Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blowing In From Chicago

Blowing In From Chicago

Blue Note 1549
Recorded March 3rd 1957

Side One

1. Status Quo
2. Bo-Till
3. Blue Lights

Side Two

1. Billie's Bounce
2. Evil Eye
3. Everywhere

Oh you lucky, lucky people! Yes, the daily jazz has returned for another stab, and with what a gem! This 1957 LP on the Blue Note 1500 series is unusual for many reasons, featuring as it does two tenors together. Not only that, but the Chicago school (in the case of Jordan and Gilmore) and the New York set (in the shape of a superlative rhythm section - Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Curly Russell) collide in a high energy hard bop spectacular.

It's also one of the very few (the only?) place where you'll hear John Gilmore playing it straight. This would have been recorded near the beginning of his extended tenure with Sun Ra's various groups so is a great chance to hear him just blowing, unencumbered by his bandleader's more unusual compositions.

The music is unreconstructed hard bop, often at a furious pace (see today's audio clip, 'Status Quo', for an example), very much in the style of hard bop innovators like the jazz messengers. In some respects it sounds a little dated for 1957. The sound quality isn't as good as some RVGs either, though perhaps my thin-vinyl 80s repressing is to blame for that. In any case, it's recently had a reissue on Blue Note's ever expanding RVG series, so you can decide for yourselves. See, I told you you were lucky, lucky people!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

John Coltrane - Live At The Village Vanguard Again

'Live At The Village Vanguard Again' is the stub of a (lost) longer recording of a 1966 show featuring Trane, Pharoah Sanders on tenor and flute, Alice Coltrane on piano, and Jimmy Garrisson and Elvin Jones on bass and drums as usual. Oh, and Emanuel Rahim on percussion, too. What fascinates me about these late Coltrane live recordings is the raw emotion, and this record is no exception.

Without a doubt the main attraction here is the contrasting styles of Trane and Sanders, best seen on 'Naima'. To Trane, this has always been a lush ballad, expressing the deep gratitude he felt towards his ex-wife, the woman that he credited with saving him from drug addiction in the late 1950s. So he plays his heart out - I never fail to be moved by the way he plays this piece. Sanders had no such concerns though, and takes the piece somewhere much darker during his extended solo. Reflecting perhaps the darker side of Trane's emotional state in those late days, Sanders sounds almost to be in tears, his tenor audibly wailing. Sanders clearly felt very much in debt to Trane (as did many of his generation) and went on to show his gratitude with a fine reading of 'Naima' in the 1980s (on his LP 'Africa', on Timeless records).

Next up is 6 minutes of Garrisson playing solo as the introduction to a surprising version of 'My Favourite Things'. One associates late period Trane with the free-noise assaults of 'Ascension' and 'Om' but this piece opens with a funky Garrisson backing up a sweetly melodic Trane on soprano. Things soon take a turn for the bizarre as Trane gets further out, but the band never lose the plot, there is always a rhythmic thread. Sanders is effective on flute, adding texture and colour behind the soaring Coltrane.

Alice Coltrane was well in the band by this time, but she was still developing as a player at this time and often sounds like she's in another band, her clumsy block chords no match for the virtuosity going on right next to her on stage. Better was to come from her, and soon - see her gutsy piano playing on 'Gospel Trane' from her LP 'A Monastic Trio' for example.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Alan Silva - Skilfullness

Alan Treadwell DaSilva played bass on a number of noteworthy recordings during the 1960s, including Cecil Taylor's mighty 'Unit Structures' and Albert Ayler's impulse! recordings from the Village Vanguard. He was heavily involved in the whole Paris scene of 1969-1970, and it was there that he recorded the first album under the name of the Celestial Communication Orchestra, 'Luna Surface' on BYG. The music on that record was captured as part of the mammoth session from 13th-18th August 1969 that also featured such major names in the avant-garde as Archie Shepp, Anthony Braxton, Lester Bowie and Sunny Murray (as well as some very unusual names indeed - step forward, Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley).

1970 saw Silva on ESP records with the release of 'Skillfulness'. This time around the group featured less well-known but still excellent musicians, particularly Karl Berger on vibes. The album features only two tracks, both occupying a single side of vinyl. The meat of the sandwich is definitely the title track that runs for 20-odd minutes on side A. If you click on the link through to the review of 'Luna Surface', you'll see that reviewer mention this track also and describe it as 'skull-crushing'. I'm not sure I agree. 'Solestrial' on side 2 is certainly made up of free-noise, but 'Skilfullness' is much friendlier than that - one could almost call it intimate. Once you get past the dissonance and strange shrieks of Silva's violin, you'll notice that the piece is actually made up of a series of duets between Silva and usually just one of his sidemen. The highlights for me are the intricate interplay between Silva and Berger around the 11-minute mark, and the smooth lines of Becky Friend on flute that contrast with Silva's urgent, high-pitched piano style (he is heard on violin, cello and piano on this track).

ESP releases are known for their uncompromising freedom, and this album is no exception. The label was set up in 1965 and is still going, with many of it's past releases still available on CD - this album being no exception. Have a look!

ESP records

Alan Silva's 'Skilfullness' at ESP records

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Get The Message

Don't worry guys, I've got the message. I was just looking at my traffic, and once again I see that the hits per day have dropped by about 50% after posting about Weather Report. I won't do it again, I promise.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stormy Weather

I got into Weather Report in totally the reverse order. Growing up, my dad often played 'Heavy Weather', with the track 'Birdland' being a particular favourite. For those that don't know, this album was the band's commercial peak, and in sound is pretty typical of where jazz fusion was in 1977. Anyway, from these inauspicious beginnings, with an inkling that the earlier stuff was supposed to be better, I found my way to 'Mysterious Traveller' from 1974. This was more like it - dark and slippery with a real sense of funk. Now I could see that this was the band based around the same guys that made Miles' 'In A Silent Way' so special (Joe Zawinul wrote the original version of the title track). 'I Sing The Body Electric' is even earlier, 1972 to be exact. This is pretty much the original WR of Zawinul on keys, Wayne Shorter on saxes and Miroslav Vitous on bass. Word is that Vitous' influence gave the music a harder edge, and that is certainly true of the track I'd like to mention today. I haven't previously thought of WR being about anything other than complex, slowly developing tunes. Intensity is not a word that I've associated with their output - until now.

Side two of the album contains edited versions of a performance in Japan that was later released in full (in 1977) as 'Live In Tokyo'. First up is a medley of pieces - 'Vertical Invader', 'T.H.' and 'Dr. Honoris Causa'. What strikes you from the opening drum solo to the final, distorted electric piano notes is the incredible level of energy. The story goes that the band found the Japanese audiences on that particular tour to be such good listeners that they felt they could "...hit 'em hard, right from the first note" - and that's what happens. The intensity of the first section, 'Vertical Invader' is unsurpassed in their catalogue. Zawinul's rhodes is so heavily distorted that at first listen you would swear you'd just heard a guitar player start up. Only in the higher notes does it sound like an electric piano. It's not all fire and brimstone, though. The same section of track is also marked by some superb interplay between Zawinul and Shorter, both improvising with great inspiration. Zawinul plays especially well, using single lines in the most part, like a horn player. This approach also brings to mind a soloing guitarist, adding to the feeling that there's an uncredited guitar player in the band. Throughout the whole thing the rhythm section keep up a tight, fast and furiously funky groove, Vitous driving them forward with abandon. The overall effect is intoxicating and unsettling - stormy weather indeed.

It would be great to hear more, and of course you can by getting hold of a copy of 'Live In Tokyo', which I shall be doing very soon I think. If you have any interest at all in WR, please have a look at Weather Report: The Annotated Discography which is an example to all of us who have tried to put together artist-orientated websites.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Butter or Jam?

This cover has little going for it, although it's not bad considering the period and style of music. The question is, though - what's Pharoah got on his toast?

While you're puzzling that out, check out 'Pharomba' on the radio (you know the drill - main page, right hand column, click the track names to play), and for more commentary on that, see yesterday's post.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pharoah Sanders - Love Will Find A Way

Way back in december last year I reviewed Pharoah's 1976 LP 'Pharoah'. I noted that it was, by and large, a laid back funky slice of post free-jazz that was worth a listen. One well-known track on this album is 'Love Will Find A Way', and this is the name of his 1978 album on the Arista record label.

I don't know if it's the major label influence, or the march of time (remember that other ex-free jazzers were mellowing around the same time - like this and this), but this is Pharoah's most commercial album so far. That is not a criticism - in fact there is plenty to enjoy here. The first track to grab my attention was a cover of Marvin Gaye's soul hit 'Got to give it up'. It's in no way free-jazz, but what it is is tight and funky. It's more of an ensemble piece than a vehicle for Pharoah's blowing - the horn and rhythm sections play incredibly well here. Pharoah comes out for pretty much only one solo, but rather than breathing fire he chooses to express his energy inside the groove and comes over a bit like Maceo Parker. Only in the dying seconds of the track are some trademark squeals heard, as the music fades. It's as if Pharoah was placing his free days firmly in the past.

Elsewhere, most of the tracks have a latin feel, with smooth production and female vocals giving them a real mainstream feel. Again, that's not a bad thing. There's still some of the meditative quality that was to be found on Pharoah - especially on the title track. It's been radically rearranged since 76's simple format - all lush strings and heavenly choirs, but Pharoah takes a solo that is so heartfelt that you are immediately reassured that his new commercial style is in no way a sell out. Also good is 'Pharomba', which is reminiscent of some of Gato Barbieri's impulse! recordings from the early 70's. I've always thought that the Argentinian tenor comes across like a latin Pharoah Sanders on some of these recordings, and here Pharoah does exactly that.

By the way, the image above is of the rear sleeve. I love that photo, since seeing it on the cover of a recent double album retrospective of Pharoah's work titled 'You've Got To Have Freedom', which I have reproduced below. I haven't bought the album as I've got pretty much everything on it already, but if you're new to Sanders' music then it would be a very good place to start.