Friday, March 31, 2006

John Coltrane - Living Space

Living Space
impulse! IMPCD246

Recorded June 1965

1. Living Space
2. Untitled 90314
3. Dusk-Dawn
4. Untitled 90320
5. The Last Blues


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax, soprano sax
McCOY TYNER; piano

Posthumous releases can be a strange business. Particularly with artists of Coltrane's stature, there seems to be an aim on the part of the record companies to milk as much as possible out of the back catalogue - there's not going to be any new music, after all. So various compilations of outtakes and unreleased 'gems' appear. Most of these, it has to be said, are rubbish. But every once in a while a collection of outtakes shines as bright as the material released at the time. This is one such collection.

Put together in the late 1960s by Bob Thiele, (with it's final track added to the CD release by Ravi Coltrane many years later)this LP collects material from sessions in June 1965. 1965 was a fertile year for Coltrane, as he pushed and pushed at the boundaries of jazz convention. His releases from that year range from the conventional (but brilliant) 'A Love Supreme' to arguably the defining album of free jazz, 'Ascension'. The change in style evident between these two classic albums didn't happen overnight, and 'Living Space' goes some way towards documenting the shift in 'Trane's sound.

There are moments of pure freedom evident here. This is particularly marked on 'Untitled 90320' where the rhythm section also play free, allowing Trane to push harder than anywhere else on the album. Although the piece is harmonically free, though, there's a definite rhythm here. My father (a big jazz fan but, as a drummer, allergic to free time) summed it up well a few years ago when he said "this is as much as I can cope with". Trane's playing elsewhere on the album is outstanding. The title track is simply beautiful, Trane on soprano sounding as smooth as he could when he put his mind to it. The opening and closing themes of this track are rather special too - Trane overdubbed a second soprano track, playing slightly out of time and key to his first attempt, creating a haunting, melancholic sound.

The album marks a couple of lasts in Coltrane's career. It's the last time he used the soprano on a studio recording, allegedly; and with 'The Last Blues' is the last time he recorded... well, a blues. It's actually nothing special and feels a bit tacked on to Thiele's well-considered tracklisting, but it's good to have nonetheless.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tina Brooks - True Blue

True Blue
Blue Note 4041

Recorded June 1960

Side One

1. Good Old Soul
2. Up Tight's Creek
3. Theme for Doris

Side Two

1. True Blue
2. Miss Hazel
3. Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You


TINA BROOKS; tenor sax

I've written about Tina Brooks before and even posted the cover of 'True Blue', but what i haven't done is to say much about the music. Softer than a Hank Mobley, less harsh than Dexter Gordon (and that's saying something), the tragic Brooks had a gorgeously smooth and soulful tenor sound coupled with prodigious technical skill. He also posessed a lyrical sensibility that's apparent from the few dates he led in his lifetime. This date from 1960 comes from the same week and features much the same personnel as Freddie Hubbard's 'Open Sesame'.

Brooks is the perfect foil for Hubbard at that stage of his career - in fact their melodic approach and tone are very similar, despite them playing different instruments. The title track really sets the tone - after a conventional hard-bop theme with a distictly melodic bent, Brooks and Hubbard set to work on lyrical, complex solos that perfectly complement each other, coming back to some fine interplay and a restatement of the theme at points throughout. Pretty much the whole LP follows this pattern. This is one of those few hard-bop albums where there is no filler - just continuous hard-swinging music. Even closer 'Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You', with a title that suggests a gentle ballad, is a swinging piece with some neat latin percussion and a particularly fine Hubbard solo.

As i've mentioned before, Brooks died young and left a small but good-looking back catalogue, all on Blue Note. This, 'Minor Move', 'Back To The Tracks' and 'The Waiting Game' as leader, and several dates as a sideman - notably with Jimmy Smith on 'The Sermon' and 'Cool Blues', on the Hubbard that partners this LP, and with Kenny Burrell on ' The Five Spot Cafe'. A full discography is available, and unlike some jazz artists I could mention, I think it might be possible to own all of these.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Theme from "Any Number Can Win"

Theme from "Any Number Can Win"

from Verve V-8552, 'Any Number Can Win'

Recorded July 1963

I was going to review this whole album. The title track has been running around my head all day, but on listening to it I was slightly underwhelmed by pretty much all but the lead track - so that's what I'll be focussing on. The sad thing is that this looks like a great album - slightly cheesy, maybe - with a front cover featuring lovely ladies from around the world and a rear sleeve featuring Jimmy lounging in the driver's seat of an E-type Jag. I wonder what that's all about?

This was one of Jimmy's earliest big-band sessions on the Verve label and features several different bands with the common denominator of Jimmy on organ and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Burrell is a crucial part of this short, sharp, yet exciting track. Unlike some of the Verve big band sessions, this one doesn't have Oliver Nelson arrangements, and it suffers for it a bit. 'Theme from...' has a smaller band so probably doesn't suffer from poor arranging quite so badly.

The track itself is based around Burrell's infectious guitar 'riff' (if you can call a single-note picked theme a riff) accompanied by Jimmy comping on the organ in a cheery-sounding major scale. It's this comping that is the heart and soul of the piece - the whole thing just sounds so up, so happy, that all it can do is light up your day. Some say that the best thing to listen to on a bad day is the blues (tried it, bad idea), but i'd say you should get this out and soak your troubles away the Jimmy way. The rest of the track is punctuated by short solos from Jimmy featuring his trademark trilling, as well as a hefty dose of down and dirty organ grinding. Basically it's a great track and the highlight of a slightly disappointing LP.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Attica Blues Big Band

Attica Blues Big Band
Blue Marge 1001 (F)

Recorded October 24, 1979, Palais des Glaces, Paris

Side One

1. Antes De Adios
2. Star Love
3. Moon Bees
4. Attica Blues part one
5. Steam

Side Two

1. Quiet Dawn
2. Hi-Fly
3. U-Jamma

Side Three

1. Strollin
2. Ballad For A Child
3. Simone
4. Crusificado

Side Four

1. A Change Has Come Over Me
2. Goodbye Sweet Pops
3. Skippin'
4. Attica Blues part two


Archie Shepp (p, ss, ts, conductor)
Kamal Alim, Roy Burrowes, Charles Mc Ghee, Eddie Preston, Richard "Malachi" Thompson (tp)
Charles "Majeed" Greenlee, Dick Griffin, Ray Harris, Charles Stephens, (tb)
Steve Turre (tb, sea shell)
Marvin Blackman (ss, fl)
Marion Brown (as, fl)
Patience Higgins, John Purcell, James Ware (ss, fl)
Candice Greene (vln)
Terry Jenoure (vln, voc)
Carl Ector (viola)
Akua Dixon (cello, voc, p)
Irene Datcher, Joe Lee Wilson (voc)
Art Matthews (p)
Clyde Criner (synth)
Brandon Ross (g)
Hakim Jami (b, tuba)
Avery Sharpe (b, el-b)
Clifford Jarvis (dr)
Kevin Jones (perc)

For today's post we fast-forward to the other end of Archie Shepp's career. This 1979 live recording documents the realistion of Shepp's ambition to create a work that fused all aspects of black American music into one coherent whole. With albums like 1972's 'Attica Blues' he had come close, but here he surpasses even that great record with an outstanding set of experimental big-band music.

As the title might suggest, much of the music within is taken from the 1972 album, but there is much more to the record than that. First and foremost it's a big band record - for all the concept album feel of the opening segment (up to 'Attica Blues part one'), once the band get into the groove they really swing. Listen to 'Strollin' or 'Crusificado' on side three for evidence of that - big show tunes , but backed up with some outsatnding instrumental playing, especially from Shepp who is on great form here. He really lets it all hang out here - not in the sense of playing free - but in terms of passion and commitment. The closest he comes to his free-jazz roots is on side two's run through 'Hi-Fly', and especially 'U-Jamma' - but the ferocity of the 1975 piece is toned down and replaced with some fine lyrical playing. Shepp's playing throughout is to a high standard - on sax anyway - his few attempts at piano are pretty basic. At least they blend into the background behind Irene Datcher's vocal, on 'Ballad For A Child' for example.

The tracks from the original 'Attica Blues' are well executed. The big band setting breathes new life into 'Attica Blues' itself, reworked as a jazz-funk masterpiece with it's slap bass and soulful vocal. The greatest transformation is of 'Quiet Dawn', where the measured delivery of the vocal is in sharp contrast to 8-year-old Waheeda Massey's surreal effort on the original 1972 recording. The mood of the entire performance is different, too - where 'Attica...' was an articulate cry of anger, '.. big band' is celebratory - proud, even.

There's some outstanding talent in the band - Marion Brown on alto, Charles Greenlee on trombone and Joe Lee Wilson on vocals, to name but three, but with the exception of Shepp this isn't a gig for soloists. It's very much a band effort, and all the better for it. It must have been a formidable task to create charts for so many players for what was a one-off gig, but Shepp has risen to the challenge admirably.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Archie Shepp/Lars Gullin Quintet

Steeplechase SCCD 36013

Recorded November 21st 1963

1. You Stepped Out of a Dream
2. I Should Care
3. The House I Live In
4. Sweet Georgia Brown


ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
LARS GULLIN; baritone sax
ALEX RIEL; drums

Europe has always been fertile ground for Shepp. As he has said himself, the greater intellectualism of European audiences made it much easier for his complex music to find receptive ears. As a result several periods of his career have been spent in Europe and a great many recordings have become available. One of the earliest is this 1963 Danish concert featuring bop baritonist Lars Gullin and bass stalwart Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen.

The quintet work through four standards, the opener 'You Stepped Out Of A Dream' being the high point. It's a long piece at nineteen minutes, giving Shepp ample time to improvise in his usual manner. The contrast with the straight-ahead rhythm section is marked, being all the more obvious at those times when Gullin tries (not always successfully) to follow Shepp in his flights.

As a document of an emerging talent this is an interesting release. The Europeans are up to scratch too, so it's good to hear something from them - when most of us think of European jazz we think of the ECM label. Those trying to discover the roots of Shepp's style would be better advised to search out the 1960-61 Candid recordings with Cecil Taylor that show off the young tenor's unique style to better effect.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Incredible Jimmy Smith

I love my jazz, as many of you will no doubt have figured out by now, and although it's great fun writing for you all, there are some areas of jazz that can be covered better elsewhere. For that reason I've been scouring the internet looking for top notch jazz sites to reccommend, and with this one I think I've come up trumps. Jimmy Smith is without a doubt the greatest jazz organist bar none. He was the first musician to realise the potential of the Hammond organ in small group jazz and has worked in several styles including hard bop, big band and funk, all with a jazz edge. But don't take my word for it, visit the site and see for yourself. By the way, this post was written with the assistance of 'Dark Eyes' from the superb Cool Blues which is as good an example of Jimmy in a hard bop context as you could hope to find.

The Incredible Jimmy Smith

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Jazz Messengers

The Jazz Messengers
Columbia CL 897

Recorded April 6th, 1956

Side One

1. Infra-Rae
2. Nica's Dream
3. It's You Or No-One

Side Two

1. Ecaroh
2. Carol's Interlude
3. The End Of A Love Affair
4. Hank's Symphony


DONALD BYRD; trumpet
HANK MOBLEY; tenor sax

This is a great LP from back when the elder statesman of hard-bop, Art Blakey was... well, not young (Art Blakey was never young), but when his ideas about the potential of small group jazz were first reaching fruition. The early versions of The Jazz Messengers featuring Horace Silver at the piano are often considered to be the best - though how can you compare, say, the 1960 Lee Morgan-Wayne Shorter band unfavourably with this one? For this classic Columbia session (the last with Silver), Donald Byrd came in on trumpet to replace Kenny Dorham; Hank Mobley has a prominent role both as soloist and composer, being responsible for 3 tunes including the album-in-microcosm that is 'Infra-Rae' and Blakey drum vehicle 'Hank's Symphony'. That last track is a must for lovers of Blakey's energetic style - after a strong opening theme, a switch to double time is heralded by Blakey's trademark rolls. The whole track is a masterclass in hard bop drumming, in fact. There then follows what is, quite simply, the finest drum solo in recorded jazz (at least that i've heard so far). Blakey is a virtuoso, and is in incredible form here, managing to invent while playing fast and hard - very hard (I wouldn't like to be one of his drum skins... ouch!).

Basically this is a great example of early hard bop played by one of it's undisputed masters. A storming set that deserves to be in all of your collections.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Red Clay

Red Clay
CTI 5051722

Recorded 27-29 January 1970

1. Red Clay
2. Delphia
3. Suite Sioux
4. The Intrepid Fox
5. Cold Turkey


JOE HENDERSON; saxophone

OK, I know it's been all Blue Note so far this week, but don't get too excited - there's not much of a change here. Despite being on the CTI label, the personnel reads like a who's who of mid-60s post-bop (with the exception of the 20-year-old White who shows a maturity beyond his years). While the record is certainly steeped in bop and blues traditions, it has a few new tricks up it's sleeve too, as we shall see...

Opener 'Red Clay' starts as a pretty out-sounding modal jam before hitting on a groove that provides a backdrop to much of the rest of the piece. It's funky without being rigid, giving flexibility to the soloists and allowing Hancock to do his usual tense comping but with a funky edge. The track positively crackles with great solo playing - Hubbard in his usual, inimitable style; Hancock is sinuous as he darts and dives between the twin horns. Carter almost steals the show, inventive and imaginative whilst remaining totally in the groove at all times. 'The Intrepid Fox' is even better - less obviously funky but with a deep sense of groove and strong jazz feel. White comes over like a funkier Tony Williams, combining some of his virtuosity with his own youthful exuberance to deliver a genuinely exciting performance.

It's been said that Freddie Hubbard considers this his best album. There's definitely a case to be made - his playing is as strong as ever, the rhythm section are on top form as you might expect, and Henderson is a delight, pushing the whole quintet as far as he can whilst staying in the groove. In fact the record as a whole is simply an extension of the hard and post bop these guys were playing in the 60s, updated with some funk and soul-jazz influences. Oh, and it's damn good too, and easily available. Get it now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Joe Henderson - Page One

Page One
Blue Note 4140

Recorded June 3rd, 1963

1. Blue Bossa
2. La Mesha
3. Homestretch
4. Recorda Me
5. Jinrikisha
6. Out Of The Night


JOE HENDERSON; tenor sax
McCOY TYNER; piano
PETE LaROCA; drums

Another great 60s Blue Note set, tenorman Joe Henderson started a prolific couple of years on the seminal label with this 1963 set. There are some parallels with yesterday's Bobby Hutcherson album - although steeped in bop tradition, there are signs of the limits being pushed. This is particularly noticeable in the sound of Tyner who applies some pretty advanced harmonics in his soloing. Check out 'Recorda Me' for an example.

Elsewhere things are pretty laid back. Rather than pushing at the avant-garde, the rhythm section settle for gently swinging - and it works well. The unobtrusive nature of the backing gives the horns an opportunity to explore - particularly Henderson, who would record some fantastic 'out' music later in his career (check out this post). And the plain backing makes Tyner's innovative contributions that bit more obvious.

The record has a democratic feel - contemporary Blue Note releases often featured many of the same musicians, leadership being determined more by composition than by the amount of solo time devoted to a musician. Of course, the more musicians played together, the more alike the compositions became, and a recognisable Blue Note 'sound' was formed. That's no bad thing, as many of the releases from this era in the label's history are superb.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Search For The New Land

Search For The New Land
Blue Note BST 84169

Recorded Feb. 15th, 1964

Side One

1. Search For The New Land
2. The Joker

Side Two

1. Mr. Kenyatta
2. Melancholee
3. Morgan The Pirate


WAYNE SHORTER; Tenor Saxophone

1964 was quite a year for Blue Note records, and for bop-influenced musics in particular. Musicians had already been working outside the form, but the jazz mainstream was slower to pick up on the new trend. Three albums from 1964 on the Blue Note label stand out as excellent examples of the new, more advanced music - Herbie Hancock's 'Empyrean Isles', Wayne Shorter's 'Night Dreamer', and this one.

Particularly close to this is the Shorter record - the one-time Art Blakey bandmates of Morgan and Shorter performing in perfect contrast to one another. But where 'Night Dreamer' is often brooding, meditative even; 'Search...' is a much livelier date all together without losing the feeling of yearning that the title would suggest. Perhaps this is down to the leader's history - pre-Blakey, he was a firm proponent of straight-ahead hard-bop in the Clifford Brown style. That's not to say the music is simple - Higgins and Workman are more than a match for Morgan's polyrhythmic compositions, while Hancock applies his usual thoughtful intensity to proceedings. Green adds additional colour and proves himself immensley capable outside of his usual soulful setting.

The best feature of the album, though, is Morgan's approach to compositon. While his earlier material was all youthful exuberance, the older and wiser Lee of 1964 was able to bring a greater emotional depth to his writing, and communicate that to his fellow musicians. This is the aspect in which he really leads the session - not in his playing (which is excellent as ever) or even in the democratic way he hands out solo space to his bandmates.

The only problem with this record was it's timing, coming only a few months after 'The Sidewinder' - a fine record - but it's success meant that Morgan increasingly worked in it's soul jazz idiom rather than the more advanced forms seen here, and that really was a loss to jazz.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bobby Hutcherson - Oblique

Blue Note 63835

Recorded July 21st, 1967

1. 'Til Then
2. My Joy
3. Theme From Blow-Up
4. Subtle Neptune
5. Oblique
6. Bi-Sectional



Bobby Hutcherson started his career playing avant-garde and free musics alongside such major figures as Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. Latr in the 1960s his style began to change as he took on aspects of hard-bop. For his two Blue Note dates of the period (this one and 1966's 'Happenings'), he hooked up with Herbie Hancock and created music of great beauty and complexity.

It doesn't start too well - opener 'Til Then' is carried along on the latin groove so beloved of hard-boppers, but for me the playing here is a little bland, the changes generic. Better is to come though. 'Theme from Blow-Up' is a Hancock composition, and it shows. The melodic and rhythmic ideas are more complex, and the band raise their game well. Of particular note is the interplay between Hutcherson and Hancock - they sound almost telepathic at times. One will start a line and the other will finish it, all within the same phrase. Hutcherson's opening solo on this track is superb, and the point where he and Hancock seamlessly merge into one another towards the middle of the track is simply sublime.

An essential part of the album's sound is 23-year-old bassist Albert Stinson. Another tragic and underrated figure, Stinson played on several seminal LPs (including Chico Hamilton's 'The Dealer') before an overdose a few years later robbed the world of jazz of another promising talent.

Criminally, this 1967 session lay unissued until 1980 when it had a Japan-only issue (a common tactic, several Blue Note sessions were buried in this way - Jimmy Smith's superlative 'Cool Blues' being another example). Fortunately the 'RVG Edition' reissue program rectified the availability problems late last year and now one of Hutcherson's finest sessions is available for us all to enjoy.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The DeJohnette Complex

The DeJohnette Complex
Milestone 64076

Recorded December 27th,28th, 1968

Side One

1. Equipoise
2. The Major General
3. Miles' Mode
4. Requiem Number 1

Side Two

1. Mirror Image
2. Papa, Daddy and Me
3. Brown, Warm and Wintry
4. Requiem Number 2


JACK DeJOHNETTE; drums, melodica
BENNIE MAUPIN; tenor, flute
STANLEY COWELL; piano, electric piano

Another major jazz figure from the late 1960s jazz-fusion school, DeJohnette came to prominence after replacing Tony Williams as Miles Davis' drummer. But before this was an association with the AACM and famously a stint with Charles Lloyd. 'The DeJohnette Complex' was recorded across 2 days in December 1968 with several sidemen who would also go on to greater things. Two players stand out from the lineup - Bennie Maupin, whose work on tenor in the late 60s is consistently excellent (see this review), while Roy Haynes makes full use of his ability to excel in any genre of jazz.

The album is a little like a trip through contemporary jazz - there are aspects of bop and free improvisation, as well as funk and fusion. 'The Major General', for example, is all whirling polyrhythms and virtuosity, while Vitous' 'Mirror Image' could be a 'Bitches Brew' outtake. Most intriguing, though, are the tracks where DeJohnette gives up the drum stool to Haynes and takes the lead on melodica. Infrequently, if ever, used in Jazz, the instrument's melancholic air lends an atmospheric sheen to tracks like the opening 'Equipoise'. Less successful are DeJohnette's attempts at new-age style ambience in 'Requiem Number 1 & 2'. The melodica is too exposed, sounds too fractured, and the supporting play too weak to cover Dejohnette's lack of melodic ideas.

But taken as a whole, the album certainly showcases a major talent in DeJohnette, as much for his writing as his playing. If you're a fan of fusion-era Miles, or enjoy some complex and well-played post-bop, you'll enjoy this. While this review pertains to the LP, it's been released on CD too, so should be easy to pick up.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Blues And The Abstract Truth

The Blues And The Abstract Truth
impulse! A-5

Recorded 1961

1. Stolen Moments
2. Hoe-Down
3. Cascades
4. Yearnin'
5. Butch and Butch
6. Teenies' Blues


OLIVER NELSON; tenor sax, alto sax
ERIC DOLPHY; alto sax, flute
GEORGE BARROW; baritone sax

Noted arranger/composer Oliver Nelson got together with the cream of contemporary musicians in 1961 to record what was to be his finest album, and a future standard in 'Stolen Moments'. As the title of the album suggests, it's an exploration of the Blues, but not in the traditional format. Whilst there is little on the record that's abstract by later standards, it does push the boundaries of conventional blues harmony out there a little - it's audible in some of the horn voicings used by Nelson in the ensemble passages (respect to George Barrow - he never gets a solo but is integral to the sound of the record).

'Stolen Moments' is the outstanding track on the album. The theme is perhaps one of the most famous in jazz, and it's feel of languid bluesiness makes it a perfect sequel to Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' in terms of advancing jazz harmony a little further. It's not modal though, more like advanced blues. After the famous opening, '...moments' showcases each of the players in turn (with the exception of Barrow). Hubbard is excellent as ever, Dolphy intriguing on flute, and Evans as spare as you would expect. Nelson comes in full of emotion (and almost threatens to play the opening horn line of 'So What' in a subtle acknowledgement of Miles' classic LP), full of the blues, with an achingly beautiful solo that never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

After that, you might expect everything else to pale in comparison, but to Nelson's credit the rest of the album is up to the same high standard. Even 'Hoe-Down' with it's hokey square-dance theme convinces due to the quality of the solo playing, especially (albeit briefly) Haynes, who kicks up a storm for the best part of 4 bars (but then I love my drum solos). 'Yearnin'' is also worth a mention - it does exactly what you'd expect it to, tugging on the heartstrings in the way that only a slow blues can.

I've not said much about Dolphy - his explosive presence adds colour to the date; witness the fireworks of his solo on 'Teenie's Blues', for example, or the highly flexible approach he takes to rhythm and timing on 'Butch and Butch'. We're not quite up to 'Out To Lunch' yet, but you can see where he's going.

I could go on all night about this record, there's just so much to say. If you're looking for more information about Nelson, you could do worse that check out this discography, and wikipedia has a brief biography too. Mostly, though, what you need to do is buy this album. Now.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Prestige 7105
Recorded 1957

Side One

1. Bakai
2. Violets For Your Furs
3. Time Was

Side Two

1. Straight Street
2. While My Lady Sleeps
3. Chronic Blues


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax
SAHIB SHIHAB; baritone sax
AL HEATH; drums

John Coltrane recorded this, his first album for Prestige and his first as leader, at a time in 1957 when he was between jobs with Miles Davis. He had been an important part of Miles’ first great quintet, and still had much to contribute to the second incarnation of that band. Miles had fired him owing to his unpredictable behaviour brought on by drug addiction, but this album showcases a cleaned-up ‘Trane storming through a strong set of bluesy originals, and a couple of standards.

What’s immediately obvious is ‘Trane’s tone. He always had a big sound, and that characteristic is emphasised here in his playing against Shihab’s baritone. A lesser tenor would wilt in comparison to such a big-sounding horn, but ‘Trane just piles on, sounding at times like he’s the one on baritone. Stellar stuff.

‘Bakai’ kicks off with Shihab circling around a vaguely eastern riff before the band kick in with a set of well-considered bluesy solos. ‘Time Was’ is also a blues, and is a feature for Garland’s intricate yet swinging style. ‘Trane plays well throughout, but saves his best for side 2. ‘Straight Street’, and even more, ‘Chronic Blues’ chronicle his struggle with drug addiction. ‘Straight Street’ is just that – a hard-bop styled blues with some great unison ensemble playing around the theme. Shihab’s baritone really adds colour to this date, and this piece in particular. ‘Trane is the star, though. His solo may be brief but it just flies off and gets about as far from typical hard bop as anyone had in 1957. It’s in sharp contrast to Splawn, who comes up next with a straightahead, Clifford Brown-style effort that sounds plain by comparison. Anywhere else it’d have been considered a masterpiece, but next to Coltrane’s wilful experimentation it just doesn’t cut it. Also suffering at the hands of Coltrane is Shihab – his ideas are there, but he doesn’t always have the technical ability to carry them off at times, so is left sounding uncertain and more than a little lost.

‘Chronic Blues’ repeats the trick of ‘Straight Street’, except that it turns up the blues feeling until you feel that you’re right there with ‘Trane going through cold turkey. As a representation of the ravages of hard drugs on jazz musicians it has yet to be bettered.

Inspired by being clean, his new wife Naima, and his renewed faith, Coltrane went on to record prolifically for Prestige over the following year, and continued throughout his employment with Miles. But it all started here, and those looking for the roots of his later innovations will find something to enjoy about all the late 50s Prestige records.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Egil Straume Jazz Combo



E. STRAUME; Clarinet, alto & soprano saxes
G. ROSENBERGS; Trumpet, Accordion, Flute
P. MIERLEJS; Trombone
I. BIRKANS; Flute, Piccolo, Baritone Sax
K. RUTENTALS; Keyboards
M. KIOPS; Bass
M. BRIEZHKALNS; Drums, Percussion

Music sometimes does this to you - throws up something totally out of the left-field (or left-wing - more on that later) that's so good it leaves you breathless for more, but with the knowledge that you'll never hear it's likes again. It's a bittersweet feeling that happens all too frequently to an avid collector of odd jazz compilations like myself. This particular track was given a release on the excellent Cosmic Sounds record label as part of 'Red Square Groove: rare jazz/fusion from the Russian vaults'. The album collects 1970s/80s Russian jazz and fusion. Given the Russian predeliction for prog rock and heavy metal, it's hardly surprising that many of these Communist-era tracks are jazz-rock of the type initiated by Miles Davis' seminal 'Bitches Brew'.

This track is an exception to the jazz-rock theme of the album - six minutes of fast, frantic jazz-funk, played with a passion and verve so often lacking in that genre. After a slow, cycling brass introduction and some plain percussion, the track erupts into it's main theme - big, bold and brassy horns playing so fast they can hardly keep up with themselves. The whole piece from hereon in is taken at a furious tempo, and consists of multiple solos from pretty much the whole band. The award for best solo has to go to I. Birkans' flute masterpiece, melodic, inventive and totally at one with the supremely funky rhythm section. Solos are accompanied in all cases by some funky comping from both organ and guitar as well as washes of sound from the horns. Despite the six minute plus length, the track is over sooner than you would like, although the final minute is among the most exciting of the piece, the band throwing the theme around amongst each other and never going anywhere near dropping the ball. This is one tight group.

How they got away with this sort of thing in communist Russia is anyone's guess, but i'm glad they did, and I'm equally glad that Cosmic Sounds are making it available.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Public Service Announcement

The Daily Jazz has got no internet connection for the next week, so updates are likely to be erratic at best. Normal service should be resumed, with any luck, week beginning March 20th. In the meantime, why not try a dig through the archive...

March 2006
February 2006
January 2006

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

John Coltrane & Don Cherry

The Avant-Garde
Atlantic SD 1451

Recorded June 28 & July 8, 1960

1. Cherryco
2. Focus On Sanity
3. The Blessing
4. The Invisible
5. Bemsha Swing


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor, soprano
DON CHERRY; trumpet

Here's a fascinating album. While recording for Atlantic in the late 1950s, John Coltrane sought to extend the range of his music, starting out on a journey that would ultimately lead to albums like 'Ascension'. He was fascinated by free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, and inevitably their paths collided on this 1960 recording featuring Coltrane with Coleman's band.

If you come to this album expecting Coltrane to slip nicely into the shoes of a free-jazz maestro, you'd be disappointed. The opener, 'Cherryco' sees Coltrane creating an island of traditional harmony in the midst of Cherry's harmolodic ocean, and 'Focus On Sanity' is even worse for him - after a brief solo he simply gives up, perhaps realising that he can't yet cut it with a band schooled by Coleman himself. Cherry, on the other hand, is outstanding on these 2 tracks, 'Focus...' especially, where he gets much more space than he ever did on albums like 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come'. You can tell that he's really been listening to his master. Probably owing as much to Coltrane's status as anything else this album is billed as having joint leadership - but the baton is very much in Cherry's hand.

Fortunatley for Coltrane fans, a transformation occurs midway through 'The Blessing'. Coltrane, on soprano, starts another solo by firmly anchoring himself to a very traditional-sounding scale - then totally smashes through that convention with a strong solo that sees Cherry panting to catch up. It's an outstanding, hugely confident piece of playing that's all the more powerful for having come after two relatively poor performances. One can only speculate why this piece is so powerful. Perhaps Coltrane was more at ease with the material, this track being an early Coleman composition. Or maybe he had just got warmed up.

This is Coltrane's high point - the remaining two tracks on the album aren't great for him. Once again he's lost without a harmonic centre to the music and has to firmly mark out his chords, sounding heavy handed amid the nimble backing. Atlantic didn't release this album at the time - perhaps they were a little concerned for quality control - but to listen to now it's a fascinating document of Coltrane in his transitional period as well as being an early high-water-mark for Cherry.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Keith Jarrett - Fort Yawuh

Fort Yawuh
impulse! AS9240

Recorded February 1973

1. (If The) Misfits (Wear It)
2. Fort Yawuh
3. De Drums
4. Still Life, Still Life
5. Roads Travelled, Roads Veiled


DEWEY REDMAN; tenor sax, percussion, clarinet, chinese musette
PAUL MOTIAN; drums, percussion
DANNY JOHNSON; percussion

This 1973 recording catches Keith Jarrett at a crossroads in his career. Behind him was the avant-garde experimentalism of Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, to come were the solo piano recordings and interpretations of standards that he continues with right up to this day. Consequently, this record of a live show at New York's legendary Village Vanguard features aspects of all of these musics, and more.

Jarrett had been playing with Haden and Motian for several years prior to this date and would carry on in their company in his 1970s recordings for the ECM record label. Redman was a relative newcomer to the group, bringing a touch of free-jazz experimentation to their advanced post-bop sound - a little like Pharoah Sanders without the squawking. Haden has long been one of my favourite bass players although this isn't one of his best efforts - sure his playing is solid, but he pales a little in comparison with Jarrett. And Motian ties it all together - letting the group out on a polyrhythmic leash before pulling them tight into a groove - just listen to the sudden appearance of a steady rhythm half-way through 'Fort Yawuh', or the groove he imposes on 'De Drums'.

Towering over them all, though, is Jarrett. Part of the reason for his continued popularity is his virtuosity - indeed it would be hard to think how his solo recordings would sound if he were not a technical genius on the piano. Opener '(If The) Misfits (Wear It)' kicks off with a fearsome piano riff that is a showcase for his talent, whilst being at once melodic and percussive. Jarrett on this album sometimes sounds like a one man band, leaving very so little space for his fellow musicians that they simply lay out and let him get on with it. It's this intensity that makes listening to the LP so enjoyable - it's also warmer and more human than the cold austerity of some of his ECM recordings of the period. Whether this is due to Jarrett himself or his choice of sidemen is anyone's guess. His experimental side certainly comes out; 'Fort Yawuh's introduction with it's plucked piano strings is a fine example.

Jarrett recorded several more albums for impulse! before splitting this group in 1977. Some of these recordings are still available from impulse! as part of two boxed sets, which fortunately include all of the music on this superlative album.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Unit Structures

Unit Structures
Blue Note BST 84237

Recorded 1966

Side One

1. Steps
2. Enter, Evening (Soft Line Structure)

Side Two

1. Unit Structure/As Of A Now/Section
2. Tales (8 Whisps)


CECIL TAYLOR; piano & bells
JIMMY LYONS; alto sax
KEN McINTYRE; alto sax, oboe, bass clarinet

Pioneering free-improviser Cecil Taylor had a hard time of it in the 1960s. Following his seminal Candid sessions of 1960-61, Taylor didn't return to the studio until this 1966 Blue Note session. His music was considered too advanced, and his confrontational attitude didn't help him in his quest to be better understood (see this discussion for an example of that). His sleeve notes to this album don't help - i've made the point before that good free-jazz tends to be supported by a coherent concept, but these are somewhat impenetrable. Click here for an image of the rear sleeve and you'll see what I'm on about.

Over the 5 years between 1961 and 1966 Taylor worked tirelessly with his live band to develop the sound that's heard on this LP. Blue Note at the time was picking up as many 'free-jazz' artists as it could - sensing that something new was in the air, the venerable label didn't want to miss out. Sadly the music was considered so uncommercial and advanced that, after a second LP for Blue Note ('Conquistador', also 1966), Taylor didn't record again until 1973.

From the outset it's clear that this is not easy listening. What it isn't, though, is completely atonal. Despite the obvious lack of a clear melody, there are some harmonic ideas being thrown about the group - particularly in the early interplay of Lyons and McIntyre. Gale is excellent, too, but who could tell that the young trumpeter would soon relaease soul-jazz sides like 'Black Rhythm Happening'? Cyrille brings a rhythmic sensibility that can be clearly delineated. There is no 'beat' in traditional terms, but the oft-mentioned 'pulse' is clearly present. 'Steps' are just that - steps, or fragments of improvisation, a few seconds long only, being traded by the whole group. The lack of a clear focus (e.g. a main soloist) does add to the confusion initially, but becomes liberating, democratic even, with further listens.

'Enter, Evening' - the title sounds like a stage direction - and so does the music. The melodic, dramatic, sinister opening sounds perfectly suited to some sinister shenanigans on the silver screen. 'Unit Structure' starts out as a sequel to 'Enter...' before racking up the intensity and ending with a wild, percussive Taylor solo that brings to mind a quote regarding his playing style - "one could say that Taylor's intense atonal percussive approach involves playing the piano as if it were a set of drums". After that intense section, 'Tales' comes as something of a relief - an unaccompanied piano improvisation played by Taylor, emphasising the quieter aspects of his style, and showcasing his skill at the keyboard.

Quite simply, this is Taylor's masterwork - certainly not to be bettered by it's other Blue Note sibling - and is a must for anyone serious about their free jazz.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Jazz Weekly

I've just come across Jazz Weekly and would recommend all my readers to do the same. It's always good to come across a previously unknown jazz site, especially one like this, which has a nice avant-garde slant. Well worth a read are reviews of Albert Ayler's New Grass, "the disc that unsuccessfully tried to turn the avant-garde avatar into a pop star", and Archie Shepp & Bill Dixon's split LP for Savoy. There's also a decent selection of Sun Ra reviews that i'll get round to reading soon.

Although the content is great the site's a little confusing to navigate; click on the image of the LP at the top of the page to access the current reviews section.

Oh, and for more Ayler-on-impulse! madness, have a look at the Daily Jazz's take on 'Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe'. Ayler on bagpipes. I'm still having nightmares about it.

P.S. Thanks to the good people behind whose social bookmarking thing is making finding new sites like this one much easier.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cecil Taylor Speaks

All I'm going to do today is advise you to head on over to There you'll find the transcript of a panel discussion featuring Cecil Taylor from 1964. It's long, but well worth a read. Taylor had a reputation for being provocative, and I think that comes over well in the text - although he does seem to have a hard time defending the concept of free improvisation to the rest of the panel. More Cecil soon - don't go away...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lonely Woman

Lonely Woman
Atlantic 1381

Recorded 1962

1. Lonely Woman
2. Animal Dance
3. New York 19
4. Belkis
5. Why Are You blue?
6. Fugato
7. Lamb, Leopard (If I Were Eve)
8. Trieste



It might seem odd that the MJQ, that most sensible of groups, released an album where the lead track was a cover of an Ornette Coleman tune. But when you realise that John Lewis was instrumental in Coleman's career (having sponsored him through college a few years earlier), then the reason for Lewis' choice of music for this album becomes clear. It's also worth poining out that Percy Heath played on Coleman's epochal 1959 set 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come'; that album featuring Coleman's original take on 'Lonely Woman'.

The original is marked out by Coleman and Don Cherry playing the theme statement together, with some unexpected harmonic interplay creating a sinister feeling. Here the mood is more haunting than sinister, with Lewis' piano and the backing of Heath's bowed bass tugging on the heartstrings. While Coleman's version goes on to enter the realm of free improvisation, the MJQ stick to what they know best with spirited but conventional blues/bop based solos.

And that's the template for the rest of the album. No sooner has the title track faded out than we're into familiar MJQ territory with the upbeat 'Animal Dance'. It's strong melodic sensibility and blues feeling will be instantly familiar to MJQ fans everywhere. Milt Jackson has a standout moment with his solo on 'New York 19', in his much imitated but never bettered bluesy style.

The other standout track closes the album 'Triestse' has an interesting structure, with it's vaguely eastern intro leading to a march tempo set by Lewis which Jackson uses as a jumping off point for some serious blues exploration, before the whole thing settles into a more conventional bop-style rhythm. And that's all in the first minute. For sheer invention, nothing else on the album comes close.