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FERGUSON, ALLEN, CUNLIFFE OFFER SOME FRESH PLEASURES

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Charlie Shavers may have been the early influence for the high-register style on trumpet, but no one has had more lasting power way up there than Maynard Ferguson.

Ferguson, whose age and albums both top the 60 mark, show the chops are still there on "Live from London" (Avenue Jazz CD R2 71631), recorded on location at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho. It was a homecoming for Ferguson, who lived in Great Britain in the '60s after making a name in the United States with Stan Kenton (1950-53) and his own "Dream Band" at Birdland in New York. As usual, there are few household names among the band because Ferguson, like Woody Herman, continues to stock his roster with young musicians (median age is 20-30). I guess you'd have to be young to endure the 200-plus road engagements the Ferguson band books each year.Ferguson's ideas are fresh, too, as he hasn't been afraid of charges about "selling out to pop" by offering treatments of popular tunes, the most notable being his 1978 album "Conquistador" that featured the Rocky theme ("Gonna Fly Now"), which earned a gold record and a Grammy nomination.

On the London album, though, the seven cuts are more aged, with offerings of Dizzy's "Night in Tunisia," Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," and "St. Thomas," a composition by Sonny Rollins, who, by the way, will be headlining the Snowbird Jazz Festival in late July.

"Live from London" is classic big band.

- Drummer Carl Allen, who interned with Freddie Hubbard for eight years in the 1980s, makes his major label debut with "The Pursuer" (Atlantic CD 82572-2), and a fine outing it is. Six of the nine compositions were written by Allen; featured are altoist Vincent Herring and Teodross Avery and George Coleman on tenor. Steven Turre's trombone is featured on the finale, the traditional "Amazing Grace."

- It's been five years since Bill Cunliffe won the Thelonius Monk Jazz Piano Competition and in "A Rare Connection" (Discovery CD 77007) he shows some of the Monk influence, maybe even more so of Ahmad Jamal. This is a satisfying effort, thanks in part to the sax and bass clarinet work of album co-producer Bob Sheppard.

- Mike Stern, whose album of standards was reviewed in this space last year (and earned him "Best Jazz Guitarist" for 1993 by Guitar Player magazine), now provides us with nine originals on "It What It Is" (Atlantic CD 82571-2). Stern's versatility, molded by stints as far-reaching as Miles Davis to Blood, Sweat and Tears (where he played with late bassist Jaco Pastorius) is on display here, where he gives us a little of this and that. Jim Beard on piano and organ and tenors Michael Brecker and Bob Malach are among the talented sidemen.

- Etta James' attraction to Billie Holiday is transformed into "Mystery Lady - Songs of Billie Holiday" (Private Music CD 82114-2). Etta is in fine form and she's supported by saxman Red Holloway, bassist Tony Dumas and pianist Cedar Walton, who also did the arranging.

- The lyrics of "Art and Survival" (EMI CD E2-28494) reflect an understanding of desperation, pain and anger, but singer Dianne Reeves won't let sadness or pity take over as she gives us an intriguing grab bag of R&B to Afro-Cuban. Reeves is one of the bright young vocalists on the present jazz scene.