Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ben Webster and the Lush Sound

My good friend Ken Laster did a podcast on Lester Young at his podcast In The Groove, which I can't praise enough. The podcast I mean, though the Pork Pie Hat tribute was delicious. I especially liked the Kevin Mahogany version of Mingus's incomparable standard 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,' with its lyrics. I also enjoyed very much Ken's previous podcast on the Autumnal Equinox. It almost had me dancing naked around a pole. Almost. Anyway, just in case any of my readers don't know about In the Groove, know about it now. I have probably purchased a hundred albums after hearing cuts on his shows.

Anyway, Ken's podcast put me in a nostalgic frame of mind. I have been concentrating on some pretty edgy jazz in recent months, and avant garde is laconic if nothing else. Well, one end of the spectrum can breed a taste for the other. So what should arrive on my doorstep today but a two CD collection by Ben Webster: Music for Loving. This music is so lush and plump you could use it for an airbag in an acrobatic jump.

I first heard Ben Webster on an album with Coleman Hawkins. I don't have it anymore, so I can't tell, but the memory suggests wonder. Anyway, Music for Loving is a splendid collection. A lot of it is Webster playing his tenor with a string orchestra behind him. I don't listen to a lot of that kind of music, but this is worth listening to. Some of the recordings are before a smaller combo, and a Harry Carney album is included. It is a very rich package of very rich jazz. Webster's sound has haunted every tenor who came after him. Get haunted with these samples:
Ben Webster/Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me/Music for Loving
Ben Webster/My Funny Valentine/Music for Loving
Enjoy. And don't forget to post a comment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Darrell Grant

I have been listening to a very interesting album: pianist Darrell Grant's Truth and Reconciliation. The theme of the album is the idea of civil rights, and it includes a lot of vocal readings from great civil rights speeches. I am going to have to do a post on jazz and the civil rights movement. But just now let me say that Grant's playing and arrangements are quite compelling. I am not quite sure whether the sparkling, and frankly happy tone of his piano is well suited to the theme. But I don't care. This album is worth exploring. Here is the All Music Review:
Working with guitarists Bill Frisell and Adam Rogers, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibist Joe Locke, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist John Patitucci, Grant balances trio, quartet, and quintet settings with a handful of vocal pieces (Grant sounds a bit like a slightly cautious Keb' Mo' when he sings, which is actually kind of endearing) into a loosely constructed suite that rose out of Grant's close study of the cultural and political struggles in South Africa. Adding to the recurrent themes of hope and freedom that emerge here are several spoken word samples from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt that are carefully woven into the sequence at key points.
Here is a sample:
Darrell Grant/This Resolution of Love/Truth and Reconciliation

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Great "New Thing" Albums

One of the things I have been thinking about lately are those great albums produced as the "new thing" blossomed in jazz in the late fifties and early sixties. The reach for freedom from earlier musical constraints gave rise to some very challenging but very rewarding recordings. Most of the major jazzmen felt it necessary to make their contributions. Wayne Shorter's All Seeing Eye, and Etcetera, are good examples.

But there are a number of essential recordings that mark this event. Here is a quick list off the top of my head:
1. Cecil Taylor/Jazz Advance
2. Andrew Hill/Point of Departure
3. Eric Dolphey/Out to Lunch
4. Jackie McLean/Let Freedom Ring
5. Ornette Coleman/Shape of Jazz to Come (see comments)
Those four should surely be included in any best hundred, or best fifty, and maybe even best twenty jazz recordings. Several years ago I took a long drive and made up a mixer CD for the trip. I put the Hill recording on the playlist, but I had only listened to in once before. When it started playing I was taken aback by the compelling invention of the music. What the Hell is this? I had to pull over and grab the print off that I had with me. Each of these recordings had that power.

Right now though I am listening to McLean's magnum opus. It is clearly page four jazz. The circuit of melody is replaced by a moving point of intense and unpredictable exploration. It carries you along moment to moment with a Zen-like disregard for where you are going. The only restraint is the number of keys on the horn, that, and Jackie's warble. Here is a sample from this essential album:
Jackie McLean/Melody for Melonae/Let Freedom Ring
McLean's alto is backed by Walter Davis Jr. on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.

I am wondering what else to put on this list. If you have any ideas, please leave a post.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cecil Taylor, the Envelope, and the Abyss

According to legend, Cecil Taylor invented free jazz in 1957. I like that legend. That's the year I was born. Obviously the Creator was in one of his creative periods. Taylor is surely among the great figures in avant garde jazz. But his magnum opus was recorded a year earlier. Jazz Advance is simply brilliant, from the album title down to the last note. For some reason, I always think of Andrew Hill's magnificent Point of Departure in connection with Jazz Advance.

It opens with a Monk number, 'Bemsha Swing,' and I think you have on display a standard characteristic of modern jazz: a piano player, playing a Monk tune, and trying to sound like Monk. Taylor pulls it off. But he does so in the way that a prospector digs for gold.

I continue to think that the avant garde jazzmen did their best work when they kept at least a thread of connection to hard bop and post bop. Jazz Advance has Steve Lacy on Soprano Sax, Buell Neidlinger on bass, and Denis Charles on drums. You will find a lot of Lacy in my previous posts. Here is the above mentioned tune:
Cecil Taylor/Bemsha Swing/Jazz Advance
And here is a tune from a Taylor/Neidlinger album. It's a more traditional rendering of a standard that Taylor was obviously fond of. I'm not sure who played on this number, but Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, and Clark Terry are on the credits.
Cecil Taylor & Bud Neidlinger/Things Ain't What They Used to be/New York City R&B
Finally, here is pure Taylor free jazz, from his solo album For Olim. Steve Lacy once said that there are two kinds of jazz: offensive and defensive. Taylor always played for the offense. But there is a lot of yardage gained here.
Cecil Taylor/Question/For Olim
Well, there is some Cecil for you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stephen Brown on Kind of Blue

I have been listening to Cecil Taylor today, and had intended to post something on his wonderfully challenging music, when I happened to glance at a copy of the Times Literary Supplement, my single favorite book review publication, and found "Finished Sketches," a review by Stephen Brown of Richard Williams' The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" and the remaking of modern music. A review of a book about an album had the hair standing up on the back of my neck. Find a copy of this review and read it. It's the best short piece I have seen on KOB. Here is a sample from the article, transcribed by sight:
Listen to "Blue in Green". It's five-and-a-half minutes long. Coltrane doesn't even know he's supposed to be playing on the tune until Davis decides to include him right as the tape starts to roll. "Producer: Just you four guys on this, Miles? Miles: Five . . . (to Coltrane) No, you play." And then they play and improvise over an unusual ten-bar form which doesn't properly close but loops back on itself --with such beautiful ideas and exquisite control that you wonder why the piece hasn't entered into the classical repertory. I don't mean the tune -- I means this improvised performance of it. It should be copied note for note, nuance for nuance, and played in concert. It is one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century music.
I have written in praise of Evan's composition, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful songs in all of modern jazz. Brown speaks with more musical authority than I ever will, and with apparently as much love. It was delicious to get that little bit of information. That Trane plays into the subtlest fibers of the melody's heart with no preparation at other than hearing the beginning, that he didn't even know he was to put his horn in his mouth, that may constitute an argument for the existence of God that trumps a thousand years of philosophy and theology. Who or what but God could make a Coltrane? Or an Evans? I would add Miles, but Miles probably thought that God had stolen his seat.

I expect that many or most of my readers are well familiar with this album. But just in case someone isn't, or maybe doesn't have it handy right at this moment, here is the number. Listen to it now, knowing what we both know.
Miles Davis/Blue in Green/Kind of Blue
If you don't have the recording, by all means rush out and get it. Shove people out of the way if you have to. No, don't, but think about doing it. KOB is easy to get for pennies. I got mine years ago by joining a record club.

ps. If you click on the picture above, you will get a lot more. It includes Evans along with Trane, Cannonball, and Miles. It makes a good background image for my laptop. Oh, and it is taken at a 1958 date, a recording of '58 Miles.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jazz Guitar, Bill Evans, Al Dimeola, and Memory

Back when I was a college student I tried to learn to play the guitar. I tried, I really did. I failed. I wanted to play jazz. But the desire did guide my jazz collecting. I bought Guitar Player magazine, and just when I purchased my first decent stereo system GP had a review of a number of jazz guitar releases by Verve. I only remember two of them now: one by Tal Farlow, and another by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. I loved the Farlow album, and I am going to have to find it again. But the Evans/Hall album was something on a higher shelf.

Bill Evans left behind a magnificent body of work. I continue to think that he is the greatest genius on the keyboard in the history of modern jazz. Most of his work is contained on three box sets: The Complete Bill Evans on Riverside, the Complete Bill Evans on Verve, and the Complete Fantasy Recordings. I now have the latter two, and I am waiting on the third. Evans was better than anyone else at taking a basic melody and squeezing out every last drop of honey. You don't want to listen to Evans unless you are prepared to be confronted with the unvarnished muscle of his and your own heart. It doesn't matter what you are doing when you put this music on: all the pretension gets stripped away and you are left with the simple fact of what your heart desired and what it did or didn't get.

Most of Evans recordings are piano trios. His famous Village Vanguard Recordings are his magnum opus, with the beautiful Scott LaFaro on bass. LaFaro died ten days after that famous date, and I don't think Evans ever got over it. Sorry, I got off track. Evans and Jim Hall did this duet that is very different from the trio format. Hall and Evans play together with some much consonance that it almost like the left and right hand on the piano. It is arresting in its beauty.

Here is a sample from the Complete Verve:
Bill Evans and Jim Hall/I've Got You Under My Skin/Intermodulation
And here is another, even more breathtaking:
Bill Evans and Jim Hall/My Man's Gone Now/Intermodulation
And here, just for something completely different, is a cut from another guitar album that I worshiped back in the day. Al DiMeola is a fusion virtuoso, and this album kept me going through many a dark time. It is a spy movie soundtrack in search of a movie, and I like spy movies. Elegant Gypsy might be my favorite fusion album. It is a good contrast with the moody introspection of Evans' music. Prepare to soar.
Al DiMeola/Flight Over Rio/Elegant Gypsy
Have fun, buy the discs, and post a comment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mark Turner

It's late, and I'm tired, but I am listening to Mark Turner's debut album, Yam Yam. It carries me along is all I am prepared to say. Kurt Rosenwinkel plays guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, Jorge Rosy on drums, and Seamus Blake and Terrance Dean wield two more tenors. It occurs to me at this midnight moment, that what I love best about jazz is the shift between instruments along the same musical theme. Here is a taste:
Mark Turner/Tune Number One/Yam Yam

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dave Holland and Gordon Beck

My Dear Friend Ken Laster posts below on his encounter with the great Dave Holland. Once again I am envious of my namesake. I don't know Holland's work very well, but I have long been a fan of his magnum opus: Conference of the Birds. I'll quote the judicious Laster here from our brief exchange at the aforementioned post:
I bought that album back in the 70's, and it probably was the one album that got me to 'understand' what free improvisation was about. Its one of those albums where the improvisations stretch out as far as you can go, but yet remains very close to the framework of Holland's composition. It is one of those avant garde sets that is still very accessible.
Well, yes. Conference of the Birds is a brilliant piece of avant garde. The "improvisational stretch" is a lot greater on some numbers than others. Holland plays bass, and around him are Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers on reeds and flute. These are two champions of free jazz if ever it had champions. Barry Altschul does percussion.

Here is the title piece. It is indescribably delicious. But I will try to describe it. Holland opens with a seductive bass line, making the hair stand up on the back of neck. Only at the end of his run does he let the genie out of the bottle. Then the reeds and flute carry the soul upwards into the heavens.
Dave Holland/Conference of the Birds/Conference of the Bird
All of the album is good. If you don't have Dave Holland's 72 recording in your collection, you don't have a collection.

Holland got his big break when Miles Davis called him over from England. Another English Jazz man who never got that call, but should have, is Gordon Beck. To judge by the two of his recordings that I have acquired, he ought to be a lot more famous. Beck is a piano player and consummate modernist. His 68 recording Gyroscope is astonishing. But his Seven Steps to Heaven, well, that is one that earns his way to the promised land.

It doesn't hurt that Beck does a Wayne Shorter composition. I've never met a Shorter composition I didn't like. Here it is, with Pierrick Pedron on alto, Bruno Rousselet on bass, and Philippe Soirat on drums. It's a very good recording, and one that will set your collection apart.
Gordon Beck/Juju/Seven Steps To Heaven
So enjoy the genius of a couple of limeys. Also: go out and pay for their recordings. Tell 'em I sent ya.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dave Holland Interview

On September 6, 2009, I had the opportunity to sit down with the great bass player and composer Dave Holland before his performance at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Dave's career took off after being invited by Miles Davis to come to the US from his native England. During that tenure, Dave worked on Miles' landmark recordings In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. From there Dave went on to collaborate with such greats as Theloneous Monk, Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers and many more. As a leader, Dave Holland has produced and written music for over 20 CD's with a variety of ensembles and big bands.

Click this link to listen to the full interview, mixed with some clips of Dave Holland's music.

A 6 minute video segment of this interview is below. (please listen to the full audio version w/music)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Discovering Henri Texier

One of the services yours truly provides is this: I spend some time digging through the fifteen hundred pages of the Penguin Guide to Jazz, and lately the equally weighty All Music Guide, and when I find something borrowed, something blue in those vast libraries, I bring it to your attention.

This weekend, just after posting on John Patitucci, I was thumbing through the former when what to my wondering eye should appear but the entry for Henri Texier. What snagged my line was the name Joe Lovano on Texier's album Izlaz. If Joe is on it... And it got four stars in the PG. After some sampling and hesitation, I invested. eMusic has Izlaz bundled with Colonel Skopje. I dropped the package.

Henri Texier is French for "Henry of Texas." I just made that up, of course, but wouldn't it be a great story if it were true? Texier is indeed French, and plays the double bass. He is obscure enough that he isn't yet in the Encyclopedia of Jazz. Barnes and Noble has just one of his albums, Colonel Skopje, for sale. So I expect, dear readers, that today's offerings will be a surprise.

Izlaz is a stellar set, one of those recordings you listen to and feel like you found bag of gold coins. What if you had looked the other way? Texier lays down a solid and rich foundation with his double bass. Lovano occupies most of the space just as he does on the Patitucci album. He also plays a range of horns. Steve Swallow plays bass, and Aldo Romano beats the drums. On Colonel Skopje is the same group two months latter (1988) but with John Abercrombie on guitar. I think the former set is better, but not by much. Here is a sample from the first. It's a Carla Bley composition.
Henri Texier/Ups and Downs/Izlaz
Okay, so I couldn't resist a second eMusic offering by Texier: Respect. Bob Brookmeyer plays valve trombone, an instrument that I can't get enough of. I am a big fan of Brookmeyer's big band album, New Works, and I am not a fan of big bands. Brookmeyer spars with another hero of mine, Lee Konitz. I love Konitz's work across the board, but I am not sure I have ever heard him play more accessible and at the same time deeply engaging music than on this recording. Steve Swallow is also here, and he plays his bass like he thinks it's a guitar. If all that weren't enough, Paul Motian is the drummer. What a marvelous album! Everything on it is exciting. It's like a great collection of short stories: each one gets you going all over again.

Here is the masterpiece inside the masterpiece.
Henri Texier/The Year of the Dragon/Respect
I have listened to this one three times tonight. God bless you Henri! You deserve a place in the pantheon for these three recordings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The John Patitucci Trio

Here is an album review I just wrote for JazzTimes.
Remembrance is a lovely album, but I think that anyone listening to it would have to think she was listening to a Joe Lovano album. So much of the music is carried by Lavono's superb sax explorations, that it is sometimes easy to forget that the bass is there at all.
That is less true of the numbers where Patitucci plays electric bass and does jazz funk. These numbers demonstrate his virtuosity and they are very engaging, but they aren't really the better part of the album. The better part is the more traditional bopish swing. There is also the problem that one almost gets whiplash when a funky number like 'Messaien's Gumbo' is followed by the pensive 'Sonny Side.'
That aside, it's a very good album. The cover art is very appropriate, depicting a winter seen with bare trees and darkish water. This album is what I like to call page four jazz: melody has most been subordinated the free play of musical and emotional ideas. I think it's true that the album becomes more abstract as it goes along. But it is very crisply recorded, and every buzz of feeling comes through.
Patitucci is a first class leader, and an exquisite bass player. Lovano is a saxophone titan. Drummer Brian Blade is worth his weight in sonic gold as he has the job of keeping the whole thing together. It's tough to be the drummer.
The more I listen to this album, the better I like it. As my neck muscles beef up, the transition from funk to swing starts to feel like the kind of tension that keeps music alive. Remembrance is available from eMusic. Don't let it slip by you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More Mobley

I picked up an excellent box set this week: Hank Mobley: The Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions. I can't imagine that very many copies of this have sold, except to libraries. But it is six CDs of very fine jazz, covering one of the most important periods in the history of our music. I haven't had time to really study the box, but it does seem to me that there is a real shift in sophistication from the earlier fifties to the latter in Mobley's work. The first few discs just seem to me to be more light-hearted, more let's have a good time and sing some songs. By disc six, Mobley is trying to ride the wave a bit more. Now that I think about it, I am losing confidence.

Maybe you can tell. Here is piece from the first disc (Hank Mobley (ts) Horace Silver (p) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d).
Hank Mobley/Love for Sale/The Hank Mobley Quartet
And here is one of my favorite standards, from a 1958 date (Lee Morgan (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Charlie Persip (d) ):
Hank Mobley/Speak Low/Peckin
I don't know Charlie Persip, but the rest of the band is twenty-four karat. Lee Morgan is gorgeous, and Wynton Kelly does what he does. There is a lot of great jazz still out there! Enjoy, and if you do, drop me a line. I am getting really lonely here.