Tuesday, August 31, 2010
When I purchased my first decent stereo, I was still trying to learn to play the guitar. I didn't. I wanted to play jazz guitar, because I admired jazz guitarist like Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Joe Pass, and Wes Montgomery. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Anyway, I read about a set of Verve albums that the label was reissuing. This was in the mid-eighties. I think I read about them in Guitar Player. I managed to get a couple of them. I was in Grad School at the time, and money was almost as precious as music. One of the albums was a duet with Jim Hall and Bill Evans. It was wonderful. The other was by guitarist Tal Farlow. I loved both records and listened to them over and over.
This week I bagged Chromatic Palette, by Farlow with my love Tommy Flanagan on piano and Gary Mazzaroppi on bass. It is a splendid guitar trio. It has the same bright spirit as Flanagan's albums with Kenny Burrell. Here is a sample.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Sounds like a country singer: Early Rollins and the Out House Orchestra! I spent nine days in Glacier National Park where I saw exactly nine bears, all but two of them on the same day. None of them expressed any interest in jazz.
When I got back, a prize was waiting for me: almost all of a Sonny Rollins box set: The Complete Prestige Recordings. I say almost all, because when you buy a box set at a suspiciously low price, sometimes you get less than what you bargained for. I got precisely four of seven discs in that set. The whole thing new costs over seventy bucks, and I got the first four discs for well less than half of that.
Oh, but jazz babies, here is proof that the Gods of Bop are smiling on yours truly. The material on the missing discs was released as Work Time, Sonny Rollins Plus 4, Tenor Madness, Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird, and Tour De Force, and Rollin's magnum opus, Saxophone Colossus. I already had all of those recordings. By contrast, I had almost nothing on the four discs that I did receive. He shoots. He scores. Nothing but net.
The whole box contains (I believe) all Rollin's appearances for Prestige between 1949 and 1956. That is most of the early Sonny Rollins, and it tells a story. Rollins was brilliant from the get go. Slip one of the better pieces from this era onto a later album, fuzz up the more contemporary stuff a bit to allow for advances in technology, and the early recording will fit right in. This says something about Rollins, but something more important about the organic history of jazz. As the music evolves, new stuff gets added to the old stuff, but the old stuff isn't discarded. What is brilliant and timely in 1949 lives on, alongside what is unprecedented in 1962. I am not saying that Rollins doesn't develop or explore new avenues of improvisation. He certainly does. I am saying that, while he learns much, he forgets nothing of value.
Enough analysis; here is a sample. It's from a 1953 recording made in New York City. The band: Julius Watkins (frh) Sonny Rollins (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Percy Heath (b) Willie Jones (d). It appears on the album Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins. It is so damn good it makes the tomatoes ripen in my garden. Here is about half the number.
Have fun with that.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
I didn't realize until well after midnight that yesterday was Friday the 13th. It's a little too late to do a spooky post, but since when did that ever stop me? I am leaving for a trip to Glacier National Park. I expect posting will be light over the next week. So I will leave you with this.
Wayne Shorter is my favorite jazz man. I think he is very under appreciated, but my love for his work might be out of proportion. Anyway, I think that his composition 'Infant Eyes' is among the greatest pieces of music I have ever heard. To say that it is haunting is a criminal case of understatement. The title weaves into the music in a way that all jazz men aim at when they scribble a title onto a sheet of music. Shorter achieved the aim as perfectly as it can be achieved.
Shorter takes something that is very common, and turns it into a major mystery. When you look into a baby's eyes, what is staring back at you? Every mother and father has asked this question, more or less consciously. Not one has ever had an answer. What is the human soul before it joins the world as each culture defines the world? I don't know. Neither does Wayne. But he asks the question, and reveals its spooky side. This is music at its most profound level. Anyway, listen here and be sensitive to the mystery.
Friday, August 13, 2010
This evening, while driving across my beautiful home town, I listened to a wonderful jazz show on the radio. Night Lights: Classic Jazz with host David Brent Johnson. To my extreme left, north of town, a thunderhead was flashing like it was trying to tell me something. Coming out of my car speakers was a good bit of Thelonious Monk from one of his Columbia albums that I recently reviewed. The soft voice of the host broke in with some compelling commentary about Charlie Rouse, Monk's own tenor. David Brent Johnson must be a very shrewd jazz critic, because he agrees with me. Rouse was twenty-four karat.
He said something that had not occurred to me: that Rouse had to take the blame for any shortcomings that critics found in Monk's recordings. After all, it couldn't be Monk's fault! I think these recordings are exquisite, so I have no quarrel with Rouse or Monk. It looks like you can listen to the shows on the website, so I am looking forward to hearing the Monk show in its entirety. I also notice that one is posted on Lee Konitz. I am not going to miss that one.
I recently acquired Rouses' album Epistrophy. It's a live date, recorded only seven weeks before Rouse passed away in 1988. The program is pure Monk. Listening to it, it occurs to me that I never get tired of Monk's music.
Here is a sample. I believe it is the first Monk composition I ever heard. That was a good thirty years ago, and it turned the ground under me. I cut out the piano solo following Rouse's solo. You can get the album from eMusic for a few quid.
Enjoy. If you do, drop me a line. It's been really quite of late.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The history of jazz is a history of the emergence of new forms out of old ones. The great thing about this is that the garden just keeps getting bigger. The new may overshadow the old, but the old does not die.
Proof of that is Benny Carter's great album Further Definitions. It is recorded in 1965, after hardbop and avant garde have had their full expression and fusion is on the horizon. Carter plays his horn with a full orchestra behind him, and the lush sound could cushion a World War Two romance.
Here is a sample:
I have been listening to Benny Carter this week, but also to Charlie Christian. Christian is one of the elder gods of jazz guitar. Most of his work that I know of was recorded with big bands, and he shares a lot of time with Benny Goodman's horn. But there is plenty of his licks on The Genius of the Electric Guitar. Christian more or less invented amplified jazz guitar. This 4 CD box warms the heart. Here is a sample.
Okay, all of this makes me feel like I am a ghost in a Stephen King movie. But if the soundtrack is this good...
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I have exactly one Greg Osby recording. Banned in New York. I am guessing that the title is a lie. It's fine jazz. Page four to be certain: long lines that aren't much concerned with any narrative. Yet the horn keeps you entranced. I am listening to it now because Osby is featured on the NPR Live at the Village Vanguard series. He turned fifty last week. Even jazz masters aren't exempt. You can hear the concert recorded on his birthday at the NPR site.
Here is a very short excerpt from the above recording. You won't wonder what he can do after you hear it.
Greg Osby/Big Foot (excerpt)/Banned In New York
The NPR concert is something rather different, but don't miss it. Marc Copland on piano is worth the hour.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I have been listening to a lot of Monk over the last few days, for reasons that are apparent from my last post. Every now and then I hear a piece that grabs my heart and makes it pump double time. It happened today when I listened to 'Japanese Folk Song' on Monk's album. The sheer power of the melody is overwhelming (if not, noticeably, Japanese).
Here is a cut from the number, including Rouse's solo followed by Monk. Each is brilliant, but the sax part is to die for. I have omitted Gale's solo. Buy it.
Have a good weekend, Jazz babies.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Happy Birthday Greg Osby!
I have been enjoying a lot of newly acquired jazz lately. Today the UPS guy brought me a marvelous little package containing a small Columbia box: Thelonious Monk: Original Album Classics. I paid about $18 for it. It is not a new document, as many box sets are. It simply repackages five original Monk albums. Each album comes in a little cardboard sleeve with the original front and back printed on it. As it happened, I had not one of the five, so this was quite a pickup. The albums are:
- Straight, No Chaser
- Monk's Dream
- Solo Monk
I have been dancing to all of them (along with my beagle, Bella, who is a big Monk fan) and each is worth a lot more than three dollars and sixty cents. The first four albums feature Monk's sax man, Charlie Rouse. The first two feature Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums. The third and fourth, John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums.
Monk's corpus is well served by some brilliant saxophone players. John Coltrane obviously stands out, but I have sung the praises of Johnny Griffin more than once. His work on the Five Spot albums (Thelonious in Action and Misterioso) and on the Jazz Messengers/Monk album, is brilliant.
Charlie Rouse, who was Monk's handpicked sideman on many recordings, might be Monk's most perfect partner. His playing is exquisite on its own. He doesn't play with Monk so much as channel Monk's genius through his horn. Rouse is one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz.
Here is a sample: Rouses' solo on 'Monk's Dream'. My excerpt includes the beginning and the solo. For Monk's brilliant reply, pony up and get the box.
ps. While I was writing this post, I was listening to the recording. It just got to 'Bye-ya'. Wow, what a piece of composing. So, well inspired, I give you this cut of another version of the song. Steve Lacy plays soprano and Mal Waldron piano. I am too lazy right now to look up the rest of the band. You get a taste here of the Lacy and Waldron's solos.
Don't miss this stuff. It's what you want to hear.
Ps. On his way to deliver my Monk, the UPS guy was stung by two hornets. Don't let his sacrifice go in vain.
Ps. On his way to deliver my Monk, the UPS guy was stung by two hornets. Don't let his sacrifice go in vain.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Here's a bit from my recent treasure hunt. I love this song. I first heard it by Leon Redbone. Here is about half the song.
Not enough? Well, here is a bit from Herbie Hanock's tribute to Gershwin.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Silly as such lists are, and vane, I can't resist them. Making them is fun and structures my collecting and listening. For this one I was thinking of jazz artists who cut such a big figure that one cannot think of jazz in that period without them. One cannot imagine the history of jazz without them. To some extent, I am guided here by popular awareness. Are there some who everybody knows, if they know anything about jazz at all? Are there some who everyone who listens to jazz at all knows?
With that in mind, the first two places were easy.
1. Miles Davis
2. John Coltrane
Everyone who has ears knows about those two. Moreover, both had a tremendous influence on the direction of music. Some would place Trane first (the nickname, like the force of the simple first name "Miles", indicates my point). I would not.
I think that number three is almost as easy.
3. Thelonious Monk
Monk straddles two great periods in jazz: the bebop era and the hard bop era. He is very much a force in the target period, and his most essential recordings are made in that period. What would jazz be without Brilliant Corners? But Monk is chiefly important for the astounding influence that his compositions had. How much of the hardbop corpus would disappear if, Doctor Who style, one could remove him from the picture? That is even more true of Avant Garde jazz. Take Monk out, and where would Cecil Taylor, let alone Steve Lacy be? Monk is an easy third.
4. Ornette Coleman
I have come around to loving a lot of Coleman's music. It took awhile. There is no denying his impact on modern jazz. I remember an interview with rock guitar great Johnny Winter, when the very white guitarists said that he was interested in Ornette Coleman. I doubt very much whether Winter really listened to Coleman. The fact that he knew his name nails Coleman for fourth place. He was the new thing.
5. Charlie Mingus.
If you don't know Mingus, you don't know modern jazz. Maybe 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' is enough to get fifth place. I'll just stick with this: if you don't have Ah Um, and Live at Antibes, you have a big hole in your jazz collection.
Okay, 1-5 wasn't all that hard. 6-10 is another thing. Here goes:
6. Eric Dolphy.
Dolphy's tenure was astonishingly short, but as I have written more than once, he planted his flag on some many jazz continents that it is like he owns the globe. Who can imagine what Trane's work, or Mingus' work, or Andrew Hill would have been without him. Easy six. Easy seven:
7. Art Blakey.
Maybe Blakey should have been ranked higher. His Jazz Messengers band turned into a fundamental institution in modern jazz. So many great artists cut their teeth with his beat behind them, that you'd need a staff to keep track of them. The body of work he produced is priceless. If seventh place is right, it is only because he kept his own personality in check and allowed his proteges to emerge on their own. God bless Blakey.
8. Sonny Rollins.
Rollins at the Village Vanguard. Saxophone Colossus. Rollins has had staying power. Like the Rolling Stones, that counts for something. I just can't imagine a collection, however modest, without him.
9. Bill Evans.
Evans is Sui Generis. Maybe he deeply influence jazz piano players, but mostly what you get from the critics is that this or that guy (say, Brad Mehldau) is like Evans because his style is introspective, and he's white. Evans was uniquely resistant to the flow of jazz around him. But his body of work is monumental and irreplaceable. Without the first cascade of notes in 'Gloria's Steps', or the delicious scrabbling of LaFaro's bass, where would we be?
10. Joe Henderson.
Ten was hard. Henderson is a long way down in terms of influence and documentation from Miles and Trane. But when I glance at the line of Henderson recordings on my CD rack, I always smile. Henderson's work is priceless. If I had 1-9 (box sets where available) to take to a desert Island (guaranteed iPod supply and power), I'd add Joe.
I wouldn't be board. Make that, I wouldn't be bored. Ever.
Well, that's what I got. Joust if you dare.