Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Doin' Allright

Doin' Allright
Blue Note 84077

Recorded 1961

Side One

1. I Was Doing All Right
2. You've Changed
3. For Regulars Only

Side Two

1. Society Red
2. It's You Or No One


DEXTER GORDON; tenor sax

This 1961 LP marks the beginning of the second phase of Gordon's career. Having scored some successes in the 1940s, 'the big man with the big sound' (he was 6'5") spent much of the 50s either under the influence of drugs or in jail, so his LPs for Blue Note in the early 60s represented something of a comeback for the veteran tenorman.

Here he teams up with some young guns; most notably the great Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Horace Parlan on piano. The rhythm section of Tucker and Harewood are good, but firmly second division - solid players, nothing too flashy. The album splits neatly into two - slower tracks on side one and an increase in pace on side two. A relaxed air permeates throughout, though. 'You've Changed' was a future standard, and the flip's 'Society Red' sees Gordon's huge tone being shown off to great effect. That track also features a standout solo from Parlan.

All in all, it's a typical Blue Note release of the period. It doesn't take too many risks, but with music as well played and enjoyable as this is, it doesn't have to. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the discrepancy in catalogue numbers between the text and the sleeve picture above - the picture is actually of the CD issue (courtesy of amazon), while I own the LP. Ahh, catalogue confusion, don't you just hate it?

I can't resist sharing my favourite piece of Dexter trivia, courtesy of wikipedia. Apparently, when Gordon lived in Denmark, he became friends with the family of then-future Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and subsequently became Lars's godfather! Try playing six degrees of separation with that one!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bending New Corners

Bending New Corners
Blue Note 522123

Recorded 1999

Side One

1. Sweet Mercy
2. 3/4 Arroyo
3. Minaret 1

Side Two

1. Bending New Corners
2. Friendly Fire

Side Three

1. More
2. Less
3. Siegfried

Side Four

1. Minaret 2
2. Betty
3. And


PATRICK MULLER; piano, rhodes
MARC ERBETTA; drums, percussion
NYA; vocal

The huge amount of great classic jazz out there does occasionally make me think "what's the point of getting into anything new?", especially at a time when innovation in jazz seems to be ever-harder to find. But thinking this way is just plain wrong when considering an artist like Erik Truffaz.

Erik attended the Geneva conservatoire before forming his first quintet in 1991. By 1997 he had hooked up with Blue Note to record his first album for them, 'Out Of a Dream'. 'Bending New Corners' was his 3rd for the venerable label, 1998's 'The Dawn' preceding it. The music he presents here is a delicious mix of the old and the new. Truffaz' trumpet playing is heavily infleunced by Miles Davis in his use of space - 'More', for example, features Truffaz with the mute firmly in, playing a theme vaguely reminiscent of 'My Funny Valentine' - it's as if Miles had come back from the dead to play just one more gig, and a delicious taste of the kind of music Miles might have gone on to make had he lived a little longer.

As well as the classic Miles influence, there's a great deal of fusion going on - listen to the funked-up rhodes of Muller on 'Bending New Corners' or 'Less', for example. And something else - something distinctly contemporary is going on in the rhythm section. Many of the tracks feature rhythmic lines with a heavy drum'n'bass or trip-hop influence. This layering of contemporary rhythms with classic bop and fusion based soloists makes for an arresting performance. Several tracks also feature Nya, with his laid-back raps. I'm not sure these add much, and possibly even take away from the music as they leave less time for the soloists to perform.

This album was followed up with 2001's 'Revisite', an album of remixes which took the music from 'Bending New Corners' and threw out almost all the classic jazz references to create something truly modern and fresh; only Truffaz' trumpet surviving in many cases.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Les Stances A Sophie

Les Stances A Sophie
Universal Sounds - US 11 CD

Recorded 22nd July 1970

1. Theme De Yoyo
2. Theme De Celine
3. Variations sur un Theme de Monteverdi (i)
4. Variations sur un Theme de Monteverdi (ii)
5. Proverbes (i)
6. Theme Amour Universal
7. Theme Libre
8. Proverbes (ii)


JOSEPH JARMAN; saxophones
DON MOYE; drums

Best known for their unique take on free jazz, the Art Ensemble of Chicago arose from the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Like conceptual art, free jazz always seems to work best if supported by a strong concept, and the AACM certainly provided this to the Art Ensemble. It's not to surprising to hear that the group found themselves in Boulogne, France in July 1970 - many American free-jazz musicians were attracted to France by the lure of European intellectualism and the 1969 Festival Actuel. What is surprising is that they ended up recording the score for a low budget French domestic drama.

The album became legendary after it's release - the film was hardly an international success and it's soundtrack was never destined to be a top seller, so few copies were in circulation. Thankfully London-based Universal Sounds rereleased the album in the 1990s after copies began trading for crazy amounts of money. The reason for so much interest in an otherwise obscure record? The lead track - 'Theme de Yoyo'; tight, funky and totally unlike anything else in the Art Ensemble's extensive discography. The theme is catchy, insistent and broken up with tasteful bursts of freedom that innovate without terrifying. This would all be only mildly entertaining were it not for the outstanding vocal of Fontella Bass. Bass had scored some soul hits in the late 1960s and was later married to Lester Bowie, hence her appearance here. She's totally up to the job, belting out the vitriol of the lyric with real passion. The music matches her delivery, the band showing themselves to be extremely tight - free-jazzers are often derided as being unable to play, but there's no doubt this is a group that could turn themselves to anything.

After that astonishing beginning, the album changes direction somewhat, the rest of the tracks being in a quieter and much freer style. It's unmistakably film music, but with a definite free jazz-edge that unsettles and satisfies close listening. It's still possible to pick this up on CD, so take my advice and do so, before this cult classic becomes as unobtainable as it once was.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Cecil McBee - Mutima

Strata East SES 7417

Recorded 5/8/1974

Side One

1. From Within
2. Voice Of The 7th Angel
3. Life Waves

Side Two

1. Mutima
2. A Feeling
3. Tulsa Black


ONAJE ALLEN GUMBS; acoustic and electric piano
GEORGE ADAMS; tenor and soprano sax
CECIL McBEE Jr; electric bass
MICHAEL CARVIN; gong and misc. percussion
JABOLI BILLY HART; cymbals and misc. percussion
TEX ALLEN; trumpet & flugelhorn
ART WEBB; flute

The bass has always been an essential component of the jazz rhythm section, simultaneously holding down the groove while marking out the changes. Bassists of the hard-bop era often got little in the way of solo space (they were too important to be allowed to wander off by themselves) but throughout the 1960s and 70s, perhaps thanks to the gargantuan presence of Charles Mingus, they began to take a more prominent role. Several highly influential figures appeared, like Ron Carter and Dave Holland along with many others. Cecil McBee is perhaps less well-known, but equally talented, having played on seminal works by the likes of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.

This album finds him firmly placed as leader of an avant-garde group with a distinctly spiritual edge. Mutima is the key to the spirit and culture of black Africa, according to the sleevenote; McBee's compositions certainly evoke that spirit. The music is at times inspirational. The opening "From Within" is a bass solo with McBee playing two acoustic basses simultaneously. The idea of an 11-plus minute bass solo may terrify some, but this is riveting. Not only does he play the basses, but for a section he plays the feedback created by the amplification of both instruments. The sounds he creates are otherworldly and exciting, and not always easy to identify as being produced by an upright bass. "Life Waves" is an ensemble piece, but with McBee taking a prominent melodic role, and demonstrating enormous technical skill with some very fast lines.

The other standout track is "Mutima" itself, which is virtually indistinguishable from some of the work McBee undertook with Pharoah Sanders a few years earlier. Most Strata East recordings are pretty hard to come by, but thankfully this one has been made available as a reissue in recent years (although only on vinyl) so should be pretty easy to track down.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

If Only They Knew

If Only They Knew
Timeless SJP 151

Recorded 14th July, 1980

Side One

1. If Only They Knew
2. Capistrano
3. Moontide

Side Two

1. Reunion
2. Autumn In New York
3. Move On Some


DAVID LIEBMAN; tenor and soprano sax
TERUMASA HIND; trumpet, flugelhorn
RON McCLURE; acoustic bass

Jazz in the 1980s could be pretty horrendous at times. Taking it's cue from 70s fusion, there were a lot of loud guitars, soprano saxophones and bongo drums, but often combined with slick production and shiny suits to make music that was neither good jazz nor good commercial music (whatever that is). A few artists managed to keep on bringing out quality records, though, usually those who had been closely connected with the music when it began in the early 1970s.

So it was with Dave Liebman, one time Miles Davis sideman and present day jazz educator. This record brings his fusion leanings and grafts on a slice of bop to create massively enjoyable, if not terribly original music. Fusion being much derided at the time of this LP's release, Liebman chose the title for this record as a riposte to his critics. "If Only They Knew"... how much passion and commitment, how much sheer talent went into records like these, they'd surely think differently.

The talent on show is impressive - John Scofield brings his instantly recognisable guitar sound, to great effect. Find of the record for me is the little known Terumasa Hind on trumpet, who brings a huge bop influence to tracks like 'Autumn In New York' with his Freddie Hubbard-like tone and delivery.

Revisiting his Miles Davis connection, Liebman would be instrumental in bringing Scofield to Miles' attention, leading to his association with the trumpeter on many 1980s recordings.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gary Bartz - Juju Street Songs

Juju Street Songs
Prestige 10057

Recorded 1972

1. I Wanna Be Where You Are
2. Black Maybe
3. Bertha Baptist
4. Africans Unite
5. Teheran


GARY BARTZ; alto & soprano sax, percussion
ANDY BEY; electric piano, percussion, vocals
STAFFORD JAMES; bass, percussion
HOWARD KING; drums, percussion

NTU Troop was Gary Bartz' solo vehicle of the early 1970s. It was the first group he led, and allowed him the freedom to incorporate his myriad influences into the post-bop/fusion template bequeathed to him by former bosses Art Blakey and Miles Davis. This record taps into the currents of 'world-fusion' that were circulating at the time of it's birth, throws in a dash of afrocentrism, and combines them with down'n'dirty street funk to create an intriguing musical hybrid.

Opener 'I wanna be where you are' sets the pace - Bartz' sax dripping in effects and a loose-limbed rhythm section blending elements of calypso and funk into an infectious groove. Stevie Wonder's 'Black Maybe', and side 2's 'Africans Unite' get similar treatment. 'Bertha Baptist' is the beating jazz heart of the album, the point where Bartz shows us what he's learned as apprentice to the master jazzmen of the 1960s. And then my personal favourite, 'Teheran', with it's middle-eastern influence, Bartz' sax sounding like a snake charmer over the polyrhythmic backing of King.

It all sounds familiar now - world fusion has been done a few times (although not always so successfully) - but at the time Bartz took a critical pasting over music such as this. "It's not jazz", they cried (as they often do). But listen - here's an album of great, improvised instrumental music that's not afraid to think for itself and explore new sonic territories. How much more jazz can you get?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ray Charles, The Genius

The Genius After Hours
Atlantic 1369

Recorded 1961

1. The Genius After Hours
2. Ain't Misbehavin'
3. Dawn Ray
4. Joy Ride
5. Hornful Soul
6. The Man I Love
7. Charlesville
8. Music, Music, Music


ROOSVELT SHEFFIELD; bass (1,2,4,5,7)
WILLIAM PEEPLES; drums (1,2,4,5,7)
JOHN HUNT; trumpet (2,4,5)
DAVID 'FATHEAD' NEWMAN; tenor sax (2,5), alto sax (4)
EMMOTT DENNIS; baritone sax (2,5)
OSCAR PETTIFORD; bass (3,6,8)
JOE HARRIS; drums (3,6,8)

Raymond Charles Robinson, 'the only genius in the business', recorded prolifically for many years until his death in 2004. Although he had his greatest success with R&B sides like 'What'd I Say' and 'I Got A Woman, he was an accomplished pianist in styles as diverse as jazz and country music. He recorded plenty of jazz sessions for Atlantic, including some memorable work with Milt Jackson. This 1961 set sees him playing jazz, swing and R&B influenced music, but always with the blues.

As the name would suggest, this album has a laid back, end of the night feel. As music to contemplate life's troubles to at 3am it's damn near perfect. Although the tracks vary in tempo, the after hours feel persists throughout the whole album, even in a piece as frenetic as the bop-based 'Joy Ride', which also features superb alto playing from Newman and a fine muted solo from Hunt.

My favourite, though, is the title track, evocative of smoky, half-deserted clubs sometime past closing; it's slow shuffle being the perfect foil for a performance full of emotion by Charles. Given that it feels like 3am inside my head right now, this is possibly the finest thing I could wish to hear.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Roy Ayers - Daddy Bug

Daddy Bug
Atlantic SD1538

Recorded 1969

1. Daddy Bug
2. Bonita
3. This Guy's In Love With You
4. I Love You Michelle
5. Shadows
6. Emmie
7. Look To The Sky
8. It Could Only Happen To You


ROY AYERS; vibraphone
RON CARTER; bass (3, 4, 6 and 7)
FREDDY WAITS; drums (3, 4 and 7)
SONNY SHARROCK (!); guitar (6)
BRUNO CARR; drums (6)

As I was preparing to write this review tonight, I was racking my brains desparately trying to remember the name of the TV show to which 'Daddy Bug', the lead track here, was the theme. A bit of research has led me to conclude that it wasn't the theme to anything, but it sounds so soundtrack-ish that I think I could be forgiven my mistake. The highlight of the album, it comes on in a 60's spy-movie style. It's impossible to listen to without imagining Michael Caine or someone similar being chased through the streets of Paris by men in trilbys and overcoats.

As i've said, it's the highlight of the album - despite being full of excellent talent (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Sonny Sharrock) there's not a lot else to write home about. Most of the other tracks are ballads, with the take on 'This Guy's In Love With You' being particularly dull. 'Emmie' is notable for featuring pioneering free-jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, but Sharrock fans will be dissapointed to hear him take a conventional supportive role. No 'shards of glass' here.

Ayers would go on to greater things with the jazz-funk of his 'Ubiquity' in the 1970s, but this album shows that before then he was a competent, blues-based vibist with some very influential friends, even if he didn't have the tunes to match. That's the problem - great talent, but no-one's stretched by the material so the performances just don't gel.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Things Have Got To Change!

Things Have Got To Change!
impulse! AS-9212

Recorded 1971

1. Money Blues (parts 1-3)
2. Dr. King, The Peaceful Warrior
3. Things Have Got To Change (parts 1-2)

Archie Shepp had the knack of simultaneously sounding nothing like anything he'd done before, but at the same time sounding totally familiar. So it is with this classic impulse! session from 1971, precursor of the following year's more well known 'Attica Blues'.

The lineup is extensive, being a who's who of the players Shepp had worked with over the previous few years. That might lead you to expect more outside playing, but the emphasis here is much more rhythmic, with a strong soul/R&B flavour. It's the free-jazz album Stevie Wonder would have made in 1971, had he put his mind to it.

The theme is the Blues, of course - it always is in Shepp's music. Oppression, poverty, violence; it's all here, Shepp's socially conscious vision telling it like it is with great passion. Standout track here is the title cut; an extended jam that begins quietly with some early electronica, providing a backdrop to a tune you could hum and a steady increase in intensity, culminating in the choir's mantra "Goddammit! Things Got To Change!". From there the improvisers are unleashed, with Shepp serving up one of his characteristically savage solos, railing against the oppression of his people. Contrast this with the neat and tidy playing of "Dr. King", a duet between Shepp and Cal Massey on rhodes that manages to be tender, yet incisive at the same time, setting the listener up nicely for the main event that follows.

And 'Money Blues' - "I work all day, I don't get paid, Money, Money, Money" - not only the root of all evil but also the root of much misery. Someone pay the man (but make sure he keeps on singing).

Don't just take my word for it - read this review.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Ground

The Ground
ECM 1892

Recorded 2004

1. Tears Transforming
2. Being There
3. Twins
4. Curtains Aside
5. Colours Of Mercy
6. Sentiment
7. Kneeling Down
8. Reach Out And Touch It
9. Edges Of Happiness
10. Interlude
11. Token Of Tango
12. The Ground



Honking free-jazz and blistering bebop are all very well, but sometimes my head needs a good long soak, and that's when this album comes out. Some of you may remember that I went to see this lot play last year sometime, and came away mesmerised (read the review here) by the passion and intensity that Gustavsen poured into his performance. Well, some of that comes across on record too.

It's like this. Right now, as I listen to 'Curtains Aside', Tord has just broken the calm mood with a dissonant solo worthy of Cecil Taylor. Yet I remain unruffled. So confident is his delivery that you can trust him to guide you through the storm and end up back somewhere more melodic, which is exactly where the following 'Colours of Mercy' puts you.

I once read that his music creates the feeling of "looking out of a window on a wet Sunday afternoon". To that I could add "when you're warm inside and Monday is a long way away". It's that kind of record. All the usual adjectives for this kind of thing - "haunting", "ethereal", "melancholic" - come to mind, but it's so much more than that. Go listen.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Click Here NOW

OK, so it's more Miles, but So What... (get it?). Just go here and check out this video. Miles and Coltrane playing together in '58. Oh Yes.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fire Music

Fire Music
impulse! A-86

Recorded 1965

1. Hambone
2. Los Olvidados
3. Malcolm, Malcolm-Semper Malcolm
4. Prelude To A Kiss
5. The Girl from Ipanema
6. Hambone (live version)


On #1,2,4 & 5 (February 16th, 1965, Van Gelder Studio)

TED CURSON; trumpet
ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
MARION BROWN; alto sax

On #3 (March 9th, 1965, Van Gelder Studio)

ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
J.C. MOSES; drums

On #6 (March 28th, 1965, Village Gate)

MARION BROWN; alto sax
ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
FRED PIRTLE; baritone sax

'Fire Music' was Shepp's statement of intent. It could be argued that the act of homage that was 'Four For Trane' was just that - a young lion getting famous off the back of someone else's music. So in this, Shepp's first album of his own material as leader, he had a stall to set out, a vision to express, and this is exactly what he does.

The themes are typical Shepp - the plight of African-Americans ('Malcom, Malcolm-Semper Malcolm') and reverence for the history of jazz ('Prelude To A Kiss'), as well as the sheer delight to be had in free improvisation and loose structure ('Hambone', 'Los Olvidados'). 'Hambone' is perhaps the most famous piece from this album. Following an introduction brimming with the kind of ensemble playing that made 'Four For Trane' so exciting (as well as some thrilling call-and-response moments between Shepp and the other horns), the horns find an insistent, driving riff in 13 that acts as the most surprising backdrop for soloists that you're likely to hear in recorded jazz. The CD reissue pulls in a live version of 'Hambone' from slightly later in the year (originall issued as part of 'The New Wave In Jazz' compilation LP (AS-90)), where the soloing is more concentrated. The big riff, though, loses some of it's power, the musicians losing time a little under the rigours of the complicated music. Not even the additional presence of Fred Pirtle on baritone sax can make a difference to this section, although his solo later in the piece is worth buying the CD for.

'Los Olvidados' is more tightly structured ensemble playing (the Archie Shepp big band, anyone?) with a satisfyingly complex feel. 'Malcolm...' is surely designed as a vehicle for Shepp, being a reading of his poem about Malcolm X, but the player who comes out of it best is David Izenon, with a superb bass accompaniment to the spoken word section. 'Prelude To A Kiss' stays pretty faithful, as you'd expect given Shepp's love for Ellington, though it's not quite as clean as some of the Ellingtonia he'd explore in the late 1970s. And 'The Girl from Ipanema'. Not perhaps the most obvious choice for an avant-garde jazz makeover, but it works surprisingly well, the latin rhythms of the original acting as a pleasant backdrop to more high quality ensemble playing. As expected, Shepp becomes ever-wilder as the piece progresses but soon responds to the steady rhythm and settles into the mould of the original.

As a collection of subversive avant-garde jazz, this album holds up well. But as a set it doesn't hang together quite as well as 'Four For Trane' or 'On This Night' (recorded largely at the session that produced 'Malcolm...') but it's well worth hearing nevertheless, for a glimpse of Shepp's vision. In many ways, this was the album that set his sound for the rest of the 1960s.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

World Galaxy

ALICE COLTRANE with strings
World Galaxy
impulse! AS-9128

Recorded 1971

1. My Favourite Things
2. Galaxy Around Olodumare
3. Galaxy In Turiya
4. Galaxy In Satchidananda
5. A Love Supreme


ALICE COLTRANE; piano, organ, harp, tamboura and percussion
FRANK LOWE; saxophones and percussion
LEROY JENKINS; solo violin (on A Love Supreme)
BEN RILEY; drums
DAVID SACKSON; concertmaster
and strings

Alice Coltrane spent the first few years of her post-John solo career in some sort of public mourning, paying tribute to her late husband whilst simultaneously continuing his legacy. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than on this 1971 LP, bookended by two of John's most famous pieces with some of her own compositions separating the two.

To take the record in reverse order, 'A Love Supreme' is perhaps the most appealing track on the record for jazz fans. It mostly resembles it's esteemed forebear, but instead of the classic quartet of sax-piano-bass-drums, we are treated to a funky organ breakdown with Alice coming over "like Booker T. on acid" as one commentator put it. 'My Favourite Things' does something similar, using the familiar theme as a framework for building a solo, although it's not as wild as before. Reggie Workman gets a chance to really let loose, though, with an outstanding solo that sees him leaping all over his bass.

The central portion of the record can be taken as one, being three variations on a theme. Waves of sumptuous strings bathe the listener in a warm wash of ambient sound that sounds about as far from bop as you can go - surely something John Coltrane would have approved of. Alice was very much influenced by eastern philosphy, and was a student of the guru Swami Satchidananda (who appears on a narration at the beginning of 'A Love Supreme'). The addition of her harp and tamboura gives an impression of these spiritual influences, and although the mood is sometimes dark, the music is always tuneful and accessible to western ears.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

We Want Miles

We Want Miles
Columbia COL469402 2

Recorded live Boston, MA at KIX June 27th, and New York, NY at Avery Fisher Hall May 7th, and Tokyo, Japan April 10th 1981

1. Jean-Pierre 10:39
2. Back Seat Betty 8:12
3. Fast Track 15:13
4. Jean-Pierre 3:56
5. My Man's Gone Now 20:05
6. Kix 18:35


MILES DAVIS; trumpet
MARCUS MILLER; fender bass
BILL EVANS; soprano sax
MIKE STERN; guitar
AL FOSTER; drums
MINO CINELU; percussion

This was Miles' 2nd album back after his extended late 1970s layoff, and documents his live band of the time. As a document of what he was up to in the early 1980s it shows his playing off to better effect than the often overproduced studio albums that he cut in that decade. In fact the same is true of pretty much all the music Miles was to record for the rest of his life - lightweight, uninspired studio sessions interspersed by moments of pure genius like this.

The band take the jazz-rock fusion of early 70s Davis albums like 'Bitches Brew', and push further in a rock direction. Gone are the complex polyrhthyms of before, to be replaced by a more solid 4/4 underpinning. Mike Stern on guitar has a much rockier sound than previous Davis guitarists. Stern is often heard playing just with Foster and the slap-bass funkiness of Marcus Miller, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd walked into a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig. This is still jazz though (just), as demonstrated by the improvisational playing of the front-line.

Miles still hasn't quite got over his absence, and at times his trumpet sounds a little weak. His lyrical approach of old is gone, replaced by stabs and whoops on his horn that serve as directions for the band to follow. Bill Evans (no relation to the famous pianist) blows up a storm on soprano with some wild flights that show he's been listening to previous Davis sidemen like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. The use of a soprano is new, though, it's hard tone fitting in well with the rock underpinnings of the music.

Two moments on this LP deserve special attention. The first is 'Fast Track' - as the title suggests it's an uptempo tune which, after some strong statements from Miles and a suitably funky intro from the rhythm section, breaks into an extended improvisational section, with everyone playing to a high standard. Mino Cinelu's long percussion solo even has the audience up on their feet, at one stage.

The second piece worthy of a mention is the version of 'My Man's Gone Now'. Originally recorded by Miles as part of the Gil Evans directed 'Porgy and Bess' sessions of the late 50s, here it's given a funk makeover with an addictive bass vamp supplying a backdrop to some lovely, lyrical muted playing by Davis. This is also the only place in this set where the band try and swing in the usual jazz way - they're not up to it, and soon head back to more comfortable rock timings - showing how effectively Miles was able to direct his musicians at this late stage in his career.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Lonely Woman

'Lonely Woman' is possibly the most famous track recorded by free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. It was featured on his 1959 Atlantic LP 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come'. Coleman's band at that time included Don Cherry & Charlie Haden, although he also played with Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman at around the same time.

So I was delighted to discover this version of the track, recorded by Cherry (cornet), Redman (tenor), Haden (bass) and Blackwell (drums). They recorded together for many years under the name 'Old And New Dreams', for several labels including ECM. In fact it was on their self-titled ECM debut in 1979 (ECM 1154) that they recorded this version of Coleman's classic (the group recorded Coleman compositions almost exclusively).

As you may expect given the lineup, it sounds remarkably similar to the original. Haden's ominous presence on the bass and Blackwell's rolling and tumbling polyrhythms act as a backdrop to Cherry, who reprises his supporting role from 1959 while also getting considerably more solo space. Redman is on good form - he's no Coleman - but consistently invents throughout. Man of the match, though, is Haden, with an outstanding solo from around 8:00 onwards.

The piece is stretched out from it's original 5 minutes to over 12, but you'd hardly notice - so compelling is the performance that it's over too soon. If there is a criticism, it's that there is a little less rhythmic drive than on the 1959 version - although with the intervening developments in the jazz avant-garde, the concept of rhythm was more flexible 20 years on. In addition, there was no longer any need to try and pander to the hard-bop mainstream in order to get heard, as Coleman must have had to do in the 1950s.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I never thought I'd say this but...

I never thought it would come to this, but i actually heard a piece of music today by Wynton Marsalis... and enjoyed it. Often derided as nothing but a Miles Davis imitator, it's been forgotten somewhere that Mr. Marsalis plays a mean trumpet. I'd have been unlikely to listen, had it not been for this post on the 'Jazz Portraits' blog, reporting on Mr. Marsalis' appearance in an iPod ad.

The man over there at Jazz Portraits has got it about right. Here's something that shows off jazz as a living, breathing force. Never mind that the music could have been recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in 1960 - just enjoy it for what it is. OK, you can hardly form an opinion on an artist from a 30-second clip, but on the basis of this ad i'll be seeking out more of his music.

Click here to watch the video.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Put that rhythm section down Wayne, you don't know where they've been.

Night Dreamer
Blue Note 4173
Recorded 1964

1. Night Dreamer
2. Oriental Folk Song
3. Virgo
4. Virgo (alternate take 14)
5. Black Nile
6. Charcoal Blues
7. Armageddon


LEE MORGAN; trumpet
WAYNE SHORTER; tenor sax
McCOY TYNER; piano

Of course, Shorter knew exactly where messrs Tyner, Workman and Jones had been, and on his debut session as leader for Blue Note records, he wanted to pick a team that could follow him in his post-bop vision as far as he wanted to go. It would be safe to assume that John Coltrane's rhythm section could, by 1964, handle just about anything. Shorter is often thought of as one of Trane's successors, and this choice of sidemen goes a long way to confirming that, but his style here is all his own. While Coltrane's music was often dense, with notes squeezed in tightly, Shorter is more adept at using space in his compositions, and to good effect, too.

As a member of The Jazz Messengers, Shorter had become an important composer and respected tenor player, but it's not until these early Blue Note session sthat we see him moving on from the hard-bop style of that band to his distinctive style - which would become such a major feature in Miles Davis' mid to late 60s quintet.

'Brooding' can be defined as "pensiveness: persistent morbid meditation on a problem", and could have been coined to describe Shorter's music. Haunting, dark and very cleverly constructed, his use of atmospheric passages in addition to the more usual theme-solos-theme structure predated much of so-called 'post-bop'. Arguably he was the first significant jazz figure to move to this meditative style, which would be such an enormous influence on late 60s and beyond European jazz (think ECM).

That Shorter was a man determined to present his vision is clear from the inclusion of take 14 of 'Virgo'. While most musicians of the time would record a handful of takes, there is no doubt that Shorter wanted to go over pieces repeatedly until he got exactly what he wanted.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Magic of Ju-Ju

The Magic of Ju-Ju
impulse! AS-9154

Recorded April 26, 1967

Side One

1. The Magic of Ju-Ju

Side Two

1. You're What This Day Is All About
2. Shazam
3. Sorry 'bout That


ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
MARTIN BANKS; trumpet, flugelhorn
MICHAEL ZWERIN; trumpet, trombone
EDDIE BLACKWELL; rhythm logs
FRANK CHARLES; talking drums
DENNIS CHARLES; percussion

For me, Shepp's impulse! discography splits into two - there are the currently available albums - the deluxe, 20-bit digitally remastered CDs - and the rest. Someone has made a decision what to reissue, and I'll bet it's been done on the grounds of commercial potential. "At least," says the impulse! marketing department, "Four For Trane has some tunes you can hum".

Well if that's the basis on which reissue decisions are made, then, in light of the lead track here, we won't be seeing this album on CD anytime soon. Shepp was (and remains) committed to the idea of Jazz as an African music, and here he makes the ultimate statement by fusing his own brand of free improvisation with an African-influenced percussion section. The 18 1/2 minute 'The Magic of Ju-Ju' that takes up the whole of side one is basically a duet between Shepp on his customary tenor, and the rhythm section of Harris, Connors, Blackwell, Charles and Charles on various percussion. The effect is gloriously primal in both sound and intensity. Shepp wails from the bottom of his soul; deep gulps of air lead into huge torrents of sound, while the percussion hits a steady groove and stays there, anchoring Shepp to his African roots.

After the onslaught of side one, the listener is either ready for anything or totally worn out, and some playful interpretations of more sttraightforward themes on side two is exactly what's called for. 'You're What This Day Is All About' is almost lyrical in parts (impulse! execs. take note!), with some poppy changes that act as a real counterpoint to side one's unhinged free exploration. Coming at this point in the record it's a breath of fresh air (in much the same way that 'Mama Too Tight' is on the album of that name). 'Shazam' continues in an avant-bop fashion, with odd harmonics aplenty within a typical bop framework. Workman is amazing here, holding the whole piece down while playing fast, high runs on his bass with great skill and even greater presence - enough, almost, to match Shepp, who becomes wilder as the track progresses - and even getting space for a showstopping solo just before the final theme statement. 'Sorry 'bout That' comes over like some kind of mutant soul jazz, with a funky groove from the percussion section underpinning a relatively restrained front line. Once again the changes have a real pop feel, and sit surprisingly well with the freedom that has preceeded them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Leviathan Brothers

I had an email from a guy connected with Leviathan Brothers directing me over to their site, and I thought i'd say a few words, because what I found there was very good indeed. From what I can glean, they're a piano trio based in the US with a sense of humour and some nice tunes. Their site has a few mp3s to download, which are a damn fine listen, so go there and download them now.

The music is not unlike the previously featured Jacob Fred Jazz Oddyssey, being a mix of virtuoso jazz playing and popular tunes. So thanks to Miguel Sawaya (bass), Sean O'Connell (piano) and Miles Senzaki (drums) for some great music.

You can also find the band at MySpace where there are more mp3s as well as this description of their sound, which kind of sums it up for me - "a piano with a bass. Then there are some drums. And songs. Some sort of organized songs are definitely making themselves heard. And coughing. Is someone coughing in there? It sounds like. Bring up the drums a little. That's better. Do you hear that sound? It's like "rhhrrrrr". You don't hear it? Left side. See. Sounds like yellow."

Makes perfect sense, right?