Friday, July 31, 2009

A Music Industry Mystery

Here's another rant. This ones not about copyright conundrums or eMusic pricing, it's about the fact that a lot of classical jazz is not easily available and there is no excuse for that. Tonight I did a search for two recordings: Club Session with Ken Colyer, and Danny's Dream, by Lars Gullin. Both are listed in the Penguin Guide to Jazz (may the book be praised!) as items in their Core Collection; but neither seems to be available in any form.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. Someone surely holds the copyrights to these recordings, and you'd think they would want to make at least a little money by selling them. Maybe the demand is so low that it won't pay to press some plastic, but how much can it cost to make them available for download at iTunes or eMusic? If the copyright holders can't afford this process, surely someone at the aforementioned outfits could do the job in a few minutes. Given current technology, nothing that exists in some format should be unavailable. A conversation tonight with a friend who is a much more serious collector than I am convinces me that there is a wealth of recorded jazz out there that is off the net. Music industry: for heaven's sake, and mine, get off your duff!

Well, one relatively obscure recording I did find at eMusic was Free Fall, by Jimmy Giuffre. Giuffre was another multi-instrumentalist (clarinet, tenor and soprano sax, flute, bass flute (bass flute?)). He also managed the transition from big band and folk jazz to an astonishingly inventive form of free jazz in the 60's, when he would have been in his forties. I have learned a lot from The Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Jim Hall on guitar.

Free Fall is pure page four jazz. It is a mix of solos and trios, with Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass. No drum. Not only is the beat missing, but the composition abandons melody as note to note narrative in favor of a tonal smear to smear approach. The story is told in an impressionistic language of subtle changes in texture.

Take a listen and hear what you think. I'm still thinking. But I find the problem worth scribbling about. It is nothing short of astounding that hairless apes should carve out an existential dimension as rich as this. I note that Giuffre had an odd sense of humor. His album covers feature men in brown jackets with narrow, black ties. Lawrence Whelk comes to mind. Boy is that not it!
Jimmy Giuffre/Threewee/Free Fall

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Charles Lloyd

I am grading summer school exams, which explains why my eyes can't focus on letters right now. Also I am waiting for my eMusic downloads to renew, and payday to come so I can spend a little of this ill-gotten gain on iTunes. I have Charles Lloyd to comfort me.

He is a Memphis native, and so rather a homeboy to me. I have been listening to Voices in the Night, a 1999 release. It makes me think that the summer night is okay. Billy Higgens played drums. He would pass away of complications from liver disease, a few years later. I'll get back to Higgens in a later post. John Abercrombie plays guitar, and Dave Holland plays bass. That's quite a lineup.

To get you interested in Lloyd, here is a sample. But you might want to wait to listen to it until you are in a position to buy the CD. It's delicious.
Charles Lloyd/Forest Flower: Sunrise-Sunset/Voice in the Night
ps. This is the next to last cut. The last one, 'A flower is a Lovesome thing', is worth the price of the disc.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Back to Basics @ Jazz Note

The spiking of a previous post got me to reviewing the blog in general. It occurred to me of a sudden that, despite generally being careful with computer files, I didn't have a backup copy of the blog. I remedied that. It also occurs to me that I am less likely to draw fire from irate acronyms like IFPI if I do not leave my samples up permanently. So I am going back and removing old links. The entries will still be there, but the samples will no longer be available.

Finally, I am doing a little back to basics thinking. The original focus of the blog was Hard Bop, centering on the work of Miles Davis. I originally had in mind a structured approach to jazz collecting, and while I have provided some of that, I have been too lazy to keep much focus. Also, my tastes have developed a lot since I started this thing. As you may have noticed, I have acquired an affection for avant garde jazz.

Here is a nod, at least, to the Jazz Note banner. The period of jazz I focused on initially begins in the mid-fifties with Miles. One good point to pin a flag to would be the recordings issued under the title Blue Haze. It runs to about 1969, when Miles records In a Silent Way. I think that, between the two dates, almost all the jazz I listen to takes form in Miles' music and of course a lot of other jazz artists.

To appreciate the beginning, compare a cut from Miles' celebrated Complete Birth of the Cool, 1948-50, with one of the cuts from Blue Haze, from March, 1954. I think you will notice that, by comparison, the former has a rather antique feel to it.
Miles Davis/Israel/The Complete Birth of the Cool

Miles Davis/Four/Blue Haze

Burrell, Trane, & Claremont California

Back when I was a graduate student, and looking for a diversion from Machiavelli and Plato, I tried to learn to play jazz guitar. I failed. But my early jazz collecting focused on guitar players. My personal favorite was Herb Ellis, whom I managed to shake hands with at a local concert. But a close second was Kenny Burrell. Burrell has a muscular, thumpin' Blues that is hard to forget.

I haven't forgotten what it was like to listen to a double album featuring Burrell and John Coltrane. It combined Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane, with Cats, originally issued with pianist Tommy Flanagan as leader. I wore the groves down on that one. Flanagan was my second piano hero, after Bill Evans.

Burrell, Coltrane, and Flanagan, were an awesome combination. When I listened to the album, I always got the feeling of being in a different room. Only some spaces can hold such music as this.

Here is a sample. Enjoy it and get the album. Posts are like turtles being picked off by predator birds.
Kenny Burrell/Freight Trane/Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane
This is rocking good jazz.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The IFPI Finds Jazz Note

A post of mine was spiked by Blogger (a reasonable action on their part) at the request of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. I have no idea whether to expect further action. As best I can tell, it was a post on some of Trane's European concerts. This makes no sense to me, but there you have it. The note from blogger follows:

Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog infringes upon the copyrights of others. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.

The notice that we received from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the record companies it represents, with any personally identifying information removed, will be posted online by a service called Chilling Effects at
. We do this in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Please note that it may take Chilling Effects up to several weeks to post the notice online at the link provided.

The IFPI is a trade association that represents over 1,400 major and independent record companies in the US and internationally who create, manufacture and distribute sound recordings (the "IFPI Represented Companies").

The DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider liability in case of copyright infringement. We are in the process of removing from our servers the links that allegedly infringe upon the copyrights of others. If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. See for more information about the DMCA, and see for the process that Blogger requires in order to make a DMCA complaint.

Blogger can reinstate these posts upon receipt of a counter notification pursuant to sections 512(g)(2) and 3) of the DMCA. For more information about the requirements of a counter notification and a link to a sample counter notification, see

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Best Live Jazz: Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot

Another Five Spot live recording that was dead spot on has Eric Dolphy and trumpeter Booker Little joining forces in 1961. If you follow this blog, you will know that I am a great admirer of Dolphy. He shows up at a lot of critical moments. Trane's works with Dolphy on board come to mind. His presence on Andrew Hill's marvelous Point of Departure is another. I would also add his appearance on George Russel's Ezz-thetics, and Oliver Nelson's magnificent Blues and the Abstract Truth. I find Dolphy's corpus, remarkably large for the small time (about four years) that he had in the spotlight, to be a rich vein in the corroding cliff face of modern music. He was a virtuoso on three instruments: flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet. I am especially attracted to the latter. I suspect that, had he lived a longer life, we would be putting him on the first shelf of jazz history. Maybe we will do that anyway.

The Five Spot recordings are jazz gems. Booker Little's trumpet takes second billing. Little also played on Dolphy's best single work, in my humble opinion, Far Cry. Like Dolphy, Little died very young, about three months after the Five Spot date. He left just enough work to whet an unrequited appetite. This was no ordinary horn.

If Dolphy and Little weren't enough, Mal Waldron plays piano. I have given a lot of attention to Waldron's later duets. I think that these latter works establish Waldron's position as a jazz genius of the first rank. He is not given prominence on the Five Spot recordings, but he certainly supports the show. Richard Davis joins him on bass, and Ed Blackwell plays drums.

The Five Spot date was documented on three albums: Eric Dolphy and Booker Little at the Five Spot, Volumes 1 and 2, and Eric Dolphy and Booker Little Memorial Album. Go ahead and invest in the set. All can be had at eMusic.

Here is a sample:
Eric Dolphy/Aggression/Eric Dolphy and Booker Little at the Five Spot, Vol. 2.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Best Live Jazz: Monk at the Five Spot

I am inspired to do a series of posts on 'best live jazz.' That's best out of my collection, of course. I have a modestly competent collection of hard bop and avant garde jazz albums. But that leaves a universe of great recordings out of my reach. Something else that's out of my reach is the level of jazz criticism in Stanley Crouch's Considering Genius. I have been reading Crouch on jazz and culture for more than twenty years. He is a musician himself and for that and other reasons writes with an authority that I can never measure up to. No one that I have read has a greater grasp of the whole trajectory of modern jazz, nor a finer ear for the action of any jazz composition, let alone the genius to put them together.

In Considering Genius Crouch has an essay on Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot. Rereading it this evening, I resolved to begin this series. Two albums came out of this 1958 date: Misterioso, and Thelonious Monk In Action. I'll let Crouch speak:
With a quartet that included a tenor saxophonist with the intellectual, emotional, and technical skills of Johnny Griffin, Monk was able to realize his orchestral desires by using the entire range of the horn, pivoting the motion of the band off the bass, with the piano and trap drums creating an ongoing arrangement of textural, harmonic, and melodic development.
Wow. I half understand that. Listening to the two albums, I can sorta see what he was hearing. Griffin was indeed amazing. These two albums are stellar examples of what can be achieved by a band of real genius in a small club setting. Ahmed Abdul-Malik is on bass, and Roy Haynes is on drums. Crouch has some fine praise for Haynes, but more for Griffin. The best I can do is say I have been enamored of Griffin's horn for a long time.

Here is a sample:
Thelonious Monk/Round Midnight/Misterioso
Drop me a line if you find this worth listening to.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

From A to Zoot

I feel like posting but I don't have anything much to say. It's a cool night, and the moon is peaking out from a quilt of clouds. I am listening to Zoot Sims. It's one of those odd things, but just after I first listened to Zoot's brilliant album, Warm Tenor, I went out and mowed the lawn. I was thinking about the music as I pushed the mower. That was, maybe, thirty five years ago. Now, every time I listen to Sims, I remember the light in the back yard, and the roar of the air conditioning unit.

Well, here is a track that won't rouse such memories in you, dear reader. More apropos would be beer lights and wooden booths. Zoot rules the room.
Zoot Sims/The Touch of Your Lips/I Wish I Were Twins
Jimmy Rowles on piano, Frank Tate on bass, and Akira Tana on drums. Rowles is superb. What would life be like if this were happening every Saturday down on main street. Park next to the bicycle shop and walk in. Order a drink, and listen to Sims work the saxophone.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

eMusic we hardly knew ye 2

I have benefited tremendously from my membership in eMusic. I owe this to my friend and benefactor, Ken Laster, who got me enrolled. Over the last year I have subscribed to eMusic's most generous plan. For just short of two hundred dollars, I got 75 downloads a month. That means 75 cuts off of a great selection of classic jazz. I have expanded my jazz library beyond my earlier, wildest dreams.

But recently eMusic has tightened the screws. The good news is that they acquired the Sony catalog, which means that I can get a lot more great jazz from such artists as Miles Davis. But the bad news is rather worse. The new music is more costly, for the most part. Miles In The Sky has six cuts on it, and eMusic counts that as 12 downloads. Worse still, after my current subscription runs out, I'll get only 35 downloads a month for about $171 a year. That's less than half the downloads for sometimes twice the price.

But tempted though I am to complain, eMusic prices are still way below what I would pay at any other source. Here, if it works, is a chart I made on Excel:

191.99 75 12 0.21 2.56
171.99 35 12 0.41 4.91

The first line represents what I pay now. For 191.99 a year, I pay 21 cents a song, or $2.56 per twelve song album. I certainly can't beat that anywhere else. And a lot of jazz albums have fewer than 12 cuts.

Under the new plan, I pay 41 cents a cut and $4.91 a 12 song album. That ain't nearly as inviting, but it's still better than iTunes.

I am working on my laptop battery right now, and I am running out of juice. I'll finish this post as soon as I can, with a clip or so for hungry jazz fans.

Well, I'm back and still discombobulated, as my Arkansas relatives sometimes say. It's one thing to charge more than one credit per download for music newly available. But it looks to me as if some previously available discs have risen in their credit price. I can't be sure about this, but I believe that Eric Dolphy's Stockholm Sessions was there before, and now it's twelve credits for eight cuts.

Still, that's $2.56 under my current plan and five bucks if I wait until after next February. Right now the disc is available at iTunes for $5.99. You can get the plastic on Amazon for $17! Perhaps the most infuriating thing about eMusic's big price increase is that they still have the best deals around, so their fans are going to have to swallow it. Well, I guess they ain't in business to be loved.

Dolphy's Stockholm album is one of a marvelous set of albums recorded in 1961. How many Dolphys were there? The gems of this collection are his incomparable Five Spot recordings with Booker Little. But the rest of the bunch all represent vintage Dolphy live.

A similar case is the aforementioned Miles in the Sky. This is one of the string of recordings made by Miles' second quintet. All of these recordings demonstrate brilliance and moments of breathtaking beauty. But they are wildly uneven overall. E.S.P. is the best of them. In fact, I would rank it as one of Miles' ten best recordings. Miles in the Sky is a work that is valuable chiefly because it is part of this string. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first listen and I will listen again. But it is a series of rambling, unstructured solos. It is one of those albums that would trigger the key words: workshop, exploration, and transitional, if a computer were grading it. I don't believe I have ever seen a copy in a record bin. In short, this is the kind of thing interesting mostly to collectors like myself. If anything ought to be available at a discount price, this is it.

Here are a couple of samples from the discs under inspection. Given 'em a listen, and if you like them bite the bullet and get the recordings. They're still cheap from the folks at eMusic.
Eric Dolphy/Miss Ann/Stockholm Sessions

Miles Davis/Black Comedy/Miles in the Sky

Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Keith Jarrett Too Popular to be Good?

Here is a bit of personal jazz history. My first exposure to jazz came when I made friends with an English professor, Meade Harwell. He turned me on to Bill Evans, which might have been one of the greatest gifts anyone ever gave me. Okay, now fast forward: I left Arkansas and went to college in Tucson Arizona. My best friend in my first year there had a copy of Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert. I remember asking Spet to let me borrow it, but he wouldn't let me play it on my old Panasonic suitcase record player. He did play it for me on his stereo, and I was entranced.

Köln Concert is surely one of jazz music's best sellers. Like Kind of Blue, it continues to rake in the revenue, year after year. According to Wikipedia, it is the best selling jazz solo album. I don't doubt that. But unlike KOB, the success of TKC seems to have made Jarrett's status in jazz somewhat problematic. Jazz fans are used to the idea that the music they love best is never going to be top forty. It's easy to go from there to the idea that any jazz record that appeals to a large audience isn't really authentic. My daughter, who is a big indie music fan, seems to have that same attitude.

Jarrett's trio style certainly seems to be at home in the living room with the unused piano, the white carpet, and the city view out the window. Pour a wine spritzer, do some blow, and listen to Jarrett. But none of that is his fault.

Keith Jarrett is as serious a jazzman as his generation ever produced. There is real depth and genius in
The Köln Concert. I am just beginning to explore his work. I picked up his Standards2. This is great trio. Bass is Life, you will like it. Gary Peacock (another Zen enthusiast) plays bass. Jack DeJohnette is on drums. The recording is stellar, the trio is feeling their way around a very large and resonant space. Here is a sample:
Keith Jarrett/So Tender/Standards 2
Give it a listen and then get the disc. iTunes has it. And keep me posted. I need confirmation!