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."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Party down

Miles birth certificate
Miles birth certificate,
originally uploaded by mrgreg.
From the Mother Jones Monument in Mt. Olive, IL, on my way back from Alton, where I attended Miles Davis' 80th birthday party this afternoon. Miles wasn't there, of course, and he wouldn't actually have been 80 until Friday. But they had a nice local quintet, fronted by Tim Jarden, director of the jazz program at Lewis and Clark Community College, playing Davis music and songs associated with him like "Four," "Someday My Prince Will Come," and "My Funny Valentine." Alton tenor sax legend Herb Hutchinson was fun to hear and trumpeter Kerry Waller did a good job filling in for Miles, who was born at home in Alton May 26, 1926, at 5 a.m. according to his birth certificate, which was on display. The cake was good, too. The folks at the Alton Museum of History and Art hope to make it an annual event that grows and I hope they succeed.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What he said

Here's a piece by Stanley Crouch on John Hicks and one from the Hartford Courant remembering Jackie McLean.

Some people don't like Stanley Crouch and consider him a neocon didact, but I could listen to Crouch and Nat Hentoff talk jazz all day. I certainly have an interest in the academic and musicological aspects of jazz. However, after the music itself, with its wonderful diversity and oft-wondrous instrumental manipulation, I think I am most attracted by the personalities who pepper its history (he said as he works his way through Brian Priestley's "Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker"). You learn plenty from reading them, but Crouch and Hentoff tend to be people focused as well so I get a good story, too. Says Crouch is working on a biography of Parker, which I will surely buy.

Friday, May 19, 2006

So far, no demons, and no disco

If I were the guys at MacAddict, I'd be rating Pandora "spiffy." Sonny Rollins Radio is shaping up as the place to hear tenor sax (and some alto and soprano). Songs from the man himself, Coltrane, David "Fathead" Newman, Michael Carvin, Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Sonny Stitt and Hal McKusick are among the recent tunes to roll through. I'd never heard of McKusick, which means Pandora's stated purpose, teaching me about some new music, is working. Charlie Parker Radio is shaping up as my bop station, naturally, and Duke Ellington Radio is for big bands. I just created Ornette Coleman Radio for the avant-garde. The collection could be bigger, I get a repeat now and then, but they say it grows every day. Besides, it's free, so why complain? What I really like the idea of is that I could travel, access the Web-based service and hear my stations anywhere. Like I said, spiffy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Frank Hewitt

I have a favorite Stephen King tale, "The Breathing Method", that includes a scene where the narrator begins to read some books off the library shelves of a strange gentlemen's club (the kind where they drink brandy and play snooker, not a strip joint) central to the story. He decides they're among the greatest American novels, but he's never heard of the author and can't find anything else by him, nor can he locate the publisher. It's like the books came from nowhere, or from a parallel universe. (Hey, it is Stephen King.)

I feel a little bit like that listening to "Four Hundred Saturdays" from Smalls Records, the second CD from the late Frank Hewitt I've purchased recently, this one in a quintet with two saxophonists as opposed to a trio setting. The guy is simply one of the finer jazz pianists I've heard and the sax, bass and drums work on this from Chris Byars (tenor), Mike Mullins (alto), Ari Roland and Jimmy Lovelace are outstanding to boot. Four songs, recorded live (and well), all clocking in near 15 minutes, with lots of stellar improvising. Their version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" is fantastic. I don't think Monk ever played it. But you can get an idea of what he'd of sounded like listening to Hewitt.

I enjoyed Luke Kaven's liner notes excoriating the music industry for ignoring Hewitt when he was alive, and I'm glad Kaven and Smalls went so far as to create a record label to make sure he's finally heard by me and other folks. He should be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Box open

I read about Pandora today and have been giving it a try this evening and I have to say it's something I might even pay for if I had to, which I don't, as long as I can live with some ads.

I created, in effect, my own Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington Web radio stations. They don't actually play only Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. They play some, and a lot of other stuff like Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. It's a pretty diverse mix, including some fairly obscure stuff. You can thumbs up or thumbs down things to refine what you get. There also are links explaining why you're getting a song, which helps in the refining process, and links to buy songs from iTunes and CDs from Amazon as well. Nicely done.

Knows how to throw a party

Regina Carter can certainly play classical violin (the Italians let her have at Paganini's "Cannon" after all). She's got more than a little Stuff Smith in her as well, and she can do Latin jazz as in "Mojito," one of my favorite songs on her CD "Rhythms of the Heart." And I have to think she could get as avant-garde as Jenny Scheinman, need be. But her thing is getting Motown funky. No surprise then that Carter fit right in with Christian McBride and the jazzed funk fest he put on at the concert I attended in Chicago's Orchestra Hall Friday night.

In addition to Carter, McBride's other special guest was Fred Wesley. I had no idea who Fred Wesley was before the concert. After, I found out he was trombonist of choice and musical director for James Brown. So you know he had no problem contributing plenty of funky licks. In fact, Mr. Wesley, older gentleman and the only guy in a suit though he was, kept right up with the youngsters, including DJ Logic. (McBride joked that Logic was probably the first "turntablist" to play Orchestra Hall, and I imagine that's right.)

I'd like to know more about Christian McBride's bass, which had the dings and dents of a bad boxer's face and looked like it had about 50 layers of shellac covering it. Something tells me it's a classic. He made it sound like it anyway. Dude played a mean electric bass guitar in the bargain. Geoffrey Keezer on piano and electronic keyboards and Terreon Gully, who's from East St. Louis, on drums also were great. Gully is just an impressively skilled drummer, powerful but capable of being subtle, too. I was reading a review Sunday that called him one of the most promising drummers to emerge in a decade.

You could see where Christian McBride was headed on his own CD "A Family Affair" and on "The Philadelphia Experiment," Ropeadope Records, which I gave another listen over the weekend and should pull out more often, because frankly everything on it is good. The duet McBride and pianist Uri Caine do of Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" is priceless. McBride's doing his own thing, but some of it also reminds me of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Weather Report and, of course, Miles Davis' electric music. I liked him before I went to the concert, but I came away a fan. "Live at Tonic," Ropeadope, his most recent CD, captures the kind of stuff that happened at Orchestra Hall pretty well.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Working on it

"I'm not sure what my usual kind of things are. I'm still getting together my usual kind of things." From an interview with Sonny Rollins on "Live in London."

I think he still is still getting together his usual things, and that's one reason he's so darn interesting at 75. The guy has never stopped searching musically. New CD due June 30 and I can't wait. Plus, yesterday I ordered my ticket to his concert here in September and I can't wait for that either.

Monday, May 15, 2006

John Hicks and Mary Lou

You wanna hear joy, check out "The Lord Says" on John Hicks' "Impressions of Mary Lou," High Note, a gospel romp that's part of a piece Mary Lou Williams wrote for the Catholic Church.

This CD, a mix of Williams compositions and songs Hicks composed in her honor, really shows what an accomplished and versatile pianist he was; sure, he could play blues, stride, bebop, hard bop, but he would have been right at home in a concert hall or a church (and sometimes was in the case of the latter as I understand it).

I bought the disk Friday, after Hicks, a favorite of mine, passed on last week and because I admire the music and life story of Mary Lou Williams. Hicks did a series of these tributes to great jazz pianists and composers. I have the Earl Hines one as well, and like it a lot. I should probably pick up the Kenny Clark, Erroll Garner and Billy Strayhorn sets because the music on the first two is excellent and they're outstanding showcases for Hicks, whom I'm going to miss. All but the Hines CD are available on emusic.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Can't touch this...

I'm getting ready to write some more about the funk-ee Christian McBride concert I went to Friday night. Meanwhile, this afternoon it's the fourth disk of "Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970."

The funk you say, try "Honky Tonk" and "What I Say" and catch that Michael Henderson bass and those Jack DeJohnette drums. Gary Bartz sounds like he's auditioning for the J.B.'s or maybe the Family Stone.

What MC Hammer said.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


"Forrest Fire," Prestige, is the Jimmy Forrest classic equivalent of Ron Blake's "Lest We Forget," with a just-out-of-his-teens Larry Young on organ, before Larry went all Coltrane. I love the versions of "Bag's Groove" and "When Your Lover Has Gone." I'm kind of amazed how good this sounds. I actually downloaded it from emusic and burned it to disk some time ago, before emusic even upped its bit rate. High-end audio fanatics who claim they can hear a difference in MP3s slay me. Likewise LP nuts who say records sound "warmer," whatever that means.

Good ride McBride

This morning I'm listening to "'Lest We Forget," Mack Avenue Records, from saxophonist Ron Blake, who was one of numerous great things about the ultra-funky Christian McBride concert at Chicago's Orchestra Hall last night. I even had a seat front row center. "Lest" is Blake's homage to organ jazz greats past and he's paired with Joey DeFrancesco, along with McBride, an even more super bassist in person than on record. Trumpeter Rashawn Ross gets in some good licks, too. Blake doesn't venture as far as, say, my man James Carter on "Out of Nowhere," Carter's recent organ jazz CD. But he loses nothing in a comparison with guys like Jimmy Forrest or Stanley Turrentine. For me, the attractive thing about organ jazz is its funky joyousness and this disk is all that. Fab version of "More Today Than Yesterday."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Two Christian

Two enjoyable CDs from Christian McBride as I head out to hear the
bassist and band at Chicago's Orchestra Hall this evening. "Gettin' to
It," Verve, modern hard bop with Joshua Redman on sax, trumpeter Roy
Hargrove and trombonist Steve Turre along. McBride's solo "Night Train"
is precious. Some great playing from Redman. "A Family Affair," Verve,
McBride makes jazz with the funk, R&B and soul forms he listened to
growing up in Philly. If disco had sounded like this it might not be a
thing I'm trying to forget. Charles Craig on electric piano and
saxophonist Tim Warfield are memorable. Some interludes are almost

Mr. Rollins goes to London

The sound is unbalanced in spots, but "Sonny Rollins Live in London" from British Harkit Records, which captures Mr. Rollins at Ronnie Scott's in January 1965, is a good look at him in what I think of as his coming-to-terms-with-the-avant-garde phase. He does some interesting exploring over an 18-minute medley including "Autumn Nocturne," "April in Paris," "Three Little Words" and "I'll Be Seeing You." As always, he impresses me with how he can take diversions and yet never stray out of range of the straight rendering of a song, like "My One and Only Love," a favorite sad ballad of mine, or Miles Davis' "Four" and Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time." He never goes as far as the Coltrane of the period or an Archie Shepp. However, it sure ain't bop either. Pianist Stan Tracey, a U.K. jazz legend, and his trio are compatible accompanists and nice to listen to as well. Personally, I'll take all the live Sonny Rollins I can get.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

So long John Hicks

Not long ago I wrote that pianist John Hicks seemed to be great no matter what context you placed him in, with violinist Billy Bang in that case.

Looking today, I see I've mentioned Hicks a half dozen times since I started this jazz journal last year, with James Carter, Chico Freeman, and Jimmy Ponder as well as Bang. I really liked a duet CD featuring Hicks and bassist Richard Davis (who's kind of like the Hicks of the bass). I also enjoyed seeing him dueting live with Frank Morgan in LA last year.

Hicks, who died yesterday, led many of his own sessions, too. I'm partial to "Fatha's Day: An Earl Hines Songbook" from High Note. He may not have been a big name outside of the circle of musicians he played with so well, but I think the guy was an unsung jazz giant.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fats and Tad

Eight of the 11 Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro cuts on "The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume One" are on the two-disk "The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings of Fats Navarro and Tad Dameron" as well. I don't regret buying both because the Navarro-Dameron sets include 28 other pieces in a bop or prebop mode that also approximate Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool." (See "Lady Bird.") Even the alternate takes, which normally don't do much for me, are interesting because of the radical tempo shifting that takes place from take to take. Navarro is every bit of Dizzy Gillespie and the lineup of sax gods showing Charlie Parker-like licks, besides Mr. Rollins, is extensive, Charlie Rouse, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray for three. Really, every song includes an all-star collection of bop pioneers. I should listen to this more.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bopping Sonny

Getting to hear Sonny Rollins play straight bebop is one of the cool things about the Rudy Van Gelder Edition reissue of Blue Note's "The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume One." The 19-year-old Mr. Rollins, on 11 cuts from 1949, was quite good at bop. He plays with some Charlie Parkeresque flashes, on the tenor no less, and gives Powell and Fats Navarro plenty to think about.

Blue Bird

The last two cuts on Disk A of "Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948," JSP Records, have Parker in a band backing singer Rubberlegs Williams on a couple down-and-dirty blues in 1941. Other band members include one Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and Don Byas on tenor sax. Weird. And fascinating. I don't think the bebop guys were meant for straight blues, but they still sound good.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The early Bird

"The Kansas City of the 1920s and 1930s had many of the elements of medieval Florence. A wealthy Italian city state, Florence reveled in its independence and in the creative abilities of its artists. Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo all lived and worked there."

Cool passage from the liner notes of "Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948," an English JSP Records compilation I got today, which starts with Parker in Jay McShann's Orchestra (if Basie is Leonardo and Charlie Parker is Michelangelo, Jay McShann can be Botticelli or maybe Brunelleschi). Some people hear bebop in the 1941 version of "Hootie Blues" on this. I hear Charlie Parker ascendent in "The Jumpin' Blues" and "My Heart Tells Me," among other places. Great sound restoration for the most part. I'm really excited about this boxed set, a bargain at $25.98 for the five CDs on Amazon. The four recordings of the Kansas City Band, Parker in a trio with guitar and drums, from 1941 are an especially interesting way to hear where he stands at this point. The version of "Body and Soul" isn't Coleman Hawkins, but it sure points the way to Parker's later sound. He's in New York with the Tiny Grimes Quintet by the end of the first disk and showing the stuff that got everybody so excited.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The annoy me state

On the road home from Lawrence, Kansas, and a visit with my great
friends the Dewars. Billboard-festooned, porn-store laced Interstate 70
through Missouri is one ugly stretch of road, but hey, at least it's
long. Glad I had Tab Benoit's "Fever for the Bayou," Telarc, to help me
get across. Excellent driving music. Also, "Whiskey is My Habit, Good
Women is All I Crave: The Best of Leroy Carr," Columbia, is perfect
starting-out music for a cloudy, hungover Sunday morning with an
eight-hour drive in the offing. Don't bother with the Music Outlet at
Warrenton, Mo., unless you're a big old-time country music fan or you
really love Elvis Christmas music. The jazz and blues pickings are slim.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Belgium for chocolate...

And Sweden for jazz. I'm adding the great trumpeter Rolf Ericson to my list of favorite Swedish jazz musicians, which is getting pretty big. On "Stockholm Sweetnin'," Dragon, he makes me think of Art Farmer with his lyrical, understated, but clearly very skilled playing. I hear elements of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, too. He does Thad Jones' "Bird Call" up appropriately boppy and includes a number of clever quotes Charlie Parker (whom Ericson actually accompanied on a Swedish concert tour at one point) would have appreciated.

The title track is, in fact, a sweet ballad while the unmuted up-tempo approach to "If I Were a Bell," a Miles favorite, is an interesting contrast to Davis' renditions. Pianists Göran Lindberg and Claes Croona are quite good on this. (Check out "Just Squeeze Me" and "Evelyn".) I'd like to hear more of saxophonist Nils Sandström, who mostly comps but has a nice Coltrane-like tone. Listened to the CD after a busy day writing the first draft of a work project on human research subjects and it made me feel better.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sad story, marvelous music

I think Bob Belden's "Black Dahlia," Blue Note, is the recent equivalent of Stan's Kenton's "City of Glass". Forward-looking large-group jazz with classical elements that's powerful for much of its run but also makes crafty use of subtlety. The array of great musicians Belden used on this is incredible. Having read an excellent book about the Black Dahlia murder, I'll also say this piece is uncanny in the way it captures muscially the story's rhythms (at least as presented in the book I read). If this music had scored a movie, it would have won an Oscar.

Candye's ... a good singer

I'm calling Candye Kane's "The Toughest Girl Alive," Bullseye Blues & Jazz, jazzy blues with gospel and country tinges. In the best tradition of Ma Rainey, Big Momma Thornton and Bessie Smith, her songs may be racy (one of them is titled "Let's Commit Adultery") but I figure you can send the kids and the fundamentalists out of the room when you play this CD. The latter don't like to have a good time anyway, so the disk would be wasted on them. Some songs, like "Highway of Tears" and "Get Happy," are pretty much straight jazz. Another attraction: she's got a heck of a backing band with some good boogie-woogie piano and hot trumpet and tenor sax (see "Je N'en Peux Plus Sans Ma Cadillac"), in addition to bluesy guitar playing. Fun stuff I found through The Roadhouse podcast.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't throw stones

Pulled out "City of Glass: Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger," Capitol, last week, after it crossed my mind for some reason, one of those CDs that didn't turn me on the first time I listened to it but keeps getting better every time I listen.

The "City of Glass" suite and the other compositions are large-ensemble music that I would call jazz. Not everyone would agree, certainly not on "City of Glass," although stuff like "Thermopylae" is pretty clearly jazz, albeit not the traditional variety heard from big bands, even most modern big bands. Scott Yanow on allmusic characterizes it as futuristic when it was recorded and still futuristic today and I guess that's about as good a way of putting it as any.

Abstract but structured also describes it, not free and yet employing free jazz elements like dissonance, tension and release, odd juxtapositions and surprising twists and turns which are, upon examination, quite logical. I think it's jazz, because of the soloing and the improvisation I believe I hear, among other things. But it also borrows from classical music, particularly modern impressionistic classical music. Stan Kenton was into bold, powerful music and Graettinger surely provided it. The cuts on this disk aren't so much swinging as imposing.

There are loads of big names in jazz among the small army of musicians Kenton employed for these recordings, Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Maynard Ferguson, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino, Shelly Manne and Stan Levey among them. Some, like tenorman Bob Cooper, show their versatility by playing instruments you don't normally hear on a jazz recording. Cooper plays oboe and English horn besides his sax. The instrumental mix overall is diverse and interesting with cellos, bassoon, bass trombone and more. To me, it's important and fascinating music that any semi serious jazz fan needs to try, probably more than once to really appreciate it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Ragin Revelation

"Revelation," the title track on the Hugh Ragin Justin Time CD, came up on my iTunes Party Shuffle playlist tonight and two things occurred to me. First, Ragin (a regular David Murray collaborator) does some of the best avant-garde trumpet playing I've heard in a long time, and yet it's still accessible.

Second, if you're going to play avant-garde jazz, you should get Hamid Drake to do the drumming. William Parker on bass helps, too, and Assif Tshar on bass clarinet, as well as tenor sax, adds some interesting texture.

Jazz weekend

I'm bushed this morning from a jazz weekend in Chicago, starting Friday night with Joe Segal's birthday party concert, where Yusef Lateef and Von Freeman did a butt-kicking call-and-response improvisational duet that makes me want to find out what they're drinking and get some of it (both are in their 80s). Saturday early, Greek saxophonist Dimitri Vassilakis at the HotHouse, a very nice venue I hadn't been to before. This guy really is good, check him out if you like your sax playing recognizable but still with plenty of free-leaning improvisation. Saturday late, Ira Sullivan at the Jazz Showcase. He's one of the revelations of the weekend for me and played alto sax, very much Charlie Parker style, trumpet, flute and probably some instruments I missed, all well. The other revelation was Chicago-based bassist Larry Gray, who backed all three performances. He's a name I'll be looking for in the future when I'm checking out the lineup on disks in considering whether to buy them. Oh, my buddy Carl Abernathy and I worked in a visit to the wonderous Jazz Record Mart Saturday afternoon, too. No wonder I'm tired.