Friday, April 28, 2006

Hey Hef, centerfold this

I've said it before and I'll say it again. James Carter's "Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge" is better than sex. Don't believe me? Just queue up "Free and Easy."

Happy birthday Joe Segal

You ask me the greatest thing about the Chicago jazz impresario Joe Segal's 80th birthday is the concert at Orchestra Hall celebrating it that I am attending this evening.

Among the big horns feting the owner of the Jazz Showcase: Von Freeman, Jimmy Heath, Yusef Lateef, James Moody and Ira Sullivan. Word is Lou Donaldson may be there as well.

I mentioned some Sullivan dates with Red Rodney earlier this week. Today, I've been listening to stuff from Heath, Lateef and Freeman.

I highly recommend Heath's "On the Trail," Riverside. High energy hard bop, save for a ballad interlude or two, with Wynton Kelly, Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers and the drumming Heath brother Albert "Tootie," it's a classic jazz CD. If you can find it, get "Freddie Hubbard & Jimmy Heath Live at the Left Bank," from defunct Label M, another project of Joel Dorn that I sorely miss. Two masters trading improvisations that mostly clock in near 10 minutes or more. It's almost like being there, and this disk makes me wish I had been.

Lateef's "Eastern Sounds," OJC, shows his versatility and makes interesting use of some Asian musical forms.

Freeman's recent "The Great Divide," Koch, will make you think of Gene Ammons. I really like "You Talkin' to Me?!" from Delmark, with Freeman and young Frank Catalano matching tenors in a more free-leaning set.

Throw heat

On "Body and Soul," Black Saint, my man David Murray does a lot of Sonny Rollins via Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, with the song "Odin" an excellent example of that. Murray was a power player at this point, 1993, and still is, although like Mr. Rollins he's worked a variety of placement pitches into the mix with those heaters he continues to uncork.

Here, he's mostly bringing it like Lee Smith used to for the Cubs. (Sorry, it's baseball season). If you don't remember Lee Smith, just spin the first two tunes on the disk, "Slave Song" and "Celebration Dance," and you'll see what I'm talking about. Pianist Sonelius Smith (no relation to Lee, as far as I know) is an attraction on this quartet date as well. He's complimentary throughout and pay attention to his unusual intro to, and his solo later in, the title track, which Murray uses to update Coleman Hawkins in ways that just make me marvel at the cleverness of his approach. Still waiting for the first David Murray CD that doesn't intrigue me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Poband, rich music

Last year I touted CDs from drummer Lou Grassi and multi-reedist John Tchicai, as well as disks from CIMP in general, so when I saw "comPOsed," a CIMP CD from Grassi's Poband with Tchicai as a guest, I had to have it. Moreover, it's kind of an all-star CIMP lineup with trumpeter Paul Smoker, clarinetist Perry Robinson and bassist Wilber Morris along in addition to Grassi and Tchicai. Now all-star lineups, it seems to me, sometimes disappoint. But not these guys.

"Daddy No Mana" makes me think of Mingus' "The Clown," a piece that skirts the edge of the avant-garde envelope, moved somewhat beyond that edge. "Drunk or Happy" captures the dichotomy in the title musically and makes interesting use of the didgeridoo courtesy of Art Baron, whose main axe is the trombone. "Oxbow Incident" begins in kind of an eerie whisper, fitting if you know the short story or movie, and evolves into a quiet, haunting cross between a sad ballad and a Native American chant. I think bad free jazz frequently results from ham-handed handling of discordance. This group, which reminds me of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, shows how it should be done. A fine CD I'm likely to find something new in each listen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Red's return

Red Rodney got misplaced in jazz history because of a struggle with heroin, which led to time in prison, and too many years spent as a Vegas lounge act. But he had a big comeback in the 1970s and '80s, some of the best of it recorded on the Muse label and later reissued by Joel Dorn and his late, lamented (in my house anyway) 32 Jazz label, which did a lot of tapping of the old Muse catalog.

You can sometimes find 32 Jazz disks on sale used, and even never opened if you're lucky, and if you see "Hey, Chood" grab it. It's a fabulous compilation of prime cuts from Red Rodney's Muse dates (real name Robert Chudnick, Chood to Charlie Parker) with more from multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and such sidemen as Barry Harris, Sir Roland Hanna, Billy Higgins and Sam Jones.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Murray's voice

If you want to know what a wonderful saxophone player David Murray is, check him out playing the straight-ahead ballad "Voice of the Saxophone" on Ya Ya Fornier's "Bearcat," Random Chance Records, a CD that's a pleasant experience overall as well. Nothing fancy, no tricks, not much in the way of avant-garde flourishes, just total command of his horn.

Red alert

It seems to me Red Rodney has kind of gotten lost, or at least misplaced, in jazz history, despite having played in Charlie Parker-led combos. That's a shame because he's an inventive trumpeter with a lot more range and creativity than, say, better-known Chet Baker. I certainly rate him with a Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard, for instance. "The Red Rodney Quintets," Fantasy, is a nice compilation of two dates from 1951 and 1955 with Roy Haynes on drums and saxophonist Ira Sullivan, who also should be better known (check out his solo on "This Time the Dream's on Me" on this disk), as partners on the latter. Hard-swinging bop for nearly 70 minutes.

Piano man

I read about Frank Hewitt, a pianist known in New York (and a small part of the city at that) but never much beyond, in a Jazz Times piece last year, prompting me to order "We Loved You" from Smalls Records, which is producing a series of posthumous Hewitt CDs.

Hewitt, who died in 2002 essentially homeless, never released a recording when he was alive and that's too bad. On "We Loved You," he's something like a cross between Monk and Hank Jones, with the lyrical beauty and classical flourishes of the latter and the propensity for risk taking and familiarity with stride of the former.

Hewitt, in a bass and drums trio, does mostly standards on the disk but I'm never bored listening to it because of the way he reconstructs the songs in his own highly individualistic style. A melancholy "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and a swinging "I'll Remember You" are among the highlights. The whole program's good, however.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Blue gin, straight

I'm an unabashed Pink Martini fan and have been ever since I heard the band in an NPR story a few years ago and went out of my way to special order its first CD "Sympathique," which you can find pretty easily now. What Pink Martini does is generally jazzy and when it's not you can count on it being interesting.

If Pink Martini went bad, I think it would end up as "Watermelon Slim & the Workers," the title of a great blues CD from Northern Blues, and the kind of blues often at the root of memorable jazz. From the looks of them, you probably wouldn't want to meet these guys in a dark alley, unless Slim, a member of Mensa with a journalism degree for gods' sake, was playing his "harp" and National Steel and singing songs like "Devil's Cadillac" in his voice that sounds about as bad as Tom Waits and gets the point across just as effectively. Then you'd stick around, after a side trip to the corner gin mill for a bottle, probably Red Rocket, and listen raptly. I just betchya there ain't many homages to Muddy, the Wolf, John Lee and B.B. sung in French.

Didn't find this one on NPR, but via The Roadhouse podcast from Tony Steidler-Dennison, one of my must-listen musical pleasures every week.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A chat in the Hall

As I guy who will extol the virtues of Sonny Rollins ad nauseam to any poor sucker who will listen, one of my hobbies is reflecting on the players I think were perfect compliments to Mr. Rollins, like Max Roach on drums, Oscar Pettiford on upright bass, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass and Rufus Harley on bagpipes. (OK, Rufus is the ONLY bagpiper Sonny Rollins recorded with to my knowledge, but he was still darn complimentary.)

In my view, some of the best stuff the great tenor saxophonist has done (and I should know because I have bought about all of it) was with guitarist Jim Hall, which I also think says a lot about Jim Hall, because it's no mean feat to hang musically with Sonny Rollins, especially Sonny Rollins in the '60s hot off one of his celebrated sabbaticals to rejuvenate and scout out new musical paths to tread.

This inclined me to buy Hall's "Dialogues," Telarc, when I saw it last weekend for the great price of $10.99, not to mention the lineup Hall is dialoguing with, Bill Frisell and Mike Stern, two of my favorite modern jazz electric guitarists, ace saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Tom Harrell and Gill Goldenstein, normally a pianist who in this case plays the accordion, which he'd started noodling with again in a nod to his youth. Hall went so far as to compose all but one of the songs specially for his guests and the result is wonderful. (Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" is the exception, and that's OK, because he and Harrell destandardize it.) The two Stern pieces (Hall does two with everybody) are highlights, especially "Uncle Ed," and the accordion duets are fun. "Calypso Joe" gives Lovano a chance to play Mr. Rollins ala "St. Thomas."

I'd consume Rollins' "The Bridge," Hall's "Concierto" and his "Alone Together" duets with bass legend Ron Carter first, but "Dialogues" is a nice Camembert for a cheese course, and all my friends know I've got a soft spot for a nice Camembert.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Guitar sitar man

Miles Davis, among others, experimented with South Asian instruments like the sitar and tabla in his electric bands and I wouldn't say without success.

But maybe it takes someone like Fareed Haque, whose group I caught at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis Saturday night, to really get full use out of such instruments and Pakistani-Indian musical forms in a jazz context. A Northern Illinois University music professor and son of a Pakistani father and Chilean mother, he understands both the axes and the music in a traditional sense and he's as deft and innovative a jazz electric guitarist as Bill Frisell and Mike Stern, two of my favorites, the latter of whom played with Miles.

This is evident on "Cosmic Hug," Magnatude, a 2005 Haque CD I bought in the wake of the Indy show. The disk opens with "Gulab Jammin," a fine mixing of South Asian, jazz, rock and funk elements. Make no mistake, Haque is known as a fusion guitarist and there are plenty of stretches where he gives the Johns McLaughlin and Scofield, or any other guitarist Miles employed, a run for their money, even on an overtly subcontinent-influenced piece like "Lahara." I'm betting Davis would be impressed, with Haque and with his band mates, Dan Nimmer on Fender Rhodes and J. Cappo on keyboards and electronics not the least. It's a tight group and exciting stuff.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I said I heard a Sonny Rollins' influence when I caught Greek saxophonist Dimitri Vassilakis at the Vortex Jazz Club in London last month, but I don't hear it so much the first four cuts on "Parallel Lines," Candid. He reminds me more of cross between Jackie McLean and Joshua Redman with some Coltrane and Steve Lacy in the mix.

Parts of "Soul Eyes" recall "Freedom Suite," however, and there's some Mr. Rollins in "James." I don't mean to imply Vassilakis is at all imitative. It's a matter of borrowing techniques and tricks to bend to his own purposes. He's got excellent range and peppers what he does with Mediterranean themes, a little rap-like poetry and other surprises. He's also quite a creative composer and arranger. Nearly everything on "Parallel Lines" is original.

I'm pleased I went to see him in London and even more happy I bought this CD. The guy's a find and he's in New York this week and Chicago the next with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, a Marsalis family favorite, so go see for yourself.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

In walks Bud

If you don't own "The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume One," Blue Note, get
the new Rudy Van Gelder Edition. Like Bud wasn't enough, you go 11
tracks deep with Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro as sidemen. Then you
have to "suffer" through nine trio pieces with Max Roach on drums. I
wouldn't want to live in a world where I couldn't listen to Bud Powell
play "You Go to My Head." And what he does with "Over the Rainbow" is not to be missed. Mr. Rollins, just a pup at this point, kills on the alternate take of "Wail." Massively classic.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Swing me

I can't suggest Jaques Émond's Swing is in the Air podcast enough. This morning, I'm listening to his latest show, which highlights the music of Charlie Rouse and Kenny Dorham, and it is wonderful.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Another place where it's at

If you're gonna get one thing from Stanley Turrentine make it "Up at Minton's," two CDs from Blue Note with a young, randy Mr. T pushing his tenor sax and Grant Green as an apt collaborator.

Munich electric

I probably need another collection of Miles Davis' electric music like I need hungry wolverines roaming my apartment. I dropped $270 this winter on "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991" (20 disks) and "The Cellar Door Sessions 1970" (six disks), which I'm gradually working my way through. I'll say this, I might have been pissed if I had paid $75 for the first disk of "Cellar Door" alone. But not too pissed. It's as powerful a Miles Davis as you've ever heard and the other band members, Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette among them, are stunning as well. Gary Bartz makes his sax sound like the bagpipes on "What I Say," and I don't mean just a little. Likewise, John Scofield's rockin' guitar god showing on some of the "Montreux" disks is a revelation to me. (More on all this later.)

Still, I wouldn't suggest "Cellar Door" or "Montreux" (they're both from Columbia) for everybody given the cost. I will suggest "Miles Davis Munich Concert," from Imc Music, which I spied for $15.99 at the local Best Buy this month, a bargain price for a three-CD set, mostly from 1988, that gives you a good idea what the later Montreux stuff sounds like.

That is, like rock, pop and jazz fused in a way that made for a jazz music, if not with the popularity swing once commanded, at least more popular than jazz had been since the swing era. Kenny Garrett in particular rocks, man, as much as Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons ever did with The Boss, and Garrett's a much more technically proficient saxophone player.

As a bonus to fill the third CD, you get 35-minutes of "Call It Anything" from a 1970 Isle of Wright Festival recording. The band included most of the "Cellar Door" crew, plus Chick Corea and Dave Holland.

At five bucks and change for each disk, I'll be suggesting it henceforth to anyone who wants a nice, representative slice of Miles electric.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

12 more songs

Randy Newman is rightly known for his Oscar-winning movie music but it always has kind of bugged me that his place in the popular conscious is generally occupied by goofy-sounding songs (unless you really pay attention to what the words say) like "Short People" and "I Love LA" and not, for example, by his brilliant sets on "Good Old Boys" and "12 Songs," the latter a musical cornucopia.

Violinist Jenny Scheinman says her own "12 Songs," Cryptogramophone, is in part a nod to Newman's disk and it's an aural feast in its own right. "The Frog Threw His Head Back and Laughed" could be the background music for the scene in "Stripes" where Bill Murray loses his girlfriend, his car gets repossessed and he drops the pizza he's bringing home for dinner on the ground ... face down. You gotta laugh so you don't cry it says. There's a noticeable Bill Frisell influence (see "Unspeakable") on parts of the CD, which Frisell appears on with regular collaborator Scheinman. OK by me because I'm a Frisell fan.

The music is diverse. In one stretch you get the Latin-inflected "Little Calypso," while "Satelite" has overtones of classical chamber music, "Atenna" starts like an avant-garde electronic experiment before becoming a fairly conventional ballad and "Albert" could be a piece from "Cold Mountain." "Moe Hawk" sounds to me like a march composed by Mingus instead of Sousa. The instrumental mix, including an accordion and a claviola, and especially drummer Dan Rieser, also is a big part of what makes this a keeper.

Monday, April 10, 2006

That's Bunk

"Saints Go Marching In," the illicit Bunk Johnson CD I bought at the Petticoat Lane Market in London, turns out to be not that illicit after all. It's a legit Past Perfect collection of recordings from 1944, when the New Orleans trumpeter saw a revival in his career. The sound is excellent and Bunk plays with a sextet and septet of other notable New Orleans-oriented musicians, including drummer Baby Dodds, clarinetist George Lewis, who's a standout, and trombonist Jim Robinson.

Bunk may not have been Louis Armstrong, but "Saints Go Marching In" is a really nice package of traditional New Orleans jazz with tasty versions of the title track, "Careless Love," "St. Louis Blues" and "C.C. Rider," among others. He does two boffo renditions of his own "Midnight Blues." Not a bad minute out of all 77:20 of it. Plus, I paid less than six bucks and that almost makes me giddy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Nothing to do with jazz...

...but "Streets of Fire" came up on the Shuffle as I was grocery shopping this afternoon and that prompted me to pull out "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (great as always), which got me on a Springsteen jag and led me put on "Lucky Town." I bought it a long time ago and I don't play it often and that's a shame. There's not a track I don't like. Bruce fans, me included, should appreciate this disk more. It's in my iTunes library now.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Modern jazz painters

"The Lacemaker"
"The Lacemaker"
originally uploaded by mrgreg.
Whenever I'm in Paris, which is as often as possible, I visit the Louvre and whenever I visit the Louvre I always spend some time in front of Vermeer's painting "The Lacemaker." It's a simple painting, a lone woman in a yellow dress bent over a small table making lace, as the title implies. But I have been drawn to it since the first time I saw it. In part, that's because I find Vermeer himself interesting, a bit of a mystery man, who left behind fewer than 40 paintings, most of them with subjects as common as "The Lacemaker" and as brilliant.

But last time, I finally decided that what really attracted me to the painting was Vermeer's subtle yet affective use of color, the yellow in the lacemaker's dress, the shades of blue and gold in the material she's working with, a swatch of red.

I thought of this the other day as I listened again to my favorite Modern Jazz Quartet CD set, the two-disk "Dedicated to Connie," Atlantic, which captures a concert at Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1960. Like Vermeer, it seems to me, the genius of the MJQ was the subtle use of musical color to render a book mostly made up of standards differently without going to extremes like, say, Paul Smoker and his mates on "Standard Deviation," which I happen to like as well, and without any horns to augment their palette.

Take the medley that opens the first CD, which includes pieces of "The Little Comedy" and "Fontessa," among other well-known tunes, colored with "Pop Goes the Weasel" and "My Old Kentucky Home" quotes, the blues, classical undertones, stride, avant-garde snatches and an unusual cymbal solo by Connie Kay. Also note the stop-and-go version of "'Round Midnight" and the way they come at "I Should Care" from different angles using similar tempo shifts and stutters. They essentially turn "I Remember Clifford" inside out, reversing fast and slow interludes and places where it swings and where it is melancholy. In none of these examples are the individual effects blatant or jarring, but the total effect can be captivating ... like a Vermeer painting.

A dude of few notes

"The Great Paris Concert," Atlantic, proves that Edward Kennedy Ellington and his men could say more musically in two to five minutes than most musicians, of any kind, think about saying in a dozen. Mondo amusing banter from Duke to the crowd as well. He was s-o-o-o cool.

Monday, April 03, 2006

More McLean

I can honestly say I don't own any Jackie McLean disks I dislike. Here are a couple others to which I'm especially partial.

"Destination Out," Blue Note. If Charlie Parker had lived into the '60s I hope he would have sounded like this, a logical extension of bop into the avant-garde era. Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Grachan Moncur III on trombone are copacetic partners in the effort. I sometimes wonder if Roy Haynes ever recorded a session where he didn't sound like the perfect drummer for that particular date.

"Jackie McLean and Company," Prestige. Tuba player Ray Draper, on three cuts, gives it a different flavor. McLean's playing is soulful. Mal Waldron on piano and the fact that the songs are all originals by the players suggest it as well. Doug Watkins is impressive on bass.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Jackie Mac attack

I like Wynton Marsalis and his music and I think he does a lot for jazz even if you disagree with his unwavering traditionalist outlook somewhat. I thought he was an articulate, educational spokesman for the music in Ken Burns' "Jazz" as well. But the narrator Burns used who impressed me the most (in fact, I owned none of his CDs until I saw him in the documentary series) was Jackie McLean, who not only had lived jazz history but conveyed what he lived with heart and soul. When he talked about his relationship with Lester Young and Young's death, I teared up.

I've been listening to the great alto saxophonist, a stellar jazz educator in his own right, since I learned about his death yesterday and picked out what I think are my three favorite Jackie McLean disks.

"Nature Boy," Blue Note. This is McLean curbing (to some extent) his avant-garde leanings and playing a lovely, ballady set with Cedar Walton on piano, David Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. I think McLean's playing, usually more Charlie Parker meets John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders by way of Thelonious Monk, is lyrically beautiful and a perfect introduction to his inherent greatness as a saxophonist. Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey didn't use the guy when he was a pup for nothing.

"The Jackie Mac Attack Live," Verve. I believe my buddy Carl Abernathy, taste spot on as usual, gave me this. Think Jackie McLean plays his alto live like Sonny Rollins plays his tenor live and you're not far wrong. Accessible hard bop with strong avant-garde leanings and impressive improvisation. A nice companion to "Nature Boy."

"Dynasty," Triloka. Essential jazz music, not just essential Jackie McLean music. He recorded this after 10 years off to work on his educational career. I think he had a lot waiting to get out, and it does. Playing with son René, a fine reedist himself, likewise seems to have been inspirational. Pianist Hotep Idris Galeta, also on "Jackie Mac Attack," is a guy you want to hear, too.