Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brilliant and Crazy: Thelonious Monk

If you have seen A Beautiful Mind, Russel Crowe as the brilliant and nuts logician John Nash, you have a sense of the connection between mental impairment and genius.  Another case in point is one Thelonious Sphere Monk.  I have loved Monk for a long time now.  Today I read David Yaffee's review of "Robin D.G. Kelley's exhaustive, necessary and, as of now, definitive Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original"  at The Nation.  I can't wait to read the book, but the review is a fine presentation of the man.

If you are interested in digging into some Monk recordings, I have some suggestions.  Monk's best single album, imho, is Brilliant Corners.  Even the title is pure Monk.  Here are some more:
  1. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
  2. Misterioso
  3. Thelonious Monk in Action
  4. Mulligan Meets Monk
  5. Alone in San Francisco
  6. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
  7. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Discs 1-3 feature Johnny Griffin on sax, who turned out to be a very fine interpreter of Monk's genius.  But Monk's encounter with Trane is one of the immortal gifts that jazz keeps giving.  Number seven was my first exposure to Monk, and it left and indelible mark. 

Monk was always a bit nuts.  He knew it, and he used it, but it also irritated him that everyone else knew it.  What can you do?  Of course, there was that hat.

Happy new year. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Powerful and the Subtle: Dave Holland and Chris Potter

The difference between a listening to jazz live and listening to a jazz recording is analogous to watching a baseball game in the stands versus watching the game on TV.  Some there are who will tell you that only the live experience is real.  This is truer among jazz fans than among baseball fans. 

The latter example tells the tale.  All things considered, I'd rather watch a great ballgame in the stadium.  The late evening summer sun, the air and the echoes, the smell of popcorn and beer, these don't come through even in HD.  Nevertheless, there is much to be said for TV.  You see more, and when it counts, you get to see it twice.  These days you can run the DVR back to take a third look.  No seat in the stadium beats the camera view. 

The analogy breaks down over the fact that one will listen to good music over and over.  The ideal, I suppose, would be to sit in a jazz club listening to a great performance, and then get the recording of that performance on your iPod.  Even better, you might get a video recording on the event. 

For Christmas this year I got a new iPod.  My old one had 60G's of storage space.  With 750 jazz albums and a lot of podcasts, I filled the damn thing up.  My new one has 160G of space.  So much to do, so little time.  I confess: I want to have my whole collection at my disposal all the time. 

The first new thing I put on my new baby was The Dave Holland Quintet/Extended Play:Live at Birdland.  This is live jazz at maximum power.  Almost all the cuts are more than ten minutes in length.  I would love to have been there, but I can be there again and again.  Here is a sample. 
Dave Holland Quintet/Prime Directive/Extended Play: Live at Birdland
 This is live page four jazz at its best.  Trust me.  There will be that guy who keeps dancing ridiculously hard, only he will be in your head.  Chris Potter fills in on sax.  He is as sharp and compelling as ever.  I think that Holland's genius is evident in the inclusion of a trombone (Robin Eubanks) and vibes (Steve Nelson).  Billy Kilson plays drums. 

For a little contrast, here is a cut from a recent Chris Potter album.  Potter has a large ensemble behind him.  It is lush, poetic, bread and sauce.  Hearing this live would be a great experience.  But it is just as well heard on your iPod, and it's easier to go to the bathroom.  This cut is wonderful:
Chris Potter 10/Family Tree/Song for Anyone
Well, Happy New Year, Jazz Babies!  I am getting pretty lonely here.  If you like this blog, post a note or two. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas

Maybe light blogging ahead.  It's hard to tell.  I am on my way down south to see my favorite hero of the Republic, my father.  Here is a sample from an album I tried to find years ago and failed.  Kenny Burrell's Stormy Monday.  All things considered, Burrell is probably my favorite jazz guitar player.

This is Burrell's version of a recently featured song.  Burrell is less interested in the mood of the song and more in it's musical architecture than Wes Montgomery was.  Enjoy the comparison.
Kenny Burrell/One for my baby/Stormy Monday

From the All Music Guide:
[Burrell is] joined by pianist Richard Wyands, bassist John Heard, and drummer Lenny McBrowne
 And here is something else:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bobo Stenson

I have been listening this week to the Bobo Stenson trio's Serenity.  It is a superb recording, especially if you like the Scandinavian sound.  I do.  It's moody and impressionistic, which is exactly the description of a long hallway in my heart.  It is also as vibrant and as alive as your own love's breast.  This is the kind of music that makes me want to live forever. 

Here is my favorite cut from the album.  Think of sitting on a wooden bench, on a warm evening, as the rain begins to fall but the sunlight is still visible on the horizon. 
Bobo Stenson Trio/Golden Rain/Serenity

If you like this cut, buy the album.  It is available from iTunes.  You might also check out the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.  See my post on EST

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dave Douglas Live @ the Village Vanguard

I was turned on to trumpet man Dave Douglas by a former student and fellow jazz fan.  Douglas is prolific.  If you don't like his most recent album, come back after lunch and listen to his next one.  His jazz is very much in the avant garde category, but like a lot of AG jazzmen, he communicates the old bop language. 

I am still trying to decide whether I like his music.  It surely has caught my ear!  NPR has a Village Vanguard concert by Douglas available for download.  I listened to it this afternoon while grading Philosophy of Religion papers.  It kind of worked, in an existential way.  The Vanguard concert seemed pretty accessible, and so it might be a good place to start for jazz fans who want to know what Douglas is all about. 

I have been listening to Mountain Passages.  It moves me in a mountain path sort of way.  I have spent many days backpacking along mountain trails, and this music seems to recall the granite walls and pines shrouded in mist that I remember.  That's no small achievement.  Here is a sample:

Dave Douglas/Gumshoe/Mountain Passages

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wes Montgomery on Riverside

There is a special place in my heart for West Coast guitar master Wes Montgomery.  My jazz collecting falls neatly into two periods. The first was back in grad school when I purchased my first decent stereo and music still came packaged in thin slices of black plastic, the size of a medium pizza. The second began only a few years ago when I purchased my first iPod.

My love for WM belongs to the first period.  I landed a two album collection called, as I remember, Full House.  I can still feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck the first time I listened to it.  Montgomery had a unique style of soloing that consisted in playing the same note simultaneously on two strings, one octave apart.  The result was a rich, deep, and heart-warming union of flesh and string.  I cannot not love it.

I recently acquired The Complete Riverside Recordings, a box set of twelve CDs.  Everything I had is on it, and a lot more.  Given the size of the box, I am not shy about offering several samples.  Here is one recorded in LA in 1960.  The cast is James Clay (ts, fl) Victor Feldman (p) Wes Montgomery (g, bag) Sam Jones (b) Louis Hayes (d).  Victor Feldman?  Clay's flute is wonderful, and this number demonstrates how marvelous an accompanist Montgomery was.
Wes Montgomery/Movin' Along/The Complete Riverside Recordings
 Here is one of the finest recordings of a very fine song, under the leadership of "the other Adderley."  This is the heart of Jazz blues.  This is the band: Nat Adderley (cor) Bobby Timmons (p) Wes Montgomery (g) Sam Jones (cello, b) Percy Heath (b) Louis Hayes (d).   This has the same kind of power that Timmon's 'Moanin' had. 
Nat Adderley/Work Song/The Complete Riverside Recordings
 And here are a couple more.  The first is a great testament to the West Coast sound.  The second is a testament to Wes Montgomery's romantic heart.
Wes Montgomery/West Coast Blues/The Complete Riverside Recordings

Wes Montgomery/One More for my Baby and One More for the Road /The Complete Riverside Recordings
 That last title alone is a document in the history of culture and a discourse on the architecture of the human soul.  It is so shockingly incorrect: two more drinks before driving.  That is the texture of another age, even if it was a mere half century ago.  But boy does it tell a story.  Hank Jones (p) Wes Montgomery (g) Ron Carter (b) Lex Humphries (d).  1961.  
Its quarter to three,
There's no one in the place cept you and me
So set em up joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know

 We're drinking my friend
To the end of a brief episode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

 All of that, the dark bar with all the light up front, the one guy still sitting on his stool, it's in every riff that Montgomery plays.  This is why God made music. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

David S. Ware: Shakti

It's crunch time this professor, so I have been neglecting Jazz Note.  For loyal readers who frequently check out this blog for something new, here is something new. 

David S. Ware/Crossing Samsara/Shakti

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bass is a Hard Life

I am fascinated by bass players.  They play a role in jazz that is somewhat akin to a catcher in baseball: they can see the whole field and so end up directing the play.  For that reason, bass players make very good leaders.  Mingus comes to mind.  It must be a very hard life for a musician, because a lot of the time on a lot of albums, you just can't hear them very well.  It's hard to tell by listening that an album recorded with a bassist as leader isn't really a saxophone album, or whatever instrument is upstaging the big fiddle.

Anyway, this weekend I have been listening to a recent acquisition by William Parker.  Parker is an avant garde master about whom I have blogged previously.  At that link you can find a sample from Parker's recording Painter's Spring.  It is a brilliant cd, and one of those recordings where the title and the cover art are really part of the experience.

Peach Orchard is a two disc recording issued under Parker's name and the band IN ORDER TO SURVIVE in the late 90's.  Cooper-Moore plays piano, Rob Brown alto sax, and Susie Ibarra drums.  The compositions are rather long and musically complex.  It is compelling, high energy jazz.  Here's a sample:
William Parker-IN ORDER TO SURVIVE/Three Clay Pots/Peach Orchard
 Give it a listen and let me know what you think. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

Santa's List

I blogged earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk's incomparable album: Rip, Rig, and Panic/Now Please Don't You Cry Dear Edith.  I also included the recording in my best 50 list.  If you don't have this thing, sit on Santa's lap.  Or buy two of them, and give one as a gift to someone very special.

Another very fine Kirk recording is Complements of the Mysterious Phantom.  It is not only a display of Kirk's virtuosity, it is also a very entertaining and enlightening document of live jazz culture.  It includes brief sections of "Rahspeak", little monologues that are not evidence of a weak personality.
I was listenin' to Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins when I was in my mother's womb.  She says every time she put Charlie Parker on the record player I was jumping up and down inside her.  My crib was a saxophone case.  Yeah. 

The folks who got to sit in on this one got their money's worth.  But don't let me mislead you: this recording is full of full steam jazz bop. Hilton Ruiz (p) Henry Pearson (b), John Goldsmith (d) Samson Verge (per).  Here is a sample:
Rahsaan Roland Kirk/My One and Only Love/Complements of the Mysterious Phantom

On a very different score, here is another stocking stuffer. Bassist Charlie Haden recorded a number of albums under the title "The Montreal Tapes."  I haven't heard recently from commenter Bass Is Life, but BIL will like this one.  It's a trio, with Al Foster on drums and Joe Henderson on tenor.  It is my view that one simply cannot have too much Joe Henderson.  The recording consists of four lengthy pieces, each of them worth a trip to Canada.  Here is a sample:
Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson, Al Foster/Round Midnight/The Montreal Tapes
These two recordings have nothing other to do with one another than that I have been enjoying them tonight.  You will enjoy them too.  Trust me on this one.  

Update:  I have been a bit behind in listening to my favorite podcast, In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond, by my good friend Ken Laster.  Tonight I was listening to Ken's November 8th show, The Masters Part 2, and what should I hear but the very Rahsaan Roland Kirk album I posted on last night.  I am not sure why, but I feel compelled to explain that this was sheer coincidence.  In fact, I only downloaded the RRK recording yesterday afternoon because it had been in my "saved list" on eMusic for a while.  The power of Kirk! 

Anyway, if you read this blog and like the music I review, and you don't listen to Ken's podcast, you are cheating yourself.  Ken's shows are gold mines of good jazz, and he is a lot of fun to listen to.  Don't miss it. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Classical Elegance of MJQ

I was taken to task by commenter Bartek for not including the Modern Jazz Quartet in my best 50 jazz recordings.I can only rely on the mercy of the court on this one.  I have long admired MJQ.  I vaguely recall an album cover from the LP age.  The four, John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (v), Percy Heath (b), and Connie Kay (d), were all dressed in very elegant suits.  That small thing imparted a dignity to their whole enterprise.    This was a group that thought it could stand next to any string quartet.  Indeed, it could, and that is something in the long adversarial relationship between jazz and "serious music."

Milt Jackson, or Bags if you want to be formal, was the most famous of the four.  I think that John Lewis probably had more influence on the group.  MJQ stood for a kind of professionalism that is often lacking in jazz.  For some odd reasons that I won't mention, my collection is sadly lacking in MJQ recordings.  But this evening I purchased The Complete Last Concert.  It wasn't the last concert, but it is complete.  Listening to it tonight, I wonder how I got along without it.  It is one of the core collection entries in the Penguin Guide (may its name be praised).  I am going to have to squeeze it into the list when next I revise it. 

Here is a sample, a version of one of my favorite standards. 
Modern Jazz Quartet/Softly as in a Morning Sunrise/The Complete Last Concert

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yet More Thomas Chapin

It is just shy of one o'clock in the morning, central time, November the 28th, 2009, as I am listening to Thomas Chapin's Insomnia.  I have never suffered much from sleeplessness, but I like to sit up late scouring the web and doing my blogging. 

Insomnia has the Thomas Chapin Trio backed by a lot of brass.  It wasn't easy to come by, but it's more than worth a listen.  The first number has power behind it.  Here it is.
Thomas Chapin Trio with Brass/Pantheon/Insominia

Friday, November 27, 2009

Best Jazz Albums 26-50

Compiling a list of 50 best jazz albums is, as reader Derick put it, like "walking blindfolded through a mine field."   Proceeding on the principle that rules are made to be broken, I made rules and broke them.  But it has been fun and it has led me to go back and do a lot of listening that I otherwise might have neglected.  I also found myself frequently entering an album only to replace it with another.  Discipline, please!

I wanted to get some multi-disc collections in, if only to cheat on the limit of fifty recordings.  That's a little like being limited to three books on a desert island, and putting the Harvard Classics as number one.  So here is 26-33 on my list:

Complete 1961 Village Vanguard 
Complete Africa/Brass Sessions
Legendary Prestige Recordings
Live at the Plugged Nickel 
Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall
At the Five Spot Vols. 1 & 2
/Memorial Album
Shelly Manne and His Men 
@ Blackhawk
A Night at the Village Vanguard

Obviously Miles Davis and John Coltrane are overrepresented.  But that reflects the importance I place on those two giants.  Davis's Prestige Recordings include his incomparable Workin', Relaxin', Cookin', and Steamin' albums.  How could I leave them out, and how else could I fit them in?  I first listed the Blackhawk recordings, but the Plugged Nickel set is a better example of the distance Miles crosses in the period I concentrate on.  Trane's Vanguard recording are, in my mind, his greatest achievement.  Dolphy's Five Spot recordings aren't really a single set (I cheated again), but put 'em in a single bag.  They might be the best display of Dolphy's brilliance.  Manne's Blackhawk recordings are West Coast jazz at its best.  Rollins' Vanguard set needs no defense.

Here is the rest of the list:

Spiritual Unity
Out to Lunch
Ellington at Newport
The Trance
Hampton Hawes Trio Vol. 2. 
Conference of the Birds
The Köln Concert
Rip, Rig, and Panic
From the Soul
Soul Station
The Incredible Guitar 
Search for the New Land
The Hill
Blown' the Blues Away
Sun Ra

Jazz In Silhouette

When in doubt, look at what everyone else is doing.  I consulted several "top 100" lists on the web.  Most of them are pretty much like mine for the first ten or so.  Past 25, there is a lot of divergence.  But most of the items in my list show up somewhere on other lists.  Some exceptions include Booker Ervin's Trance.  I am deeply in love with Booker Ervin.  Trance is not his best known work, but think it is the purest example of his genius.  Lee Morgan's Sidewinder was his best seller, while Search for the New Land rarely shows up on best jazz lists.  But great as the former is, I think the later is the more serious recording.

I got a couple of big band recordings in, by Ellington and Sun Ra.  I don't like big band jazz generally, but I think these are superb albums.  Some of the items are recorded much later than my target period (1950-1970).  Holland, Murray, and Lovano, for example, though Holland Conference of the Birds doesn't miss it by much.  But these recordings fit right into the mold. 

Anyway, I think this top 50 list would be the core of a very good jazz library.  Here are some samples.
David Murray/Santa Barbara and Crenshaw Follie/The Hill
Lee Morgan/Morgan the Pirate/Search for the New Land
Miles Davis/Milestones/Live at the Plugged Nickel

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Red Mitchell & Memory

Way back in the 1980's, when I bought my first decent stereo equipment and began seriously collecting jazz, I recorded a PBS show featuring bass player Red Mitchell and piano master Monty Alexander.  I am going from memory here, but I think the show was called "Alone Together".  Listening to was a formative event in my life.  With just bass and piano, the musical expression was vivid and unmistakable.  I recorded it on a 90 nminute cassette tape (remember those?). 

I listened to that damned tape over and over until I eventually lost it.  It's just as well.  I don't have a machine to play it any more.  But I still have a fondness for Mitchell. 

I recently acquired Presenting Red Mitchell.  It is a fine piece of straight ahead jazz.  I found this bit about the lineup from CD Universe:
Bassist Red Mitchell, who had led two fairly obscure sessions for Bethlehem in 1955, came up with a gem on his lone Contemporary set as a leader (which has been reissued as this CD). Based in Los Angeles at the time, Mitchell utilized pianist Lorraine Geller and two up-and-coming players: James Clay (who splits his time between tenor and flute) and, in one of his first recording sessions, drummer Billy Higgins. The quartet performs then-recent tunes by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown ("Sandu"), a pair of Mitchell originals, "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Cheek to Cheek."
 Well, here is a sample. 
Red Mitchell/Scrapple from the Apple/Presenting Red Mitchell

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blanchard's Top One, Ten, and Twenty-Five Best Jazz Albums

I had originally intended this blog as a guide to novice jazz collectors.  I have no idea whether it is serving that purpose.  Most of my comments are from folks who have pretty decent collections already.  But I am a classical thinker by training, so making lists is something I do like dogs chew bones.  As Christmas approaches, a top fifty jazz recordings list might do someone some good, and it is fun to think about it.

I have assembled a top twenty five list.  Here is my top ten:

Kind of Blue
The Shape of Jazz to Come
Giant Steps
Far Cry
Sunday at the Village Vanguard
The State of the Tenor
Mingus Ah Um
Brilliant Corners
Saxophone Collosus
Speak No Evil

You may notice that, while KOB is first, the rest of the nine are in alphabetical order.  KOB comes first as I hold that it is the most perfect jazz recording I have ever heard.  I alphabetized the rest of the list to avoid any suggestion that number six is a little better than seven but not quite so good as number five.  It seems silly to me to cut it that fine.  The reader should bear in mind that I am not claiming these are the ten best jazz recordings of all.  My focus is rather narrow: hard bop to avant garde jazz, mostly recorded in the fifties and sixties. 

I am sticking here to single disc recordings that have had a major impact on me and that show up on a lot of similar lists.  I avoided repeating artists.  Someone who had just these ten, and listened attentively and with devotion, would have a pretty good idea what the jazz idea is.  Many Coltrane fans will object that A Love Supreme ought to come before Giant Steps.  That may be so, but ALS is a rather unrepresentative recording, and I think that GS had much more influence on the history of the music.  Likewise my choice of Far Cry to represent Dolphy is somewhat idiosyncratic.  Brilliant Corners might be the most questionable choice, but if you had one Monk recording, that would be it.  All of Monk's genius is in it.  Or maybe Henderson's State of the Tenor looks most out of place.  I admit that it is actually a two disc recording, but I plead that one can fit it on one CD.  I really think that this belongs in the top ten, and I am sure that Joe deserves a place there. 

Here is the rest of the top twenty-five on my list. 

Something Else
Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
Time Out
Midnight Blue
A Love Supreme
Our Man in Paris
Maiden Voyage
Point of Departure
Let Freedom Ring
Blues and the Abstract Truth
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
New York Contemporary Five
Jazz Advance
The Real McCoy

Here I allowed myself some repeat artists, and so got ALS in.  Miles may be said to have made it in twice, as Adderley's Something Else might really have been a Davis recording.  With Davis, the problem I have is that I think his best documents are the multi-disc live recordings at the Plugged Nickel, the Black Hawk, and the Stockholm recordings.  But I honestly think that ESP is Mile's second best single disc recording.  His second great quintet, and the pervasive influence of Wayne Shorter makes it an immortal recording.

Well, I expect to be returning to this theme in coming days or weeks.  Completing a list of fifty will be a challenge.  I am open to suggestions. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

More J.D. Allen & Some Miles

I have been listening to I AM I AM, by the J.D. Allen Trio.  It is one of those recordings that impressed me a lot more the second time I heard it.  I would like to think that is the result of spiritual growth, but it may be more like the difference in a good wine when your pallet is better prepared. 

Allen's music is fine example of what I call Page Four Jazz: the music sounds a lot like the intro to a traditional bop melody that has been extended to the length of a whole song.  The architecture of melody has been disassembled and reassembled into something that no longer looks like a dwelling place.  But the effect is to see the inner spirit of each element in stark relief.  This sort of thing can be very dry when it is abstracted to mere mathematical formulas, as it sometimes is more extreme avant garde music.  But Allen preserves the passion of each element as he weaves his tapestry.  Dancing around in my kitchen as I listen, I feel a little like a serpent being charmed out of its basket. 

I think this is a very substantial work, and I recommend it.  You can hear a good bit of the J.D. Allen Trio at the Village Vanguard site.  See my earlier post.  Here is a sample:
J.D. Allen Trio/Titus/I AM I AM
It occurred to me as I was listening that this reminded me of one of Miles Davis's less celebrated albums.  Miles In The Sky is an artifact of his experiments with avant garde jazz.  This is one of the recordings by his second great quintet: Miles Davis (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) George Benson (el-g) Ron Carter (b) Tony Williams (d).   Here is a sample:
Miles Davis/Black Comedy/Miles in the Sky
I think that a careful listen will detect the similar approach to musical composition in the two works, though they are made with a very different instrument set, decades apart.  It is a testament to the stamina of the post bop/avant garde regime.  Well, give it a try and let me know how it comes out.

PS.  I have also been listening to an earlier J.D. Allen recording, Pharaoh's Children.  It is also very good.  J.D. Allen is the real thing. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tonight! Christian McBride Live @ The Village Vanguard

Christian McBride and his band Inside Straight are appearing tonight at the Village Vanguard.  The concert will be shown live online, (Wednesday) at 9pm ET.  I recommend it to all my readers.  Hopefully, the recording will be available for download later. 

McBride didn't just learn to play the bass, he inherited it.  His father and great uncle were both accomplished thumpers.  He began playing bass at age 9 and fell into the orbit of Wynton Marsalis when he was a ripe 14.  This guy is worth a listen. 

McBride and Inside Straight have one recording, so far as I know.  I have it, and it is delicious, sparkling jazz.  Don't listen to it if you want to remain in a funk.  Here is a brief description from LD: 
Muscular playing from the saxophonist Steve Wilson and vibraphonist Warren Wolf Jr. dominate the disc, providing little sense that the leader is in the rhythm section putting the music into overdrive with drummer Carl Allen. (McBride does take a few flavorful and melodic solos). Pianist Eric Scott Reed provides the lightness needed to cut through the density of the music.
That sounds right to me.  It is hard to be bass.  Even when you are leader you seem to be invisible.  But you can hear McBride's virtuosity on several cuts.  Here is a sample:
Christian McBride/Brother Mister/Kind of Brown

Get the album, and if you read this in time, watch the concert.  Or go to the Village Vanguard.  Jazz is alive. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen

I have a fondness for Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen that goes back three decades.  In my early years as a jazz fan I collected Oscar Peterson records.  Peterson and Pedersen were inseparable for a while.  I have a fondness for Archie Shepp that goes back, well, at least a couple of years.

Shepp has the status of a great innovator, and he deserves it.  He also works the saxophone like a dowager, always finding God's own water under any sandy surface.  His New York Contemporary Five and Four For Trane recordings, in that order, are essential pieces in any collection.  I haven't followed Pedersen well enough to say anything useful about him.  But he is clearly a master.

I recently acquired a duet album recorded by Shepp and Pedersen, Looking at Bird.  Even with a piano, jazz duets tend to be a bit dry.  They are works of love for lovers.  With a horn and bass, the music approaches a dry martini joke.  But this recording of Charlie Parker compositions is wonderful.  You can't do better if you want to taste the alchemy of a consummate jazz conversation.  The two play as if they were doing a Vulcan mind meld sort of thing.  And the texture of both instruments is recorded remarkably well.  This is the true water.  Here is a sample:
Archie Shepp & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen/Billie's Bounce/Looking at Bird
 I have been getting a lot of traffic lately, but few comments.  Comment. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another Jazz Ken: Ken Vandermark & the Vandermark 5

In addition to myself and Ken Laster, we have Ken Vandermark.  All he has over us is that he can actually play jazz.  Vandermark is a horn player (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet) and prolific recorder and composer.  To judge by the two albums I have purchased, his work shows the rewards and risks of avant garde jazz.  

The Vandermark Five is his main band, though he appears to have several others.  Burn the Incline, and Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise demonstrate the same genius for invention in music as they do in titles.  It is no wonder, perhaps, that Vandermark was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius award."  Both recordings stretch from edgy bop to out there free jazz, and sometimes the stretch is visible in the same number.  There is a strong element of blues funk running through a lot of the songs.  

I like a lot of what I am hearing here, but I like the more melodic numbers more than the more free base anti-compositions.   Of the two, I think Elements is the better work.  

Here are some samples.  With the reservations noted, I think they are welcome additions to any good collection.  
The Vandermark 5/Outside Ticket/Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise
The Vandermark 5/Distance/Burn the Incline

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jazz & Democracy

Today was election day in these United States.  That means victory for one party, and grief for another.  But seen rightly, it is one of the beautiful things in the human record.  Ballots cost less in grief and blood than bullets, or jumping up and down on someone's ribcage.  We are, after all, only modified chimpanzees.  

In honor of election day, here is a sample from a very political jazz recording: Archie Shepp's Attica Blues.  The album commemorates the most famous prison riot in this country.  It is a large ensemble production, and well worth listening to.
Archie Shepp/Blues for Brother Jackson/Attica Blues
 Loving one another is possible, but sometimes very hard.  Making deals and coalitions can get us by.  Maybe jazz will smooth over the rough edges.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Edward Simon Live @ The Village Vanguard

Yet another wonderful concert from the Vanguard: Venezuelan pianist Ed Simon with his trio, Ben Street on bass, and Adam Cruz on drums, and Mark Turner on Sax.  You don't have to wait for this one to warm up.  The first number, a Turner composition, is as warm as a lover's embrace.  I especially like Simon's playing behind Turner. You can download the concert for keeps.  God bless 'em. 

Several of the tunes the quartet plays are from the album Edward Simon.  Here is a sample of one of them.  Substitute Larry Grenadier on bass. 
Edward Simon/Colega/Edward Simon
It's not the best cut on the album, but it will whet your appetite.  The two part Alma Llanera is masterful, and is also heard on the concert.  I plan to get several more of his albums as soon as my eMusic downloads refresh.  No doubt I will be posting on Simon again. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back to Blakey

I got interested in Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers as result of my infatuation with Wayne Shorter.  I got interested in Wayne because I saw one of his albums in a Zen Mountain Center catalog.  I practice Zen meditation, and Wayne is a Nichiren Buddhist if I am correct.  Such is the strange path of a jazz collector.

I have about twelve Messengers albums with Shorter playing his magnificent sax.  I am always astonished to note that all twelve were recorded between 1960 and 1964, when Shorter served as the Messengers musical director.  That was one very fertile period in the history of jazz. 

Blakey was a unique sort of genius.  He kept the Messengers within a narrow scope of music, but allowed an amazing number of jazz masters to mature under his guidance.  He was also a wizard on the drums.  Wayne Shorter was another kind of genius.  I identify with him more than any other jazz master because of a set of common interests.  Buddhism, science fiction, and the spooky mood, these are the things that attract me to Shorter.  But I can't play the horn and I am no brilliant composer.  Wayne's melodies are haunting and compelling.  I can't imagine life without them. 

Today I got Buhaina's Delight.  It's named after Blakey's Islamic moniker.  I don't know when Shorter found the Buddha way, but there is a lot of American spring mix in this story.  Anyway, here is a sample from the disc. 
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/Reincarnation Blues/Buhaina's Delight

Just look at the lineup: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, and Jymie Merritt on drums, and of course Blakey and Shorter. 

Here is another sample from a very popular album.  Here, in addition to Blakey and Shorter, Lee Morgan plays trumpet, Bobby Timmons piano, and Merritt again on bass.  I have a deep fondness for Timmons, as he wrote 'Moanin', one of my favorite compositions.  But Lee Morgan is a priceless hard bop treasure.  This one number, I think, documents the greatness of the Messengers.  Morgan's intro, and Timmons' soft solo are wonderful.  But Morgan's solo, followed by Shorter's, lay out two chambers of the human heart in a way that makes every beat worth the blood it pumps.  This, by Zeus, is jazz. 
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/Yama/A Night in Tunisia

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tom Varner's French Quartet Saints

Tom Varner is one weird dude, man.  Who told him you could play jazz on a french horn?  I scarfed up one Varner album, The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998.  Who told him that jazz album titles could have subtitles?  Anyway, this is one strange trip through American music.  But I am thinkin' that it is a good hour spent.  

I particularly like his rendition of 'When the Saints Come Marching In.'  Anyone has who has heard it in Preservation Hall in the French Quarter will immediately recognize the alcohol buzz in Varner's version.  By the time you have consumed a plate of shrimp and downed more than a beer or two, and stood in line for an hour, well, this is what 'The Saints' sounds like.  
Tom Varner/When the Saints Come Marching In/The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lee Kontiz with Dave Holland & Jack DeJohnette

One of the pleasures of having an absurdly large collection (=large enough you forget what you have) is that you forget what you have.  While listening to Dave Holland again today, I discovered that I had a recording with Dave Holland playing bass on it.  Lee Konitz, the absurdist poet of the alto sax recorded an album called Satori.  I have always been challenged and fascinated by Konitz's playing.  I first heard him on a Bill Evans album, Crosscurrents.

Satori is not the first Konitz album I would recommend to the uninitiated.  That would be Alone Together with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden.  But the former is solid Konitz, and it is a good chance to hear Holland as a side man.  Here is a sample:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Herbie Nichols

So while I am on the subject of jazz artists who died in their forties from leukemia, I might as well mention Herbie Nichols.  Nichols was a piano player and composer.  He is more famous than Thomas Chapin, but left a rather more limited set of documents.  Here is something that has to say:
Composer and pianist Herbie Nichols’ inquisitive spirit lives on amongst a growing group of young followers, and in the spirit of every jazz musician who struggles to cultivate an individual sound within the din of the marketplace. An innovator equal in powers to Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk, he spent most of his career working in bands whose music was less adventurous than his own.
Well, an innovator equal to Bud Powell maybe.  But equal to Monk?  That's absurd.  Nichols is generally considered to have been a fine composer, but he didn't record much as leader and his partisans are still trying to bring his work into the mainstream.  I have the box set Herbie Nichols: The Complete Blue Note Recordings.  It's a fine collection, both in terms of composition and in terms of down right compelling piano work.  

One jazzman who has championed Nichols' work is Roswell Rudd.  Unfortunately, Rudd is an acquired taste on his own.  If Nichols is to get his spot in the spotlight, it might not be Rudd who does it for him.  But The Unheard Herbie Nichols is worth a listen.  

Here is a sample of Nichols, playing his most famous composition.  
Herbie Nichols/Lady Sings the Blues/The Complete Blue Note Recordings

And here is a cut from Rudd's tribute:
Roswell Rudd Trio/Prancin' Pretty Woman/The Unheard Herbie Nichols

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Thomas Chapin, Please...

Thomas Chapin, God bless 'em, was born about three months before I was, and died in 1998.  That is a little reminder to me of one of the central truths of Buddhism: that no one can escape death.  Chapin's approach to music is central to my book of jazz: stay rooted in the tradition, but push the envelope.  His output is mostly edgy page four, but he has a loyalty to melody that keeps me rooted in his horn lines. 

I've blogged about Night Bird Song album.  I recently acquired Sky Piece and Haywire.  The former, like NBS, is easy to come by.  I think he recognized NBS and SP as his seminal works.  Haywire presents the Chapin Trio with strings.  Jazz with strings is usually a way for a big name horn to make a lot of money with syrupy music to feed a heroin habit.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Chapin's jazz with strings is something else altogether. 

Here are some samples to whet your appetite and get your credit card out of your wallet. I posted one version of Night Bird Song, from the album of that name.  Here is another, so good you should keep it in a lock box. 

Thomas Chapin/Night Bird Song/Sky Piece
And here is a delicious piece from Haywire.  

Thomas Chapin Trio + Strings/Diva/Haywire

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Charles Gayle Takes No Prisoners

If you are going on a camping trip, don't take the expensive wine.  With all the campfire smoke and trail mix, you won't be able to taste it.  If you are going to listen to Charles Gayle, make sure your pallet is prepared.  Oddly enough, I find this music most compelling in the early morning, when I am just waking up.  You have to get a lot of your brain out of the way to hear what is going on here.  

That, of course, is the problem with page four jazz.  It makes ridiculous demands on the listener, including a lot of experience listening to edgy jazz.  But there is something here.  Or at least I thought there was this morning.  Charles Gayle is an uncompromising avant garde tenor player.  Here are a couple samples of his work.  
Charles Gayle/Justified/Consecration
Charles Gayle,William Parker, Rashied Ali/Part A/Touchin' on Trane 
 The Consecration recording is very challenging.  The Touchin' on Trane disc is one for any major collection.  

Sunday, October 18, 2009

J.D. Allen Live @ The Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard concert series is selling a lot of CDs, to me at least.  I have shelled out for two discs from each of the artists I have posted on, including the J.D. Allen Trio.  The Trio's Vanguard date isn't available as a download, alas.  But I have listened to the whole thing and it is exquisite. 

With bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, the trio invites inevitable comparisons to the Sonny Rollins Vanguard recordings.  The sax/bass/drum trio focuses ones attention on the warmth and sparkle of the horn.  I think this might be the single most powerful setting for the saxophone, which is my favorite horn and jazz's favorite horn.   But for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, it wasn't Rollins I thought of as I listened to Allen's tenor, but John Coltrane.  The J.D. Allen Trio has two recent recordings: I Am I Am, and Shine.  Both of them are gems.  

Here is a short sample.
JD Allen Trio/Shine/Shine
Now: get the recording.  And leave a note. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thomas Chapin's Aviary

If you liked Dave Holland's 'Conference of the Birds', which I posted earlier, you might like the birds of a feather work by Thomas Chapin: 'Night Bird Song.'  As I mentioned in my previous post, Chapin passed away in 1998.  I have been listening to a couple of his albums, one of them released posthumously. Night Bird Song is very edgy jazz, but I found myself dancing to it as I stir-fried a batch of kung pao shrimp.  

Chapin was one of those jazz men who seemed to be able to play any horn he put into his mouth.  The flute, in particular, seems to produce a feathered sound.  Anyway, here is a sample of Chapin's fine work.  We can only dream of what he might have done if only...
Thomas Chapin Trio/Night Bird Song/Night Bird Song

Mario Pavone on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ron Horton for Thomas Chapin

I have been listening to Thomas Chapin's Night Bird Song recently, and I am busy collecting his work. Chapin, and alto-sax man, died of leukemia eleven years ago at age 40. This was a loss to the jazz world. Today I happened to be listening to Ron Horton's Genius Envy. Horton's album is fine piece of work. Here is the lineup, from allmusic:
The musician hears sound through a "who's who" of topnotch players, including soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, tenor John McKenna, pianist Frank Kimbrough bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Rich Rosenzweig.
One of the numbers on the recording was dedicated, by its title, to Chapin. Here it is:
Ron Horton/For Thomas Chapin/Genius Envy
Get the Horton recording. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bill McHenry @ The Village Vanguard

This is another of NPR's Village Vanguard concerts. However, whereas I liked the Billy Hart Quartet better on the recording I sampled than on the Vanguard concert I linked to, with the Bill McHenry Quintet is quite the opposite. The McHenry Quintet Vanguard concert, with McHenry's tenor backed by Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Ben Street (again) on bass, and the wonderful Paul Motian on drums, is astoundingly good. Every note is compelling, and the sound is so jazz house real it makes my toes curl.

These guys should figure out some way to get this recording released as a CD. There is more than two hours of jazz here. It is edgy, but accessible, just a bit over the line to page four jazz. But best of all, it has that heart, that feeling. Some of it had the hair standing up on the back of my neck. The whole thing is available for download in MP3, so you can put it on your iPod, keep it on your hard drive, and burn the darn thing on a CD for your next road trip. You won't be sorry you hit this blog if it leads you to this session.

Here is a sample from a recent release. Ben Monder plays guitar, giving the album a slightly fusion feel. Reid Anderson is on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.
Bill McHenry Quartet/Alfronbra Magica/Bill McHenry Quartet

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Billy Hart Quartet @ The Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard is surely the single most important venue in the history of modern jazz. Coltrane's famous recording there would almost be enough to confirm that. But then you add (roughly in order) Bill Evans last recording with Scott LaFaro, Sonny Rollins pianoless, Promethean trio, and Art Pepper's sprawling, nine disc collection of exquisite jazz punctuated by nervous chatter, and you have a lot of immortal genius pouring out of one fountain. You could survive an island exile for a long time with that, if they let you charge up your iPod.

The Vanguard is still at it. If you go to the NPR sponsored Vanguard site you will find a series of live recordings that are an hour plus in length. The most recent are available in MP3 format for free download, so you can add them to your permanent collection. All of the concerts, I believe, can be listened to in Real Player format. They also include MP3 files of interviews with the major players. Some of the artists featured there include Tom Harrell, Terence Blanchard (no kin, so far as I know, darn it), Cedar Walton, Chris Potter and Kenny Baron. That's a powerful lot of jazz to sample and enjoy free. I have long believed that giving away a lot of stuff is the best way to sell a lot more stuff. If you don't believe me, ask Microsoft.

Case in point is the most recent addition: The Billy Hart Quartet. Hart (b. 1940) has played his drums behind a lot of giants, including Miles Davis. The Quartet includes two players I have become interested in: Ethan Iverson on piano, and Mark Turner on tenor saxophone. Ben Street, whom I don't know yet, plays bass. The concert may not achieve immortality, but it includes a lot of very bold jazz composition. I suspect that Iverson is a driving force in the quartet. My reasons for thinking so, and for thinking that Iverson is the real thing, can be found at my earlier post on this fine keyboard player. But Mark Turner, whose Yam Yam I posted briefly on, dominates the sound.

Listening to that live recording encouraged me to shell out for The Billy Hart Quartet, with the same lineup. This is a very solid recording, inventive and provocative, but very accessible. The opening number, Mellow B, is an Iverson composition, and it is the kind of arrangement that makes the music seem suddenly new even to someone who swims in it daily. Hart is obviously worshipful of John Coltrane, as comes out on the Vanguard date. This album is another act of worship.

Here is a sample, a tribute to the pianist penned by Mark Turner. It also has the most compelling drum work from Hart. His cymbals talk to me here. Give it a listen, and don't let the disc get away from you.
Billy Hart/Iverson's Odyssey/The Billy Hart Quartet
My comments sections are like empty tombs right now. Leave me a few words, when you have the time.

ps. There is a great photo collection, including a shot of the Vanguard front.