Thursday, May 28, 2009

Captain Kirk

Theodore "Rashaan" Roland Kirk, that is. For some strange reason, I have a connection in my mind between Roland Kirk, Pharaoh Sanders, and Sun Ra. I always think of the other two when thinking of the one. I can kinda guess the connection between the latter two. Sanders' Karma, with its remarkable epic 'The Creator has a Master Plan,' reminds me of the cosmic mythology that Sun Ra wove around himself. But why Roland Kirk?

Well, both T.R. Kirk and Sun "Herman Poole Blount" Ra had health problems. But surely that ain't it. Anyway, Rashaan Roland Kirk is a good story. He lost his sight by the age of two, and learned to push his soul into music at the Ohio State School for the Blind. That the latter offered music training is a sobering note for us conservatives who are always complaining about public spending. One Roland Kirk is worth a few months of life for General Motors, in my book.

Kirk stretched the envelope quite a bit. He became famous for playing up to three horns at the same time, and for a circular breathing technique that allowed him to continue notes beyond the brief time that mother nature allots. But none of that is really to the point. I have only digested a couple (well, three actually) of Rashaan Roland Kirk's works: Kirk's Works, and the two in one combination Rip, Rig, and Panic and Please Don't You Cry Dear Edith. They are both very good, but Rip, Rig, Please. ... is a masterpiece on the highest shelf.

Listening to this recording, one can only wonder if there was anything this man couldn't do besides see, or anything he didn't know. The range of instruments over which he has command is awesome, and the depth of texture and sound on each instrument is the kind of thing that can make a merely brilliant player throw his horn off the second street bridge.

Rip, Rig, and Panic (what a title!) has the following cast: Roland Kirk (ts, mzo, str, fl, siren, ob, cast) Jaki Byard (p) Richard Davis (b) Elvin Jones (d). Please Don't You Cry Dear Edith has this group: Roland Kirk (ts, mzo, str, fl) Lonnie Liston Smith (p) Ronnie Boykins (b) Grady Tate (d). Both are fundamental contributions to human kind's case that we haven't just been dicking around down here. Let's see an angel try to do this.

Kirk's Works, I believe, is available from eMusic. The Combo album can be had for about ten smackers from iTunes. Get 'em, and say I sent you. And if you like the stuff I lay out, pay me by commenting. I never had any friends, so I am desparate for human contact.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blanchard Gets His Name on the Cover!

Darwinianconservatism This has nothing to do with jazz, so file it under shameless self-promotion.

Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question, is now in print from Imprint Academic, in Britain. It consists of a manuscript by Larry Arnhart, previously published in book form under the title Darwinian Conservatism. The second part of the new book consists of a number of critical essays by a range of scholars. The third part consists of Arnhart's response to the essays, and my defense of Larry's thesis.

Larry's original book was very good. He argued that Darwinian theory supports conservative political principles. Obviously I agree, and you can find out why if you order the book from Borders or Barnes and Noble. The release date is June 1st, and the publisher's price $34.90.

To give you a little taste, here is the final paragraph of my essay: "Natural Right and Natural Selection."

I have argued that Darwinian biology is consistent with a basically Aristotelian view of life. The former is therefore non-reductionist both metaphysically and morally. Everything that lives comes out of and is entirely composed of what is dead: mere matter. The organism is nonetheless robustly alive. Nothing like it could have been predicted from any knowledge of its material constituents or their laws. Human beings emerge out of the tree of life, but we are almost as great a leap from the other animals as the animals from the plants. We are capable of deliberation concerning justice and the common good, without which we are the worst of all the animals. We are not capable of perfection, and so every human society will require governments and laws. Human beings can be the best of animals, but we are also the most dangerous. That, I submit, is the basic insight of conservatism.

So: all of you who have been reading my blog for a day or more, and enjoying my music samples, now have the chance to return the favor. Whip out your credit cards while rates are still low and a pre-order a copy. I highly recommend it. The editor is both handsome and brilliant.

Just to keep the cosmic balance, here is a sample of music that is sort of, kinda, relevant to the theme of the book.

The Tommy Smith Group/Tree of Knowledge/Forbidden Fruit

But to see how it is relevant, you will have to listen to the cut and read the book.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Esbjörn Svensson 1964-2008

I am not making this up. A few days ago I discovered Esbjörn Svensson in the Penguin Guide to Jazz recordings, and downloaded The Esbjörn Svensson Trio Plays Monk at eMusic. I was very impressed by the album and I thought: here is someone working right now who is bringing the heart and soul of hard bop into contemporary music in a way that is not the least bit stale or hide-bound.

As I listened to Svensson's exquisite piano for the first time, I hit a link to All About Jazz. Just then the fluorescent lights in the basement room where I blog went off. In the dark room, now illuminated only the screen, I read that Svensson died in 2008 in a diving accident. This, says I, is too fucking much. I mean, love often turns into tragedy, but surely one can expect a few days between the one and the other. Even Romeo got that.

I have to admire Svensson for living a life of adventure. But damn it, why did he have to go and die while doing it. I could have been listening to his music for another twenty years at least. E.S.T Plays Monk is a marvelous tribute album. Svensson cuts a lot of the hard edges off Monk's lines, and lets a lot of the melody melt a bit in contemplation; but this is authentic Monk nonetheless. The recording is bright and responsive. Strings are added to 'Round Midnight', and his interpretation is of such subtle attention that it is making me rethink the mood of the composition. I love everything about this album, including its Picasso cover. I am right now digesting another of his albums, From Gagarin's Point of View. Rainy day jazz, with a little acid mixed in.

The Esbjörn Svensson Trio includes Dan Berglund on Double Bass, and Magnus Ostrum on drums.

We shouldn't have to be mourning someone younger than me. Listen to this guy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy Birthday JMac

Alto sax legend, Jackie McLean would have been 78 years old on this day, May 17. A protege of Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, McLean had a wide ranging influence on the jazz idiom. His signature sound is a hard fast attack, with a clean, sharp sound. He played with Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins on the album Dig (of which he wrote the title track, though Miles co-opted the credit), Charles Mingus, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and many others. He was a leader on countless CD's with many more great jazz artists.

To those of us in the Hartford Connecticut area, where Jackie made his home in his later years, his influence is even deeper. He is responsible for mentoring many young jazz artists in the area. His standing in the jazz world attracted many great artists to travel from New York City to Hartford to perform with Jackie and give master classes at U of H (and they continue to this day to do so in his honor). In addition to being the Jazz director at University of Hartford's Hartt school of music, Jackie and his wife Dollie were the founders of the Artists Collective which fosters the performing arts-dance, theatre, music and visual arts in the urban areas of Hartford.

Linked to this post, is a podcast that pays tribute to Jackie McLean with several tracks recorded from the '50's through the 90's as well as works from artists that have studied and/or been influenced by Jackie's playing.

Jackie McLean Tribute podcast download (61 mb)

In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond podcast website

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tom Harrell @ The Village Vanguard

It is a strange time for music. The industry is slowly adapting to new technologies, and that involves a lot of pain. I understand that classical music is in crisis. A shrinking audience means fewer contracts for upcoming stars. I don't know what the situation is for upcoming jazz artists. I do know that more music is available to jazz fans than has ever been available before.

Case in point:
NPR Music: Live at the Village Vanguard. The Village Vanguard is the undisputed center of live jazz, and it is a survivor. A considerable number of essential recordings were made there: John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, each produced immortal music at that venue. I have never been to New York, so I can only dream. But this club is surely the geographic center of jazz.

The NPR show features a lot of big name jazz artists appearing recently at the VV. Terence Blanchard (I keep hoping, against all indications, for a family connection), the Cedar Walton Trio, Ravi Coltrane, Chris Potter, and Kenny Baron all have concerts that you can listen to at the above link. Oh, and Paul Motian, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano also have a VV concert you can hear at that site. I really should have mentioned that when I posted on Lovano and Motian.
But tonight I am listening to the Tom Harrell Quintet, live at the VV on April 8th of this year. It is a delicious session. Here is NPR's description of the band backing Harrell's trumpet:
On stage, he was backed by a band of first-call New York sidemen who all lead their own touring bands: saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and pianist Danny Grissett had plenty of time to stretch out for themselves, and bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake buoyed the band in both its hairiest and calmest moments.
This is a group to keep one's eyes on. Especially Escoffery and Grissett. The dialogue between the three is rich beyond all expectation. It is available at eMusic.

Oh, and if you like this post, please leave a comment. I get lonely.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

St. James Infirmary

I am one of those who hold that you haven't really ever heard 'St James Infirmary' until you have listened to it sitting on a wooden bench in the Jazz Preservation Hall in New Orleans, played by no less than five trombones. Having had such an experience, I am in a position to speak. Perhaps there are other venues that rival that one, but the standard is set very high.

I love terms like "neoclassical" when applied to jazz. That's because I am a political theorist, inclined to classification. I know that it is a squishy term in music, but it makes sense when applied to jazz men like David Murray, who make avant garde scarecrows out of every bit of straw the tradition leaves in its path. It also applies obviously to Archie Shepp.

Shepp's California Meeting is fine bit of live jazz. In addition to the above mentioned song, it has 'A Night In Tunisia' and Trane's 'Giant Steps.' George Cables plays piano, Herbie Lewis is on bass, Eddie Marshall on drums, and Royal Blue sings on 'Saint James.'

This is one of those albums you might easily pass over at a yard sale. Don't. It is genuine twenty-four karot jazz. Here is the gem:
Archie Shepp/St. James Infirmary/California Meeting
If you like it, get the whole thing. Meanwhile, let me know what you think!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wilbur Ware

Wilbur Ware is another beautiful soul whose presence goes easily unnoticed. I have had a lot of Ware in my collection for a long time, but only noticed him about a year ago. For some reason, his album The Chicago Sound caught my eye in the Penguin Guide, and I picked it up from eMusic. Then I noticed he played bass on one of the first jazz CDs I purchased, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. After a little investigation tonight I noticed he also played on Zoot!, a splendid album in the Zoot Sims folder on my hard drive.

The Chicago Sound is a marvelous album, moody bluesy all the way from New York (where it was recorded) to the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Wilbur Ware/Body and Soul/The Chicago Sound
Here's the band: John Jenkins (as), Johnny Griffin (ts), Junior Mance (p), Wilbur Ware (b), Wilbur Campbell (d). Griffin's horn didn't hurt anything. I think this is one of the most beautiful reworkings of b&s I have heard. But listen to Ware's subtle striking. Great good stuff.

As a bonus, here is a bit from Zoot! with Ware making a mark.
Zoot Sims/Osmosis/Zoot!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Motian, More Lovano

The Penguin Guide to Jazz, my jazz Bible, lists Paul Motian's Sound of Love as one of its "core collection" recordings. Most of my collecting over the last several years has been based on the Guide. Sound of Love is no disappointment. Joe Lovano plays tenor, and Bill Frissel strums his guitar. My apologies to cherished interlocutor Bass is Life.

It is interesting to note that the solo, duo, and trio, all occupy very distinct spaces in the jazz continuum. A soloist is engaged in a conversation with himself. He may conjure up a larger community of muscians, but it is all up to him. Only the piano makes it easy to fill up the space. Horn solos are almost inescapably lonely. Duos are conversations, but tend to be conversatons between soloists. Trios may or may not cross the line to ensembles, with a soloist supported by a field of feeling. Quartets and more are almost always group productions.

A trio of horn, guitar, and drums, unlike a piano trio, leaves a lot of space behind and around it. Like a duo, it is more three people than a band. Lovano dominates this disc, as one would expect. In a card game between a sax and a guitar, the guitar has no chance. But Frissel knows how to play his cards. When playing behind Lovano, he sounds like a bell choir. When he rises to the top, he still seems careful and very deliberate. The horn has to get out of the way, ofcourse, and with Motian playing it's like Frissel is dancing on coals.

This is fusionesque page four, but just over the line. If you like very thoughtful lines with a big hollow around them, this is your cup of tea. A couple of the cuts are Monk compositions. Here is a sample of one of them, to be usefully compared with a previous sample:
Paul Motian/Misterioso/Sound of Love
If you like it, buy the darn thing. Oh, and post a comment. I get lonely.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sonny Rollins Complete RCA

In 1960 Sonny Rollins disappeared. He returned to the jazz scene in 1962 with his famous album The Bridge. Over the next two years he would record a series of albums for RCA. I have just acquired The Complete RCA Victor Recordings. I am just now sampling it, but my initial reaction is one of immense satisfaction. This is Rollins at his most troubled and melancholy, but it everything I have sampled so far suggests a deep attention to texture. Okay, Ornette Coleman was happening, and there are some reflections of that. But Rollins is back and he is back to stay.

I have listened to The Bridge for a long time, and I still can't quite get across it. There is greatness in it, to be sure, but it is a very conflicted work. Here are a couple of pieces from the larger collection that did that jazz thing to me.
Sonny Rollins/'Round Midnight/Now's The Time
Sonny Rollins (ts) Herbie Hancock Ron Carter (b) Roy McCurdy (d)
NYC, February 14, 1964

Sonny Rollins/Lover Man/Sonny Meets Hawk
Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins (ts) Paul Bley (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Roy McCurdy (d)
NYC, July 15, 1963

This is one box set worth puttin' on the iPod.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Just Another Joe

Joe Lovano is just another Joe, if the other Joes are Joes like Henderson or Pass. In January of 2008 I was lucky enough to see Lovano in the Orpheum Theater in Sioux Falls, hosted by the SF Jazz and Blues Society. You can find a short review here, from when my Jazz Notes were still appearing on the South Dakota Politics website.

I was thinking about Lovano the last couple of days, after I saw a note that he has a new album coming out, Folk Art. I gather the new work breaks some new ground, and I thought I would keep my readers up to date on what ground has been covered so far (at least as far as I know it).

What I have sampled of Lovano's discography suggests awesome strength along three dimensions of jazz. The early works under his own name are mostly in the page four range: avant garde or free jazz. But it's the kind of page four jazz that keeps its feet firmly planted on planet bop. A good comparison would be with Jackie McLean's magnificient experiment in the new thing, Let Freedom Ring. I have acquired three of Lovano's recordings, all done in the first two years of the 90's: Landmarks, Sounds of Joy, and From the Soul. The latter is probably the best and indeed, some consider it to be Lovano's best album. But they are all very fine works of jazz artistry.

Landmarks is richly inventive with a very fresh and shiny sound. Even when it is only Lovano's horn, Marc Johnson's bass, and Bill Stewart's drums, it sounds very full. John Abercrombie's gives the album a slightly fusionesque tint, and Kenny Werner's viscous piano playing pulls the album further in the direction of avant garde.

Sounds of Joy
, recorded a few months later, is a very different kettle of fish. The feel of the album is explained by the title of one cut: 'This One's for Lacy.' Reduced to a trio (Anthony Cox b, Ed Blackwell d) Lovano's early 90's sound certainly does resonate with anyone has heard the siren call of Steve Lacy's soprano. But the difference is also instructive. Lovano is nowhere near as abstract as Lacy. Lacy not only abstracts from musical themes, he drastically restricts the emotional range from which he constructs his abstractions (see The Holy La). Joe Lovano always paints with a full pallet of passions, even if he doing modern art.

From the Soul is simply superb. It contains one of the most compelling interpretations of 'Body and Soul' I have ever heard. But on the next number you are back in the part of the museum with the Jackson Pollocks and giant plastic spoons.

A second dimension of jazz that Lovano explores is what I am calling now, for lack of a better term, fusionesque. Most jazz fusion seems to me to be rock music pretending to be jazz (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Fusionesque jazz is hard bop adopting the moods and textures of fusion. Lovano's work with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell is a good example of this. See my previous post on Motian, and listen to the Misterioso clip. That is fusionesque.

Finally, Lovano can do straight ahead twentyfour karot hard bop like nobody's business. Joyous Encounter, with Hank Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Paul Motian on drums, is everything the title promises. The quartet's working of Trane's 'Crescent' is not to be missed. Not quite so compelling, but still well worth investing in, is Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. A duet with Hank Jones, it will brighten up any Saturday morning.

Lovano is the real thing. When his next album comes out, buy it. Meanwhile, here are some samples to whet your appetite:
Joe Lovano/Crescent/Joyous Encounter
Joe Lovano/This One's For Lacy/Sounds of Joy
Joe Lovano/From the Soul/Body and Soul