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`DESERT LADY/FANTASY' A WELCOME RELEASE

A new release by the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin big band is always good news, and delivering the goods this time is "Desert Lady/Fantasy" (Columbia CD CK57856). This band has ranked high in the critic polls since 1978, drawing early attention with such innovations as a five-part flute section in which husband Tabackin took the lead. He remains the lead soloist on this album, playing tenor, flute and piccolo on six tracks, five written by the principals. The other - and last cut on the album - is Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop," which features Greg Gisbort's trumpet and altoist Jim Snidero. Dizzy would have liked it, and so will you.

The Jazz at the Lincoln Center "They Came to Swing" is another Columbia tribute to the big band (CD CK 66379), with half of the 10 tracks wearing the Duke Ellington tag. Two cuts - "Jelly, Jelly" and "Lost in Loveliness" - feature a rich treatment from former Duke vocalist Milt Grayson. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is again point man of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, but another trumpeter - Jon Faddis - steals the show with his fastbreak solo on the 1946 Dizzy composition "Things to Come." More recent is the 1993 "Express Crossing," written by Marsalis as part of a score for the New York City Ballet, a playful offering that is a delight. Beginning with Billy Strayhorn's "Take the `A' Train," this album is accurately described by the title.Atlantic Jazz has introduced its first two releases of the new Acoustic Masters series (cleverly titled "Acoustic Masters I and II"). Well, there's little danger you'll be confused by the two. The first (CD 82583-2) matches the legendary foursome of tenor Charles Lloyd, who drew attention in the late 1960s with a group introducing some rock into jazz; Cedar Walton, a pianist from the school of Bud Powell and Art Blakey; veteran bassist Buster Williams, who has been described as upholding the Coltrane legacy on the bass; and drummer Billy Higgins, who has been a vital figure on the jazz scene for more than three decades. The second (CD 82591-2) combines Bobby Hutcherson, who began his career years ago with Archie Shepp and who is now regarded as one of the best ever to play the vibes; versatile Craig Handy on tenor and soprano saxes and flute; brilliant bassist Ron Carter, who first made waves playing with Miles Davis and whose ideas were so remarkable that a critic once wrote Carter "occasionally seems as if he is playing duos with himself"; Latin-influenced Jerry Gonzales on trumpet; pianist Mulgrew Miller; and drummer Lenny White, who doubles as producer of the series. Thanks, Lenny, because this is terrific stuff.

Mulgrew Miller is a personal favorite, so I was delighted to acquire his latest release for Novus Records, "With Our Own Eyes" (CD 63171-2). Miller, who has maintained the piano chair with big bands (Ellington Orchestra and Woody Shaw) and groups like Jazz Messengers and Tony Williams, goes back to the basics on this album with his touring trio of drummer Tony Reedus and Richie Goods on bass. Miller has been credited with being a classicist pianist who has been successful with a "bebop-oriented style mixing." Whatever you call it, this album, for which Miller has written seven of the 10 cuts, shows again why Mulgrew Miller is one of the best in the business.