Saturday, August 29, 2009

Laconic Lullabies, Duets and Solos

The magic number in jazz is five. A rhythm section consisting of a piano, bass, and drums, and two horns or maybe a horn and a guitar. The rhythm section carries the listener aloft, while the horns take center stage. That describes most of my favorite jazz.

Trios can do almost as much, the piano or a big horn tells the story while the bass and drums set the stage. But the alchemy changes when it's just two instruments or a solo. In the case of a duet, one has a conversation rather than an ensemble. With a solo, one is alone together with the soloist and his line of notes. It requires attention.

I have been listening this week to a box set: the Art Ensemble of Chicago 1967/68. It is very edgy jazz, at the borders of page five avant garde. I am guessing that the box sold mostly to libraries, which is where I found mine. Some of it is nonsense. But the whole thing is worth listening to. Here is a bass solo that really grabbed me by the short and curlies.
Art Ensemble/Tutankhamen/Art Ensemble: 1967/68
This sort of thing ain't never going to play on the radio, not even on South Dakota Public Radio's Jazz Nightly. But it does put a purple badge over your heart. Give it a listen.

Another piece of jazz that I acquired recently is Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron Live at the Dreher Paris, 1981. If the ghosts of Lacy and Waldron have any power in this world, they owe me some major mojo. I have been pushing their genius, and especially their duets, from the inception of this blog. These were two jazzmen who didn't care what planet they were on. They cared only to dig into the universal heart. You won't find the Dreher album at Hastings or Borders. But if you get it and put it on, you are by God in Paris.

Here is a sumptuous version of my favorite Monk standard. There is no where to hide when you are listening to this.
Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron/Round Midnight/Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron Live at the Dreher Paris, 1981
This is a back corner of the kosmos. It doesn't lead anywhere. But you are there and no where else.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hank Mobley's Sweet Tenor

Hank Mobley is one more tenor whose blessing was also his curse: he played with Miles on a number of extraordinary recordings. That's a blessing to be sure, because any certified jazz nerd will know your name. It's a bit of a curse as well, because no one will ever quite forgive you for not being John Coltrane. Well, maybe they forgave Wayne Shorter, but that just tells you how hard the curse is to break. Anyway, Mobley plays on Miles Live at the Blackhawk, one of the finest box sets I own. I just don't see how anyone could say that his work there represents a loss.

Mobley also recorded Soul Station, his magnum opus and certainly one of the classic modern jazz documents. This week I got a hold of Workout and Another Workout. Mobley could have spent a few dollars hiring an adman to name his albums. All three recordings feature Paul Chambers on bass and Wynton Kelly on piano. That's a solid, blues based trio there. Soul Station has Art Blakey on drums. Workout has Philly Joe Jones on drums, which is one awesome rhythm section. Grant Green also plays guitar. Workout was recorded in March of 1961. The material on Another Workout was recorded the following December, minus Green's guitar.

I have a great fondness for the swinging blues bop that was Mobley's great gift. It's just plain happy music, full of the joy of life. Here is a sample:
Hank Mobley/Greasin' Easy/Workout
And dig dis sample for comparison from the great work:
Hank Mobley/Dig Dis/Soul Station

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Close Your Eyes

I mentioned the album Bean Bags, and the number "Close Your Eyes," in my last post. I have had vinyl copy for more than twenty years, but I only snagged the digital copy this week as a result of hearing the same song on the Jarrett Blue Note Album. For a very long time, whenever I thought of jazz, I thought of this one recording.

"Close Your Eyes" was written by Bernice Petkere in 1932. Joe Young wrote lyrics for it. It was first recorded a year later by Ray Noble. I won't offer the lyrics here. They don't really go with the melody, which is rather darker and more moody. It's close your eyes and I'll be gone, not close your eyes and I'll kiss you. It has been recorded many times by many greats, including Jarrett, but I can't imagine a more brilliant interpretation than the one on Bean Bags.

In addition to Coleman Hawkins gorgeous tenor, and Milt Jackson's vibes, two other of my early jazz heroes were on the album: Kenny Burrell and Tommy Flanagan. I think Burrell might be better at dialectic exchange than any other jazz guitarist. He is in perfect form here. But if Burrell is justly famous, Tommy Flanagan never got the respect he deserves. I just think his accompaniment is exquisite. Eddie Jones plays bass, and Connie Kay is on drums.

Flanagan opens with a marvelous invitation to the main melody, and then Hawkins and Jackson immediately open up a dialogue, with Burrell and Flanagan playing their own secondary dialogue just beneath the central conversation. After that Bags takes off with his dialogue over the piano, bass and drums. Hawkins ups the energy level with smeary notes that contrast nicely with the previous precision of the vibes. Then Burrell, bluesy and swinging as always, does the third and I think best solo of the piece. Flanagan goes next, shifting a bit from intense to pensive. Finally everyone comes back on board, reversing the beginning.

All the album is good, but I won't cheat you. Here is perfect bop:
Coleman Hawkins & Milt Jackson/Close Your Eyes/Bean Bags
These are magic bean stalk beans. Get 'em and plant 'em, and go after the golden goose. Did I really write that?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Keith Jarrett @ the Blue Note

I think I might be able to pinpoint the moment I really fell in love with jazz. I was living in Southern California, going to grad school in government. At that time I worked in the Claremont Colleges Library, backing up the libraries records every night. The hard drives in our computer room were the size of small washing machines, and they were always on spin cycle. Anyway, when I drove home I always listened to the local jazz station, hosted by the great DJ Chuck Niles.

One night, as I was parking in front of my apartment garage, Niles put on a number entitled "Close Your Eyes." It was off an album called Bean Bags. Bean was Coleman Hawkins. Bags was Milt Jackson. I listened to that song as I sat there, transfixed by the beauty of it. When I got out of the car, bop was written into my soul.

This week I acquired a 1994 box set, Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note: the Complete Recordings. It's a marvelous production. Two sets per night over three nights, on six CDs. Jarrett's trio includes Gary Peacock on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The material is all standards, including 'Close Your Eyes.' Any doubt about Jarrett's authenticity is instantly removed by listening to this recording. A lot of the standards are solid bits of bop history, including such gems as 'Oleo,' and 'If I were a Bell,' made famous by Miles.

It is also a magnificent document. A great trio doing great music over three nights, all of it on record. If this ain't jazz, I ain't got finger prints. Listening to it, I can't detect any cliches or compromises. Jarrett pours forth a steady stream of genius from beginning to end.

The box is pricey, but it's cheaper than building a time machine and buying tickets.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newport Jazz Festival 2009 review

This is the "other" Ken, host of In The Groove podcast, that occasionally posts to this site. I just returned from Newport RI, and posted my review of the two day jazz festival. Rather than repost the lengthy (perhaps too lengthy) report here, I'll put a link to the review below. If you just want to see the hi-res photo gallery, I've got a link to that as well. NPR did an excellent job of covering the event, and has even posted recordings of the performances, so I will list that also.

- To read the entire review, click through to my Blog.

- Click here to view my Newport Jazz Fest photo gallery (you can upload your pics into this gallery).

- Click here for NPR's coverage including recorded performances.

Jazz Guides & David Murray

Anyone who has been following this blog since its beginning (there are such people!) will know several things about me. One is I am a twenty four karat jazz nerd. Another is that I am deeply devoted to the Penguin Guide to Jazz. One more is that I am head over heels in love with David Murray.

Well, today my copy of the All Music Guide to Jazz arrived in the mail. It was a half-priced, used copy from one of Amazon's symbiotic businesses. I have just had a couple of hours to enjoy the AMG2J, but here is my initial impression.

The Penguin Guide
is better. If I had to choose, that would be my choice. The PG is the work of two saints: Richard Cook and Brain Morton (may their names be praised!). That gives the enormous work a remarkable consistency. I don't always agree with their evaluations, but after a lot of practice, I know exactly what I am going to get with almost any album they review. I have built my library upon their recommendations, and I am a happy man.

One thing that distinguishes the PG from the AMG2J, is that the former gives you the personnel on each recording. That is a great resource for those of us who want to keep a finger on the pulse of jazz history. It also helps guide collecting. I have a lot of fine recordings by Red Garland because he was on some classic Miles Davis recordings.

But the AMG2J has more recordings listed. For example, I found a listing for David Murray: Special Quartet. It doesn't show in the PG, but it gets an "essential recording" star in the AMG2J. That is the equivalent of the "core collection" rating in the PG. The AMG2J also has a "First Purchase" star next to entries, indicating that these are the best samples of an artist's work. Buy these first!

Well, I downloaded Special Quartet from eMusic. It is five star in fact. McCoy Tyner plays piano, Fred Hopkins bass, and Elvin Jones drums. Here is a sample:
David Murray/la Tina Lee/Special Quartet
Now here is a sample from a recording that both guides agree on. This is so good it makes one wonder why we need anything else.
David Murray/India/Octet Plays Trane
God bless you David Murray. And the Penguin Guide and the All Music Guide.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Have You Ever Had Your Heart Broken?

If not, maybe you don't know what love is. I had my heart broken, twice. Fortunately, both were a very long time ago. But part of you never stops hurting. Maybe that pain is part of the dues you pay to enjoy certain exquisite pleasures. Maybe a person who has never known that pain is like a half-inflated balloon.

All this romantic philosophy was generated by my most recent Booker Ervin acquisition: Heavy! Booker has been my bookie for a long time now. I have blogged about him frequently, most recently last February. His Texas Tenor glows at the heart of all passion. Well, I didn't have Heavy!, though I have most of Ervin's recordings (at least the ones I know about). It got only three stars in the Penguin Guide, so I put it off. Boy was that a mistake.

By some electronic glitch, I didn't get the first song downloaded the first time, and so the first piece I heard was 'You Don't Know What Love Is.' From the first notes I was back in Jonesboro, Arkansas, fifteen years old, walking through a rain-soaked yard and kicking the shit out of a bunch of clover. Jan, my first love, had left me all alone. I am telling you that all that is in the first few notes!

This guy is no ordinary mortal. His horn is no ordinary brass. Booker Ervin's Heavy! is worth its weight in gold. Here's the All Music Guide:
The set matches Ervin with a remarkable rhythm section (pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Alan Dawson), plus trumpeter Jimmy Owens and trombonist Garnett Brown (who sometimes takes co-honors). The music is quite moody, soulful, and explorative yet not forbidding.
And here is the proof of all that I have said:
Booker Ervin/You Don't Know What Love Is/Heavy!
Find me something as good as that that isn't jazz. The whole thing is worth more than your car.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friesen Mal Waldron

I am very fond of Mal Waldron, and a great admirer of the many duet albums he recorded near the end of his life. One that I recently acquired pits Waldron against David Friesen, a virtuoso on the bass. The bass is, of course, a low instrument. It slithers along below the more assertive instruments most of the time. For that reason, the Friesen/Waldron duet puts the piano player right in front. This reverses the positions on most the duets, where horn players have a natural advantage. Waldron has to work at it to lay under one of Friesen's solos. Here is a sample from the duet album. I have kinda been featuring 'Round Midnight' on this blog. I have no intention of stopping now.
David Friesen with Mal Waldron/Round Midnight/Remembering Mal

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lynne Arriale

That's all. Just Lynne Arriale. Well, not quite all. Lynne was born in Milwaukee just three days after I was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She learned to play the piano. I learned to read classical Greek. I got fifteen eMusic downloads today, in return for seeing my eMusic subscription cut into little shreds. But Arriale's album, Inspiration, is no loss. It's inspiring. The trio is superb. Jay Anderson on bass, and Steve Davis on drums. You can hear everything. Here is a sample. Monk's Bemsha Swing never gets old. This treatment is rough, with a lot of unexplored avenues opened up.
Lynne Arriale Trio/Bemsha Swing/Inspiration

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Evening With An Avant Garde Fan

I had the pleasure last night of a long discussion about jazz with a friend and former student. J.G. is a more serious collector than I am, and has a mastery of knowledge about musical labels that puts me to shame. He is also much more fond of edgy avant garde than I am. J.G. is a fine abstract painter, and that may have something to do with the difference in our tastes. I like J's paintings very much, precisely because they are challenging.

Well, free jazz is all about challenge. J.G. and I agreed about a lot. We are both very fond of Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin. But he expressed skepticism about David Murray and Wayne Shorter, and we almost had to fight about that. It seems to me that there is a taste in jazz and art that is almost allergic to theme and coherence and anything else that might draw in a larger audience. I am trying to recruit J. to blog for Jazz Note. Keep your fingers crossed. He has a lot to say.

J.G. recommended two artists who I knew of but hadn't explored much. Inspired, I downloaded a recording by Dave Douglas. Douglas is a trumpet man, with a strong classical swirl in his ice cream. I am not yet persuaded by Convergence, though it is part of the Penguin Guide core collection. But here is a sample:
Dave Douglas/Bilbao Song/Convergence
William Parker was the other jazz man that J. suggested. I got a hold of the bassist's Painter's Spring, and it was captivating. Page Four Jazz to be sure, but unlike Churchill's famous pudding, it doesn't lack a theme. Here is a good sample of the disc, blues based and maybe that make the difference. Daniel Carter is featured on sax, and he is magnificent. This is simply delicious jazz. Boy will I buy more of this!
William Parker/Blues for Percy/Painter's Spring
There is deep heart in that one. Give it a listen, buy the recording, and let me know what you think.