Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Warne Marsh

Warne Marsh has a claim on my heart.  My first introduction to serious jazz was listening to Bill Evans in the apartment of an English Professor, Mead Harwell, in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  One of my first purchases was Crosscurrents, featuring the Bill Evans Trio backed by Lee Konitz and Marsh.  It is still one of my favorite albums.  Here is a sample from this superb recording:
Every time we say goodbye/Crosscurrents
I looked for Marsh records for years, but it is only recently that I have managed to obtain some of his own recordings.  Recently I got The Unissued Copenhagen Studio Sessions.  You gotta love the title: how can they be unissued if they are on this CD?  This is a beautiful piece of work.  How many brilliant albums are still in the can somewhere out there?  Marsh is backed by guitarist Dave Cliff, bass player Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and drummer Al Levitt. 

Marsh's tenor had a fuzzy, impressionistic sound, even when he was playing very fast.  Cut your pallet first, maybe, by listening to a bit of Art Pepper.  Here is one of my favorite standards from the album.  You might contrast it with Booker Evin's interpretation. 
You don't know what love is/The Unissued Copenhagen Studio Sessions

Monday, January 25, 2010

Genius Ages Slow: Lee Konitz @ the Village Vanguard

NPR is doing jazz a tremendous service with its Live at the Village Vanguard series, which I have heavily pushed here.  The current offering is a concert by Lee Konitz, backed by Dan Tepfer on piano and Matt Wilson on drums.  Konitz' alto has 82 years of heart behind it.  I first heard him on a Bill Evans album, Crosscurrents

I am too tired tonight to reflect on all the joy that Konitz has brought me.  But consider this sample, from one of Konitz' greatest albums:
I Remember You/Motion

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Passions of a Mingus CENSORED

Note: due to objections from the music industry, the music samples have been removed.  

I have been listening my way through the 41 tracks on Charlie Mingus' Passions of a Man.  I am thinking that is not only the definitive Mingus collection, but one of the great treasures of modern jazz.  Mingus clearly had that genius that most distinguishes jazz: the ability to dig deeply into the veins of various musical traditions, pull out the ore, and melt and mix it into jewels worthy of any crown.  I also suspect that Mingus rates as the second greatest small group leader, surpassed only by Miles Davis.  So what if he was nuts? 

Another reason this collection is priceless is that it includes so many great jazz masters.  I have almost everything Eric Dolphy recorded under his own name.  Now I have more Dolphy.  Good.  In addition, there is Jackie McLean, Pepper Adams, Mal Waldron, Horace Parlan, and Bud Powell.

Passions of a Man includes  
  1. Pithecanthropus Erectus,  
  2. The Clown,  
  3. Blues and Roots,  
  4. Mingus at Antibes,  
  5. Oh Yeah, and  
  6. Tonight at Noon.  
All of them are good, but numbers 1 and 4  are worth their weight in gold.  Mingus at Antibes is one of the finest live jazz recordings.  Ted Curson (tp) Eric Dolphy (as, bcl) Booker Ervin (ts -1/4,6) Bud Powell (p -6) Charles Mingus (b, p -1/5, b -6) Dannie Richmond (d).  Here is a sample:
Prayer for Passive Resistance
And on the recording Oh Yeah, there is Booker Ervin and Roland Kirk.  I have pushed Booker Ervin pretty hard on this blog.  I think he is one of the most under-appreciated geniuses in the business.  Roland Kirk is better appreciated, but I have pushed him as well. Also on the album are Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Doug Watkins on bass, and Dannie Richmond on drums.  Here is a sample:
Hog Calling Blues
This is a long post, but I am not out of steam yet.  A second box set of Mingus available is The Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings.  This is a three disc set with Mingus' magnum opus, Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Dynasty, and a third disc with alternative takes from the first two.  If you don't have the first two, this is a reasonable purchase from eMusic (28 credits).  If you do have them, you can always download the third disc.

Mingus Ah Um is one of the core recordings in any good jazz library.  Mingus Dynasty is almost as toe-curling good.  The band: Richard Williams (tp) Jimmy Knepper (tb) Jerome Richardson (fl, bars) John Handy (as) Booker Ervin, Benny Golson (ts) Teddy Charles (vib -1/5) Roland Hanna (p -1/5) Nico Bunick (p -6) Charles Mingus (b) Dannie Richmond (d, timp).  Booker Ervin again, and Roland Hanna!  Here is one last delicious sample:
Well, that's a pretty good bunch of Mingus.  I can't resist mentioning another album available from eMusic.  The Town Hall Concert (1964) consists of two very long, very fine recordings.  eMusic has it for, well, two credits.  More Eric Dolphy.  More brilliant jazz.

Okay, that's enough work for one Friday night.  Here in the Dakotas, ice and snow are coming in.  Mingus is keeping me warm.  If you like what I am doing, drop me a line. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Martin Luther King & Charlie Mingus

Here's a scoop: you can get Charlie Mingus, Passions of A Man: The Complete Atlantic Recordings, from eMusic, for 12 credits.   That's 41 songs, including about 6 albums, for the price of one.  In honor of the recent holiday and today's election in Massachusetts I offer this sample:
Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting
The Civil Rights Movement began in a church.  That's all I got tonight.  

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Best Jazz You Never Heard: Reid Anderson

If you are looking for evidence that genius still inhabits contemporary jazz, Ethan Iverson's work is a good place to start.  I blogged on Iverson back in June (sorry, but the links have been removed).  Iverson has been most visible as a member of The Bad Plus, a very eclectic and unspeakably daring group including Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums.  To get an idea of how daring they are, they walked away from a contract with a major label (Columbia) because they didn't like the anti-piracy shenanigans that Columbia was up to.

The Bad Plus recently appeared at the Village Vanguard, and you can download a recording of their concert from the NPR Village Vanguard site.  I haven't listened to it yet, or to their most recent recording For All I Care, which includes Wendy Lewis' sinuous vocals.  The group's most conspicuous feature is their treatment of pop and rock songs.  The new album has a version of Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb'!  And here is clip of the group performing Black Sabbath's 'Iron Man'.

Okay, but what I really wanted to post about tonight are three albums I have listened to, with bassist Reid Anderson as leader. 
Dirty Show Tunes (1998) with Iverson on piano, Mark Turner on Sax, and Jorge Rossy on drums. 
Abolish Bad Architecture (1999) Jeff Ballard replaces Rossy on drums.  
The Vastness of Space (2000), with Ben Monder on guitar, Andrew D'Angelo on alto, Bill McHenry on Tenor, and Marlon Browden on drums. 
All three are superb recordings.  You can't help but love the title of the second one, and the titles of many of the compositions are equally entertaining.  The jazz is at once very accessible and refreshingly unfamiliar in texture.  Turner's tenor dominates the first two, and I think his playing here is more compelling and brilliant than anything I have heard elsewhere.  Iverson knows exactly where all the acupuncture points beneath the skin of the melodies, and he plays with a penetrating and rejuvenating touch.  The Vastness of Space is maybe a little more edgy, but only a little. 

I really dig these albums.  As far as I know, Anderson hasn't recorded again as leader, so when you download them for eMusic, you have a complete set.  Here is a sample from each album:
Not Sentimental/Dirty Show Tunes

Todas las cosas se van/Abolish Bad Architecture

Foxy/The Vastness of Space
 Please, if you like this music, buy the recordings.  And while you are at it, drop me a line. 

Sonny Criss

I first learned of Sonny Criss from Ken Blanchard on this blog. Cat had amazing chops and a rough life with a painful ending. This one is for you Professor and Jazz Note SDP's audience too. There are more from this session too. Hunt them down on YouTube and check them all out. And dig Bobby Thompson's great work on the traps.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


With a collection of about a thousand jazz albums, for the most part carefully selected, and drawing on limited resources, the question is always where to go next.  This evening I returned to my jazz Bible, the Penguin Guide, and started at the beginning.  It didn't take long to arrive at Air.

Air is a trio consisting of Henry Threadgill, who seems to play just about every horn, with Fred Hopkins on bass and Steve McCall on percussion.  eMusic had a Penguin Guide recommendation, Air Song, with four cuts at one download each.  After listening to some brief samples, I pushed the button.  As I listening to the recording, it pushed all of my buttons.

Air Song was recorded in 1975, the year I graduated from high school, and kissed my now sainted Grandmother after the ceremony.  The trio originally came together to record the music of Scott Joplin.  Let me tell you: Air Song is not Scott Joplin. 

It is page four free jazz, but it is my favorite kind of free jazz.  It certainly abstracts from melody, but it follows a coherent thread from beginning to end.  You can almost hum it.  Almost.  But every line makes you feel like you should have known that was coming.  Of course!  Given the preceding twenty seconds, this had to come next. 

With a multi-instrumentalist horn player backed by a bass and drums, you would expect the latter to be mere sidekicks.  Not so.  If in fact the bass is second fiddle, it is a very big fiddle.  Fred Hopkins carries the ball for substantial portions of the songs, and his four strings are very well recorded.  Air Song is proof that free jazz doesn't have to sacrifice that feelin'.  All the way along each cut, this trio is following the arteries right through the depths of the heart. 

Here is a sample from Air Song.  Join eMusic and get the darned thing.
Untitled Song

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hello from New Orleans Updated!

I have been in New Orleans for the last few days, drinking beer and eating Cajun and listening to lectures on the Second Amendment.  In between all this serious activity, I managed to visit one of my favorite music places, the Louisiana Music Factory, on Decatur Street in The Quarter.  It still has one of the most inviting jazz sections available.

I picked up (finally) Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, Intuition by Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, Kenny Dorham Una Mass (with Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Butch Warren, and Anthony Williams), and last but not least, True Blue by Tina Brooks.  I'll try to post a sample or two when I get home this week.

Until now, here is a beautiful picture.  If you cut me out of it.

Update!  I blogged about Harold Floyd (Tina) Brooks back in April.  Doesn't it sound like I know what I am doing when I call him by his real name.  Kinda like when a jazzman leaves out the "King" between Nat and Cole.  In fact, I know very little beyond what is in that post.  But I did obtain Brooks' wonderful Minor Move just about the time I began my (semi) serious collecting. 

True Blue is almost as good.  The late Freddie Hubbard plays trumpet, Duke Jordan piano, Sam Jones bass, and Art Taylor drums.  It is a fine piece of hard bop.  Listening to it is a lot like watching the DVD set of Firefly.  Its great but bittersweet, as I know the series will end prematurely.  Here is a sample, an alternative version of the first cut.

Good Old Soul

And here is a cut from the Dorham album mentioned above.
Sao Paolo

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jaki Byard

The "J" section on my iPod takes a long time to scroll through, what with all the Johns and Joes that fill up the jazz fan's soul (does Apple have a copyright?).  And then there are the Jacki(e)s.  Keyboard genius Jaki Byard is not one to be missed.  Perhaps his most important date was with Eric Dolphy at the recording of Far Cry.  You will find it well positioned in my list of best jazz albums. 

Byard  played with the authority of someone who had mastered a lot of the music's history.  A better trained ear than mine can find volumes of jazz tradition on any Byard album, and more than one in one song.  Just now I am listening to The Jaki Byard Experience.  This album features Rolland Kirk "switching between tenor, clarinet, and manzello" (All Music).  What the Hell is a manzello?  Wikipedia saves me here.  It's a mutant soprano saxophone. Rolland Kirk rings my bells.  Richard Davis plays an exquisite and well represented bass, and Alan Dawson drums. 

The opening number, 'Parisian Thoroughfare', is an example of what one might call "traffic jazz."  As the sound of a railroad car clacking over ties inspired many a bluesman, so the sound of a busy street corner has inspired more than one jazzman.  For examples see Charlie Mingus and Arthur Blythe. 

Well, here is a sample. 
Memories of You/The Jaki Byard Experience

One can only wish that Byard and Kirk and Davis got together more often.  This one is a keeper. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Guide to Wayne Shorter 2

It is astonishing that three of Shorter's four "spooky" middle period were recording in 1964 and the fourth in 1965.  That was a burst of creative genius.  His third period, in my classification, begins in 65.

The Final Three
  1. Etcetera (1965) Herbie Hancock (p) Cecil McBee (b) Joe Chambers (d)
  2. The All Seeing Eye (1965) Freddie Hubbard (tp, flh) Alan Shorter (flh -5) Grachan Moncur III (tb) James Spaulding (as) Herbie Hancock (p) Ron Carter (b) Joe Chambers (d)
  3. Adam's Apple (1966) Herbie Hancock (p) Reggie Workman (b) Joe Chambers (d) 
 Etcetera and The All Seeing Eye represent Shorter's avant garde adventure, the second more than the first.   Both indicate the influence of Miles Davis, who was doing the same thing at that time.  It would be interesting to compare these recordings with the contemporaneous Plugged Nickel sessions where Shorter joined the Miles Davis Quintet.  Both of the first two albums are fine, edgy, page four jazz.  If you have your ear trained by the Plugged Nickel document, The All Seeing Eye will open for you.

This is not music that you can take away with you and hum on the way home.  You are in it only while you are listening to it.  Ron Carter's bass is worth way more than whatever he paid for it.  Etcetera is less adventurous, but only by a bit.  'Indian Song' expresses the same attempt to get at the unspeakable truth about melody by leaving melody behind.  What was your face before you were born?

And then there is Adam's Apple.  This recording returns to the work Wayne was doing in the core period, and it surely ranks along with Night Dreamer, Juju, and Speak No Evil.  'Footprints', one of Shorter's most covered songs is on it.  But I think that the title song is among his most compelling compositions.

I expect that a reader might wonder why I call these "The Final Three".  Shorter records more albums, and there is his work with Weather Report.  I don't want to write off his later work.  I confess that I don't know the Weather Report stuff well because I just can't get interested in it.  The ten albums I have listed here are a monumental contribution to jazz.  I'll leave it at that for now, and I will try to get around to commenting on his work with Art Blakey and Miles Davis in a later post.

Here are some samples to illustrate my comments and whet your appetite:
Chaos/The All Seeing Eye 
Adam's Apple/Adam's Apple

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Guide to Wayne Shorter

Of all my jazz heroes, and that's a lot of heroes, I probably have the greatest affection for Wayne Shorter.  I got interested in Shorter when I saw one of his recordings featured in the Zen Mountain Monastery catalog of meditation supplies.   I started picking up Shorter discs after that, and I have not been disappointed in any of them.

I think that Shorter is one of the most underrated geniuses in the history of modern jazz.  His work on the saxophone easily puts him in the top ten bop and post bop players; his work as musical director for Art Blakey and later for Miles Davis has no comparison anywhere; he is also one of the most brilliant composer/players of his generation.  What ties all these achievements together, what is at the heart of the Shorter phenomenon, is storytelling.  Listen to any Shorter line, no matter when or where, and you will hear a story.  Much the same is true of his composition when they are played by others.

Well, I think this should be the decade when Wayne is rediscovered by the jazz world as the indispensable man that he is.  To that end I offer a simple guide to Shorter's first decade.

The Early Recordings
  1. Introducing Wayne Shorter (1959) Lee Morgan (tp) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d)
  2.  Second Genesis (1960) Cedar Walton (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Art Blakey (d)
  3. Wayning Moments (1962) Freddie Hubbard (t) Eddie Higgins (p)  Jymie Merritt (b) and Marshall Thompson (d)
The first of these recordings is a superb statement of Wayne's genius.  It is solid hard bop, with rich and distinct melodies.  Morgan's horn does what God intended, and the rhythm section speaks for itself.  By contrast, Second Genesis is a very weird album.  With Walton and Blakey on board you would expect something grand, and in a way you get it.  The trouble is, it seems that the recording is the same song done over and over again.   The most you can say is that each number is a variation on the theme established by the first cut.  It's great playing and improvisation, but I'd leave this one until you are nearing a complete collection.

The Spooky Core
  1. Night Dreamer (1964) Lee Morgan (tp) McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Elvin Jones (d)
  2. Juju (1964)  McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Elvin Jones (d) 
  3. Speak No Evil (1964) Freddie Hubbard (tp) Herbie Hancock (p) Ron Carter (b) Elvin Jones (d) 
  4. The Soothsayer (1965) Freddie Hubbard (tp) James Spaulding (as) McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Tony Williams (d)
This is the core of Shorter's corpus.  Speak No Evil is widely and deservedly regarded as one of the most perfect jazz albums ever recorded.  I put it in my top tenNight Dreamer and Juju are nearly as good.  The storytelling element is most evident in these recordings, and both composition and execution are classical.  I confess that I am biased.  I really like spooky stories, and the low mist flows over slightly raised earth in all of these works.  The Soothsayer is the weakest of the four, but it is still well worth having.

I'll stop here for now.  Here are a couple of samples from the lesser known works.
Blues A La Carte/Introducing Wayne Shorter
Lost/The Soothsayer
So join me in my quest to elevate Wayne Shorter.