Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jazz Library 10: Chico Freeman & Arthur Blythe

If you want to get Ken Blanchard to spend a few of his eMusic downloads on a couple of albums, one way to do it is to put Wayne Shorter compositions on both of them. Another way is to recruit Arthur Blythe to play alto.

I have written before about the "pub crawl" method of jazz collecting: when you find someone you like, see what else he has done or been in on. I was very impressed by Arthur Blythe's Focus, a brilliant mix of hard bop and avant garde jazz, with an eccentric set of instruments. So I crawled around the outlets for more Blythe. I discovered two wonderful recordings by Chico Freeman, with Blythe on board: Luminous, and The Unspoken Word. Both are treasures for any jazz library, and they are available at eMusic.

I already one Freeman recording in my collection: Destiny's Dance. It is one of the Core Collection picks in the Penguin Guide, which I heavily rely upon. But the Penguin Guide is more fond than I am of very edgy jazz. One of the numbers on DD, "Crossing the Sudan," is typical free jazz. What passes for melody is pulse: a repeated rhythm around which the solos play. It would make a good soundtrack for one of those High Definition nature shows on the 600 channels: "the Amazon pools are teaming with life". But the next number, "Wilpan's Walk," is a fusion piece of the sort that I like to think of as "beach club jazz." Drinks and smoked meat with the surf out the window, and a guy dressed in white playing the sax. Easy listening, by jazz standards.

Luminous and The Unspoken Word are compelling examples of straight ahead jazz. The former opens with "Footprints," Wayne Shorter's most celebrated composition. You can find it on Shorter's album Adam's Apple. The latter Freeman/Blythe album includes "Infant Eyes," which is probably my favorite Shorter song. You can find it on Speak No Evil. It's deep and spooky and haunting. Freeman and Blythe do it justice. The recordings are excellent. You can listen to the two Shorter compositions here:

If you like what you hear, shell out some drachmas for the albums. You won't be disappointed. It is well worth your time to compare the original Shorter recordings with the Freeman/Blythe versions.

ps. Here is a nice YouTube clip of Freeman and Blythe playing with Sam Rivers.

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