Thursday, November 23, 2006

John Coltrane - Live At The Village Vanguard Again

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Alan Silva - Skilfullness

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

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

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

ESP records

Alan Silva's 'Skilfullness' at ESP records

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Get The Message

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stormy Weather

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Butter or Jam?

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pharoah Sanders - Love Will Find A Way

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bill Dixon - Intents and Purposes

I'm unsure what attracts me towards free jazz sometimes. There's the unbridled creativity, of course, and the 'living-in-the-moment' spontaneity that I try to live by myself. But that doesn't change the fact that much of it sounds just plain odd. I'm a fan of unusual instrumentation (see the recent post about Dorothy Ashby for example) so was delighted to pick up this Bill Dixon album. It's credited to the Bill Dixon orchestra, which tells you a lot already about the instrumentation. There's a horn section - Dixon himself on trumpet and flugelhorn, then a couple of reeds (alto sax, bass clarinet) and a couple of brass (bass trombone, english horn) - that's hardly conventional, as well as a cello, bass and various percussion. It's looking pretty odd already, and that's before you consider Dixon's arrangements.

Arrangements? Yes, despite being loosely attached to the free-jazz genre, Dixon's music is much more considered than that genre suggests. Of note is the presence of several bass instruments on these pieces - as a result the music often has a dark, brooding quality (once again at odds with the preconceived ideas that people have about free music). Dixon's music is always full of space, and his improvisational style reminds me a little of contemporary Don Cherry, although perhaps a little more considered - maybe with a splash of 'In A Silent Way'-era Miles?

Dixon was arguably one of the main driving forces behind the development of free jazz. After meeting Cecil Taylor (recording with him on 'Conquistador!'), Dixon became involved with the free jazz community and funded (although didn't play with) The New York Contemporary Five. He also briefly played in a quartet with Archie Shepp that released one album in 1962. Despite these associations though, Dixon went very much his own way in terms of his recordings. After this album was released in 1967, he didn't record again until 1980, but has been a regular in the studio since then. He favours smaller groups now, but the brooding atmosphere of 'Intents...' remains thanks to his use of two basses on many recordings.

Dixon's discography can be found here although many of his recordings are difficult to find.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dorothy Ashby - Soul Vibrations

Something of a pioneer of the harp as a jazz instrument, Dorothy Ashby was born plain Dorothy Thompson in Detroit in 1932. Somehow she managed to overcome the resistance of fellow jazz musicians (might have had something to do with going to the same school as Donald Byrd and Kenny Burrell) and made herself a household name in her native city, even presenting a radio show in the 1960s. Her recorded output includes several albums for Prestige in the late 50s/early 60s, one of which, 1958's In a minor groove becoming critically acclaimed.

As the sixties went on, many bop players started to look for inspiration from othe styles, including popular music, soul and gospel. And the result of Dorothy Ashby's excursions into these genres was 1968's 'Afro-Harping' - a soulful and thoroughly contemporary take on her original, bop-influenced style. Original is a word that will always be used to describe her playing - the harp is a strange bedfellow for most modern jazz styles (perhaps suited mainly to the sort of spiritual free-jazz that was Alice Coltrane's forte).

"Soul Vibrations" is the lead track from this LP, and immediately on hearing it one can spot it's many influences. The backing has a strong soul music feel and the string introduction lends an eerie feeling that is in keeping with Ashby's following minor-key solo. Apart from a string break about half-way through, pretty much the whole track is dedicated to Ashby's soloing. She never seems to dominate - perhaps because of how low she is in the mix. It works, but I'm not sure this was the effect that Ashby herself would have wanted, having held her own with hard bop giants like Roy Haynes and Richard Davis. I just get the feeling that she ought to have sounded louder. In addition to the soul feel, the strings lend a soundtrack-like feel - to me it brings to mind that tense moment just before a chase - perhaps the hero of the tale is becoming paranoid that he is being followed. The otherworldly sound of the harp is perfect in this context, and makes the piece considerably more unusual and memorable than many of the period. And of course, there is a strong jazz feel in Ashby's solos that give it some real bop credibility (thus keeping the critics happy).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brad Mehldau - Day Is Done

The Bop guys had no problem in plundering contemporary popular music for source material, so it's a mystery why many players keep on rehashing the same old stuff in the 21st century. I mean, bop happened 60 years ago - a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, including the whole rock era - so why is it still odd for a mainstream jazz artist to dip their toe into music written after 1950?

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's certainly a thought that comes to mind when listening to 'Knives Out', the opening track on this, pianist Brad Mehldau's 13th album. Released in 2005, the album is one his most energetic, as evidenced by the opener. In the hands of Radiohead it was yet another piece of minor-chord introspection, but the unusual chord structures make a fine vehicle for solo improvisation. The tension in the harmonic structure of the piece is palpable from the off. Mehldau plays it pretty straight to begin with (if that is possible) before shattering preconceptions in a sustained and intense bout of soloing that lasts for most of the track's 8 1/2 minute length.

It's a hard act to follow - the highlight of the album in many ways - but there is much to enjoy later on. The two Lennon-McCartney compositions come off well - 'Martha My Dear' is pretty much dismantled and put back together again in a virtuoso solo piano performance, while 'She's Leaving Home' is pleasant enough, in keeping with the original's wistful mood. Paul Simon's 'Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover' also gets the dismantling treatment, though this time it's a group effort with Meldhau and the rhythm section sparring on the theme for much of the piece.

Jeff Ballard on drums is worth a mention. His playing is satisfyingly complex, driving and polyrhtymic at the same time. It's a particular joy to hear him playing quietly, tapping out ever-changing rhythms on the hi-hat, or gently using brushes. He doesn't get a lot of solo space, but all that needs be done is to focus on his playing at any point to hear his improvisational qualities.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Audio Problems

Apologies if you've been trying to listen to the Radical Reconstructive Surgery track on the radio player. For some reason that I can't seem to fathom it's playing at the wrong speed. You'll have to mentally convert it from 45rpm to 33 1/3 rpm for now, until I can get to the bottom of this.

Radical Reconstructive Surgery

This was a bit of a random purchase, but a good one all the same. It's even more surprising when you consider the background to the record. Scott Harding (aka Scotty Hard, aka Radical Reconstructive Surgery) is a Canadian born producer who spent the 80s and 90s working with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Biz Markie, Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang Clan. Some of that influence percolates through into his latest release on the independent Thirsty Ear label.

He's gathered together a simmering collection of talent including keyboard maestros John Medeski and Matthew Shipp. The coming together of sequenced, often heavy beats with jazz virtuosity is beautifully balanced and goes way beyond any ideas you might have about 'jazz-rap' production from previous excursions into the genre. There's a real sense of flow to the album - the tracks have been sequenced carefully to give the impression of listening to a single, constantly evolving piece of music. Opener 'Primray Humor' and the following 'St. Clare's Hospital' layer big hip-hop beats over abstract electronic sounds and some amazing piano work courtesy of Shipp. As the album continues the pace gets less frantic, the beats die down in intensity, and the funky hammond of Medeski gets a chance to shine - first dirty, as on 'Eclipse', then bluesy and funky on 'Apothecary's Cabinet'. The arrangements are constantly challenging - the beats might be sequenced, but we're not talking four-to-the-floor here, intricate rhythmic patterns are augmented and lightened by live drums and bass.

Standout track on the album, though, is the closer, 'Round 2', which sounds as pugilistic as it's title would suggest. A mid-paced grinder, it sees John Medeski playing some seriously dirty hammond, which is then further processed into a staggering wall of sound that bombards and delights in equal measure. This record really does sound like nothing else out there at the moment. It's another example of jazz innovation that totally does away with any association with bop or it's many offshoots, free-jazz included. It's still high-quality, cleverly constructed improvised music, simply with a different set of influences than those that Bird had in the late 1940s. To paraphrase Miles, 'It's about time'.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Solid Ether/Recoloured

Nils Petter Molvaer - Solid Ether/Recoloured

Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer started out playing 'nu jazz' with Masqualero and went on to make his solo debut for ECM records in 1998. Solid Ether was his second solo LP in 2001.

As you might expect from the label, the style of 'Solid Ether' is, well... ethereal. Molvaer's sound owes a lot to Miles Davis circa 'In A Silent Way'. Where this album differs is in it's use of electronics - and particularly drum'n'bass on many tracks. 'Merciful' stands out, with it's melancholy female vocal. As an album, 'Solid Ether' has a very relaxed, saturday night/sunday morning feel, but can seem dull at times. Grey, even.

So it's lovely to hear 'Recoloured'. Remixed by a variety of electronic and jazz musicians, the ideas in 'Solid Ether' are given wings and the result is an album bursting with energy and colour. 'Merciful' opens in the style of the original then bursts into life with ever expanding layers of rhythm. 'Dead Indeed', in the hands of Mind over Midi, turns from Miles-goes-drum'n'bass to an extended piece of ambient acid house. But as seen by Pascal Gabriel, it's funky mid-tempo electronica. Anything goes, pretty much, and it's pulled off beautifully in most cases.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Black Fire

ANDREW HILL - Black Fire

If I had to pick a favourite pianist I would find it very difficult, but Andrew Hill would have to be on the list. (the others? Herbie Hancock, definitely, and probably Tord Gustavson, too). Picking an Andrew Hill album would be even harder, so where better to start than with his 1963 Blue Note debut. Playing alongside luminaries such as Joe Henderson (tenor), Richard Davis (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), Hill works a bop revolution starting from the inside. This is unusual for the time - most of the innovations taking place in jazz in 1963 were heading into free jazz territory.

All of the pieces have strong bop structures and melodic elements, but with Hill's characteristic unusual block chords. The harmonies have a modal feel that is reminiscent of the contemporary work of the more well-known Hancock. Opener 'Pumpkin' is a standout with it's strong tenor melody and melancholy feel. Hill's playing is at times complex but never sounds uncontrolled, even when he plays his trademark descending runs on the keyboard. These bring to mind a vision of his hands falling over each other as they run down the keyboard, but the playing is always totally accurate despite often being at odds with the accepted choice of chord. These unusual choices of chords make the music seem fresh, and give a feeling of freedom that is not dependent on abandonment of traditional notions of rhythm and harmony.

Black Fire has been reissued several times on CD, but the current Blue Note edition is a corker, with fine extra takes of 'Pumpkin' and 'Black Fire', and exquisite sound, beautifully remastered from teh original Rudy Van Gelder recordings.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tina Brooks - Back To The Tracks

Album - Back To The Tracks
Recorded - 1960

Those of you who've been reading for a while will know how much of a Tina Brooks fan i am. Very few tenormen have come close to the easy virtuosity of Harold Floyd Brooks. He recorded only a handful of times, with only 3 records as leader being released in his lifetime. 'Back To The Tracks' comes from the album of the same name, one of the many great 'lost' Blue Note LPs. This 1960 recording was slated to come out at the time and even had a catalogue number (4052) and sleeve. For some reason the release was pulled and the record didn't see the light of day until it came out in Japan in the early 1980s. I've previously written about another blue note release, Jimmy Smith's Cool Blues, that also suffered a similar fate (Brooks is featured on that LP, too). I was lucky enough to track down a recent vinyl repressing which sounds fantastic.

What marks this LP out from other Brooks releases on Blue Note is the presence of the hugely talented Jackie McLean on alto; 'Back To The Tracks' is an umptempo blues that nicely demonstrates the similarities between Brooks' and McLean's styles. Both are natural virtuosos, and despite the quick pace both create a sense of spaciousness in their playing that makes it sound easy. You know that muscians making a piece sound as easy as that just has to be very, very difficult.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marion Brown - Exhibition

Album - Marion Brown Quartet
Recorded - 1966

Thought i'd post another Marion Brown on the radio player. If you're not familiar with his work you might not appreciate how different 'Spooks' was from his usual style; fear not, as 'Exhibition' will show you the way. Instead of tight, controlled riffing, you get long sprawling solos along with a sense of formlessness created by the floaty rhythm section. That's why 'Spooks' is such a shock - subversive (in terms of being totally different from what the rest of the avant-garde were up to) and brilliant.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Marion Brown - Spooks

Album - Three For Shepp
Recorded - 1966

Altoist Marion Brown came to prominence with his appearance on John Coltrane's seminal 'Ascension' in 1965, but had in fact been recording at various sessions for about a year before that famous date, mostly under the leadership of Archie Shepp. Consequently, there was a great deal of gratitude felt by Brown for Shepp, and it gave rise to this 1966 album in much the same way that Archie had recorded 'Four For Trane' in 1964.

The album consists of one side of Brown originals with the other having been written by Shepp. 'Spooks' kicks off the second side and blows Brown's tunes into the weeds. The Brown side is very much in keeping with his ESP dates - long winding pieces that develop slowly while keeping up the usual free jazz exploration. But 'Spooks' fires straight in, the staccato introductory figure sounding reminiscent of a roaring twenties hot five (Shepp was always keen to explore the history of jazz in his music). The upbeat feel and rhythmic drive continues throughout the solos; Stanley Cowell on piano in excellent form, then Grachan Moncur III on trombone and finally Brown himself in his distinctive style. Shepp doesn't play, but he doesn't need to, his personality is stamped all over the track - so it's even more of a feat that Brown manages to retain some of his style through it all.

Friday, August 04, 2006

We Love You Oscar Peterson

Not sure what this is all about - read the full story at Surreality Times - but it looks as if legendary Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson is taking some stick at the moment. I can't comment on that, but it surely is a great excuse to take a look at the life of a Jazz stalwart.

Like so many Jazz musicians, Oscar showed musical ability from a young age, and had his future shaped by hardships. In Oscar's case it was tuberculosis that gave him the opportunity to develop his skills on the piano. After hearing Art Tatum (and nearly giving up, being so intimidated!) he was inspired to become a full-time jazz musician, and when he got in tow with legendary producer (and founder of Verve records) Norman Granz, he was set. Incredibly, Peterson is still going strong today despite being 80 years old and having suffered a stroke. Apparently he's still playing incredibly strongly too, as this review notes.

On record Oscar's melodic sense and lightness of touch are well known. He can come across as unassuming, but there's real passion in his playing that's unmstakable. Add to this a fearsome improvisational technique and a strong sense of rhythm and I think you've got all of the ingredients of a great pianist.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Jimmy Smith - Walk On The Wild Side

Album - Bashin'
Recorded - 1962

What better for a night when I'm in a big band mood than this? Coming right at the start of Jimmy Smith's fertile association with both Verve and Oliver Nelson, this is a lesson in both arranging and solo performance. The piece splits itself into two; the first half is the slow building band section, bringing out the original melody in a tight arrangement that has moments of high brass drama interspersed between the swagger.

Jimmy bursts in at the half way point with one of his trademark descending introductions, then proceeds to redefine the role of the organ in jazz (yet again). He manages to be melodic, inventive, funky and gritty all at once, as usual. Also featured is as fine an example of Jimmy's 2-note modulating solos that you could ever wish to hear. Then we get to hear what we all came for - Jimmy playing with the band in an exciting call-and-response section that leads up to the all-horns-blazing climax. Phew!

Somehow I don't think I've done this outstanding piece of music justice. Go listen!

Any more information regarding the Jimster is best found here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Trinidad Oil Company - Feelin' Alright

Album - Blue Juice Vol. 2
Recorded - 1977

No apologies here - i'm sure some of you will complain that this "isn't jazz", but, well, it's on Blue Note, it suits my mood tonight, and that's good enough for me. The fact is that this is a damn funky take on a number by 70s rockers Traffic, played by a Dutch steel band. Now that does sound a bit odd, i'll admit, but have a listen and just try and tell me you don't like it.

It's an upbeat, funky tune that's perfect for good moods and sunny days. The first half of the track is a pretty straight take on the original, but the second half of the track is where it's at, with probably the only steel band solo anywhere in popular music. It's a proper solo, too, exploring the harmonic possibilities of the instrument as any good jazzer should.

I'd love to say more about this band but haven't found a whole lot out there. Maybe one of you knows something?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Jackie McLean - Lights Out

Album - Lights Out (Also reissued on Contour, 1977)
Recorded - 1956

I'm a bit tired tonight after a busy weekend, so what better than a sultry, smoky blues to kick back to at the end of a hard day. Altoist Jackie McLean is probably best known for his Blue Note sides of the 1960s where he was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of hard bop well towards free jazz territory. But before any of that, he served his hard bop apprenticeship with towering Jazz figures like Miles Davis (on his early blue note sessions) and Charles Mingus (Pithecanthropus Erectus). While doing this he also found time to lead his own quintet on a set of sessions for Prestige that resulted in the LPs 'Lights Out' (Prestige 7035) and '4, 5 and 6' (Prestige 7048). Both albums saw a reissue as a single package titled 'Contour' in 1977, which is the record that I have in my possession.

As I said above, it's a smoky blues number, a McLean composition that is basically an extended jam. As is so often the case, the loose feel of the jam session brings out the best in all the players. Mclean is no exception, his soloing making up for what it lacks in pace with a performance full of emotion. Donald Byrd also makes a decent fist of a muted trumpet solo - quite a feat in my book. The rhythmic pairing of Doug Watkins (bass) and Art Taylor (drums) also excel in their steady yet shifting support for the soloists. Only pianist Elmo Hope lets the side down with a predictable solo that just doesn't engage my imagination as the horns did.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anthony Braxton - Composition 8J

Album - Saxophone Improvisations Series F
Recorded - 1972

There's something about the saxophone that makes it sound like the most human of instruments. Actually, writing that makes me think that the same is true of all wind instruments, and the reason for that is the breath. Breathing is fundamental to who we are, but we often fail to appreciate that. Listening to a virtuoso performance on a wind instrument reminds us of the ability of our breath to communicate enormous levels of power and emotion.

I say this in introduction to an Anthony Braxton piece, as on this particular track it is impossible to escape the breath. It's part of an album of solo saxophone performances entitled 'Saxophone Improvisations Series F' (on which it is also known by the more arcane 'NBH - 7C K7' - i've never made an attempt to understand Braxton's naming convention). Such is the intimacy of the recording that the listener can hear Braxton's breath, his fingers clacking on the keys

It has a sentimental air that suits my mood tonight (slightly spent, but content that it was all for the good). This mood is present on several other tracks on the album, along with a number of squawkers, as you might expect. There's much to admire in the piece - a definite sense of melody without a theme, for example. This approach can sound aimless in the hands of lesser talents, but in Braxton's capable hands there is a real sense that the track journeys from one melodic station to the next, quite effortlessly.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pharoah Sanders - Village Of The Pharoahs

Album - Village of The Pharoahs
Recorded - 1973

Pharoah Sanders' impulse! albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s are some of the best examples of the free jazz genre ever comitted to vinyl; from the full-on freak out of 'Izipho Zam' to the classic freedom-on-acid 'Karma' (home of 'The Creator Has A Masterplan'). 'Village of the Pharoahs' comes from the 1973 album of the same name. This was comparatively late in his impulse! career and as such is now relatively unappreciated. If anyone connected with impulse! records is reading, get this album a CD release now.

Stylistically the track leans more towards the funky free-jazz end of Sanders' style, with the addition of a mystical edge in the presence of tamboura and shakuhashi (a type of japanese flute that creates an otherworldly, ethereal sound). Bass and percussion set up a hard-edged groove over the tamboura's drone before the theme is stated by the piano. Sanders enters on soprano with a wailing melody - emboldened by this strong introduction, he goes on to play with great passion and intensity for the next 12 or so minutes. His style is instantly recognisable, the shreiks and wails associated with his music are very much in evidence, but are kept under control at all times and fit well within the confines of the ever-shifting rhthymic backing. Towards the end of the piece things get a bit quieter, with Sanders trading vocal lines with guest Sedatrius Brown. The piece closes with the tamboura and percussion of the opening section, but slowed down many times, continuing the mystical air of the piece right to the end.

In my opinion this is one of Sanders' finest moments, in terms both of his individual performance and the group dynamic (sound and feeling conveyed). It also has the distinction of being one of the only Quadrophonic records that I own, not that I have the music system to do that justice.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Candido - Thousand Finger Man

Album - Thousand Finger Man/ Best of Blue Juice
Recorded - 1969

We're basking in something of a heatwave here at dailyjazz towers, so it's appropriate that my thoughts have turned to latin jazz, in the form of this gem by cuban percussionist Candido. Originally released as part of the 'Thousand Finger Man' LP in 1969, the track came to my attention as part of Blue Note's excellent 'Best of Blue juice' compilation (also good is 'Feelin Alright' by Trinidad Oil Company - in fact the whole album is great).

As a piece of percussion driven cuban jazz this track is hard to beat. It gets it's energy from the irrepresible Candido who really does live up to his 'Thousand Finger Man' monicker by playing ever more complex and detailed rhythmic patterns on his congas. As well as all that percussion, the track has a nice funky groove - a catchy horn figure is underpinned by some great organ work and one of the deepest brass sounds you're ever likely to hear on record. But it's at it's best when it's just drums, bass and some of the finest conga in the business.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Art Blakey - Noise In The Attic

Album - The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Art Blakey's 1960 Jazz Messengers (also 'Like Someone In Love' Blue Note 4245)
Recorded - 1960

I haven't got long tonight so this is going to be a kind of edited review. Here goes...

Drums. Lee Morgan. Wayne Shorter. More drums. Bobby Timmons. More drums. Lots more drums. For a long time. 'Noise in the attic' indeed. Did I say it had drums? Listen to Blakey's solo - sublime...

I think that just about sums it up.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lee Morgan - Gaza Strip

Album - Indeed!
Recorded - 1956

Credited to one Owen Marshall (about whom the internet is strangely silent), 'Gaza Strip' was the first track recorded by Morgan as a leader, and was released shortly after on his first Blue Note LP. It's also notable for featuring Horace Silver, who provides his usual funky backing on piano, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Despite being only 18, Morgan had served his apprenticeship in various groups, most notably the Jazz Messengers, and as can be heard here, was more than ready to strike out on his own (and become a hard bop legend, though that was still to come in 1956).

After Philly Joe's intro, Morgan leads off on the theme, but then lays out and lets the band do their stuff. First up is Clarence Sharpe on alto with a passably entertaining solo, but it pales in comparison with what is to come. Silver is next, sounding characteristically louche and funky - this is more like what we can expect from ex-Jazz Messengers. Finally is Morgan, blowing Sharpe into the weeds with a fiery and well-considered solo. At times he almost trips over himself, and he's obviously moving around a hell of a lot as he moves towards and away from the microphone, at times sounding as if he's heading for the back of the studio. But somehow it all stays together and he reaches the end for another statement of the theme, the listener left breathless with excitement.

I've no idea where the title of the piece comes from. Given the turbulent history of that part of the world one might expect a combative mood to the piece, but that's evident only in the way that Morgan's solo bests everyone else's. You might even expect a slight middle-eastern feel, but if it's there, I can't hear it. As usual, answers on a postcard...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Quincy Jones - Soul Bossa Nova

Album - Big Band Bossa Nova

Recorded - 1962

It might be considered cheating, writing about this on a blog that celebrates spontaneous, improvised music. But when you've got talent Quincy Jones' magnitude with a host of jazz greats like Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Lalo Schifrin and even Roland Kirk (yes, that Roland Kirk), then you just can't keep it down.

This track is rightly famous, having been used in various places including the 1998 world cup and the movie 'Austin Powers: International man of mystery', as well as having been sampled heavily. notably by Dream Warriors on their 1991 release, 'My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style'. The fact that this track is so well loved is a real case of the cream rising to the top, as it's a great piece of music. Jones' tight orchestration and the irresistibe latin rhythms pull it along in the best big-band style, while it carries enough melodic hooks to drill itself into your head. In fact I've only written about it tonight as my wife has been walking about the house singing it all week, such is it's melodic insistence.

I'll say no more, it's such a well known tune that you'll all be singing it already - but if you're not then head slightly to the right and up a bit to listen to it on the radio player. Watch out for the flute solo in the second half - ohhh yesss.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Freddie Hubbard - Keep Your Soul Together

Album - Keep Your Soul Together
Recorded 1973

A fine and funky bit of soul jazz from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard in 1973. Ron Carter provides a very funky cycling bass line which ably anchors the song, along with the support of both drums and percussion. Over this both Hubbard and Junior Cook on tenor sax solo take extended periods. Of the two, Hubbard gets the bigger space, demonstrating what he'd learned through his years: staying mostly blue and groovy, he does manage at times to throw in shades of Miles' bop playing. A light sprinkling of electric piano runs along behind this, somewhere between the rhythm and the solos.

There is not a lot of trumpeters in soul jazz, which mostly featured some combination of sax, guitar and organ. So it is a treat to hear this track, especially as it is one of the funkiest examples of the genre.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

'Big' John Patton - The Turnaround

Album - Let 'Em Roll

Recorded - 1965

It's hard to believe that in 1965 it was considered odd to introduce a vibraphone to a soul jazz combo, but that's exactly what 'Big' John Patton did by including Bobby Hutcherson in the line-up for this 1965 Blue Note recording. Perhaps best known for his avant-garde sessions for the label, Hutcherson brought a swinging edge and tonal colour to a tried and trusted formula. That's not to say that the record would be dull without him - indeed the interplay between Patton's organ and Grant Green on guitar is nothing short of telepathic at times.

Originally a Hank Mobley tune, 'The Turnaround' started life as a blues but here it gets a new lease of life as a decidedly funky slice of soul jazz. Patton sets the tone with his opening riff before Green and Hutcherson double up on an extended reading of the theme. Then it's up to the soloists. First comes Green, spare yet funky, with some lovely harmonics coming out in Patton's inspired comping. Then there's nothing for Patton to do but steal the show with an extended organ solo that plays around with Green and stays seriously funky with a side order of jazz improvisation. Oh, and did I mention that it's got a real laid-back vibe to it? Close to perfection.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eddie Gale - Black Rhythm Happening

Album - Black Rhythm Happening

Recorded - 1969

Trumpeter Eddie Gale recorded this in '69 in a rare headlining appearance for the man who had served his apprenticeship with some of the biggest names in avant garde jazz, including Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. It's a bit of an over-looked album and i only got wind of it through the compliation Blue Note's Rare Grooves, which featured this title track. Not that the track is by any means a stock example of rare groove.

For starters, all of the rhythm here is panned hard left, which is a device i have always found irritating and off balance, especially when listening through headphones. However, it's fairly easy to over look this of-its-time idea and it's worth doing so, because the tune has some great elements. The most noticable of these are the joyous call and repsonse vocals, from what sounds like a whole room full of people. They seem to be having a damn fine old time, chattering away and yelling inbetween bursts of singing.

Weaving under this and through the polyrhythms is a guitar line that meanders like an off-kilter Grant Green. There are also some occasional bursts of brass that are ever so slightly atonal. It makes for an interesting fusion of soul jazz, avant garde jazz and gospel. No wonder, then, that it is said to have been one of the inspirations behind Archie Shepp's classic Attica Blues.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Archie Shepp - U-Jamma

Album - Parisian Concert

Recorded - 1977

From his straightahead period comes an Archie that might be unfamiliar to those raised on a diet of impulse! and BYG recordings from earlier in the decade. Around this time, Shepp realised that he'd taken the free thing as far as he was going to get, and rediscovered his influences with a fine set of firmly bop-influenced performances. Also worth a listen is the same year's 'Goin' Home', an album of spirituals recorded as duets with pianist Horace Parlan that are as inventive within the bounds of the source material as Shepp was in 1964 with 'Four For Trane'. This particular piece shows off his Ben Webster influence very well indeed, that broad tone shining out from in front of a fairly average French rhythm section. This track became a bit of a fixture for Shepp around this time and even made it onto 2001's 'Live In New York', such is it's staying power. It's also a great riposte to anyone that reckons Shepp was losing his chops around this time, with some frenetic yet well-controlled soloing throughout.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Alice Coltrane - Turiya and Ramakrishna

Album - Ptah, The El-Daoud

Recorded - 1970

What's so easy to forget, when listening to the ambient wash of some of Alice's soundscapes, is that her whole being was steeped in the blues. Her pre-Coltrane career included being taught how to play the piano by Bud Powell, no less. So it should not come as a surprise that this track harks back to a whole host of earlier jazz and blues styles while maintaining the forward momentum of her post-Coltrane vision. 'Turiya' was the Hindi name that Alice took, one can only guess who 'Ramakrishna' refers to, but given the feel of the piece i'd not be surprised if it was a reference to John Coltrane.

Although the 'Ptah...' album features the twin tenors of Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson, this track is a trio performance with Alice on piano, Ben Riley on drums and Ron Carter on bass, and in actuality much of it feels like a duet between Alice and Carter, such is the level of intimacy reached by the track. Imagine the Hamlet cigars ad arranged for space jazz trio and you've got a good idea what it's all about.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Destination Out

Thought i'd post just a very short one today (i'm on holiday this week, see) to plug this great mp3 blog that features some really great avant-garde jazz. It's very much to my taste, so if you enjoy what you read and hear here, then you should check it out. And thanks to the guys behind it for supporting this blog.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Elvin Jones/ Jimmy Garrison Sextet - Just Us Blues

Album - Illumination!

Recorded - 1963

This track dropped into my consciousness really by chance - let me explain. I own, as you may have figured out by now, rather a lot of Jazz. Now, a lot of this is on vinyl, and in order to get it out to you lovely people, it needs to be turned into mp3 files*. Now, many jazz LPs are pretty short by current standards, so for general listening purposes I tend to create an audio CD with two albums on. You can imagine the rest... "Hmmm, Elvin Jones is a drummer, I know, i'll pair him up with Max Roach." And so while listening to yesterday's 'Nommo', I also ended up hearing this beauty. It hardly stretches the talents of the leaders, but it's great nonetheless.

Jimmy Garrisson kicks off with a remarkably short (for him) bass intro, before we're treated to some down and dirty blues. It's pretty straightforward stuff, but for me what makes it stand out is the wonderfully lackadaisical tone of Sonny Simmon's sax. It's almost as if it really was the end of the night - you can imagine the house lights going up and the place being cleaned up, the band barely able to stand, but still capable of just one more jam. As such, it makes for great late night/early morning listening.

*If anyone's interested in how to do this, let me know and maybe someday i'll do a post on it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Max Roach - Nommo

Recorded - 1966

Album - Drums Unlimited

And Max just kept on going... Not content with having spearheaded the early development of bop with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, elder statesman of the skins Max Roach put out an album in 1966 that was as fresh as anything he'd done up to that point. I've blogged about the album before, but here I want to concentrate on what is, for me, the standout piece. Tellingly, it's written by bass player Jymie Merritt (of Jazz Messengers fame) but works out the whole group rather than simply being a showpiece from the bass fiddle. In common with much of the jazz I enjoy, this one is a slow burner. A solitary bass intro gives way to a hypnotic 3 note figure that provides a backdrop for increasingly inventive solos on the part of all of the players. Of course, Max gets a decent solo slot as you'd expect, and is predictably excellent.

This is what I love about this period of jazz - here's an elder statesman of bop leading on a piece that starts conventional and ends up flirting with atonality; it's a bit like the (current) Rolling Stones covering Karlheinz Stockhausen, to put it in more conventional terms.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Grant Green - Cease The Bombing

From 1969's "Carryin' On", the same album that the track I blogged about yesterday is from, comes this soul-jazz gem. As the title will suggest, this is one of Grant's most overtly political pieces. But rather than an angry stab of rage against the war in Vietnam, Grant chooses to get his point across in considerably more laid back fashion. In fact it's one of the most laid back tracks in his discography, really hammering home it's "peace, not war" message. For me, the track stands out as much for it's texture as anything. The effect of layers of electric piano and Green's clear picking against the more usual sax and vibes is strangely hypnotic, as is the simple, insistent melody. Somebody somewhere (Green, I presume) hums along, but instead of being annoying as humming usually is, it just fits. It's one of those times when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and it works beautifully. "A smooth sailing trip across the ether" was how one reviewer put it, and I have to agree.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Daily Jazz Is Back!

My goodness, it's been a while, hasn't it? Not sure what happened there - maybe it was the bad sleeves, but I got up one morning and just didn't want to listen to jazz. No jazz means no blog, but inspired by the fact that at least one of you out there is still reading it, the daily jazz is back.

For today, my head is firmly stuck into bizarre jazz cover versions. Right now it's Alice Coltrane, with her reading of her late husband John's 'My Favourite Things' - avant-world-bop with an indian classical influence. Oh, and did I mention that it's funky too? No? Listen on the radio player to find out... (nb on further listening, there's definitely a european avant-garde classical flavour to the atonal wig-out towards the end. Crazy.)

Next up is a more recent track, Cinematic Orchestra's take on the Art Ensemble of Chicago's funky 1970s 'Theme De Yoyo'. A pretty straight reading, albeit with added scratching, but it's damn good to hear young people nowadays getting up to funky jazz shenanigans. More!

Soul jazz has always been a fertile ground for finding covers of pop tunes. Many are rather average, while a few are simply awful. But occasionally they really hit the heights, and Grant Green doing James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself)" can't fail to please. Grant Green. James Brown. Could it get any better? As always, have a listen and see for yourself.

Ahhhh. It's good to be back!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bad Record Sleeves part 2

I hope all of your stomachs have recovered, as they get worse from here on in...

More 70s jazz-funk dodginess. What's that - a hat on a pyramid. It looks a bit like a man. Bestriding a city. With lots of 'heavy' weather going on. What a mess.

Miles again. Never tell a coked-up megastar they can draw, especially if it's the 1980s.

What have you got to look happy about, Sonny? Your record looks crap. (actually this is quite good, better than you would expect for a past-his-prime jazz megastar in the 1980s)

I feel sick every time I look at this. Not much else to say.

Roy Haynes was once voted as Esquire magazine's "best dressed man of the year", according to the sleeve note. Looks like he finds that almost as funny as I do. It must have been a long time ago...

So that's my top (or bottom) 10. Now over to you - feel free to send in anything that you find particularly unpleasant to look at, especially if the music within is actually quite good. Apologies to any of you who now feel unwell, rest assured this is normal and will pass with a lie down and a nice cup of tea.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bad Record Sleeves part 1

Yesterday's post featured a sleeve picture so dire that regular reader Stewart was prompted to comment...

¡Ay Carumba! Surely this cover has got to make it into your top ten of worst Jazz album covers. Fair enough, it's not as bad as this crap, but still. I demand a top ten crap Jazz album covers. Come on.

Well, ask and ye shall recieve. Like all good top tens, this one is going to split itself up - 5 today, and 5 tomorrow. So without further ado...

A gentle start with Mr Hancock looking decidedly jazz-funk on this patchy 1970s album.

You can imagine the meeting in Columbia's art department. "Right then lads, we need ideas for the new Miles LP. It's called Water Babies". "I know, what about some erm.. babies playing in the um.. water?" I'm not sure if the drugs were too strong, or not strong enough.

I'm not really sure that the children in this shot are really appreciating the sight of Roland Kirk in full flow, are you?

There's not a lot I can say about this one. Would you take him home to meet your mother? Read about the album here

Help! There's a beaver trying to steal that man's saxophone. Ouch. Good album though. Read more here

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ronnie Scott - Serious Gold

Serious Gold
Pye NSPL 18542

Recorded 18th October 1977

Side One

1. Invitation
2. Lazy Afternoon
3. Forty Colours

Side Two

1. Hey-Oke Ballad Suite
2. Send In The Clowns
3. Interfusion


RONNIE SCOTT; tenor and soprano sax
JOHN TAYLOR; keyboards

Ronnie Scott
is one of the leading names in British Jazz, perhaps more famous for the jazz club that bears his name rather than his music. He's led a long and active career bringing the sounds of bop from to the UK. Quite literally, as early in his career he was a prominent feature on transatlantic ocean liners.

With such a history behind him, I made the mistake for many years of ignoring this album. I think it might have been the title, or maybe the picture of a hoary old Ronnie on the front that put me off. Or even the inclusion in the tracklisting of 'Send In The Clowns'. What a mistake that was! There's an old saying that goes 'you should never judge a book by it's cover' that comes to mind.

What this album is is a collection of complex post-bop tunes with more than a nod to the contemporary European avant-garde. Take the inclusion of Eberhard Weber's 'Forty Colours', for example. A gently unfolding piece with much emphasis on texture, this is a lovely listen. Or 'Interfusion', that rounds out the album and recalls nothing more than Ray Pizzi in it's groove-laden complexity.

Scott admits in his sleeve note that this music is "...representative of what I was into around this period.", and in some respects it is very much of it's time, but with enough decent tunes to still entertain.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More on Roswell Rudd

I just wanted to share with you this quote about the star of yesterday's review, Roswell Rudd. From allmusic, of all places.

..."In his hands, the horn became less a note-playing machine than a kind of human-powered analog synthesizer"...

That pretty much sums up what I was trying to say about his sound yesterday. Come to think of it, free jazz on analogue synths could sound pretty good (although there is a LOT of potential for things to go wrong). Does anyone know if such music exists?

Rudd's name is pretty far out, too, what with Roswell being the supposed site of some UFO-ness many years ago. His music is pretty far out too. However, he's definitely not called Rosewell, which as anyone who lives near where I come from will know is the least free-jazz town on earth (possibly).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Roswell Rudd - Everywhere

impulse! A-9126 Stereo

Recorded 1966

Side One

1. Everywhere
2. Yankee No-How

Side Two

1. Respects
2. Satan's Dance


ROSWELL RUDD; trombone
GIUSEPPE LOGAN; flute, bass clarinet

Perhaps best known for his association with Archie Shepp, trombonist Roswell Rudd started playing in a traditional jazz context with players like Buck Clayton. He also played with another trad-cum-free jazzer that's popular on these pages, Steve Lacy. He got heavily involved with the New York avant-garde scene of the early 1960s, playing with John Tchicai in the New York Art Quartet as well as with Cecil Taylor. That led to an association with Archie Shepp that lasted for much of the 1960s, Rudd being responsible for some of Archie's finest moments, including my personal favourite, his arrangement of 'Naima' on the 'Four For Trane' LP.

This 1966 LP was Rudd's first as leader, amazingly, and features several other notable figures from the jazz avant-garde. Beaver Harris had contributed drums to several Archie Shepp recordings with Rudd, and Charlie Haden had, of course, played with the great Ornette Coleman.

The album opens with the title track, Rudd's poignant melody arising from a sea of sound dominated by the sinister tones of Haden's bowed bass. The track seems to grow from there - like a living thing rather than a classically structured jazz composition. It's most definitely a group improvisation, with no discrete solos as such, the players slithering around and occasionally bumping into each other. It's a marvellously restrained piece of music, and one of the best pieces of free jazz I've heard in a long time.

The remaining three tracks on the album are all in a similar vein, being faster paced and less controlled than 'Everywhere'. The playing is still good, but the listening is much more difficult, with some pretty intense sections. In some passages the rhythm section loses it's pulse and goes nowhere, fast, which is not good to hear. Haden comes to the rescue somewhat during 'Respects'', setting the tone with an insistent bass riff that recurs in parts throughout the piece.

Rudd continues in a free-jazz inspired vein to this day. There is a comprehensive discography available here that allows the interested listener to follow his career in great detail.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Blues And Other Colors

The Blues And Other Colors
Milestone MSP 9023

Recorded August 1968 and January 1969

Side One

1. Main Stem
2. Everyone Needs It
3. Savannah Calling
4. A Statement

Side Two

1. Gone Are The Days
2. Feeling Low
3. You Got To Pay
4. Old Folks


JAMES MOODY; flute, soprano sax
JOHNNY COLES; trumpet, flugelhorn
TOM McINTOSH; trombone
JOE FARRELL; alto flute, oboe, alto sax
CECIL PAYNE; baritone sax
SAM BROWN; electric guitar

On Side Two tracks 1-3;

JIM BUFFINGTON; french horn
DICK KATZ; piano

An alumnus of Dizzy Gillespies' immediate postwar band, Moody is a talented tenor player as well as a flautist, and on this 1969 album he debuts on soprano. The record itself is a set of innovative "big-little band" jazz arranged by trombonist Tom McIntosh. Straight into the action we go with 'Main Stem', an Ellingtom tune that gets a high energy, atonal reading, cerytainly in keeping with the '...other colors' of the album title. Moody features on soprano here, displaying a rich warm tone that many try but fail to achieve from that instrument. The rhythmic accompaniment is solid (Barron in particular), and there's plenty to interest in the solo playing, but star of the show is the McIntosh arrangement. The horn textures are unusual harmoically while fitting well with the overall feel of the piece, and there's always something of interest going on behind the soloist.

Side two features a selection of smaller, more unusual ensembles from an earlier date in 1968. Moody's flute is paired with instruments that would be considered unusual in a jazz context such as the french horn or viola. 'Gone Are The Days' gets a bit twee with it's Americana leanings, while 'Feeling Low' gets a bit cocktail-jazzy. Out of the three alternate group recordings, 'You Got To Pay' is probably the best, with Moody sounding strident on flute and the whole group gelling together in a way that they just didn't do on the previous two tracks.

'Old Folks' closes out the album in subdued fashion, again with an interesting (albeit conventional) arrangement. Once again Moody dominates, on flute this time, by soloing throughout the track, but the backing is warm and supportive, and really fits in well to the lazy Sunday afternoon as I write this piece.

Moody continued to attempt different styles of music in the remainder of his career - from a stint in Las Vegas big bands, to recording with the likes of Manhattan Transfer (ouch!) he has never stood still, and indeed was the subject of a tribute album, 'Homage' in 2004.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

David Ullmann - Hidden

Wet Cash Records

Recorded 2005

1. Hidden
2. Astor Place
3. Memory Games
4. Make Believe
5. Waterfall
6. Lorca
7. Where Do We Go
8. You Don't Know What Love Is
9. Hightime



I talked a few weeks ago about David Ullmann, the stylish New York based guitarist who was the free mp3 of the day. Well I said i might get the album, and I have, and I'm going to write about it now, oh you lucky people.

I recall mentioning that Ullmann reminded me, on 'Lorca', of the late Grant Green. Well the album reveals him to be adept at many styles of jazz guitar. Running through the album is a sparseness of playing that gives his playing greater impact as well as allowing the sidemen space to play. All 3 of them are on great form too - Ashlar's electric piano solo on 'Astor Place', or the drum'n'bass rhythmic drive of 'Hidden'. These upbeat tracks with adventurous rhythmic and harmonic leanings are only half of the story. Tracks like 'You Don't Know What Love Is' demonstrate that they can handle gentler material. Several other tracks on the album are taken in a straighter style like this, and the contrast is most pleasing, at least to this reviewer's ears.

The album is available to buy from this link - I saw a comment there saying that this was a good album to listen to if you thought that jazz artists were all 80 years old - well, that sums it up very well. This is a record full of vitality, and it makes me very happy to know that there are still artists out there doing this kind of thing.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Gambit 69215

Recorded March (1-4)/April (5-7)/September (8-11) 1956

1. Trane's Blues
2. Dexterity
3. Stablemates
4. East Bound

5. Trane's Strain
6. High Step
7. Nixon, Dixon and Yates Blues

8. Omicron
9. Nita
10. We Six
11. Just For The Love


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax
KENNY DREW; piano (1-4)
CURTIS FULLER; trombone (5-7)
PEPPER ADAMS; baritone sax (5-7)
DONALD BYRD; trumpet (8-11)
KENNY BURRELL; guitar (8-11)
HORACE SILVER; piano (8-11)

1956 was very early in Trane's career, but it can be regarded as the beginning of his search for an individual voice. Having been thrown out of Miles' quintet for his drug-fueled unreliability, Trane found work with other prominent musicians who couldn't resist jamming with a Miles Davis alumnus. Trane might have been the worst player in Miles' quintet, but that would still make him a very good tenorman indeed. Three sessions from 1956 are included on this CD They were recorded between Trane's two stays with Miles, and were essential parts of his development as a player.

Running as a theme through these sessions is bass behemoth Paul Chambers, in a foreshadowing of the classic 'Blue Train' of the following year (in fact the first session on this reissue, from March 1956, also features Kenny Drew and Philly Joe Jones. Philly Joe also pops up on the April and September sessions). If you are familiar with that great record, then the music here will not be surprising - spirited hard bop performances, given additional colour on the September session by the presence of Kenny Burrell on guitar. The music contained in these sessions was originally released under Chambers' name, hence the 'Paul Chambers Sessions' tag.

Session one is the pick of the record for me. 'Trane's Blues' kicks things off as a solid hard-bop blues with an instantly familiar theme that I can't just place... Trane is controlled and on inventive form throughout. He's not showy, with none of the searing intensity that would mark out his recordings later in the 1950s. The tune is pretty democratic too, with some nice playing from Chambers, in particular. 'Dexterity', the Charlie Parker tune, is taken at a much slower pace than Parker ever did it, this allows the band some room to breathe and they all stretch out in turn. Philly Joe is particularly good here.

The April session suffers from poor audio quality, but is worth persevering with for the fantastic Curtis Fuller (another 'Blue Train' connection) on trombone. It's largely a blues set - 'Nixon, Dixon and Yates blues' being the track that really does it for me. Coltrane wasn't the only player to connect fully with the blues and turn it into an conduit for his soul, but on his day he could be one of the best.

Fast forward to September, and things get a little more complicated with the polyrhythmic, latin influenced groove of 'Omicron'. Presumably this increase in rhythmic looseness was a direct result of Horace Silver's playing, and he can be heard prominently through the track. Donald Byrd is good too, in full-on Clifford Brown mode. The band really gel throughout the complicated opening and closing sections, and simply burn through the much more driving main part of the piece. 'Nita' sees Burrell join the ensemble with some well-considered lines that help to build the tension of this neatly constructed, driving piece of jazz. The final two tracks pale a little - they're both just run throughs of 'Nita' with different heads, basically, and add little to the album.

Thanks to Gambit Records for rereleasing these sessions. They don't have a website so I can't tell you too much about their other releases. I own one other album of theirs, 'Hard Drivin' Jazz' under Cecil Taylor's name (also featuring Coltrane).

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Gato Barbieri - Alive In New York

Chapter 4: Alive In New York
impulse! ASD 9303

Recorded 1975

Side One

1. Milonga Triste
2. La China Leoncia

Side Two

1. Baihia
2. Lluvia Azul


GATO BARBIERI; tenor sax, guiro, voice
HOWARD JOHNSON; tuba, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, tambourine
EDDIE MARTINEZ; piano, fender rhodes
RAY ARMANDO; percussion, conga

Argentinian tenor Gato Barbieri came to prominence in the avant-garde jazz scene of the mid to late 1960s, playing with the likes of Don Cherry and Charlie Haden. He got funkier in the early 70s, playing with the likes of Lonnie Liston Smith while developing a heavy latin influence, best seen on his four impulse! recordings of the early 1970s. The music on these records (titled Chapters 1-4, indicating something of a stylistic unity) has been described as that of a latin Pharoah Sanders. While that may be true of the earlier records in the series, this 1975 recording finds Barbieri in less fiery mode, leaning towards the commercially oriented pop-jazz sound he would cultivate later in the decade. Thankfully it retains enough interest for the avant-garde listener.

The style of these four pieces is similar. Opening with a contemplative Barbieri, 'Milonga Triste' is as beautiful (thanks to Howard Johnson's bass clarinet backing) as it is rhythmically satisfying. 'La China Leoncia' ups the ante by getting progressively funkier throughout it's four sections. This really is the latin centre of the album, with some furious percussive later in the piece. Side two sees a return to lyrical form with 'Baihia', 11 minutes of relaxed tenor playing with the incomparable Johnson back on his usual tuba keeping things moving along. 'Lluvia Azul' keeps things moving on, being more upbeat than it's forebear and closing out the album in great style.

What more is there to say? This is hugely enjoyable music, played well, and is a good compromise between the fire of Barbieri's later work and his later smooth tones. It's certainly convinced me to track down the other 3 chapters of the series, and it should do the same with you too.

Friday, May 05, 2006



ECM 1050

Recorded April 24th-25th, 1974

Side One

1. Spiral Dance
2. Blossom
3. 'Long As You Know You're Living Yours

Side Two

1. Belonging
2. The Windup
3. Solstice


JAN GARBAREK; tenor & soprano saxes

It wasn't always Nordic folk songs round at ECM records. The early years of the label (founded by Manfred Eicher in 1969) saw releases full of energy and colour. Jarrett and Garbarek both had significant avant-garde pedigrees by the time they came to record for the label, and both bring their distinct personalities to this 1974 session. Jarrett had played with Miles in the early 70s but was forging his own direction at this time. His sound was characterised by a strong rhythmic sensibility within the usual improvisatory framework. He really brings a sense of rhythm to the music on this record, especially the opening 'Spiral Dance' with it's circular piano figure underpinning the soloists.

Garbarek's previous few albums (like the outstanding Triptykon) mined a more avant-garde seam, with influences like Albert Ayler and late period John Coltrane to the fore. But at the time of this recording Garbarek was moving towards a greater melodic accessibility, a transformation that would be complete by the release of 1975's 'Dansere'. The only change in lineup for that album is the swapping of Jarrett for Bobo Stenson, a change that gives the later recording a far more meditative feel.

The group dynamic on this recording is thoroughly democratic. From the equal billing on the record sleeve to the sharing out of solo space, everything is shared equally. The compositions are all Jarrett's, but he doesn't dominate throughout. He'd have plenty opportunity to do that later in his career. This composition bias leads to the record often being listed under Jarrett's name, but that's just to satisfy the classifiers out there.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Randy Weston - Little Niles

Little Niles
United Artists 5011

Recorded 1958

Side One

1. Earth Birth
2. Little Susan
3. Nice Ice
4. Little Niles

Side Two

1. Pam's Waltz
2. Babe's Blues*
3. Let's Climb A Hill


IDRIS SULIEMAN; trumpet (*)
MELBA LISTON; trombone

Randy Weston is perhaps best known for his use of African rhythms in jazz on albums such as the 1972 CTI release, 'Blue Moses'. Prior to his first visit to Africa in the late 1950s, Weston was absorbing the rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean into his post-Monk, bop-based sound. This assimilation gives his piano playing an earthy, dense sound that is seen clearly on this excellent LP.

My copy of this is actually from a later release as part of the 'Blue Note Reissue Series' (the picture above is from the original LP issue). It's a double LP featuring the 'Little Niles' album in it's entirety along with two others sets from the period - Destry Rides Again (United Artists 5045, 1959) and Randy Weston: Live at the Five Spot (United Artists 5066, 1959). Weston bestrides several jazz genres with aplomb. He's as at home playing like George Shearing ('Let's Climb A Hill') as he is doing Monk ('Nice Ice', 'Little Susan').

The whole group plays well with Melba Liston's charts being continually inspiring. The group interplay is up there with the best, seen especially well during the ensemble passages of 'Nice Ice', or in the delicate horn backing to Weston's solo on 'Babe's Blues'. Rhythmically, the blues are prominent, with some more advanced sections on a few tracks. The sidemen on the date are also great, especially Liston (also the arranger) and Griffin, two musicians with whom I am unfamiliar, but who impress nonetheless.

The original 'Little Niles' has been repressed many times and is now pretty easy to come by. I'd recommend giving it a listen.