Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tina Brooks

Another shooting star in the Jazz sky. Harold Floyd (Tina) Brooks (pronounced sure enough Teena), killed himself off pretty quick. But before the narcotics brought the curtain down, he managed to produce some awesome jazz. I have been enjoying Minor Move for some time now. There is something about Tina's tenor that is unusual, and I can't quite pin it down. He presents that beautiful and sad face of someone who is trying to catch something. But it's more than that. Maybe you can figure it out.

Minor Move was a piece of genius. Recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack, about nine months after I was born, it was right at the temporal epicenter of modern jazz. Lee Morgan, another tragedy in the making, played trumpet. Sonny Clark played the piano, and Doug Watkins was on bass. Art Blakey played drums, putting the signature on the vintage.

Here, for a sample, is the title cut:
Tina Brooks/Minor Move/Minor Move

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Song for my Father

My Father, Kenneth Caldwell Blanchard, is in the hospital. We are hoping he will be out in the next few days, but it doesn't look good for the long term. Dad is a salt of the earth kind of fellow. Born on a farm, he went to war in the Pacific and got a pharmacy degree after the War. For both things, all of us owe him a lot. He was also a wonderful dad. Having raised two kids of my own to college age, I can only say I did it by monkey see, monkey do.

Well, in honor of Dad, here the best homage to a father in jazz that I know of:
Horace Silver/Song for My Father/Song for My Father
If that isn't enough, I think all our old folks deserve honor, if only for the fact that we will be in their place if something unfortunate doesn't happen. So here is a Jackie McLean number to sing the song:
Jackie McLean/Old Folks/McLean's Scene

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Misterious Motian

If you have a neck injury, and you like jazz, put on the brace and listen to Paul Motian's album Misterioso. The brace will come in handy when the second number opens up, and if you don't have a neck injury, you might get one.

Drummer Paul Motian (pronounced, if you didn't get it, like motion) has had a life. He won fame and (I hope) fortune with the Bill Evans Trio. It is no small thing to be part of the Evans Village Vanguard recordings. Since that time he has laid down the beat for a lot of modern jazz, across a wide range of jazz styles.

Misterioso is a fine example of his range and flexibility. Jim Pepper plays tenor and soprano sax. Joe Lovano is also on tenor, which whets my interest as I saw him play in Sioux Falls. Bill Frisell plays guitar, and there is a powerful fusion influence. But I run into a mystery here. iTunes lists Alex Lodico, trombone player, but he isn't on the Penguin guide notes about the album. Maybe someone out there can fill me in.

Anyway, the album begins with a pure bop working of Monk's 'Misterioso'. It's delicious. And the next song, 'Abicus', is altogether fusion in presentation. Hence the whiplass. The rest of the album is most fusionesque. Go to your local jazz store and ask for it. Tell 'em I sent you.

Here is the opening number for a taste:
Paul Motian/Misterioso/Misterioso
For comparison, here is the same composition from Monk's own Misterioso. The showcase here is Johnny Griffin's tenor. It is very exciting to hear Monk's voice as he goads Griffin to new fronts. Monk, as always, is brilliant. If you don't have Monk's Misterioso, for heaven's sake log on and get it.
Thelonious Monk/Misterioso/Misterioso

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Murray on the Bass Clarinet

Okay, I have become an apostle of David Murray. I think he deserves much greater recognition than he has received. Pardon me for playing these notes again, but his music combines the strengths of straight ahead jazz and avant garde more successfully than any other jazz man I have listened to. Every single line he plays has power and heart behind it, along with a poetic intelligence that can find the true path through any jungle.

I recently obtained his Ballads for Bass Clarinet. His crawling king snake horn is worth many times the purchase price on eMusic. Here is the eMusic review, by Kevin Whitehead:

Murray's obvious strengths as a tenor saxophonist tend to eclipse his gifts on bass clarinet, that big odd horn that looks a bit like an anorexic tenor, and sounds in the same range, but with a sweeter, woody tone. No one in jazz after Eric Dolphy has done as much with that axe as Murray, making especially welcome this showcase recorded in 1991, whose title says it all. For rhythmic emphasis, he'll occasionally pop notes loudly from his mouthpiece, a favorite gambit of 1920s novelty "gaspipe" clarinetists; the man has deep roots. The crack backing trio is pianist John Hicks, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Idris Muhammad.
I can't do better than that "anorexic tenor" and "sweeter, woody tone" bit. If you want to find where the song is hiding, Murray's bass clarinet will dig it up for you. Here is a sample:
David Murray/Chazz/Ballads for Bass Clarinet
Another recording I have been listening to is Murray with the Black Saint Quartet. This is epic jazz. Cassandra Wilson sings on two numbers, and the second of these is simply astonishing. This is music for Mount Olympus. But here is a sample, to get you to download the darned thing. It is all so very delicious.
David Murray Black Saint Quartet/Pierce City/Sacred Ground
Never think that because you're a God, every girl will put out for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

For me, this is the composition that keeps on giving. All these years after I first heard it on John McLaughlin's album (see my earlier post), it still raises the hairs on the back of neck. Charlie Mingus' incomparable homage to Lester Young is my favorite jazz melody. It's been given lyrics at least a couple of times. I can't listen to it without remembering Joni Mitchell's words:
When Charlie
speaks of Lester,
You know someone
great has gone.
That swingin'
sweetest music man,
had a Porky Pig Hat on.
This blog, which I started with the idea of building a library of comments around Miles Davis, has wandered a bit. I have focused on a lot of avant garde recordings, and some pretty obscure and challenging ones at that. There was a time when I was contemptuous of such things. No more. This last week I acquired a duet album with Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Eric Watson on piano. It's classic Lacy: melancholy and ponderous. But I can't tear myself away from it. And it has a haunting interpretation of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. The disc isn't easy to come by, but they have it on eMusic. Here it is:
Steve Lacy & Eric Watson/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Spirit of Mingus
This is a jazz gourmet tasting a splendid meal. I love the way the horn and piano divide the melody up, with Lacy stating it twice in different moods, and the Watson moving on to the second movement. Check out the whole thing.

Here is the original recording from Mingus Ah Um. Booker Ervin, whom I have celebrated frequently on these pages, plays tenor on the album.
Charles Mingus/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Mingus Ah Um
Mingus produced a magnificent album. He doesn't hog the stage. You'd be hard put, if you didn't know, that the bass was in charge. The horns are all elvish magic. If this isn't in your library, you don't have a library.

Here is another take, from YouTube. Mingus on bass, Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax. Montreux, 1975.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Johnny Griffin, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, & Monk

Here's some hardbop for you! Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Two spectacular tenors, now both gone to that great jazz club in the sky. Griffin and Davis were great duo. I have been enjoying Blues Up and Down, and The Tenor Scene for some time. Today I acquired a third recording, Live at Minton's. This set mostly consists of Monk compositions. These guys play as if they left nothing to chance. I have a special spot in my heart for 'Epistrophy'. They are all over this tune.
Johnny Griffin and Eddie Lockjaw Davis/Epistrophy/Live at Minton's
Junior Mance on piano, Larry Gales on drums, Ben Riley on drums.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Passion & Communication: Mal Waldron & Marion Brown

I remember a sunny afternoon in Southern California when I was listening to Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The soloist played a line and then shifted down the scale and played it again. The first line was light hearted. The second was deadly serious and cut into the muscle. It occurred to me that this was real communication. Ludwig Von Beethoven, who was dead a long time, was sharing a bit of his soul with me. I have noticed that same device, turning the comic into tragic, in the Celtic music of Altan. There is no possibility of coincidence here. What is going on in the composer's soul is reproduced in the soul of the listener. Music is proof that we are not alone.

All this was brought on by listening tonight to Songs of Love and Regret, a duet album by Mal Waldron and Marion Brown. The title alone is a touch of genius. It reminds me of Tales of Mystrey and Imagination, by Edgar Allan Poe. The "love and regret" zero in on a target: a realm of the soul that we all dwell in at some moment in our lives.

Marion Brown played the Alto Sax. He plays on Trane's Ascension, God help him. But Songs of Love and Regret is one of those jewels that lies there waiting for the genuine ear to find it. Waldron had a penetrating intellect and a deep heart. He recorded a lot of duets in his later years. Jazz duets are works of love. They rarely get much market share. Most of the audience needs the rhythm section to keep 'em afloat. To appreciate the duet, you have to pay attention. But if you do, you get two souls for the price of one.

Here are a couple of tracks from the disc. If you like them, hunt it down. Everything on the disc is worth whatever you have to pay.

Mal Waldron and Marion Brown/To the Golden Lady in her Grahm Cracker Window/Songs of Love and Regret
Mal Waldron and Marion Brown/Contemplation/Songs of Love and Regret

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eliane Elias is Beautiful

Back when I was still buying classical music (the only good musician is a dead musician) I noticed something. There were a lot of women recording great music, but to judge from the CD covers they were all of them drop dead gorgeous. Anne Sophie Mutter comes to mind. Now I had to ask myself: what are the odds that musical talent always coincides with physical attractiveness?

Not great, I had to admit. I am guessing that a lot of women "showed promise" because their male teachers liked to look at them. That probably means that a lot of talented women didn't get their shot because they weren't cover girls. If I'm right about this, it represents a loss of talent across the genres. Just look at the Country Music section of your local Wal Mart and see what you see.

This is one of the injustices of life. Let's face it, most jazz geniuses are not pretty. Eric Dolphy weren't no Brad Pitt. For men it doesn't seem to matter. It shouldn't matter at all. But I suspect it does. Diana Krall has a great voice, but she also looks good on the cover.

A recent acquisition brought this to my attention. Eliane Elias is a fine piano player, to judge by her recording Impulsive! To judge by her website photos, she could have been a Victoria's Secret model. But she is also a very fine jazz pianist. Life is not always unfair.

The album was arranged by Bob Brookmeyer, and has an orchestra behind the two. Brookmeyer plays the valve trombone, an unusual and very strange instrument. He is worth listening to in any venue. But the star of the show here is Elias' piano. You can get her story at the Jazz.Com Encyclopeida. I find her fingers on the keys delicious. We ought to be hearing more of her.

Here is a sample.
Eliane Elias and Bob Brookmeyer/So in Love/Impulsive!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Coltrane and the Low Horn

Trane liked to experiment with textured sound. His turn on the soprano sax is a good example. His arrangement of low horns on the Africa Brass Sessions is another. And then there is his work with Eric Dolphy. But his very first recording included a baritone sax played by Sahib Shihab (born Edmond Gregory in Savannah Georgia). The rolling earth texture of this horn sets this first album apart from Trane's work in the late fifties. The rest of the band is magnificent as well.

The recording was released as Coltrane. Paul Chambers plays bass. Albert "Tootie" Heath is on drums. Mal Waldron and Red Garland take turns on piano. Johnny Splawn plays trumpet on four cuts. This album is so delicious. All of Trane's twang is on display. The best way to get the album is to spring for the box set Fearless Leader Prestige 1957-58. Even if you are supicious of box sets, as I used to be, this is one to have. This is the John Coltrane that made everyone, including Miles, stop and listen.

Coltrane was recorded six days after I was born. Coincidence? I think not. There was something in the air!

Here is a sample:
John Coltrane/Chronic Blues/Coltrane
'Chronic Blues' might be the best cut on Coltrane. I implore you: save your pennies and get the box set. It will reward you without end.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

One more from Chicago

I am planning to visit the Jazz Record Mart on Illinois, just off Michigan, one more time tomorrow. I have got some ideas what I am looking for. Meanwhile, here is a cut from the Sonny Criss disc I bought on Wednesday. It is a brilliant piece of bop. Consider this a travel gift.
Sonny Criss/Blues in My Heart/Criss Craft
This is that feelin'.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Joe Henderson's Meditation on Billy Strayhorn

I wonder how many authentic jazz record stores are left out there. I have personally only visited two in recent years: one in New Orleans, and the other, The Jazz Record Mart, yesterday in Chicago. The deck seems to be stacked against such enterprises. Most of the music was available elsewhere for less. A lot of it is instantly downloaded. When I search online I can have my Penguin Guide to Jazz Recording open by my laptop. In the store, I have to remember what I have, what is good, and what I can't get for half the price elsewhere. Still, it was a joy to move from Ayler to Zorn along the stacks.

I picked up three cds: Coltrane and Don Cherry, The Avant Garde, Sonny Criss, Crisscraft, and Joe Henderson's Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn. I am listening to the latter as I type, here in the Chicago Hilton. I am not sure if I have ever seen a more deceptively packaged album. The cover is a purplish blue shadowing with Henderson visible in dappled shirt on the right. Given the content, a lot of Strayhorn standards, one has every reason to expect some light-weight, romantic jazz, something the record company exec thought would widden the market a little.

Boy was that not it. This is twentyfour karot hard bop. Even the slower, more romantic treatments exhibit the full range of Henderson's interpetive genius. Or so it seems to me at this moment, but I've a belly full of Sushi and Saki, and the city is playing rhythm out the window.

This reminds me more than anything else of Henderson's magnum opus, The State of the Tenor. Though the background has more range, Henderson's horn is the meat and bones of the music. The music is edgy page three: anyone who likes hard bop will love this. It is also a very poignant gesture. Billy Strayhorn might have been the American Mozart. He certainly never got the credit he deserved for so much of Duke Ellington's music.

Stephen Scott plays piano, Gregory Hutchinson is on drums, and Christian McBride is on bass. Wynton Marsalis also plays trumpet on one or two songs.

Here is a sample:
Joe Henderson/Isfahan/Lush Life
Stop by the Jazz Record Mart and see if they have another copy.

Oh, and let me know of other jazz record stores out there. I may add a list to my blog.