Saturday, May 29, 2010

Grant Green Quartet with Sonny Clark

The simplest definition of jazz at my disposal is blues based with swing.  You won't find a better example than the two disc release of the Grant Green Quartet with Sonny Clark.  I love the very idea of this kind of package.  In early '62 guitar master Green and pianist Clark went into Ruddy Gelder's studio with Sam Jones on bass and Art Blakey on drums.  Much as I love horns, it was good to get them out of the way on this occasion.  

Jazz history has more than its share of tragedies.  Blue Note kept this music in the can until after both Green and Clark were gone.  I won't pass judgment.  Business is business.  This music is fundamental.  You could put it next to Gerry Mulligan's Original Quartet, with Sonny Rollins' Village Vanguard recordings on the other side, and no one would be uncomfortable.  

Here is a sample.  
Grant Green with Sonny Clark/It Ain't Necessarily So/Complete Quartets
You gotta love that Blue Note cover image. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grachan Moncur III & the Electric Fetus

I spent my birthday this year watching my beloved Minnesota Twins get beat twice by the New York Yankees.  Well, at least it weren't the White Sox.  There might still be a God.  While I was enjoying the Twin Cities, I stopped at the Electric Fetus.  The Fetus is one of the last great Hippie record stores.  Lots of incense on sale, and a pretty good selection of CDs.  

Their jazz row is not large, but it beats the snot out of Barnes and Noble.  I picked up four nice discs.  One was Grant Green/The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark.  It's a core collection item in the Penguin Guide, for good reason.  I'll probably post on it after I can give it a better listen.  Another was Ornette Coleman's The Complete Science Fiction Sessions.  If Ken Laster likes it, it must be good.  

Most intriguing to me were two recordings by trombone player Grachan Moncur III.  I didn't have anything by Moncur, nor did I have more than the vaguest idea what he was.  I bought the two CDs on the basis of their sidemen.  Evolution (1963) had Lee Morgan on trumpet, Jackie McLean on alto sax, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  That is one impressive lineup.  Some Other Stuff had Wayne Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Williams again on drums. 

Standing there in the stacks, I did a little Sherlock Holmes mojo.  The recordings come at about the same time as Tony Williams' magnificent Life Time.  That suggested an adventurous orientation.  That was supported by the presence of Shorter and Hancock, who were just at that moment joining Miles Davis' second great quintet.  There is also the fact that I have recently been interested in Bobby Hutcherson.  I have to confess that the Blue Note covers have a language all their own, and these spoke to me. 

Besides all that, one can't have too much Lee Morgan or Jackie McLean.   Last but not least, I think the trombone is under-utilized in modern jazz.  Elementary, my dear Watson.  Well, what I got was exactly what I was looking for: edgy jazz with an avant garde orientation at about the pitch of Miles Davis' mid-sixties albums.  

In honor of Minnesota's ball team, in which I still steadfastly believe, here is a sample.  It features nice solos by Moncur, Shorter, and Hancock, and a really nice Hancock/McBee dialogue. 
Grachan Moncur III/The Twins/Some Other Stuff
Moncur disappear after the seventies, but has recently resurfaced.  Give this guy a listen. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

John Lindberg's Bass 2

Tonight, while a line of thunder storms rolled across the prairie, I listened again to John Lindberg's A Tree Frog Tonality.  I liked the music a lot more the second time around, and the title a lot less.  The title may be some kind of joke that goes over my musically uneducated head, but if I hadn't heard samples and read the review in the Penguin Guide I never would have bought it.  Surely someone with no additional clues would expect a lot of wierd animal noises.  In fact, it is pretty accessible avant garde.  

The musical line is not at all hard to follow.  Lindberg is magnificent.  Trumpeter Leo Smith, sax man Larry Ochs, and Percussionist Andrew Cyrille likewise.  Go back and listen to the sample from the last post again.  I think I hear two distinct echoes here.  One is to the "bird" compositions of Dave Holland and Thomas Chapin.  It's safer to name jazz albums after birds.  People like to hear birds sing more than they like to hear frogs croak.  Listen to Holland's 'Conference of the Birds' and Chapin's 'Night Bird Song', and then ATFT.  I think you will agree the three make a set.  

Another echo, more likely due to my own over active imagination, is to Chico Freeman's marvelous recording, Destiny's Dance.  Listen especially to 'Crossing the Sudan.'  At any rate, A Tree Frog Tonality is a superb document.  Don't let it. 

I am now listening to a third Lindberg recording, Dodging Bullets.  This is a trio recording, with Albert Mangelsdorff on trombone and Eric Watson on piano.  I won't comment on the album as a whole yet, except to point out that it got four stars in the PG.  Here is a sample:
John Lindberg/Horn is a Lady/Dodging Bullets
What the world needs now is more trombones in trios. 

John Lindberg's Bass is the Place

What is the avant garde taste?  Imagine one of those moments when you are watching a movie and you are totally captivated even though nothing  much is happening.  A man is walking in a desert, a chef is cutting vegetables on a slick board.  What has you in its grip is the music.  The music tells you everything you need to know about what you are seeing.  Avant garde jazz tries to do that, only without the video.  

There may be something vain in that.  Can you chop and saute bits of mood and passion in the absence of any narrative?  That would be the question.  I have been listening to John Lindberg, a double bass player only a little younger than I am.  That damned Penguin Guide to Jazz.  Lindberg's Bounce is a real find.  Dave Douglas plays trumpet on the album, and what he does with that piece of brass is beyond my three dimensional brain.  Larry Ochs plays sax, and Ed Thigpen is on drums.  

The recording is crystal clear.  Here is a piece that highlights Lindberg's enormous talent, as well as Douglas' ability to enter into dialogue.  Listen to this when the ball game is over.  
John Lindberg/Common Goal/Bounce
 That album gets weirder as it goes on.  Another Lindberg recording is pretty challenging from the outset.  Here is the most accessible track:
John Lindberg/Good to Go/A Tree Frog Tonality
The album title says it all.  But it is late May.  I am sitting on my deck drinking Scotch.  A porch light is visible in the distance.  That is the narrative. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Impulsive Rollins

Rollins' Alfie, which I last blogged on, was one of Sonny Rollins small number of recordings on Impulse!  Another, and possibly one of his best single recordings, was Sonny Rollins on Impulse!  The band includes Ray Bryant (p) Walter Booker (b) Mickey Roker (d).  If there is a point of perfection in modern jazz, a perfect expression of genius that promises amazing things and never fails to deliver on that promise, this would be it.  

Rollin's supple voice and fingers are guided by pure heart, but they are always digging deep into the human clay.  Everything is right here.  Rollins' tenor and the rest of the band always seem to be starring at the same thing.  

This isn't Rollins' best work.  That would be, I have come around to thinking, his Village Vanguard recordings.  It's not as good as his Saxophone Colossus.  But it's damn near both.  Or at least that's how it seems to me on this fine soft night in South Dakota.  

Here is a sample.  It might be my favorite interpretation of a great standard.  
Sonny Rollins/On Green Dolphin Street/Sonny Rollins on Impulse!
 So good night jazz babies. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sonny Rollins' Alfie

I have been regrettably behind in listening to my friend Ken Laster's fine podcast.  I am catching up!  This weekend I listened to his Mother's Day show.  I was smokin' ribs outside, and turning the iPod back on when I came back into the kitchen.  Ken is a master of the mixer.  His selections always work well together, and he does a good job of blending contemporary jazz with classics from the archive.  

One of the cuts he included in this show grabbed me by the short and curlies.  It was Sonny Rollins doing the theme from the 1966 movie Alfie.  I haven't seen the movie, though I am a Michael Caine fan.  I didn't have the album, though I am a big Sonny Rollins fan.  Most of the titles in my Penguin Guide to Jazz have a little star by them, indicating that they are on my iPod.  

Well, Mr. Music Company search engine, guess what I did when I heard that cut on In the Groove?  I bought the damn thing from Amazon.  Under six buck for the album!  It is a treasure.  I am guessing that the 'soundtrack' category probably didn't help its position in the jazz world.  In fact, Rollins uses the sound track thing as a beautiful template.  The basic theme reoccurs, to be sure, but that is the marvel of the thing.  

This is a very solid hard bop document.  A fairly simple blues based line is elaborated and milked for all it's worth, and it's worth a lot.  Nobody ever played with a greater command of texture than Rollins.  Every breath is a lover's caress.  That we live in such a universe where walking meat wrapped in skin bags can produce such exquisite beauty, that is a central mystery of philosophy. 

Here is the lineup for the album, from the Jazz Discography Project
J.J. Johnson (tb -1,2) Jimmy Cleveland (tb -3/6) Phil Woods (as) Robert Ashton, Sonny Rollins (ts) Danny Bank (bars) Roger Kellaway (p) Kenny Burrell (g) Walter Booker (b) Frankie Dunlop (d) Oliver Nelson (arr, cond)
 That's a pretty impressive bunch.  J.J. Johnson on trombone.  Wow.  Phil Woods on alto.  Wow2.  I think that Kenny Burrell might be the most impressive player after Rollins.  Perhaps the real genius was Oliver Nelson (Blues and the Abstract Truth) who arranged the music and conducted the band.  Still, it's a Rollins album.  

Well, here are a couple of samples. God, but this gets me going.   Try these, and if you like 'em, buy the album.  Trust me.  Sometime you'll be sitting and listening to it when everything around you is crashing down.  Rollin's horn will save you.  
Sonny Rollins/He's Younger Than You Are/Alfie

Sonny Rollins/Alfie's Theme Differently/Alfie
 And while you are at it, drop me a line.  Especially you French readers.  I just noticed that I get almost as many readers from India as from France.  Aren't Les Francais supposed to be jazz fans?  Get with the program! 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clark Terry's Color Changes

After a week of solid rain, I am back out on my deck again.  The air is still.  The bugs are in Minnesota.  I am listening to brass man Clark Terry's Color Changes.  That is enough.  Here is the lineup, from the All Music Guide: 
Clark Terry, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, Julius Watkins on French horn, Yusef Lateef on tenor, flute, oboe, and English horn, Seldon Powell doubling on tenor and flute, pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Ed Shaughnessy.
That's one horn section.  It gives the music a big band feelin' at points.  Yusef Lateef is not someone to ignore.  I really enjoy his flute playing, especially when he dukes it out with Sheldon Powell. 

All the disc is good.  Over the top is 'Nahstye Blues'.  This is the kind of jazz number that makes you want to invent a personal story around it.  I was sitting in a Chicago bar, down on my luck, when she walked in...  There is so much pull in this number, you have to hang on to your hat.  

Well, here it is.  The rest of the album is on eMusic for less than you can afford.  
Clark Terry/Nahstye Blues/Color Changes
Go on and buy the rest of it!  Then drop me a note.  I'm starvin' here. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Richard Sussman Quintet

Here is the perfect find! A 1978 album that is pretty obscure, but sounds like it was recorded yesterday.  Ken Laster could sneak it in to his podcast and tell us it was recorded around the corner last month.  Sussman plays piano, Tom Harrell trumpet and flugelhorn, Jerry Bergonzi tenor sax, Larry Schneider tenor and other horns, Mike Richmond bass, and Jeff Williams drums. 

I gather that Sussman made his living mostly doing pop music.  Well, at least he made a living.  This album is one for the core collection.  The piano work is very fine.  It's mostly straight bop with a very advanced, smooth edge.  Some of it will tilt the ear of you avant garde fans.  I have a sample, with some fine Tom Harrell playingon it.
Richard Sussman Quintet/Free Fall/Free Fall
This is one of the more hard cuts on the disc.  You can get it at eMusic for a song.  Now: post some comments, you slouchers.  I am feeling unappreciated. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Ghost in the Room of Modern Jazz

If I had to pick one jazz man who stands, or hovers, as the perfect spirit of avant garde jazz, it would be Albert Ayler.  The spirit that Ayler expressed so well was much larger than he, and it haunted jazz for a good decade between the mid-fifties and mid-sixties.  Maybe it never goes away.  It was a frustration with the limits of musical forms.  

Ayler said in an interview that the music he played was unavoidable and inevitable.  From an NPR film review by Howard Mandel, there is this Ayler quote:
"The music that we're playing now is just a different kind of blues," Ayler said. "It's the real blues, it's the new blues, and the people must listen to this music, because they'll be hearing it all the time. Because if it's not me, it'll be somebody else that's playing it. Because this is the only way that's left for the musicians to play. All the other ways have been explored."
That was nonsense, of course; but it expresses the frustrated spirit that possessed a lot of avant garde geniuses.  The brilliance of hard bop created an unquenchable hunger.  There just had to be something more out there.   Maybe there just wasn't.  

But for Ayler, this hunger was a personal tragedy.  He never could, because he could never, persuade enough listeners to build a sustainable audience.  He never could, because he could never, let go of the spirit that haunted him.  He lived as a man permanently alienated from everyone he loved in this world.  
"I was living pure frustration, like a madman, like a madman," Ayler once said. "I was up in my room when I went to Cleveland, playing, and I was beating like this on the floor. Then I go downstairs; my mother said to me, 'I don't think you're my child. When I was in the hospital, the man must have made a mistake and given me the wrong baby.' Made me cry. I cried, but I thought, I said, 'Hmm. Nobody understands what music — what I'm trying to do,' and I'm trying to understand it and it was, like, [a] very shaky situation."
This alienation surely contributed to his suicide in 1970.  Beware of great art.  It can kill.  

It is no wonder, then, that Ayler's music is so haunted.  His magnum opus is Spiritual Unity (1964), with the great Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums.  Another document, recorded live earlier in that year at "The Cellar Cafe" in New York, has the same trio doing the same material.

If "material " is the right word.  The cuts have titles like 'Ghosts', 'Spirits,' 'Wizard', and 'Prophecy.'  The Bells/Prophecy recordings are quite literally haunted.  There is a constant, ghostly moan, barely perceptible, but always present in the background.  I am not sure how it was produced.  It did rather give me the shivers.  

Here is a sample.  Listen for the moan. 
Albert Ayler/Prophecy/Spirits
If Ayler's music never went mainstream, he surely had a great influence on jazz and maybe even converted a few disciples to his dark church.  Guitarist Marc Ribot recorded an album entitled Spiritual Unity.  It has Ayler's frequent bass player Henry Grimes, with Roy Campbell on trumpet and Chad Taylor on drums.  Here is a cut for comparison:
Marc Ribot/Spirits/Spiritual Unity
It falls well short of the agony of Ayler's recordings, but the commentary is interesting nonetheless.  Ayler's music is very challenging.  It is worth meeting that challenge, for there is a spooky longing haunting nearly all of modern jazz.  In Ayler, the ghost is in the room. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Top Ten Edgy Jazz Men Who Looked Like They Fell Out of the Lawerence Welk Show

Okay, so I only have three: Serge Chaloff, Jimmy Giuffre, and Teddy Charles.  Of course, all three were active in the fifties, when pretty much everyone looked like Lawrence Welk.  Well, everyone except Miles Davis.  

Neither Chaloff, Giuffre, or Charles left a large set of documents, and of the three only Giuffre is relatively well known.  I just listened to my first Teddy Charles record this afternoon: The Teddy Charles Tentet.  

First,  a mild rant against "tet" proliferation.  The terms solo, duet, trio, quartet, and quintet are not only well established but useful in jazz.  The different between 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 represents basic distinctions in musical form.  Past that point the differences fade for all sorts of reasons.  Calling a larger group an octet or nonet, or tentet is at best cute and at worst pretentious. 

That off my chest, the 1956 Teddy Charles is the kind of disc I most enjoy adding to my collection these days.  Charles is all but unknown beyond collectors, so the Tentet recording is a buried treasure.  It is also a very affordable treasure.  I got it from eMusic for a measly seven credits.  Amazon has it for under seven bucks.  

While Miles was recording his famous First Quintet albums, vibraphonist Charles was up to something rather more adventurous.  The Tentet album is probably best classed as post bop.  It is reasonably accessible, but is way ahead of (that doesn't mean better than) what Miles was doing at the time.  Here is a sample, a very interesting and compelling interpretation of 'Nature Boy'.  This ain't Nat Cole!  
Teddy Charles/Nature Boy/The Teddy Charles Tentet
I was impressed enough to invest a few more credits on Collaboration West.   This album from 1953 is a lot more adventurous.  Giuffre is on it, playing tenor and baritone sax.  Shelly Manne is on drums, Shorty Rogers on trumpet, and Curtis Counce on bass.  Here is an appropriately titled sample:
Teddy Charles/Further Out/Collaboration West
Charles apparently has had an interesting life.  He pretty much retired from jazz at the end of the fifties, to open a sailing business in the Caribbean.  He has recently returned to the jazz scene.  It is worth taking a ride on this boat.

ps.  I notice that the downloading Collaboration West brings my iTunes jazz library to 900 albums.  That is a rather padded number, as it counts discs in my many box sets.  Still, I feel like I should throw confetti.