Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jazz Guitar & Memory

I've blogged about Kenny Burrell's album, Midnight Blue. I picked it up in a music store in Claremont California in the 1980's. It was one of the first compact discs I bought, and it was a remainder, so I got it cheap. It is a magnificent recording. Every soft echo is on the disc. Put it in the tray and turn off the lights, you will swear the band is in your living room. I had the pleasure of attending a Burrell concert back in grad school. He is the real thing. Here is the best piece off of Midnight Blue.
Kenny Burrell/Chitlins Con Carne/Midnight Blue
While I was living in Claremont, my brother got on a plane and flew out to see me. About that time, the jazz guitar player Lenny Breau was murdered. A concert was held to benefit his family, and my brother, who is a guitar player, went with me to the event. It was spectacular, even if funereal in spirit. I can't remember now all the great jazz guitar players who showed up. But Mundell Lowe was there, and Herb Ellis. I was already a fan of Ellis, and it was a high point to get to talk to him outside the club. Here is a bit of Ellis, with Ray Brown and Monty Alexander.
Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis/Tripple Treat Blues/Tripple Scoop
Ellis has got that feeling.

Last, but not least, my bro and I enjoyed listening to a double album by Wes Montgomery. That's West Coast jazz for you! Montgomery had that special trick of playing two notes across octaves at the same time in his solos. It gave his lines depth that is seldom replicated. Here's a sample:
Wes Montgomery/Full House/Full House
Well, that's memory lane in Blanchard Town. If you like what you hear, buy the albums. And either way, post a comment so I know someone is listening.

Here's something suggested by Andre.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More Pepper @ the Vanguard

My dear friend Ken Laster directed us to a biography of Art Pepper in a comment on my last post. I can't wait to read it. Pepper was, as my Grandmother would have said, "a piece of work." Heroin took a big bite out of his career, and that is a loss to all of us who love his music. But it is what it is. And what it is is great. Here is another selection from the Village Vanguard box set.

Art Pepper/A Night in Tunisia/Art Pepper: The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hot Pepper @ The Village Vanguard

It might be the most famous venue in modern Jazz. John Coltrane recorded his most important live album there, as did Bill Evans. NPR has a concert series based at the Vanguard. I am behind on my listening, but they have a recent concert featuring Cedar Walton. That is something to look forward to.

Some time ago I acquired Art Pepper: The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions. It's pricey to be sure, at over a hundred bucks. But when you have it, you have Pepper. Art Pepper was a mess. His recording career was punctuated by about four prison terms, all due to his heroin addiction. Photos of Pepper at this date remind me of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows.

Still, Pepper managed to leave behind a series of immortal recordings. The Vanguard recordings give you nine discs of everything that Pepper put into the microphones during his stint at the club. That means a lot of versions of the same numbers.

It also means you get to hear his voice, a lot, as he schmoozes the crowd. Pepper clearly wanted the crowd to know that they were present for something important. They were.

Backing Pepper George Cables played piano, George Mraz played bass, and Elvin Jones was on drums. They were up to the occasion. Here is a sample from the nine disc collection:
Art Pepper/Live at the Vanguard/Live at the Village Vanguard
This one will make you glad to be alive. Seek out the rest of the recordings, and shell out some dough. One of these days you will raise a glass to me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

David Murray: Avant Garde & Reentry

So I'm a little bit obsessed just right now with David Murray. While preparing a Chinese dinner (garlic and chili shrimp with stir fry Bok Choy on the side), I listened again to his album Body and Soul. It was as good as the shrimp, and a lot better than the bok choy.

You can consult my recent posts on Murray to see my view of his place in jazz. But the whole story is on this disc. The album blends straightforward hard bop with avant garde stretch. The title song is delicious, with Murray playing hints and the melody provided by a striking vocal performance.

Sonelius Smith on piano, Wilber Morris on bass, Rashid Ali on drums. Taana Running sings 'Body and Soul.' Her deep, smeary voice is perfect. The piano/bass/drum dialogue on the first cut, 'Slave Song' is superb.

Here is a sample:
David Murray/Odin/Body and Soul
One reason I fell in love with Murray is that a really big chunk of his work is available on eMusic. If you like this cut, join eMusic or find the disc somewhere else. You won't be disappointed.

Here is a nice YouTube clip of Murray. The sound is awesome.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama Freedom Suite

This is my tribute to the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. I have edited excerpts of Obama's historic inaugural speech with Sonny Rollins' landmark recording "Freedom Suite". Recorded in 1958 this was Rollins' musical protest of the state of race relations during the height of our segregation era. It also represents a new freedom in jazz composition and improvisation. Saxophone Collosus' sailing Tenor playing, Oscar Pettiford's solid bass statements, and Max Roach's inventive drum stylings, combine to musically express the struggles of those times.

Fifty years later, we have elected an African American to the highest office in the land, in what is possibly the beginning of the final chapter in the history of the civil rights movement in America. I have juxtaposed Rollins' expression of anger and despair of racial inequality in 1958, with Obama's message of hope and unity as a tribute to the truly historic election and inauguration of our new President.

Listen or download this musical Inauguration Day tribute by clicking the link below:

Serge Chaloff: Heroin & the Big Horn

I have a taste for big horn bop. All the sharp brass is great, but the baritone saxophone digs deep into the geology of feeling in a way that nothing else can. I chanced upon Chaloff's name in the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, and I wasn't sorry I did.

The son of two piano teachers, Chaloff fought two demons: heroin, which he conquered, and cancer of the spine, which he did not. He was the second jazzman to specialize in the baritone sax. His masterpiece was Blue Serge, with Sonny Clark on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Give this a listen:
Serge Chaloff/A Handful of Stars/Blue Serge
Then go and get the rest of the disc. You'll keep coming back to it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Max Roach and Barack Obama

From the very beginning of the American Republic, the position of African Americans has been central both to our peril and our promise. Jefferson and Madison knew it. Abraham Lincoln realized it and it brought him back into politics in 1858 when Stephen Douglas urged us to adopt a pro-choice attitude toward slavery, thus abandoning our most sacred principle. Martin Luther King brought us back to it in his transcendent "I have a dream" speech. Whether you voted for Barack Obama or not, you might acknowledge that today represents the final movement of the great American symphony.

Jazz was intimately connected to the Civil Rights Movement if only because so many of its founding geniuses were African Americans. In honor of Barack Obama's inauguration, I present a bit of Max Roach. Here's a brief review of We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.

A jazz landmark, and one of the enduring artistic statements of the Civil Rights Movement. From the opening "Driva'man" — with Coleman Hawkins' tenor maintaining dignity in the face of the whip-cracks drummer Max Roach emulates with his rim-shots — to the closing "Tears for Johannesburg" — a wordless cry for the victims of apartheid — Roach alternately condemns and celebrates the African-American experience. There's inspired soloing by trumpeter Booker Little and trombonist Julian Priester, a stirring percussion jam with Olatunji and others, and hair-raising vocals, both verbal (lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr.) and nonverbal, from Abbey Lincoln. This provides the template for countless subsequent musical suites and dramatic presentations on the subject, but Roach was firstest with the mostest.
I have long loved this Max Roach album, as a rare example of narrative jazz. Here's one sample:
Max Roach/Freedom Day/We Insist! Freedom Now Suite

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Back to Jack

I have been posting on a lot of edgy jazz in recent weeks. How about a taste of something squarely in the middle of page four and as solid and nourishing as a good pot of stew. Here is one that was recorded a few weeks before I was born at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack. Maybe that sentence was confusing. I wasn't born in Van Gelder's studio, though that would make for a great story! It's Jackie McLean on also sax, with John Jenkins (also on alto) Wade Legge (p) Doug Watkins (b) Art Taylor (d). The info comes from the wonderful Jazz Discography Project, which is one of the things that keeps up my faith in jazz. Someone took the time to do this!
Jackie McLean/The Lady is A Tramp/Alto Madness
It can be had for pennies from eMusic. McLean was an authentic hardbop hero. I seem to recall Ken Laster honoring his passing back in 2006.

Here's a nice video clip of the McLean Quintet doin' Sonny Clark's 'Cool Strutin'.

David S. Ware Needs a Kidney

I happened upon David S. Ware's name in the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings as I was sitting on the john this evening. I was intrigued by the entry on his album Freedom Suite. Jazz has a pretty high status among music genres, but jazz artists have always felt a little inferior to classical musicians, and the latter had returned the favor. Jazz composition is done mostly on the fly, and doesn't have the kind of architectural planning that goes into, say, Beethoven's violin concerto.

With the obvious exception of Duke Ellington, who did approach the kind of composition that characterizes classical music, most good jazz comes in short bursts. There have been attempts to create classical-like compositions in jazz. Coltrane's A Love Supreme is a good example. But this is mostly a mistake. Good jazz songs get recorded over and over. But how many jazz artists have tried to recreate A Love Supreme? It just doesn't work that way.

Or it doesn't work that way most of the time. Sonny Rollins who, frankly, isn't known for his composing, produced Freedom Suite, a nearly twenty minute opus that plays with a number of themes and might be conceived as a concerto. But it's way too sketchy for that. It makes for a long piece on a good album.

David S. Ware decided to treat it as a classical composition and produced his own Freedom Suite. It is very worth listening to. Here is a cut:
David S. Ware/The Freedom Suite-Movement 1/The Freedom Suite
I just learned that Ware is in ill-health and needs a kidney. I hope someone comes forward. I seem to be the wrong blood type, which lets me off the hook and maybe dooms my soul. Anyway, this is a great jazzman and deserves our hope and love. Check out the clip above and, if it interests you do what I did: buy it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The David Murray Octet: Avant Garde & Hard Bop Soul

I have been editing a book, Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question. Blogging is what I do to unwind, so I hope my readers appreciate the frequent posts this week. If you do, go to Barnes and Noble and demand the book. It's going to be great.

David Murray's most important Avant Garde documents were the two albums he recorded with his Octet in 1980 and 81: Ming, and Home. Here is the Octet: David Murray (ts, bcl), Henry Threadgill (as), Olu Dara (tp), Lawrence "Butch" Morris (c), George Lewis (tb), Anthony Davis (p), Wilbur Morris (b), Steve McCall (perc). I got this from the following site:

Both discs are extraordinary. A lot of the music is very challenging, but there are some great cuts that fit squarely within the hardbop tradition. I am a classical theorist by training, and it spills over into my hobby time. I like to try to categorize the various jazz genres. So here goes: the difference between hard bop and avant garde (or free jazz) turns on the relationship between melody and improvisation. If melody governs improvisation but the improve is very robust, it's hard bop. If the melody is only something to be analyzed and exploited, or even used as an excuse for random experimentation, it's avant garde.

Here's an experiment: compare these two numbers. The first is from Murray's recording The Hill. There is a version of it on Ming as well, but it's longer. The second is from Home. It is classic jazz. So I am confused. I am also delighted.

David Murray/The Hill/The Hill

David Murray/The Last of the Hipmen/Home

'The Hill' is interesting, which is a little like saying that a prospective date has a nice personality. 'The Last of the Hipmen" is someone you can spend time with.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Want to Talk about David Murray and Trane

One of the great things about eMusic, if you have one of their premium plans, is that it allows you to have affairs with this or that jazz genius. In the last year I have fallen head over heels in love with Booker Ervin, Sonny Criss, Steve Lacy, Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, Arthur Blythe, and lately David Murray. Funny how they all play sax.

David Murray made his mark in avant garde jazz with two classic recordings, Ming, and Home. These are very challenging albums. Thereafter he seems to have abandoned pure free jazz for a career digging into the history of jazz. But he never let go of his avant garde genie. I have been listening to several Murray albums lately: The Hill, Body and Soul, and I Want to Talk about You. They are all good examples of someone who has been there to the avant garde extreme and back. I think I like them most in succession. The Hill keeps tempting me to climb it, but it's a strenuous climb for the most part. Body and Soul is about half and half: some of it very accessible, and some not so much. But I Want to Talk about You is delicious all the way through.

Murray's course through the heavens can perhaps be measured in relation to that dark star John Coltrane. Almost every important Jazz musician has been pulled into orbit around Trane. Here is an interesting koan: listen to Murray's recording of "I Want to Talk about You," and the follow it with Trane's interpretation. Here they are:
John Coltrane/I Want to Talk About You/European Tours

David Murray/I Want to Talk About You/I Want to Talk About You
That's a lot of jazz joy in two packages. Give 'em a listen. Comment if you like what you hear.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Jazz Compositions 7: Footprints

Wayne Shorter was one of the finest of the hardbop composers. I think he produced more haunting melodies than anyone else I know of. Indeed many of his works are literally haunting, with titles like 'Infant Eyes,' and 'Juju.'

'Footprints' might be his most covered composition. I am pretty sure it shows up first on Adam's Apple, a 1966 Shorter album with Herbie Hancock, Reggie Workman, and Joe Chambers. I happen to think that 'Adam's Apple' is as good a song, but who's counting? Shorter recorded 'Footprints' with Miles Davis on Miles Smiles that same year.

Footprints is surely an immortal piece of music. Go back to the November Jazznotes, and you can hear a recording of of the song by Chico Freeman and Arthur Blythe. But here is something different: a version with words by Karrin Allyson.
I really like the lyrics she has written, and the song is perfect for her kind of jazz singing. I think I'm in love again.

ps. I just listened to both Allyson's version and the Freeman/Blythe. Boy are they both toe-curlin' good. The difference between the two is a brilliant illustration of how much life there is in one good melody, and that is the story of modern jazz. If you like what you hear, get the whole albums. Both are available for a song at eMusic.

Some More David Murray & The Future of Modern Jazz

I was pretty excited by Ken Laster's post below, on the Nu Jazz label. Since I began posting on jazz at my political blog, South Dakota Politics, I have felt a little guilty. I concentrated my attentions on the great bop and post-bop heroes, and largely neglected contemporary jazz musicians. The reasons are easy to list. Older music has been vetted by time. We know who the great horn players of the 1950's were. But mostly, the older stuff was cheaper. You could get Kind of Blue for under ten bucks, or for free from a record club, but new jazz recordings would cost you fifteen bucks or more.

And then comes eMusic. These guys should really be paying me a stipend. I have download tons of classic jazz from them for maybe three or four dollars a disc. Most of what I have purchased from eMusic has been decades old, but not all of it. I have a lot of Eric Alexander, for example, that is very new. And that's the point.

Jazz has always been a refined taste. But it can build and keep an audience if the price is right. I suspect that online only record labels may be the solution to affordable contemporary jazz. Today I have been listening to Tineke Postma's first album, which I downloaded from eMusic. It's mellow and much to be treasured. At 3$ a CD I'll buy 5 CDs. At 15$ a CD, I won't buy one.

Anyway, I have been digging into the work of David Murray lately. The Duet album with Mal Waldron, Silence, is astounding. Fortunately, eMusic has a bunch of his recordings. Tonight I have been listening to Morning Song. John Hicks plays piano, Reggie Workman and Ray Drummond on bass, and Ed Blackwell on drums. I have been messmerized by Murray's more avant garde recordings, Ming and The Hill. This is much more Page Three jazz: sticking to basic melody. Oh, and by the way, Murray has a big thing for 'Body and Soul.'

Anyway, here is the title piece. It's delicious.
'Morning Song'/David Murray/Morning Song
If you like it, join eMusic and get the rest of the booty.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Nu Jazz virtual record label

This new record "label" is a reflection of this digital age, a response to the state of the music industry, and the way music will be distributed in the future. From the Nu Jazz Entertainment website...
All releases will be distributed solely via digital downloads, with no products sold through the traditional music retail outlets. This will allow for the music to go directly into the hands of the consumers in an almost instantaneous method...The future of Jazz is here - Nu Jazz Records is a record label for a "Nu era". Unencumbered by the political constraints of the traditional record companies Nu Jazz Records is able to put the emphasis where it belongs - on the music. ...Unencumbered by the need to do media advertising buys, retail store marketing programs, or to generally pursue the other marketing activities; Nu Jazz invests the money for these expenditures in the two areas where it is most important: 1) By providing royalties to the artist in fiscal percentages which standard record companies would refuse to; and 2) By investing in the development and acquisition of new works of music...From time immemorial the musicians who have labored long and hard to develop their own musical voice have been bitterly neglected and mis-used by the conventional modern day slavery of the recording business.
It has grown apparent that the major record labels have abandoned any new jazz music and completely de-valued this incredible American art form. Nu Jazz Entertainment is attempting to fairly compensate these important Artists, and to market jazz music using new media and technology in this new world order. While I regret seeing the demise of 'physical' media, particularly the art of record covers and liner notes that was such an integral part of the record album experience, I do embrace the immediacy and convenience of digital music. The ability to take my entire music collection in my pocket is a powerful thing and has transformed the music industry in a very positive way. Despite the loss of CD revenues and the ranting of the RIAA, I think that the digital music revolution has brought music back to forefront of peoples consciousness. (I do wonder if it makes us all vulnerable to losing our entire collection from a crashed hard drive or lost iPod... back up your music, folks)

As to the music, I am particularly aware of tenor sax player, Jimmy Greene because he is a product of the local Jazz scene in my hometown of Hartford Connecticut, as is bassist Luques Curtis. Though they have moved on to successful jazz careers, and have collaborated with many great jazz artists in New York city, they often come back to town to play in local venues. I was able to see from this video clip below that this album was recorded at New Haven's (CT) Firehouse 12. This is a recording studio by day, and on several Friday evenings throughout the year, they set up 50 or 60 folding chairs and it becomes a great venue for live jazz performances. The album is entitled The Overcomer's Suite, from Jimmy Greene, and is available from eMusic for a pittance, or wherever digital downloads are sold (and dig the sweet drumming in this clip by Kendrick Scott).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Silence before the Big Silence: David Murray & Mal Waldron

I have been listening to a lot of Mal Waldron of late. That's mostly a result of discovering Steve Lacy. Their lengthy partnership produced some astonishing duets. Communiqué, Sempre Amore, Reflections, all are good examples. I think I bought a Waldron album back in my youthful jazz enthusiast days.

Today I chanced upon Fred Kaplan's Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2008 column at Slate, my favorite online only political/cultural magazine. And there I saw a new album, Silence, by David Murray and Mal Waldron. That's pretty surprising, considering that Waldron died in 2002. Must have been one from the vaults. Well, I note from Kaplan's column that it was recorded in 2001.

You can hear a clip from one of the numbers at Kaplan's column. David Murray is a more committed free jazz artist than Waldron was, though Waldron was clearly at the edges. If you thumb through my previous posts, you will find a clip from Murray to download.

God help me, and save me from my wife, I downloaded Silence from iTunes. The recording quality is superb. Murray's playing is sublime. One can scarcely believe that such things are possible, but I, dear reader, have been there, and I heard it for myself. The samples available at iTunes are not indication of what lies in store.

I won't post a sample of this because I don't like to do that with recent releases. Besides, Apple makes it a real bother. But here is a Waldron/Lacy piece that will whet your appetite.

Blue Monk/Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron/Reflections
Enjoy. And if you like it, you can find it on eMusic.

Update: here is a video of Tineke Postma on soprano, recommended by reader André. It's a really delightful clip. A small group playing before a small audience. Through the shades behind them, you can see electric trains moving. The effect is very modern jazz.

Stump the Listener: Warren Vaché & Tony Coe

I am guessing that a lot of my readers are like André from the Netherlands, you are serious jazz collectors and have a lot of the albums I review here. So how can I surprise you? Well, let me at least try. Here is a piece by trumpet man Warren Vaché and Bill Charlap on piano. It's delicious.
If I should lose you
Okay, so you already have 2gether. Well, how about Some Other Autumn, by Tony Coe. Here is
Aristotle's Blues
If you like it, buy the album. And post a comment on Jazz Note. I crave attention!

Monday, January 5, 2009

To My Readers: a Gift & a Request

First the request: if you are reading this blog, please comment. Let me know who you are and what you appreciate on this blog. I am getting a little traffic, about 25 visitors a day. Most are from the United States, but a significant number are from France, the UK, and Germany. I would like to hear from everyone who samples my blog. I will try to respond to any comment. If you like the music I post here, do me this simple favor. I read French with the help of a dictionary, but I don't read German at all. So I am relying on Google.

Tout d'abord la demande: si vous lisez ce blog, s'il vous plaît commentaire. Permettez-moi de savoir qui vous êtes et ce que vous appréciez sur ce blog. Je reçois un peu de circulation, environ 25 visiteurs par jour. La plupart sont des États-Unis, mais un grand nombre sont originaires de France, le Royaume-Uni et en Allemagne. Je voudrais entendre de la part de tous les échantillons qui ont mon blog. Je vais essayer de répondre à tout commentaire. Si vous aimez la musique, je poste ici, me faire cette simple faveur. Je lis le français avec l'aide d'un dictionnaire, mais je ne lis pas l'allemand à tous. Donc je compte sur Google.

Zunächst wird die Anfrage: Wenn Sie dieses Blog lesen, bitte Kommentar. Lassen Sie mich wissen, wer Sie sind und was Sie schätzen, für die dieser Blog. Ich bin immer ein wenig Verkehr, ca. 25 Besucher pro Tag. Die meisten sind aus den Vereinigten Staaten, aber eine beträchtliche Zahl sind aus Frankreich, dem Vereinigten Königreich und Deutschland. Ich möchte hören, von allen Proben, die mein Blog. Ich werde versuchen, auf jeden Kommentar. Wenn Sie wie die Musik, die ich hier, kann mich dieser einfachen Gefallen. Ich habe Französisch mit Hilfe eines Wörterbuchs, aber ich kann nicht lesen deutsch. Deshalb bin ich auf Google.

Here is the favor: 'Think Deep,' by Coleman Hawkins, from The Hawk Flies High.

Meanwhile, God Save Jazz!

To My

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Freddie Hubbard Live at the Keystone Korner, 1981

In honor of Freddie Hubbard's passing, I can recommend a two album live recording: Keystone Bop Vol. 1: Sunday, and Keystone Bop Vol. 2: Friday/Saturday. I've been bouncing to it for the first time tonight. It is a fine little live date, recorded sharply enough to feel very real. You can't hear Hubbard talking into the mike very well, but all the music comes through, and plenty of club sounds to make you feel like you're there.

Backing Hubbard is Joe Henderson on tenor and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, with Billy Childs piano, Larry Klein bass, and Steve Houghton drums. Henderson and Hutcherson are in very good form, and the moan of the horns melds perfectly with the chimes and piano. Boy did these guys still have it in 1981!

Here is sample from the Sunday night set, a version of 'Red Clay'. You can compare it with the original, available on my previous post. This is toe curlin' good. Henderson's solo is noble, the kind of thing you hang on a coat of arms. Hutcherson doesn't let any air out of the balloon with his solo. But Hubbard turns on the burners full blast, and then settles into a pensive treatment of the sweet center of the melody. Klein's bass solo is worth the admission price. You are going to love this one.
Red Clay
I note that it is preceded by a splendid version of 'Round Midnight', which I almost posted but didn't, since it is all Henderson and no Hubbard. But you don't want to miss it. Get the disc. Both of them are available from eMusic for pennies.

Also check out Ken Laster's tribute to Freddie Hubbard at In the Groove. He has a cut from Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil that will bring you back to the faith. God bless Freddie.