Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fred Anderson, Blue Winter, Eremite

Two disks, four long, two very long, bouts of freely improvised trio jazz. Avant-garde, yes, but not too far outside to put off those who are skeptical of this kind of music I think, and sometimes pretty much inside in a conventional, if advanced, hard bop way.

Velvet Lounge owner Mr. Anderson is every bit of Ornette Coleman on tenor if you ask me, an insult to neither of them, with measures of Coltrane and Rollins. He also struck me as a real gentleman when he took my money at his club last month before playing with Henry Grimes.

I do believe William Parker and Hamid Drake could make anybody sound good and playing with someone like Anderson, a high-quality session is probably assured. This set proves my point.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fela Kuti, Coffin for the Head of State/Unknown Soldier, Wrasse Records

Listen to all those horns and that wailing saxophone, which reminds me of both J.T. Brown and Manu Dibango. Jazzy and bluesy, but it satisfies the funk and reggae things I have going on the side as well. Mesmerizing bass and percussion beat behind the horns and singing with some sparkling keyboards that bring to my mind Horace Silver's "United States of Mind."

Unless you listen to the words, you'd hardly know it's about Nigerian government troops killing his mother and burning down his home.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, MTO Vol. 1, Sunnyside

Steven Bernstein always seems to be doing something interesting, whether it's covering (kind of) James Bond movie tunes with Sex Mob or woking as an arranger and trumpeter for modernists like Mario Pavone or Bobby Previte.

I like his Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra idea and "MTO, Vol. 1" so much that I gave it to a couple people as a holiday present. The concept (and execution) is a modern updating of the pre-World War II proto-swing territory band sound, think Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy or Bennie Moten, which makes for an upbeat and fun session since territorty bands existed to get people's feet moving on the dance floor.

Nonetheless, some of this borders on the avant-garde, but not so much that I thought my friends who wouldn't touch avant-garde jazz with a 10-foot pole wouldn't like it. I hope for more from this group.

Friday, December 22, 2006

James Carter's Strange Fruit

When I listen to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit," I concentrate on the words and, of course, her voice. Although Miche Braden does a credible job singing in James Carter's version on the CD "Gardenias for Lady Day," listening to it this week the importance of the music underlying what is one of the most gripping songs I know stood out.

In part that's because of what Carter and his mates do with it in a reading I think of as operatic, but I think it's powerful music in any event and integral to the song's impact.

This really is an excellent Carter CD overall. Even though it's maybe his most "conventional" disk, it gives a great feel for his amazing command of the saxophone, or saxophones since he plays four different types, plus bass and contrabass clarinets, over the course of the program.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday greetings from Henry Grimes


Xmas e-card I received this morning from the great Henry Grimes and his friend Magaret Davis.

The CD "Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival," Ayler Records, with David Murray and Hamid Drake, is a great gift for your favorite jazz fan. I gave it to myself.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thoughts on listening to Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity

Music, I've decided, tends to affect me on either an emotional or an intellectual level. The blues, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Smith, stuff by Harry Chapin, Springsteen, "Ride of the Valkyries", Beethoven's Ninth, even, let's face it, crap like Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell," stir something in my gut ... joy, sadness, anger, outrage. They bring tears to my eyes, make me laugh, or something between.

Jazz, freely improvised jazz especially but also things like a great Sony Rollins solo, get my brain working. I'm captivated by the way a Mr. Rollins can generate idea after idea off a simple base or familiar melody ("Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival" is a classic example) and I thrill in the mental hunt for the logic inside the process.

What occurred to me in listening to Albert Ayler's "Spiritual Unity" this week is that it works on both levels for me, as does a lot of the music I've come to consider essential (including "Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival"). Ayler's use of devices such as march forms make his music as emotive as Sousa tunes while the labyrinthal path he treads from there makes for a cognitive feast.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monk's Casino, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Intakt

I have to think Thelonious Monk would have been pleased by this rendering of his entire compositional output by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach in an unusual group with a trumpet and bass clarinet added to the standard piano trio.

You can't fail to recognize the oft-played songs (say, "Ruby My Dear" or "In Walked Bud") if you're familiar with Monk, but the group, as might be expected from one led by von Schlippenbach, often puts its own spin on the music.

If the places where the avant-garde touches are pretty heavy don't sound too out of place, that's because Monk himself wasn't ever very far from the edge, if not a little over it, in his music. These three CDs can't help but deepen an appreciation for his genius. I get giddy when I listen to them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Kingdom, Roy Campbell, Delmark

Roy Campbell reminds me more of Freddie Hubbard on this than Lee Morgan (he plays with a modernist sensibility underneath as opposed to a traditional blues base), but I think he blows the trumpet about as well as either. Most of the CD is strong hard bop, which is to say Jazz Messengers-like fare, with the updated '70s sound of Hubbard disks like "Red Clay" and "Straight Life," building on the foundation laid down by Miles Davis' last great acoustic quintet.

There are avant-garde interludes as well, particularly when Campbell plays in a drums and bass trio with William Parker (great as always), as he does on three of the eight cuts. In the sextet for the rest of the program, Zane Massey and Ricardo Strobert do some memorable sax playing. A nice way to be introduced to Roy Campbell if you haven't been already. It left me wanting more.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dr. Lonnie Smith...

plays joy
from the tip of his toes
to the top of his turban

(At the Jazz Showcase, Chicago)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Up front side man

With all the saxophones playing (Johnny Griffin, Hank Mobley and Coltrane) it's funny that Wynton Kelly really caught my ear on Griffin's "A Blowin' Session," Blue Note, yesterday. Not that the saxes aren't great, they are. Could be the pianist knew he had to push it to avoid getting lost amid all those horns. (Lee Morgan on trumpet, too. Not to mention a pretty strong dummer name of Blakey.) Kelly uses about every kind of trick he likely had in his book, blues and stride, bebop and hard hard bop, and more than holds his own. Classic.

Monday, September 11, 2006

That other Sonny

My heart is pounding, I kid you not. I am shaking my head. I smile. Then laugh. I am listening to Sonny Stitt solo on "Love Walked In" from disk one of "The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Studio Sessions," Mosaic, which arrived today.

The purest sound this side of Charlie Parker, with whom he was often compared, to his annoyance. The ballad following, "If You Could See Me Now," drenched in flawless soul, does nothing to quell my excitement. In command of the horn and flood of ideas, "Come Rain or Come Shine" could, in fact, be Bird. He might not have liked the comparison, but it was, at least at this juncture, 1955, an apt one, and no insult.

However, while he may have played like Bird, even used some of Bird's phrasing, he sounds like himself, some Parker in there, yes, and Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges and Lester Young, but mostly Sonny Stitt.

And then there are the people playing with him, J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, Joe Newman, Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus, Papa Jo Jones ... and that's just on disk one. If all nine disks are like this I'll be one happy dude for the rest of the month. (I'm not eating this in one sitting, this is for savoring.)


They're as coordinated as synchronized swimmers when playing as an ensemble and on solos they hand off to each other like a finely honed championship relay team. My thoughts on Harold Land, sax, Jack Sheldon, trumpet, and Carl Perkins, piano, on the ballad "Counceltation" from "You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce!"

The Contemporary/OJC disk culled from five 1956-57 sessions is one of those lesser-known gems from lesser-known artists that I think pervade '50s and '60s jazz.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Trane ride, Elvin Jones conducting

Walking home from work last night listening to the Nano, "India" from "Impressions," Impulse, came up and the greatness of Elvin Jones hit me like an epiphany. Here's Coltrane, plus Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner and two bassists, Reggie Workman in addition to Jimmy Garrison, making music without a script and Jones, to my ear, never issues an out-of-place beat.

The near-perfect way he melds his drumming with Coltrane's playing actually kind of shocked me, even though I must have played the disk a dozen times before. Most of the song's 14 minutes are just Coltrane, Jones and the basses, which also are uncannily in step with the saxophonist. Amazing stuff.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Birthday greetings

Happy birthday to Mr. Sonny Rollins, 76 years young today.

Celebrate by picking up "Our Man in Jazz," an RCA Victor/BMG CD of 1962-63 recordings, including a 25-minute remake of Mr. Rollins' "Oleo" by the saxophonist and trumpeter Don Cherry that could be used as a textbook example of how to play in the avant-garde vein but remain accessible.

Cool to hear Bob Cranshaw, who seems like he's been playing electric bass forever, playing an acoustic bass on three of the tracks as well. The great Henry Grimes handles the bass on the other three tracks and Billy Higgins drums throughout. This was a marvelous Sonny Rollins group.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Legends on the side

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers have been on my mind, and my CD player, the last couple weeks as I've been reading Alan Goldsher's "Hard Bop Academy," which I finished this week. Goldsher didn't write a book about Blakey, although there's plenty about the legendary drummer and band leader in it. He focused instead on the Messengers' sidemen over the decades, a list which, of course, reads like a who's who of jazz luminaries. (On trumpet, take your pick of Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis or Terence Blanchard, among others. Sax Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison and more. Piano, Horace Silver, Keith Jarrett, Bobby Timmons, Mulgrew Miller, Cedar Walton ... you get the idea.)

Goldsher basically acted as a facilitator to get these guys to talk about each other, the Messengers legacy and playing for Blakey. It makes for a quick, enjoyable read that reminds me of "Loose Balls," Terry Pluto's fun book about the wild and crazy days of the American Basketball Association.

Among the things I found interesting, Blakey wanted talented guys young, or at least not yet big names, and when they got old enough or big enough, he booted them out, sometimes even if they wanted to stay, and brought in somebody new. Part of it was to keep salaries in line, sure, but part of it was his conception of the Messengers as a training ground for great jazz musicians, composer-arrangers and band leaders. Part of it also was that a steady infusion of new guys (and for awhile a gal, Joanne Brackeen on piano, which in my mind says a lot about Art Blakey) kept him challenged and kept the band constantly fresh.

I was listening to a couple prime examples as I wrote this, "Album of the Year," Timeless Records, and "Keystone 3," Concord. These are 1981 and '82 dates with guys like the Marsalis brothers, Blanchard, Harrison and Bobby Watson and I swear the music is just as vibrant as a classic like "Moanin'" with Morgan, Golson and Timmons in 1958. "Duck Soup" and "Soulful Mr. Timmons" on "Album of the Year" are, like so much Messenger stuff, loaded with incredible ensemble play and memorable solos and I think "In Walked Bud" and "In a Sentimental Mood" on "Keystone 3" rate with any version of either standard that I've heard. "In a Sentimental Mood," in fact, is an extremely clever recasting of the song, no less so than Archie Shepp's avant-garde version on "Live in San Francisco," Impulse, a favorite of mine. "Waterfalls" on Keystone 3 makes you understand why Wynton Marsalis created such a stir when he came on the scene.

My buddy Carl Abernathy will tell you there's no such thing as a bad Jazz Messengers album and I'm inclined to agree. Art Blakey, Abdullah Ibn Buhaina to his friends, made sure of that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Finding Bill Evans

My buddy Carl Abernathy got me thinking about Bill Evans the other day and why he prompts an almost religious devotion from fans and students of piano (Evans, not Carl, although his fans are certainly devoted as well). Then I spied the newer (2005) "Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961," Riverside, at the bookstore and sprung for it, which hasn't made me a convert (I already admired the guy, within reason) but has shifted my perspective on him some.

What strikes me, listening to these three CDs from a very famous trio session, is how cleanly Evans plays, with no hint really of the bawdy house or dance hall, the blues, rag or stride cutting contests, what some folks (not me) might consider "lower" forms of music in the jazz family tree. Now whether this means his music is jazz infused with European classicism, as many people say, I don't know. In my mind, the thing that stands out is his huge technical proficiency. I think he sounds so pristine not because of the classical elements he uses but because he was just that good.

I contrast him with Monk, no slouch as a pianist but not nearly as clean, probably intentionally so at times, and a step or three ahead in at-the-keyboard creativity (and as a composer). Evans, on the other hand, is plenty inventive, more so I'd venture to say than a lot of top-drawer jazz pianists, and that, I think, combined with his Horowitiz-like command of his instrument, is what has focused so much attention on him. I'll take Monk first, Art Tatum and maybe Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner after, but Evans would be the fifth if I were allowed disks from only five pianists on the desert island. (Actually, I would refuse to go if they let me have only five. Like I'm going anywhere without Fats Waller, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, or Keith Jarrett for that matter.)

The redone sound on the Evans "Vanguard" set, which has been widely available in various configurations before, including the landmark "Sunday Morning at the Village Vanguard" and "Waltz for Debby" CDs, is spiffy by the way. You hear everything super clearly right down to the occasional glass clink. One thing that does is really bring out the playing of bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. LaFaro, who died two weeks later in a car crash, in particular is as proficient as Evans and often as stunning. Interesting that the liner notes say they didn't get along personally. They sure did musically.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who dat?

Say man, is that Miles Davis rollin' with the muted trumpet on "Secret Love" from "Get the Message" on the Drive Archive record label? Nope, the guy with the sound is Chuck Mangione during his short stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He wrote three of the songs on the CD as well. And then there's the pianist, who rips off some lively solos of his own and plays his piano strings like an ersatz harp at one point, which I bet had Art Blakey shaking his head. Keith Jarrett. A nifty disk.

Hard bop defined

Hard bop is one of those "know it when I hear it" kind of things for me. I don't know a good definition for it. I don't know if there even is one. If there is, I haven't seen it, yet. I think it would include bebop phrasing and flourishes (see Benny Golson's soloing on the Blue Note Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers classic "Moanin'") but feel funkier, more syncopated, with harder edges and heavier aurally, and with more prominent swing and blues elements, among other things. If a good bebop performance can amaze and delight, a good hard bop performance can awe and excite.

Like "Moanin'" the title track on the Blakey and Messengers CD, of which you get two standout versions on recent issues of the disk. Either version of the song, written by pianist Bobby Timmons and refined in this case by Golson, has to be considered a seminal jazz performance and prime example of what hard bop is. "Moanin'" probably explains it better than hanging words on it can.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Perspective would be nice

Maynard Ferguson's death turned up as one of the top stories (from CNN, as I recall) on my Google home page yesterday and it kind of annoyed me for a couple reasons.

Nothing against Maynard Ferguson. I've said in the past he deserves more props for the fine jazz he recorded and less abuse for some of his more commercial ventures. Sad then that in pretty much every obit I saw he was referred to as the guy who covered the theme from "Rocky" and had a big hit with it.

Bugs me as well that Jackie McLean or John Hicks didn't show up on my Google home page when they died earlier this year, which is a measure of the media attention their deaths received. McLean in particular was a far more significant figure in American music than Ferguson (yeah, yeah, I know he was from Canada; he didn't get famous playing in Saskatoon). That's true not only because of McLean's music and his prominent role in jazz history but his educational endeavors and the impact of his many students.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

As good as sex, really

Interesting Wired interview with a guy who studies music's effect on the brain. He's found, among other things, that music activates the same parts of the brain and the same brain chemical mix as things like having an orgasm, eating chocolate and winning a big poker hand.

Heck, I could have told him that. Happens every time I put on "Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live!" from Verve and listen to Jimmy Smith play "Root Down (and Get It)."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Sonny in London

I'm liking the "Sonny Rollins Live in London" series from British Harkit Records and covering a month's performances in 1965 by Mr. Rollins at Ronnie Scott's muy famoso jazz club in London, where he performed with pianist Stan Tracey's trio, a pretty much legendary outfit on the island. The sound isn't fantastic (the drums are a little heavy on Volume 2 as I listen to it, for instance) but it isn't terrible and you can make out everything the saxophonist is doing, which is a lot. Nothing on the second disk clocks in under 10 minutes and he goes 20 on a calypso-tinged rendition of "Night and Day."

Mr. Rollins has clearly gotten comfortable with the Tracey unit here, and the Brits with him, more than on the first volume, where they don't seem quite as together. He's particularly inventive on nearly 18 minutes built on Gershwin's "Foggy Day," which also includes a nice run by bassist Rick Laird. Monk's "Nutty" toes closer to the line of the original, but then it was pretty inventive to start with. The version of "Autumn Nocturne" is different than any of the other versions from Sonny Rollins I've heard and a classic example of his on-the-spot creating in concert. There's a third volume "Live in London" and I think it's in my future.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Swedish roots music

I bought the disk "Lars-Göran Ulander Trio Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe," on the Swedish Ayler label, after reading that Ulander (on alto here) had been kind of the Coleman Hawkins to Swedish free jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson's Sonny Rollins.

Gustafsson, known for his work with Ken Vandermark, has been an interest of mine since I caught him with his group The Thing and guest Joe McPhee last year. He's on the Albert Ayler end of the free jazz spectrum as opposed to early Ornette Coleman, which wasn't all that out there. But I don't think that means he's inaccessible. I might say the same about Ulander, whose trio on the Ayler CD includes drummer Palle Danielsson and bassist Paal Nilssen-Love, the former another legendary Swede and the latter himself a member of The Thing (and one of the most manic, attacking drummers I've ever seen, although he's fairly subdued in this session).

"Tabula Raasa G.M.C." has kind of a Middle Eastern motif, while "Intrinsic Structure I" feels more like European classical music with Coleman-like snatches and great interplay between Ulander and Danielsson. The songs are freely improvised, but to my ear could hardly be considered unstructured, illogical, or slapdash in any way. "What Love" starts out like a conventional ballad before venturing into territory you couldn't have anticipated from that beginning. And this, perhaps, is what I appreciate most about the disk. You never know what's around the corner, making for something of a voyage of musical discovery, which I suspect is how the musicians felt about it as well. Lots of corners to go around and a concomitant number of surprises, too, in something like "Ionizacion-Variaciones E.V.," which last nearly 23 minutes.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hot stuff

Sonny Rollins wanted to get people thinking about a serious topic on "Global Warming," Milestone, as a read of his poetic liner notes tells you, but the disk also includes two songs by Mr. Rollins that inevitably are great tonic when I'm feeling low. "Island Lady" is another in his line of joyous calypso-style pieces with some creative exploring by the saxophonist. Likewise on the title track, one of my all-time Sonny Rollins favorites. Both feature, in addition, strong solo work by trombonist Clifton Anderson and pianist Stephen Scott.

I put Scott in the same class as Mark Soskin as far as pianists who seem to fit best with Mr. Rollins go, the two just a small step down from Tommy Flanagan at the head of the list. Scott is Monkish on "Echo-side Blue," where Mr. Rollins' playing, it seems to me, is close to being on par with his famous rendering of "Blue 7" on "Saxophone Colossus." Meanwhile, "Mother Nature's Blues" makes me think of those magic Sonny Rollins concert moments when the flow of ideas from his horn drives the guys playing with him to respond in kind. A CD comfortably ensconced in my Sonny Rollins Top 10.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back for seconds

For another helping of the tasty combination that is tenorman Lin Halliday, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and pianist Jodie Christian, all three guys I think should be better known, try "Where or When," Delmark. On "My Shining Hour," you get strong solos from Halliday, Sullivan on a muted trumpet and Christian, who strikes me as McCoy Tyner-like in this instance. Ditto with respect to Christian and Tyner on "Dear Old Stockholm," which also features complex playing by Halliday.

He does some bluesy blowing on Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," giving it a little different spin, and there's wonderful interplay between the saxophonist and Sullivan on "Over the Rainbow" (boffo version) and on Sonny Rollins' "Pent-up House." Excellent bassist Larry Gray worked the date as well, although he stays pretty much in the background. He does stand out a little on the title track, where Sullivan adds a second tenor sax to good effect on top of his trumpet and flugelhorn work elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I wouldn't want to live without...

Sonny Rollins playing "Someone to Watch Over Me" on "Here's to the People," Milestone, among other things. Nice version of "Why was I Born," a song Mr. Rollins clearly has an affinity for, as well. A couple cuts with a young Roy Hargrove on trumpet also make this a CD worth having.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Sonny Rollins with pipes

"First Moves," Jazz Door, is another place to hear Sonny Rollins and jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley working together. Better yet, I believe Mr. Rollins was in an exploratory mood for this European concert in 1974 and, as you would expect, that yields some interesting music. The sound on what I think is probably a bootleg recording is adequate, a lot better than most impromptu concert recordings.

Harley checks in with his bagpipes on "Alfie's Theme" and while I don't think it's quite as effective as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" on the Milestone disk "The Cutting Edge" it works. If you get "Alfie's Theme" and "Alfie's Theme Differently" on the Impulse CD of the movie score by Mr. Rollins, this is "Alfie's Theme" really differently. Harley also plays some soprano sax (he was a saxophonist before picking up the pipes), as does Mr. Rollins, who waxes avant-garde on "Look for the Silver Lining." The generally rockish electric guitar playing from Yoshiaki Masuo is consistently good. Gene Perla on electric bass and David Lee round out a fusion-oriented ensemble well.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Easy listening, in a good way

"Easy Living," Milestone, is another Sonny Rollins CD I ought to play more, a modernist session from 1977, kind of Sonny Rollins meets Weather Report, not that it really sounds like the latter and unlike the former, with George Duke on keyboards and Tony Williams drumming, along with electric guitar and bass players.

Aside from the different style of accompaniment for Mr. Rollins, the cool version of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" elevates this disk, as does Mr. Rollins performing "My One and Only Love," as a pretty ballad, in a rare turn on the soprano sax, which he also plays apace to great effect on "Aroz Con Pollo." Back on tenor, the title track sports yet another memorable improvised solo introduction by the master, ala "Autumn Nocturne" on "Don't Stop the Carnival," Milestone.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Saxofonistas passing

I count 21 renditions of "All the Things You Are" in my iTunes music library, which is to say you better be a player if you want to get my attention with the song. Tenorman Lin Halliday, who sometimes reminds me of Sonny Rollins in his flights from melody, and pianist Jodie Christian do on Halliday's "East of the Sun," Delmark, an CD I took a flier on (didn't know a thing about Halliday) after reading about it on the Brazilian jazz Web log jazzseen, kind of.

OK, jazzseen is in Portuguese and I can read a little Spanish and French but no Portuguese. I was attracted by the cover photo, however, Halliday looking like he's seen a lot of bad road and clutching the only thing keeping him going, his horn. And if I don't read Portuguese, I recognized the names Coleman Hawkins and Anthony Braxton in the text; intriguing combination. Then there's the description of Halliday in the rough translation of the text by Google, "one of these saxofonistas strangers who pass incognitos for all, smile to the life and die without ostentation." Good enough for me.

The presence of the severely underexposed Ira Sullivan on this consistently excellent disk also suggests it, whether it's Sullivan playing bass flute (oops, alto flute as Marc Berner points out in an e-mail) on the title track, the trumpet on "I Found a New Baby," the flugelhorn on "Corcovado," or adding a second tenor sax in spots for good measure. What a talent. He, Halliday and Christian, who also should be better known, mesh with near perfection on "Corcovado." Halliday's soloing on "My Foolish Heart" is gripping. I want more.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Experience counts

A drone, as if from an organ or bagpipes, as the canvas on which to paint music from a flute and other horns, including splashes of brass, music that sounds orchestral and at the same time like a Scottish folk piece and is decorated with bells and chimes, gradually rising in pace and intensity as bass and drums kick in until it's, yes, jazz by the end. Then the band switches to a funk romp with Detroit and New Orleans as anchor points and punctuated by, among other things, a penny whistle and a police siren. Followed by a jazz waltz punched up using the judicious insertion of free jazz elements.

"Prayer for Jimbo Kwesi," "Funky Aeco" and "Walking in the Moonlight" from "The Third Decade," ECM, by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I figure they must have decided to employ everything they learned in the first two decades because the fascinating music just keeps coming. A rare gem even for this group of diamond merchants.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hank Williams it's not

The crew on Hank Garland's "Jazz Winds from a New Direction" is as elegantly proficient as the Modern Jazz Quartet, Garland and his guitar replacing John Lewis and the piano, and Gary Burton (all of 17 here) on vibes, bassist Joe Benjamin and Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck's drummer of choice, matching the troika of Jackson, Heath and Kay. I really get an MJQ feeling on "All the Things You Are" and the Burton-Garland song "Three-Four, the Blues."

I wish Garland had taken more solo space throughout, as he does on "Move," where his nimble fingers suggest Charlie Parker playing guitar, and the jazzy-bluesy rendering of Irving Berlin's "Always." I also wish he'd made more jazz recordings. A country music and Nashville stalwart, he was crippled in a near-fatal car accident in 1961, the same year "Jazz Winds" came out, struggled to return to form and never recorded a jazz session again.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lindberg puts out a spread

Tenorman Allan Lunsdtröm, one of the saxophonists with Swedish pianist Nils Lindberg on "Curbits," the first cut from Lindberg's "Sax Appeal & Trisection," Dragon, plays with the sweetness of Stan Getz and it isn't the only thing that makes the cut interesting. There are solos from Lars Gullin, the Swedish baritonist who rates with Pepper Adams in my book, and the great Swedish alto saxman Rolf Billberg. Moreover, the song is based on a Swedish folk tune undoubtedly familiar to many a jazz fan. It provided the structure for "Dear Old Stockholm."

Wonderful stuff and the CD never lets up from there, presenting Swedish legend Lindberg and his music in settings ranging from a quintet to a big band, mostly with standout Swedish musicians, although Idrees Sulieman slips in on trumpet. Largely swinging bop and hard bop that shows off the technical prowess (the "Birth of the Cool" band didn't have anything over on these guys) of the Swedes and makes for a Swedish jazz smörgåsbord.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I should exit as graciously

"Yeah, but it's been a great gig."

What Dizzy Gillespie said when the 4-year-old daughter of a friend asked him if he was dying about 10 days before he did.

I love that story from "Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie" by Donald Maggin, a book I can recommend, although it could have used a discography.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lament for Rufus of Philly

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
I'm listening to my entire Sonny Rollins collection ahead of his Sept. 19 concert here. (Hey, it's going to take awhile to cover all of it.) Wednesday, it was "The Cutting Edge," Milestone, a live performance recording from Montreux in 1974 that's good, but not one of his best in my view. What strongly suggests it nonetheless is "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" featuring Mr. Rollins dueting with jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley. It's amazing how well the pairing worked and a tribute to the skill of both guys.

Sadly, I read yesterday that Rufus Harley passed away this week. I know some traditional bagpipers didn't like the attention he got at bagpipe competitions, Scottish festivals and the like. Some jazz snots didn't much like him either. But he was a legitimate musician, whether piping or playing jazz, and by all accounts a good soul.

Over lunch yesterday, I listened to "Dancing in the Dark," Milestone, a 1987 session with Mark Soskin on electric keyboards and one of those CDs I should listen to more often. Mr. Rollins is powerful on this and his improvisations, while fairly short for the most part, are quite creative. I've got a major thing for his version of the pop tune "Just Once." If you consider Tommy Flanagan the gold standard for pianists accompanying Sonny Rollins, Soskin isn't far off.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bop lives

Dizzy Gillespie biographer Donald Maggin did an unscientific survey and decided that more than 50 percent of jazz artists playing today still use predominantly bebop forms, which seems about right to me. Modal music is harder to play and less accessible on its face, the popularity of "Kind of Blue" aside. Avant-garde, freely improvised jazz is an even tougher nut to crack on both counts. Likewise the fusion sprung from Miles Davis' electric music.

I thought about Maggin's contention listening to "Night Owls," from an octet led by tenorman (also flute and clarinet) Chris Byars and Smalls Records. "All or Nothing at All" is done as bop, Latin-tinged, complete with saxophonists quoting Charlie Parker, or Leo Parker in the case of baritonist Mark Lopeman. The group's version of Tadd Dameron's "Gnid" also is straight line from the original boppers. Byars kind of reminds me of Sonny Stitt. I swear trombonist John Mosca is channeling J.J. Johnson.

That said, parts of this ("Village Beauty" for one, "The Way You Look Tonight" for another) make me think of "Birth of the Cool" and Gerry Mulligan's concert jazz band, which were more or less modal, albeit with bop roots sunk in swing soil. These guys aren't imitating in any event. They're using traditional tools to build their own state-of-the-art house, and a nice pad to hang out in for awhile it is. Proof bebop lives on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Greek getting his props

I was listening to "Parallel Lines," Candid, from Greek saxophonist Dimitri Vassilakis in the car yesterday and thinking again what an excellent CD it is. I'm not the only one. E-mail from Vassilakis this morning points out positive All About Jazz reviews here and here.

I caught the guy in London in March and really enjoyed it, and then had the opportunity to see him again in Chicago in April on his first trip to the U.S. Looks like he's building a following and he should be; he's good.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Free jazz, for now

Interesting new(er) Web log for discussing free jazz and posting MP3s of out-of-print and unreleased recordings. I don't know how they do it and I'm sure some music industry thug will shut them down soon, but it's fun while it lasts.

I continue to be royally honked that "licensing issues" killed Swing is in the Air, a favorite jazz podcast of mine that I'm willing to bet did nothing but create new jazz fans and generate jazz recording sales to those of us who already have religion. (You can still get a live stream of the ongoing radio show from whence Swing stemmed.)

Smalls is big

Smalls, the New York Club, has been a launching pad for some wonderful jazz musicians, as recounted in a June Downbeat piece, and Smalls Records is, thankfully, making a bunch of their music available. The article prompted me to buy the Omer Avital Group's "Asking No Permission," just one of the Smalls titles I had my eye on after experiencing the stunning Frank Hewitt CDs "We Loved You" and "Four Hundred Saturdays" from the label.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Tenor trio plus

I like pianoless saxophone trios, from Sonny Rollins at the Village Vanguard in 1957 to Donald Harrison's 2004 "Heroes." Then there's "Asking No Permission," from Smalls Records and the Omer Avital Group, with bassist Avital leading and holding things together sans piano, but not one sax, no, a veritable phalanx of saxes as the centerpiece. (Charles Owens, Gregory Tardy and Mark Turner on tenors and Myron Walden on alto. Ali Jackson drums, pretty much perfectly I might add, to round out the sextet.)

The music strikes me as hard bop with free elements and lots of clever touches that make it interesting over multiple listens. Take the nice coloring from Tardy playing flute, on which he doubles, on "Know What I Mean?!" The saxophones often sound like a choir during the ensemble interludes, not unlike the World Saxophone Quartet, but not quite as heavy or imposing either. It's more like Odean Pope's Saxophone Choir on "Locked & Loaded: Live at the Blue Note," Halfnote, a good disk my friend Carl Abernathy gave me recently, although Pope uses a piano.

"Lullaby of Leaves" is like something out of a "Pink Panther" score meets the deep blues, while "Devil Head" makes me think of classical chamber music in some places and Mingus in others. Avital, who gives himself some solo space, makes me think of Mingus as well, not in his sound necessarily but in his ability to make the bass seem not at all out of place when used as a front-line instrument. Plenty of fine solos from the saxes, too, including a series of them in "12 Tribes." Thanks Smalls, again.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

All-star stars

Put a bunch of stars together and you usually don't get a disaster, but it's been my experience that often you don't get anything particularly special either.

I thought about that this afternoon listening to Charlie Parker's "Au Privave" on the Jimmy Smith Blue Note CD "House Party." The B-3 master, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, Kenny Burrell and Art Blakey turn in one of the most perfect pieces of jazz music I know. (Jimmy, how I miss him, lets lose with some brilliant solo improvisation on "Just Friends" as well.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Murderers row

You can have your '27 Yankees, make my "Murderers Row" the lineup on "Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Inc.," Pablo/OJC, which besides the saxophone and trumpet giants includes Joe Pass on guitar and pianist Tommy Flanagan, giants in their own right. Al McKibbon and Mickey Roker on bass and drums aren't Old Milwaukee Light either.

Cool call and response from Gillespie and Carter on "Sweet and Lovely" and Pass, Carter, Flanagan and Dizzy all take standout solos on "Constantinople." John Birks even raises the roof a bit with high notes during "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," showing he could still do it even in his 60s. Roker ends the cut by singing the words to the song in a way that makes you feel the blues and the church at the same time. This is rated 2.5 stars (of 5) on allmusic, which I generally like, but that rating's stupid.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dizzy muted

Miles Davis may have owned the thing, or seemed like it, but Dizzy Gillespie could work the mute, too, as is plain on "Dizzy's Big 4," Pablo/OJC, his spiffy 1974 no-piano quartet date with Joe Pass, Ray Brown and Mickey Roker. Pass is a copacetic partner for Dizzy and the two play off each other especially well on "Birks Works." The version of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" is one of my most beloved jazz cuts.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dizzy later

Other than the obvious, his small groups with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie does some of my favorite non-big band work on "Something Old, Something New," Verve, in a quintet with James Moody (who's super on this) and Kenny Barron.

As the title implies, they do a mix of bebop standards, including a wonderful medley of "I Can't Get Started" and "Round Midnight," and new (for 1963 when this was recorded) stuff. In the latter, I hear Dizzy, minus the mute, telling Miles Davis (and his second great quintet) that he ain't got nothin' over on old John Birks where sophisticated post-bop jazz is concerned. Barron cooks on "Cup Bearers." I might make "Early Mornin' Blues" my theme song for walking to work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dizzy early

Besides "Dizzy Gillespie at Newport" and "Birks Works: The Verve Big-Band Sessions," covering Dizzy Gillespie's stellar 1956-57 "State Department" big bands, I wouldn't be without "Dizzy Gillespie: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings," Bluebird. The two-disk set starts with four tracks (including a version of the "King Porter Stomp" like you've never heard the "King Porter Stomp") of Gillespie in Teddy Hills' and Lionel Hampton's orchestras in 1937 and '39 and then covers Dizzy's own '46 to '49 groups, before economics forced him to fold up the big band tent.

A host of bop standards, such as "52nd Street Theme" and "Anthropology," get large-group treatment and you hear him go full-bore into incorporating Afro-Cuban forms into his music, after dabbling previously, by adding legendary congero Chano Pozo for "Manteca," "Cubana Be," "Cubana Bop" and other Latin-laced tunes. The recasting of "St. Louis Blues," which author Donald Maggin says honked off W.C. Handy, is priceless, the learned Professor Handy notwithstanding. Nifty Latinized version of "That Old Black Magic" with Johnny Hartman singing. Dizzy throws down in soling on "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid," which almost skirts the avant-garde in places.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Art period

Giving a second listen this morning to Tom Harrell's "Art of Rhythm," a 1998 RCA CD I picked up through La La (it had been on my to-buy list for quite awhile) and I'm thinking this has to be one of the best jazz disks of the last decade at least.

The music, all Harrell's, is diverse, from classically tinged to hard boppy and semi bossa nova to borderline free. But what really strikes me is the diversity of musicians he employed, from Dewey Redman and David Sanchez to Regina Carter and Mike Stern, and how well they work together despite generally having what I would call very different musical personalities. Stern and Redman turn in some memorable solos.

There's a Latin feeling to many of the cuts and, besides the bigger names, an interesting collection of instrumentation under the music, including strings, bassoon, marimba, bass clarinet and a variety of percussion devices. Enjoyable from first to last.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Birks working

The two-disk "Birks Works: The Verve Big-Band Sessions" is a great companion to "Dizzy Gillespie at Newport" where Gillespie's boffo 1956-57 big bands are concerned. You get one bout of kick-butt ensemble play after another with "Whisper Not," "Tour de Force" and "Jordu" prime examples.

Dizzy raises the roof solo on the latter as well, and does some powerful soloing that I dig in particular on ballads such as "Stella by Starlight" and "I Remember Clifford." He lets loose with fine muted blues playing on "Joogie Boogie." Check out "School Days," which rocks and rolls, in large part thanks to the rhythm and blues-style sax runs by Billy Mitchell.

"Groovin' High" on this set captures the essence of Gillespie's conception of a bebop big band. A tad too many alternate takes of "Left Hand Corner" (four) on the second disk for my taste, but overall it's still plenty of unique tunes for the money.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Birks works in a big band

Dizzy Gillespie is on my mind because I'm making my way through "Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie" by Donald Maggin (which my friend Carl Abernathy loaned to me) as part of my study of bebop this summer.

As I said, I have a thing for Dizzy's mid-1950s big bands and one of the points I find interesting in the book is that he had a strong preference for leading and playing in big bands in general, albeit bop and Latin jazz arrangements not traditional swing. Unlike Charlie Parker, who preferred small groups, small-group play was more of an economic necessity for Dizzy than a vocation.

We can thank the U.S. Government, which wanted a jazz big band for a State Department good-will tour and was willing to subsidize it, and Norman Granz, who just wanted to hear great music, for the existence of Gillespie's '56-57 groups, which the man himself classed as his best ever.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dizzy in the sky

If you want to hear Dizzy Gillespie work the high notes, you can do a lot worse than "Cool Breeze" on "Dizzy Gillespie at Newport," Verve, recorded 49 years ago this month. Memorable sax playing from Benny Golson and Billy Mitchell, too.

John Birks sure should have been famous for his small-group bebop recordings with Charlie Parker, but I think I like him best leading his mid-1950s big bands. Besides Golson and Mitchell (on my all-underrated sax team), this one includes Lee Morgan and Wynton Kelly, among others, along with a guest turn by Mary Lou Williams, who does wonderful Latin-inflected soloing on "Carioca." Standout version of "A Night in Tunisia" as well, with some cool Dizzy improvising. Classic.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sugar doesn't have to be sweet

I've seen Burnt Sugar classed as an extension of the kind of stuff Miles Davis did with his electric music, but "More than Posthuman: The Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion" makes me think of Horace Silver's wonderful '70s set piece "The United States of Mind," for a new more angry and less hopeful millennium (so far) with an updated, harsher funk groove, interludes of hip-hop, sound theater using both instruments and voices and spiced by free jazz. Intricate and powerful and, heck, you could even dance to some of it. Maybe what this group really represents is a 21st Century big band that sounds like it. I am turned on by its music in any event.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Miles unplugged

Disk 19 of "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux," Columbia, which I reached over the weekend, is the same as the single CD "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux," wherein Quincy Jones assembled two big bands, including the Gil Evans Orchestra, for the occasion and convinced Miles to do what he said he wouldn't ... revisit his old stuff, from "Birth of the Cool" to "Sketches of Spain."

Less than three months from death, Miles Davis still had it, even figuring that the power trumpet parts I hear are carried by Benny Bailey and Wallace Roney, who were there to help out. The big bands conducted by Jones and playing Evans' classic arrangements for Davis are outstanding. But the guy who really stands out is saxophonist Kenny Garrett, a regular in Davis' electric groups at the time, where he also excels based on the "Montreux" disks I've listened to previously.

Miles Davis always resented the excess of attention Chet Baker received. At least he could take comfort, if cold, that he was playing a heck of a lot better than Chet at the end.

I bought the box set for the breadth of coverage it offers of live performances of Davis' constantly changing electric music over more than 20 years, but I'm happy to have this nod to his past as part of the package. In fact, I haven't been less than happy with any of the disks in the set. Songs are repeated from disk to disk, as is natural in any "complete" box. Generally, I don't think that's as big a drawback in jazz, where versions tend to differ with some significance from one to another. But in the "Montreux" box, the repeats are more or less in title only. They're like whole new songs from performance to performance. One disk to go .. then I'm listening again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Sonny, please

Weird, the first thing that struck me on the title track of the new Sonny Rollins' CD "Sonny, Please" was the playing of trombonist Clifton Anderson (who's got a good solo on "Remembering Tommy" as well) and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion.

Mr. Rollins gets his by the time it's over, however, on his first studio release in six years and the first release ever on his own record label Doxy. I thought his last two studio CDs, "Sonny Rollins +3" and "This is What I Do," both Milestone, were among his best. They also were his last new disks of any kind before the outstanding, Grammy-winning and live "Without a Song," also Milestone, released last year.

I think "Sonny, Please" rates with any of the three and will probably get even more interesting over time because there's a lot going on in the course of the program.

Mr. Rollins is at his lyrical best on "Someday I'll Find You" and "Stairway to the Stars," which I place up there with two of my favorites, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" on "This is What I Do" and "What a Difference a Day Made" on "+3." (Nice supporting work from Dinizulu on "Someday I'll Find You" and Anderson and guitarist Bobby Broom on "Stairway.")

The great tenor saxophonist is on the avant-garde edge on "Nishi," with some very complex blowing, and he makes another wonderful tribute to an old friend on "Remembering Tommy" (pianist Flanagan, who played with Mr. Rollins on his masterwork "Saxophone Colossus.") He seems to get especially inspired when he pens tunes in honor of former musical mates, as he did with "Have You Seen Harold Vick?" and "Charles M." on "This is What I Do."

The highlight: Probably "Serenade," on which he engages in the kind of ultra-creative improvisational odyssey from a simple melody for which he's justly famous. He closes with another in a line of smile-creating calypso-influenced tunes, "Park Place Parade."

Here's to many more new Sonny Rollins' CDs.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Found on the road

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
I met Eddie Fisher and his wife Christina over the weekend while working on a story in East St. Louis. Christina was showing me the community theater (complete with computer lab and video studio) she and her husband use to give kids in particular something constructive and educational to do, when she mentioned that her husband is a jazz guitarist. I'm a big jazz fan, I say. Let me show you something, she says. She takes me into Eddie's office and there's a picture of Eddie and ... Herbie Hancock, she says, and another of Eddie with ... Wayne Shorter, I say. You are a jazz person, she says. Yes mam, I say.

Meanwhile, Eddie's outside fixing up some junkyard furniture for the garden patio he's building in front of the theater, even though he's played with Booker T. & the MG's, Isaac Hayes, Solomon Burke and Albert King and toured Europe 10 times and is in the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame (he was born in Little Rock) with Herb Ellis, Louis Jordan and Pharoah Sanders, among others, pretty good company.

When I got home, I downloaded "42nd Street," his last CD, cut in 2001, from iTunes. In his playing style, Eddie Fisher makes me think of ... Eddie Fisher. If he sounds comparable to anybody, it's George Benson or maybe Jimmy Ponder and there's a little Grant Green and Wes Montgomery in his playing, too. The music moves my feet from the opener, "Who Loves You," and has a funk, Motown, soul thing going along with the blues in the mix, as on "Ah Blues Thang." All the songs are Fisher's. "Mr. Smooth" is as driving and powerful as any jazz guitar performance I can recall and it gets balanced nicely by "For You Babe," the pretty ballad that follows. Good musician and a good guy.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Miles in the Forrest

Off to East St. Louis, which is in Illinois not Missouri, and where
Miles Davis grew up and started earning his props playing with local
guys like Jimmy Forrest, whose CD "Forrest Fire," OJC, is one blues
drenched, soulful romp.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Candy's dandy

I thought about Clifford Brown again yesterday when I received Lee Morgan's "Candy" in the mail for a buck through La La, a new Web-based used CD trading service I've been trying. (Works good so far.)

I thought about Brown because Morgan sounds like Lee Morgan playing Clifford Brown, maybe in "The Clifford Brown Story," if there had been such a movie. Which is not to say Morgan's playing isn't good, because it's downright amazing for a 19-year-old kid who's obviously on the way to finding his own voice, soon to be considerable, on this disk from early in his career.

You get to hear it plainly. Morgan is leading a quartet session and he's the only horn, although Sonny Clark on piano certainly helps carry the load. Spiffy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

When the cat's away...

"African Cowboy", which opens "Wessell 'Warmdaddy' Anderson Live at the Village Vanguard," Leaning House, starts out making me think of Sonny Rollins' "Way Out West," by way of a New Orleans dance hall, and then segues into Ornette Coleman or Archie Shepp territory. "Now's the Time" gets similar treatment, with Anderson, mostly on alto saxophone, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield opening pseudo Bird and Diz before giving it a more avant-garde flavor. Anderson's stint with the sopranino sax, a step higher than the soprano, on his own "Snake Charmer" begins like he plans to mesmerize a cobra and turns into a heck of a jazz burner. He also flashes a bit of Cannonball Adderley on "I'll Remember April" and a touch of Johnny Hodges on "Star-crossed Lovers."

I'm thinking Anderson, a mainstay of Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, enjoyed playing outside the necon confines of the big group and he took full advantage. I picked this up on a flier last week while poking around in my local used CD store, and I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Big Banding, part 10

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

Cab Calloway, "Are You Hep to Jive?" OK, the songs on this Columbia compilation, 22 recordings by the Calloway band from 1939-47, are generally goofy. But hey, the Cabster could sing, even on novelties like "Minnie the Moocher," and the band he had behind him plain ruled. Little wonder with dudes such as Dizzy Gillespie (before he and Calloway came to blows), Chu Berry and Milt "the Judge" Hinton in it. "The Calloway Boogie" might, in fact, keep you groovy 24 hours a day. Everybody ate when they came to Cab's house. And that's all reet, hep cat.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines or Andy Kirk.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Harold in jazz land

"Harold in the Land of Jazz," Contemporary/OJC, is an enjoyable Harold Land CD that has the tenorman in a quintet with the great Swedish trumpeter Rolf Ericson and bass god Leroy Vinnegar. Land and Ericson make me think of Miles Davis and Coltrane in Davis' first great quintet, especially on the quiet song "Lydia's Lament" but also on hoppin' tunes like "Speak Low" and "Smack Up." A very high level of musicianship on this disk.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Slide's in the barn

So I've been in a Jazz Showcase, a Jazz Bakery, a Jazz Kitchen and a
Jazz Cafe. Tonight, I added a jazz barn, officially the new Music Barn
at the University of Illinois-run Allerton Park. I have to say the loft
of an old timber barn makes a pretty nice concert venue. Of course it
helped that the UI jazz profs who broke it in had trombone legend Slide
Hampton along as a guest artist for a wonderful program of their
compositions, plus one from Mr. H., who still cooks, baby. I wonder if
he's ever played a real barn before?

Friday, June 30, 2006

I Remember Clifford

The death of Clifford Brown in a car accident 50 years ago this this week prompted Benny Golson to write one of the saddest songs I know, "I Remember Clifford." For a version of it from the wellspring, check out "Meet the Jazztet," Chess/MCA, a disk by Golson's group with trumpeter Art Farmer, which also includes trombonist Curtis Fuller and a young McCoy Tyner on piano. There's a soulful in extremis rendition on "People Time," Verve, the Stan Getz and Kenny Barron duet CD set, which I happen to think presents Getz at his best, especially on ballads.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Studying Brown

"Study in Brown" and "More Study in Brown," both from EmArcy, are two nice disks for hearing Clifford Brown in his justly famous combos with Max Roach. The solos are fairly brief and emphasis is placed on ensemble playing, but it's a tight ensemble and you can understand why the Brown-Roach grouping is notable despite being short lived as a result of Brown's tragic death in a car accident 50 years ago this week.

On "Study," Brown produces memorable soling on "Cherokee" and he and saxophonist Harold Land function as if one on an unusual version of Billy Strayhorn's Duke Ellington anthem "Take the A Train." (Everybody does it on "A Train," but if you wanna hear somebody really make his cymbals sound like a steam engine chugging, listen to Roach.)

I didn't put a stopwatch to it, but the solo space feels more expansive to me on "More Study." Plus, half the tracks have Sonny Rollins, who joined the group in Chicago after Land went back to California as I recall, on tenor sax. He and Brown are practically symbiotic, which is not to bad rap Harold Land, a guy I think should be remembered more prominently than he is. Kickin' Brown solo on "Jordu" and some spiffy bass work by George Morrow on "These Foolish Things."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Two-man sound theater

On "Critical Mass," PSI, I swear I hear guitars, a bass, a Chinese lute, congas, steel drums and drums in general, along with sheet metal being shaken in the wings to simulate thunder for a stage play.

I even hear a piano and a saxophone (tenor and baritone) and those are the only sounds that I don't find surprising because a piano and saxophones are all Spanish pianist Agusti Fernández and Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson, the only musicians on the duet CD, played for this recording. One amazing work of improvised jazz and a disk I am going to find mind bending over and over again.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Brown blues

"There may be no sadder tale in modern music than that of Clifford Brown." The beginning of a Washington Post piece today on the 50th anniversary of the trumpeter's death in a tragic car accident.

He was 25, meaning he'd be 75, same age as his good friend Sonny Rollins, whom jazz journalists named artist of the year just last week. I have to think Brown, like Rollins and 85-year-old Clark Terry, would still be making music, maybe even with Mr. Rollins, and wouldn't that be something to hear and see?

Tonight, I gave a listen to "The Beginning and the End," Columbia, two cuts recorded near the beginning of Brown's career and three likely from the final night of his life, recorded live in Philadelphia. His soloing on "A Night in Tunisia" is the best I've heard on that song, and among the best on any song, and the version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" is fabulous.

"Thank you. You've made me feel so wonderful." What Clifford Brown says to his audience at the recording's end.

Not bad, plus

Why the Swedes in E.S.T. are not like the Bad Plus, a lot of bad comparisons by bad music writers notwithstanding.

Bad Plus: jazz with a rock sensibility and a nod to the classical, group improvisation. E.S.T. (short for Esbjörn Svensson Trio, kind of): jazz with a classical sensibility and a nod to rock. Heavier on the electronica, not as heavy on the avant-garde flavoring, discrete solos as per traditional jazz. The Bad Plus often sounds like a much bigger band from sheer volume. E.S.T. sounds like a much bigger band because of the diversity in what it does with its instruments. Svensson sometimes makes like two pianists, and Dan Berglund like a bassist and guitarist at the same time. These guys, along with drummer Magnus Ostrom, are good.

On their latest, "Viaticum", 215, stick with "What Though the Way May Be Long," the last track, which doesn't actually end until long after 6:20.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Test of mobile blogging

With pictures, this one of the Blue Room jazz club at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, where I saw Joe Chambers play last month.

Hawk bops

"Half Step Down Please" has bebop written all over it, and why not? Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones and Max Roach are in the house. The tenorman ... a warhorse named Coleman Hawkins.

From "Coleman Hawkins 1947-50," Classics. That and Classics' Hawkins 1945 disk have really filled out my Hawk collection nicely. This was a strong period for him, mostly in small group settings where he shoulders the load. The sound on the CD is great and the music is flat-out essential.

The solo tune "Picasso" is in a category with "Body and Soul" and "Rainbow Mist," but there are fabulous Hawkins solos one after another throughout the program. The set with baritonist Cecil Payne seems to have really inspired him, on "The Big Head" for one, "There's a Small Hotel for Another." Some of the best, and most boppy, stuff is with a French band in Paris, including a kickin' version of "It's Only a Paper Moon."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Funny, but I don't play the clarinet

“What’s the difference between a jazz guitarist and a pepperoni pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four."

"What’s the definition of optimism? A jazz clarinetist with a pager.”

Jazz humor from comedian, and sometimes clarinetist, Emo Philips.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Son of a Trane

Revelation this evening: What Jonas Kullhammar's "Son of a Drummer" makes me think of most is "Blue Train." If the Swedish soccer team played like these guys, it'd be a stone lock in the World Cup.

Blues that don't give them to me

If guy Davis is anything like his music and his liner notes, I figure he must be a pretty good dude. I like him for that, and for his voice, which I think of in terms of gravel smoothed by a river of whiskey; for his guitar, banjo and harmonica playing; and for the stories his songs tell.

He's a blues singer in the Piedmont, Blind Willie McTell vein with bluegrass sensibilities whose latest CD, "Skunkmello" from Red House Records, also uses elements of gospel, R&B, rock and, on one amusing cut, hip-hop. As a musical story teller, I rate him with a couple of my old favorites, Harry Chapin and John Prine. "Legacy" from Red House is a good compilation of his stuff up to "Skunkmello." The song "We All Need More Kindness in This World" makes me want to be a better dude whenever I hear it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Billie moves to the background

I think Madeleine Peyroux sounds quite a bit like Billie Holiday on her first disk, "Dreamland," Atlantic, but the material is not like a Billie Holiday set, Patsy Cline-associated "Walkin' After Midnight" for one, plus some Peyroux originals. On her second, "Careless Love," Rounder, she sounds a whole lot less like Billie Holiday. I enjoy pretty much every tune on it, "Dance Me to the End of Love" and her own song "Don't Wait Too Long" especially.

"Dreamland" had James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Regina Carter and other big hitters behind her as a selling point. "Careless Love" has musicians maybe less well known but more tight as a group. Larry Goldings on keyboards and Scott Amendola on drums stand out.

I just like Peyroux's voice. She hasn't the commanding pipes of an Ella Fitzgerald or the pristine presentation of a Sarah Vaughan, but I think she does interesting and surprising things with accent and inflection that make her singing fetching and emotive, as did Billie Holiday, although, as I said, on "Careless Love" Peyroux sings much more in a Madeleine Peyroux way than a Holiday way.

I put the CDs on this week because I caught her in concert Saturday night (my only complaint being that for $40 it should have run longer than a little over an hour). She has a new disk due out this fall and it could be interesting if the show was an indication. She did some new stuff and it struck me as being a further advance toward her own sound. Couple it with her intelligent song writing and the combination should be formidable.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Shuffling my feet in the heat

If somebody put a gun to my dog's head and told me to pick a favorite jazz single or the pooch gets it, I wouldn't do it. Then again, I don't have a dog.

But if I made a list of potential choices in case I'm ever faced with such a decision, I'd probably put "Blueport" from Gerry Mulligan and his concert jazz band on it. (Verve one-disk version at the Village Vanguard, two renditions in the Mosaic box set.)

Came up on the Shuffle coming back from lunch and had my feet moving, 90-degree heat and like 90 percent humidity aside. In other words, catchy tune and, in this case, legendary musicianship. The speed at which Mulligan could manipulate his baritone is really evident, and amazing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Make a masterpiece by midnight...

... as Ken Burns put what jazz musicians like Charlie Parker did (and do) up there on stage.

Or as trombonist Jimmy Knepper put it in the liner notes for "Bird at St. Nicks."

"It has sometimes been remarked that 'it's too bad Charlie Parker didn't write more' but the truth is he wrote continuously ... every time he played he composed. Not only did he compose brilliant melodic lines in his solos, but half the time he played his own accompaniment."

Burns titled the "Jazz" episode focusing on Parker and other post-swing players simply "Risk." Apt.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bird on a tightrope

Brian Priestley's "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker," Oxford University Press, says Parker played with a plastic alto sax in his later years because no self-respecting pawn shop would take take it in hock. Hence, he'd have a horn to play when he got a gig.

I believe Charlie Parker, over and above being a substance abuser, clearly suffered from mental illness for which he'd be treated, independently of his addictions, today. One question in my mind is whether that contributed to his music's nature, just as one wonders in the case of van Gogh and his paintings; and how would treatment have changed his music, or would it have, if so?

Parker himself said drugs made it harder to do what he did, rather than serving as some sort of twisted muse. It's wrong that he still gets tarred (I think mostly by people who just parrot the same old line) as the root of the widespread use of heroin by jazz musicians during his era, for which there were other cultural and societal reasons. The evidence is that he discouraged younger guys like Red Rodney, Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins from using and despaired when they did.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bird dreams

After I attended the marvelous Art Ensemble of Chicago concert in London in March I dreamt about it. However, while the video of the performance, so to speak, was quite vivid, the music wasn't. In fact, I don't recall ever dreaming music very vividly, until recently.

I've been having dreams lately about Charlie Parker's music, no images, just the music, rendered in stunning detail. Of course, I have been listening to a lot of Charlie Parker lately during my waking hours, but I still think the way I'm dreaming about his music says something about just how great a musician he was. OK, maybe I am weird. Either that or Charlie Parker's ghost is haunting me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Trombonist to the master

Leave it to Clifton Anderson to show the proper way to coax a calypso out of the trombone, not exactly the instrument with the lightest touch. But then Anderson has been playing next to Sonny Rollins, a guy who knows a little something about calypsos (see "St. Thomas," for one), for more than two decades. Rollins happens to be his uncle, although the great saxophonist fired his nephew once, the message being it's Anderson's playing that counts, on stage and on "Landmarks" from Milestone.

As far as I can tell, the disk, which came out 10 years ago, is the only recorded session Anderson's led. Something possessed me to pull it out for lunch today and besides the impressive calypso grappling, it's a notable CD overall, with Monty Alexander on piano and Wallace Roney and Kenny Garrett guesting on a song each. Five of the eight pieces are Anderson compositions and he shows skill at that, too. I'm equally impressed with the way he makes a ballad instrument of the 'bone on "My One and Only Love." Good stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bebop economics

Besides Coleman Hawkins' influence on bop, a couple things really interested me in reading "The Birth of Bebop a Social and Musical History" by Scott DeVeaux, University of California Press, and Brian Priestley's "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker," Oxford University Press, as part of a little study of bebop I'm doing this summer.

One is DeVeaux's thesis that bop, in addition to resulting from artistic and civil rights-related motivations, was rooted in economics. The number of black big bands the music industry would bear always was limited, as was the number of black musicians white big bands would absorb. Big bands began to wane as the '40s progressed, making for fewer jobs for all musicians, black musicians especially.

Younger black jazz virtuosos hitting their primes, like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, had their opportunities for big band success diminished in particular and, in response, found a new outlet in leading small groups in bars and clubs rather than big bands in ballrooms and dance halls, with Hawkins showing the way. Their performances were promoted through recordings, also a revenue source, that still appeared on juke boxes and mainstream radio then, as well as through live radio broadcasts.

Boppers also, of course, created a different kind of music to go with the realignment in group sizes and change of venues, in part as a means of distinguishing themselves from the "old" (and what had become substantially "white") style represented by swing. This in-with-the-new cycle seems to me to be a familiar pattern in musical change, whether it's beboppers in jazz or punks in rock or neo soulsters in hip-hop, et al. In the case of bebop, the effect was profound in that it converted jazz to an "art" or "chamber" music predominantly geared to listening as opposed to swing's métier dancing. So it has remained for the most part, with the exception of soul jazz, which I view as largely an attempt, with mixed success, to put the dancing back in jazz and to expand its popularity. Ironically, I think, some of the most advanced jazz, Miles Davis' electric stuff, was with its funky beat some of the more danceable jazz since the swing era (see "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991") and certainly some of the more popular, as a concert draw and in record sales.

In addition, I found it sad that Charlie Parker, having burned most of his bridges as a result of substance abuse (and, I believe, mental illness), had to play frequently with pickup bands and "all-star" groups to get gigs in his final years. Considering the marvelous music he made, one wonders what else might have resulted if he'd had a consistent partnership with like-minded similarly skilled players, as Miles Davis did with his two classic quintets or Coltrane with Tyner, Garrison and Jones. Not to mention if he'd lived past 34.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

From one trio to another

Listening to Jobim's "Stone Flower" yesterday morning got me on a piano trio jag (although "Stone Flower" isn't a trio disk, go figure) that started with Bill Evans and "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" (great music for a rainy A.M., even a Saturday) and progressed into Jean-Michel Pilc's "Welcome Home." Pilc has been one of my favorite younger-lion jazz pianists since I bought his CD "Cardinal Points" on a flier a few years ago and then caught him live, and solo, at a little club in Paris. (His solo disk "Follow Me" is a good approximation of what I heard at that performance.)

He's far more percussive and the edges on his playing are much sharper than the smoothness of Evans and Jobim in both areas. Pilc also makes more overt use of avant-garde and classical elements, the latter of which Evans uses extensively but in a more integrative fashion. Pilc often flashes a familiarity with stride, a quality I don't hear in Jobim and Evans. If anything, he's more like McCoy Tyner, though quite individual in his sound I think. I particularly dig "Welcome Home," on which he mixes his own compositions with reconstructions of an interesting variety of standards and not-so-standards, from "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" to "Giant Steps," along with "Scarborough Fair."

I slipped over the edge and finished the session off with "Elf Bagatellen" from Free Music Production, Germany, and Alexander von Schlippenbach, a piano trio disk on which Evan Parker's saxes replace the bass. I remember listening to this the first time driving home from Chicago after I had purchased it at the Jazz Record Mart and thinking I'd wasted 20 bucks. It's one of those things like Ornette Coleman's "Body Meta" or Sam Rivers' "Crystals" that had to grow on me. Now I find all three intellectually, and viscerally, exciting whenever I listen to them.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

There can be Only one

I didn't know beans about rapper Beans but I know William Parker and Hamid Drake are about as good as it gets if you're building an avant-garde jazz crew and I'm always on the lookout for that perfect melding of jazz and hip-hop. So I snapped up the new CD "Only" from Thirsty Ear, featuring the three in a trio, after I read about it recently.

As hip-hop, it probably isn't standout. But I think it's pretty good experimental jazz and at least as interesting as other attempts to marry jazz and hip-hop I like, such as Soweto Kinch's "Conversations with the Unseen" and the Iswhat?! CD "You Figure It Out..." If the jazz is front and center on Kinch's disk and prominent with Iswhat?!, "Only" is more of a balance.

My one reservation is that the obvious hip-hop sections and the obvious jazz sections are quite discrete. They may be married, but they don't sleep in the same bed, kind of like couples on old TV shows. Where they are well mixed, they remind me of the jazz and electronica alchemy in stuff like Nils Petter Molvaer's "Khmer" and Bugge Wesseltoft's "New Conception of Jazz." The hip-hop kind of gets lost. On the other hand, I'd probably buy this just to hear Parker and Drake excel, and they do, in yet another context.

Brazilian fight song

More good music to play while rooting for Brazil in the World Cup.
Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Stone Flower," CTI. OK, it's probably better for
loving than fighting, heck it's probably better music for loving than
"Bolero," but it's great music in any event from "Brazil's George
Gershwin." Two boffo versions of "Brazil," one slow and one peppy.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Chicks I dig

originally uploaded by mrgreg.
In commemoration of my shameless leap onto the bandwagon of the Brazilian soccer team as the World Cup kicks off today, two versions of "The Girl from Ipanema" I dig.

"Getz/Gilberto," Verve. The classic. I see no other way to put it, Getz's soloing on this is erotic. Truth be told, however, I think his playing is most memorable on "O Grande Amor" and "Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer)." And tell me those aren't the rhythms of a Latin-language mass Gilberto uses to open the latter.

"Fire Music," Archie Shepp, Impulse. Is to Getz, Gilberto and Jobim what the soccer we used to play on the rock-strewn dirt field of my youth (wipe off the blood, buddy) was to Rondaldo, Ronaldinho and Robinho. But, hey, we had fun, just like Archie. His deconstruction of "Prelude to a Kiss" rocks as well.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More live Birds

We have Jimmy Knepper to thank for two of the better live Charlie Parker recordings "Bird on 52nd Street" and "Bird at St. Nick's," both Original Jazz Classics from study tapes made by the trombonist in 1948 and 1950.

The "West End Blues" quote in "Visa" on "St. Nick's" is almost worth the price of the disk alone and then Parker goes and quotes the theme from "Woody Woodpecker" in "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Pop Goes the Weasel" in "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." I love it. The sound is a bit muddy, but not too bad, and you can hear the background buzz of the crowd. (What were people doing talking anyway?) Some songs cut off abruptly.

I think "52nd Street" is worthwhile as well, but the quality of the recording is lower. It also has an underlying hiss that contributes to making it less pleasurable than "St. Nick's." In both cases, the tape tended to run only when Parker was playing. Still, you do get to hear snatches from Miles Davis, Red Rodney, Max Roach and Roy Haynes, among others. While I prefer "Charlie Parker: The Complete Live Performances on Savoy," much cleaner recordings mostly from radio shows, these CDs deserve more play time from me, "Bird at St. Nicks" especially.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bird in the wild

A live collection that goes good with "Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948," JSP Records, is "Charlie Parker: The Complete Live Performances on Savoy," mostly New York radio broadcasts from 1948-49 with the last of the four disks devoted to a 1947 performance in Carnegie Hall and a 1950 concert in Chicago.

Something about "Symphony" Sid Torin introducing Bird and his mates (Miles Davis, Max Roach, Kenny Dorham and Tad Dameron among them) from the Royal Roost, "the Metropolitan Bopera House," tickles me every time I hear it. There's some song repetition from show to show, then again it's Charlie Parker playing live so while the song titles may be the same the way the songs, like "Slow Boat to China," get played isn't. Charlie Parker playing "White Christmas," on a Christmas morning no less, is priceless.

The Chicago concert has Parker with a local pickup band, the way he often had to perform later in his career just to get a gig, including the Freeman brothers George on guitar and Bruz on drums, but not tenor sax legend Von. The sound from the radio broadcasts is good, which can't be said for a lot of the live Parker stuff culled from amateur and impromptu tapes.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bird song bevy

Having gone through all five disks now, I think it's hard to beat "Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948," JSP Records, as the basis of a Parker collection. At about $25, the price is fantastic, the sound is great and the selection includes early Bird with Jay McShann's band and Tiny Grimes, not to mention Dizzy, and all, as far as I can tell, of Parker's important Dial and Savoy studio sides.

Incredible music, of course. What always strikes me listening to Charlie Parker isn't just his unmatched creativity but the pace at which he issues new musical ideas. Listening to the fifth disk of the collection over the weekend, I also was struck by what a wonderful, emotive ballad player he was, even with no strings in sight, and how he was no less relentlessly creative at a slower pace.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Free Bird

Interesting vignette in Brian Priestley's "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker," Oxford University Press, which is a well-sourced, short recounting of Parker's life and musical development followed by an extensive discography that's a big selling point. (The biography itself is a quick read both in terms of length, 138 pages, and an accessible writing style, except for one heavily musicological chapter.)

The vignette: Ornette Coleman is playing in London in 1965. Hostile audience member, who evidently preferred bebop, yells in a moment of silence: "Now play 'Cherokee!'" Coleman does, in perfect imitation of Parker, for about five notes, before moving on his way.

This struck me doubly the day after I read it when the Nano shuffled up "Bird Food" from Coleman's "Change of the Century" and I thought: "Great bop." Until Ornette, again, moved on his way. "Ramblin'" on the disk, one of my Coleman favorites, is fairly marbled with bebop. (Coleman and Don Cherry are kind of Bird and Diz from another dimension.)

Says two things to me. I think Ornette Coleman could play very much like Charlie Parker if he wanted to do so. Anybody who still thinks he plays like he plays for a lack of chops is incorrect.

I also think Charlie Parker, a musical searcher who would have only been in his 40s in the '60s, might have found his way with the advent of the avant-garde, just as Coltrane did, and it could have been quite a thing to hear.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Real roots music

The liner notes of "In the Heart of the Moon," Nonesuch, say African guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora master Toumani Diabaté made the CD pretty much like Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington made that Duke meets Hawk disk from Impulse. They just showed up, chatted a bit about what songs to play and played them, not jazz standards but traditional music of Mali, which, as I found with Mamadou Diabaté's "Tunga," can be gripping stuff. (Mamadou, also a kora player, is Toumani's cousin.)

"In the Heart of the Moon" is the deep roots of blues and jazz. I hear call and response, field hollers and spirituals, syncopation, ragtime, blues musicians from Mississippi John Hurt to Guy Davis, spontaneous improvisation as individuals and as a unit, bebop. Oh, and impressive guitar playing as well, here added to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the kora. I called "Tunga" enchanting and mind expanding. Ditto.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Big Banding, part 9

Here's another in my hunt for good one-disk samplers covering a selection of classic big bands from the '20s, '30s and '40s with decent sound, representative material and a reasonable price.

"Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy Jukebox Hits 1936-49," Acrobat Music. You want it because Kirk's band was a bebop incubator. Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee passed through, not to mention Don Byas, Jimmy Forrest, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Hank Jones. Mary Lou Williams was the chief arranger until 1942. Also of interest: singer Pha Terrell, a big influence on Nat King Cole. I'm partial to guitarist Floyd Smith, who's every bit of Les Paul on "Floyd's Guitar Blues." Sounds dated in places, but the musicianship is always good. "I Know" makes me think of The Drifters, which is OK by me.

Follow the links to my suggestions for disks featuring the bands of Jay McShann or Glenn Miller or Claude Thornhill or Chick Webb or Benny Goodman or Fletcher Henderson or Billy Eckstine or Earl Hines.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Star Eyes differently

Walking to work the other day, the Nano came up with some saxophone playing that stretched the possibilities of "Star Eyes," and even wrung some new possibilities from it, with a sound lighter than Sonny Rollins but heavier than Ornette Coleman and an approach somewhere between the two, kind of Michael Breckerish. The cut came from Larry Schneider's "Jazz," SteepleChase, and the description could pretty much cover the rest of the disk, the ballads, like "Old Folks," included.

The rhythm section is nice as well, Andy LaVerne on piano, Steve LaSpina on bass and Matt Wilson (becoming one of those guys I use as a sign that a disk I'm thinking of buying is probably worthwhile) on drums. They tend not to venture as far as Schneider, which is OK because I think it helps anchor what the saxophonist does and makes this an approachable CD for anyone from jazz neocons to avant-garde acolytes and that's saying something. LaVerne contributes a couple compositions. I really liked "Portrait of Dorian Mode." It almost sounds like it has Chinese music underlying it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Man of steel, his guitar anyway

I'm thinking I'll have to spin Richard Leo Johnson's "The Legend of Vernon McAlister," Cuneiform Records, again because I'm sitting here, just having played it for the first time, wondering if I really heard what I think I heard, which is a man get pretty much a whole orchestra out of an old National steel-body guitar his neighbor gave him.

Not a lot of jazz on this stunning CD, but there is quite a bit of the old timey, country blues I like, and a bunch of other stuff, and if you appreciate music in general I think it would be hard not to be a little amazed by it overall.

Jazz from a small island

British pianist Stan Tracey, whose trio nicely backs Sonny Rollins on "Live in London," is pretty Monkian (check out "A.M. Mayhem") on "Jazz Suite Under Milk Wood" with Bobby Wellins on tenor sax in the Charlie Rouse role. He actually sounds like Rouse (listen to "Llareggub") in places, but more like Stan Getz in others. Tracey wrote the songs based on a Dylan Thomas play and I think it's music as advanced as anything anybody was doing in 1965, including Miles Davis' second great quintet. I actually ordered this awhile back from the Bebop Shop in Britain and I'm not sorry I parted with the coin to do it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Birthday greetings

Miles Davis would have been 80 today and if he was I probably wouldn't be wondering who's ever going to resolve jazz and hip-hop.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pretty as a painting

Italian saxophonist Tino Tracanna stuck out for me on John Tchicai's "Big Chief Dreaming," a disk that stuck out for me in general, so I ordered Tracanna's well-thought-of "292," Splasc(h) Records. Overall, I came away thinking of the CD as a jazz soundscape. I think parts of it are informed by towering classical orchestral (and operatic) pieces, kind of like Bob Belden's "Black Dahlia" but with a lot fewer instruments and yet as sonically impressive. In "Argomenti Persuasivi" I hear Italian or Mediterranean influences and African forms presented, at least partially, as aural abstract art. And "aural abstract art" fits the title track in particular as a description. Elsewhere, the blues are in the mix as well, along with chamber music, and conventional, albeit modern, jazz. Consistently interesting and likely to be next time I listen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An apple a day

"Scrapple from the Apple" with Charlie Parker leading Miles Davis and Max Roach, priceless. From the fourth disk of "Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948," JSP Records, which really is a fabulous set. Brian Priestley calls this Parker's great quintet (Duke Jordan on Piano and Tommy Potter on bass are the other guys) in "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker" and I'm inclined to agree.

Kullhammar shoots, he scores, again

For purposes of my pocketbook I'm afraid Swedish saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar is going to become my next James Carter. He puts out a CD. I buy it. The latest, "Son of a Drummer," Moserobie Music, presents his quartet alone, minus the accompanying big band on "Snake City North," also Moserobie, a powerful disk that was one of my favorite purchases last year.

From my ear's perspective, the wallet can go lightly. "Hitman" sounds like Coltrane with the Jazz Messengers, and '60s Coltrane at that, which is an interesting mix. (I still hear Sonny Rollins and David Murray in Kullhammar's playing as well.) The whole group is good. Of the two Torbjörns, Gulz, the bassist, really sets the pace (see "The Rise and Fall of Sour T") and Zetterberg, the pianist, is an ear-catching second soloist who's McCoy Tynerish. And yes, I think there's a bit of Art Blakey in drummer Jonas Holgersson, although he probably appreciates the saxophonist's modernist, avant-garde leanings in a way Blakey wouldn't have. Kullhammar, not yet 28, wrote all the songs except for one and even the exception's a Swedish production, so I don't hear a bunch of tunes I've heard several times before. I'd really like to see these guys live.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Davis crib (kind of)

Miles house
Miles house,
originally uploaded by mrgreg.
On my foray to Alton, IL, to attend Miles Davis' 80th birthday party Sunday I also took the opportunity to drop by the address where his birth certificate, on display at the event, said he was born.

I'm not sure it's the same house, doesn't look like it, although it could have been retrofitted over the years since Davis was born at 5 a.m. May 26, 1926. The family moved down the Mississippi to East St. Louis the next year in any event.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hawk bops

"The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History" by Scott DeVeaux, University of California Press, was a little heavy on the musicological for me but the book also looks at the social, especially racism, and economic forces that drove the advent of bebop and it doesn't stint on the personalities involved, focusing in particular on Dizzy Gillespie while including some leaders in the movement who haven't received as much attention, such as Howard "Maggie" McGhee.

What I found especially interesting was Coleman Hawkins' facilitation of bebop by showing that small group concert, versus dance, jazz could be lucrative for black musicians, as well as by his incorporation of bop into his own music. I can hear it in "Bean and the Boys," Prestige, which has Hawkins in three octets and a quartet including Monk and modernists like Fats Navarro, Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, and Hank Jones, among others. The first set, he's transitioning from big band swing. The second and third, he's bopping, man. On the final set, from 1959, he's adapted soul jazz. But he's always Coleman Hawkins. It's hard to mistake that Hawkins sound, indelibly etched in my mind from "Body and Soul." In addition, all except seven of the 22 tracks on "Coleman Hawkins 1945" from the French Classics Records label are by Hawkins small groups with McGhee and much of the music is bop leaning. Personally, I think Hawk is talkin' trash to Charlie Parker on "Rifftide" and "Stuffy."