Friday, April 28, 2006

Ever had the feeling that, despite being surrounded by literally thousands of records, you don't want to listen to any of them? It happens to me a lot (which is why I've ended up with lots of records, I guess) and at these times I want to have new and exciting music suggested to me. In the old days that meant a trip to the music store, or buying a magazine, but in these high tech times there is an alternative. Several online recommendation services exist, in varying forms, but the one I've just come across and want to share with you is Pandora.

It works very simply - tell it a couple of artists that you enjoy and it scours it's database for related music. I've been playing around with it this morning and it's pretty spot on. I told it that I like John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, and so far I've had some Albert Ayler, late period Roy Haynes, and Joshua Redman, among others. Playing right now is a track called 'Gathering Of The Spirits' by Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, and very good it is too, with it's 3-sax interplay and general air of freeness. Pandora says that it's been selected because "it features... a contrapuntal melodic presentation and mixed major and minor tonalities". Seems it knows what I like better than I do. It links through to allmusic for further info, too.

Crikey, now it's playing 'Naima' from Archie Shepp's groundbreaking 'Four For Trane', which is one of my most favourite tunes. It really does know my music taste better than I do! Go check it out and see if it knows your taste just as well.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mulatu Astatqe

I've only time for a short post today, so tonight's music really does speak volumes. It's a track by Ethiopian jazz innovator Mulatu Astatqe. Click the link if you want to read more about this vastly underappreciated (in the west, at least) musician, and enjoy 'Dewel', taken from one of the many compilations featuring Astatqe's music. The track itself drifts along on an easy groove, the lead playing being sufficiently far-out to call to mind artists like Pharoah Sanders. It really is very good, and I'd reccommend checking out any of his music, or Ethiopian jazz in general.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Emil Richards and the Microtonal Blues Band

Journey To Bliss
impulse! A-9166

Recorded 1968

Side One

1. Maharimba
2. Bliss
3. Mantra
4. Enjoy, Enjoy

Side Two

1. Journey to Bliss - Part I
2. Journey to Bliss - Part II
3. Journey to Bliss - Part III
4. Journey to Bliss - Part IV
5. Journey to Bliss - Part V
6. Journey to Bliss - Part VI


EMIL RICHARDS; marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, percussion
DAVE MACKAY; piano, various percussion
MICHAEL CRADEN; percussion
MARK STEVENS; percussion
HAGAN BEGGS; narration

Have you heard the music of Emil Richards? No, I hear you say. Ever seen a movie? Well in that case you probably have. One of the most prolific performers of film music ever (see this link for a complete list), and owner of possibly the world's largest collection of percussion instruments (check out the 'instruments' section on Emil's homepage), Emil Richards also had a brief career as a jazz musician in the 1960s, playing under his own name as well as on dates with Gabor Szabo and Tom Scott.

This album, recorded in 1968 and released on the impulse! label, features Emil's characteristic percussion densely layered into a set of psychedelic-pop-jazz tunes that manage to sound very much of their time, while still remaining enjoyable today. Side one is superior - the pace rather drags through side two's long 'Journey To Bliss', the unwelcome narration making it sound like a straightlaced 1970s documentary on 'hippie music' or somesuch.

Where this album is really interesting musically is in the use of percussion, and specifically microtonal percussion. Microtonal music fills the spaces between the notes used in traditional Western music (it's part of Gamelan and Indian classical music), creating sounds that are often unfamiliar to the western ear. This 'filling of the cracks' in the score leads in this case to a dense sound that really is unlike anything else in jazz. The microtonal concept was also taken up by free-jazzers, but as far as I know this is the only example of such music played on percussion in recorded jazz. For music that is very dissonant in places, it's also highly accessible due to catchy melodies and strong rhythms.

Sadly it's out of print and very tricky to track down, but keep looking on eBay for long enough and a copy is sure to come up. Meanwhile enjoy the sounds of 'Maharimba' and come back tomorrow for some more Daily Jazz.

(By the way, have you ever wanted to play a slightly out-of-tune vibraphone? - well thanks to the miracle of flash, on Emil's Homepage, you can!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

David Ullmann

From time to time I like to check out the free mp3 on Today's is 'Lorca' by David Ullmann, a New York based guitarist, and it's really hit my spot today. David plays, on this track at least, in a style that's reminiscent of the late great Grant Green, all single note runs and laid-back funkiness. His guitar leads over a backdrop that goes from latin to breakbeat and back again while managing to sound seamless - quite a feat. You should all check it out, as well as David's homepage which has some more tunes to listen to. He's got a CD out, too, called 'Hidden' which I think I might have to investigate...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Message To Our Folks

"Great Black Music" Message To Our Folks
BYG Actuel 28

Recorded 8/12/1969

1. Old-Time Religion
2. Dexterity
3. Rock Out
4. A Brain for the Seine


LESTER BOWIE; trumpet, flugelhorn, bass drum, horns
ROSCOE MITCHELL; soprano sax, alto sax, bass sax, clarinet, flute, percussion
JOSEPH JARMAN; soprano sax, alto sax, clarinet, oboe, flute, vibes, percussion, guitar
MALACHI FAVORS; bass, fender bass, banjo, percussion

Amen! Looking for a trip through the entire history of black music? Well look no further. There was a lot of this sort of thing around in the 1960s and 70s courtesy of free jazzers like Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble. I think some of these artists were seen as marginal by the jazz mainstream, but albums like this show that great free jazz was as in thrall to tradition as any bopper. Look at the name of the album, for a start - "Message to our Folks" implies an attempt to express gratitude for musical forebears. What's more, the album was subtitled "great black music".

And there certainly is a variety of music here. From the gospel stylings of opener "Old-Time Religion", through a reasonably straight take on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity" (complete with a multitude of percussion in true Art Ensemble style) the album can't be pinned down. "Rock Out" does just that with it's heavy rhythmic feel, while "A Brain for the Seine" is a typical Paris-scene wig-out, with a real ambient, soundtrack-like feel (and a great bluesy harmonica). The whole is executed with the sense of fun-but-deadly-serious that characterises many of the Art Ensembles' recordings of this period.

Like many Art Ensemble records this sounds like nothing else in free jazz, never mind music in general - in these days of manufactured pop we should be grateful that such music exists at all. Love it or hate it you can't help but have an opinion, but come to it with an open mind and you'll find plenty to enjoy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Archie Shepp & Bill Dixon

Savoy MG-12184

Recorded 1964

Split with Bill Dixon 7-Tette

Side One (Shepp)

1. Where Poppies Bloom
2. Like A Blessed Baby Lamb
3. Consequences

Side Two (Dixon)

1. The 12th December
2. Winter Song 1964


ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
JOHN TCHICAI; alto sax
DON CHERRY; trumpet

Guest Artist TED CURSON; trumpet

This early Shepp recording catches him with the enormously influential and shockingly new 'New York Contemporary Five'. The group only stayed together for about a year, it's complete lack of commercial potential mitigating against it's survival. Sadly only one of the tracks presented here is a true NYCF performance - Don Cherry was late for the session so only plays on 'Consequences' - the other tracks feature Ted Curson in a 'guest artist' role showing himself to be more than a match for a fiery, youthful Shepp.

Something that really stands out when listening to this music is the harmonic approach - for 1964, this is pretty far out in terms of dissonance. The opening theme of 'Where Poppies Bloom' must have terrified critics and public alike with it's complete disregard for tonality. Yet, in other respects the music is relatively conventional - the standard theme-solos-theme structure of all bop based musics is adhered to, the rhythm section play in time, walking bass lines are heard prominently. There's even a pervasive blues influence on 'Like A Blessed Baby Lamb' (but then the blues are never far away in any of Shepp's music).

'Consequences' takes things a little further out, possibly due to Cherry's influence, and features Shepp's best performance on the record. He's at his best when matching his abrasive tone with searing runs that start off one way then change, mid sequence, into a totally different harmonic area.

The Bill Dixon side is interesting - in a band featuring, among others, Howard Johnson on tuba and David Izenon on bass, Dixon's compositions are presented in a much more accessible way to those of his counterpart on side one.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eberhard Weber - Later That Evening

Later That Evening
ECM 1231

Recorded 1982

Side One

1. Maurizius
2. Death In The Carwash

Side Two

1. Often In The Open
2. Later That Evening


PAUL McCANDLESS; soprano sax, oboe, english horn, bass clarinet
LYLE MAYS; piano
MICHAEL DiPASQUA; drums, percussion

For a laid-back Friday night in, here's some really laid back music
courtesy of the excellent ECM label. This album, like so many on that label, brings together musicians from a diverse selection of musical projects to create a satisfying whole. In some respects this could be said to be the ECM house band, Weber and Frisell at least appearing on many of the label's releases.

'Maurizius' sets the tone. Introduced by Lyle Mays' piano, it expands with the help of McCandless and the others into an elegiac piece. Weber is barely noticeable at first, his bowed bass suiting the sombre mood, but soon becomes a greater presence, as does Frisell on guitar - here using a soft sound, very little attack, never letting the volume rise too high or the tension go unreleased. Despite the lack of anything appoaching a beat, DiPasqua still has an important supporting role, sticking mainly to his cymbals throughout. 'Death In The Carwash' supplies more of the same feel through it's 4 movements, the 3rd even approaching a groove that acts as backing to a superb group improvisation. This is the strength of these players having been on so many of each other's records - they're not only a tight group but can almost read each other's minds.

A lot of ECM music is rooted in the free-jazz and avant-garde musics of the late 1960s/early 1970s, and although this influence had largely been purged by 1982, Mays can't help but open side 2 with a brief snatch of free jazz, before 'Often In The Open' develops into something similar to that seen previously. The closing 'Later That Evening' showcases Weber's smooth sound on electric bass (6-string, I think) with an ambient wash of sound in the background, before being played out by McCandless' beautiful soprano.

As an ECM record, you can expect nothing less than sonic brilliance, and once again Manfred Eicher has done an outstanding production job. Many of the ECM records are worth owning for the production alone. If you've got the kit, and the inclination to find them, I can tell you that they really do sound better on vinyl than CD.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Albert Ayler - The First Recordings

The First Recordings
Sonet SNTF604

Recorded October 25th, 1962

Side One

1. I'll Remember April

Side Two

1. Rollin's Tune
2. Tune Up
3. Free


ALBERT AYLER; tenor sax

I've only reviewed one other Ayler LP on these pages (the frankly bizzare 'Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe') so for today let's go to the other end of his recorded career with this 1962 live recording. It would be fair to say that this isn't his best record, in more ways than one. The first problem is the sound. It sounds like it was recorded in a barn with an audience that were distracted enough to talk throughout. Ayler can be heard clearly enough, but the bass is practically inaudible and the drummer reduced to a series of quiet cymbal crashes. Mind you, that's probably not such a bad thing as both rhythm players are uninspiring and have little in the way of communication with their leader. In some respects it sounds a bit like an Ayler solo performance, which is interesting enough in itself even if his playing isn't up to what he was capable of.

He might just be getting thrown off by the poor accompaniment, but in places he sounds shaky and unsure of what to play next. His playing is at times unimaginitive, and often at odds with the theme - witness 'Rollin's Tune' where an 'Oleo'-ish theme gives way to... well, not much really. What does come over well is Ayler as an elemental force in music, evidenced by the forceful sqauwks and rasps that pop up throughout 'I'll Remember April'. These signs of vitality point squarely ahead to the Ayler that we all know and love.

Recordings like this make it possible to see what criticism of free-jazzers was all about, indeed in one review from 1970 Ayler was derided as being unable to play. Fortunately future recordings were superior and Ayler's legend lives on. In preparing this review I was fortunate to come across this discography of Ayler that appears to be definitive.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Anthony Braxton - News from the 70s

News from the 70s
Felmay FY 7005

Recorded 1971-1976, Released 1999

1. Composition 23E (1974)
2. Composition 8C (1971)
3. Composition -1 (1972)
4. Composition -2 (1973)
5. Composition 8g (1971)
6. Four Winds (1976)


KENNY WHEELER; flugelhorn (1,4)
ANTHONY BRAXTON; sopranino, clarinet, piccolo, alto sax
DAVE HOLLAND; bass (1,3,6)
BARRY ALTSCHUL; percussion (1,6)
GEORGE LEWIS; trombone (6)

There can be few jobs in the jazz world better than that of Francesco Martinelli, the Italian music journalist who was invited into Braxton's basement in 1996, where he came across a cardboard box of tapes from the 1970s that had never seen the light of day. From that box Martinelli curated this compilation of unreleased Braxton tracks. The album fulfils it's purpose as a document of Braxton's music in the mid 70s very well indeed, the tracks showing several aspects of his unique style.

Most exciting are the three tracks recorded in groups featuring the great Dave Holland, especially 'Composition -1' which is a duet between these two giants of free jazz. Elsewhere, there are two solo performances on alto by Braxton (compositions 8c and 8g), and a percussionless group ('Composition -2'). The music covers the breadth of Braxton's 70s output - the solo pieces are alternately firey and reflective, while the group improvisations are typically more intense. Notable amongst these is 'Composition 23E' - a piece dedicated to Albert Ayler that is certainly as intense as any in that great player's catalogue. After a haunting, tension filled opening section, backed by Holland's insistent, bowed bass, the band unleash a collective improvisation. Braxton in particular plays like a man posessed, with a power and sense of control that had seldom been seen in free jazz since the passing of John Coltrane. The fact that Braxton chooses to play this piece largely on soprano only serves to increase the similarities to Trane.

But simply aping Coltrane is not what Braxton is about; his compositions are musch more original than that, and the solo pieces are the places to see this best. Both are typically angular, with '8C' being a little calmer and more rounded than the jagged '8g'. Braxton was one of the first saxophonists to realise the potential of solo performance, and these riveting pieces of music are sure to convert sceptics everywhere.

The only piece to sound less than Braxton-ish is the closing Dave Holland composition, 'Four Winds'. A live version of the lead track on his seminal 'Conference of the Birds', Braxton plays a smaller part than elsewhere on the album. It's still a great piece of music though and fairly crackles along with some superb playing by Holland and a fine trombone solo courtesy of George Lewis.

As a retrospective of Braxton's 70s output for the committed fan there is plenty of meat here, but the record would also work well as a primer for those new to his music. One has to bear in mind that we're talking about unreleased, mostly live recordings, so the audio quality is not always as good as it could be, but any deficiencies in the sound are more than made up for by the content of the music. Highly reccommended.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two giants of the saxophone

Today's musical landscape has been dominated by two giants of the saxophone, and two recordings that I've talked about before on these pages. The first is from John Coltrane's excellent 'Live In Japan', that I reviewed just a few days ago - the track in question is the opening 'Afro-Blue'. The track in it's original form defined Coltrane's stance on music for the early part of the 1960s. It was also regarded as a definitive piece of Black music, and played it's part as soundtrack to the civil rights movement as much as any contemporary R&B or soul. Having played such a major part in making him, it's incredible to hear Trane rip his own legend apart in the search for true musical freedom. Chief protagonist of this iconoclastic performance is Pharoah Sanders in one of his most intense performances on disc. After a relatively conventional opening solo, Trane hands the baton onto Sanders who, over the next 5 minutes, sheds all notions of traditional melody or jazz harmony. Fans of Pharoah's music will be accustomed to his use of overtones, but here he simply blows hard, hard, hard and drags the group along with him into his new jazz world. Trane himself never quite reaches the same level of intensity, but his second solo, on soprano this time, sees him exploring deeply throughout it's remarkable 17-minute length.

On a different tack, I've also been listening to Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, specifically his album recorded with the great Bobo Stenson in 1975, 'Dansere'. The title track is the one to look for here - at 15 minutes the longest on the album, and also the most satisfying in terms of structure and harmonic resolution - despite being inventive and going exactly where it needs to go, in the end the whole thing wraps up just as you would wish it to. Garbarek began his career heavily influenced by Coltrane (like pretty much every saxophonist of his era), and some of that influence is audible here in his tone, although Garbarek takes a more measured approach to melody and improvisation on this track than Coltrane did in his later works.

These are both hefty pieces of music, but do take the time (39 minutes) to listen to 'Afro-Blue' on the radio player, it's an experience we should all have at least once.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sun Ra - Out There A Minute

Out There A Minute
Blast First CD BFFP 42

Released 1989, recorded late 1960s

1. Love In Outer Space
2. Somewhere In Space
3. Dark Coluds with Silver Linings
4. Jazz and Romantic Sounds
5. When Angels Speak Of Love
6. Cosmo Enticement
7. Song Of Tree and Forest
8. Other Worlds
9. Journey Outward
10. Lights of a Satellite
11. Starships and Solar Boats
12. Out There A Minute
13. Next Stop Mars


SUN RA; organ, bandleader
and various others

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I like a bit of free jazz, and if it's also a little funky then so much the better. But perhaps even better than funky free jazz is nutty-funky-free jazz, and to define exactly what this sub-sub genre is, look no further than this most bizarre of Sun Ra albums. It's odd in many respects - firstly in that it was released on Blast First, the seminal 1980s avant-noise label that was home to, among others, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. (when they were good) - the Youth's Thurston Moore was one of the creative forces behind this compilation. The album was accompanied by a single that I've reviewed before.

I'd love to say that it's typical Sun Ra, but that's an ever-changing quality as far as his music is concerned, so I won't. Instead, you get a pleasant set of accessible music that veers from 25th century cocktail jazz-funk ('Love In Outer Space') to a tune accompanied throughout by the kind of noise that your children make when they wiggle their lips and blow ('Somewhere In Space'). Elsewhere there's the usual Ellingtonia ('Out There A Minute', 'Dark Clouds With Silver Linings') and 'Space Is The Place' style psychedelic freak-outs ('Next Stop Mars'). So the usual, then. What's remarkable is the coherence of the album despite it's wildly differing styles and the odds'n'sods genesis of the record.

I haven't got much to say about the actual recordings. The sleeve gives minimal information - no writers or musicians are credited, save Ra himself and a comment that the record "features John Gilmour (sic) and Marshall Allen". The only other comment on the sleeve reads, "This Compact Disc comprises Sun Ra's personal collection of rare Arkestra recordings from the late 1960s. Made in and around 42nd street, New York City, Planet Earth". How they ever got Sun Ra to agree to this is anyone's guess, but he was clearly well into the project when he said it was packaged in his "most favourite of sleeves". I'll let you look at the pictures and make up your own mind about that, but this album is much more about the music, which is fantastic. It's also a very accessible place for the novice to start on the musical odyssey that is Sun Ra.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Steve Lacy - The Forest And The Zoo

The Forest and the Zoo
ESP 1060

Recorded 1966

Side One

1. Forest

Side Two

2. Zoo


STEVE LACY; soprano sax
ENRICO RAVA; trumpet

More free soprano sax goodness today courtesy of Steve Lacy. Steve, as we all know, came to prominence as a free player in the early groups of Cecil Taylor, and here he performs two lengthy improvisations live in Argentina with an Italian trumpeter and South African rhythm section. As a live ESP recording, the sound is pretty muddy as you would expect, but Lacy's inventiveness shines through. Also apparent is the sheer verve of Rava, a young trumpeter at the time of this recording both making his mark and learning from a considerably more experienced mentor. Moholo is also exciting; he gets plenty of solo space where he comes across as an ingenious improviser, but he's also very able when it comes to keeping time (a loose concept on a free jazz recording like this one, so in many respects all the more difficult to achieve).

'Forest' features dense thickets of exploration interspersed by clearings of ensemble interplay. Generally speaking, Lacy sounds restrained throughout while it is Rava who plays with fire. Lacy's restraint as it's benefits as seen in the remarkable section of interplay between himself and Moholo midway through 'Zoo'. Lacy's soprano sound is generally quite smooth, but during this section his tone becomes clipped in the extreme and he plays in tiny bursts to create a sound reminiscent of a heavily damped guitar string and a million miles away from the predominant Coltrane-lite sound of other sopranoists that have come since.

As a recording of an important figure getting further out than before, as a document of a band that was short-lived but remarkable, and as a debut by a future force in trumpeting, this is a highly important record. Critics have suggested that it's more important historically than musically, and certainly there is little that's new here. But it's executed well, and like the best free jazz is challenging, thought provoking music. Well worth tracking down (try ESP-disk first).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

John Coltrane - Live In Japan

Live In Japan
impulse! GRD 4102

Recorded July 1966

Disc One

1. Afro Blue
2. Peace On Earth

Disc Two

1. Crescent

Disc Three

1. Peace On Earth
2. Leo

Disc Four

1. My Favourite Things


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, percussion
PHAROAH SANDERS; tenor sax, alto sax, bass clarinet, percussion

This ranks as possibly the single most extreme live recording in Coltrane's career. While his 1966 group was always up for a bit of improvisation, what makes this album stand out is both the length and the intensity of the improvisations on display. Garrison, for example, leads off both 'Crescent' and 'My Favourite Things' with a 14 minute unaccompanied improvisation on the bass. It's electrifying, and serves as a taster of what's to come. But first the listener is presented with some of the most extreme music on the record. The version of 'Afro-Blue' that kicks off this 4-CD box set is stupendous. The improvising is intense and sustained, but of high quality throughout. It reaches some pretty big climaxes along it's 39 minute length (the shortest piece here is 25 minutes), but manages to remain in some form of recognisable key and time signature throughout (well, mostly). It also perfectly vindicates Coltrane's choice of Pharoah Sanders who brings his customary harsh, overtone-rich sound to the band in a way that his solo recordings never quite captured. Alice Coltrane also plays with an intensity not seen on her solo recordings until her version of 'Leo' on 1978's 'Transfiguration' LP (also featuring onetime Trane bassist Reggie Workman, fact fans). I've mentioned the solid Garrison already, and Ali plays to the standard of the ensemble, in his usual style. While being free of the limiting need to 'swing', his ability to mark time and regulate the pulse of the piece while simultaneously improvising is unsurpassed. Simply put, this is a recording you all need to listen to.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Coltrane On Soprano

After last night's Archie, and particularly his soprano playing on 'Un Croque Monsieur' (see this post), i awoke this morning with fragments of John Coltrane's soprano saxophone sound drifting around my head. They've been stuck there all day, so in an attempt to move on to something else, a few words about Coltrane and some of the music he played on the soprano.

Coltrane took up the soprano in the late 50s, towards the end of his tenure with Miles Davis. A number of reasons have been postulated, including gum problems that precluded playing his usual tenor, and the increasing interest in the straight horn in general, mainly due to the work of dixieland-cum-free-jazzer Steve Lacy. The straight configuration of the horn allowed him to play faster than had been possible, and the different embouchure gave him a slightly different tone. His tone on tenor has always been firm, but on soprano it's much harder, but with a transparent, floating quality, like glass.

The two pieces I've been focusing on are amongst his most famous works, and are both interpretations of well-known pieces of music. 'Greensleeves' from 'The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions' is the first. The tune will be immediately familiar to anyone with ears, but here it gets a swinging treatment courtesy of messers Tyner, Workman and Jones. Trane starts out gently with a tasteful solo that uses the theme as a jumping off point for some lyrical, harmonically tasteful playing. He exhibits exactly the sort of 'hard as glass' tone that I described above. There is some brass here, too, but they're kind of relegated to backing the theme statements. Good thing too, as there's never really any need to play along with one of Trane's 60s quartets.

The other piece that has kept me happy today, and in it's time redefined the use of the soprano in jazz (yes, you can blame Trane for Kenny G) is the great 'My Favourite Things'. Again, Coltrane starts out gently, treating the theme as a china doll before breaking out of Rogers & Hammerstein's conventional style into a masterclass of modal post-bop jazz. What's amazing is that he manages to keep the whole 13 minutes accessible to a non-jazz audience while still leaving the aficionados gasping. This duality was turned on it's head in later performances where the theme was simply a jumping off point for extended, often free improvisations. Witness the 57-minute version caught on tape in 1966 on the impulse! album 'Live In Japan', for example. But to get back to the point, he plays soprano beautifully on the original recording with that same firmness of tone that makes him a pleasure to listen to.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Archie Shepp - For Losers

For Losers
impulse! AS-9188

Recorded 1968-9/ Released 1971

1. Stick 'em Up
2. Abstract
3. I Got It Bad (and that ain't good)
4. What Would It Be Without You
5. Un Croque Monsieur (Poem: For Losers)


On 'Un Croque Monsieur', 'I Got It Bad', 'What Would It Be Without You' (26.08.1969)

ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax, soprano sax
WOODY SHAW; trumpet
MATTHEW GEE; trombone
CECIL PAYNE; baritone sax

On 'Stick 'em Up' (09.09.1968)

ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
MARTIN BANKS; trumpet & flugelhorn
ALBERT WINSTON; fender bass
BERT PAYNE; guitar
DORIS TROY; vocals

On 'Abstract' (17.02.1969)

ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
JIMMY OWENS; trumpet & flugelhorn
CHARLES DAVIS; baritone sax
BOB BUSHNELL; fender bass

This 1971 release brings together material from three sessions spread across 1968-9 featuring three different bands. After the full-on sonic assault of the previous years' 'Pitchin Can' and 'Coral Rock' I can imagine Shepp fans picking this one up and saying "Woah! What's all this about?". For while there is free jazz here, it's hidden beneath an accessible surface that takes the form of funky soul-jazz ('Stick 'em Up', 'Abstract'), sweet balladry ('I Got It Bad', 'What Would It Be...') and a Yasmina style funky freak-out.

'Stick 'em Up' stands out as being unlike anything else in Shepp's discography. Over a funky backbeat worthy of James Brown, Leon Thomas provides a R&B vocal (unlike anything else I've heard him do, either) and the band play tight, well arranged parts. Archie pops up with short solos all over the place, applying his abrasive tone to straightahead material where it actually fits quite well. 'Abstract' is almost, but not quite, more of the same - while it's still tight and funky there's more of a jazz feel in the solos and overall structure of the piece. In fact, it's very much in a soul-jazz style, and would fit nicely on a Cannonball Adderley LP were it not for the unhinged soloing of Shepp.

The ballads provide a nice change of pace and another early example of Shepp playing it sweet, something he would do more and more throughout the 1970s. 'I Got It Bad', in particular, has nary a challenging harmony in sight - unthinkable for a Shepp recording of the period! 'Normal' service is resumed with the closing 'Un Croque Monsieur'. Shepp sets up an insistent, funky theme counterpointed nicely by Payne's baritone (note - this theme was lifted, in it's entirety, and used to great effect in Stereolab's 'Outer Bongolia' from 2000's 'First Of The Microbe Hunters' mini-LP. Not jazz in the slightest, but still worth a listen). Once he's set it up, Shepp wanders off on soprano and explores every possibility that the theme suggests, as well as a few more besides. Chambers sounds increasingly dissastisfied with this and around the 7-minute mark leads the group into a collective free-improvisation that'll have the hardcore Shepp fans feeling right at home. This fades into the 'For Losers' poem, but is rescued by Walton's huge piano riff that drives the band through the remaining choruses.

Now for the problem - availability. This is a hard album to come by. I got lucky online and managed to get my hands on a Japanese CD reissue. Vinyl copies appear to be very hard to find, and are likely to be expensive if Shepp's other impulse! recordings are anything to go by. Enjoy 'Stick 'em Up' on the radio player, and keep your eye out for a copy of this, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Elvin Jones

Elvin Ray Jones was born 9th September 1927 into a musical family (brothers Hank and Thad had some success as pianist and trumpeter, consecutively) and by the 1940s he was playing in an army band. Following his discharge from the forces, he ended up in New York (where else?) and played alongside the likes of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Unsurprisingly, he idolised drummers like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke and could scarcely believe that he was playing in such exalted company. Of course, his early style was very similar to those drummers, but throughout the 50s he developed his own unique voice on the drumkit. The earliest LP I own featuring Jones is the 1957 Sonny Rollins set, 'A Night At The Village Vanguard' (although he also played with J.J. Johnson and Donal Byrd around this time), which finds Jones spending a lot of time in a fairly standard bop-based style. Here and there, though, there are signs of the adventurous Jones of the 1960s. He plays a great solo in 'Softly as in a morning sunrise' that's definitely not in the usual hard-bop mode - rather than the usual cacophony, he plays a spare, elegant part that's full of space and clever rhythmic touches. It foreshadows a lot of the work he was to do with John Coltrane in the 1960s as part of his great quartet in it's inventiveness, even if there's little sign of the connection with the other soloists that he was to display under Trane.

He joined Trane in 1960, contributing to some of his Atlantic material and after a start marked by some fast and furious playing, soon developed a deep connection with his bandmates, and leader in particular, that produced some incredible music. Also under the influence of Coltrane, Jones began to introduce elements of the avant-garde into his work. Although never totally a free jazz drummer, he nevertheless provides an appropriately shifting backdrop to later Trane recordings such as 'Ascension' or 'Meditations'. But while he was polyrhythmic in his approach, he did not play in totally free style and left the band in 1966 to pursue his solo career.

He had played with other musicians throughout the 1960s, both as sideman and leader, notably on albums like Andrew Hill's 'Judgement' where his avant-garde training came in very handy. He also had a stint with Duke Ellington (!) and recorded several albums with former-Trane bandmante McCoy Tyner. Jones carried on playing and recording into the 1990s, but poor health forced his retirement and he died, from heart failure, on 18th May 2004.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Roswell Rudd & Archie Shepp

Live In New York

Recorded 23rd-24th September 2000
at 'The Jazz Standard', New York

1. Keep your heart right
2. Acute Motelitis
3. Steam
4. Pazuzu
5. We Are The Blues
6. U-Jamma
7. Bamako
8. Slide by Slide
9. Deja-Vu
10. Hope No. 2


ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax, piano, vocal
ROSWELL RUDD; trombone

I've done quite a few double-leader albums this week (a coincidence, i'm sure) but this one steps away from the established theme by not featuring Milt Jackson, or anyone connected with him. In fact it's the long-awaited reunion of two of the 1960s avant-garde's most respected hornmen - trombone giant Roswell Rudd and the great, great Archie Shepp. The great thing about the recording is that it finds both Shepp and Rudd, as well as their sidemen, to be on top form throughout - not bad for players likely to be in their 60s (Shepp would have been 63 at the time). Obviously the free improvisation they played together in the 1960s has been toned down a bit by convention and the passage of time, but it's still great to hear them kick off with 'Keep Your Heart Right', last seen on 1966's Live In San Francisco. On that album, the track is a short and rather plain introduction, a trojan horse of jazz convention transporting you into the midst of decidedly 'new thing' territory. Here it serves as a reminder of just what these men were capable of as well as showing the world that they've still got their chops.

There is a little free-jazz here and there. 'Pazuzu' features an impassioned Shepp on tenor playing with the harmonic structure of the piece in his usual fashion. The track is also a showcase for Cyrille, opening with a fine drum solo. Shepp's 'U-Jamma' has been a staple of live albums since the mid-1970s and usually features some free playing - thankfully this is just as true in 2000 as it was in 1975. Everyone else sticks to more conventional harmonic ground, which is fine as the playing is, once again, top notch. I really like Shepp's piano playing on this track - he's usually pretty basic on that instrument, but is good enough here to get me thinking "hey, who's that great pianist" with his understated accompaniment to Rudd and Moncur.

Reggie Workman has always been one of my favourite bass players, and his solo at the beginning of 'Slide by Slide' is enough to convince me that he's still got it. As the name would suggest, this is also a feature for the twin trombones of Rudd and Moncur.

On release this album drew a warm reception from the critics, as evidenced by this and this review.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Andrew Hill - Judgment

Blue Note 63842

1. Siete Ocho
2. Flea Flop
3. Yokada Yokada
4. Alfred
5. Judgment
6. Reconciliation
7. Yokada Yokada (alternate take)



This is full-on avant-bop from a line-up of classic mid 60s 'Blue Note goes out' players. Messrs Hill, Hutcherson, Davis and Jones had all made their marks on the avant-garde scene by the time of this 1964 recording. While Hill's earlier Blue Notes were fiery affairs, this one is more subdued, cerebral even. Like labelmate and fellow pianist Herbie Hancock, Hill's compositions of this period reward close listening. But unlike Hancock, he can be seen clearly to be pushing the boundaries of accepted bop phrasing and harmony, right from the off - Herbie never went out as far as this.

Another departure from earlier albums is the lack of horns. But despite this shortcoming, the density of Hill's writing and the rhythmic mastery of Jones provide just enough texture. Hutcherson's vibes add further colour to the date - his playing here is among his best for the label and shows off his spare, single-line style to great effect. Indeed, his approach to melody is very similar to Hill's. They play together frequently, sounding like extensions of one another's personalities. Davis has been beatifully captured here, the CD reissue that I own showing off a huge, rounded bass tone. And Jones' drums, too, are reproduced cleanly, all the better to hear his tumbling polyrythmic accompaniment.

What stands out, listening to this music, is the lengths the group go to push the boundaries. All four players are pushing hard, there are no 'sidemen' here. The interplay between them all is what drives the session and makes it so good to listen to some 40 years later. It's still fresh, a quality that's often heard in Hill's music. He can truly be regarded as an original.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Milt Jackson & Ray Charles - Soul Brothers

Soul Brothers

Recorded 1957

1. Soul Brothers
2. How Long Blues
3. Cosmic Ray
4. Blue Funk
5. Bag's Guitar Blues


MILT JACKSON; vibraphone, guitar
RAY CHARLES; piano, alto sax

I made a comment during this post a couple of days ago that if you were looking for laid-back bluesiness, you had found it. Well, this 1957 gem takes that idea to it's extreme with 'How Long Blues', 9 glorious minutes of blues improvisation that I implore you to listen to. No introductions are required, of course - both leaders were accomplished and popular multi-instrumentalists. Mind you, they are forever associated with their work on piano or vibes, which is a shame, as Charles takes a great turn on alto on a couple of tracks here, and Jackson shows us all how bluesy jazz guitar should be done on 'Bag's Guitar Blues' - as well as playing piano, to boot.

Also perceptible in the grooves of this record is a healthy dose of soul. By the time of this recording, Charles was a bona-fide R&B star after hits like 'I Got A Woman'. He'd always been a handy jazz player too, but on this album he brings some soul sensibility. This recording must be one of the earliest 'soul-jazz' albums, and has certainly been an influence on the 1960s rare groove set.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Billy Cobham - Crosswinds

Atlantic SD 7300

Recorded 1974

Side One

1. Spanish Moss
2. Savannah the Serene
3. Storm
4. Flash Flood

Side Two

1. The Pleasant Pheasant
2. Heather
3. Crosswind


GEORGE DUKE; keyboards
BILLY COBHAM; percussion
LEE PASTORA; latin percussion

William E. Cobham Jr. is simply one of the best jazz drummers there has ever been. Period. Armed with formidable technical skill, he came to prominence in the early days of fusion as the rhythmic force behind Miles Davis' fusion experiments. His other notable early 70s posting was in the engine room of fusion supergroup the Mahavishnu Orchestra. 'Crosswinds' comes from the next stage of his career, as the powerful and superfast jazz-rock of Mahavishnu gave way to a more human jazz-funk sound. The transformation was taking place through 1973's 'Spectrum' (being particularly evident in sampler's favourite, 'Stratus') but the change of guitarist to John Abercrombie ushered in a less frenetic sound.

That's not to say there aren't sweaty, full-bore fusion workouts here. 'The Pleasant Pheasant' is fast and furious, but remains funky despite it's technical brilliance. The Brecker brothers are on particularly good form, especially MIchael with his keening soprano. And don't forget George Duke, anchoring the whole thing with a funky riff on a heavily funked-up rhodes. 'Storm' is another wild ride - a Cobham solo with only the wind for accompaniment, making his drumming sound even more like the elemental force that it truly is.

Where the album really stands out, though, is on the slower cuts. 'Heather' in particular is at times so slight that it's hardly there, but features some well considered playing from both Duke and Michael Brecker. 'Savannah the Serene' is as calm as the title would suggest, and gives the other Brecker a chance to shine, as well as featuring Duke's Rhodes sounding almost like a vibraphone.

The whole album carries a weather-related theme - tracks with titles like 'Storm', 'Flash Flood' and 'Crosswind' clearly speak of Cobham's music (for it was he who wrote all of these pieces) as a force to be reckoned with, yet the whole set is accessible - perhaps moreso than his earlier work with Miles and Mahavishnu. The weather motif does give the record a 'concept-album' feel; I know 'jazz-funk-fusion-concept-album' looks as if it should be terrible, but this is great music, really great. If you get what Miles was doing in 1969, if you're partial to a bit of funk, or if you just like your jazz to come with a healthy dose of musicianship, then you'll find something to like about this album.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oscar Peterson & Milt Jackson

Very Tall
Verve V6 8429

Recorded September 16th-18th, 1961

Side One

1. On Green Dolphin Street
2. Heartstrings
3. Work Song

Side Two

1. John Brown's Body
2. A Wonderful Guy
3. Reunion Blues



If you're looking for laid-back bluesiness in jazz, you could do a lot worse than have a listen to anything by Oscar Peterson. The Canadian pianist was born in 1925, and could play the piano by the age of 5! A brush with TB a few years later gave him plenty of practice time, and he emerged in the late 1940s as a talented jazz improviser. Introduced to the US by Norman Granz in 1949, he went on to record extensively for Granz's Verve and Pablo labels. This 1961 date sees Peterson and his usual sidemen of Brown and Thigpen meeting up with the legendary Milt Jackson.

Jackson's sound is as instantly recognisable as ever, and fits like a glove into Peterson's bluesy style. In fact, the pieces here are less formally structured than a lot of what the Modern Jazz Quartet were up to at the same time, making this date feel a lot more relaxed than a contemporary MJQ record. The music has a strong blues feeling, especially the upbeat tracks like the standout 'Work Song'. That track begins with a strong theme statement before heading off into a Jackson improvisation that's ably supported by Peterson and his trio. But Peterson isn't just here to provide support to the visiting soloist, and comes back himself with a crackling solo where he shows off both his outstanding technical skill and superlative improvisational sense. It puts Jackson in the shade, and to my mind scotches all those who say that Peterson on this album simply acts as supporting player for the famous vibraphonist (such as this review, and this one). I also like their reading of 'John Brown's Body' - not a tune I usually enjoy, here it's given a fine blues treatment with a Peterson solo that once again beats Bags' attempt hands down.

Being on Verve means that this album is, thanks to their reissue program, freely available. I have seen reports that the remastering isn't up to much, with a heavy bass that is at odds with the delicately nuanced playing of Jackson and Peterson. Hunting down a vinyl copy is very much recommended (try eBay for starters).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ray Pizzi - Conception

Pablo 2310 795

Recorded September 1976

Side One

1. Conception
2. Willow Creek
3. The Missing Link

Side Two

1. Angel's Crest
2. Friday Night Rush Hour Blues
3. Rhapsodie
4. Digitations


RAY PIZZI; soprano & tenor sax, flute, bassoon
DAN SAWYER; guitar
GREG MATHIESON; piano, keyboards, organ
JOHN HEARD; acoustic bass
JOEL Di BARTOLO; electric bass
MARK STEVENS; percussion

"So," you ask, "who is Ray Pizzi then?". Well, that's just what I asked when I picked up this record recently, and you bet I'm glad I did. Ray Pizzi is, depending on who you ask, a woodwind specialist, concert performer, composer, arranger, educator, or one of the few great jazz bassoonists. He was also a noted sideman for leaders as diverse as Louis Bellson, Willie Bobo, Henry Mancini, Ravi Shankar and Frank Zappa. A stint with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the 1970s led to him meeting up with Norman Granz who recorded Pizzi as leader on these 1976 recordings for his Pablo label.

The music is a heady jazz-funk-rock fusion that, in common with most fusion LPs, meanders much of the time. But a couple of tracks stand out - most notably side one's 'The Missing Link'. Featuring a beautifully clipped, arpeggiated theme by Pizzi on tenor and some excellent group dynamics this is the album's high point. On side two, 'Friday Night Rush Hour Blues' repeats the same ideas to good effect, but elsewhere there are lacklustre tracks like 'Willow Creek', whose only saving grace is as a vehicle for the unusual sound of solo bassoon in jazz. I say unusual, but in this case not good. Pizzi has recorded very few sessions as leader - there's a discography here - which is shame as when he's good on this album he's very good - it just doesn't happen all that often.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bugge Wesseltoft - Moving

Jazzland 013 534-2

Recorded 2001

1. Change (Chilluminati Remix)
2. Gare Du Nord
3. Yellow Is The Colour
4. Lone
5. Moving
6. South

On this 2001 album, Norwegian pianist/composer/producer Bugge Wesseltoft further refines his concept of 'the new conception of jazz'. Having started out playing stereotypically Nordic ECM-style jazz, Bugge (pronounced 'Boogie') formed the jazzland label and brought out several records in a new, experimental jazz style that fused elements of electronic music with traditional jazz instrumentation to excellent effect. That new style is seen clearly throughout this album - 'Change' and 'Gare Du Nord' in particular being based around strong house-influenced rhythms that recall Blue Note's 'St. Germain'. We have to wait until 'Yellow is the Colour' for something older in it's outlook. Over a chattering ambient beat, Wesseltoft sets out a strongly melodic theme very much in the style of that other great contemporary Norwegian pianist, Tord Gustavsen. At the half-way point, Hakon Kornstad enters on tenor with a remarkably Pharoah Sanders-esque solo - all overtones and trilling - that anchors the whole track to avant-garde jazz tradition. It's like a decent take on updating the impulse! back catalogue for today's audience (click on this link for an example of how not to do this). The closing 'South' is also excellent - warm and inviting, mainly courtesy of some supremely alluring bass playing courtesy of Ingebrigt Flaten. Overall it's a great album, and is that rare beast that works well as either a fine close listen or tasteful background music.