Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back to Blakey

I got interested in Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers as result of my infatuation with Wayne Shorter.  I got interested in Wayne because I saw one of his albums in a Zen Mountain Center catalog.  I practice Zen meditation, and Wayne is a Nichiren Buddhist if I am correct.  Such is the strange path of a jazz collector.

I have about twelve Messengers albums with Shorter playing his magnificent sax.  I am always astonished to note that all twelve were recorded between 1960 and 1964, when Shorter served as the Messengers musical director.  That was one very fertile period in the history of jazz. 

Blakey was a unique sort of genius.  He kept the Messengers within a narrow scope of music, but allowed an amazing number of jazz masters to mature under his guidance.  He was also a wizard on the drums.  Wayne Shorter was another kind of genius.  I identify with him more than any other jazz master because of a set of common interests.  Buddhism, science fiction, and the spooky mood, these are the things that attract me to Shorter.  But I can't play the horn and I am no brilliant composer.  Wayne's melodies are haunting and compelling.  I can't imagine life without them. 

Today I got Buhaina's Delight.  It's named after Blakey's Islamic moniker.  I don't know when Shorter found the Buddha way, but there is a lot of American spring mix in this story.  Anyway, here is a sample from the disc. 
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/Reincarnation Blues/Buhaina's Delight

Just look at the lineup: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, and Jymie Merritt on drums, and of course Blakey and Shorter. 

Here is another sample from a very popular album.  Here, in addition to Blakey and Shorter, Lee Morgan plays trumpet, Bobby Timmons piano, and Merritt again on bass.  I have a deep fondness for Timmons, as he wrote 'Moanin', one of my favorite compositions.  But Lee Morgan is a priceless hard bop treasure.  This one number, I think, documents the greatness of the Messengers.  Morgan's intro, and Timmons' soft solo are wonderful.  But Morgan's solo, followed by Shorter's, lay out two chambers of the human heart in a way that makes every beat worth the blood it pumps.  This, by Zeus, is jazz. 
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers/Yama/A Night in Tunisia

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tom Varner's French Quartet Saints

Tom Varner is one weird dude, man.  Who told him you could play jazz on a french horn?  I scarfed up one Varner album, The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998.  Who told him that jazz album titles could have subtitles?  Anyway, this is one strange trip through American music.  But I am thinkin' that it is a good hour spent.  

I particularly like his rendition of 'When the Saints Come Marching In.'  Anyone has who has heard it in Preservation Hall in the French Quarter will immediately recognize the alcohol buzz in Varner's version.  By the time you have consumed a plate of shrimp and downed more than a beer or two, and stood in line for an hour, well, this is what 'The Saints' sounds like.  
Tom Varner/When the Saints Come Marching In/The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lee Kontiz with Dave Holland & Jack DeJohnette

One of the pleasures of having an absurdly large collection (=large enough you forget what you have) is that you forget what you have.  While listening to Dave Holland again today, I discovered that I had a recording with Dave Holland playing bass on it.  Lee Konitz, the absurdist poet of the alto sax recorded an album called Satori.  I have always been challenged and fascinated by Konitz's playing.  I first heard him on a Bill Evans album, Crosscurrents.

Satori is not the first Konitz album I would recommend to the uninitiated.  That would be Alone Together with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden.  But the former is solid Konitz, and it is a good chance to hear Holland as a side man.  Here is a sample:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Herbie Nichols

So while I am on the subject of jazz artists who died in their forties from leukemia, I might as well mention Herbie Nichols.  Nichols was a piano player and composer.  He is more famous than Thomas Chapin, but left a rather more limited set of documents.  Here is something that has to say:
Composer and pianist Herbie Nichols’ inquisitive spirit lives on amongst a growing group of young followers, and in the spirit of every jazz musician who struggles to cultivate an individual sound within the din of the marketplace. An innovator equal in powers to Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk, he spent most of his career working in bands whose music was less adventurous than his own.
Well, an innovator equal to Bud Powell maybe.  But equal to Monk?  That's absurd.  Nichols is generally considered to have been a fine composer, but he didn't record much as leader and his partisans are still trying to bring his work into the mainstream.  I have the box set Herbie Nichols: The Complete Blue Note Recordings.  It's a fine collection, both in terms of composition and in terms of down right compelling piano work.  

One jazzman who has championed Nichols' work is Roswell Rudd.  Unfortunately, Rudd is an acquired taste on his own.  If Nichols is to get his spot in the spotlight, it might not be Rudd who does it for him.  But The Unheard Herbie Nichols is worth a listen.  

Here is a sample of Nichols, playing his most famous composition.  
Herbie Nichols/Lady Sings the Blues/The Complete Blue Note Recordings

And here is a cut from Rudd's tribute:
Roswell Rudd Trio/Prancin' Pretty Woman/The Unheard Herbie Nichols

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Thomas Chapin, Please...

Thomas Chapin, God bless 'em, was born about three months before I was, and died in 1998.  That is a little reminder to me of one of the central truths of Buddhism: that no one can escape death.  Chapin's approach to music is central to my book of jazz: stay rooted in the tradition, but push the envelope.  His output is mostly edgy page four, but he has a loyalty to melody that keeps me rooted in his horn lines. 

I've blogged about Night Bird Song album.  I recently acquired Sky Piece and Haywire.  The former, like NBS, is easy to come by.  I think he recognized NBS and SP as his seminal works.  Haywire presents the Chapin Trio with strings.  Jazz with strings is usually a way for a big name horn to make a lot of money with syrupy music to feed a heroin habit.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Chapin's jazz with strings is something else altogether. 

Here are some samples to whet your appetite and get your credit card out of your wallet. I posted one version of Night Bird Song, from the album of that name.  Here is another, so good you should keep it in a lock box. 

Thomas Chapin/Night Bird Song/Sky Piece
And here is a delicious piece from Haywire.  

Thomas Chapin Trio + Strings/Diva/Haywire

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Charles Gayle Takes No Prisoners

If you are going on a camping trip, don't take the expensive wine.  With all the campfire smoke and trail mix, you won't be able to taste it.  If you are going to listen to Charles Gayle, make sure your pallet is prepared.  Oddly enough, I find this music most compelling in the early morning, when I am just waking up.  You have to get a lot of your brain out of the way to hear what is going on here.  

That, of course, is the problem with page four jazz.  It makes ridiculous demands on the listener, including a lot of experience listening to edgy jazz.  But there is something here.  Or at least I thought there was this morning.  Charles Gayle is an uncompromising avant garde tenor player.  Here are a couple samples of his work.  
Charles Gayle/Justified/Consecration
Charles Gayle,William Parker, Rashied Ali/Part A/Touchin' on Trane 
 The Consecration recording is very challenging.  The Touchin' on Trane disc is one for any major collection.  

Sunday, October 18, 2009

J.D. Allen Live @ The Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard concert series is selling a lot of CDs, to me at least.  I have shelled out for two discs from each of the artists I have posted on, including the J.D. Allen Trio.  The Trio's Vanguard date isn't available as a download, alas.  But I have listened to the whole thing and it is exquisite. 

With bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, the trio invites inevitable comparisons to the Sonny Rollins Vanguard recordings.  The sax/bass/drum trio focuses ones attention on the warmth and sparkle of the horn.  I think this might be the single most powerful setting for the saxophone, which is my favorite horn and jazz's favorite horn.   But for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, it wasn't Rollins I thought of as I listened to Allen's tenor, but John Coltrane.  The J.D. Allen Trio has two recent recordings: I Am I Am, and Shine.  Both of them are gems.  

Here is a short sample.
JD Allen Trio/Shine/Shine
Now: get the recording.  And leave a note. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thomas Chapin's Aviary

If you liked Dave Holland's 'Conference of the Birds', which I posted earlier, you might like the birds of a feather work by Thomas Chapin: 'Night Bird Song.'  As I mentioned in my previous post, Chapin passed away in 1998.  I have been listening to a couple of his albums, one of them released posthumously. Night Bird Song is very edgy jazz, but I found myself dancing to it as I stir-fried a batch of kung pao shrimp.  

Chapin was one of those jazz men who seemed to be able to play any horn he put into his mouth.  The flute, in particular, seems to produce a feathered sound.  Anyway, here is a sample of Chapin's fine work.  We can only dream of what he might have done if only...
Thomas Chapin Trio/Night Bird Song/Night Bird Song

Mario Pavone on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ron Horton for Thomas Chapin

I have been listening to Thomas Chapin's Night Bird Song recently, and I am busy collecting his work. Chapin, and alto-sax man, died of leukemia eleven years ago at age 40. This was a loss to the jazz world. Today I happened to be listening to Ron Horton's Genius Envy. Horton's album is fine piece of work. Here is the lineup, from allmusic:
The musician hears sound through a "who's who" of topnotch players, including soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, tenor John McKenna, pianist Frank Kimbrough bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Rich Rosenzweig.
One of the numbers on the recording was dedicated, by its title, to Chapin. Here it is:
Ron Horton/For Thomas Chapin/Genius Envy
Get the Horton recording. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bill McHenry @ The Village Vanguard

This is another of NPR's Village Vanguard concerts. However, whereas I liked the Billy Hart Quartet better on the recording I sampled than on the Vanguard concert I linked to, with the Bill McHenry Quintet is quite the opposite. The McHenry Quintet Vanguard concert, with McHenry's tenor backed by Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Ben Street (again) on bass, and the wonderful Paul Motian on drums, is astoundingly good. Every note is compelling, and the sound is so jazz house real it makes my toes curl.

These guys should figure out some way to get this recording released as a CD. There is more than two hours of jazz here. It is edgy, but accessible, just a bit over the line to page four jazz. But best of all, it has that heart, that feeling. Some of it had the hair standing up on the back of my neck. The whole thing is available for download in MP3, so you can put it on your iPod, keep it on your hard drive, and burn the darn thing on a CD for your next road trip. You won't be sorry you hit this blog if it leads you to this session.

Here is a sample from a recent release. Ben Monder plays guitar, giving the album a slightly fusion feel. Reid Anderson is on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.
Bill McHenry Quartet/Alfronbra Magica/Bill McHenry Quartet

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Billy Hart Quartet @ The Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard is surely the single most important venue in the history of modern jazz. Coltrane's famous recording there would almost be enough to confirm that. But then you add (roughly in order) Bill Evans last recording with Scott LaFaro, Sonny Rollins pianoless, Promethean trio, and Art Pepper's sprawling, nine disc collection of exquisite jazz punctuated by nervous chatter, and you have a lot of immortal genius pouring out of one fountain. You could survive an island exile for a long time with that, if they let you charge up your iPod.

The Vanguard is still at it. If you go to the NPR sponsored Vanguard site you will find a series of live recordings that are an hour plus in length. The most recent are available in MP3 format for free download, so you can add them to your permanent collection. All of the concerts, I believe, can be listened to in Real Player format. They also include MP3 files of interviews with the major players. Some of the artists featured there include Tom Harrell, Terence Blanchard (no kin, so far as I know, darn it), Cedar Walton, Chris Potter and Kenny Baron. That's a powerful lot of jazz to sample and enjoy free. I have long believed that giving away a lot of stuff is the best way to sell a lot more stuff. If you don't believe me, ask Microsoft.

Case in point is the most recent addition: The Billy Hart Quartet. Hart (b. 1940) has played his drums behind a lot of giants, including Miles Davis. The Quartet includes two players I have become interested in: Ethan Iverson on piano, and Mark Turner on tenor saxophone. Ben Street, whom I don't know yet, plays bass. The concert may not achieve immortality, but it includes a lot of very bold jazz composition. I suspect that Iverson is a driving force in the quartet. My reasons for thinking so, and for thinking that Iverson is the real thing, can be found at my earlier post on this fine keyboard player. But Mark Turner, whose Yam Yam I posted briefly on, dominates the sound.

Listening to that live recording encouraged me to shell out for The Billy Hart Quartet, with the same lineup. This is a very solid recording, inventive and provocative, but very accessible. The opening number, Mellow B, is an Iverson composition, and it is the kind of arrangement that makes the music seem suddenly new even to someone who swims in it daily. Hart is obviously worshipful of John Coltrane, as comes out on the Vanguard date. This album is another act of worship.

Here is a sample, a tribute to the pianist penned by Mark Turner. It also has the most compelling drum work from Hart. His cymbals talk to me here. Give it a listen, and don't let the disc get away from you.
Billy Hart/Iverson's Odyssey/The Billy Hart Quartet
My comments sections are like empty tombs right now. Leave me a few words, when you have the time.

ps. There is a great photo collection, including a shot of the Vanguard front.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Andrew Hill's Discontinued Masterpiece

Pianist Andrew Hill is one of the great masters of modern jazz. Let me do you the service of providing a list of his most important recordings. I begin with the two most essential:
  1. Point of Departure
  2. Andrew!
Both of these are worth their weight in whatever you value most. I have blogged several times about the first. The second is less breathtaking, and less groundbreaking, but it part of any great collection. Here are a few more:
  1. Judgment
  2. Compulsion
  3. Shades
  4. Verona Rag
  5. The Day the World Stood Still
If you are interested in great, haunting jazz, that is a good package to collect.

But there is another Hill recording that belongs with the first three, only it has been discontinued and is rather hard to come by. I have never seen it in any jazz bins, even in the best stores. I got by copy by inter-library loan.

The disc is Lift Every Voice. It documents two sessions with Hill, backed by a vocal chorus made up of seven and nine singers. Hill uses the chorus as one more instrument, and the effect is electrifying. The voices rise and intertwine both behind the other instruments, and occasionally as a solo instrument. It is superb composition.

But the real joy is the consistently bluesy heart of the melodies, always conducted by Hill's perfect notes. This is really substantial jazz, and shouldn't be missed.

Here is a sample from the second session. The great Lee Morgan plays trumpet, Bennie Maupin is on tenor sax, flute, and bass clarinet. Ron Carter plays bass, and Ben Riley drums.
Andrew Hill/Blue Spark/Lift Every Voice
And here is one from the first session, with Woody Shaw on trumpet, Carlos Garnett on tenor, Richard Davis on bass, and Lawrence Marshall on drums.
Andrew Hill/Hey Hey/Lift Every Voice
All of this is soul shaking good. There is no possible reason this shouldn't be available, at least as a download from eMusic or some other vendor. Demand it! You won't be disappointed with the whole thing. Lee Morgan's solos alone are worth whatever you have to pay.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bill Evans on Riverside

I finally rounded out my Bill Evans collection with The Complete Riverside Recordings. A lot of this music was already on my hard drive, but with the Verve and Fantasy boxes, I have by George got a lot of Bill Evans. I imagine this comes close to all the recordings made under his name, but I haven't bothered to check that yet.

I think that Evans stands as one of the gods of what might be the last heroic jazz age. It doesn't seem that any jazz man after the generation of Miles, Trane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, etc., has been canonized (to mix theological metaphors) in the way that those giants were.This is not to address the question of whether any later artists deserve it or not. To address that question would be to plunge into very deep waters.

But Evans, I think, stands alone in a couple of respects. One is that he wasn't African-American. There is a school of thought that says that only Black jazzmen are really capable of the genius of the music. Evans is a problem for that school.

A second reason Evans stands alone is that he seems uniquely resistant to the currents in which other jazz giants were piloting their boats. I think it's true that Evans alone is never tempted by the new thing, or by fusion, or any other of the many movements into which all the others plunged at one time or another. This is not to say that his music doesn't change. But the changes depend almost completely on the musicians playing with him. Evans music seems to come solely from his own magnificent heart.

The trio was his natural format. Against a brilliant bass and drums, Evans essence is recorded. The Riverside collection documents his earlier period as leader. Here are a couple of samples from his first sessions in November of 1956. This was the first number he recorded at these sessions, a short solo:
Bill Evans/I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)/New Jazz Conceptions
And here is the first Bill Evans Trio, with Teddy Kotick on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.
Bill Evans/Speak Low/New Jazz Conceptions
If you haven't got the cash to land the Riverside box, shell out for New Jazz Conceptions. ps., the Riverside and Fantasy boxes are both available at eMusic, but it will soak up a lot of downloads.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More Dave Holland

Ken Laster has a Dave Holland special with a lot of a lot of Holland's music and an interview. I am very jealous. Ken gets to talk to Dave Holland. For some reason, we don't get a lot of great jazz men stopping in Aberdeen, South Dakota. But listening to Holland discuss his experience with Miles Davis was priceless. One common theme you get when Miles' sidemen discuss his leadership is that of minimal input. Miles was apparently very good at directing his players in a way that brought out their individual talents without in any way limiting their individual genius.

Ken's interview with Holland is very good. The question he asks about composing, do you write a bass line first and then compose around it, is just what I would have asked him. The answer is what I would have hoped for: he wrote for the people he had in mind to play the parts. Jazz is personal in that sense. I was especially interested in Holland's comments on the role of the bass in a jazz combo. If you like jazz, and like to think about what you are hearing, this interview is right down your street.

In this modern age I do get to listen to Dave Holland's music. I posted recently on Holland and his great album Conference of the Birds. Today I acquired another Holland recording, Points of View. Here is a sample:
Dave Holland Quintet/The Balance/Points of View