Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eric Dolphy Live in Illinois

Eric Dolphy is, I suspect, a problem for historians of jazz. On the one hand, he was surely one of the most inventive composers of the jazz era. On the other, it is not see easy to trace his influence in the way that Coltrane or Ornette Coleman's silhouettes are visible in so much later jazz. Except that, and here is an important footnote to the last comment, Dolphy's influence was very evident on Coltrane himself.

Out to Lunch is thought to be Dolphy's magnum opus. I am still making my mind up about it. I prefer Far Cry among his studio albums. I find Dolphy always more interesting and brilliant live, and there is a lot of that. His influence on Trane can be seen on two seminal recordings: The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions, and Live at the Village Vanguard. I am not sure but that the very sound of Dolphy's bass clarinet was enough to rearrange space and time around it. Surely this had something to do with the low horn orchestra that Trane arranged for the former recording. Dolphy also did a lot of recording with Charlie Mingus, but I haven't yet begun to assimilate that.

Dolphy left a magnificent set of live recordings, including his dates with trumpeter Booker Little: Live at the Five Spot, Vols. 1 and 2, and Memorial Album, and his recordings with otherwise unknown European jazzmen: Eric Dolphy in Europe, Vols. 1, 2, & 3.

Today I acquired another disc: The Illinois Concert. I am very surprised that Blue Note didn't call it "Eric Dolphy Meets Herbie Hancock." Hell, maybe they should have, as the collaboration between two of jazz's most interesting composers is the chief interest in the recording. It's a mixed bag. Part of the recording is a standard quartet, with two additional numbers pitting Dolphy against the University of Illinois Brass Ensemble, and the U of I Big Band. The recording is very uneven. Dolphy plays flute on 'South Street Exit," and he is so faint it sounds like his mike was in Indiana.

But the first cut, a good twenty minutes long, is worth the purchase price. Dolphy was the very model of what I call Page Four Jazz: Dolphy and Hancock are not playing 'Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,' they are canibalizing it for musical ideas. But it is one of the interesting things about this kind of jazz that it helps a lot if you know the melody they are chewing on. The dialogue between the titanic horn and piano displays nothing less than God's tool box for universe building. Also worth their weight in metaphysical gold are Dolphy's solo presentation of 'God Bless the Child,' one of his signature pieces, and 'Iron Man' which soars with rocket boots.

Dolphy was one of jazz's great tragedies. Born in 1928, he only begins his serious career in 1958. Six years later he died, of undiagnosed diabetes. It is nothing short of astounding how much extraordinary music he made in those six years. One might almost guess that he perished from exhaustion. But here, oh jazz fans, was a man.

And here is some jazz:
Eric Dolphy/Softly as in a Morning Sunrise/The Illinois Concert

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jazz with Strings

Recording with a string orchestra behind is one of the temptations that jazz soloists frequently succumb to. It doesn't always work out. But strings can make the most obscure bop tenor palatable to a larger audience by packaging him in a thick coating of sugar. I am doubting that this pays limited returns. It's been tried a lot: Art Pepper's Winter Moon, and Stan Getz's Focus are good examples. These are both of them fine recordings, and Winter Moon is an especially good one to play in the car on a long trip with someone who isn't a jazz fan.

David Murray shows you how it's done on Waltz Again. Murray cuts the saccharin with his hard, angular avant garde sax. It's everything the jazz fan wants.

Here's a cut:
David Murray/Dark Secrets/Waltz Again

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Evidence of Genius

I find it curious that Thelonious Monk's middle name was Sphere. What was that about? Perhaps no composer in the history of jazz has so often or so accurately been described as "angular." Monk always seems to be coming at the melody from an obscure, if not noneuclidean angle. Monk was one of the founding fathers of bop, and he remained within the compass of that music. But he was the greatest inspiration for the Avant Garde movement, which just couldn't get enough of Monk compositions. The link may be found precisely in his angularity. Avant Garde is distinct from Bop essentially in its abstraction. Every line in a bop number stands for some complex human passion. Avant garde abstracts from the passions to isolate the musical forms. I think Bop remains the greater music, but the jazz catalog would be poorer without the new thing.

Here is an interesting comparison. First, a recording of Monk's 'Evidence' from one of my favorite sets. Behind Monk is Johnny Griffin on tenor, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. The setting is the Five Spot.
Thelonious Monk/Evidence/Thelonious In Action
I think that displays all the virtues and passion of bop. Now compare it with this cut by Steve Lacy with Don Cherry (trumpet), Carl Brown on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry/Evidence/Evidence
Everything I say will be confirmed, whether it is true or not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Abdullah Ibrahim

In piano trios, horns are conspicuous by their absence. That's a political theory joke. Look up Leo Strauss. I like the sound of the saxophone, along with the bigger horns like the bass clarinet or the baritone sax. So when I listen to piano trios, it seems very quiet and subtle. Today I chanced upon Abdullah Ibrahim's Yarona.

Born Adolph Johannes Brand in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1934, he began his musical career as Dollar Brand. Later he converted to Islam, hence the more colorful name. Well, listening to Yarona while I prepared the first hamburgers to go on this year's grill, I converted as well. Ibrahim digs deep into the vein of song. I found it changed by mood by about 180 degrees. I am still disoriented. Here is a sample:
Abdullah Ibrahim/Duke 88/Yarona
Marcus McLaurine on bass and George Johnson on drums. This will put your ship on a new course. Don't miss the bass solo. It keeps bringing me back to... something.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Miles at Stockholm

What a splendid chunk of jazz the Miles Quintet at Stockholm box has turned out to be. I listened to disc 1, with Trane playing, while driving around town today. I believe it is the March 22, 1960 concert. Two of the numbers are from Kind of Blue: 'So What', and 'All Blues.' They come closer to the perfection of KOB than any live versions of these songs I have heard. I sat in my car at the supermarket tapping the steering wheel for a long time before I persuaded myself to shut it off and go in.

Here is a sample from disc 1. Miles is brilliant. Trane is transcendent. Wynton Kelly is great enough for me.

All Blues/Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt/In Stockholm Complete 1960

Coltrane does this marvelous restrained squealing thing with his horn that scratches itches I didn't know I had. Kelly's solo rises to the occasion, keeping the solid shuffle solid all the way to the end. You just gotta get this one.

ps. I remain hungry for comments! I am feeding you. Feed me!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Online Encyclopedia of Jazz Artists!

This is what Al Gore invented the internet for! is hosting an Encyclopedia of Jazz Artists, edited by Lewis Porter. I discovered it about twenty minutes ago, but it looks like a dream come true. Long entries on every jazzman I ever heard of. The music is the thing, but it's wonderful to get to know a little bit about the thumbs and elbows of the fellow playing the horn.

Today I downloaded a couple of discs by Clark Terry. Here is the entry for Terry. And here is a sample of his work:
Clark Terry/Passion Flower/Memories of Duke
Memories of Duke is a great work. Joe Pass is on guitar, Jack Wilson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Frank Severino on drums. Love it or leave it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Miles Davis Quintet Stockholm 1960

I have posted on the advantages and disadvantages of the boxed set. There is really only one drawback, but it's significant. It's just harder to remember what you have and have not listened to recently, and that often means that a lot of the box goes unappreciated for long stretches. But packaged sets are a necessity for even a moderately serious collector like myself.

Milesophiles have a lot to be thankful for on this count. At least three box sets are worth their weight in gold:
1. Miles in Person at the Blackhawk,
2. The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel
, and
3. Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.
The first two are treasures both for the volume and the virtue of the contents. The Plugged Nickel recordings cover eight CDs.

To these I would add a couple more:
4. The Legendary Prestige Quintet Recordings

This box contains the famous four recordings: Workin', Cookin', Relaxin', and Steamin'. If you haven't already got these, the box is cost effective. It also has a lot of unreleased odds and ends, including a full disc of unreleased material. Most valuable are a couple of snippet of Steve Allen introducing Miles on the Tonight Show. I love how Allen, who I greatly admire, apologizes for the complexity of the music. "It's not just blowing notes, as my grandmother says."

I recently obtained another box: Miles recordings in 1960 with Sonny Stitt and John Coltrane. Coming a year after Kind of Blue, it's very interesting. Trane is present on six of twenty-three numbers, but there is a brief interview with him. Gotta love that. The rhythm section is Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. I am still workin' my way through it, but I think it's superb. It verifies the masthead to this blog: at the center of it all is Miles Davis.

Here is a sample of a piece where the horns sit out, and you get a good taste for Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb.
Softly as in a Morning Sunrise/Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt
That is a haunting interpretation of a haunting melody. Now here's a sample with Miles and Stitt on display. This one makes my toes curl.
Round Midnight/Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt
Put this one on your Christmas list. Every note is pregnant with Miles' genius, no matter who blows, strums, taps, or beats it out. It is the kind of music that makes you think that God was onto something when he decided to create this world.

Everything Should Be Available!

I understand that the major labels would rather get $15 a CD than $5. But surely everyone who has rights to a recording would rather get something than nothing. I am willing to pay for good jazz, and in this day it can't cost much to make a recording available for download. So why can't I find Arthur Blythe's Night Song, except for $25 used? It makes no kind of sense to me. Every piece of recorded jazz should be available for download.

Well, that rant done, I present for your approval two numbers from a heart breaking disc: Left Alone Revisited, with Archie Shepp and Mal Waldron. Waldron recorded a bunch of duets in his last years, and all of them I have listened to are worth their weight in gold. Both Shepp and Waldron are known for avant garde jazz, but these recordings are sheer page 3 romance.

Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron/I Only Have Eyes for You/Left Alone Revisited

Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron/Blues for 52nd Street/Left Alone Revisited

The recording is available for pennies from eMusic.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jazz, Memory, & Resonance: Steve Lacy & Sonny Rollins

I really dig Steve Lacy. Avant-garde all the way, but he's got the fingerings of my soul. I also dig Sonny Rollins. Tonight, as I stir-fried a batch of my locally famous kung-pao shrimp, I listened to The Holy La, by the Steve Lacy Trio. One of the songs did that jazz thing to me, that make you do a strange dance in the kitchen if no one is looking thing, that haunt the rest of your day thing. As I danced and stirred and chopped ginger, I sensed a resonance between 'The Wane' and a Sonny Rollins cut from his incomparable Village Vangard recording: 'Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.' Listening to them back to back, I am not sure what I was checking into. Something about the bass line and the sour horn solo in response. I don't know. Maybe you can figure it out.

Lacy is a quintessential modernist. He did a lot of work, which I haven't had access to, connecting his music to modern poets and writers from poet Robert Creeley to novelist Herman Melville. Rollins is less literary in inspiration, so far as I can tell, but his recent recordings are cued to the modern experience with titles like 'Global Warming', and his 9/11 album Without a Song.

Anyway, here is the Lacy cut:
Steve Lacy Trio/The Wane/The Holy La
And here is the Rollins cut:
Sonny Rollins/Softly as in a Morning Sunrise/A Night at the Village Vanguard
Let that be a lesson to you. Of what, I don't know.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kind of Blue Fifty Years Later: Adderley's Alto

The Penguin guide points out that Kind of Blue was the first widely acknowledged example of 'modal jazz.' The music must have seemed strikingly new when it was released, but looking back on it now every note seems familiar and right where it should be. As the Penguin Guide puts it, Miles' innovation has been thoroughly absorbed.

The only surprise in the personnel Miles chose for KOB was alto sax player Julian Cannonball Adderley. Adderley was a music teacher who was persuaded to try professional music. It worked. He played with Miles between 1957 and 59. It was Miles who inadvertently gave Julian his nickname. He called him "cannibal" Adderley. Julian was a big fellow, and I gather he would eat a lot of food at one sitting. A reporter misheard it, fortunately. Cannonball is a great nickname for this great musician.

About a year before KOB, Adderley recorded an album as leader, with Miles in the unusual role of sideman. There is some doubt about who was really in charge. We do hear Miles say, at the end of 'One for Daddy-O': "was that what you wanted, Alfred." He would be speaking to Producer Alfred Lion. I don't know enough to have an opinion, but Somethin' Else is a magficient recording, maybe one of the ten best in era.

Who was in charge may matter a great deal, because I think that the mood and motion of KOB is first evidence on this Adderley issue. Everyone remembers the first track, 'Autumn Leaves," but the title track is most evocative. Here it is. Give it a listen, and then compare it to KOB.
Cannonball Adderley/Somethin' Else/Somethin' Else
I think you find that Miles' horn sounds pretty much the same on both discs.