Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brilliant and Crazy: Thelonious Monk

If you have seen A Beautiful Mind, Russel Crowe as the brilliant and nuts logician John Nash, you have a sense of the connection between mental impairment and genius.  Another case in point is one Thelonious Sphere Monk.  I have loved Monk for a long time now.  Today I read David Yaffee's review of "Robin D.G. Kelley's exhaustive, necessary and, as of now, definitive Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original"  at The Nation.  I can't wait to read the book, but the review is a fine presentation of the man.

If you are interested in digging into some Monk recordings, I have some suggestions.  Monk's best single album, imho, is Brilliant Corners.  Even the title is pure Monk.  Here are some more:
  1. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
  2. Misterioso
  3. Thelonious Monk in Action
  4. Mulligan Meets Monk
  5. Alone in San Francisco
  6. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
  7. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Discs 1-3 feature Johnny Griffin on sax, who turned out to be a very fine interpreter of Monk's genius.  But Monk's encounter with Trane is one of the immortal gifts that jazz keeps giving.  Number seven was my first exposure to Monk, and it left and indelible mark. 

Monk was always a bit nuts.  He knew it, and he used it, but it also irritated him that everyone else knew it.  What can you do?  Of course, there was that hat.

Happy new year. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Powerful and the Subtle: Dave Holland and Chris Potter

The difference between a listening to jazz live and listening to a jazz recording is analogous to watching a baseball game in the stands versus watching the game on TV.  Some there are who will tell you that only the live experience is real.  This is truer among jazz fans than among baseball fans. 

The latter example tells the tale.  All things considered, I'd rather watch a great ballgame in the stadium.  The late evening summer sun, the air and the echoes, the smell of popcorn and beer, these don't come through even in HD.  Nevertheless, there is much to be said for TV.  You see more, and when it counts, you get to see it twice.  These days you can run the DVR back to take a third look.  No seat in the stadium beats the camera view. 

The analogy breaks down over the fact that one will listen to good music over and over.  The ideal, I suppose, would be to sit in a jazz club listening to a great performance, and then get the recording of that performance on your iPod.  Even better, you might get a video recording on the event. 

For Christmas this year I got a new iPod.  My old one had 60G's of storage space.  With 750 jazz albums and a lot of podcasts, I filled the damn thing up.  My new one has 160G of space.  So much to do, so little time.  I confess: I want to have my whole collection at my disposal all the time. 

The first new thing I put on my new baby was The Dave Holland Quintet/Extended Play:Live at Birdland.  This is live jazz at maximum power.  Almost all the cuts are more than ten minutes in length.  I would love to have been there, but I can be there again and again.  Here is a sample. 
Dave Holland Quintet/Prime Directive/Extended Play: Live at Birdland
 This is live page four jazz at its best.  Trust me.  There will be that guy who keeps dancing ridiculously hard, only he will be in your head.  Chris Potter fills in on sax.  He is as sharp and compelling as ever.  I think that Holland's genius is evident in the inclusion of a trombone (Robin Eubanks) and vibes (Steve Nelson).  Billy Kilson plays drums. 

For a little contrast, here is a cut from a recent Chris Potter album.  Potter has a large ensemble behind him.  It is lush, poetic, bread and sauce.  Hearing this live would be a great experience.  But it is just as well heard on your iPod, and it's easier to go to the bathroom.  This cut is wonderful:
Chris Potter 10/Family Tree/Song for Anyone
Well, Happy New Year, Jazz Babies!  I am getting pretty lonely here.  If you like this blog, post a note or two. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas

Maybe light blogging ahead.  It's hard to tell.  I am on my way down south to see my favorite hero of the Republic, my father.  Here is a sample from an album I tried to find years ago and failed.  Kenny Burrell's Stormy Monday.  All things considered, Burrell is probably my favorite jazz guitar player.

This is Burrell's version of a recently featured song.  Burrell is less interested in the mood of the song and more in it's musical architecture than Wes Montgomery was.  Enjoy the comparison.
Kenny Burrell/One for my baby/Stormy Monday

From the All Music Guide:
[Burrell is] joined by pianist Richard Wyands, bassist John Heard, and drummer Lenny McBrowne
 And here is something else:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bobo Stenson

I have been listening this week to the Bobo Stenson trio's Serenity.  It is a superb recording, especially if you like the Scandinavian sound.  I do.  It's moody and impressionistic, which is exactly the description of a long hallway in my heart.  It is also as vibrant and as alive as your own love's breast.  This is the kind of music that makes me want to live forever. 

Here is my favorite cut from the album.  Think of sitting on a wooden bench, on a warm evening, as the rain begins to fall but the sunlight is still visible on the horizon. 
Bobo Stenson Trio/Golden Rain/Serenity

If you like this cut, buy the album.  It is available from iTunes.  You might also check out the Esbj√∂rn Svensson Trio.  See my post on EST

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dave Douglas Live @ the Village Vanguard

I was turned on to trumpet man Dave Douglas by a former student and fellow jazz fan.  Douglas is prolific.  If you don't like his most recent album, come back after lunch and listen to his next one.  His jazz is very much in the avant garde category, but like a lot of AG jazzmen, he communicates the old bop language. 

I am still trying to decide whether I like his music.  It surely has caught my ear!  NPR has a Village Vanguard concert by Douglas available for download.  I listened to it this afternoon while grading Philosophy of Religion papers.  It kind of worked, in an existential way.  The Vanguard concert seemed pretty accessible, and so it might be a good place to start for jazz fans who want to know what Douglas is all about. 

I have been listening to Mountain Passages.  It moves me in a mountain path sort of way.  I have spent many days backpacking along mountain trails, and this music seems to recall the granite walls and pines shrouded in mist that I remember.  That's no small achievement.  Here is a sample:

Dave Douglas/Gumshoe/Mountain Passages

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wes Montgomery on Riverside

There is a special place in my heart for West Coast guitar master Wes Montgomery.  My jazz collecting falls neatly into two periods. The first was back in grad school when I purchased my first decent stereo and music still came packaged in thin slices of black plastic, the size of a medium pizza. The second began only a few years ago when I purchased my first iPod.

My love for WM belongs to the first period.  I landed a two album collection called, as I remember, Full House.  I can still feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck the first time I listened to it.  Montgomery had a unique style of soloing that consisted in playing the same note simultaneously on two strings, one octave apart.  The result was a rich, deep, and heart-warming union of flesh and string.  I cannot not love it.

I recently acquired The Complete Riverside Recordings, a box set of twelve CDs.  Everything I had is on it, and a lot more.  Given the size of the box, I am not shy about offering several samples.  Here is one recorded in LA in 1960.  The cast is James Clay (ts, fl) Victor Feldman (p) Wes Montgomery (g, bag) Sam Jones (b) Louis Hayes (d).  Victor Feldman?  Clay's flute is wonderful, and this number demonstrates how marvelous an accompanist Montgomery was.
Wes Montgomery/Movin' Along/The Complete Riverside Recordings
 Here is one of the finest recordings of a very fine song, under the leadership of "the other Adderley."  This is the heart of Jazz blues.  This is the band: Nat Adderley (cor) Bobby Timmons (p) Wes Montgomery (g) Sam Jones (cello, b) Percy Heath (b) Louis Hayes (d).   This has the same kind of power that Timmon's 'Moanin' had. 
Nat Adderley/Work Song/The Complete Riverside Recordings
 And here are a couple more.  The first is a great testament to the West Coast sound.  The second is a testament to Wes Montgomery's romantic heart.
Wes Montgomery/West Coast Blues/The Complete Riverside Recordings

Wes Montgomery/One More for my Baby and One More for the Road /The Complete Riverside Recordings
 That last title alone is a document in the history of culture and a discourse on the architecture of the human soul.  It is so shockingly incorrect: two more drinks before driving.  That is the texture of another age, even if it was a mere half century ago.  But boy does it tell a story.  Hank Jones (p) Wes Montgomery (g) Ron Carter (b) Lex Humphries (d).  1961.  
Its quarter to three,
There's no one in the place cept you and me
So set em up joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know

 We're drinking my friend
To the end of a brief episode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

 All of that, the dark bar with all the light up front, the one guy still sitting on his stool, it's in every riff that Montgomery plays.  This is why God made music. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

David S. Ware: Shakti

It's crunch time this professor, so I have been neglecting Jazz Note.  For loyal readers who frequently check out this blog for something new, here is something new. 

David S. Ware/Crossing Samsara/Shakti

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bass is a Hard Life

I am fascinated by bass players.  They play a role in jazz that is somewhat akin to a catcher in baseball: they can see the whole field and so end up directing the play.  For that reason, bass players make very good leaders.  Mingus comes to mind.  It must be a very hard life for a musician, because a lot of the time on a lot of albums, you just can't hear them very well.  It's hard to tell by listening that an album recorded with a bassist as leader isn't really a saxophone album, or whatever instrument is upstaging the big fiddle.

Anyway, this weekend I have been listening to a recent acquisition by William Parker.  Parker is an avant garde master about whom I have blogged previously.  At that link you can find a sample from Parker's recording Painter's Spring.  It is a brilliant cd, and one of those recordings where the title and the cover art are really part of the experience.

Peach Orchard is a two disc recording issued under Parker's name and the band IN ORDER TO SURVIVE in the late 90's.  Cooper-Moore plays piano, Rob Brown alto sax, and Susie Ibarra drums.  The compositions are rather long and musically complex.  It is compelling, high energy jazz.  Here's a sample:
William Parker-IN ORDER TO SURVIVE/Three Clay Pots/Peach Orchard
 Give it a listen and let me know what you think. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

Santa's List

I blogged earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk's incomparable album: Rip, Rig, and Panic/Now Please Don't You Cry Dear Edith.  I also included the recording in my best 50 list.  If you don't have this thing, sit on Santa's lap.  Or buy two of them, and give one as a gift to someone very special.

Another very fine Kirk recording is Complements of the Mysterious Phantom.  It is not only a display of Kirk's virtuosity, it is also a very entertaining and enlightening document of live jazz culture.  It includes brief sections of "Rahspeak", little monologues that are not evidence of a weak personality.
I was listenin' to Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins when I was in my mother's womb.  She says every time she put Charlie Parker on the record player I was jumping up and down inside her.  My crib was a saxophone case.  Yeah. 

The folks who got to sit in on this one got their money's worth.  But don't let me mislead you: this recording is full of full steam jazz bop. Hilton Ruiz (p) Henry Pearson (b), John Goldsmith (d) Samson Verge (per).  Here is a sample:
Rahsaan Roland Kirk/My One and Only Love/Complements of the Mysterious Phantom

On a very different score, here is another stocking stuffer. Bassist Charlie Haden recorded a number of albums under the title "The Montreal Tapes."  I haven't heard recently from commenter Bass Is Life, but BIL will like this one.  It's a trio, with Al Foster on drums and Joe Henderson on tenor.  It is my view that one simply cannot have too much Joe Henderson.  The recording consists of four lengthy pieces, each of them worth a trip to Canada.  Here is a sample:
Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson, Al Foster/Round Midnight/The Montreal Tapes
These two recordings have nothing other to do with one another than that I have been enjoying them tonight.  You will enjoy them too.  Trust me on this one.  

Update:  I have been a bit behind in listening to my favorite podcast, In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond, by my good friend Ken Laster.  Tonight I was listening to Ken's November 8th show, The Masters Part 2, and what should I hear but the very Rahsaan Roland Kirk album I posted on last night.  I am not sure why, but I feel compelled to explain that this was sheer coincidence.  In fact, I only downloaded the RRK recording yesterday afternoon because it had been in my "saved list" on eMusic for a while.  The power of Kirk! 

Anyway, if you read this blog and like the music I review, and you don't listen to Ken's podcast, you are cheating yourself.  Ken's shows are gold mines of good jazz, and he is a lot of fun to listen to.  Don't miss it. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Classical Elegance of MJQ

I was taken to task by commenter Bartek for not including the Modern Jazz Quartet in my best 50 jazz recordings.I can only rely on the mercy of the court on this one.  I have long admired MJQ.  I vaguely recall an album cover from the LP age.  The four, John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (v), Percy Heath (b), and Connie Kay (d), were all dressed in very elegant suits.  That small thing imparted a dignity to their whole enterprise.    This was a group that thought it could stand next to any string quartet.  Indeed, it could, and that is something in the long adversarial relationship between jazz and "serious music."

Milt Jackson, or Bags if you want to be formal, was the most famous of the four.  I think that John Lewis probably had more influence on the group.  MJQ stood for a kind of professionalism that is often lacking in jazz.  For some odd reasons that I won't mention, my collection is sadly lacking in MJQ recordings.  But this evening I purchased The Complete Last Concert.  It wasn't the last concert, but it is complete.  Listening to it tonight, I wonder how I got along without it.  It is one of the core collection entries in the Penguin Guide (may its name be praised).  I am going to have to squeeze it into the list when next I revise it. 

Here is a sample, a version of one of my favorite standards. 
Modern Jazz Quartet/Softly as in a Morning Sunrise/The Complete Last Concert