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
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
To celebrate the 'launch' of my new website featuring the wonderful Archie Shepp (not much content yet... perhaps I could celebrate having the idea of creating an Archie Shepp site?) here are a few interesting things to read about him. He has some interesting opinions on matters such as why Europeans seem to 'get' his music, and why young people are no longer listening to jazz. Best of all, he says exactly what he wants, which is almost unheard of these days but a quality that I have the greatest admiration for.
A dialogue with Archie Shepp - an interview from his official site. Lengthy, but well worth a read.
Another interview - from allaboutjazz.com, covers some of the same ground as above, but a bit shorter for the terminally busy.
Archie's Wikipedia entry - the condensed biography/discography for the even busier!
Another interesting interview - though for the wrong reasons. This has been translated from the original French by google. "They were thus autodidacts". "I also smell myself at ease". Righto.
A review of a 2003 show - seems like he's still got it.
Two reviews of the seminal 'Attica Blues' - here and here.
A comprehensive discography, from the official site.
And finally, did you know that Archie played with Frank Zappa? Nor did I, but it's on the internet, so it must be true!
Monday, November 21, 2005
Recorded September 1973
2. Greeting to Saud (Brother McCoy Tyner)
4. The Gathering
5. Spiritual Blessing
PHAROAH SANDERS; tenor sax, soprano sax, bells, shaker, percussion, vocal
MICHAEL WHITE; violin
JOE BONNER; piano, harmonium, cow horn, wood flute, percussion, vocal
CALVIN HILL; bass, tamboura, vocal
LAWRENCE KILLIAN; bell tree, congas, percussion, vocal
JIMMY HOPPS; percussion
KENNETH NASH; percussion
JOHN BLUE; percussion, vocal
MICHAEL CARVIN; drums, percussion, vocal
SEDATRIUS BROWN; vocal
The thing that constantly amazes me about Pharoah Sanders is just how many great records he put out - and how obscure some of them are. Hardly a day goes by without me finding yet another record by him that I've never heard of. That's exactly what happened with this album, which has recently been reissued on CD by Verve as part of their ongoing rerelease program of classic impulse! recordings. The sound of the CD is lovely, but they have skimped a bit on the packaging, unfortunately - no more lovingly assembled gatefolds with booklets replicating the original liner notes and photographs, just a few words on the back and some lineups. Still, you only have to listen, and you can imagine the scene in the studio. Or should I say on stage, as much of this album was recorded live - indeed tracks 1 and 3-5 were recorded live at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles on the 7th and 9th September 1973. Track 2 was recorded a few days later in the studio.
The title track is another of Pharoah's finest, and is a piece of funky free jazz in the vein of 'The Creator has a Master Plan' or 'Black Unity'. In fact, like those tracks, it once again borrows heavily from John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' for it's main theme. This gets passed around and reinterpreted by the whole band, the intensity increasing all the time, until around the 6 minute mark when all hell breaks loose. Literally. It's a squall of noise, with a man screaming. You feel as if you've reached some kind of barrier that you have to break through - and you do, to a fantastic place where the whole band with the exception of Calvin Hill have laid down their instruments, picked up the first pieces of percussion they could lay their hands on, and started playing in a weird, polyrythmic, very free percussion and bass 'solo' which winds on for several minutes before Pharoah's horn brings you back to the real world. The effect is simply stunning on record. I can only dream about how amazing it must have sounded in performance.
'Greeting to Saud' is in a more meditative vein, and the uplifting 'Ore-Se-Rere' prepares you well for the album's other treat, 'The Gathering'. It's sharp edged and highly melodic piano intro gives no hint of the sonic mayhem that is to come. Somewhere around 4:30 there is a subtle shift in style towards free improvisation, which culminates in some of the most intense, honking, squealing playing of Pharoah's career, suitably backed up by another display of intense power from Joe Bonner's piano. Bonner's is another obscure name, but his playing here is first class - at turns precise and melodic, at times modal, and at others frighteningly intense. Again, bass and percussion follow the freedom, with Calvin Hill's playing being similarly inspired as the title track. He puts me very much in mind of Cecil McBee, another compatriot of Sanders from his days playing with Alice Coltrane. Who comes to mind when listening to the closing 'Spiritual Blessing', with it's drone provided, i think by the harmonium playing of Bonner and it's generally blissed-out mood.
It's worth checking out allmusic's review of this album, if only for their inspired invention of the verb "to choogle", which appears to mean "to head off on one in a free jazz style". Also of note is this sessionography of what Sanders was up to in 1973 (and other years, for that matter). These 7th-9th September sessions have obviously been recorded for this album to exist - how about someone releasing the 48-minute version of 'Elevation'? Go on, impulse!, I dare you!
Sunday, November 20, 2005
OK, so i've had a look at the preceding posts, and it's fair to say that there are one or two obscurities in my jazz collection judging by the reviews i've been writing. So, then - a jazz classic for today...
Blue Note 53428
Recorded September 15th, 1957
1. Blue Train
2. Moment's Notice
4. I'm Old Fashioned
5. Lazy Bird
LEE MORGAN; trumpet
CURTIS FULLER; trombone
JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax
KENNY DREW; piano
PAUL CHAMBERS; bass
PHILLY JOE JONES; drums
It doesn't get much better than this. John Coltrane only ever recorded one session as leader for Blue Note, and what a session it was. He lined up a veritable who's who of hard bop and set off on a musical journey which stands as one of the finest recordings of his career, as well as one of the finest albums Blue Note has ever released.
If I can get personal for a moment. This was essentially the album that got me into jazz, and it's all my dad's fault. I don't remeber quite when it was, but Blue Train arrived in the house around the same time as his first CD player, and it would be fair to say that, had it been on vinyl, we would have listened to it until the groove was worn out. Sunday mornings, especially, for some reason, were Coltrane time, and we'd both sit there open-mouthed, marvelling at the incredible display of talent on show here.
You really do get it all. This is a record where the whole band get a chance to stretch out. You get the feeling that there was little planning when this was cut; once the theme was dispensed with, the soloists would blow for all they were worth in a bid to outdo the previous player. The sleeve note suggests that there's some free blowing going on here - and there is, in the 1957 sense - whilst the music is firmly in tempo and the harmonic structures of the pieces are adhered to (if a little stretched by Coltrane from time to time), the whole band uses that backdrop as a chance to explore their instruments. It's a bit like what I imagine a club gig of the time would have been like - fast tempos and even faster playing, with a definite air of competition between the soloists.
First prize goes to the title track - it's such a shame it was sequenced first as the album never quite reaches those dizzy heights again. The theme is well known now, and Coltrane's statement of intent that begins his first solo is followed by him launching into the sort of exploration that he's famous for, but that just didn't happen on hard bop records in those days. The band soon bring him back to earth (briefly), but the damage is done - you know by now that you're in for something special. Special mention must also be made of Lee Morgan, who is outstanding here. Only 19 years old, his playing is second only to Trane's for inventiveness. Curtis Fuller is also on good form here with some considered playing. And of course, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, the rhythm section made in heaven. I've recently discovered another CD featuring the combination of Chambers, Jones and Coltrane (have a look at this) which I highly reccomend.
This is one of those records that the critics love, and for once I'd have to agree - it really is fantastic and no jazz collection should be without a copy. Bop fans will love it's adherence to the hard bop principles, free jazz fans will see it as a vital stepping stone to the Coltrane material of the 1960's - it's worth remembering that he didn't play like this for long - soon after recording this LP he was back in Miles Davis' band playing modal jazz, and then he headed off in a freer direction with his classic 1960's quartet.
Read more about this album at allmusic, allaboutjazz and inkblot.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
America 30 AM 6099
Recorded November 9th, 1969
1. Black Gypsy
1. Epitaph Of A Small Winner
a. Rio de Janeiro
ARCHIE SHEPP; soprano sax
SONNY MURRAY; drums
CLIFFORD THORNTON; trumpet
CHICAGO BEAUCHAMP; vocals
JULIO FINN; harmonica
NOAH HOWARD; alto sax
LEROY JENKINS; viola
DAVE BURRELL; piano
EARL FREEMAN; bass
Archie Shepp never stood still. Having spent most of the 1960's earning a reputation as a leading free player, he both consolidated his position and broke new ground with this recording from the tail end of the decade. This copy of that LP is the original French issue on the America label, which has been reissued recently on Free America.
This album is one of his first to head in the direction he would take later, in the 1970's, and acts as a useful signpost for those trying to trace the route from his powerful free jazz statements of the preceding decade to the bluesy, heavily orchestrated "Attica Blues" and "The Cry Of My People". Although both sides of this album stay firmly in the free jazz idiom, the blues are beginning to creep in, along with other influences - notably African on side 2. This movement away from free jazz probably began in 1966, with "A Portrait of Robert Thompson (as a young man)" from that year's "Mama Too Tight", an 18 minute journey through the history of black music, from Africa to New Orleans seen through the eyes of the high priest of free jazz.
'Black Gypsy' starts out with the plaintive violin of Leroy Jenkins, then the rhythm section set up a steady groove before the ensemble enter, piece by piece. Shepp is immediately noticeable on his entry, being featured here on soprano throughout. The playing is free, certainly, but there's not the confusion of noise that sometimes exists. It's always clear who's the soloist, with the other players providing back-up from time to time. Sometimes two soloists trade lines in a call and response fashion, sometimes they play simultaneously; but the playing always feels well organised. The track builds continuously throughout it's 26 minutes, with more and more players coming on stream, and the incessant and increasingly urgent groove backing it all up. Interspersed throughout the piece is the conscious poetry of Chicago Beauchamp, lending the music yet more urgency with his exhortations on love and freedom.
Side 2 takes us on a round the world trip of the mind, starting out in much the same vein as 'Black Gypsy' before picking up a hint of samba, morroccan gnawa, and ultimately blues, as evinced by Julio Finn's harmonica riff on the closing 'Chicago' section. It's an incredible feeling, listening to the band build from meditative free jazzery in the morroccan section to the climax of raw earthy blues. You'd be forgiven for thinking that another band had slipped onto the record while you weren't looking, but it's this section more than any that points forward to Shepp's great works of the 1970's.
Ultimately, as with most other Shepp LP's, there's much to enjoy here with great performances from all concerned. Ignore the critics, who just didn't 'get' this fine LP, and go and out and grab a copy. There's no excuse now that it's available on CD, get it here.
Friday, November 18, 2005
The Thinking Man's Trombone
Pye Jazz NJL31
Recorded August 23rd-25th, 1960
1. Salty Papa
2. Don't Cry Baby
1. King Bee
2. When I Fall In Love
AL GREY; trombone
BENNY POWELL; trombone
JOHN NEWMAN; trumpet
BILLY MITCHELL; tenor sax
CHARLIE FOWLKES; baritone sax
ED HIGGINS; piano
FREDDIE GREEN; guitar
ED JONES; bass
SONNY PAYNE; drums
Wah-Wah. It's a staple of several musics, but wasn't really in use in jazz in 1960. It might be best known as a guitar effect, but brass players had been using it since the 1920's (see this excellent article on wikipedia). And it's the first sound Al Grey makes on this great 1960 LP. This seems to be a UK release, the US version being on the Argo label, according to the sleevenotes.
At the time of recording, Al was playing with Count Basie, so no prizes for guessing what kind of a sound this record has. Big stabs of horn! Swinging tempos! Great tunes! It's also got some first class arrangements courtesy of Nat Pierce (Basie's pianist at the time). And of course, Al's trombone. He's got a great sound, a huge bear hug of a noise that shines through the crackles on my beat-up vinyl. And that wah-wah effect! It's so simple, basically created by wiggling a mute around in the horn, but it sounds sooo good. It's a real shame the guitarists picked up on it, can you think what funk would sound like if composed entirely of trombones...
After reading the above, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another swing LP, but there's much more to it than that. The overall feel is much more boppish, with lots of improvisatory play by the whole band, especially on side two's opener, "King Bee". It's not a million miles away from the up-tempo numbers on Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool", in fact. Powell more than keeps up with Grey's trombone playing, but with a much more regular sound - there's certainly no difficulty in telling those two apart.
Al Grey first came into my life as part of an outstanding Bobby Hutcherson CD which i'd highly reccommend to anyone who likes either the trombone or vibes in jazz. If you want to read more about Al, check out this biography.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Blue Note BST-84327
1. Ease Back (5:43)
2. Hurt So Bad (6:45)
3. I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself) (6:07)
4. Upshot (9:58)
5. Cease the Bombing (8:50)
Grant Green: Guitar
Claude Bartee: Tenor Sax
Willie Bivens: Vibes
Clarence Palmer: Electric Piano
Earl Neal Creaque: Electric Piano (on “Cease the Bombing” only)
Jimmy Lewis: Fender Bass
Idris Muhammad: Drums
Imagine being Grant Green in 1969. So long the second best, second most well-known, second most successful jazz guitarist (behind Wes Montgomery), and now thrust into the limelight as Wes's successor following his untimely death in 1968. How would you react? Carry on playing straight soul jazz as you had been doing, or attempt to broaden your appeal?
Grant decided to do the latter, and in the process delivered one of his best recordings, as well as one of the finest jazz-funk records of all time. He achieved this by incorporating a strong funk element into his music, based on his appreciation of artists such as James Brown (marked by his cover of 'I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself)'). This change in his sound didn't sit well with some - the jazz purists deriding it as 'selling out' - but to my ears, Green's playing sits well with the laid-back funk backdrop created by Jimmy Lewis and the ever-wonderful Idris Muhammad. I've always admired Green's light touch and 'slippery' lines that seem to glide over the rhythm section, and this quality is enhanced by the elastic properties of the funk.
The album has two standout tracks - a cover of the Meters' 'Ease Back' (which also features some great playing by the relatively unknown tenor, Claude Bartree) and Earl Neal Creaque's 'Cease The Bombing'. The latter stands as one of Green's more overtly political pieces, with it's title directly referencing the war in Vietnam. It's also one of his best - a melodic slice of laid-back funk whose mood of relaxed contemplation (and catchy tune) perfectly fits the anti war sentiment. Green was to continue in this vein for the rest of his career, in albums such as 'Green Is Beautiful' and 'The Final Comedown'.
Looking for a comprehensive Grant Green discography? You could do worse than start here. This site has a nice biography as well as details about many of his recordings. It's also had the seal of approval from Grant Green Jr.!
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Blue Note BST–84376
1. At The Source: 1. Ashes And Rust
2. At The Source: 2. Eucalyptus
3. At The Source: 3. Obsidian
4. Many Thousands Gone
2. Clockwork Of The Spirits
Bobby Hutcherson – vibes, marimba
Harold Land – tenor sax, flute
Fred Jackson – piccolo
Oscar Brashear – fluegel horn, trumpet
Todd Cochran – piano
James Leary, III – bass
Reginald Johnson – bass
William Henderson – electric piano
(unknown) – drums
(unknown) – percussion
Bobby Hutcherson worked with saxophonist Harold Land over several albums during the latter half of the 60s. As is evident from the recording, the pair effectively worked as joint bandleaders and, even though this recording is under Hutcherson’s name, he shares space evenly with Land. The sessions they recorded, many of which were not released for over a decade, were all moving in a post-bop style towards the avant-garde. This was probably the furthest they got. Afterwards, Hutcherson turned towards the prevalent fusion sound and only once more paired up with Land.
Head On opens with At The Source, a three-part track written, as was most of this recoding, by pianist Todd Cochran. Beginning with layered horns and reeds playing in slight discord, there is a feeling of space that has become better associated since with certain European styles of jazz. Hutcherson first is heard in part 2 of At The Source, where his low-key vibes intertwine with Cochran’s piano. The feeling of open space is continued and at times has remarkable similarities to MJQ recordings of the period (notably Space). At The Source ends with a low-key solo by Land, played around a slight African theme.
‘Many Thousands Gone’ is the centrepiece of this recording. Stretching out longer than any of the other tracks, it is also more free and features some of the most accomplished playing. Starting from another pseudo African theme played by the horns, this gives way quickly to a frantic bass run that continues the next 10 minutes. The unnamed drummer then catches up, before Hutcherson starts a frenzied run up and down his vibes in a very hard, post-bop style. Land’s solo afterwards owes plenty to Coltrane, although his sound is more soulful, playing in a lower register and more slowly without quite the technical ability of the Trane. Brashear solos next in a similar, if far faster, vein, followed by Henderson. Even though Henderson’s solo holds with the piece, due to the very nature of the electric piano, it just sounds funkier. Unfortunately for us, the length LP format means the track is faded, leaving only speculation as to what happened next. The bass player is quite clearly not ready to give in and, noticeable, there has been no solo by the song’s composer.
Side two opens with a track composed by Hutcherson, the only non-Cochran composition. As its very title ‘Mtume’ suggests, there is again a distinct African theme, this time emphasised by an unnamed percussionist and by the bass figure, which repeats throughout the track. Hutcherson, who as usual solos first, switches from vibes to marimba mid-solo, a change that not only further enhances the African theme but also is quite hard to spot. Next up is Land, followed by Cochran, neither of whom play particularly remarkable solos. Happily, the prominence in the mix of some complex drumming patterns more than make up for this deficiency.
The LP ends on a mellow vibe with a wonky, off-kilter bossa piece. The soloing here is all much more laid back, with some nice comping throughout by Cochran.
This is a more challenging LP than I had expected from my previous knowledge of Hutcherson’s work. However, its blend of post-bop with African themes and a feeling of space throughout have left me wanting more.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Jazz With Tiger
Appears to be a hoary old man talking about Jazz. Great! There seems to be two podcasts here, music and talk, guess which one's the best? In particular, check out music no. 6 featuring Eric Dolphy and Booker Little, Ohhhhh Yes!
Night Passage Jazz Podcast
An Italian show (in english) with some very nice laid back sounds, but with a slight propensity towards vocals and dodgy advertising. Oh well, can't have everything.
An eclectic selection of music. Some large files to download, but well worth it, I think.
As ever, if you know of a good site, then leave a comment or send an email.
Monday, November 14, 2005
ECM Records ECM 823268-1
Released 1984; recorded 1975-1983
1. Oceanus (1975)
2. Blue Sun (1983)
3. New Moon (1979)
1. Beneath An Evening Sky (1979)
2. The Prince and the Sage (1983)
3. Nimbus (1975)
It’s about time I started writing about some of my ECM records. Right now I’m listening to Ralph Towner’s “Works” LP (well, a CD copy of that LP, recorded from the original vinyl using my mac). The incredible thing is how good it sounds. The production values on those records were so high. Even though it was recorded in 1975 (and probably in analogue, or so I should think), and then played back on my suspect record deck, the sound is fantastic. Rich and warm, with some lovely detail – the individual notes picked out on Ralph’s guitar right at the beginning of the opening ‘Oceanus’ being a prime example. So good does it sound that it actually stopped me in my tracks when i first listened to it on CD. I was walking across the lounge to sit down and... 'barrarrabum'. Had to go straight back and put it on again.
That track, and the closing ‘Nimbus’ are both from the same 1975 session featuring Jan Garbarek on saxophone. That period was a great time for European jazz, and these two tracks are no exception. Momentum is kept up by the insistent pattern of the cymbals, while a great deal of free playing goes on up top. Free acoustic guitar? Sounds like it should be a recipe for diaster, but it works beautifully.
The meditative mood is enhanced by the inclusion of two tracks from a 1980’s session featuring Ralph on his own, accompanied only by some synths (which he plays). It’s a great chance to hear his guitar playing close up. There's not an enormous amount of variety on this album - the mood doesn't really change much throughout; but if quiet and slightly free jazz (a compliment!) is your thing, then you can do worse than start here.
There's an interesting biography of Ralph on this site. He also has his own official website with details of his many recordings.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
The “Better Than It Has Any Right To Be” Award, Part 2
Let me tell you a story…
Regular readers of these pages will no doubt of worked out by now that I’m a bit of an Archie Shepp fan, ‘a bit’ being somewhat of an underestimation. The only problem is how difficult it can be getting your hands on his records through conventional channels here in the
Anyway, the astute amongst you may be aware that “Le Matin Des Noire” is from 1965’s “The New Thing At Newport”, which also features a couple of live tracks from John Coltrane. This is an album I’ve always wanted to acquire, but it’s been rather difficult. Although still a current impulse! release, according to the official website, and although it’s available on the iTunes music store (but I’m not buying it there), finding a CD has proved impossible. None of the music stores near me carries a copy. Hunting on the web has proved fruitless.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered it for sale through an American organisation who’s name I shall not mention. And imagine my surprise when I finally received the package containing my CD, opened it, and saw what was inside…
Enter The Spirit
AARGH! I was disappointed, I can tell you. One look at the sleeve tells you that this is not Archie Shepp, or indeed anything like him (other than the sax, of course). Albums with sleeves of such an incredibly dodgy nature are sadly all too common in jazz. It doesn’t have to be this way – look at Blue Note, for example.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, so they say, so I decided to give this a try, since it was here. And, you know, from my vantage point of a few weeks on, this is a fantastic album. Think melodic hard bop, but in a good way. Then add a dash of tenor, some interesting keys, and the excellent Chick Corea, and you’re almost there. Oh, and plenty of fine unison playing – always a favourite of mine, as regular visitors will know.
I’d never come across Bob Berg before this CD landed on my doormat, but a little research has thrown up some interesting facts. Although he was initially attracted towards free jazz in the 1960’s (while playing with Jack McDuff?) he went on to perform in a hard bop style with such legendary names as Horace Silver in the 1970’s, and Miles Davis in the 1980’s. His sound is not particularly new, but the overall feel of the album is great and the playing from all concerned is solid. That might sound like faint praise, but this really is a fine recording, and all the more enjoyable for the serendipitous way it arrived in my life.
Wondering about part 1? Click here.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
CBSO Centre, Birmingham
1. Organ Grinder Swing (Quartet)
2. Blue Bash (Quartet)
3. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Big Band)
4. Walk On The Wild Side (Big Band)
5. Blues In The Night (Big Band)
6. Got My Mojo Working (Big Band)
7. The Cat (Big Band)
8. Back At The Chicken Shack (Quartet)
(I think this is right – Stewart and I were so excited about the gig that we forgot what we had heard. Let me know if I’ve made a mistake. And sorry guys, but I forgot your names – except for Levi, of course!)
Levi with his quartet (no big band, unfortunately)
This was an awesome gig. As ‘The Cat Project’ name suggests, it was a tribute to the late great Jimmy Smith, the finest exponent of the Hammond B3 organ that music (not just jazz) has ever known. After Jimmy’s passing earlier this year, legions of his fans were denied the opportunity of seeing his greatest works performed live. Well not any more. Now there are a bunch of guys dedicated to keeping his flame alive, and burn they certainly did tonight.
This was the first time that Levi and his band had performed these arrangements of Jimmy Smith’s classic Verve period big-band repertoire, and it was a privilege to be one of the first to enjoy the results of what must have been very hard work. The rest of the audience certainly thought so, with the big band numbers earning rapturous applause as well as a standing ovation at the end of the night. It was then quite something to see Levi come back out onto the stage and sheepishly announce that he had no more arrangements to play. He more than made up for this, though, by storming through an incredible quartet version of ‘Back At The Chicken Shack’. That track has never really done anything for me before – until now, at least.
They say that enthusiasm is infectious, and that was true of this performance. It was wonderful to see the musicians really enjoying themselves, and there was a real sense that you were witnessing the culmination of a dream.
It’s amazing to see such great chemistry between the band members, especially so when you consider that this was the first performance this material. Levi and his drummer and bassist appeared telepathic, anticipating each other’s every move. It was great to see the smiles on their faces during the first big band number – smiles that just got broader as the night went on. It’s impossible to describe the impact created by the opening horn riff of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’. The opening quartet tracks had been pretty good, but this just blew everyone away. And that was just the start…
The horn section started out a little nervously, but the incredible alto sax solo on ‘Blues In The Night’ (where was that on the original?) brought such a reaction from the audience that everyone’s confidence skyrocketed. They also put in a stellar performance on ‘Got My Mojo Working’, with the baritone sax taking over Jimmy’s vocal melody; it’s gruff tone perfectly representing his singing style. Talking of representing Jimmy’s style – Levi proved himself to be an outstanding organ player. He had Jimmy’s sound and style perfected, and after a slightly shaky start on ‘Organ Grinder Swing’, showed that he more than deserves to carry the great Jimmy Smith’s flame into the 21st century.
There's talk of this show being toured, if funding can be obtained. Someone please give this man a fiver right now!
Check out Levi's website, which has some excellent mp3's to download.
Jimmy Smith At The Organ
Friday, November 11, 2005
The Far East Suite
1. Tourist Point Of View
2. Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)
5. Mount Harissa
6. Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)
9. Ad Lib On Nippon
10. Tourist Point Of View (alternate take)
11. Bluebird of Delhi (alternate take)
12. Isfahan (alternate take)
13. Amad (alternate take)
Cat Anderson - Trumpet
Mercer Ellington - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Paul Gonsalves - Clarinet, Reeds, Tenor Sax
Johnny Hodges - Clarinet, Reeds, Alto Saxophone
Cootie Williams - Trumpet
Lawrence Brown - Trombone
Rufus "Speedy" Jones - Drums
Russell Procope - Clarinet, Reeds, Alto Saxophone
Chuck Connors - Trombone
William Cat Anderson - Trumpet
Harry Carney - Clarinet, Reeds, Baritone Saxophone
Buster Cooper - Trombone
Duke Ellington - Piano
Jimmy Hamilton - Clarinet, Reeds, Tenor Saxophone
Herb Jones - Trumpet
John Lamb - Bass
Chuck Conners - Trombone
Herbie Jones - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Lawrence D. Brown - Trombone
If you care to cast an eye over some of the previous entries in thus blog, you’ll no doubt notice a bit of a free jazz influence there. Today we’re going somewhere a little bit different, but not entirely…
Talk of world music in jazz, and I think of the “world fusion” of Don Cherry’s “Eternal Rhythm”. But he wasn’t the only jazz artist plundering the globe in a search for new sounds in the late 1960’s, as this recording ably demonstrates.
The influences are many – Indian, middle-eastern, oriental – but this remains swinging big band jazz throughout, with some fantastic playing from both ensemble and soloist throughout. It's worth mentioning that, though this is called the 'far' east suite, with the exception of 'Ad Lib On Nippon', the tracks all have middle eastern names. It's even more worth mentioning that, at the time of recording, Duke was 65! 65! If I can swing half as hard as this when i'm 65 i'll be a very happy man..
Highlights include the clarinet playing on “Bluebird Of Delhi (Mynah)” (an underrated jazz instrument, unfairly associated with Dixieland jazz. Only the bass clarinet has received much notice in modern jazz, thanks mainly to the work of Eric Dolphy).
Also worthy of a mention is the hard swinging “Depk” – although I must admit to having no idea what country that one is supposed to represent, but it’s got an infectious piano riff that keeps you coming back for more. “Mount Harissa” is not dissimilar – great piano part, swings like a monkey in a tree, but middle eastern? Well, maybe…
Actually it’s all great. Just ignore the idea that you’re going to be treated to the musical equivalent of a round-the-world cruise, and enjoy some of the finest playing and arranging the jazz world has ever known.
Read more about this album here. And when you've done with that, have a look at this review of the album. That's how I want this blog to be...
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The SermonBlue Note 4011
- The Sermon
- J.O.S. (*)
JIMMY SMITH; organ
LOU DONALDSON, GEORGE COLEMAN (*); alto sax
TINA BROOKS; tenor sax
LEE MORGAN; trumpet
KENNY BURRELL, EDDIE McFADDEN (*); guitar
ART BLAKEY, DONALD BAILEY (*); drums
Jimmy Smith, the finest organist Jazz has ever known, had his first taste of fame recording for blue note in the 1950’s and 60’s. He recorded a string of classic albums, giving the organ a definite place as a solo instrument in jazz, while at the same time almost single-handedly inventing the genre of soul jazz. Many of his Blue Note recordings were trio affairs, but this 1957 recording brings in the horns to great effect.
The highlight is the 20-minute plus “The Sermon”. Smith kicks it off in typical style before Brooks and Donaldson get in on the act with some great trading of lines over the next few minutes. Everything happens when it’s meant to – the changes are predictable, but Blakey keeps the the groove going and provides great support for the extended solos. Of particular note is Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo, which manages to be funky and explorative at the same time. His unison playing with Jimmy towards the end of the piece is excellent, too.
This is as fine an example of Blue Note-era Jimmy Smith as you could hope to find, being the perfect synthesis of jazz and groove. The only problem is, it very much set the pattern, and there was little development in Smith’s sound until his move to Verve and the classic big band sessions of the 1960’s.
None of that matters listening to this LP, though – just let the groove take you through, and this turns out to be enjoyable music, and great jazz too.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Creed Taylor was the man! No, i'm not going daft with exclamation marks again - I mean the man who set up impulse! records. This must make him one of the most important producers/label bosses in jazz. He went on to great things with Verve and his own label CTI, amongst others, producing some of the greatest names in jazz. He was also responsible for possibly my favourite soul jazz LP, George Benson's "Beyond The Blue Horizon", a classic date also featuring Ron Carter & Jack DeJohnette.
If you fancy salivating at some of his finest productions, check out this feature - part 1 and part 2. There's also an official CTI records site and an interview on allaboutjazz.com, in 3 parts - part 1, part 2, part 3.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Beyond The Blue Horizon
- So What?
- The Gentle Rain
- All Clear
- Ode to a Kudu
- Somewhere In The East
GEORGE BENSON; guitar
RON CARTER; bass
JACK DeJOHNETTE; drums
CLARENCE PALMER; organ
MICHAEL CAMERON, ALBERT NICHOLSON; percussion
Monday, November 07, 2005
- Halliburton Breakdown
- Happiness Is A Warm Gun
- The Maestro
- The Spark That Bled
- Son Of Jah
- Tomorrow We’ll Live Today
- Don’t Let It Bring You Down
- The Slip
- Sean’s Song
- The Time Is Now
- In Your Own
- Fables Of Faubus
Brian Haas; Electric Piano
Reed Mathis; Electric Bass
Jason Smart; drums
Brian Haas; Electric Piano
Ok, ok, so jazz is a serious business. But every once in a while, I need to listen to something that lightens the mood somewhat. And here are a trio who are capable of doing just that. There really is nothing like listening to a bunch of guys having fun up there on stage to make you feel good.
It’s worth spending a few minutes pointing out where this recording came from. This most generous group has made several complete live shows available for download on the internet in a variety of formats (I chose the ‘mp3 VBR’ option which is a nice compromise between size and fidelity and took half an hour or so to download on my 1Mb connection), at http://www.archive.org/audio - just type 'Jacob Fred' into the search box to access a selection of live recordings. I was attracted in by the cover versions; ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ was a recent free mp3 on allaboutjazz.com, and to be honest it’s been crying out for a jazz treatment for a very long time. They’re just as accomplished putting a new spin onto pop material such as the above and Bjork’s ‘Isobel’ as they are at classic jazz like John Coltrane’s exquisite ‘Naima’.
There’s so much more to this group than quirky covers, though. Their own material really does match up to the covers. Their style is firmly rooted in jazz, being improvisational throughout, but also brings in elements of other musics. Much of this recording is funky, and at times you could even say it rocks out - especially on the bass solos - I never knew the bass guitar could be played so high, and so well. The occasional use of harmonica, and the exaggerated sense of space in some pieces (‘The Slip’, for example) suggests a dub influence. These guys really are all over the musical map.
It’s a simple enough set-up. Electric piano, electric bass, drums. They’re not afraid to use a few effects either, the dirty piano solo on ‘Halliburton Breakdown’ being a case in point. The music is always funky, though at times the playing can be quite free - not dissonant, but just heading out where it wants to go, unencumbered by convention.
Take a look at their official website.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
The Shape Of Jazz To Come
Recorded 22nd May 1959
1. Lonely Woman
4. Focus On Sanity
ORNETTE COLEMAN; alto saxophone
DON CHERRY; trumpet
CHARLIE HADEN; bass
BILLY HIGGINS; drums
This is an album that can rightly claim to be one of the finest sessions of avant-garde jazz ever recorded. What makes this all the more remarkable is that it was one of the first. Featuring sidemen who would become major figures in free jazz in later years, this 1959 LP really does live up to its title as “The Shape Of Jazz To Come”.
Retrospectively, knowing what came after this, the impact of a recording such as this is bound to be lessened somewhat. Critics of the time lambasted Coleman for being unable to play, not realising that the dissonances and odd harmonic effects achieved here were entirely intentional and nothing to do with poor technique. This was, at the time, new music, and if the intervening years have lessened its impact somewhat, it’s still easy to hear how different it was from conventional hard-bop of the time.
The opening “Lonely Woman” is a fine example of what was going on here. The track is built around a haunting theme taken in (almost) unison by Coleman and Cherry. At times they peel off and head in different harmonic directions, creating strange dissonances. Cherry occasionally lags slightly behind, giving each note additional impact. These techniques have the effect of enhancing the emotional impact of the piece, to the point that you are taken inside the head of this imaginary, lonely woman.
When Coleman solos, he does so in a direction that he establishes himself. There is no need for him to follow a set harmonic path as in bop-based forms, so his playing is an organic outgrowth of the theme. This has the effect of making his playing seem logical, even in the absence of structure – this gives the whole piece a satisfying feel.
Everyone has a job to do. This is not like hard-bop, where the soloists did all the hard work with the rhythm section trailing in their wake. Haden and Higgins both have important roles to play here – this is clear from the introduction to the piece in which they set out their own themes. These may differ from those of the horns, but still play an important supporting role, and make sense in the context of the whole piece.
Ornette solos a couple of times between statements of the theme, and while Cherry’s playing is excellent in support of that theme, sadly there’s no solo space for him here.
Everyone gets solo space later on, though, with Haden particularly being in stellar form. Don Cherry’s contribution is undeniably important, but it would be several years before he reached his peak, with albums like 1966’s ‘Symphony for Improvisers’. The form of the pieces stays the same, though, with a unison statement of the theme followed by solos and a return to the theme one or more times. The tempo varies – some tracks are taken at breathtaking speed – especially ‘Eventually’, the end result being an album that swings hard and is really quite accessible for a so-called ‘free jazz’ recording.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Recorded November 24th, 1971
1. Black Unity
PHAROAH SANDERS; tenor saxophone, balaphone
HANNIBAL MARVIN PETERSON; trumpet
CARLOS GARNETT; tenor saxophone
JOE BONNER; piano
CECIL McBEE, STANLEY CLARKE; bass
NORMAN CONNORS, BILLY HART; drums
LAWRENCE KILLIAN; congas, talking drums, balaphone
November 5th. Guy Fawkes night, firework night, whatever you want to call it. So some real fireworks are called for...
How about this for fireworks. By 1971 Pharoah Sanders had already releaed a string of groundbreaking albums, chiefly 1970's 'Karma', containing the masterful "The Creator Has A Master Plan", possibly his best (and best known) work. Pharoah wasn't ready to stop there though, and in 1971 returned with this free jazz masterpiece. Comprising a single eponymous track, "Black Unity" weighs in at a mighty 37:21. Nowadays we are lucky to be able to listen to the whole thing as a continuous piece; presumably on it's release the music would have been split across 2 sides of an LP.
In common with much of the free jazz of the era, this music has a groove. The opening bass riff, played on two instruments, gives a feeling of great propulsion, while at the same time carrying the tune and being funky as hell. The rest of the rhythm section soon joins in, carrying forward the opening bass theme with stabs on the piano and a frenzy of percussion - remember this session featured 2 drummers and a percussionist, so straight away you can tell that rhythm is going to be a priority here.
The whole thing builds slowly, reaching something of a climax in Pharoah's first big wig-out at around the 8-minute mark. Sanders has a sound which is unique amongst saxophonists, and his ability on this album to blow well outwith the confines of the instrument is simply startling. This show of musical freedom just gets the rest of the band started, and off they all go, chasing the Pharoah down the road like their lives depended on it. The quality of the playing is remarkable, the level of invention by each player simply stunning.
It's not an easy ride - although it starts out funky, the playing becomes freer as the piece develops - everybody lifts ideas and plays off everyone else, giving a spontaneous, organic feel to proceedings. The theme is never far away, though, and returns on the two basses from time to time to pull everything back together. Also appearing towards the end is an echo of the theme from "A Love Supreme" (as featured in "The Creator Has A Master Plan"), demonstrating not only Pharoah's respect for his old boss, but also his view, echoed in the sleevenote, that all music is one.
This site has a comprehensive Sanders discography