Thursday, December 29, 2005
At The Organ, Volume 3
Blue Note 63812
Produced by Rudy Van Gelder
1. Judo Mambo
2. Willow Weep For Me
3. Lover Come Back To Me
4. Well, You Needn't
5. Fiddlin' The Minors
6. Autumn Leaves
7. I Cover The Waterfront
9. My Funny Valentine
10. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
11. Slightly Monkish
Jimmy Smith; organ
Thornel Schwartz; guitar
Donald Bailey; drums
OK, time for a confession - this review is only hear so that I could justify putting the amazing 'Judo Mambo' on the radio player. So There. End of review.
No, i'll say a bit more. This is an early Blue Note period Jimmy Smith album, so you know exactly what you're going to get - the trio format, and a set of cookin' originals and slightly schmaltzy standards. The originals stand out here - 'Judo Mambo', as you'll have realised by now is a bit of a standout, with it's latin rhythms and the fantastic playing of Jimmy and Thornel - just listen to the way they comp behind each others' solos - pure magic.
Also worthy of a mention is a stab at Monk's 'Well, You Needn't' that comes off well with Smith making it his own, and even going on to imitate the great pianist on the closing 'Slightly Monkish'.
His organ sound here varies a lot - there is some of the off-putting seaside wurlitzer vibrato on a few tracks, but mercifully he gets his stops right for the majority of what is an excellent album.
This is actually a recent Blue Note reissue on CD, in their excellent 'RVG Edition' series. Tracks 1-7 comprised the original LP released in 1956 as BLP 1525. Track 10 first appeared on a 45 in that year, with the others (8, 9 & 11) not seeing the light of day until 1997 (on CD - B2-57191 - not sure which album, though).
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Prestige PR 7463
1. Freedom Together
2. Getting To Know You
3. Ode To Prez
1. Nocturne For Contrabass
2. Just You, Just Me
3. Night Leaves
4. Young At Heart
Jaki Byard; piano, tenor sax, electric piano, celeste, vibes, drums
Richard Davis; bass, cello
Alan Dawson; drums, vibes, tympani
Jr. Parker; vocals, lagerphone
'One man band' is not a phrase that you hear often in a jazz context, but it could well be applicable here. Look at the list of instruments played by Byard here, and you can begin to wonder what on earth he was doing with a rhythm section on this 1966 recording. Of course, he cacn't play all his instruments at once and needs a bit of backup, but the presence of multi-instrumentalist Byard adds considerable colour to this trio date (I say trio - Jr. Parker adds vocals to only a couple of tracks, and they're best skipped over, especially the rather straight reading of Rodgers & Hammersteins' 'Getting To Know You').
Byard is best known for his piano playing, with a style wholly his own. He can be at times angular and sharp in the manner of Cecil Taylor, whilst at others he rips up the keys in the style of a ragtime pianist. Practically every other style of jazz is present in his playing, too, most of the time condensed together into a single phrase. It makes for an interesting listen, most of the time, but it's also great to hear him take a break from the limited piano-trio format (always likely to get a bit dull, i think) and let loose on tenor, or vibes. He's great at playing all of these instruments, too.
This is an interesting album from an interesting figure in jazz, although it doesn't go down as a classic it's worth a listen nonetheless. Make sure you have a look at Jaki Byard's website, which has a detailed biography of him that's worth a read if you want to know more.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
A Monastic Trio
051 267-2 (original release AS-9156)
1. Lord, Help Me To Be
2. The Sun
4. Gospel Trane
5. I Want To See You
6. Lovely Sky Boat
7. Oceanic Beloved
8. Atomic Peace
Alice Coltrane; piano, harp (6-8)
Pharoah Sanders; tenor sax (1), flute (2), bass clarinet (3)
Jimmy Garrison; bass (1-8)
Ben Riley; drums (1-3)
Rashied Ali; drums (4-8)
This was Alice's first solo album proper, after the collaboration with her late husband that was 'Cosmic Music' and it inhabits a different space to that shared by the Coltranes on the previous recording. Anyone familiar with the intense nature of John Coltrane's last few recordings will notice a major difference - the freedom espoused on his last albums has given way to a gentler spirituality, a reverence for her late husband.
This particular version of the album is 1998 expanded reissue - the original LP comprised just tracks 3-8 of the above; 'Lord, Help Me To Be' and 'The Sun' are taken from 'Cosmic Music'. These are the two tracks from that LP that did not feature John Coltrane (and again are noticeably different in mood, being much less turbulent than those that do).
The music here features Alice on both piano and harp; she may have become famous for her harp and organ on later LPs, but her piano playing here is superb. She combines her late husband's sense for exploration of all a tunes harmonic possibilities with a down-home funkiness (she was later described as playing the organ "like Booker T. on acid"). The presence of Pharoah Sanders on the first three tracks means that at times things get pretty free, but he's always kept in control. When Alice gets a chance to play without the far-out influence of Pharoah's horn, such as on 'Gospel Trane', the result is a swinging piece of post-bop blues that never gets too far away from it's roots. Rashied Ali is excellent as ever, taking an inspired solo around 3:00 that ends far too soon. Garrison is on form too, taking a walking bassline and atomizing it, reducing it to it's component parts and playing around with it in a never-ending cycle of invention.
Also worthy of mention is 'Ohnedaruth', another fascinating post-bop piece which directly links to John Coltrane - "it was chanted a lot by John when working together with his group" says Alice in the sleevenote. The presence of her harp on the later tracks (side two of the original album - how much easier it must have been to sequence an album in the days before CDs!) gives the music a more obviously spiritual mood, whilst remaining as firmly rooted in the post-bop tradition as the piano led tracks of the flipside.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
What else would anyone want to listen to on a day like today? The great Jimmy Smith, with help from an (unobtrusive) orchestra cooks on 8 christmas standards, the result being an album that your mother would love to hum but is still great improvisational jazz. Sometimes, like on 'Jingle Bells', he goes off without the strings and smokes it in a trio format - fantastic.
This is going to be short - there's a small boy desparate to open some presents (no, not me), so visit 'The Incredible Jimmy Smith' for more details of this recording.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Izipho Zam (My Gifts)
Strata East SES-19733 (Dolphy Series 2)
1. Prince Of Peace
1. Izipho Zam
Nat Bettis; percussion
Chief Bey; african drums
Sonny Fortune; alto sax
Billy Hart; drums
Howard Johnson; tuba
Cecil McBee; bass
Pharoah Sanders; sax and percussion
Majeed Shabazz; drums
Sonny Sharrock; guitar
Sirone (Norris Jones); bass
Lonnie Liston Smith; piano
Leon Thomas; vocal and percussion
Tony Wylie; percussion
Pharoah Sanders was in a very far-out place in 1969, and this album is proof of that. If you consider that the albums currently available Sanders catalogue represent the erm... commercial end of his late 60s/early 70s activities (Tauhid? Thembi? Commercial? I don't think so), and then consider that 'Izipho Zam' has never been released on CD...
I hope you see where i'm going with this. It's free jazz. Proper, loud, passionate, intense free jazz. I'm not going to say a lot about it tonight, as you all know by now what I think of Pharoah Sanders, just make sure you listen to tonight's track, the frankly amazing 'Balance'. While 'Prince of Peace' is spiritual in it's approach and 'Izipho Zam' is a bit freer, with layer after layer of intensity stacking up over it's 28 minutes, 'Balance' is not quite what it claims to be. Sure, it starts balanced, with alternating passages of Sanders' trademark funky rhythms alternating with moments of sheer abandon, but with about 4 minutes to go all attempts to stay balanced are given up and you are subjected to possibly the most intense, most violent music ever committed to disc. Two players stand out in this wall of sound - Sonny Sharrock's guitar and Howard Johnson's tuba are remarkable - less for the actual notes that they play than the sheer sound they make. The tuba is an unusual instrument to hear in a free jazz setting anyway, and it's simply remarkable here, going from high register runs to contrabass grunting in an instant. Sharrock turns everything up to 11 and creates a wall of feedback that any self respecting death-metaller would be proud of. It's a relief when it finishes, I can tell you. That last 4 minutes makes tohe 40 or so minutes of Coltrane's 'Ascension' sound like 'The Best of George Shearing' in comparison.
Abrasive stuff, but mesmerising. No wonder it hasn't had a reissue. Make sure to read my entry on another album from Strata East's Dolphy Series, Charles Brackeen's 'Rhythm X'.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
ARNIE LAWRENCE and treasure island
Doctor Jazz FW38445
Recorded January 15th-17th, 1979
1. Yoffie Is Back
2. Skip To The Blues
3. Blessed Is The Match
1. Abdullah and Abraham
2. The Street Musician
3. All-Ways and Forever
Arnie Larence; alto & soprano sax, alto flute
Tom Harrell; trumpet & flugelhorn
Mike Richmond; bass & piccolo bass
Jeff Williams; drums
Badal Roy; tabla, percussion, vocal
Abdullah Maghrib; conga, percussion
Lois Colin; harp
Bonnie Mattlick; narration on 'Yoffie Is Back'
Annette Sanders; Vocal on 'All-Ways and Forever'
Shamira Azad; Vocal on 'Yoffie Is Back'
Reverend John Gensel; narration on 'Blessed Is The Match'
I can't explain it either, maybe it's the effect of being a year older, but I can't help listening to 70s Jazz-Funk-Whatever-Fusion this week. Especially dodgy fusion, too - or at least that's what you'd think when looking at the sleeve of this LP. I remember coming across it in the bargain bin of a particularly cheap record store a few months back and thinking "Woah, anything that looks this bad must be good". Well, my instinct was correct - despite being full of musicians i'd previously never heard of, and despite being from a period I usually am extremely wary of - I actually quite enjoy listening to this record.
I found out recently that Arnie Lawrence was at one time a protegé of Chico Hamilton, and appeared on his 'The Dealer' album (alongside Archie Shepp on piano, too!). He went on to record many more albums with Hamilton before striking out on his own with this forward-looking record. You can read a brief biography of Arnie by following this link.
As i've just said, this is a forward looking album, with a variety of styles and moods explored. Side 1 alone contains jazz-funk-fusion ('Yoffie Is Back'), hard swinging bebop ('Skip To The Blues') and ECM-style abstract ambient improvisation ('Blessed Is The Match'). Lawrence never dominates, letting the other musicians have their say, although perhaps it was this modesty that lef to him failing to receive the respect he deserved. The 'treasure island' monicker might lead you to expect some calypso-flavoured ramblings - and that's exactly what you get midway through 'Yoffie Is Back'. Strange stuff.
Side 2 is a little more consistent, staying in the meditative style of 'Blessed Is The Match', with the exception of 'The Street Musician' - a big slice of funk underpinned by some serious percussion.
Leaving the jarring moods aside, this is a fine LP - nicely played and recorded with some interesting ideas, and like so many albums, just never got picked up commercially and now languishes, unappreciated in bargain bins the world over. Well, Mr. Lawrence - I like it.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Get Up With It
Columbia C2K 63970
Recorded 1970-1974, released 1975
Produced by Teo Macero
1. He Loved Him Madly
3. Honky Tonk
4. Rated X
1. Calypso Frelimo
2. Red China Blues
4. Billy Preston
Miles Davis; organ, trumpet
Dave Liebman; flute, alto flute
Pete Cosey; guitar
Reggie Lucas; guitar
Dominique Gaumont; guitar
Michael Henderson; electric bass
Al Foster; drums
Sonny Fortune; flute
Steve Grossman; soprano sax
John McLaughlin; guitar
Keith Jarrett; rhodes
Herbie Hancock; clavinet
Billy Cobham; drums
Airto Moreira; percussion
Cedric Lawson; rhodes
Khalil Balakrishna; electric sitar
Badal Roy; tabla
John Stubblefield; soprano sax
Wally Chambers; harmonica
Cornell Dupree; guitar
Bernard Purdie; drums
Wade Marcus; brass arrangement
Billy Jackson; rhythm arrangement
Miles' last album before his enforced late 70s lay off sees him sticking with his tradition of innovation, despite the approach of a creative block which would see him out of action until 1981. There are 3 Miles here - the voodoo-funk Miles of 'Dark Magus' or 'On The Corner'; the post-bop-blues Miles of 'Bitches Brew', and a new one - Miles at the organ, Miles the explorer, Miles the inventor of ambient music.
Yes, he played a part in pioneering ambient electronic music with the use of his organ. Disc one of this 2000 CD reissue highlights this; despite running for over 32 minutes, the opening 'He Loved Him Madly' hardly features Miles' horn at all, but is swathed in organ textures. Much of the track is a dialogue between Miles, using the keyboard to set out the chords he could hear in his head, and the guitarists, constantly exploring the bleak (almost lunar) landscapes that Miles conjures up. There's a funky bluesiness to their playing that makes this track come over as a twisted union between 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Maggot Brain'. It really is as good as that.
'Maiyisha' is taken at a faster tempo, but is much the same as the previous track - textural organ playing and a fat rhythm section underlying the soloists. The amazing thing here is that unlike most jazz, where the harmonic underpinnings of the music are always moving, here the chords are static, the changes entirely predictable, which gives the soloists less freedom but allows the rhythm section - and the percussionists in particular - to subtly shift the components of the beat to create a slippery, sliding backdrop. This idea is extended even further by 'Rated X' which has been edited heavily by Teo Macero. The organ is ever present, building layer upon layer of dissonance and texture, while the band stick to jamming around one chord, being dropped into and out of the mix to create a sense of dislocation that's truly frightening. I've heard nothing like it from before or since.
'Honky Tonk' and 'Red China Blues' are from another planet than any of the above tracks - but strabgely they slot into place nicely. 'Honky Tonk' dates from 1970 and features many of the 'Jack Johnson' era musicians in a bluesy jam (in fact, a couple of takes of this track are included on the recently released 'Complete Jack Johnson Sessions' box set, which is an essential purchase for any serious jazz lover). 'Red China Blues' is just that - a blues, but with added big band support, again something that was unusual for Miles. The other tracks - the smoking funk of 'Calypso Frelimo', the percussion riot of 'Mtume' and the organ freak-out of 'Billy Preston' are basically in the hard jazz-funk style that Miles made his own in the early 70s with albums like 'Jack Johnson' and 'On The Corner'.
It's the ambient tracks - the organ-heavy pieces of the first disc that stand out here - much because they were so new and strange - Miles had never been heard on organ before. But they've proved to have a massive influence on many forms of music to come since - which is perhaps surprising, considering the reception the album got at the time of release. 'Frightening' said one critic, comparing it to Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' in it's sheer bleakness! While this music might terrify a newcomer to Miles, anyone who appreciates his don't-give-a-fuck persona will love the mad new ideas presented here.
You've got to read this review of the album too.
Monday, December 19, 2005
JAZZ ARTISTS GUILD
Recorded November 1st-11th, 1960
1. Mysterious Blues (8:35) (Charles Mingus)
2. Cliff Walk (9:39) (Booker Little)
3. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (3:49) (Harry Barris, Ted Koehler & Billy Moll)
4. T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do (7:11) (Porter Grainger & Everett Robbins)
5. Me and You (9:46) (Roy Eldridge, Charles Mingus, Tommy Flanagan & Jo Jones)
1. Mysterious Blues: Eric Dolphy (as); Charles Mingus (b); Roy Eldridge (tp); Jimmy Knepper (tb); Tommy Flanagan (p); Jo Jones (dr)
2. Cliff Walk: Booker Little (tp); Julian Priester (tb); Walter Benton (ts); Peck Morrison (b); Jo Jones, Max Roach (dr)
3. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams: Charles Mingus (b); Roy Eldridge (tp); Tommy Flanagan (p); Jo Jones (dr)
4. T'Aint't Nobody's Buizness If I Do: Eric Dolphy (as); Jo Jones (dr); Kenny Dorham (p); Peck Morrison (b); Abbey Lincoln (vocal)
5. Me and You: Charles Mingus (b); Roy Eldridge (tp); Tommy Flanagan (p); Jo Jones (dr)
This is a real oddity, an album featuring what at first seems to be a bizarre collection of old and young (at the time) jazzmen; swingers, boppers and the nascent avant-garde all getting together for a big old jam. It's only when you listen that you realise that they all speak the language of jazz, and that the tendency to pigeon-hole artists into a particular style just doesn't need to apply.
These artists were prompted to get together by the 1960 Newport jazz festival. The story goes that Mingus, fed up with what he saw as the rampant commercialism of the main Newport festival, got together a bunch of like-minded musicians to stage a rival festival at nearby Cliff Walk. Everything was done by the musicians, from setting up the tents to promoting the event. Rumour has it that Mingus himself went amongst the audience to collect admission fees! This proved such a bonding experience that some of the musicians involved formed the Jazz Artists Guild on their return to New York, in order to promote better relations between all generations of musicians.
Like many utopian ideals, the Guild ended in failure a short time later, but not before this album was recorded, and it stands as a testament to what can be achieved by cooperation between outstanding musicians.
Side one is really the only place to be, containing the two standout tracks, 'Mysterious Blues' and 'Cliff Walk'. Both compositions were composed at the sessions, and the spontaneity shines through onto the recording. 'Mysterious Blues' is well worth hearing for the fantastic high-energy trumpet playing of Eldridge, coupled with Mingus' bass gymnastics and the superlative drumming of Jo Jones, dropping bombs all over the track. Also of note here is Eric Dolphy - not so much for the quality of his playing (which is okay), but for his presence on such a straightahead recording - i'm used to hearing Dolphy in a considerably more abstract setting.
'Cliff Walk' is a real uptempo hard-bop brnstormer, complete with the album's finest moment; the drum battle between Jones and Max Roach towards the end of the track. Perhaps battle is the wrong word, as they seem to be helping each other out more than anything. Elsewhere, Roach drops his trademark bombs over everyone, flattening the soloists and stamping his authority all over the LP.
Side two slackens off a little, with the vocal 'T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do' being particularly forgettable, but it all comes back into line for the closing 'Me and You', a long, slow blues jam with some more amazing trumpet playing from Eldridge.
I know I always say this, but this is album has some great moments. So go buy it! For maximum enjoyment, make sure to order it in fine 180g virgin vinyl - i did and it sounds fantastic; the production is of the highest standard and the pressing really lets the music breathe.
Friday, December 16, 2005
India Navigation IN 1027
Recorded August & September 1976
1. Harvest Time
1. Love Will Find A Way
2. Memouies of Edith Johnson
Pharoah Sanders; tenor sax, vocals, percussion
Lawrence Killian; percussion
Steve Neil; bass
Jiggs Chase; organ
Greg Bandy; drums
Bedria Sanders; harmonium
First impressions? Well, it's not like the Pharoah that we've come to know and love from 'Karma', 'Black Unity' et al. Not initially, anyway, as side one opens with a laid back funky groove and some surprisingly tasteful meandering on tenor from Sanders. The rhythm builds slowly, with new sounds and greater complexity being added all the time, in a manner not entirely dissimilar to an Indian raga.
Many times on previous albums, especially on 'Village of the Pharoahs', i'd hoped to hear Sanders play with a guitar, and here he does - surprisingly effective it is too, carrying the rhythm nicely as well as taking a solo on 'Love Will Find A Way' which is highly reminiscent of the great Carlos Santana. This track is also one of the first where Sanders lays down his sax and starts singing - the lyric is simple, but uplifting. There's a funky organ, too - most unlike the early 70s Pharoah.
Finally, 'Memories of Edith Johnson' closes out the set with more mellowness, but this time in a far-eastern-gospel-fusion style. (it actually sounds better than you would think from that description). That is to say it has some church organ and gospel-style vocals over a backdrop of pentatonic rambling.
Not an essential Sanders LP, by any stretch, but an intriguing chapter of his development from avant-garde pioneer to mainstream jazz artist.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Blue Note RVG Edition 7243 5 76754 2 0
Recorded February 8th 1963 (1-6), June 13th 1960 (7-8)
2.I Almost Lost My Mind
3.Stone Cold Dead In The Market
4.When The Saints Go Marching In
PERSONNEL Stanley Turrentine; tenor sax
Jimmy Smith; organ
Quentin Warren; guitar
Sam Jones; bass (7-8)
Donald Bailey; drums
I have to admit that this album was rather unfairly overlooked by me for a long time. I bought this and it's companion “Rockin' The Boat” (recorded at the same sessions) on CD as part of the Blue Note 'RVG Edition' series of reissues. I'd come fresh from getting excited by Smith's Verve-era big band compositions, and was expecting more fireworks here. For some reason i initially found the albums underwhelming, then i discovered that they were recorded right at the end of Jimmy's soujourn with Blue Note. Contract filler, thought I, and after a couple of listens filed them away on the shelf, where they languished, unloved, until earlier this week.
It all started with a Blue Note compilation – 'So Blue, So Funky – Heroes of the Hammond vol. 2' which i was listening to the other day. It has the track 'Can Heat' from “Rockin' the Boat”, and after listening to it a half-dozen times and being impressed by it's loose, laid back funkiness, i thought “wow, this is great, i wonder what LP it's from”. Imagine my surprise when the very album was sat there on my shelf. Well, needless to say i've not listened to an awful lot else this week.
The music is typical Blue Note era Jimmy, but with a less serious tone than on albums such as “The Sermon”, and a better realised organ sound than on some of his earlier works. In keeping with the end-of-contract timing of these albums, there is a jam session feel to the recordings – the players were in there to have a bit of fun and make a few dollars, and that sense of fun really shines through. Both albums feature a tenor – Turrentine here and Lou Donaldson on “Rockin'...”, the presence of which adds vital colour to the date.
It's also worth mentioning the quality of the production – which i'm sure is at least in part owing to the recent remaster. The audio quality of all of the RVG editions i've had the pleasure of hearing is uniformly excellent. This particular CD issue also brings in a couple of tracks from a 1960's session – also featuring Turrentine ('Lonesome Road' and 'Smith Walk') which share a similar feel of relaxed funkiness to the main LP. The audio is a bit less good though, and Smith still has some of that seaside Wurlitzer sound that makes some of his early LP's so unappealing.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Columbia 460602 2
Recorded 19th-21st August 1969
Produced By Teo Macero
1. Pharaoh's Dance
2. Bitches Brew
3. Spanish Key
4. John McLaughlin
5. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down
Miles Davis; trumpet
Wayne Shorter; soprano sax
Lenny White; drums
Bennie Maupin; bass clarinet
Chick Corea; electric piano
Jim Riley; percussion
Jack DeJohnette; drums
Harvey Brooks; fender bass
Charles Alias; drums
Dave Holland; bass
John McLaughlin; electric guitar
Joe Zawinul; electric piano
Larry Young; electric piano
A monumental slab of sound. Jazz for the Hendrix generation - by the Hendrix generation. You can say that of Miles, even though by this time he'd already changed the course of Jazz history three times (and was on the cusp of doing it a fourth - at the age of 43!). The first was with the 'cool jazz' of his early records, signalling a move away from bop; the second with his modal experiments with the first great quintet in the late 50s. The third? Post-bop, arguably his invention through the work of the second great quintet - my favourite jazz band of all time; i'm sure there are few who would disagree with that sentiment. Following the development of their sound, from 'ESP' to 'Filles De Kilimanjaro' is an electrifying experience, and one that maps out the language of jazz that's still used today. Advanced hard-bop? ESP. Funky jazz-fusion? Miles In The Sky. Free Improvisation? 'Filles...' I could go on, but of course we're here to talk about the daddy of jazz-rock-funk-whatever fusion, 'Bitches' Brew'.
Once described as 'the first shot fired in the fusion revolution' it certainly acts as a starting point for much of the rest of the 70s. Trace the careers of any major fusion artist back and they all meet here. Look at that line up - McGlaughlin, Shorter, Zawinul, Corea, Holland, DeJohnette, et al. (and don't forget the likes of Ron Carter and Billy Cobham who participated in the sessions but don't appear here); every one involved in fusion in a major way over the next few years. So universal is 'Bitches'' sound that it could be the first Mahavishnu Orchestra, the first Mwandishi band, the first Weather report LP.
But it's not, it's Miles' through and through. And how does he come over? Like he always does. Languid, cool toned horn playing like in many of his performances, but there's something else here, a real edge to his playing that feels at the same time familiar yet sinister (helped, in no small measure, by the dark funk of the rhythm section - check out the closing passages of the title track to see what i mean). This is not the sound of an elder statesman of jazz resting on his laurels, but it is unmistakeably Miles.
The music? It's constantly in motion; slippery, shifting sands of rhythm underlying the dense textures of the ring-modulated rhodes and horns. Parts come and go, sometimes with no clearly defined sense of structure, but always with moving forward - an effect added to by producer Teo Macero's use of advanced post-production techniques such as tape loops and editing. Amongst the musicians, particular mention must be made of 3 (other than Miles, of course). Wayne Shorter is outstanding throughout on soprano and I've already mentioned Chick Corea's rhodes. Bennie Maupin has a staggering performance on bass clarinet, one of the finest I've heard, and amazingly for a hard/post-bop (until then) player, not at all in the style of the legendary Eric Dolphy. And of course, John McLaughlin, with a contribution significant enough to warrant his own track (where Miles lays out and lets him get on with it).
As Ralph Gleason says in the sleeve note, "the music speaks for itself", so go listen.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A Slice Of The Top
Blue Note B1-33582
Recorded March 18th, 1966
Recording Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
1. Hank's Other Bag
2. There's A Lull In My Life
3. Cute 'n' Pretty
1. A Touch Of The Blues
2. A Slice Of The Top
Hank Mobley; tenor sax
James Spaulding; alto sax (?flute on 'Cute 'n' Pretty)
Lee Morgan; trumpet
Kiane Zawadi; euphonium
Howard Johnson; tuba
McCoy Tyner; piano
Bob Cranshaw; bass
Billy Higgins; drums
It's good to know that, whatever innovations are happening in Jazz, whatever the avant-garde are up to, you can always rely on some artists to deliver a set of straight-ahead hard bop that, while it doesn't innovate, just cooks (Well, I say 'doesn't innovate' and in form that's true, but how many 1960s hard bop sessions featured tuba and euphonium?). So it is with Mr. Mobley, and 1966 Blue Note session is a great example of that.
'Hank's Other Bag' gets straight to work - after an ensemble opening, Tyner gets down to it, creating a funky, blues drenched solo that perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the album. Mobley's up next, before Morgan has a go. He's on stupendous form on this date. Look out for the other brass, especially Howard Johnson on tuba, what a versatile player! As well as turning his hand to straight-ahead music like this, he can also be heard on free jazz classics like Pharoah Sanders' 'Izipho Zam' and big-band works along the lines of Gil Evans' 'Blues In Orbit'. It's sad that he doesn't get a solo spot but his presence enhances the whole set.
The ballad, 'There's a Lull In My Life' features some sensitive playing from Mobley, although it's best feature is the supportive playing by the ensemble, who treat this like a big band number despite there only being 6 horns on the date. 'Cute 'n' Pretty' has some uncredited flute playing (probably by Spaulding - a former Sun-Ra sideman!) and a nice melodic groove supporting the soloists.
Side 2 kicks off with 'A Touch Of The Blues' doing exactly what you'd expect - a big blues performance with some inspired parping from the low brass in the theme and a fantastic series of solos from Mobley and Morgan that could be interchangeable for all the difference in style between them. 'A Slice Of The Top' is in more adventurous harmonic territory with a sinister minor key theme aided and abetted once again by the colourful presence of Johnson and Zawadi.
Unfortunately, at time of writing, this set was still unavailable on CD (come on, Blue Note!). It was only released in 1979 having been recently discovered - according to the sleeve note several other sessions from around this time remain to be heard. Nevertheless, it's a sound LP and well worth seeking out if you like a good bit of unpretentious hard bop with a little colour to distinguish it from the crowd.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
What A Wonderful World
Recorded May 26th-29th, 1970
This weekend sees the sad passing of my Grandad, a great man who you wouldn't instantly think of as a jazz fan, but this late period Louis Armstrong hit was a great favourite of his, so it's only fitting that I should comment on it here today.
This track will be instantly familiar to almost everybody. The starry-eyed optimism of the lyric couldn't be more fitting on a dark day like this one. Armstrong had long stopped being a jazz innovator by this stage in his career, but he was still capable of delivering a performance that could bring a tear to a glass eye. Actually, listening to this is bringing one to mine, so I'll leave you to enjoy a beautiful song, beautifully sung.
Friday, December 09, 2005
The Way Ahead
Recorded January 29th 1968
Produced By Bob Thiele
1. Damn If I Know (The Stroller)
2. Sophisticated Lady
Archie Shepp; tenor sax
Walter Davis Jr.; piano
Ron Carter; bass
Jimmy Owens; trumpet
Grachan Moncur III; trombone
Beaver Harris*, Roy Haynes; drums
'The Way Ahead' marked a turning point for Archie Shepp. It's probably the first of his albums where he changes his focus from free playing and innovation and starts to head in the direction that would ultimately lead to albums of standards and spirituals in the late 70s and early 80s.
I say changes his focus - that's not to say that there isn't freedom here - there is, lots of it, but there's also other things creeping in like the bluesy 'Damn If I Know (the stroller)' and the sense of reverence to the past on Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady' (he'd later record an LP of Ellington tunes, 1977's 'Day Dream'). 'Frankenstein' is more what you'd expect of late 60s Shepp - a furious blowing vehicle for Shepp with able support from Carter and Harris who keep things moving along wthout ever getting too carried away. Also worth a listen here is the ensemble playing of Owens, Moncur and Davis which acts as a fitting melodic backdrop to some of Shepp's wilder flights. The name of this track is appropriate too - despite the fast and furious soloing, the theme retains the lumbering character oft associated with Hollywood interpretations of the eponymous monster.
'Fiesta' has what would probably be called a 'party-vibe' nowadays. The theme is light and bouncy with a noticeable latin influence, but there's no let-up in Shepp's intensity. The closing 'Sophisticated Lady' is the closest the LP comes to a ballad, and is noticeably much more reverent than the other pieces. This is no longer the iconoclastic Shepp of 'Fire Music' - his playing is restrained and much more in keeping with the theme. There are still moments of freedom though, with dissonancies and odd harmonics never far away.
His next studio recordings would be the three classic BYG Actuel releases from August 1969, over a year later, but this LP really does point the way towards what was to come.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Out There A Minute
7" single (b/w Glenn Branca - 'Third Movement')
Blast First records
I listened to this single for the first time in ages this week, and it's blown me away. It's the entire history of US avant-garde music on a 45. This is not what you expect. US indie labels with a penchant for noisy guitar music rarely if ever release works by leading figures in free jazz (it's like Stock, Aitken and Waterman releasing a record by Albert Ayler). I'm not sure why I bought this record - perhaps it was the connection with Sonic Youth, who were on Blast First at the time, perhaps it was the sleeve with it's reproduction of the First Vorticist Manifesto. I'm not sure if i'd even heard of Sun Ra at the time.
I didn't know it then, but Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore was very keen on all sorts of improvised music and was making some initial forays into playing in an improvised manner himself, something he's continued up until this day (you can read more about that here). It was he who curated 'Out There A Minute', a compilation album of obscure bits of 60s/70s Sun Ra from which this track is taken.
The music is typical Sun Ra - Ellington gone to outer-space big-band with demented piano accompaniment. The 'theme' (if you can call it that) is crazy - brief horn tune that repeats itself at such an odd interval that you think the record's skipping for the first couple of times you play it. This serves as a backdrop for soloing by Ra on piano and a crazy far-out tenor sax (maybe John Gilmore?).
The B-side is by US avant-noise composer Glenn Branca and is basically a symphony for feedback - not really jazz at all, but worthy of a listen. The name of the publisher of both tracks sums it all up - 'My Ears! My Ears!'
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
The Day The World Stood Still
Recorded April 2003
1. Not Sa No Sa
2. Flying in the Sky
3. Ghetto Echoes
4. Yesterday Tomorrow
5. Hermano Frere
6. Do To
7. When Peace Comes
9. When the World Stays Still, Pt. 2
Staffan Svensson; trumpet
Klaus Lohrer; bass trombone, tuba
Peter Fuglsang; alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
Thomas Agergaard; tenor sax, clarinet
Liudas Mockunas; soprano sax, baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
Andrew Hill; piano and leader
Scott Colley; double bass
Nasheet Waits; drums
Special guest appearance on track 5 - Lenora Zenzalai Helm; vocal
The JAZZPAR prize is one of the world's largest and most prestigious jazz awards. It's been described as the 'Oscars of the jazz world', and is awarded annually to an international, currently active jazz artist who is deserving of further acclaim. The 2003 prize was won by American pianist, composer and bandleader Andrew Hill, who gave several performances as part of his acceptance of the prize. These concerts are documented on this CD in which Hill is heard with his American trio and 5 scandinavian horn players on 9 Hill compositions. Track 5 also features Lenora Helm on vocals (the +1 of the album's title).
Hill has been around as a leader since the 1960s, making his mark with a flurry of releases on the Blue Note label such as 'Point of Departure', which stands as one of the finest jazz releases of that decade, and, along with Eric Dolphy's 'Out To Lunch' (also on blue note), as one of the finest pieces of avant-garde jazz ever recorded.
The style of this music can best be described by a quote from Hill himself which graces the inner sleeve of the album;
"Always check out the rhythm - if it's static it means the music is dead."
We are firmly in avant-garde territory here (though the pieces are all tightly structured as compositions) as this quote would have you believe - and this music is certainly not dead - it's alive; twisting and crawling out of the mind and piano of Hill like a polyrhythmic snake slithering over a desert of regular rhythms. I say 'mind' first and 'piano' second on purpose - this is not a showcase for Hill's piano playing (excellent though it is) but for his compositions, which really get the best out of this young group.
The opening 'Not Sa No Sa' is a case in point, containing an enormous variety of moods and textures within it's 9 minutes. It opens like a demented post-bop demon - all wriggling horns and drumming that could be Clyde 'Funky Drummer' Stubblefield's evil twin - before finding it's focus through a series of ever more conventional horn solos. There's even a tune, coming in at around 4 minutes, at which point the rhythm section find the funk while still providing a backdrop to those ever-inventive horns. It all threatens to go wrong with a burst of bagpipe-like folkiness but fortunately this is one melodic idea that's not followed through to it's conclusion.
It's a breathless ride, all the way to the wrong side of 9 minutes, and really gives you a taste of the sort of music that's to come in the rest of the album. I have to be honest and say that this track really took me by surprise when I first heard it, so different was it from much of what the so-called 'elder statesmen' of jazz are doing nowadays. It did take a couple of listens to make sense of, though, so sit through it a couple of times, even if your initial reaction is 'Ouch!'.
'Flying in the Sky' is much more conventional in sound, coming over like a slightly drunken Ellington during the intro, then showcasing some of Hill's unique piano playing style. As is 'Hermano Frere' with it's straightahead vocal and latin rhythms, cut throughout with Hill's harmonically inventive comps on piano. '11/8' is presumably just that - i'm not enough of a musician to be able to say, but I can say that it has a killer bass intro that introduces a theme that's spread around the band, and just builds and builds, with Hill's support, to a remarkable peak of quiet intensity. 'Yesterday Tomorrow' is another standout track for the bass player, with a great lengthy introductory solo that leads to one of those beautiful circular themes that just hypnotise me.
The styles of the pieces may all be different, but the quality of playing is uniformly excellent; the young European horns the perfect foil for Hill's off-kilter style. Hill shows himself to be a worthy winner of the Jazzpar prize, as well as showing the other jazzmen of his generation how to inspire a new generation of players and composers.
Monday, December 05, 2005
RADIO JAZZ GRUPPEN SPEKTRUM
SR Records RELP 1193
Recorded 12-14 February 1973
1. Bäst Är
2. I Leksakslandet
1. Nu Slår En Blomma Ut
2. Min Syster Äger En Rosenkrans
Music by Georg Riedel (after text by Stig Dagerman)
Sveriges Radio Jazzgrup, with soloists
• Arne Domnérus; alto sax
• Claes Rosendahl; flute
• Lena Ericsson; vocal (soprano)
• Rune Gustafsson; guitar
• Bertil Lövgren; flugelhorn
• Lennart Åberg; soprano sax, tenor sax
• Palle Mikkelborg; flugelhorn, trumpet
• Erik Nilsson; baritone sax
• Bengt Hallberg; piano
It’s difficiult to know where to start with this LP. It’s an obscure Swedish album from the early 70s, brought back from a trip to Stockholm by an excited Stewart a few years back. His excitement was well placed as the music here is excellent, but first I’ll attempt to explain a little about the LP.
Scandinavia has always been a rich source of excellent jazz, and that music tends to have a sound very much influenced by the long dark nights and cold weather. That’s very much the case here, although this isn’t cold, soulless music – just listen to Lena Ericsson’s haunting vocal during the opening ‘Bäst Är’ or Erik Nilsson’s baritone sax solo towards the end of ‘Nu Slår En Blomma Ut’ for proof of that. It might be cold outside, and we might be in a relatively tranquil mood, but inside it’s warm and we’ll help to soothe your troubles away. It’s that kind of record.
In fact it’s the kind of record that they’re still making in that part of the world in particular, and in Europe in general – you just have to listen to some of the output of the ECM label to realise this. The music is wonderfully relaxing – it makes a fine going-to-sleep record - though there’s much more to it than that.
The opening ‘Bäst Är’ begins with a whisper of percussion before the choir set the mood with a typically meditative passage preceding a surprisingly bluesy Arne Domnérus. This is where the jazz element of this recording really hits you – for a moment you could be mistaken for thinking you’d stumbled across some contemporary classical music. Lena Ericsson’s vocal is next and sounds beautiful – the lyrics may be Swedish but there’s no doubting the emotion in her voice – the sadness and longing in her voice (‘Bäst Är’ translates roughly as ‘I’m Fine’ – she certainly doesn’t sound fine). The only other thing to say is that the responding flute of Claes Rosendahl sounds much the same way; there’s little happiness on either side of the situation being set out here.
The following ‘I Leksakslandet’ is even more strongly jazz in its feel. The opening interplay of piano, bass and drums sets up a feeling of tension that isn’t resolved until the entry of the Rune Gustafsson’s acoustic guitar at around 2:00. He goes on to play a superb extended solo with the rhythm section supplying support and new ideas all the way through – as well as a definite groove. The horns help out too, with support on the theme as well as thoughtful interjections throughout. The mood then turns dark and stormy again for side 1’s closing ‘Nocturne’, with synth textures acting as a backdrop to the interplay of Bertil Lövgren’s plaintive flugelhorn and Lennart Åberg’s soprano sax.
Side two repeats the recipe to great effect, with highlights being Lena Ericsson’s vocal, once again, as well as Erik Nilsson’s funky baritone sax solo towards the end of ‘Nu Slår En Blomma Ut’. This track features more cold synth textures that threaten, but never manage to dampen the spirit of the ensemble playing – this really is modern big-band jazz at it’s finest. A sense of tranquillity returns with ‘Min Syster Äger En Rosenkrans’, featuring as it does a haunting vocal by Lena Ericsson.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Improvising Artists 37.38.51
1. Specific Gravity One
3. Double Split
4. J.C. Dudley
Bennie Maupin; tenor sax, flute
Mike Nock; piano
Cecil McBee; bass
Eddie Marshall; drums
One of the greatest joys in Jazz is the ability to follow an artist's career as both leader and sideman. A long time ago someone realised that what jazz fans want is to know who is playing on their records, so the personnel list became a staple of record sleeves that survives to this day. Close attention to the personnel of a record can allow the canny listener to pick out recordings by their favourite artists that they might otherwise have overlooked. So it is with this record, which was principally purchased on the strength of the presence of Bennie Maupin and Cecil McBee.
Bennie, of course, went on to an illustrious career as a member of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Prior to this date he had also appeared in groups under the leadership of artists such as Marion Brown and Pharoah Sanders. Cecil McBee went on to play with Pharoah Sanders also, and was associated with Alice Coltrane on many of her finest recordings. The other players on this record are also excellent, although there is little for me to say about the previously unknown (to me) Nock and Marshall.
This record is a real mixed bag, containing everything from post-bop to soul-jazz. Some might say that's not all that far, but just wait until you listen to this recording. The first thing to point out is that today's radio blog tune, 'Double Split', is GREAT though definitely not representative of the album as a whole. It's a cracking piece of soul jazz in the Jack McDuff/Jimmy McGriff vein that points towards Maupin's 70's funk leanings as much as anything. Elsewhere, 'Specific Gravity One' showcases Maupin on flute, and is presented in the style of mellow post-bop that is now associated with the ECM label. And if you think that's diverse, then check out 'J.C. Dudley', a stonking slice of straightahead bop taken at a furious tempo, that's a real showcase for Maupin's virtuosity on the tenor.
Special mention must also be made for McBee, whose playing throughout is superb. The other recordings I own of his show him to have a remarkably clear bass sound, with a firm attack that many bassists cannot achieve. It's pleasing to hear this aspect of his sound present so clearly here. The Maupin-less 'Emotivations' is a fine example of his playing as well as that of Nock's - the two of them basically solo independently of one another, but in inhabiting the same harmonic areas never sound as if they're drifting apart. McBee is also excellent on 'Almanac', a Nock-led number with a furious walking bassline that's placed really high up in the mix.
If you're at all interested, you can still buy this album on CD! Try here.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Blue Note 1595
Recorded March 9th, 1958
1. Autumn Leaves
2. Love For Sale
3. Somethin' Else
4. One For Daddy-O
5. Dancing In The Dark
6. Alison's Uncle
Cannonball Adderley; alto sax
Miles Davis; trumpet
Hank Jones; piano
Sam Jones; bass
Art Blakey; drums
We all know that Cannonball Adderley almost singlehandedly invented soul jazz. So you might expect this early LP of his to be a proto-funk classic, right? Wrong. It's actually a cool modal jazz LP very much in the style of Miles Davis' 'Kind Of Blue'. Which, of course, Cannonball played on. OK, now here's the controversial bit. It's better than Kind of Blue (at least to my ears - i've never been much of a fan of that LP - it suffers a bit from overexposure), and given that '...Blue' wasn't released until 1959, perhaps it also inspired it. Now, while I wait to be struck by lightning, let me tell you a bit more about this intriguing album.
It does sound a bit like a mislabelled Miles Davis session to start with; his is the first horn you hear, and he certainly steals the show from Adderley on the opening 'Autumn Leaves', a lovely relaxed track with some pleasant soloing from all concerned. Miles is in a melodic mood here and returns again and again to the theme for inspiration, making this very easy on the ear. 'Love for Sale' kicks off in much the same vein, before taking a sharp stylistic turn at around 2:07, incorporating a latin influence before Adderley shows us what he's made of with an outstanding extended solo. He certainly shows Miles up - when he gets back on his horn, all he can do is return to the theme for a few bars before giving up.
'Somethin' Else' is just that. Again, Davis and Adderley are the main contenders with a fantastic bit of trading in the opening section. This time round Davis is in much stronger form and matches Adderley note for note. The other track worth mentioning here is the closing 'Alison's Uncle', an outtake from the original release which has been included on recent CD reissues, and is featured on my radio blog today. It's got the quickest tempo of any of the pieces here as well as featuring Blakey's best playing of the album, which can only be a good thing in my opinion. It is a bit more of a hard bop track than the rest of the album, perhaps why it was left off the original release.
Adderley soon headed off to record for Riverside in more of a soul-jazz vein, but this record stands as firm evidence that he was also a talented modal and bop player.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Columbia KC 32494
Produced by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter
1. Nubian Sundance
2. American Tango
3. Cucumber Slumber
1. Mysterious Traveller
2. Blackthorn Rose
3. Scarlet Woman
4. Jungle Book
Josef Zawinul: Vocal, pianos, synthesizer, percussion
Ishmael Wilburn: Drums
Skip Hadden: Drums
Dom Um Romão: Percussion
Wayne Shorter: Tenor and soprano saxophone
Alphonso Johnson: Bass
Edna Write: Vocalist
Marti McCall: Vocalist
Jessica Smith: Vocalist
James Gilstrad: Vocalist
Billie Barnum: Vocalist
As well as all the free-jazzery that went on in the late 60’s and early 70’s, another significant branch of the music was that known as fusion. It started out as jazz-rock fusion, inspired largely by such seminal works as Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches’ Brew” (in much the same way that the free-jazzers took their lead from John Coltrane’s mid ‘60’s recordings). The fusion bands (and they were bands, much more than the disparate groupings of bop) eschewed traditional jazz instrumentation for a more technological approach and were early adopters of electronic instrumentation (see particularly Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band of the early ‘70’s).
This 1974 recording captures the band in a transitional phase, moving away from jazz as previously understood (as represented by Wayne Shorter’s tenor) and heading in an electronic direction (steered by keyboardist Joe Zawinul). This new direction was exciting for a time, as shown here, but unfortunately led to a slew of more commercial recordings in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, including the commercially (but not musically, not for me) successful ‘Birdland’.
The opening ‘Nubian Sundance’ sets the tone for the album – layers of synths and keyboards underpinned by a slippery, shifting rhythm (supplied by drummer Alphonse Mouzon and percussionist Airto Moreira) that sets the backdrop for some decent soloing by both Shorter and Zawinul. There’s a definite groove here, though the slippery nature of the rhythm makes it a tricky piece to dance to. There’s a lot of interest to be had in following the rhythm section through the piece.
‘Cucumber Slumber’ is funkier, with a fat Vitous bassline and squelchy synth effects that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” LP. It also features some standout soloing from Shorter, who shows that he can funk it up with the best of them –a quality not readily identified from his earlier work with Miles Davis.
'Blackthorn Rose' departs from the extended jazz-funk jams of the other tracks and is a surprisingly traditional duet between Zawinul (on piano) and Shorter (on soprano) which works well despite being a straight jazz peg in a rather funky hole. Also different in feel to much of the album is 'Jungle Book', which carries a distinct world music influence. Multiple styles are used here, the first two minutes of the track containing African percussion, Far-Eastern pentatonic scales and a hint of sitar. It sounds like it should be a mess but the whole thing is tied together by Zawinul's outstanding keyboard work.
Here's a fine picture of Joe at work.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The Atomic Mr. Basie
Recorded October 1957
1. The Kid From Red Bank
3. After Supper
4. Flight of the Foo Birds
5. Teddy The Toad
4. Lil' Darlin
All compositions NEAL HEFTI
Recording supervision TEDY REIG
Woah! One look at that sleeve, and you know you're in for something big. And that's what you get with this album. While contemporary hard bop could be big, it was often just clever, and that's not always what you want. You're never going to get a sound like this from a quintet, no matter how hard you try. Opener, 'The Kid From Red Bank' is a no-holds-barred big-band-barnstormer, taken at a furious pace, with Basie's piano leading you into a massive horn riff that sounds better the louder you play it. The arrangements are courtesy of Neal Hefti, well known for his work with Basie, but perhaps best known for the 'Batman' theme tune.
Of course, this album's not just about huge horns. Basie must have realised that by 1957, to cut it in jazz he had to take on the boppers at their own game, and he does so with a stunning set of solos from several members of the band (as well as from himself!). Unfortunately the sleeve doesn't list the personnel, but allmusic's review suggests that Thad Jones and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis make stellar contributions on trumpet and sax respectively. This is especially apparent on 'Flight of the Foo Birds', which although involving the big band, is structured not unlike a bop piece with it's simple head line and improvisations.
All the uptempo numbers are electrifying listens, but a fair amount of the album is taken at a gentler pace, such as on tracks like 'After Supper' and 'Splanky'. These tracks showcase the blues-based nature of the writing and give some welcome respite after the breakneck tempos of the faster sections. There's still room for the soloists, though, with the sax solo on 'Splanky' (Davis again?) being particularly effective.
This is one of those albums where there's never a dull moment, helped partly by it's short running time of 32 minutes. There is a CD reissue available titled 'The Complete Atomic Basie' which runs to 16 tracks, and is just a bit too much in one sitting for me, the extra tracks being rather samey and not adding much to the original 9 presented here.
Teddy Reig's production is also worth a mention. The sound throughout is warm and detailed, but at the same time the horn stabs are sharp and clearly defined, lending an excitement to the recording that could be lost in the mud in some contemporary big band sessions. These qualities shine through, even given the surface noise on my review copy. Be sure to listen to 'The Kid From Red Bank' on the radio player for a taste of the excitement that lies within this recording.
Monday, November 28, 2005
1. Seven by Seven
Pharoah Sanders; tenor saxophone
Stan Foster; trumpet
Jane Getz; piano
William Bennett; bass
Marvin Patillo; percussion
This is a real historical gem, Pharoah Sander's first recording as leader from 1964, a time when he was still living homeless in the streets of New York, but working at times with such free-jazz luminaries as Don Cherry and David Izenon. As you might expect, this is a showcase for Pharoah's blowing as much as anything, comprising of only 2 tracks, both 23 minutes plus. Presumably the original LP had one track per side. Just imagine the kind of records these guys would have made if they hadn't been limited by the length of a side of vinyl.
It's great to hear Sanders making the kind of sounds he would soon become famous for. He seems to be just discovering the honking style that is unmistakably his, most notably during his long opening solo on 'Seven by Seven', where he can be heard using overtones and bending his notes in such a way that it sounds like one continuous wail. This approach of breaking down western harmonic concepts by dispensing with the scale was to become common to free jazz musicians later in the decade as they asserted their African heritage.
Pharoah's move away from western musics is made starker by the sound of the sidemen on this date - Foster tries his level best to follow Sanders on 'Seven by Seven' but gives up after a minute or so and goes back to playing more straightforward hard bop, where he obviously seems comfortable. The rhythm section seem more at home with hard bop too, but although they play well and get plenty of solo space you yearn for Sanders' influence to rub off on them a bit more strongly.
'Bethera' is similar in form to the opener, but shows more clearly the debt that Sanders payed to those who came before him. The opening theme and solo is so Coltrane-like as to be uncanny. You could be excused for thinking you're listening to 'Giant Steps' for a minute. There's a little honking late on in this solo just to remind you who is actually playing, but it's all very subdued. This more conventional style of playing obviously fits in much better with the other players, and their performance here is more assured.
It's impossible to know, listening to this now, how it would have been recieved
in 1964. It's easy in retrospect to recognise aspects of Sanders' style which became his trademarks later in the decade, and this glimpse of the early development of such a significant figure is intriguing. But in 1964 no-one knew what was to come from the 24-year-old tenorman from Little Rock, Arkansas, and it's easy to imagine some of his wilder flights on this record being very unpopular indeed. He certainly confuses his sidemen, so the generally conservative jazz critics of the time would have had no idea what was going on.
This CD reissue also contains some short snippets from an interview with Sanders from 1993. It's interesting to hear him speak, but he does his real talking on the tenor horn.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Friday, November 25, 2005
From A LOVE SUPREME (deluxe edition)
Recorded December 10th, 1964
JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax
ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
McCOY TYNER; piano
JIMMY GARRISSON; bass
ART DAVIS; bass
ELVIN JONES; drums
Here, then, is surely one of the greatest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl. John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' has long been considered a classic, and rightly so. Never before or since were the realms of music and spirituality brought together in such harmony.
For 30 years we all grew to love the standard versions of these 4 pieces. According to legend there were more takes, and in particular these 2 takes of 'Acknowledgement' featuring a sextet comprising Coltrane, Tyner, Garrisson and Jones as normal, with the addition of Archie Shepp on tenor and Art Davis of bass. The story was that Coltrane himself had destroyed the tapes - recorded over them at some later stage. But miraculously these 2 takes survived, and were released last year as part of a 2-disc deluxe edition of the album.
Not for nothing have these takes been described as 'The Dead Sea Scrolls of Jazz'. Despite Trane's appreciation of Shepp's talents, there is little evidence on record of them playing together. Shepp does appear on 1965's 'Ascension', but as part of a much larger ensemble, and his opportunities for interplay with his mentor are limited. That deficiency is made up for on this recording, which is largely a conversation between the two tenors.
It's incredible to hear a familiar piece of music being bent out of shape - Shepp is clearly exerting a strong influence on trane here - his encouragement helps to take the playing further 'out' than on the better-known version. It's also wonderful to hear the contrast between their sounds - Shepp's angry bark against Coltrane's much smoother tone. The increased sense of freedom is not only confined to the horns - the rhythm section sounds notably looser (and more funky), helped not only by Shepp's presence, but also by the stellar performance of Art Davis.
Both takes are interesting, although to my ears the first is superior, owing to the greater dominance of Shepp on this run-through. It's worth pointing out that the sound on these takes is noticeably less good than the main album, probably due to the audio restoration involved. The first even has a few tape drop-outs, but they don't distract you from enjoying the performance. The inclusion of these 2 takes on the deluxe edition of the album makes it a worthy purchase, even if you already own the original LP.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Recorded 19721. Attica Blues
2. Invocation - Attica Blues
3. Steam, pt. 1
4. Invocation to Mr. Parker
5. Steam, pt. 2
6. Blues for Brother George Jackson
7. Invocation - Ballad for a Child
8. Ballad for a Child
9. Goodbye Sweet Pops
10. Quiet Dawn
ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax, soprano sax
WILLIAM KUNSTLER; narration
BARTHOLOMEW GRAY; narration
WAHEEDA MASSEY; vocal (on 'Quiet Dawn')
JOE LEE WILSON; vocal (on 'Steam')
HENRY HULL; lead vocal (on 'Attica Blues', 'Ballad for a Child')
JOSHIE ARMSTEAD; backup vocal
ALBERTINE ROBINSON; backup vocal
CAL MASSEY; flugelhorn
ROY BURROWES; trumpet
MICHAEL RIDLEY; trumpet
CHARLES McGHEE; trumpet
CLIFFORD THORNTON; cornet
CHARLES STEPHENS; trombone
KIANE ZAWADI; trombone
CHARLES GREENLEE; trombone
HAKIM JAMI; euphonium
MARION BROWN; alto sax, bamboo flute, percussion
CLARENCE WHITE; alto sax
BILLY ROBINSON; tenor sax
ROLAND ALEXANDER; tenor sax
JAMES WARE; baritone sax
LEROY JENKINS; violin
JOHN BLAKE; violin
LAKSHINARAYANA SHANKAR; violin
RONALD LIPSCOLM; cello
CALO SCOTT; cello
JIMMY GARRISSON; bass
WALTER DAVIS JR.; electric piano
CORNELL DUPREE; electric guitar
GERALD JEMMOTT; fender bass
ROLAND WILSON; fender bass
BEAVER HARRIS; drums
OLLIE ANDERSON; percussion
JUMA SATAN; percussion
NENE DeFENSE; percussion
ROMULUS FRANCESCHINI; conductor
‘Attica Blues’ was Shepp’s response to the Attica prison riots of 1971, where over 40 inmates and prison officers were killed when the national guard stormed the jail to put an end to a siege started by the prisoners as an attempt to improve the standards of living in the prison. As a human being, Archie was profoundly angry at this example of man’s inhumanity to man, and set about transforming his rage into recordings that stand today as some of the greatest of his career.
Perhaps in an attempt to get his message heard, but perhaps also as a product of the natural evolution of his sound, ‘Attica’ is further from his free jazz roots than any of his recordings up to 1972. Or at least it seems to be – there are moments of very clever subversion, as we shall see.
First up, though is the title track, one of the triumvirate of great tracks that makes this album special (the others being ‘Steam’ and ‘Blues for Brother George Jackson’). From the off, you can see how far Shepp’s sound has come, as the piece opens with a blast of funky wah-wah guitar before a rousing female vocal takes the roof off. This is the hardest funk in Shepp’s discography, and it’s a killer. The lyric perfectly encapsulates the anger felt at what happened in
‘Steam’, in contrast, is a much mellower affair, sounding at first listen like something straight out of Duke Ellington’s big band. The lyric seems to speak of love, and as the strings tug at the heartstrings, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a commercial ballad. But listen closely, and there is a definite undercurrent of subversion here. Those strings? Do they seem out of tune from time to time? But wait – there’s a pattern here – yes, it’s free jazzery rearing it’s head, but subtly. Also subtle is Shepp’s soprano playing, buried low in the mix beneath the vocalist, but still free. This is, to me, the moment of genius on this album – taking a sentimental ballad and loading it with furtive free jazz references in an attempt to unsettle the mainstream audience. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that mainstream
The other great piece of music here, ‘Blues for Brother George Jackson’ is a raunchy slice of R&B/funk with a killer horn riff (George Jackson was an influential figure in the Black Panthers, which he joined in prison prior to his death in 1971 - read more here). These players can turn their hands to any musical style, such is the talent on show here. Listened to alone, ‘Blues…’ is incredible, but it rather pales next to the preceding tracks. Allaboutjazz.com declare it to be “one of jazz’s finest moments caught on magnetic tape”, and it is good, just not that good.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the album is forgettable – lots of lush strings and little blowing. ‘Quiet Dawn’ closes the album out with some interesting soul playing, but the vocal of Cal Massey’s 7-year-old daughter Waheeda spoils it somewhat. Mind you, her weak, faltering voice does have a ghostly quality all of it’s own which gives the whole piece an uneasy feel – perhaps this was the intention all along.
Shepp’s next album, ‘The Cry of my People’, takes the whole sentimentality thing even further, but thankfully a lot more successfully than the closing tracks of ‘Attica’, and is another recommended album.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Recorded January 1961
1. Jumpin' Punkins
3. I Forgot
4. Things Ain't What They Used To Be
Cecil Taylor: piano;
Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone;
Billy Higgins: drums;
Buell Neidlinger: bass;
Clark Terry: trumpet;
Roswell Rudd: trombone;
Steve Lacy: soprano sax;
Charles Davis: baritone sax
I've always been intrigued by the idea of Cecil Taylor, but have never really known where to start. Like other so-called 'free jazz' artists, the critics are terrified of him, writing about how difficult they find the music, but then handing out 5 star ratings just in case they're missing out on something. Usefully, Cecil recorded several sessions with other jazz giants, notably John Coltrane (recently reissued on Gambit under the title 'Hard Drivin' Jazz'), and here, a young Archie Shepp. In fact it was Taylor who gave Shepp his first big break, and over the time they worked together, Shepp absorbed many of Taylor's musical ideas which he then took forward into his career as leader.
Shepp is not the only outstanding sideman on this album. Steve Lacy's contributions are minimal but excellent - it still amazes me that he went straight from working in a dixieland style to a session with players such as this. Roswell Rudd is excellent as ever, and of all the players here, is probably the only one who really matches Taylor for sheer invention.
Taylor's playing really is the big story on this album. He dominates the recording in a way that few musicians are able to do. It all gets off to an easy start with "Jumpin' Punkins", with it's fairly conventional post bop sound. Cecil's playing is certainly straining at the outer limits of the form, but stays generally well-behaved throughout. Shepp gets significant space here and shows himself to be a competent tenor player, very much in the Coltrane mould, but really nothing special. It's fun to listen to Cecil's solo around the 5 minute mark - a fairly dissonant effort, though not as far out as some of the other tracks on offer here - and then hear Shepp try to follow. It's as if something is holding him back from going totally out. We know from later works how indebted Shepp was to jazz tradition, and perhaps this is the strong pull of the weight of history keeping a young player in check. We can only be thankful that Shepp stayed with Taylor for a little longer, time enough to mature and develop his own unique sound.
"O.P." comes next, and is basically a trio piece with Taylor, Higgins and Neidlinger. Despite the fairly conventional bass and drum introduction, Taylor's playing is in a different league to the title track from the off. He slips quietly into an extended exploration of the possibilities of the keyboard - there is atonality here, he plays often in free time, but yet it all makes sense. The rhythm section keep driving away, and it always seems to fit, no matter how far outside Taylor tries to get. You can understand why critics and fans alike would have been aghast at the time, as this sounds like nothing that had come before in piano playing.
"I Forgot" gives Shepp a chance to shine again, and this time there is a glimmer of the sort of sound that he would be producing on a regular basis just a few years hence. The tone is instantly recognizable, being big and brazen (too much for a ballad, like this?) and his use of overtones is familiar. The second half of the tune is given over to Taylor, until he and Shepp duet towards the end, creating one of the album's finest moments.
The closing "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" gives the whole ensemble a chance to blow again. Taylor initially sounds like he's playing in a different band to the rest of them, but on closer inspection it all fits into place. This track is also where Rudd gets his chance to show off, and follows Taylors lead in playing exactly what he wants to without being limited by traditional jazz constructs. Of course Taylor is ever present, with his unexpected interjections and sharp stabs of dissonance lending an uneasy feel to the piece. The track closes with a brief period of ensemble playing where everyone manages to be totally free yet completely together at the same time.
Cecil Taylor Links
The Music Of Cecil Taylor - worth a read if you can stomach unformatted text on a green background
Cecil Taylor Sessionography - this looks to be exhaustive, the level of detail is certainly very high (much higher than the production values, anyway!)
A brief biography - courtesy of Wikipedia