Monday, July 31, 2006

Tenor trio plus

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

All-star stars

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

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

Friday, July 28, 2006

Murderers row

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

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

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dizzy muted

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dizzy later

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dizzy early

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2006

Art period

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Birks working

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Birks works in a big band

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dizzy in the sky

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sugar doesn't have to be sweet

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

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Miles unplugged

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Sonny, please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2006

Found on the road

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

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

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

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Miles in the Forrest

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

Friday, July 07, 2006

Candy's dandy

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

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

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

Thursday, July 06, 2006

When the cat's away...

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

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Big Banding, part 10

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

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

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

Monday, July 03, 2006

Harold in jazz land

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

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Slide's in the barn

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