Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yet More Thomas Chapin

It is just shy of one o'clock in the morning, central time, November the 28th, 2009, as I am listening to Thomas Chapin's Insomnia.  I have never suffered much from sleeplessness, but I like to sit up late scouring the web and doing my blogging. 

Insomnia has the Thomas Chapin Trio backed by a lot of brass.  It wasn't easy to come by, but it's more than worth a listen.  The first number has power behind it.  Here it is.
Thomas Chapin Trio with Brass/Pantheon/Insominia

Friday, November 27, 2009

Best Jazz Albums 26-50

Compiling a list of 50 best jazz albums is, as reader Derick put it, like "walking blindfolded through a mine field."   Proceeding on the principle that rules are made to be broken, I made rules and broke them.  But it has been fun and it has led me to go back and do a lot of listening that I otherwise might have neglected.  I also found myself frequently entering an album only to replace it with another.  Discipline, please!

I wanted to get some multi-disc collections in, if only to cheat on the limit of fifty recordings.  That's a little like being limited to three books on a desert island, and putting the Harvard Classics as number one.  So here is 26-33 on my list:

Complete 1961 Village Vanguard 
Complete Africa/Brass Sessions
Legendary Prestige Recordings
Live at the Plugged Nickel 
Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall
At the Five Spot Vols. 1 & 2
/Memorial Album
Shelly Manne and His Men 
@ Blackhawk
A Night at the Village Vanguard

Obviously Miles Davis and John Coltrane are overrepresented.  But that reflects the importance I place on those two giants.  Davis's Prestige Recordings include his incomparable Workin', Relaxin', Cookin', and Steamin' albums.  How could I leave them out, and how else could I fit them in?  I first listed the Blackhawk recordings, but the Plugged Nickel set is a better example of the distance Miles crosses in the period I concentrate on.  Trane's Vanguard recording are, in my mind, his greatest achievement.  Dolphy's Five Spot recordings aren't really a single set (I cheated again), but put 'em in a single bag.  They might be the best display of Dolphy's brilliance.  Manne's Blackhawk recordings are West Coast jazz at its best.  Rollins' Vanguard set needs no defense.

Here is the rest of the list:

Spiritual Unity
Out to Lunch
Ellington at Newport
The Trance
Hampton Hawes Trio Vol. 2. 
Conference of the Birds
The Köln Concert
Rip, Rig, and Panic
From the Soul
Soul Station
The Incredible Guitar 
Search for the New Land
The Hill
Blown' the Blues Away
Sun Ra

Jazz In Silhouette

When in doubt, look at what everyone else is doing.  I consulted several "top 100" lists on the web.  Most of them are pretty much like mine for the first ten or so.  Past 25, there is a lot of divergence.  But most of the items in my list show up somewhere on other lists.  Some exceptions include Booker Ervin's Trance.  I am deeply in love with Booker Ervin.  Trance is not his best known work, but think it is the purest example of his genius.  Lee Morgan's Sidewinder was his best seller, while Search for the New Land rarely shows up on best jazz lists.  But great as the former is, I think the later is the more serious recording.

I got a couple of big band recordings in, by Ellington and Sun Ra.  I don't like big band jazz generally, but I think these are superb albums.  Some of the items are recorded much later than my target period (1950-1970).  Holland, Murray, and Lovano, for example, though Holland Conference of the Birds doesn't miss it by much.  But these recordings fit right into the mold. 

Anyway, I think this top 50 list would be the core of a very good jazz library.  Here are some samples.
David Murray/Santa Barbara and Crenshaw Follie/The Hill
Lee Morgan/Morgan the Pirate/Search for the New Land
Miles Davis/Milestones/Live at the Plugged Nickel

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Red Mitchell & Memory

Way back in the 1980's, when I bought my first decent stereo equipment and began seriously collecting jazz, I recorded a PBS show featuring bass player Red Mitchell and piano master Monty Alexander.  I am going from memory here, but I think the show was called "Alone Together".  Listening to was a formative event in my life.  With just bass and piano, the musical expression was vivid and unmistakable.  I recorded it on a 90 nminute cassette tape (remember those?). 

I listened to that damned tape over and over until I eventually lost it.  It's just as well.  I don't have a machine to play it any more.  But I still have a fondness for Mitchell. 

I recently acquired Presenting Red Mitchell.  It is a fine piece of straight ahead jazz.  I found this bit about the lineup from CD Universe:
Bassist Red Mitchell, who had led two fairly obscure sessions for Bethlehem in 1955, came up with a gem on his lone Contemporary set as a leader (which has been reissued as this CD). Based in Los Angeles at the time, Mitchell utilized pianist Lorraine Geller and two up-and-coming players: James Clay (who splits his time between tenor and flute) and, in one of his first recording sessions, drummer Billy Higgins. The quartet performs then-recent tunes by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown ("Sandu"), a pair of Mitchell originals, "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Cheek to Cheek."
 Well, here is a sample. 
Red Mitchell/Scrapple from the Apple/Presenting Red Mitchell

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blanchard's Top One, Ten, and Twenty-Five Best Jazz Albums

I had originally intended this blog as a guide to novice jazz collectors.  I have no idea whether it is serving that purpose.  Most of my comments are from folks who have pretty decent collections already.  But I am a classical thinker by training, so making lists is something I do like dogs chew bones.  As Christmas approaches, a top fifty jazz recordings list might do someone some good, and it is fun to think about it.

I have assembled a top twenty five list.  Here is my top ten:

Kind of Blue
The Shape of Jazz to Come
Giant Steps
Far Cry
Sunday at the Village Vanguard
The State of the Tenor
Mingus Ah Um
Brilliant Corners
Saxophone Collosus
Speak No Evil

You may notice that, while KOB is first, the rest of the nine are in alphabetical order.  KOB comes first as I hold that it is the most perfect jazz recording I have ever heard.  I alphabetized the rest of the list to avoid any suggestion that number six is a little better than seven but not quite so good as number five.  It seems silly to me to cut it that fine.  The reader should bear in mind that I am not claiming these are the ten best jazz recordings of all.  My focus is rather narrow: hard bop to avant garde jazz, mostly recorded in the fifties and sixties. 

I am sticking here to single disc recordings that have had a major impact on me and that show up on a lot of similar lists.  I avoided repeating artists.  Someone who had just these ten, and listened attentively and with devotion, would have a pretty good idea what the jazz idea is.  Many Coltrane fans will object that A Love Supreme ought to come before Giant Steps.  That may be so, but ALS is a rather unrepresentative recording, and I think that GS had much more influence on the history of the music.  Likewise my choice of Far Cry to represent Dolphy is somewhat idiosyncratic.  Brilliant Corners might be the most questionable choice, but if you had one Monk recording, that would be it.  All of Monk's genius is in it.  Or maybe Henderson's State of the Tenor looks most out of place.  I admit that it is actually a two disc recording, but I plead that one can fit it on one CD.  I really think that this belongs in the top ten, and I am sure that Joe deserves a place there. 

Here is the rest of the top twenty-five on my list. 

Something Else
Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
Time Out
Midnight Blue
A Love Supreme
Our Man in Paris
Maiden Voyage
Point of Departure
Let Freedom Ring
Blues and the Abstract Truth
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
New York Contemporary Five
Jazz Advance
The Real McCoy

Here I allowed myself some repeat artists, and so got ALS in.  Miles may be said to have made it in twice, as Adderley's Something Else might really have been a Davis recording.  With Davis, the problem I have is that I think his best documents are the multi-disc live recordings at the Plugged Nickel, the Black Hawk, and the Stockholm recordings.  But I honestly think that ESP is Mile's second best single disc recording.  His second great quintet, and the pervasive influence of Wayne Shorter makes it an immortal recording.

Well, I expect to be returning to this theme in coming days or weeks.  Completing a list of fifty will be a challenge.  I am open to suggestions. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

More J.D. Allen & Some Miles

I have been listening to I AM I AM, by the J.D. Allen Trio.  It is one of those recordings that impressed me a lot more the second time I heard it.  I would like to think that is the result of spiritual growth, but it may be more like the difference in a good wine when your pallet is better prepared. 

Allen's music is fine example of what I call Page Four Jazz: the music sounds a lot like the intro to a traditional bop melody that has been extended to the length of a whole song.  The architecture of melody has been disassembled and reassembled into something that no longer looks like a dwelling place.  But the effect is to see the inner spirit of each element in stark relief.  This sort of thing can be very dry when it is abstracted to mere mathematical formulas, as it sometimes is more extreme avant garde music.  But Allen preserves the passion of each element as he weaves his tapestry.  Dancing around in my kitchen as I listen, I feel a little like a serpent being charmed out of its basket. 

I think this is a very substantial work, and I recommend it.  You can hear a good bit of the J.D. Allen Trio at the Village Vanguard site.  See my earlier post.  Here is a sample:
J.D. Allen Trio/Titus/I AM I AM
It occurred to me as I was listening that this reminded me of one of Miles Davis's less celebrated albums.  Miles In The Sky is an artifact of his experiments with avant garde jazz.  This is one of the recordings by his second great quintet: Miles Davis (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) George Benson (el-g) Ron Carter (b) Tony Williams (d).   Here is a sample:
Miles Davis/Black Comedy/Miles in the Sky
I think that a careful listen will detect the similar approach to musical composition in the two works, though they are made with a very different instrument set, decades apart.  It is a testament to the stamina of the post bop/avant garde regime.  Well, give it a try and let me know how it comes out.

PS.  I have also been listening to an earlier J.D. Allen recording, Pharaoh's Children.  It is also very good.  J.D. Allen is the real thing. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tonight! Christian McBride Live @ The Village Vanguard

Christian McBride and his band Inside Straight are appearing tonight at the Village Vanguard.  The concert will be shown live online, (Wednesday) at 9pm ET.  I recommend it to all my readers.  Hopefully, the recording will be available for download later. 

McBride didn't just learn to play the bass, he inherited it.  His father and great uncle were both accomplished thumpers.  He began playing bass at age 9 and fell into the orbit of Wynton Marsalis when he was a ripe 14.  This guy is worth a listen. 

McBride and Inside Straight have one recording, so far as I know.  I have it, and it is delicious, sparkling jazz.  Don't listen to it if you want to remain in a funk.  Here is a brief description from LD: 
Muscular playing from the saxophonist Steve Wilson and vibraphonist Warren Wolf Jr. dominate the disc, providing little sense that the leader is in the rhythm section putting the music into overdrive with drummer Carl Allen. (McBride does take a few flavorful and melodic solos). Pianist Eric Scott Reed provides the lightness needed to cut through the density of the music.
That sounds right to me.  It is hard to be bass.  Even when you are leader you seem to be invisible.  But you can hear McBride's virtuosity on several cuts.  Here is a sample:
Christian McBride/Brother Mister/Kind of Brown

Get the album, and if you read this in time, watch the concert.  Or go to the Village Vanguard.  Jazz is alive. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen

I have a fondness for Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen that goes back three decades.  In my early years as a jazz fan I collected Oscar Peterson records.  Peterson and Pedersen were inseparable for a while.  I have a fondness for Archie Shepp that goes back, well, at least a couple of years.

Shepp has the status of a great innovator, and he deserves it.  He also works the saxophone like a dowager, always finding God's own water under any sandy surface.  His New York Contemporary Five and Four For Trane recordings, in that order, are essential pieces in any collection.  I haven't followed Pedersen well enough to say anything useful about him.  But he is clearly a master.

I recently acquired a duet album recorded by Shepp and Pedersen, Looking at Bird.  Even with a piano, jazz duets tend to be a bit dry.  They are works of love for lovers.  With a horn and bass, the music approaches a dry martini joke.  But this recording of Charlie Parker compositions is wonderful.  You can't do better if you want to taste the alchemy of a consummate jazz conversation.  The two play as if they were doing a Vulcan mind meld sort of thing.  And the texture of both instruments is recorded remarkably well.  This is the true water.  Here is a sample:
Archie Shepp & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen/Billie's Bounce/Looking at Bird
 I have been getting a lot of traffic lately, but few comments.  Comment. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another Jazz Ken: Ken Vandermark & the Vandermark 5

In addition to myself and Ken Laster, we have Ken Vandermark.  All he has over us is that he can actually play jazz.  Vandermark is a horn player (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet) and prolific recorder and composer.  To judge by the two albums I have purchased, his work shows the rewards and risks of avant garde jazz.  

The Vandermark Five is his main band, though he appears to have several others.  Burn the Incline, and Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise demonstrate the same genius for invention in music as they do in titles.  It is no wonder, perhaps, that Vandermark was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius award."  Both recordings stretch from edgy bop to out there free jazz, and sometimes the stretch is visible in the same number.  There is a strong element of blues funk running through a lot of the songs.  

I like a lot of what I am hearing here, but I like the more melodic numbers more than the more free base anti-compositions.   Of the two, I think Elements is the better work.  

Here are some samples.  With the reservations noted, I think they are welcome additions to any good collection.  
The Vandermark 5/Outside Ticket/Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise
The Vandermark 5/Distance/Burn the Incline

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jazz & Democracy

Today was election day in these United States.  That means victory for one party, and grief for another.  But seen rightly, it is one of the beautiful things in the human record.  Ballots cost less in grief and blood than bullets, or jumping up and down on someone's ribcage.  We are, after all, only modified chimpanzees.  

In honor of election day, here is a sample from a very political jazz recording: Archie Shepp's Attica Blues.  The album commemorates the most famous prison riot in this country.  It is a large ensemble production, and well worth listening to.
Archie Shepp/Blues for Brother Jackson/Attica Blues
 Loving one another is possible, but sometimes very hard.  Making deals and coalitions can get us by.  Maybe jazz will smooth over the rough edges.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Edward Simon Live @ The Village Vanguard

Yet another wonderful concert from the Vanguard: Venezuelan pianist Ed Simon with his trio, Ben Street on bass, and Adam Cruz on drums, and Mark Turner on Sax.  You don't have to wait for this one to warm up.  The first number, a Turner composition, is as warm as a lover's embrace.  I especially like Simon's playing behind Turner. You can download the concert for keeps.  God bless 'em. 

Several of the tunes the quartet plays are from the album Edward Simon.  Here is a sample of one of them.  Substitute Larry Grenadier on bass. 
Edward Simon/Colega/Edward Simon
It's not the best cut on the album, but it will whet your appetite.  The two part Alma Llanera is masterful, and is also heard on the concert.  I plan to get several more of his albums as soon as my eMusic downloads refresh.  No doubt I will be posting on Simon again.