Friday, March 31, 2006

Neville jazz

Saxophonist Charles Neville and his brothers may not be jazz musicians per se, but they’re from New Orleans and you’ve got to figure there will be jazz in their music, which there generally is. In the case of "Charles Neville & Diversity," LaserLight, a disk I picked up not long ago, the jazz is front and center.

"Diverse," for instance, is straight out of the Hot Club de France with violinist David Kempers as Stephane Grappelli, Eric Struthers as Django Reinhardt, with a touch of Grant Green, and the addition of Neville's saxophone. Although the last thing I need is another version of "Summertime," the soprano sax version Neville lays down is different at least, higher pitched naturally, but I hear some Neville Brothers' touches in it as well. The group puts soul in "God Bless the Child," while "Nyomba" is good hard bop followed by "Moose the Mooche," which as you might expect comes out as good bop, the violin giving it an unusual texture. Likewise a breezy rendition of "The Jitterbug Waltz" with Rachel Van Vjorhees and her harp leading the way. Diverse this CD is and, as with diversity in general, I think that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Big Banding, part 8

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.

"Earl Hines The Early Years: 1923-1942.” In this Jazz Legends compilation of Earl "Fatha" Hines-led big band recordings you will find some great trumpet soloing on "Congaine" and a great trumpeter on "Skip the Gutter," Louis Armstrong. Meanwhile, stride-rooted Fatha gets his both solo, on "Blues in Thirds" for one, and with the band, as on "Pianology," and shows why he was probably a better pianist than Basie and Ellington and in a league with Fats Waller. But you want it because for every Armstrong, Skeeter Best and Billy Eckstine on the cuts, there are several good musicians you've never heard of who play with aplomb in Hines' wake as on "Madhouse" and "Bubbling Over," which will surely get your feet moving. "Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues" is a classic that does just what the title implies and "Jelly, Jelly" is a killer blues big band style. I like the later stuff on the disk better, but it's all good.

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 Andy Kirk.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Awake on the Trane

Like Monk CDs, I keep wondering when I will hit my limit on Coltrane CDs and say "that is sufficient." But I had been meaning to pick up "Newport '63," Impulse, for some time now and when I saw it recently for a bargain price at the wondrous Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, on a stop before attending a Donald Harrison performance at the Jazz Showcase, I bit and I'm glad I did.

Elvin Jones is missing (Roy Haynes drums instead, hardly a terrible imposition) but the rest of the great quartet with Jones, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison is there for three extended live cuts, including a version of "My Favorite Things" where Tyner really shines and Coltrane plays the song with noticeable differences from the famous Atlantic disk where it's the title tune. Coltrane makes a memorable run through “Impressions” on “Newport” as well. The final track, “Chasin’ Another Trane,” comes from a Village Vanguard session with Reggie Workman substituting on bass and Eric Dolphy added on alto. The two horns, as you can imagine with Coltrane and Dolphy in tandem, are an improvisational feast. Great music to help me keep awake through the jet lag from my London foray.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Now that's art

Let me tell you, for an older gentleman Roscoe Mitchell can still bring it. Sonny Rollins is the only other jazz senior citizen I've seen who's still got as much stuff.

I caught Mitchell with the Art Ensemble of Chicago at the Jazz Cafe in London's Camden section last night. One of the best half dozen performances I've seen, ever. They did everything from an improvisational piece that sounded like it was based off an African chant to kind of a funky acid jazz-like thing with clever quotes of Miles Davis' "Jean-Pierre." This while employing an impressive array of instruments. Saying they had all the bells and whistles (and a lot of saxes, drums and flutes, too) would be literally true. The youngish trumpeter Corey Wilkes is an able replacement for the late Lester Bowie and even did a Roland Kirk thing, blowing his trumpet and flugelhorn at the same time to fine effect. The place was packed, a real contrast from when I saw, say, Henry Grimes or Joe McPhee in the States last year and the audience struggled to reach a dozen. Folks were straining to get a good look at the stage and some people even danced, not something you see at every avant-garde jazz set.

The Jazz Cafe looks to me to be the prime spot in London, better than Ronnie Scott's (closed for renovations right now anyway) or Pizza Express Jazz, although the jerk running the door opened it late and left a line of customers standing in the freezing cold. The Cafe had Dr. Lonnie Smith and Lou Donaldson last week and has several shows coming up I wish I was going to be here to see. They serve a nice meal, if a little expensive, as well and eating gets you a good seat.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Greek to me

From my hotel's coin-operated Internet terminal in windy and cold London, where it may rain today but there's always a warm pub around the corner and a proper room-temperature beer.

After I arrived Friday, I took the tube to Islington and made a bit of a hike to hear Greek saxopohonist Dimitri Vassilakis and his trio at the Vortex Jazz Club. Dimitri is obviously familiar with Sonny Rollins. I liked his original stuff better than the standards he covered. It's a little odd hearing a Greek guy do "Moanin'" and sing as well as play a song that obviously has roots in spirituals and the black church. He improvised off it nicely, however.

Saturday, I found a used copy of Miles Davis' "Star People" at Ray's Jazz for £5, which thrilled me. Sunday, I bought what is probably an illicit Bunk Johnson CD for £2.99 at the Petticoat Lane Market. I feel a little bad about that. Then again, Bunk's long gone so I don't think I'm taking food out of his mouth. He probably didn't get paid when he made the recordings either, more is the pitty.

Tonight, I think I'll Tube up to the Jazz Cafe and see the Art Ensemble of Chicago, ironic given that I can drive a couple hours and see them in Chicago whenever.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bye, bye

Off to London for vacation, not taking a computer, don't intend to get near one for a week, although I might try to find a machine to use Saturday, the first birthday for this little Web log. But maybe not.

One last thought before I hit the road. "Herman's Heat, Puente's Beat," Evidence, is great music to pack by (that's Woody and Tito, it should go without saying).

Musicianer's musicianer

I just finished "Treat It Gentle," the autobiography of New Orleans jazz great Sidney Bechet (that's ba as in bath and shay as in sashay), which I spied cruising a local bookstore last year.

The book from Da Capo Press is a nifty look at the roots and initial growth of jazz from a guy who was there pretty much at the beginning and who was probably second only to Louis Armstrong in his worldwide stature among early jazz musicians, or "musicianers" as Bechet refers to them. It reads easily, kind of folksy for the most part like Mark Harris' baseball novels the Henry Wiggen's books ("The Southpaw," "Bang the Drum Slowly," et al), which are old favorites of mine. In contrast, the section on his grandfather, a musician and slave named Omar, is mythological in nature and like a short work of classical literature on its own.

Bechet also is notable for cutting a niche in jazz for the soprano sax, which Coltrane and others made so much memorable use of later. He played clarinet as well.

For an excellent Sidney Bechet CD compilation, try "Sidney Bechet: Centenary Celebration 1997," from Louisiana Red Hot Records. The cuts Bechet recorded from 1924-43 are heavy on the New Orleans sound with a heaping helping of the blues and lots of wonderful improvised flourishes. If you think of Sidney as a sax-playing Satchmo, you're not far wrong.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gal power

I first read about drummer Sherrie Maricle and her all-woman big band Diva in a column by Nat Hentoff, who raved about the group, which led me to its Web site to buy its 2002 CD "Live in Concert." Now I'm listening and relistening to "TNT: A Tommy Newsome Tribute" with Diva working music by composer and arranger Tommy Newsome of Tonight Show fame, another disk my buddy Carl Abernathy gave me for Xmas. (What Newsome and Diva do with "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" is priceless.)

If you like big band music, you have to pick up something from Diva and either of the aforementioned disks will do. Put 'em in the big band era and these gals would have had a lot of other bands running scared. Put it another way, Chick Webb didn't have anything over on Maricle, as a drummer or a band leader. About the only complaint I have is that they place such an emphasis on stellar group play, and brief soloing in the context of it, that individual players I know could really let loose don't often get the chance. But that's really a compliment on my part, both to their skill as a group and individually.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blue me

Besides Swing is in the Air, a wonderful jazz podcast (it isn't limited to swing despite the title), the other podcast I never miss is The Roadhouse from Tony Steidler-Dennison. Tony puts out a professional-quality show even though it's home produced and he seems to have more blues recording labels on board providing material every week. They should get on board. It's a great place to hear marvelous blues, from some of the bigger names, yes, but mostly from a lot of fine artists I've never heard of anyway and whose disks I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise. (Candye Kane and Watermelon Slim come to mind.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Miles rocks

Anybody who thinks it odd that they're inducting Miles Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight hasn't spent enough time with his electric music, which includes so many diverse elements that it's probably unclassifiable but could comfortably fit in either jazz or rock in my opinion. I love the stuff and get chills up and down my spine listening to it sometimes.

And I think it's massively cool that Miles Davis is going in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, at the same time as Blondie and the Sex Pistols no less.

Groovy Red

While I think "Soul Junction" with Coltrane is an excellent Red Garland CD, I like "Red's Good Groove" with baritonist Pepper Adams, who's every bit of Gerry Mulligan on "Take Me in Your Arms" and "Excerent!," even better. The group on the Jazzland disk, which also includes trumpeter Blue Mitchell and bass and drums legends Sam and Philly Joe Jones, just strikes me as extremely compatible every time I play this, does some fine soloing and excels in its ensemble play. A gem.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Life's little pleasures

I love puttering around home slowly on Saturday morning listening to my weekly podcast of Swing is in the Air from CKCU community radio in Ottowa, Canada, and host Jacques Emond. Jacques, for whom this is clearly a labor of love, usually concentrates on the music of different artist every show. (Today it was Texas tenorman Booker Ervin, guitarist Barney Kessel is up next and Lucky Thompson and Tommy Dorsey have been past subjects.) But sometimes he does shows highlighting, for instance, good CDs he found in the bargain bin or the music of artists who died in the past year. You get to hear just a wonderful variety of tunes. Ought to be in every podcast-savvy jazz fan's arsenal.

Friday, March 10, 2006


If somebody forced me to list my favorite album-length works of jazz, I'd undoubtedly put, among other things, Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Mingus' "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" and Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite" in the lineup. I probably wouldn't put "Don't Be Afraid: The Music of Charles Mingus" from Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on the list, but I think of all three as I listen to the recent Palmetto disk.

"A Love Supreme" because Marsalis and his band reinterpreted it last year in fetching fashion, uncovering an infrequently discussed truth about Coltrane in the process: underneath those "sheets of sound" of his was a sense of swing essential to the nature of his music in my view. Likewise, I think they reveal something fundamental about the music of Mingus in "Don't Be Afraid," by dragging the Ellington inside it to the forefront. Mingus revered Duke, there was always a lot of Ellington underlying his music and, again, that element was essential to the music's nature. It's fascinating, to me anyway, to hear it brought out by as skilled a collection of jazz musicians as you'll find today, the modern equivalent, as much as we have one, of Ellington's bands. Think of it as "Duke Does Mingus."

I hear Ellington clearly in the two pieces of "Black Saint" that they do, and I hear some of Ellington's Latin-inflected pieces in "Tijuana Gift Shop," which I wish they had explored at more length, and "Los Mariachis." They let loose and have some fun with "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," as did Mingus, while "Meditation on Integration" is the piece on which they get closest to the edginess of a Mingus band playing Mingus music.

They never get too close, however. If you want that, there's always the Mingus Big Band, which tends to play in the master's style. If you want to hear Mingus differently, try this. The music was great to begin with and, even if I prefer the original, the musicianship from the LCJO is, as always, outstanding. Enjoy it, then pick up Mingus' own big band classic "Let My Children Hear Music" and dig the contrasts, and the similarities.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Red Trane

For Red Garland and Coltrane playing together (outside of the first great Miles Davis quintet, of course) I'm a fan of "Soul Junction," Prestige, which also includes Donald Byrd on trumpet, albeit it in a decidedly supporting role.

The recording was done exactly two months after Coltrane recorded "Blue Trane" and he shows some of the same stuff here, noticeably on "Birk's Works." But this is Red's date and he uses it to perambulate plenty, particularly on the title track and on "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," which makes it a better disk to check out Garland than his partners.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


It is more accurate to say I don't need any more standards CDs with fairly straight renderings of songs like "Summertime," "A Night in Tunisia," "All the Things You Are," or "You Don't Know What Love Is." (Not intended to be an exhaustive list.) If I pick up a standards disk these days, I want to know it's going to be substantially different than what I've heard before. That's not always easy to determine, but if it's an improviser like Sonny Rollins, you've got a pretty good sign. There's nothing standard about Jean-Michel Pilc doing "St. James Infirmary" on his solo CD "Follow Me," let me tell you. The instrumentation is telltale as well. I might spring for another Bill Charlap standards session if he was accompanied by an alphorn quartet, or bagpipes.

This doesn't mean I'm against drawing on jazz's tradition, but jazz has a lot of tradition to draw on, much of which isn't drawn on enough. The other day, I listened to a good rendering of Mary Lou Williams "Zodiac Suite" from pianist Geri Allen and her Mary Lou Williams Collective. I happen to have a CD of Mary Lou Williams playing the "Zodiac Suite," from Smithsonian Folkways, that I like. But the Allen group's version, on the Mary label and titled "Zodiac Suite: Revisited," offers a fresh perspective on the music, which is hardly overplayed.

I think no less than Wynton Marsalis kind of agrees with me on this line of thought, despite being a diehard traditionalist. Which is why he's had the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra recasting stuff like Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and some of the music of Mingus the last couple years (and recasting it in an interesting manner in both cases, I might add).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Friends of Bill

The only Bill Charlap CD I had before I bought Charlap's "Written in the Stars" wasn't a Bill Charlap CD at all, but a disk with the pianist accompanying trumpeter Brian Lynch, uncreatively titled "Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap," Sharp Nine. It's also a standards disk and reminds me of nothing more than the Red Garland trio playing with John Coltrane, minus Coltrane and plus Lynch, which makes for a nice changeup when you want to listen to some good jazz well played but not overly taxing on the brain.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Standard setting

A few weeks ago, I was drunkenly telling my buddy Carl Abernathy I didn't need any more "standards" CDs, so the next day I bought "Written in the Stars" from Blue Note with pianist Bill Charlap and his trio, Washingtons Peter and Kenny on bass and drums respectively, playing, you guessed it, a bunch of standards.

What the heck, I didn't have anything with Charlap leading and it turns out there's nothing still about "In the Still of the Night," which the pianist and Peter Washington improvise with great alacrity, on this disk. While these may be standards, they're not the standards you tend to hear on every other standards disk, say, "Summertime." The guys make a touching ballad of "The Man That Got Away," for instance. That quiet interlude and one or two others aside, much of what they do is propelled by an undercurrent of advanced swing, like "Where Have You Been?" and "Lorelei," which are swinging and bluesy at the same in the classic mold of Count Basie, Jay McShann and other Kansas City greats.

Charlap isn't as far toward the outside as I like my favorite current piano players, Jean-Michel Pilc and Brad Mehldau, for example. But he's certainly a beautiful, creative, intricate and proficient pianist and the misters Washington are perfect teammates for him. It's something like listening to Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and a drummer instead of a guitarist and playing that good, even standards, is hardly, well, standard.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Raison d'etre

Champagne and caviar, yeah right. I'll take Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band having at "Blueport" Dec. 11, 1960, in the Village Vanguard, third disk in the wonderful box set from Mosaic. Beer and a pizza to go with it would be nice, too.

Protest soundtrack

Protest music is easier to do with lyrics than instrumentally, as anybody who's ever listened to Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit" ought to know. Which only serves to make the way Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra gets its point across with "Not in Our Name" more impressive to me.

On track 4 in particular, I think the message is as clear as if there were words in the discordant, militarized, funereal rendering of "America the Beautiful" opening a medley that then shifts to a more soaring, hopeful and jazzy take on the song before moving into a rousing interlude of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with a definite New Orleans influence, and Ornette Coleman's "Skies Over America."

Don't worry, "Not in Our Name," Verve, isn't a polemic. You get interesting, even fun music, too, mostly arranged by pianist Carla Bley. The title track is a wonderful, Spanish-inflected modern big band piece. Check out the reggae beat and clever quotes of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on "This Is Not America," a collaborative composition from Pat Metheny and David Bowie no less. On "Blue Anthem," a military tattoo slides into a soulful blues and a great sax solo by Tony Malaby, I believe. It also could be Miguel Zenon. The funky, bluesy version of "Amazing Grace" makes me want to get down. Nice bass and guitar by Haden and Steve Cardenas.

If you think the U.S. is currently acting the way it should for some reason (and you're wrong for so many reasons if you do) this is still an excellent disk. Since there are no words, you can more easily ignore the message (although you shouldn't) and enjoy the tunes.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The right stuff

I always thought "The Right Stuff," book and movie, were cool because it gave the pre-astronaut rocket pilots like Chuck Yeager, who stuck their necks out and probed the boundaries of space in relative obscurity, their due. Not that I'm not a fan of John Glenn and, later, Neil Armstrong, et al. As a space program junkie, I am. But credit where credit is due.

I'm a fan of Ornette Coleman as well, avant-garde Coltrane, Archie Shepp and my man Albert Ayler. But listening again to Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite" this evening reminds me that Mr. Rollins was pushing the outside of the envelope in the '50s, well before anybody talked about "free" jazz. Talk about your righteous stuff.

(One of) my favorite things

"Sweet and Lovely" from "Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Inc.," Pablo, came up on the Shuffle walking home for lunch and compelled me to pull the CD out. OK, it's guys hanging out and playing not some heady, intellectual concept disk. But what guys, what playing and what a pleasure. Besides Benny and Dizzy you get Tommy Flanagan on the piano and Joe Pass on guitar. Al McKibbon on bass and Micky Roker on drums ain't bad either. "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" is another great cut.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cool in New York

I raved about Donald Harrison, Ron Carter and Billy Cobham on Harrison's disk "Heroes" recently, so when I saw "New York Cool," a live reprise released last year by Half Note, I snapped it up. Good move.

You can't do "Body and Soul" better than Coleman Hawkins, so why not make it kind of a bossa mambo thing? Interesting improv by Harrison, complimentary bass from Carter, who gets a little William Parkeresque on his solo, and a great rendition of a Latin drum machine from Cobham. Harrison goes Coltrane on "I'll Remember April," which made me think of "Chasin' the Trane" in places, and Cobham pounds out a pretty good Elvin Jones, too. They also do a memorable job of abstracting "Star Eyes." Harrison epitomizes blues saxophone playing on "Blues for Happy People."

What really strikes me is how this isn't just a showcase session for the saxophonist, although Harrison gets his share of the spotlight and should, but a real team collaboration with the bass and drums as much the headliners as the horn. Considering the guys behind them, why not? Excellent.