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.