation for a lovely melody on this album, whether it be a tune he wrote hinself or something composed by Irving Berlin or Kurt Weill. For ballads like "Which Way to Go," Disney reserves a warm, appealing tone that occasionally recalls Art Farmer's wistful way with a phrase. But when the tempo quickens, as on "Unit 7," Disney's just as sharp and as sure-footed as the fine quartet that accompanies him.