Quincy Jones: King Road Blues

The original Go West, Man! featured Quincy Jones-managed recording sessions by four trumpets and rhythm, four alto saxophones and rhythm, and three tenor saxes and a bari sax with rhythm. Lennie Niehaus’s “Kings Road Blues” offers, in addition to its inherent merit as a swinging, funky frolic, a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the styles of all-time great Benny Carter and three of the period’s leading West Coast-based altoists.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Early Autumn

During the 1950s, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz became the most popular of Lester Young's followers. But his breakthrough came as a result of his probing solo on the Woody Herman Orchestra’s 1948 recording of Ralph Burn’s gorgeous ballad “Early Autumn,” which showed off his lovely sound and advanced sense of lyricism. Getz remained popular even after other tenor styles overtook his in fashionability.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: Jumpin' at the Woodside

In 1959, Terry Gibbs took leave of his senses and formed a big band. No flight in the face of economic reason could've found a braver test pilot. Ebullient and irrepressible don't do him justice. If you woke T.G. from a deep sleep, stuck mallets in his hands and pointed him towards the vibes, he'd count "One, oo, ee, ah" and swing his butt off. On this flag-waver to do Betsy Ross proud, lead trumpeter Al Porcino blazes, making us rue his ill-advised career switch to play The Godfather's Michael Corleone. (That's not him?) TGIF means Terry Gibbs Is Fabulous.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Raymond Scott: Twilight in Turkey

Despite being co-opted for many long-lived Warner Bros. cartoons, Raymond Scott's late-1930s music has largely been forgotten. Encountering it now is like opening an heirloom music box from which figurines pop up to play a quaintly charming tune. Except as you listen and peer down, you're gradually, irresistibly drawn into this strange tableau. You lean closer. The figurines have come alive! They're more than entertaining. They're your new best friends. And that music! You realize it's neither quaint nor charming. It's completely, utterly, certifiably insane! And you want it never, ever to stop. Welcome to the world of Raymond Scott.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Raymond Scott: The Penguin

Being as flightless as an ostrich, and by comparison a clumsy walker, doesn't deter the Emperor Penguin from maintaining the dignity of a headwaiter whilst wintering in Antarctica. Here one poses imperially for a portrait by the 1930s master of musical obscurantism, Raymond Scott—no kin to British polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. (Obviously, Falcon's a bird of a different feather.) Some listeners mistake Scott's jagged syncopations and goofy disjointedness for a joke. Yet like a tipsy penguin teetering on ice skates, Scott gets where he intended, and in so doing makes the adventure as endearingly loopy as . . . well, an Emperor Penguin.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Raymond Scott: Powerhouse

La beauté folle des machines, Ravel called it—the mad beauty of machines. But beware: artists who investigate such phenomena themselves risk being declared insane. Long after Ravel's death, French neurologists found evidence of cerebral dysfunction, particularly in his mechanistic Boléro (1928), which manifested “the influence of disease on the creative process.” Brooklyn-born Raymond Scott hasn't been dead long enough to be clinically diagnosed, but "Powerhouse" shows similar preoccupation with the automated workings of cylinders, gears, generators, pistons, rods, turbines and valves, all meshing towards a common goal of smoothly motive efficiency. In other words, it swings. Crazy, man, crazy

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Moritat

Rollins's dedication to the Great American Songbook is extended to this German chestnut, by Weill-Brecht, which most of us know as "Mack the Knife." The great Jazz Ambassador, Louis Armstrong, had recorded the tune shortly before Rollins, in September 1955. This is worth noting as context for Rollins’s playing here. To my ears it sounds like he was very familiar with Pops’s vocal. As usual he uses the tune as a starting point and takes his time extending beyond the core material. He’s supported beautifully throughout but the track is a little long for my taste.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Two Note Samba

This album was recorded about a year after the phenomenal Jazz Samba in an obvious attempt to make lightning strike twice. It didn’t. Reasons include the rather mournful voice of Maria Toledo on six of ten tracks, which suffers in comparison with the light breathiness of Astrud Gilberto (who had become the bossa nova standard). The title “Two Note Samba” may amuse anyone who knows Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” but despite a bridge that makes a clear parallel to the original, Bonfa’s melody lacks the same wit, interest and staying power. Not even Getz’s tenor can make it memorable.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: O Pato

Everyone associates early-1960s bossa nova with Stan Getz, and rightly so. But Charlie Byrd brought back Brazilian records and scores from his 1961 tour, sketched out the material, shopped the idea and recruited Getz's uniquely romantic instrumental voice to carry the lead. Like a pelican scooping up a school of fish, Byrd did the heavy lifting. Yet what most impresses about this track is how easily six waterfowl swimming together for the first time fit together. The idiom might be new, but there's no trace of experimentation. Just two old ducks named Stan & Charlie quietly, lyrically, sublimely making history.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Steve Swallow: Bite Your Grandmother

Steve Swallow, wise guy. Just check out the spiky arpeggios he used to construct “Bite Your Grandmother.” While Jack DeJohnette and Swallow swing like possessed men (I swear, how Swallow manages to walk the bass this fast and not lose the feel is beyond me), Tom Harrell and Joe Lovano negotiate the leader's jagged (yet somehow funny) musical landscape. This leads into some extended solo passages with plenty of room to move and expound. Mulgrew Miller rounds out the quintet on piano, making for a jazz supergroup that does not disappoint.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: Samba Triste

This track appeared on the pioneering, hugely successful Jazz Samba album because guitarist Charlie Byrd wanted to include a minor-keyed samba. Stan Getz takes this relatively simple tune and makes it memorable with the aching melancholy of his horn. “Samba Triste” was the first commercial success for its composer, Baden Powell (1937-2000), who is still considered one of Brazil’s greatest guitarists. Like Jobim, Powell wrote songs with the poet Vinicius de Moraes – “Consolao” being one of their most famous – but Powell was more focused on native Brazilian culture and his melodies are darker than Jobim’s.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marlena Shaw: Go Away Little Boy

Marlena Shaw can do pop and R&B, but her work with the likes of Howard McGhee and Count Basie provides her with solid jazz credentials. Here she belts out a swinging rendition of “Go Away Little Boy” with the gusto and know-how of a Nancy Wilson or Dinah Washington, obviously inspired by the rocking big band arrangements of Richard Evans & Charles Stepney.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mark Whitfield: OGD (Road Song)

“OGD” is one of the most recognizable songs in Wes Montgomery’s catalogue, and yet Mark Whitfield’s trio, the Groove Masters, owns it here. Mark Whitfield and the Groove Masters is one of the best organ trio recordings to come along in recent years, and “OGD” is its highlight. In one measure Whitfield carefully searches for his notes, and in the next he picks with blazing speed. Dr. Lonnie Smith plays a single bass note for much of the tune, infusing it with a heart-pumping quality, and out of his hands spill some of the most soulful notions ever heard in the Eastern Hemisphere or anywhere else. Drummer Winard Harper doesn’t seek the spotlight, but his constantly changing propulsion is key to the dynamic feeling of the performance.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Madeleine Peyroux: Once in a While

Shortly after it was released, Brandi Carlile praised Peyroux's efforts in The New York Times for its willingness to embrace imperfections. "I think the temptation to sound polished," Carlile opined in her peculiar critique, "is exactly what makes things sound immature." I'm not sure many people rushed out to buy Half the Perfect World based on this ringing endorsement -- which is a shame. Peyroux's style has nothing to do with accepting flaws. It offers, instead, intimacy and understatement, an attempt to capture the ambiance of a salon or living-room performance - a refreshing reminder of simpler ways in this day of American Idol bombast and football stadium concerts.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mike Longo: Oasis

Mike Longo spent many years as Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist, arranger and musical director. On an album devoted almost exclusively to his own well-crafted compositions and arrangements, his large New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, comprising some of New York’s finest musicians, performs his medium-groove blues with polish and gusto. Longo’s own improvised solo is appealingly economical and effective.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Julie London: Cry Me a River

After costarring at 18 in a jungle movie with Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe, Julie London transitioned from fetching ingénue to sultry chanteuse. Her 1955 single "Cry Me a River" (water again) swirled 15 weeks among the Top 50, swept her debut LP into the Top 10, splashed her back onscreen in The Girl Can't Help It, and landed her on Life's cover. Blessed with Barney Kessel's hush-hush backing and a lyric deft enough to use "plebian" unpretentiously, Julie rekindles the intimacy and irony of those smoky, dimly lit, off-the-beaten-track little bars where 1950s jazz sulked too long over a watery drink.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

If jazz had a Mount Rushmore, everybody knows who would have pride of place. Washington was Father of His County, and Louis Armstrong was Pops of Jazz. Consider as evidence this track made at the end of a two-year span in which Pops defined by example the solo as jazz's principal means of expression. Yet, as luminous as his solo is here, Pops shines brightest while leading the opening and closing ensembles. He is spectacularly authoritative. Just as the U.S. presidency was designed with George Washington in mind, jazz was designed with Louis Armstrong in mind.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Karrin Allyson: Angel Eyes

With her attractive, sultry voice, Karrin Allyson can deliver a song with intelligence and expressiveness while avoiding showy artifice. And she is adept at scat-singing as well. Here, Allyson and her all-star accompanists mine the angst of Matt Dennis’s “Angel Eyes,” one of the most poignant items in the American popular songbook.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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June Christy: Something Cool

In 1953, no longer the '40s flychick scatting "How High the Moon" with Stan Kenton, June Christy turned to dramatic readings of saloon songs. Bill Barnes's "Something Cool" is incisive storytelling, as June enacts the first-person narrative of a self-deluding barfly. Think Blanche DuBois as lounge lizard. Ordinarily, she would decline to drink with a stranger, but relents because she's "so terribly far from home." Citing past triumphs—a house with countless rooms, 15 different beaus, off to Paris in the fall—this gal fools herself more than she impresses the guy who stops to buy her something cool. A remarkable 4-minute drama.

October 31, 2007 · 1 comment

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Kenny Burrell: Chitlins Con Carne

Strictly speaking (and we here at Jazz.com are semantic sticklers), "Chitlins Con Carne" is double-talk. Since chitlins are pig guts and carne is meat, "Chitlins Con Carne" means meat with meat. This track, though, is so tasty, we're willing to cut Kenny Burrell some slack. No doubt he was thinking of Blue Note + bossa nova, which Chef Kenny combines to culinary quintessence. Spice with Ray Barretto's conga, simmer over Stanley Turrentine's heated tenor sax, stir frequently with Chef Kenny's funky guitar, and you'll get a mouthwatering stew more delicious than meat with meat. Best served with beer con cerveza.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bebel Gilberto: Mais Feliz

Tanto Tempo sold more than a million copies, catapulting Bebel Gilberto into world music stardom. The familiar bossa beat, pioneered by Bebel's father, João Gilberto, 50 years ago, is very much evident in her work. But the daughter has modernized her inheritance, adding subtle electronic effects that clearly helped her reach a younger audience. Gilberto has a soothing, whispery voice, but lacks the brooding introspection that set her father apart from the crowd. At times her songs risk collapsing into a higher quality ambient music, but perhaps that is the niche she is destined to fill. But if placed in more challenging settings, Gilberto might surprise us with recordings that sell well and excite the jazz world.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Live to Tell

Bill Frisell's entire career is represented here in a single, 10-minute microcosm. The slowly building melodic concept, the extreme rubato, the Americana, the elongated tones both chiming and distorted. And mostly, the idea that beauty lives in places far away from what's considered 'normal.' Credit must be given to Joey Baron's sensitive percussion work and Kermit Driscoll's knowing bass. The pair manages to keep the piece together as Frisell takes the tune more and more 'out.' For Madonna fans and improvised music aficionados alike.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ray Charles: Come Rain or Come Shine

In addition to being an iconic rhythm ‘n’ blues vocalist, Ray Charles played jazz piano and alto saxophone. But it was his soulful singing that was held in such high esteem by the jazz community. His heart-wrenching rendering of “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” over a lush Ralph Burns arrangement for an orchestra that included strings, a choir, and Bob Brookmeyer’s earthy valve trombone, may be the most moving version of the song ever recorded.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Katie Melua: Blues in the Night

Melua sold three million copies of Piece by Piece - over one million in the United Kingdom alone. Her biography is a compelling tale of rags to riches. Raised in poverty in Kutaisi in Georgia, she moved (at age 8) with her family to Northern Ireland in the aftermath of civil war, then settled in England at age fourteen. At nineteen she was a star, her debut release, Call of the Search, hitting the top of the UK charts. Success made her into a thrill seeker - she has jumped from airplanes, off a skyscraper, and made her way into the Guinness Book of World Records by giving a concert 300 meters below sea level. If only her voice were as exciting as her life story! True, she could win a Norah Jones impersonating contest, but without the microtonal subtleties of Ms. Jones. She occasionally offers a nice turn of phrase, and her voice has a pleasant, winsome quality. But the smart money bets that her career will have peaked before her 25th birthday.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Bruford: Emotional Shirt

Bill Bruford has always been my choice for most convincing rock-to-jazz crossover drummer. The incredible amount of nuance he brought to both King Crimson and Yes seemed perfect for the world of improvised music. “Emotional Shirt” catches Earthworks at the height of their sublime game. At first, the ear wants to say “fusion!” as the band lurches through a typically syncopated theme. But then all hell breaks loose in the middle section. Free jazz? The urge to pigeonhole becomes irrelevant as you're overwhelmed with the band's ability to simultaneously groove, freakout, and react, all supported by Bruford's extremely musical play.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: Turnpike

Apart from single-handedly inventing the modern jazz trombone and becoming its foremost exponent, being a first-rate composer and arranger, successful bandleader and consummate all-round pro, J.J. Johnson wasn't much of a musician. On this up-tempo romp written by him, J.J. flexes his phenomenal chops atop the Modern Jazz Quartet's rhythm section (including a surprisingly aggressive John Lewis) and following a leadoff star turn by 22-year-old trumpeter Clifford Brown. Nearly three years to the day after recording "Turnpike," Brownie was killed in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Makes you wish J.J. had titled this tune "Live Long and Prosper."

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Poll Winners: Volare

When covering pop hits of the day, 1950s jazzmen often seemed anxious to hurry past the melody, treating the song as pretext for improvisation that bore no relation to the admittedly often second-rate material. Refreshingly, Barney, Ray & Shelly—billed as the Poll Winners because of their perennial popularity—actually play 1958's #1 hit, "Volare" (Italian for "fly"). Carting out his best tongue-in-cheek impression of a Neapolitan mandolin, Kessel shines on this medium-tempo swinger supported by Ray ("Rock of Gibraltar") Brown and Shelly ("Ears of an Elephant") Manne. Delizioso!

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman: Song X

In what can only be considered a musical perfect storm, Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Denardo Coleman crystallized the Ornette aesthetic into this aural diamond. That stellar rhythm section pushes Coleman and Metheny to nearly explosive levels of intensity. The interlocked (yet somehow completely independent) sax and guitar lines argue, collide, and finally cooperate to produce a defining moment in the careers of both men. Highly recommended.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marcus Roberts: East of the Sun

You have to give Marsalis points for including this trio track -- on which he doesn’t even play -- in the second CD in his Standard Time series. It says something about a man who in the interest of a well-rounded recorded document would step aside and let the band blow some (assuming that is the case!). I love these Standard Time CD’s for their economy and breadth, and this track is a perfect example of it. Roberts has such a classy blues touch and while it’s an overused cliché, you do feel you’re hearing the history of jazz piano in his playing. His compatriots rise to the occasion, as if they could do otherwise, for a beautiful balance.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Gloomy Sunday

Darling, I'd Die Without You, among the hoariest songwriting clichés, was never expressed with greater despondency than in this paean to self-destruction, as Billie Holiday contemplates joining a dead lover. The song's original unrelieved Hungarian pessimism was mitigated by an American stanza that contrived to soften the blow by claiming it was all a dream. It didn't work. The song spawned an urban legend about listeners rendered so melancholic they killed themselves. Figuratively, the casualties included Billie her- self, who committed artistic suicide by signing a long-term contract with Decca Records, which dispatched her on a fruitless quest for the almighty buck. Gloomy Money-day.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: God Bless the Child (1941)

"Them that's got shall get / Them that's not shall lose / So the Bible said." Thus claims Arthur Herzog's purported "swing-spiritual based on an authentic proverb." But good luck finding that in the Bible. The religious allusions cynically camouflage a secular Marxist sermon pitting haves against have-nots and insinuating that parents consumed by capitalistic greed will refuse a child in need ("Mama may have / Papa may have / But God bless the child that's got his own"). Somehow, Billie Holiday overcomes Herzog's pinko propaganda for a typically moving statement. God bless Billie. All others pay cash.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: I Loves You Porgy

In the 1940s, Billie Holiday had the misfortune (as if she needed any more) of being contracted to Decca Records, which kept saddling her with unsuitable material and inappropriate orchestrations. No ignominy was beneath Decca, which in 1949 went so far as to refashion Billie as a latter-day Bessie Smith for “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”—equivalent to casting Paul Robeson as Kingfish in Amos 'n' Andy. Here, left to her own devices, Lady Day proves that an intimate Gershwin song plus four sympathetic musicians made the best backdrop for the unadorned drama of her incomparable voice.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lyle Mays: Lincoln Reviews His Notes

The title is the only thing quirky about this elegant tune from longtime Pat Metheny collaborator Lyle Mays’ outstanding acoustic trio album Fictionary. The tune opens with a stately, solemn piano melody, and Mays exhibits splendid technique and invention as he escalates it with potent, agile soloing, DeJohnette and Johnson providing inspired support. It’s great to hear Mays step out as a leader, and “Lincoln Reviews His Notes” is a gem that shouldn’t be overlooked.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mark Murphy: Skylark / You Don't Know What Love Is

How many singers have performed at this high level in their seventies? Aspiring jazz vocalists should not just listen to this recording - they need to study it. There is not a single facile or uninspired phrase in this six-and-a-half minute performance. Murphy floats behind the beat or hurries ahead; he bends the notes both ways, and measures the tolerances in microns. He coos and whispers and even howls, crazy like a loon; sometimes sighing sweetly, like a nightingale serenading the moon. And though you will marvel at the vocal, don't ignore producer Till Brönner, a trumpeter and flugelhornist of real distinction. Even if (like me) you already own a stack of Murphy CDs, find a place in your collection for this release.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: (Cross the) Heartland

A fairly early example of the Pat Metheny Group’s genre-inclusive style, this aptly titled track combines a buoyant melody colored by jazz, rock and country elements and a lively, jangly rhythm to create a sense of motion and evoke a trip through wide-open spaces. Cheery and irresistible -- if only all travel could be this joyous!

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Archie Shepp: Hambone (live)

For all you city slickers, "hamboning" is a down-home name for the ancient art of slapping certain body parts as a substitute for drumming. (Honest, Ma, I wasn't doing what you think—I was hamboning!) Here, Archie Shepp hambones live at a landmark 1965 Black Militant benefit concert that might've been billed as Uncle Tom's Exorcism. "These men are dangerous," warned the original liner notes, invoking witchdoctors, juju men, nighttime Mau Mau attacks, and music that "speaks of horrible and frightening things." Although Shepp's playing, speaking of horrible and frightening things, is more commandingly cathartic than actor Max von Sydow's Father Merrin, the exorcism failed. Uncle Tom bedevils us still.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: 'Round Midnight

Due to what the 1950s jazz press euphemistically called "personal problems," the once-prolific Art Pepper made just one recording session between late 1957 and early '59. When his chance came at last for a comeback, Pepper was fortuitously matched with arranger Marty Paich, who believed the chamber orchestral ambience of Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool and Gerry Mulligan's Tentette merited ongoing exploration long after Miles and Mulligan had downsized. Here, Pepper and Paich give Thelonious Monk's oft-recorded "'Round Midnight" one of its most scintillating interpretations. Weaving in and out of Marty's lush backgrounds, Art pours heart and soul into this deeply moving performance.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: Begin the Beguine

"I hate the music business," groused Artie Shaw. "I’m not interested in giving the public what they want." This from a man with eight million-selling singles in the 1930s and '40s. His first such hit, "Begin the Beguine," left him rich, famous and utterly disgusted with the "morons" who insisted he play it at every appearance. Count us among the morons. Cole Porter's song is enchanting. Jerry Gray's arrangement is beguiling. The band's execution is immaculate. Shaw's clarinet is unashamedly romantic. So what's to hate? Jazz's greatest ingrate preferred every cloud to its silver lining. Some guys just can't say thanks.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: Jungle Drums

In the wake of archrival Benny Goodman's hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" (1937), Artie Shaw's own descent into jungle music was inevitable. "Jungle Drums" is Shaw's simulated safari for affluent whites who never strayed closer to the jungle than midtown Manhattan traffic. Bandleaders, in presenting jungle jazz, resembled corporate executives rationalizing environmental pollution because it's profitable. As dance music, "Jungle Drums" seems innocuous enough. But turning jazz into a 1930s Theme Park where the privileged class could reinforce their presumed racial superiority was as socially irresponsible as encouraging children to smoke. "Jungle Drums" should've been titled "Shame, Shame, Shame."

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Arturo Sandoval: I Left This Space for You

After bucking bureaucrats in Castro's Cuba his entire adult life to play Yankee imperialist jazz, 40-year-old trumpeter Arturo Sandoval in 1990 defected, only to encounter equally obstinate U.S. bureaucrats who blocked his naturalization because he'd belonged to Cuba's Communist Party. (Duh!) Somehow, amidst the turmoil and uncertainty before his American citizenship was finally granted in 1998, Sandoval mustered enough concentration for a dazzling tribute album to fellow trumpeter Clifford Brown, concluding with this heartfelt ballad featuring his open flugelhorn and overdubbed Harmon-muted trumpet. Sidemen Kirkland and Moffett are as unconditionally supportive as the INS ought to have been. Gorgeous.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Ramblin'

"He plays all the notes Bird missed," some fool says about a character modeled on Ornette Coleman in Thomas Pynchon's novel V. (1963). Another character then goes "silently through the motions of jamming a broken beer bottle into the speaker's back and twisting." The twisting part is especially satisfying because Coleman was at heart a Texas bluesman, not the second coming of Bebop. "Ramblin'" proves it. Besides Ornette's soulful sax, this lowdown blues features Charlie Haden, whose roots were in country & western, strumming his bass from hog heaven. Forget bebop. This is American folk music at its most convincing.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Recuerdos

Composer-arranger Johnny Richards’ seven-part suite (the original LP omitted one part for space reasons) for an expanded Stan Kenton Orchestra is one of the band’s most memorable albums. Its six added percussionists provide a compelling Afro-Cuban setting for Richards’ brilliant compositions. The reflective “Recuerdos (Reminiscences)” features especially lyrical solos by altoist Lennie Niehaus, trumpeter Sam Noto, and trombonist Carl Fontana, whose tuneful improvisation is a masterpiece of melodic craftsmanship.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: My Favorite Things


    John Coltrane, photo by Herb Snitzer

In 1960, adding the soprano saxophone to his bag of tricks, John Coltrane joined the ancient brotherhood of snake charmers. Swami John's hypnotic trance, built around a harmless waltz from Broadway's The Sound of Music, was a cobra's cornucopia of monotonously mesmerizing churning and swirling. Moreover, its surprising popularity promoted the soprano sax from little sister to Big Mama. Neither Sidney Bechet's voluminous vibrato nor Steve Lacy's ascetic modernism had found many followers, but Coltrane made the soprano obligatory, opening the floodgates to wimpy whiners such as Kenny G. Yet while "Songbird" is on a par with undergoing root canal without anesthetic, Trane's "My Favorite Things" is like undergoing root canal without anesthetic while listening to bagpipes on headphones. At least "Songbird" is over in five minutes. "My Favorite Things" drones punishingly on for nearly a quarter of an hour. Admittedly, "MFT" constitutes an important moment in jazz history. But sometimes historical documents need to be sealed in airtight, watertight, soundproof containers—usually for their own protection, but in this case more for ours.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Four on Six

During an era of album-title hyperbole where every tenorman was a Colossus and each new release marked the Change of the Century, Wes Montgomery's Incredible Jazz Guitar was actually justified. After being on and off the scene for over a decade, Wes finally broke through to the hardcore jazz audience. Much was made (rightly) of his innovative octaves technique and distinctive pick-less pizzicato, but Wes's greatest asset was his sense of swing, which was … well, incredible. "Four on Six," based on Gershwin's "Summertime" and given first-rate backing, makes a fitting introduction to this down-to-earth Olympian of jazz guitar.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: Popo

As a trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Shorty Rogers was one of the most important figures in the West Coast jazz of the 1950s. This early recording of a simple riff tune scored for a small band similar to Miles Davis’s earlier Birth of the Cool groups, exhibits an infectious swing and contains inventive solos by Rogers himself, tenorist Jimmy Giuffre, altoist Art Pepper, and pianist Hampton Hawes.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano: I'm All For You

Ever since Coleman Hawkins’ famous Swing Era recording of “Body and Soul,” subsequent tenor saxophonists have considered the tune a test of their mettle. Contemporary tenor star Joe Lovano’s “I’m All For You” is “Body and Soul” without its melody. Instead, Lovano improvises his own melodies over the song’s attractive chord structure. Lovano’s feelingful rendition of the classic is buoyed by the sensitive accompaniment of a top-notch veteran rhythm section, and he passes the test handily.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh: Topsy


           Lee Konitz, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and
      Bud Powell at Birdland
, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Beginning in the late 1940s, cool alto saxophonist Lee Konitz earned a reputation as one of the most original improvisers in jazz. While many altoists were imitating Charlie Parker, Konitz was developing a phraseology all his own. On the Count Basie classic “Topsy,” he and two former colleagues from pianist Lennie Tristano’s groups are joined by bebop pioneers Kenny Clarke on drums and Oscar Pettiford on bass. Since Konitz and tenorist Warne Marsh shared similar tonal concepts and improvisatory approaches, they made a highly compatible and successful team.

October 30, 2007 · 1 comment

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Kurt Elling: My Foolish Heart

I don't believe for one moment that Elling has a "foolish heart" - he sings this ballad with such total authority and presence that it tends to undermine the meaning of the lyrics. Yet that is my only caveat on an otherwise remarkable 12-minute performance. I found myself listening to it again and again, marveling at the many interesting twists and turns in the arrangement, which moves through several phases - torch song, incantation, double-tempo climax - with remarkable aplomb. And every great jazz vocalist deserves a musical director with ears as big as Hobgood's. Elling demands our attention as one of the most impressive vocalists of his generation, and this recording will show you why.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kurt Elling: Minuano

No vocalist is better skilled than Elling at shaping a song into a satisfying dramatic performance. Pat Metheny's lilting composition is a perfect vehicle for Elling's interpretive skills. He opens with an invocation that caresses the melody for almost three minutes before launching into an exultant 6/8 melody. We think we're reaching the climax of the song, when Elling leaps an octave and pushes the piece into overdrive. Eight minutes of sheer aural pleasure. High marks also to pianist Hobgood (whose acute musical direction is always evident on Elling's recordings) and saxophonist Wheeler.

October 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Lee Ritenour: Captain Fingers

With its languid pace, string enhancement and sliding guitar melody, “Dolphin Dreams” glides along as gracefully as, well, a dolphin underwater. Ritenour evokes a dreamy feel on the track that gives way to a dramatic break before returning to its initial tranquility. There are tunes in Ritenour’s catalog that are jazzier than this, but if you’re seeking a gentle, pretty piece of music, perhaps to unwind after a stressful day, this is worth checking out.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Wig Wise

He didn’t step away from his orchestra very often, but we are thankful that Duke Ellington took the opportunity to do so in 1962 with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach. It might seem like an usual teaming of strong personalities, but “Wig Wise” is a rip-roaring affair. Everyone plays with gusto – Roach beats some hard swing out of his kit, Mingus thwacks the hell out of his bass, and Ellington jams his hands right into the ivories. He sticks to the middle and lower end of the keyboard, and allows some interesting pauses to creep into his solos when he’s not on the attack. “Wig Wise” is a thick, hard-charging three minutes, and it makes the highlight reel for each of the three men who created it.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Nichols: Applejackin'

Herbie Nichols remains one of the most under-recognized figures in jazz history, but luckily his entire output for Blue Note is available as a three-CD set. “Applejackin’” is a lively little piece of music with an almost childlike theme. Much has been made of the unusual structures Nichols’s compositions utilized, but it is worth considering his music apart from its usefulness in music theory courses. Here is a bright little sketch one could imagine coming from Thelonious Monk’s songbook, but Nichols’s style of performing is much different – on beat, in key, totally unselfconscious. He returns again and again to the theme – a skipping, happy phrase played twice before spiraling upward – while fleshing it out with his impromptu thoughts.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marty Paich: Violets for Your Furs

Art Pepper was a leading West Coast alto saxophonist during the 1950s before personal problems removed him from the scene off and on for years. His beautiful, distinctive tone, highly personal phrasing, and great expressiveness are on full display in Marty Paich’s fine arrangement of "Violets For Your Furs," where Pepper is the featured soloist with Paich’s 13-piece ensemble.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: This Here (Dis Here)

At the beginning of this live performance at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, Cannonball Adderley introduces pianist Bobby Timmons’ funky jazz waltz “This Here” as “Dis Here” for “reasons of soul and description.” This early example of so-called soul jazz became quite popular, boosting sales of the album and helping popularize the group itself. Cannonball is at the top of his game here.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Blossom Dearie: They Say It's Spring

Confronted with Blossom Dearie, jazz fans divide faster than a cell undergoing cytokinesis. Either you find her kittenishly enchanting or insufferably coy. Call us pushovers for adorable felines, but we're enchanted. Her wispy voice, which wouldn’t carry without a mike across a cocktail napkin, is deceptive. Far from being baby-chick helpless, this grown chick is a survivor. Her heart's been broken, alright. More than once. But throw in the towel? Fat chance! Listen to Blossom make this tender, little-known song wistfully her own. And when she concludes, "It wasn't spring, 'twas you," it's we whose hearts break. Blossom springs eternal.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: I've Got You Under My Skin

When the 1960s bossa nova craze finally expired, some of us—weary of off-key, ungrammatical Ipanema girls who "looked straight ahead not at he"—breathed a sigh of relief. We figured bossa nova was a passing fad, not a lasting form. Little did we know. Diana Krall, unborn during the tall and tan and young and lovely summer of '64 when Getz & Gilberto's “The Girl From Ipanema” lolled in the Top 10, gives such a literate reading of Cole Porter's timeless love song as to justify Paul Desmond's witty prediction of Bossa Antigua—no longer nova, but still glowing.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Emily Remler: Daahoud

Clifford Brown, said Emily Remler, "was one of my favorite musicians. He was so lyrical." Here she covers Brownie's "Daahoud," a variant of the Arabic name for David (“Beloved”). "I really identify with the trumpet," Emily continued, citing its melodic clarity. "A guitarist can sound like a trumpet player. I try to sometimes." Regrettably, she identified with Brownie's instrument but not his freedom from drugs. Born two years after Charlie Parker's fabulous flameout at 34, dead herself at 32 from a heart attack, Remler was among jazz's second-generation heroin casualties. She was also among jazz's first-tier guitarists. We remember Remler.

Attention Sharp-eyed Shoppers! Amazon.com's MP3 Download department hilariously lists this track as "Daahound"—you know, the canine counterpart of "Daa-Bears"—but it's the same track.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bobby Hutcherson: For You, Mom and Dad

In the 1980s, NPR's All Things Considered utilized this track habitually to segue between stories. News junkies must've thought NPR was covering a bell-ringers convention. With mallets toward all, Bobby Hutcherson overdubs himself in a tapestry of tintinnabulation involving everything except glockenspiel. At first you think, "Aha, Martin Denny lives." But then you realize this is way more complex than 1950s exotica. Closer to postmodernists Terry Riley, Philip Glass or Steve Reich. Except Hutcherson is a jazz musician who, improvising over nonstop ostinato, leaves us wondering, Why is this so fascinating? Conventioneer Quasimodo de Notre-Dame explains: "It's the bells."

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Grusin & Lee Ritenour: Early A.M. Attitude

Bright and sparkling with a catchy, immediately likable melody, “Early A.M. Attitude” is a contemporary jazz classic that earned. keyboardist Grusin and guitarist Ritenour a Grammy. The two musicians are old friends who have collaborated many times, and this tune reflects their easy accord. This is sure to appeal to fans of contemporary and smooth jazz, although jazz purists may find it a bit poppy for their taste.

October 30, 2007 · 1 comment

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McCoy Tyner: Inception

McCoy Tyner would eventually become one of the most powerful voices in piano jazz, but in 1962 there was no such pressure and certainly no such expectation. He was merely Coltrane’s pianist leading his own date. Tyner’s playing is typically meaty and dense on the burning title track of Inception. Art Davis walks the bass speedily, and powerhouse drummer Elvin Jones gins up a storm of skins and cymbals. After his thick fingers traverse the expanse of keys, Tyner settles into the tune at the 2:20 mark, pounding out some fat chords that lead to a few drum breaks that culminate in a series of ascending chords and finally back to the series of descending chords around which the piece is constructed. Hard to believe all this happens in four minutes.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: River Man (trio version, 2000)

Brad Mehldau has made no secret of his affinity for the singer-songwriter Nick Drake and of his tune “River Man” in particular. The version Mehldau’s trio recorded at the Village Vanguard during a three-night stand in 2000 can make one’s hair stand on end. Drake’s chord progression makes the change from minor to major (to turn a phrase on its head), allowing for an unexpected release of tension in the song’s chorus. Larry Grenadier’s bass and Mehldau’s left hand stay fairly true to what Drake composed as the soloing gets under way, but Mehldau’s right hand breaks free of its tether. Seven minutes into the piece, you realize no one is hanging onto the melody any longer but still you feel it’s there. Pay attention; this is a remarkable piece of work. Mehldau’s trio has synthesized the lessons of its forebears – specifically those of Messrs. Evans and Jarrett – and finds its own voice in doing so, as this performance evinces.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Audrey


Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

At the 26th Annual Academy Awards in March 1954, Audrey Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday (1953). Miss Hepburn had profited from recent exposure as a Time cover subject (9/7/53), as would Dave Brubeck that November. Among her many fans was Paul Desmond, who extemporized this willowy blues in tribute. Desmond’s self-described "dry martini" sound derived partly from Lester Young and partly from the opening high-pitched bassoon in Stravinsky's Le Sacré du Printemps. His lyricism, however, was pure Desmond. Paul's biographer Doug Ramsey reports Miss Hepburn played "Audrey" every night before sleep. She must've had sweet dreams.

October 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Stardust

Due in part to its innovative use of classical techniques, the Dave Brubeck Quartet became phenomenally popular in the 1950s. Another factor in its success, however, was the brilliant playing of its alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. In this performance recorded at Oberlin College, one of many such campus venues the quartet was among the first to utilize, Desmond displays his signature beautiful tone, his ability to swing with ease, and his proclivity for extemporizing highly melodic, unclichéd phrases.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Blue Rondo à la Turk

Using Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" as a reference point, Brubeck adapts the 9/8 time signature that intrigued him during an Istanbul visit, and creates a driving enclosure for straight-ahead 4/4 blues solos by himself and Desmond. As with "Take Five" (Brubeck's hit 1961 single to which "Blue Rondo" served as flip side), simplification makes the experiment fun. As to what the blues have to do with Turkey, it's long been rumored that during the Turkish War of Independence, W.C. Handy proffered his "St. Louis Blues" as the Republic's national anthem. When Turks wisely chose instead the stirring ?stiklâl Mar?? (Independence March), Handy's "St. Louis Blues" was made the USA's national anthem, and is now sung perfunctorily before ballgames.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

Unlike 16th-century conquistador Ponce de León, Clifford Brown actually found the mythical Fountain of Youth. One swig of Dr. Brown’s Magic Elixir, the aptly titled "Joy Spring," is guaranteed to refresh like a dip in the pool on a summer’s eve. Besides Brownie's invigorating open trumpet, this easygoing tonic delivers salubrious tenorman Harold Land, stimulating pianist Richie Powell and vitamin-enriched smoothie drummer Max Roach. Tragically, after a life free of drugs and alcohol, Clifford Brown died in a car crash four months shy of his 26th birthday. No good deed goes unpunished. Thankfully, through his recorded horn, joy springs eternal.

October 30, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chris Connor: Come Back to Sorrento

"I've always wanted to sing with a trio," Chris Connor confided. "I had to fight loud brass for too many years." Surely she didn't mean her 1952-53 stint with Stan Kenton's 20-piece band? Nothing loud about that outfit. I SAID, NOTHING LOUD ABOUT THAT OUTFIT! In any case, Chris's wish came true on her debut album. Reluctant to be pigeonholed in a commercially limited category, Chris declared, "I don't really think of myself as a jazz singer." She then transforms "Come Back To Sorrento" from canzone Napoletana into bopera Americano. If this ain't jazz singing, cancel our flight to Sorrento.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: The M Squad Theme


Count Basie, photo by Herb Snitzer

Pound for pound, the toughest 1950s TV cop was Lt. Frank Ballinger of Chicago PD's M Squad. No, the M didn't stand for Lee Marvin, who played Ballinger. M stood for murder. During its first season the show's theme was nondescript. Then the producers sprang for 2½ minutes of mayhem by Count Basie and his mob of heavies blasting away like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, aided and abetted on the soundtrack by squealing tires and gunfire. Go ahead, listen if you have the guts. Just don't go runnin' your mouth when the coppers pump you. You never heard of me. Got it?

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Straight, No Chaser

Monk's 12-bar blues paraphrasing the opening French horn motif from Richard Strauss’s 1894 tone poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks is translated by Gil Evans into a post-bop romp showcasing trumpeter Johnny Coles, trombonist Curtis Fuller and unsung hero Steve Lacy. Those familiar with Gil's subtle, intricate orchestrations for Miles Davis, assembled with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, may be surprised by this chart's nonchalance, especially when layered ensemble repetitions of the theme gradually fracture into simultaneous improvisation by the lead players. Yet whether crafting precision timepieces for Miles or playing pranks on Monk, Gil Evans was a straight shot.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Idle Moments

Legend has it (well, actually it's in the liner notes) that due to a misunderstanding of how many bars constituted a chorus, what was supposed to be a 7-minute take ran to 15. Some mistakes are meant to happen. Unfolding at a sauntering, Southern (composer Duke Pearson hailed from Georgia), ain't-got- nuthin'-much-to-do-today tempo, "Idle Moments" is casually momentous. Bluesy guitarist Grant Green never sounded better, and the laid-back lineup behind him is quietly impassioned. Looking for the ideal track to while away an afternoon? Look no further. We'd write more, but we're feelin' kinda lazy. Y'all know how it is.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman: Lush Life

If you know someone who hates jazz, try an experiment. Secure a rope, tie that person to a chair (not too tight) and play "Lush Life" for them. Don’t forget your stopwatch to measure how quickly their expression dissolves from resentment to bliss. The folks at Guinness World Records keep track of such things. Cynics may dismiss this song about "jazz and cocktails" as make-out music, with more atmosphere than oxygen. But it boggles the mind that a youthful Strayhorn could write so profoundly, just as the mature Hartman's romantic baritone boggles the heart. (Hart-man indeed!) "Lush Life" is make-out music for the gods.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ramsey Lewis: Hang on Sloopy

Recorded live at The Lighthouse in full nightclub party mode, Ramsey Lewis’s cover of “Hang On Sloopy” faced an uphill battle. The McCoys’ original had been four months on the charts, including a week at #1, and was still hanging on. Moreover, Lewis’s preceding cover, “The In Crowd,” was also charting. No way "Sloopy" could dislodge the real McCoys and Ramsey himself. Right? Wrong. “Sloopy” quickly overtook both competitors and spent two months in the Top 100. Sure it was formulaic. But here were actual people actually listening to jazz, and damned if they weren’t actually having actual fun! A revolutionary concept.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé: All I Need is the Girl

Ring-a-Ding singing doesn't get any better than Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette. Blending the lightness of Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet with Birth of the Cool sonorities, Paich shows why he was arranger of choice for with-it vocalists. And nobody was more with-it than Mel Tormé, whose musicianship was as immaculate as his tuxedo (here fitted by drummer Mel "The Tailor" Lewis with additional stitching from tenorman Bill Perkins). Plus, on this track we get Tormé's hilarious hipsterism, seemingly ripped from the pages of the Playboy advisor: "Got a sports car," he inventories. "Nutty Jaguar—like wow!" And how.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Summertime

In 1959, Shelly Manne led his L.A.-based Men (why not Menne?) north to Frisco's famed Blackhawk for a multi-album live set. Since their regular pianist couldn’t make it, Victor Feldman filled the piano chair. All temps should be so spectacular. With an architectural sense worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright, Vic's solo here builds from delicacy to powerful flourishes. And as always, Shelly shines. Voters in 1950s jazz popularltiy polls didn’t always make the most informed choices, but they got it right when they voted early and voted often for Shelly Manne. Hizzoner was the blue-collar drummer who carried every precinct.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: England's Carol

Ironically, the greatest achievement of Third Stream music, for all its intellectual pretensions, was an update of the traditional English carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." John Lewis first arranged it for the MJQ in 1956, and later added German symphonic backing for what became a surprise hit and perennial Yuletide favorite. It's hard to convey a jazz fan's wonderment at discovering a tip-top Milt Jackson solo swinging across pop radio in the early 1960s. Talk about a gift from Santa! As stocking stuffers go, this remains jolly good, Holmes. Pip-pip and all that. God Rest Ye Modern Jazz Quartet.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Oscar Brown, Jr.: But I Was Cool

His recitative anticipated rap by a decade, but Oscar Brown Jr. was a far more serious artist than the gold-digging, foulmouthed rappers. His songs were erudite minidramas (or, as here, minicomedies), passionately informed by history's injustices to African Americans. What saved them from polemics was his sense of humanity. In writing about the plight of blacks in America, Brown powerfully evoked, as did Tolstoy in writing about individual families, the universal in the particular. In a land of the blind, goes an old saying, the one-eyed man is king. By keeping both eyes wide, Oscar Brown opens ours as well.

October 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Billie Holiday: Mean to Me

“I guess I’m not the only one who heard their first good jazz in a whorehouse,” Billie Holiday recalled of a childhood running errands for a Baltimore madam. Billie later turned tricks herself, but didn’t take to the life. Music was her salvation. Here she demonstrates what distinguishes jazz singers from other vocalists. She takes liberties with the melody, but remains true to the song. And her rhythm! In an age of delivery as stilted as a filibuster by Senator Fogbottom, Billie’s is playfully conversational. Her stylistic sophistication is matchless. Madam, nobody ever heard jazz like this in a whorehouse.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: I Want a Little Girl

Setting aside his tenor sax, Lester Young switches to his beloved but dilapidated metal clarinet. Upon seeing this pitiful instrument, Benny Goodman gave Pres one of his own fine wooden clarinets. After a polite interval, Lester pawned it. Here his gentle metal ideally complements Buck Clayton's cup-muted trumpet, despite the clunky Swing Era rhythm section, inventing cool jazz long before anyone thought of the term. Eventually a thief made off with Lester's precious metal, and Pres searched in vain for one just like it. How disappointed the culprit must've been! Only Lester Young could coax such glorious sounds out of scrap.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa: Disc Jockey Jump

Gerry Mulligan was 19 when jazz superstar Gene Krupa waxed the lanky kid arranger's "Disc Jockey Jump." Like many panicky postwar big-band leaders, Krupa hoped to salvage his endangered species by hopping on the bop wagon. He was wrong, of course. Mulligan's chart is agreeably boppish and his tune delightfully bouncy, but he couldn't overcome the retro rhythm section, mired like Krupa himself in the Swing Era. Gene's "Sing, Sing, Sing"-style drumming should have been sent up the river to Sing Sing. About Mulligan, though, Krupa was right. Talent will out.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Here's That Rainy Day

This album was a sequel to the first Getz/Gilberto record, which received nine Grammy nominations as well as great commercial success. But it’s not really #2, since there’s no Jobim or Astrud, and Getz and Gilberto never play together. In fact, this seems like two entirely separate albums -- one strictly jazz, and the other Brazilian; even the liners barely mention Gilberto’s trio. Nestled in this confusion is arguably the most beautiful version of “Rainy Day” that Getz ever recorded: his playing is exceptionally tender, while Burton’s shining vibes are the perfect complement to his velvety tone.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: I'm Late, I'm Late

In 1961, Focus session hadn't acquired today's weasel connotations, but instead described the recording of Eddie Sauter's suite for tenor sax and orchestra. Its sprightly opening reminds highbrows of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936), and to us lowbrows suggests the White Rabbit in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951). Stan Getz's completely improvised playing on two 4-minute takes proved so remarkable, they were spliced to form a continuous 8-minute track. The violins/viola ensembles are ragged in spots, and Stan's reed balks twice, but Roy Haynes's drumming is superb, and Getz is, as usual, sublime. A very important date.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Chega de Saudade

This melody swings through a series of upward shifts, conveying optimism and hope. In the original lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, Jobim’s poet partner, the singer has had enough of “saudade” (sa-oo-DA-dgee), that idiomatic mix of emptiness and longing that roughly equates to “the blues” in English. This was the first Jobim tune that João Gilberto ever recorded, and the title of his 1959 debut album; for many, “Chega de Saudade” marks the true beginning of bossa nova. This instrumental version features Claus Ogerman’s string arrangements; never soppy or overbearing, they provide a lush cushion for Jobim’s one-finger piano.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Meditation

This Verve album, Jobim’s first as leader, was quickly assembled to capitalize on the meteoric success of “Girl from Ipanema” and “Desafinado.” “Meditation” is a simple but nicely balanced tune; covered by talents as disparate as Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, and Dexter Gordon and Paul Horn, it long ago moved out of the novelty bossa nova category into designation as a jazz standard. In fact, of the dozen songs on this album, probably ten have achieved that status, forming the core group of Jobim classics. The instrumentation here, especially Jimmy Cleveland’s trombone, is particularly expressive.

October 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Herbie Mann: One Note Samba

Aside from the cleverness of a tune “built upon a single note,” this song is notable as one of the few for which Jobim wrote both the music and the English lyrics. He often disliked the translations made from the original Portuguese, and reportedly studied English in order to block the worst of them. Jobim’s homespun singing is more endearing here than usual, since his accent often teeters on Noo Yawkian, but his scatting is seriously jazzy. This might be the best version of “One Note Samba” he ever made, with Herbie Mann providing sweet support.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)


    Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), directed its composer, “should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica.” Twenty years later, butterfly Davis and veronica Evans pollinated the greatest jazz-meets-classical flowering ever. Evans's orchestration is stupendous, but Miles's playing—alternating trumpet (first open, later Harmon-muted) with low-register flugelhorn—transcends even that for hushed, goose-bump drama. "Everybody in the whole studio," participant Elvin Jones recalled, "including engineers, janitors, and everyone else—they were just awed. And it was because Miles rose above himself. It was one of his greatest performances. I thought it was magnificent.” It still is.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Autumn Leaves

Matthew Shipp’s trio absolutely deconstructs “Autumn Leaves.” Shipp, who likes to rumble around on the lower end of the piano, makes no bones about his intentions – he is going to make this well-worn standard his own. And he does. If nothing else, “Autumn Leaves” puts the raw power of his trio on full display. Shipp, William Parker and Susie Ibarra obfuscate and otherwise confuse the melody, and yet the result – for all its blocky chords and unyielding, stick-in-your-eye improvisation – is a thing of ugly beauty. Shipp has tried over the years to remake the piano trio in his image, and with “Autumn Leaves” he demonstrates just how dangerous it can be.

October 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Nat King Cole: The Frim Fram Sauce

The King Cole Trio offered a mid-1940s alternative to the shrillness of bop and the bombast of big bands; their subdued dynamics heralded a kinder, gentler jazz. Vocally and instrumentally, Nat King Cole was Minister of Protocool. As for the squirrelly lyrics of this saucy hit, suffice to say the song's about attitude, as this hepcat (played by Nat) goes into a restaurant, orders fare not on the menu, then gallantly requests a check for the water. Nat King Cool. A jive classic.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Mysteries

A 15-minute piece that never settles into a tempo? Most jazz combos would die a slow, painful death trying to do this. But Jarrett’s group shimmers and floats and bobs and swoons, and holds on to the audience’s interest, even without a finger-snapping rhythm. Of course, Jarrett helps matters considerably by crafting one of his most beautiful melodies. This is not so much a jazz performance as a tone poem. A remarkable recording.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: In Front

Here on the opening track of his first solo piano recording, Keith Jarrett announces a new era of jazz keyboard music. Even today, decades later, we can hear the repercussions in contemporary piano stylings. Jarrett helped shape a new language for improvised music, demonstrated the marvels of his conception and touch, explored novel paths of thematic development, and recalibrated the roles of the left and right hands in piano jazz—all in the course of a 10-minute performance. My favorite moments: the funky ostinato groove that kicks in right before the four minute mark, and then the shimmering resolution that dawns two minutes later. Jarrett still had his first solo concert records—the edifices of Bremen, Lausanne and Köln—ahead of him, but here at age 26 he had arrived, no longer the young prodigy of jazz, but a mature artist charting the future.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Everything That Lives Laments (1975 version)

Jarrett had recorded this same piece in 1971, but this version is longer and richer. The opening section, played in a free tempo, takes on a funereal stateliness. The ensemble plays with great control and sensitivity, but the quality of sound Haden extracts from his bass deserves special mention. Then, shortly after the two-minute market, the combo settles into a lilting groove over a quirky six-bar chord pattern, where what sounds like the start of the turnaround (because the listener is expecting an eight bar structure) is actually the return to the top of the form—a clever device that is very effectively employed here. Jarrett would soon leave this band behind, and start afresh with his European quartet, but this recording testifies that his American combo ranked among the finest jazz groups of the mid-1970s.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: I Fall in Love Too Easily/The Fire Within

Keith Jarrett’s six-disc set from the Blue Note nightclub in New York is one of the must-haves of the 1990s, and the trio’s medley of the standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and Jarrett’s own “The Fire Within” is the pinnacle of that stand from June 1994. The tune builds and builds for more than 24 minutes, as the three musicians give the music lots of space to breathe, letting its melody and then its freedom carry them and the listener along. After several minutes the standard gives way to their free but simple improvisation. Jarrett’s wordless vocalizing, which some people find intrusive, complements the music here, serving as an ad hoc fourth instrument. As for the structure, it’s really just two chords repeated and repeated, but it changes substantively with each measure – a splash of cymbal here, a new bass note there. So simple, so gorgeous.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Abbey Lincoln: A Child is Born

This reading of Thad Jones’s standard has a sedate, introspective quality, and the solos from Johnson and Kendrick are beautifully executed, fully adding to that atmosphere. The underlying presence of the blues in their playing is thrilling, yet does not tarnish the somber tone of the work. The real show here, however, is Lincoln’s singing. I’d never heard Alec Wilder’s words previous to this listening, and I’m not sure they’ve settled in, but the horn-like quality of Lincoln's voice mesmerizes no matter what words come out. Such a unique and precious jazz instrument!

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Parisian Thoroughfare (trio version)

Bud Powell moans through his trio’s performance of “Parisian Thoroughfare,” but you can forgive him, in light on what he put down on tape before the music abruptly cuts off at 3 minutes and 22 seconds. Yes, it’s something of an incomplete take. But what an incomplete take it is. Max Roach and Curley Russell keep the rhythm churning while Powell tears up the keys, his fingers moving as quickly as his brain can find things to say. And he never stops. And he never hits a note one might consider “wrong.” Amazing Bud Powell indeed.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Parisian Thoroughfare (solo piano version)

Bud Powell’s solo piano session from early 1951 ranks among his finest dates. At a time when few modern jazz pianists dared to play without bass and drums, Powell proved that he could forge a distinctive style in an unaccompanied format. “Parisian Thoroughfare” is one of his gentlest compositions – “a Schubert tune with a Gershwin touch,'' in the words of a famous Ellington lyric – and his playing takes on an impressionist shimmer, before settling into unadulterated bop for the solo. Later in 1951, Powell would be back in a mental institution, and after his release in 1953 the pianist would only rarely match the sweep and majesty of earlier work. In 1959, Powell would settle in Paris, but ironically none of his work in the City of Lights would capture the Parisian spirit quite as adeptly as this gem he recorded at age 26.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Al Jarreau: Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive

Al Jarreau makes this Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard his own with his ebullient delivery and quirky phrasing. The song’s got an irresistible, finger-snappable groove, and saxophonist Keith Anderson serves as a soul-jazzy counterpart to Jarreau’s vocal. The high spirit is palpable and infectious; after hearing this, you will indeed, as the song says, “eliminate the negative.”

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Peggy Lee: Fever

Peggy Lee not only swings you into bad health, she gives you "Fever" to boot. For her signature 1958 hit, Peggy slyly transposed the mood of R&B singer Little Willie John's 1956 original from aggressively raw to suggestively smooth. In contrast to Little Willie's lesson in primal lewdness, Lee leads a postgraduate seminar in hip seduction. The entitlement of Willie's "I know you're gonna treat me right" becomes Peggy's inviting "You know I'm gonna treat you right." With Shelly Manne's clairvoyant support, Miss Peggy Lee raises room temperature and makes sophistication sizzle.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bela Fleck: Hoedown

Banjoist Fleck and his band the Flecktones demonstrate their trademark eclecticism and versatility by delivering a delightfully idiosyncratic reading of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” Not many bands would give this famous classical composition a funky bass break and articulate the melody with such instruments as penny whistle, tabla, and bassoon, but then not many bands are Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, for whom the unexpected is only to be expected.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mike Metheny: The Flintstones Theme

They’re getting jazzy in Bedrock as Mike Metheny and his Soundtrek Big Band swing through the theme of the classic cartoon The Flintstones, with Metheny improvising on the well-known melody on muted cornet. An unexpected take on the tune that’s a lot of fun – and just try to keep yourself from shouting, “Yabba dabba doo” when it’s over.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Insensatez (How Insensitive)

This track is the gleaming gem of an otherwise lackluster album. One of Jobim’s most recorded compositions, this “Insensatez” has a lugubrious Portuguese vocal by Maria Toledo that is saved by Stan Getz’s background commentary. Getz’s solo is dynamic, building to a passionate wailing, while Jobim’s eloquent piano is simplicity itself. The legend goes that since Jobim’s hands were too small to comfortably span an octave, he avoided intricate chording and developed his signature one-fingered style of improvisation. Whatever its origins, this technique makes him the Basie of bossa nova.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kirk Whalum: In All the Earth

Gospel music was as intrinsic to saxophonist Kirk Whalum’s musical development and musical identity as was jazz, and he deftly blended both on his 1994 album The Gospel According To Jazz. It was a live recording featuring a gospel choir and a stellar band that included keyboardist George Duke and guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. “In All The Earth” is a rousing outing led by the choir, Whalum’s saxophone providing energetic accompaniment, and the entire ensemble combining to create a joyous proclamation of faith.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Sample & Lalah Hathaway: Fever

On their collaboration album The Song Lives On, pianist Joe Sample and singer Lalah Hathaway (daughter of soul great Donny Hathaway) take on “Fever,” immortalized by Peggy Lee. Where Lee infused the song with a sultry purr, Sample and Hathaway give it a bit more kick; they pick up the tempo slightly while still retaining the song’s sensuous core. The husky-voiced Hathaway offers a seductive vocal of her own, while Kirk Whalum provides plaintive sax punctuation. A captivating take on an indelible standard.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Pepper: Witchi-Tai-To

“Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead,” Pepper sings on this performance of his best known work. But four years later, Pepper would be dead, at age forty. He never achieved the fame in his lifetime that he richly deserved – but more honors and accolades have come his way posthumously. I have a hunch that his reputation will only continue to grow with the passing years, and that he will eventually be acknowledged as one of the jazz greats of his generation. “Witchi-Tai-To,” inspired by chants he heard his grandfather sing, would become the most unlikely of jazz standards, covered by everybody from Oregon to the pop duo Brewer & Shipley (of “One Toke Over the Line” fame). But nobody has performed it with the vigor and poignancy of Pepper himself, who here showcases it in a duet with pianist Kirk Lightsey.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Here Am I

When the New York Herald Tribune coined the term “hard bop,” it was like saying “wet water.” Bop had always been hard as tempered steel. Musicians could no more play soft bop than a fainthearted Sousa march. Still, the term caught on, perhaps because it provided a contrast to the alleged flaccidity of West Coast jazz. Detroiters Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams were hard-bop standard bearers, and "Here Am I" is a worthy anthem. Nonpareil soundman Rudy Van Gelder brings out both the tonal purity of Byrd's trumpet and the serrated edge of Pepper's pneumatic baritone. Gimme more wet water.

Attention Sharp-eyed Shoppers! Don't be put off by Amazonian dyslexia. Donald Byrd entitled this piece "Here Am I," not "Here I Am." But it's the same track.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gary Burton: September Song

Gary Burton, 33 years after joining the George Shearing Quintet at age 20, returns to the scene of the chimes. "September Song" recreates the aura and instrumentation that won Shearing fame when Gary was in the first grade. Half a century later, Burton enjoys vastly superior audio quality. Shamefully, Shearing's 1949-51 quintet recordings have never been suitably restored and completely collected for reissue. Thankfully, Burton & Friends lovingly and expertly revive this music from their fathers' era, which is wonderfully affirming. Jazz speaks across generations as it does across languages, cultures and races. With the clarity of a soft kiss.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: Sister Sadie

Using Jimmy Smith's classic Hammond B-3 organ trio lineup, Joey DeFrancesco demolishes the myth that Horace Silver tunes work best for horn players. "Sister Sadie" never sounded better, not even Silver's 1959 original. Around 4 minutes in, however, following a rocking solo that interpolates "Rock Around the Clock," DeFrancesco seemingly wraps it up too soon with an out chorus and a sustained chord. But then the guys unexpectedly recommence reboppin' like crazy for another 1½ minutes. The highest compliment we can pay is that this ranks with the most exciting trio recordings of the big kahuna himself, Jimmy Smith. Sister Sadistic!

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Bud's Bubble

In 1945, Bud Powell was bopped on the head during a Philly fracas that led to (a) his arrest for disorderly conduct and (b) an urban legend that “racist police” caused the mental illness that haunted Powell for the rest of his life—never mind that Bud was crazy long before Philly. One thing is sure. During moments of lucidity, Powell defined by example the bebop piano trio. In "Bud's Bubble," he tosses off one sparkling chorus after another, conducting a 2½-minute seminar for budding pianists. As noted jazz sleuth Charlie Chan sagely observed, “Madness twin brother of genius.”

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Shank: Casa de Luz

His Latin interest piqued by a 1953 collaboration with guitarist Laurindo Almeida, Bud Shank alighted in "Casa de Luz." While Shank was nominal leader, his fraternal twin in mid-1950s West Coast jazz, Shorty Rogers, is the gravitational center, penning all six tunes for this session and contributing its most distinctive solos. Rogers was a first-rate writer but a nondescript trumpeter until finding his niche with the flugelhorn, where he wisely stuck to the middle register, sporting an attractive tone and melodic solos in lieu of pyrotechnics. Harte's drumming is somewhat stiff, but overall this is quite appealing. Plus Jimmy Rowles!

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django

MJQ in Tuxedos

Ceremonially attired, affecting deadpan expressions suitable for illustrations in an embalmer’s manual, the MJQ looked like four stiffs modeling for Madame Tussaud. Their musical charm, however, will live forever. Based on a Bartók piano piece, John Lewis's finest composition is a tribute to the great Gypsy swing guitarist Django Reinhardt, who died a year earlier. "Django" doesn’t sound like Django, but it’s a stately, swinging, multihued masterpiece of modern jazz.

In a famous putdown, Miles Davis likened the MJQ to boxers "fighting in tuxedos." If so, "Django" wins the undisputed world championship for pugilists in evening dress. It's a knockout.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Carter: Street Scene

Fade in. Street scene. Big city. Rain slicked. Deserted corner. Wee hours. Neon flashing. Deep shadows. Film noir. Music up. Benny Carter. Silky sax. Oscar Peterson. Tinkling piano. Reeks atmosphere. Lonesome sailor. Shore leave. Slightly tipsy. Strikes match. Lights cigarette. Jaded blonde. High heels. Red dress. Cheap perfume. Glances exchanged. Dim interior. Tawdry hotel. Night clerk. Shabby room. Quick embrace. Lipstick smeared. Torn nylons. Music fades. Door pounding. Jealous lover. Harsh words. Gun produced. Brief scuffle. Shot fired. Distant sirens. Slow dissolve. Street scene. Rain slicked. Deserted corner. Neon doused. Dawn breaks. Music up. Benny Carter. Silky sax. Fade out.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Flamingo

It would be difficult to get to the heart of what makes this track so special to me. The programmatic nature of the composition evokes strong pictures in my mind as opposed to just laying down some changes for the soloists to blow over. Mingus paints with his writing and his musicians like no one else -- this is a beautiful example. While it sounds like most of the composition is written out, that doesn’t take anything away from the majesty of every note.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: The Surrey With the Fringe on Top

This may be one of the most perfect two minutes and thirty-five seconds in jazz! It’s surely a great example of a serious jazz trio at work. Jamal’s playing is exemplary for its economy and joyful expressiveness, and his cohorts seem totally in tune with his style. Crosby is one of the great unsung heroes of the bass, and Fournier’s light touch moves things right along throughout. It’s easy to hear why Miles Davis thought so much of this trio and gave this Broadway standard a whirl as well.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jo Jones: Little Susie

Jo Jones was an inimitable force in the development of modern jazz drumming. Not only was he an innovator in moving the pulse from the bass drum to the hi-hat, but he was also among the first to shift the drummer’s role from strict timekeeper to interactive member of an improvising group. From the Blue Devils in the late ‘20s to Basie in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Jones’ use of careful, interactive accents was so influential that it still warrants inclusion in a list of jazz’s modern drummers. This track from 1958 accurately displays his artistic timekeeping and solo style.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: The Girl from Ipanema

The bouncy “Girl from Ipanema” is Jobim’s most universally recognized composition; one of the most recorded tunes of all time, it’s also been Muzaked deeply into the public mind. The vinyl debut of “Ipanema” features vocals by both Joao Gilberto and his then-wife, Astrud; Joao’s two-minute part was edited out of the hit single, while Astrud’s girlish, amateur vocal catapulted her into a career. This version sounds less dated than the one Jobim would soon record with strings (on his first album as leader), but too many bad performances have dulled the original sheen of this tune.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Buddy Bolden's Blues

Who was Buddy Bolden and why do we care what he said? Because Bolden was the trumpeter who, even in Morton’s estimation, merited the status of “legendary.” Mention Bolden’s name and two things generally come up. First, he is alleged to have made some cylinder recordings that have never been traced. The second is that he played with uncommon power. Morton explained to Alan Lomax that, when Bolden was playing a job that had not been well-publicized, Bolden would “take his trumpet and turn it towards the city” and play his signature tune, also known as “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say.” “The whole town would know that Buddy was there,” continued Morton, “And, in a few seconds, why the park would start to gettin’ filled.”

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Creepy Feeling

Morton always retained a pronounced aesthetic sense for the music he absorbed during his boyhood in New Orleans and his subsequent travels. Morton’s sensibility was never any keener than in the “Spanish tinge” that Morton distilled from Latin, Caribbean and Portuguese influences. Jelly Roll asserted to Alan Lomax that it was the “Spanish tinge” that separated jazz from ragtime. In effect, Morton understood that jazz drew from a wider swath of international influences than is widely acknowledged—even today. These influences were not occasional departures imposed upon jazz, but an integral part of the tradition that lay behind it.

October 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jelly Roll Morton: Deep Creek

Once he was in New York, Morton’s recording ensembles grew in size. Single instruments gave way to sections. “Deep Creek” was not attributed to the Red Hot Peppers, but to “Jelly-Roll Morton and his Orchestra.” This piece might not be a consensus pick for inclusion in a list of Morton recordings pared to a dozen, but it’s a blues so unhurried and inspired in its use of space that it leaves one mesmerized and stunned by record’s end. It’s unusual for Morton to commit so much of a performance to individual solos, but Morton uses the resources of the ensemble to provide a deep and rich organ-like background that persists until his final floating chord.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Black Bottom Stomp

This recording was added to the Library of Congress National Sound Registry in 2006, and it sums up in three minutes the essence of New Orleans jazz—and what differentiates it from “Dixieland.” New Orleans style had, at its center, a reliance on ensemble polyphony. The instruments in the front line—trumpet, clarinet and trombone—have different but complementary functions that, in the hands of musicians skilled in the tradition, allow all three instruments to play simultaneously without creating a musical hash. Morton’s aesthetic is on display: By balancing the ensemble and the soloists, and peppering the performance with instrumental breaks, a stop-time passage and more, the “Black Bottom Stomp” takes on compositional form, but never at any sacrifice of the New Orleans spirit that lies at its heart.

October 29, 2007 · 2 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Doctor Jazz

Morton sometimes worked as an entertainer during his nomadic years, and fancied himself a great comic. But the sketch openings on a few of his records reveal that Morton’s sense of humor was devoid of subtlety for anything but a tent show audience. Morton’s inability to outgrow the conventions of early twentieth-century vaudeville account in part for the lack of common ground between Morton and the new generation of swing musicians in New York during the 1930s. However, as a singer and raconteur, Morton was nonpareil, as he is on “Dr. Jazz.” Jelly’s elongated “Well” at the start of his vocal (more like “Wal-l-l-l-llll”) sounds like a cicada with strep and draws us right to the side of ‘ole Dr. Jazz.

October 29, 2007 · 2 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Freakish

It is among the profoundest ironies in jazz that by the time Morton recorded titles like “Black Bottom Stomp” and “Dr. Jazz,” the New Orleans polyphonic ensemble had become an anachronism. Morton was not entirely unmindful that orchestras were getting larger and the traditional multi-strain compositions displaced by the AABA of Tin Pan Alley popular song. “Freakish” is one sign that Morton knew changes were afoot. Jim Dapogny has noted that the final strain of the piece uses a device that was “enduringly modern in conception: [Morton’s] use of repeated two-measure phrases,” which would prove to be the basis of many a jazz tune in the years to come.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Jelly Roll Blues

Morton believed that the piano should sound like an entire orchestra in every respect—ensemble, sections and soloists. Listening to a Morton solo, one can imagine how passages and Morton’s single-note breaks and filigrees might be assigned to different parts of the orchestra. To this conception Morton added breaks and riffs. “Jelly Roll Blues,” which Morton claimed to have written the in 1905, was in all probability the first of his pieces to be published. It appeared in print, in Chicago, around 1915. This work, like many early original jazz compositions, retained a vestige of ragtime, especially in its employment of multiple melodic strains.

October 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jelly Roll Morton: King Porter Stomp (solo piano, 1939)

It’s difficult to imagine Jelly Roll Morton and the City of New York sitting down together over a glass of beer. Their respective musical outlooks never charted the same course. Yet, in late 1939, his optimism renewed, Morton made one last assault on the burg he once described as “that cruel city.” Morton made a fresh recording of his “King Porter Stomp” that has a free and unfettered joie de vivre. Named for Porter King, a pianist Morton met in his travels, Jelly Roll dated its origin to 1906. The composition had been a hit for Benny Goodman and served as a major anthem in the launch of the Swing Era four years earlier, but Morton’s inflexibility and grandiosity had not endeared him to the new generation of musicians, and he watched from the sidelines.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Mamie's Blues

“Mamie’s Blues” comes from a series of recordings Morton made for the General label, later acquired by Commodore, and issued in a multi-pocket album of 78s titled New Orleans Memories. Had these sessions yielded only “Mamie’s Blues,” we could consider ourselves blessed. As Morton recalls Mamie Desdumes, we may not be able to see the pictures inside the musician’s head, but we bear witness as Morton combs his memory for three perfect minutes. It is one of the unforgettable experiences in jazz discography. Morton’s narrative phrases and chording complement one another rhythmically. One does not frame the other; instead, they are sublimely joined. Morton’s foot can be heard quietly tapping, setting off his exquisite use of space as both singer and pianist.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Original Jelly Roll Blues

Comparing Morton’s piano solo recording of the “Jelly Roll Blues” with this version by his Red Hot Peppers affords an opportunity to hear how Morton translated a piano composition into an ensemble format. Whether as a piano solo or band side, the "Jelly Roll Blues" is replete with choruses of what Morton described as the "Spanish tinge," inspired by the tangos he recalled from his New Orleans youth. This tune came to make such an impression that Shelton Brooks included a reference to it—"when they play those 'Jelly Roll Blues'"—in his lyrics to the "Darktown Strutters' Ball."

October 29, 2007 · 1 comment

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Jelly Roll Morton: The Pearls

Morton remarked on one occasion that “The Pearls” was one of the most difficult of his numbers to perform, and said that its various strains were carefully matched like pearls and strung together to make the perfect necklace. Like the New Orleans polyphonic tradition itself, “The Pearls,” taken as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts, estimable as they may be. At a running time of nearly five minutes, this rendition of “The Pearls” is contemplative, and laid out with a jeweler’s precision.

Note: Although the music has been assigned a rating of 95, the sound performance is poor on this out-of-print vinyl release, and scores only a 75.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Wolverine Blues

The success of this tune may have helped convince Morton to devote all his energies to music. Morton claimed to have written “Wolverines” around 1906. Years later, the publishing rights were sold to Melrose Music, and Morton was disturbed when the Melrose brothers published it as the “Wolverine Blues.” Titling a song a “blues” was good for sales; however, Morton was fussy about such things and didn’t like “Wolverines” designated a blues when it wasn’t. Here are three New Orleans masters at their craft, Morton and the Dodds each employing half the record to show just how much the published “Wolverine Blues” wasn’t!

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Don't Be That Way

People often marveled at how well he played, considering that he couldn’t read music. To which Erroll Garner pointed out, “Nobody can hear you read.” Garner's unique style was instantly identifiable, with right hand rippling tremolos or jabbing single-note runs over a steady left-hand 4-beat pulse. "Don't Be That Way" deliciously samples his smorgasbord of sources from Willie the Lion Smith to Fats Waller to Chico Marx. When, 18 years after his death, the USPS issued a 32¢ commemorative stamp bearing his smiling likeness, it was fitting. Erroll Garner is a national treasure whose stamp on jazz piano remains indelible.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Misty (1954)


        Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                        Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Ah, “Misty,” one of the sweetest tunes in the canon. Erroll Garner’s 1954 recording of his most romantic composition is a slice of heaven. Right from the start, he plays the theme a step behind the rhythm (and against his left hand), accenting it with perfect trills. The effect is 100 percent melancholy. The bassist and the drummer do fine, but they barely matter – this is Garner’s showcase. “Misty” is lovers slow dancing. “Misty” is the lights down low. For these three minutes, time stops.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Another One

It’s not immediately clear what is going on here. The three musicians seemingly play free – there’s no melody to speak of – and Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits are clearly just responding to Jason Moran’s actions. The tempo begins to pick up, and then it slows – and then it stops – and then it starts again, like some feverish hallucination. Moran’s music is new and unexpected, and he possesses the most startlingly original voice of any pianist since Monk. At first blush, “Another One” – for all its angularity and awkwardness – could appear to be much ado about nothing, but there is something very complex and very special going on here, and it’s all coming from within Jason Moran’s head. And to think this was recorded live, without a net, at the Village Vanguard. Lucky audience.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Blueport


          Gerry Mulligan
     photo by Herb Snitzer

This track boasts a rare solo by Willie Dennis, a rugged individualist during a period when J.J. Johnson dominated jazz trombone. But "Blueport" is most memorable for a droll, up-tempo exchange in which maestro Mulligan and trumpeter Terry trade quotes from songs bearing U.S. place names. Displaying wits as quick as their instrumental techniques, Gerry and Terry visit "Chicago," then get the "St. Louis Blues"; venture "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" but go back home again to "Indiana"; and kick their heels from "42nd Street" to "Broadway." Need evidence that jazzmen are both smart and funny? Mark this Exhibit A.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Good Friday Blues

In 1960, when producer Richard Bock conceived a blues anthology for his Pacific Jazz label, he called Jim Hall, who'd nailed the bluesy "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" for Bock in 1957 using just guitar, piano and bass. Bock asked Hall and bassist Red Mitchell to reprise their roles, but pianist Carl Perkins, having died two years before, was hard to reach. Not to worry! Mitchell could switch to piano, and his pal Red Kelly would play bass. What? Switch to piano? Be cool. Red has chops. So in they blew, cooking up a tasty, swinging blues. Once again, jazz saves the day!

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Navarro: Nostalgia

Among bebop's catchiest melodies, "Nostalgia" (based on "Out of Nowhere") includes a thoughtful intro (rare in bop), relaxed tempo (also rare) and tenor/trumpet frontline less astringent than the normal alto/trumpet tandem. Navarro's cup-muted trumpet solo, with quotes from an Irish jig and "Rockin' in Rhythm," shows whence Clifford Brown's joy sprung. Ultimately, "Nostalgia" makes one less nostalgic than angry. It's hard not to be pissed at someone who died at 26 after years of heroin abuse. For those of us who love jazz but have no musical talent, it seems like throwing a gift from God back in His face.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Slim and Slam: The Flat Foot Floogie

In the 1930s, jive talk acquired artful connotations. No longer patter, it was now patois. Its preeminent practitioner, Slim Gaillard, devised a dialect called "vout" that suffixed "orooney" and "oreeney" to any unsuspecting word that happened by. In 1938, "The Flat Foot Floogie" happened by, and the nation was hooked-orooney. As a lexicologist, Slim was elastic, indecisively singing "Flat Feet Floogee," "Fat Feet Floogee" and "Fat Fleet Foogee," all within seconds of one another. This doesn't pretend to be great music, but Slim & Slam's genial whimsy provides a snapshot of America's cloudless innocence 19 months before World War II.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Trombones Inc.: Lassus Trombone

Composer Henry Fillmore's devout dad found the trombone uncouth and sinful, so young Henry practiced secretly and eventually won fame as the Father of the Trombone Smear. (Well, somebody had to sire it.) Dedicated to Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus, Fillmore's "Lassus Trombone" (1915) was a perennial favorite among marching bands, but jazzmen avoided it like the plague. So Warren Barker's hip arrangement for 10 sliphorns came as a surprise, probably even to its featured performer, Frank Rosolino, who responds with the most sinfully exuberant trombone solo from the 1950s. Both Fillmores, Senior and Junior, were vindicated. Mo' Lassus, please!

October 28, 2007 · 2 comments

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Woody Herman: Everywhere

The most majestic trombone solo ever recorded. After a fanfare, Woody Herman's star sideman Bill Harris assays his own melody in pretty Tommy Dorsey style with rich vibrato. But Harris could also be grandly operatic, a fact arrangers Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti exploit. "Everywhere" builds inexorably to the dramatic climax of Harris's triumphantly outlandish elephant call, and then, as quickly as a passing summer thunderstorm, calm is restored. Harris was blessed to have the incendiary Herman band as his platform. But Woody was blessed to showcase the era's most distinctive trombonist. "Everywhere" is for everyone and for all time.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: African Ripples

Fats Waller's combo sides sound like primal party music, recorded at the heat of the festivities, just before the police arrive at the door. But Waller's solo piano music is from another world entirely, with moments of delicacy, and rich with nuances that demand close listening. "African Ripples" ranks among Waller's finest solo outings, a heady mixture of Harlem rent party and concert-hall fare. In just three minutes, Waller explores a range of tempos and moods, closing with a powerful burst of stride piano that leaves us begging for more. A masterpiece of 1930s jazz that deserves to be better known today.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Sweet Georgia Brown

Twenty-five years old when this recording was made, Bud Powell was already a tragic figure, marked by his institutionalization and electroshock therapy at Creedmore, his unstable psyche, and incipient alcoholism. But his piano playing was still at top form, and the young Powell was rightly lionized as a paragon of the bebop idiom. In the hands of other musicians, “Sweet Georgia Brown” is a lighthearted gal, amiable and jaunty. But this “Georgia Brown” has lost her sweetness, and is trying to elude a relentless demon in pursuit. Powell rushes toward the finish line, and the headlong passion of this performance is almost frightening in its intensity.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: This I Dig of You

Art Blakey is one of the most original yet traditionally rooted modern jazz drummers. He (along with Max Roach) was one of the first true bop drummers who blurred barlines and set the interactive standard for the bebop drummer. Blakey was also known for his solid, unwavering, traditional hi-hat foot (on beats two and four) while later drummers were more likely to free themselves from any strict timekeeping patterns. This solo is one of his finest, and perhaps best encapsulates Blakey’s solo style.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: This Guy's in Love with You

The schmaltzy Burt Bacharach/Hal David pop song “This Guy’s in Love with You” was for a while something of a jazz standard (and it’s coming around again, with new versions by the Bad Plus and others). Its most natural-sounding incarnation is the one recorded by Jimmy Smith’s trio at an Atlanta club in 1968. Despite the recording’s obvious flaw – the inconsiderate crowd at Paschal’s La Carousel is heard talking throughout the tune – the trio puts on a soul-jazz master class. Donald Bailey’s drumming is clean and crisp, and George Benson’s smooth genius on the guitar is already on display. Smith lays low at first, holding down chords for Benson, and then comes alive with a solo that throws every conceivable B-3 idea at the chart.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Walkin'

Jimmy Smith was the most important organist in jazz, the guy who turned the Hammond B-3 into a bona fide jazz instrument, and Groovin’ at Smalls’ Paradise is his greatest recording. A two-disc set drawn from a night at the famed Harlem jazz club, it burns and grooves like mad. “Walkin’” is taken at a nice middle tempo, Smith’s feet literally walking the familiar bassline on the pedals while his hands massage the keyboards. Guitarist Eddie McFadden’s solo is particularly bright and effusive, punctuated by Smith’s swirls and stabs. Smith’s own solo, which begins at the 4½-minute mark and runs for 5 whole minutes, tears up the keys with machine-gun rapidity. It ranks among his most invigorating moments on record. A perfect blues from a great trio.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Forerunner

The drumming style of Billy Higgins might best be described as the modern syncopated bebop style of Max Roach and Roy Haynes infused with a rhythm and blues sensibility. Having performed with Bo Diddley early in his career, Higgins may occasionally stray from common bop techniques and create more of an R&B-infused groove in his bop playing, but he is first and foremost a bebop-trained drumming pioneer. This is evident in his extended collaborations with Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, and Ornette Coleman. This Higgins-feature track has it all – smart, perfectly executed solo ideas and a deep, strong, swinging groove.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clare Fischer: Lennie's Pennies

A wandering, unmeasured prelude morphs into a bristling rendition of cool jazz icon Lennie Tristano’s complex line over the chords of “Pennies from Heaven.” Altoist Gary Foster was the ideal horn man for the tune since his major influence was the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had recorded the piece with Tristano himself. This was an early recording for bassist John Patitucci, whose explosive playing foreshadowed his subsequent star status. The woodwinds supply background phases from time to time, but it’s mainly a quartet performance.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and the River (Sound of Jazz, 1957)

In the mid-'50s, Jimmy Giuffre was a fixture of West Coast jazz, playing reeds in the prevailing cool style and writing experimentally. In 1956, when America's folkie craze sprouted, Giuffre formed a folk-jazz trio and recorded his signature "The Train and the River." A year later, taped at a rehearsal for CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, a longer, snappier "Train" winds and shifts fugally like a railway hugging the contours of a serpentine stream—but so quietly it wouldn't disturb a slumbering katydid. Unhurried, reflective, constantly changing moods and shifting focus, this is chamber jazz at its finest.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Blue Monk

Waiting in the wings of CBS-TV's special The Sound of Jazz (1957), Jimmy Giuffre watched his co-star Thelonious Monk deliver "Blue Monk" to a no-doubt-mystified national audience. Later on the show, Giuffre joined oddball traditionalist Pee Wee Russell for a two-clarinet blues, and a year afterward commingled these experiences, recording Monk's tune in the shaggy-dog style of his Pee Wee jam. Like Monk, Giuffre was a modernist thoroughly grounded in premodern jazz, as were his cohorts in this peculiar trio. Brookmeyer's cup-muted, choke-valved trombone is rascally true to his K.C. roots; Hall's neighborly rhythm guitar and folksy basslines defy his Eastern conservatory preparation. The resultant "Blue Monk" is a calm, cool, impish delight.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: I've Found a New Baby (1946)


Lester Young, by Herb Snitzer

During World War II, Lester Young felt a draft. Facing induction or imprisonment, Lester selected service, and wound up in the slammer anyway. Six months into his Army hitch, the 35-year-old conscript was busted for drug possession. After 10 months in the disciplinary barracks, Pres was dishonorably discharged. He then returned to the civilian company of his peers for one of the great moments in recorded jazz. During stop-time exchanges, Cole's and Rich's spontaneous synchronicity so joyously epitomizes musical communication that it sparks expressions of delight from the players themselves. Pres was a miserable soldier, but an immortal jazzman. Salute!

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Yancey: Yancey's Bugle Call (take 1)

Boogie-woogie's ragtime lineage is manifest in the evolution of "Bugle Call Rag" from Eubie Blake (1916) to Benny Goodman (1934) to "Yancey's Bugle Call" (1940). Jimmy Yancey spent most of his life as groundskeeper at Chicago's Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. During the off-season, he sowed such perennials as this track, where boogie-woogie's driving 8-to-the-bar bass and bluesy frills mix masterfully with the tension-&-release excitement of stop-time choruses. In 1951, mercifully before his beloved grass infield was replaced by Astroturf, Yancey answered Gabriel's bugle call. Jimmy can rest in peace. "Yancey's Bugle Call" will never be replaced.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: St. Thomas

Brian Blade, a Louisiana native born in 1970, is the foremost jazz drummer in the generation after the bebop and post-bop greats. He began his professional career in the early 1990s and quickly recorded with high-profile artists including Kenny Garrett, Brad Mehldau, Bob Dylan, and Joshua Redman. Blade then formed his own group, The Brian Blade Fellowship, and released two well-received solo records. He became Wayne Shorter’s drummer of choice in the late 1990s, and he still performs with Shorter today. This live recording displays the energy of the legendary Redman/Blade performances that propelled both into the spotlight. Note Blade’s clean, fast movement around the drum set, and his varied dynamics within his Latin-to-swing-based soloing.

October 27, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chick Corea: Part II (Dedicated to John Coltrane)

While primarily known as a rock/pop drummer with Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, and James Taylor, Gadd is a successful and influential jazz/fusion player in his own right. Some of his jazz credits include sessions with Charles Mingus, Jim Hall, Chet Baker, Milt Jackson, Michel Petrucciani, and Chick Corea. Gadd has credited Max Roach and Art Blakey as his main jazz influences, and he has therefore absorbed their bebop vocabulary. His unique development, as heard in this Corea example, is to base his timekeeping solely on quarter notes as opposed to the usual swing pattern. He then occasionally adds swing (or straight) notes to the quarter-note pulse.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: On Green Dolphin Street


    Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Originally issued on Jazz Track, an LP that devoted one side to Miles Davis playing his own film music and the flip side to Miles covering 1940s movie themes, this arrangement set the jazz mold for "On Green Dolphin Street." Henceforth, Chambers's dominant-to-tonic ostinato became as much a part of the song as composer Kaper’s melody. Miles’s Harmon-muted trumpet provides an ideal springboard for uninhibited saxophonists Coltrane and Adderley, after which Evans—recognizing the futility of single-note solos in such company—instead pays block-chord homage to George Shearing. This 10-minute track describes late-'50s hip better than a roomful of doctoral dissertations.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Walkin' (1964 live version)


     Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Along with Brown/Roach and Coltrane/Jones, the musical pairing of Miles Davis and Tony Williams marks one of the great leader/drummer partnerships in jazz history. Joining Miles’s group when he was just seventeen, Tony Williams changed the realm of possibilities for the bebop drummer with his unique four-way independence (especially the freeing of his left foot to play more complex patterns) and his “quiet burn” – the ability to play independent, polyrhythmic patterns while comping at a soft volume. These drumming elements are all evident in this live example, made all the more effective through his interaction with rhythm-section mates Hancock and Carter.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian: Liza

Whether recording classic tracks with Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett in the 1960s or leading one of his own Manhattan-based groups at the Village Vanguard in 2007, Paul Motian has been successfully performing as a jazz drummer for over fifty years. His trademark is balancing traditional swing patterns with freer, looser rhythms. While he certainly can and often does play traditional swing patterns, Motian constantly experiments with his time patterns, often leaving space in order to “poke” back in at his bandmates in musical conversation. Here Motian plays Chick Webb’s famous drum feature “Liza” with post-bop twists and turns.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jackie McLean: Climax

Jack DeJohnette has had a widely varied career primarily as a successful bebop drummer, but he is also an accomplished pianist and composer as well. Performing with projects as varied as Miles’ Bitches Brew sessions to Charles Lloyd’s quartet to Keith Jarrett’s long-running trio, Jack is always reliable and musical while maintaining his reputation as one of the more loose and free drummers in jazz. This track from early in DeJohnette’s career displays him executing a complex groove demanding extreme independence over a tune that he composed for Jackie McLean’s 1965 session.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Perdido

After taping himself in concert with an all-star quintet, Charles Mingus listened to playbacks. The group was fabulous, with Diz & Bird in top form. His own bass, however, had been woefully under-recorded. Solution? Overdub a new bassline. Result? Calamitous. Given mid-1950s technology, Mingus #2 easily overpowered but could neither eliminate nor be precisely synchronized with Mingus #1. Consequently, his disconcerting duel with himself maddeningly muddles both tempo and harmony. Fantasy’s 12-CD Complete Debut Recordings (1992) reproduces the undoctored tape, but all other releases use the corrupted version, making its revisionist history definitive for most listeners. Mingus should’ve left bad enough alone.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bola Sete: Satin Doll

I’d have given this track a higher mark if not for the inferior quality of this recording. This marvelous bossa nova reading of the Ellington gem is a bonus track omitted from the original LP. I for one am usually grateful when bonus materials surface regardless of the quality (up to a point). Sete has long been one of my favorite guitarists and his dazzling technique is very much present here. Please note: the other re- released material on this disc is in much better shape than this.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Queer Street

Count Basie, photo by Herb Snitzer

Since the successful release of the Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall Concert in 2005, the underrated Shadow Wilson has received an increased amount of well-deserved commemoration. Wilson’s major musical collaborations were with Monk (T.S. Monk recalls his father saying that Wilson was his “favorite drummer”), altoist Sonny Stitt, and the Basie Orchestra. In this most famous of the Basie-Wilson tracks, Wilson sets up the band with great dynamic contrast, from whisper-soft timekeeping to extended, confident fills. The “must-hear” moment of the track comes at 2:45 with a two-measure drum break. As Buddy Rich proclaimed, “this is the most perfect drum break ever recorded.”

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Cherokee

The clarity of ideas and ease of execution of Max Roach’s playing warrant his reputation as one of jazz’s most influential drummers. Taking Jo Jones’ and Kenny Clarke’s landmark transitions a step forward, Max blurred barlines, interacted with soloists, and added deceptively complex ideas and polyrhythms to the bebop drummer’s vocabulary -- and all with impeccable cleanliness. After years of landmark recordings and performances with Bird and Diz, Max’s two-year partnership with Clifford Brown marked one of the essential collaborations in jazz. Max’s drum solo on “Cherokee” brilliantly represents the idea of a melodically constructed drum solo with a beginning, middle and end.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: In Walked Bud


Thelonious Monk, photo by Herb Snitzer

Roy Haynes’ natural, boldly interactive style, combined with his clean ride-cymbal sound and high-pitched, metal snare drum make him one of the most in-demand bop drummers. From Pres to Bird to Trane to Chick, musicians have always sought out Haynes, who often left behind the traditional jazz drumming patterns for a more instinctive, nontraditional -- yet fundamentally bebop-oriented -- approach to jazz interaction. The near-perfect foil for Haynes was therefore Thelonious Monk, evidenced by their constant musical communication throughout this track. Haynes’ solo is a classic example of basing a drum solo on the melody of the given tune.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: Take Ten

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond had a deal. Whenever Desmond recorded as leader, to avoid competing with Brubeck's Quartet, there'd be no piano. So Paul recorded with Gerry Mulligan-type pianoless quartets—twice with Mulligan, more often with Jim Hall. Desmond, who habitually leaned against Brubeck's piano after soloing, joked that Hall "complains when I lean on his guitar." Otherwise, this match of the self-effacing was ideal. Following Brubeck's smash hit "Take Five," Desmond could not avoid a sequel. His 5/4 bossa nova "Take Ten" has a laid-back charm and too-short Middle Eastern modal solo from Paul that easily recommend it.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Four Brothers

Long before Three Tenors meant an operatic trio of overweight males belching overblown arias in a stadium while the local ball team is away, this catchy saxophone round-robin popularized the signature 3-tenor lineup of Woody Herman's Second Herd. Although Herman's throwback clarinet is out of place, Jimmy Giuffre's unison writing is top-notch and Lamond's drumming is smashing. The sax section, though, is what makes "Four Brothers" unforgettable. Sims, Chaloff, Steward and Getz solo in that order, and on the coda it's Stan, Zoot, Herbie and Serge. Only in America could you find Four Brothers named Stan, Zoot, Herbie and Serge.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Far Wes

As Stan Getz demonstrated in the early 1950s, tenor sax and electric guitar make a lovely unison. In 1958 Wes Montgomery cushioned the sound by plucking with his velvety right thumb, not a plastic pick, producing an even mellower tone, and his brother Monk's electric bass made the bottom equally plush. Add silky tenorman Harold Land, too little recorded since his unforgettable 1954 sessions with Clifford Brown & Max Roach. Toss in an attractive tune at a relaxed tempo. What do you get? Smooth jazz before it became disreputable.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stefano Bollani: Don't Talk

An Italian jazz pianist recording an old Brian Wilson Beach Boys song for his German record company . . . Don’t you love the global village? But I am an ardent admirer of Wilson’s compositions (full admission: Wilson and I grew up in the same neighborhood, albeit a few years apart), and wonder why jazz players don’t cover his tunes more often. Bollani can be formidable on the keyboard, but he tones it down on “Don’t Talk,” and his ruminative moodiness is perfect for this tune. Surf must be up on the Adriatic, but the waves here are gentle and the water warm and inviting. Don't talk . . . listen.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Bad Plus: Smells Like Teen Spirit

The Bad Plus has not exactly lived up to the hype of being the Band That Will Save Jazz, but these guys have showed us that it’s OK to make jazz out of songs that aren’t 80 years old. Take “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a four-chord rock anthem if ever there was one. Pianist Ethan Iverson claims never to have heard the Nirvana original before his bandmates brought him the charts. Hard to believe, given his spot-on statement of theme. Iverson’s mixed background of classical and jazz helped shape the trio’s sound, but drummer David King’s all-out attack defined it. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the perfect storm for the Bad Plus’s audience – a rock-loud cover of a familiar tune. This wasn’t the most sophisticated performance, but it made it cool for twentysomethings to be seen in jazz clubs.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Victor Feldman: Too Blue

Transplanted Londoner Victor Feldman was 23 when he recorded "Too Blue" with 22-year-old Scott LaFaro, the Earl Scruggs of acoustic bass, playing as fast and high as the bluegrass 5-string banjo baron. LaFaro's astounding solo technique is amply showcased, and the underlying tension between his slight rushing of the beat and Levey's impeccable timekeeping keeps things interesting even when LaFaro plays straight rhythm. The leader is somewhat overshadowed by his sideman's busy-ness, but Vic proves as adept with 4-mallet chords as when grooving in a Milt Jackson bag. Small wonder he was soon co-opted by Henry Mancini for Peter Gunn.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Vince Guaraldi: Cast Your Fate to the Wind

Pop Quiz: when issued as a 45-rpm single in late 1962, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was side B. What was side A? Proving record companies don't know good from gold, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" finished among the bestselling singles of 1963, carried its album release to similar success, and won a Grammy as Best Original Jazz Composition. Alternating pedal point and Latin beat before breaking into 4/4 jazz, combining a funky left hand with Floyd Cramer-style right hand, Vince shows the virtuous simplicity of less is more. And, oh yes, "Samba de Orpheus" was side A.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: A Time for Love

Early in his career, Stan Getz was dubbed The Sound, just as Sinatra was The Voice. Small wonder. Getz's tenor tone was among Western Civilization's crowning glories, right up there with Shakespeare's quill, Rembrandt's brush and Edison's lab. Thirty-one years after Getz recorded Johnny Mandel's "Hershey Bar," the rematch of musician and composer was still sweet. "A Time for Love," written for the forgettable movie An American Dream (1966), is unforgettable Getz. Instead of the customary ballad order of sax, piano, and sax again to close, Getz and Levy render one gorgeous 40-bar chorus apiece, giving us a 6½-minute preview of Heaven.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Come, Gone

Rollins often functioned as a musical satirist, skewering standards left and right. When he got serious, though, watch out! Into an album of ersatz cowboy songs written by city slickers, Sonny snuck a red-hot performance that forever sears his ® brand into the rugged hide of tenor saxophone lore. By turns scoffing, scorching, scouring, sliding, smearing, soaring and squawking, not to mention grating, grinding, growling and repeatedly quoting "Perdido," Rollins swings like a daredevil aerialist and stuns like a heavyweight boxer with an anvil in each glove. If you're new to Sonny Rollins, have smelling salts handy. You'll need 'em.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Norah Jones: Wish I Could

Jones' third CD, Not Too Late, debuted at the top of the charts in early 2007, and sold 400,000 copies during its first week of sales in the US. Huge success? Perhaps not: Jones' last release moved a million copies out of the starting gate. Jones misses the production oversight of Arif Mardin, who shepherded her first two releases into existence, but passed away in June 2006. Yet Not Too Late starts on a high point with "Wish I Could," a wistful ballad propelled by the exemplary guitar work of Jesse Harris. Jones' intimate phrasing and her mastery of microtones make her an ideal interpreter of this sort of material. She still needs to prove to this listener that she can thrive at faster tempos and amid more aggressive grooves. But I'm not betting against Norah Jones. Don't believe the critics who tell you she is just a commercial success who won't stand the test of time. Jones is the real deal, and deserves recognition as one of the finest jazz vocalists of her generation.

October 26, 2007 · 2 comments

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Woody Herman: Bijou

Recorded by Woody Herman's all-white Herd two years before Dizzy Gillespie introduced Afro-Cuban jazz, "Bijou" (subtitled "rhumba à la jazz") might be called Ofay-Cuban jazz. The leader leads off with a Johnny Hodges-style alto solo, but thereafter "Bijou" becomes the property of powerhouse trombonist Bill Harris, by turns pretty, burry and blasting. A neglected master of 1940s jazz, Harris must be heard to be believed.

Caveat: Columbia/Legacy's self-styled "Ultimate Woody Herman Anthology," Blowin' Up a Storm! (2001), presented two alternate takes of "Bijou" but identified only one as such and omitted the superior master take (mxCO.35106-1), thus nullifying the "ultimate" claim. Consider the track on The Thundering Herds, 1945-1947 definitive.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer: San

Seven months after this session, Trumbauer would record for the first time with Bix Beiderbecke, but here he is the star of the show. Although not officially: Red Mackenzie, the bellhop turned comb player, served as the official leader of this band, which was known as the Mound City Blue Blowers. Trumbauer contributes basslines, countermelodies, and takes a supple stop-time chorus that puts the rest of the band to shame. His solo here was often studied and imitated in its day, one of the defining statements of the jazz saxophone vocabulary, circa 1924.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: All the Things You Are

This is an impressive polyrhythmic exercise by a path-breaking jazz trio. I'm not sure non-musicians will savor all the twists and turns of the Mehldau trio in action. But anyone who has played in a rhythm section will be dazzled by this jumpy, jittery 13-minute performance. The trio's cohesiveness in navigating through a fast 7/4 reworking of this standard is especially impressive. In the liner notes, Mehldau complains about the "constant comparison of this trio with the Bill Evans trio." And he has a valid point. Mehldau's work here moves beyond the orbit of his influences—in particular, check out the dialogue between his left and right hands. Grenadier and Rossy also play at top form.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: 'Round Midnight


Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Miles Davis almost missed the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, and was only added at the last minute to a jam session. Davis selected Monk’s "‘Round Midnight" for his feature number, and his haunting muted trumpet work left the audience mesmerized. Columbia signed him largely on the basis of this performance, and Davis reprised the ballad on his debut LP for that label. He does little more than embellish the melody, but with such sensitivity to phrasing we ask for no more. Davis leaves the harmonic dissection to John Coltrane, who offers a restless, probing solo. A definitive version of a classic song.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Moose the Mooche

The Dial Sessions mark Parker’s greatest legacy, and on his debut date for the label, the altoist is at top form. The lopsided melody reworks “I Got Rhythm” changes, and Parker floats out of the starting-gate with a sinuous improvisation that makes it all look so easy. Miles tries to follow with some of his bebop licks, but he is still several years away from finding his mature voice. Don’t miss Marmarosa’s intro and 16-bar solo, and hear why many think this under-recorded musician could have been one of the great modern jazz piano masters. A landmark bebop performance.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tomasz Stanko: Lontano I

Stanko’s quartet shows its mastery of tone colors and sound textures in this 13-minute collective improvisation from the 2006 ECM release Lontano. The piece starts in a free tempo, rich in nuance and indirection, and only at the end coalesces into strict time. For comparison, the CD release also includes the 15-minute “Lontano II” and the 12-minute “Lontano III” – each providing eloquent testimony to the rapport of this outstanding ensemble.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Moanin'

Unlike Bobby Timmons' righteous "Moanin'" recorded the previous year by The Jazz Messengers, Mingus's "Moanin'" is terrifying. Baritonist Adams's deep burps evoke a prehistoric beast who's just devoured some unsuspecting caveman. As a bandleader, presiding over an ensemble that frequently verges on chaos, Mingus is always in control. As a composer, his range is astounding. He could effortlessly segue from bebop to gospel to flamenco, then from scathing protests vilifying all-American heels such as Faubus to happy homages venerating African-American heroes such as Jelly Roll Morton. "Moanin'" is an investigation of danger by a uniquely qualified artist. By any measure, indispensable.

October 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Toots Thielemans: East of the Sun

Toots Thielemans single-handedly made it feasible to use "hip" and "harmonica" in the same sentence. Toots spent the 1950s as George Shearing's guitarist, where he played "East of the Sun" nightly. Here, however, Toots wields his alternate ax, although considering its diminutive size, it probably ought to be called a hatchet. In any case, pairing Toots with baritonist Adams was inspired. One's instrument is tiny and shrill, the other's bulky and gruff. Their contrast is a delight. Toots and Pepper play off one another like a hummingbird frolicking with a grizzly bear. Toots was a wizard with a toy wand.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Forgotten System

These two musicians first met in 1995, introduced by Steve Coleman. Ten years later, Iyer and Mahanthappa demonstrated their compatible musical visions on the duet release Raw Materials. Iyer’s playing is brisk, free of clichés, and constantly probing. His left hand comping is especially interesting – a rolling, growling volcano that mostly lurks deep in the bass register. Mahanthappa plays right on top of the beat, a rat-a-tat-tat machine gun phraseology, that gives no quarter. You want smooth jazz, stick with Kenny G. If you’re willing to trod the un-smooth path, try a dose of Raw Materials.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Albert Ayler: Ghosts: First Variation

Albert Ayler was one of jazz’s most iconoclastic figures, and Spiritual Unity was the album that announced his arrival. “Ghosts: First Variation” started the record in the same manner that a bomb starts a war. Ayler drew much of his inspiration from his faith, but the music he created was unnerving and at times scary. “Ghosts” has Ayler blowing a simple folk melody, which he slowly modifies, escapes from, and then returns to, while Gary Peacock scatters notes from his bass in seeming random fashion and Sunny Murray’s stick skitters across his cymbals, neither of them ever attempting to get into a groove. Lasting just over five minutes, “Ghosts: First Variation” is the most beautiful chaos jazz has ever heard.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Star Eyes

Charlie Parker may have owed his fame to his dazzling, finger-cramping saxophone solos on his own bebop tunes, but one of his most enjoyable sides is his 1950 recording of “Star Eyes.” It is, in my opinion, the definitive recording of this composition, which may have something to do with the all-star quartet here. Parker blows a repeated five-note introduction and then quickly settles into the romance, carving a gentle path through the ballad’s melody and chorus. Pianist Hank Jones comps respectfully while bassist Ray Brown walks the line; drummer Buddy Rich is far more restrained than what we’re using to hearing from him. This “Star Eyes” is pure perfection.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eddie Harris: Exodus

3400 years after Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, Leon Uris's novel Exodus (1958), about modern Israel's founding, became a runaway bestseller and basis for a Hollywood epic. The movie in turn opened a promised land to the lowliest slaves—namely, musicians. Dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher's overwrought theme cover was 1961's top-selling single, and Ernest Gold's soundtrack tied for bestselling album. Even jazzman Eddie Harris scored a Top 50 single and Top 10 album. Recalling Stan Getz circa 1950 except for a freakish falsetto (clarinet-like upper register), Harris's effete, straggling "Exodus" makes one wish the Red Sea of opportunism had closed sooner.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Manteca (1947 version)


Dizzy Gillepsie, photo by Herb Snitzer

The “Latin tinge” in jazz dates back at least to Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed it was the “right seasoning” for the music. But Gillespie’s collaboration with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo on the stage of Carnegie Hall in September 1947 would have jolted Morton off his piano stool. Pozo would be dead before the end of 1948 – killed in a fight over a bag of marijuana – but he left behind a handful of classic recordings before his passing. None is more spectacular than “Manteca,” built on a relentless vamp married to a stately swing bridge. Gillespie plays with unbridled passion; indeed the whole band seems pushed into overdrive by Pozo’s presence. Not just the ‘right seasoning’ here – rather a total immersion in the fiery currents of Afro-Cuban music. Sixty years later, you can still feel the heat.

October 26, 2007 · 2 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: St. Louis Blues


Dizzy Gillepsie, photo by Herb Snitzer

W.C. Handy wrote "St. Louis Blues" after witnessing the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry at twilight during the War of 1812, thus explaining its opening line: "I hate to see that evenin' sun go down." Enacted by Congress in 1931 as the U.S. national anthem, the song is dutifully discharged before ball- games, but also lends itself to jazz, where listeners are not required to stand. A year after Hollywood's star-spangled Handy biopic, a Harmon-muted Dizzy Gillespie serves up a jim-dandy Handy salute of his own. With its with rousing open-horn finale, this may get listeners on their feet after all.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Salt Peanuts (1945 studio version)


Dizzy Gillespie, photo by Herb Snitzer

In 1978 Dizzy Gillespie stole the show at a White House affair honoring jazz musicians by convincing Jimmy Carter to come on stage to provide the vocal to “Salt Peanuts.” And who better than Carter, a peanut farmer before running for public office, to sing the praises of the humble legume? But in 1945, bebop was still a radical new music with no public honors – indeed little public recognition of any sort. And instead of a President by his side, Gillespie relied on altoist Charlie Parker, who takes a blistering solo out of the starting gate. But Gillespie still steals the show, with his (in my opinion) finest recorded solo – a tour de force of bop trumpet heroics. Anyone looking to hear how Dizzy set the tone for a generation of jazz brass players should start by listening to this classic performance.

October 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chet Baker & Art Pepper: Picture of Heath

Chet Baker came to prominence as the trumpeter in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, but later became a much-recorded leader in his own right. This mid-1950s session teams him with tenorist Phil Urso, a regular member of Baker’s quintet at the time, and the prominent West Coast altoist Art Pepper. Jimmy Heath’s sparkling “Picture of Heath” features a confidently swinging and lyrical Baker, a passionate Pepper, and a rock-solid, on-the-beat Urso over the top-notch rhythm section’s firm foundation.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Farmer & Benny Golson: Park Avenue Petite

Their debut album was called Meet the Jazztet, and you'd best shake hands fast because all but two founding members soon left—Curtis Fuller over resentment that he didn't receive expected co-leader billing and McCoy Tyner to join John Coltrane. Aside from showcasing one of the era's finest trumpeters, the Jazztet also boasted premier composer and arranger Benny Golson, whose immortal "I Remember Clifford," for example, has been recorded >200 times, by everyone from The Jazz Messengers to The Manhattan Transfer. Golson's "Park Avenue Petite," on the other hand, was recorded <10 times. Both ballads are equally beautiful. Go figure.

October 26, 2007 · 2 comments

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Benny Golson & Art Farmer: Step Lightly

So, if Miles Davis proved the Harmon mute worked on ballads and Chet Baker showed it handled fast tunes, what about medium tempos? Step this way. Art Farmer's lyrical trumpet paired with Benny Golson's warm tenor was a match made in Harmon. Moreover, the lightly funky "Step Lightly" is one of Golson's most insouciant tunes. This recording, where everyone sounds slightly off-mike, would've been better served by Blue Note/Prestige/Savoy's close-up soundman Van Gelder, but regrettably Rudy couldn't be everywhere. Even so, "Step Lightly" is like those can't-eat-just-one potato chips. Once tasted, it'll keep you coming back again and again for another dip in the bag.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Farmer: Jubilation

By 1958, Farmer and Golson had been musical soul mates for half a decade. Farmer and Evans, who met in George Russell’s 1955 workshop, had often recorded together. At an average age of 29½, the three were among the most accomplished jazzmen of their generation, each with a lovely sound, gift for melody and abiding respect for their audience. All of which belied the album title Modern Art, then suggestive of Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Certainly there was nothing adventurous about Farmer & Co.'s take on Junior Mance's funky "Jubilation," unless you consider lively, listenable and likable jazz adventurous.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Blue Hodge

Tenorists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims played together as members of Woody Herman’s famous Second Herd and later continued their association in quintets of their own. Although both men were, like many saxophonists of their generation, the musical descendants of Lester Young, they complemented each other with individually distinctive approaches. Gary McFarland’s slow blues, written for alto titan Johnny Hodges, displays both their similarities and their individual strengths. Sims demonstrates his unerring sense of swing while Cohn, also a composer, contributes beautifully constructed melodic lines.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans & Stan Getz: The Peacocks

The first time I met Stan Getz, at his California home in 1983, he made a tape of a Bill Evans recording for me as a gift. Getz, who was typically sparing in his praise, spoke with genuine respect and admiration that day for the pianist, who had passed away in 1980. This live performance was still sitting unreleased in the Fantasy vaults at the time, and would not be issued until 1996. Getz and Evans reportedly had an onstage spat a few days before this recording was made—with Evans even refusing to play the piano at one point in their concert. But one could never guess it from the remarkable musical rapport the duo demonstrated on this delicate ballad performance. For comparison, listeners are urged to check out Getz's 1975 duet recording of this same song with its composer Jimmy Rowles. Both versions rank among the saxophonist's finest work of the decade.

October 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit

By the late 1930s, lynching of Negroes had declined in the U.S. but not disappeared, a fact white radicals exploited to foment revolutionary resistance among blacks. One such white radical, the Bronx communist Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan), wrote this proxy protest song and persuaded the incomparable Billie Holiday, an actual Negro of all things, to perform it. On this landmark recording, Billie calmly sears a grisly indictment into our collective consciousness. Her "Strange Fruit" is the American equivalent of a liberated Nazi death camp through which townspeople were marched after World War II. We owe it to those lynched to periodically revisit this grim reminder of how short we've fallen of our national ideals. It will renew our commitment to justice for all.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Thermopylae

The Grand Guignol of Progressive Jazz, 24-year-old composer Bob Graettinger’s 3-minute nightmare is a musical vision of Hell. In 480 B.C. Thermopylae was the site of a bloodbath between 250,000 Persian invaders and 300 Spartan defenders. Graettinger evokes the carnage of hand-to-hand combat by unleashing a monumental maelstrom of unrelieved dissonance. The ensemble onslaught admits no solos, but lead altoist George Weidler swoops overhead like a bird of prey reconnoitering a fleshly smorgasbord. Coming just two years after the modern mayhem of World War II, "Thermopylae" was a grim reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Not for the fainthearted.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Farmer: Goodbye, Old Girl

Before concluding his early-1960s transition from trumpet to flugelhorn, Art Farmer set a goal for his swan song as a fulltime trumpeter: "I wanted it to sound as if I were sitting and talking to someone with the horn, talking to just one person." In doing so, he met the standard of eloquence defined 200 years earlier by Oliver Goldsmith: "True eloquence does not consist in saying great things in a sublime style, but in a simple style. To feel your subject thoroughly and to speak without fear are the only rules of eloquence." Wistfully, Art Farmer transforms an inane 1955 Broadway show tune from bill-and-coo tackiness to an uncommonly savvy expression of the hard-won wisdom of love's labors lost. Alas, more than love's labors were lost here. Despite its sonorous middle and lower registers, the flugelhorn's weak upper reaches are a handicap, and Farmer's playing would never again have the full range his trumpet afforded. Flügelhorn, it seems, is German for disappointment. "Goodbye, Old Girl" is American for gorgeous.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: East of the Sun

In 1949, pianist George Shearing committed jazz's cardinal sin: popularity. Building an appealing formula around closely voiced block chords and bracketing his keyboard with vibes and guitar, Shearing caressed the contours of a melody in relaxed, behind-the-beat unison, polishing medium-tempo standards to a perfect sheen. The public loved it. Therefore critics hated it. But open your ears for 3 minutes and let "East of the Sun" in. You'll be captivated by the care shown to dynamic shadings (a lost art in bebop) and by Shearing's shimmering ensembles, like church bells pealing amid the English countryside on a quiet summer morn.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker: Bernie's Tune

In Los Angeles during the summer of 1952, transplanted New Yorker Gerry Mulligan inaugurated a new era of West Coast jazz. The bright, upbeat music of his pianoless quartet with 22-year-old trumpet phenom Chet Baker was noticed even by Time magazine. Coming in the wake of what Time called "the frantic extremes of bop," Mulligan & Baker's melodicism, focused solos and thoughtful counterpoint, jostled along by Chico Hamilton’s nimbly brushed snare and firmly booted bass drum, made jazz listenable again. Their signature "Bernie's Tune," a brilliant conceptual breakthrough, has long outlived the movement for which it served as a template.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Haitian Fight Song


Charles Mingus,
by Herb Snitzer

It’s difficult not to think of that Volkswagen commercial as Charles Mingus reels off that familiar loop of bass notes 50 seconds into “Haitian Fight Song,” because the song does indeed feel like a car bearing down on the open road. But it’s much more than that. Mingus plucks alone, thoughtfully, for more than a minute, telling us this is serious business. At 1:04 a tambourine begins to shake, and at 1:10 Dannie Richmond first hits his cymbal and Jimmy Knepper begins blowing into the trombone. By 1:30 the groove is firmly established, and before the 2-minute mark the studio is erupting in celebratory squeals and bashes. And there’s still 10 minutes left in the song! The tempo slows, the tempo speeds up, the tempo slows again and marches and finds its groove once more. Yeah, it’s got great songwriting and solos, but listen closely: “Haitian Fight Song” is also a complete narrative. One might even call it aural history.

October 26, 2007 · 3 comments

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Duke Ellington: Diminuendo in Blue (and Crescendo in Blue)

The Duke Ellington Orchestra’s appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival made for one of the most legendary performances in the history of jazz. Paul Gonsalves’s 27-chorus solo on “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue,” as the festival was about to close, was so explosive that it nearly led to rioting. (Is this why alcohol is banned at the festival today?) Even now, more than 50 years later, the recording raises the hairs on the back of one’s neck. Twenty-seven choruses! And not a thought repeated. Throughout Gonsalves’s solo his fellow musicians and the audience can be heard egging him on with shouts of encouragement. The air was so charged that Ellington had to take the orchestra through a few quieter numbers to calm things down. The CD labels the track that follows “Announcements, Pandemonium.” After sitting – no, dancing – through Gonsalves’s firestorm, pandemonium was to be expected.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Poinciana

Whatever Keith Jarrett’s trio touches turns to gold. Even so, its 1999 recording of “Poinciana” from Paris shines brighter than most. It’s impossible to hear “Poinciana” without thinking of Ahmad Jamal, the pianist it is most often linked with, and Jarrrett’s trio wisely doesn’t try to disguise the association. Jack DeJohnette’s thoughtful, spacious percussion pattern immediately recalls the version Jamal did on tour in 1958. But a couple of minutes in, the moaning begins, and we are reminded that Jarrett is sitting on the bench. He excels at personalizing these upbeat numbers, and with “Poinciana” he is glorious, exploring all the nooks and crannies we never knew existed in the tune. His view of “Poinciana”’s possibilities is more expansive than Jamal’s, and so it grows in his hands.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Root Down

Once he had his fill of hard bop and soul jazz, Jimmy Smith turned his organ toward funk jazz for a while. “Root Down” and the rest of this album, taken from a 1972 concert at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, are the epitome of that effort. Arthur Adams’ funk licks and wah-wah pedal give the sound the extra kick it needs to grab the kids’ attention, and Wilton Felder’s electric bass – an instrument one might consider gratuitous given the Hammond B-3’s pedals – helps sustain the soul groove so Smith can focus on his keyboard laboratory, and indeed he solos through virtually the entire 12 minutes here. “Root Down” gained new currency in 1994 when the Beastie Boys used the recording as the basis for a rap song of the same title. More proof that Smith’s sound never gets old.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: The Sermon

“The Sermon” is a straight-ahead, 12-bar blues in which everyone solos. It also was the tune that proved, once and for all, that the organ is not a gimmick as a jazz instrument. If it were, it would be hard to sustain the listener’s interest for 20 minutes, which is precisely what the title track of The Sermon did, taking up all of side one of the original LP. Regardless of whether he’s soloing or comping behind his sidemen, Smith puts a lot of thought into his work. He begins right off with a playful solo that resorts to no cheap tricks – yes, he uses finger and thumb to fire away at a single F-sharp in rapid succession, but it makes sense and he doesn’t overdo it. Done with his own solo, he gets out of the way and lets everyone else at it. Twenty minutes later, the sermon is over and our spirit is fulfilled.

October 26, 2007 · 4 comments

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Count Basie: April in Paris

It’s almost May in Paris by the time the song concludes. Basie leads his band through two fake endings until finally bringing the song to its boisterous conclusion. Organist “Wild Bill” Davis contributed the arrangement, but never made it to the recording session. But the organ is not missed and the band swings with authority. Basie hit the pop charts with this now-famous performance, and kept the song in his repertoire for the rest of his career.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sun Ra: Nuclear War

Did Sun Ra really think he could get this song played on the radio? The same two bars and two chords repeated over and over for nearly eight minutes? Ra and his backup singers reciting FCC-unfriendly lyrics that contain a 12-word noun commonly heard in the R-rated films of Quentin Tarantino? The record is credited to the whole Arkestra, but only Sun Ra’s unadorned keyboard playing and Samarai Celestial’s slow-groove, disco-flavored drumming can be detected on this tune. The story goes that Sun Ra was dismayed that Columbia Records declined to issue the single. Yes, OK, “Nuclear War” is a tongue-in- cheek novelty record for grownups, but it’s also oddly infectious music. Hey, Yo La Tengo thought so. The indie-rock band recorded a long EP featuring four completely different versions of the song that are also worth checking out.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Brad Mehldau: Exit Music (For a Film)

It’s become as common these days for jazz musicians to play Radiohead as Rodgers & Hart. The whole thing started with this little gem smack dab in the middle of Brad Mehldau’s fourth major-label album. Mehldau himself has made a cottage industry out of covering Radiohead, but he has yet to outdo his first effort, on which he makes the minor-key ballad seem more at home in his hands than in Thom Yorke’s. It’s something between a dirge and a sonata, and Mehldau treats it with reverence, stating its theme fully before veering off into his own excursions. Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy provide the barest of accoutrements, which are all it needs.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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John Coltrane: Lonnie's Lament


      John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds

One of the saddest instrumental ballads on record, “Lonnie’s Lament” was the 12-minute climax of John Coltrane’s gorgeous 1964 album Crescent. Coltrane states the theme twice, his horn full of sorrow, as the rest of his quartet paints texture behind him. After the long introduction is done, Coltrane drops out as the rhythm section gets going, and it is pianist McCoy Tyner who takes the first real solo. Tyner improvises for several minutes, patiently building his solo, taking blocks away and reassembling then. Bassist Jimmy Garrison then takes a long, unaccompanied solo. Coltrane finally returns only to close the piece by restating the theme two more times. Never before had he said so much by playing so little.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Peter Brotzmann: Machine Gun

Machine Gun is the most frightening album in jazz. Hands down. It was in 1968, and it still is today. Only a few other albums even come close – there’s the unbearable tension of John Coltrane’s “Ascension,” the brute force of John Zorn’s Spy vs. Spy and of course six or seven other Brotzmann records. But this one shows no mercy at all. It doesn’t swing. There’s no melody. There’s no rhythm. It’s pure emotion – Peter Brotzmann blowing the hell out of his horn, two drummers bashing the skins and cymbals senseless, Fred Van Hove beating the life out of the piano. It’s a 15-minute expression of frustration and anger. Is it an antiwar statement? It must be, but it’s hard to know for certain. What we do know is that it scares the bejesus out of us, every time.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Night Train

To these ears, this version of “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” – or “Night Train,” whatever you want to call it – is the finest thing Oscar Peterson ever immortalized on vinyl. The midtempo boogie is a dream of a jazz trio performance. It swings, it’s got a great melody, and the musicians play with understated elegance. Peterson wrests some heartfelt blues expressions out of the piano, and his glissandos make you want to shout. Ray Brown – the consummate sideman – walks the bass up and down, while Ed Thigpen swings lightly on the drums. The interplay is seamless; these guys play like one brain controlling six arms. Go ahead and try to find a smoother ride from a trio than “Night Train.”

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano: Body and Soul

Many critics will argue that Joe Lovano’s From the Soul is one of the great albums of the 1990s. Am I among them? You bet. Taking on “Body and Soul” is not for the faint of heart. A saxophonist gets one crack at addressing that standard bearer of jazz compositions, and in the process can ascend to greatness, make a fool of himself or, worse, fail to make an impression. “From the Soul” was a quartet date with pianist Michel Petrucciani, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Ed Blackwell (talk about an all-star cast), but Holland and Blackwell sat this tune out, bringing the tender exchanges between sax and piano to the forefront. The two musicians circle each other like dancers entwined, thoughts overlapping and complementing. They are leading each other, but never too forcefully, and neither feels like the lesser half of the duo.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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David S. Ware: The Way We Were

The sappy pop hit “The Way We Were” may seem like an odd platform for the free jazz saxophonist David S. Ware, but Ware was an odd signing for a mainstream label like Columbia. Ware’s quartet never eases into a song. Instead the group twists and turns and struggles to settle into it the way a fat man squeezes his body into a too-small airplane seat. Matthew Shipp pounds out chords, bassist William Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra brew up a storm, and Ware blows thunderbolts out of his sax; somewhere in the middle of it all you can almost make out the faint outline of the melody. For nearly 15 minutes they circle around it, just about touching it at times, and then they pull away, off on their own excursions again. It’s tough business when Ware’s quartet gets to work on a familiar tune. It’ll also blow your mind.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: Elysium

Seven notes from Branford Marsalis’s tenor sax – seven notes – announce “Elysium,” the seventh of which is joined by the piano, bass and drum. Then a squeal – and a swirl of chaos from all four musicians. This is just the beginning. Marsalis’s 16-minute composition is a tour de force of contemporary jazz – not smooth jazz, mind you; the album title is a stick in the eye to those who try to categorize. Marsalis then launches into a wild solo that has him playing against the super-fast 5/4 time put down by the rhythm section. The bridge – or is it the chorus? – induces whiplash with its speed-up-then-abruptly-slow-down mechanism. Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts is phenomenal throughout this mind-bending journey. One has to wonder how many takes it took the quartet to get this complex tune right. It couldn’t have been one. Could it?

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Cool Eyes

Six Pieces of Silver marks the hard-bop pianist’s arrival as a legitimate bandleader and bop composer. Assembled from most of the 1956 Jazz Messengers (all except Hayes were in Blakey’s group), the record is filled with well-received tunes, especially “Senor Blues” and “Cool Eyes.” While “Senor Blues” may have been the most popular track, “Cool Eyes,” the quintet’s set closer, is chosen here to represent Silver’s compositional skills. Note the “variation-on-a-theme” aspect of the intricate melody, and the “eight-bar unison interludes” that connect the solos, as pointed out by Leonard Feather in the original liner notes. Excellent composition and performance.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Don Byron: A Mural from Two Perspectives

Since he was named “Jazz Artist of the Year” by Down Beat in 1992 after the release of his debut album, The Tuskegee Experiments, Don Byron has been releasing consistently appealing and stylistically diverse jazz recordings. Although he has recently recorded on tenor saxophone, he is primarily known as the foremost modern jazz clarinetist, and his musical output and political infusion make for a fascinating 15-year discography. On this track, a Duke Ellington composition, all four musicians are in fine form, and Frisell’s inimitable comping and DeJohnette’s conversational drumming allow for Gress and Byron to excel during their solo sections.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Delilah

Brown & Roach hitch the Biblical temptress’ slithery theme from Victor Young’s score for C.B. (Cast of Thousands!) DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) to the indigo mood of Duke Ellington’s "Caravan," featuring Max’s mallets and Clifford’s cup mute. Their salute to the patron saint of barbers then swings
into 4/4, as Max switches to sticks, Clifford opens his horn and tenorman Harold Land takes to the air.
Mr. DeMille, we are ready for the pillars to be pulled down. Delilahtful!

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Twisted

In 1952, Annie Ross's hip vocalese narrative of a crazy chick and her outmatched shrink, set to tenorman Wardell Gray's 1949 "Twisted," was marred by cheesy organ backing. In 1959, the "hottest new group in jazz," as Down Beat dubbed vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, redid "Twisted" sans organ, and nailed it. Striking a blow for mental health by refusing to listen to her analyst's jive, twisted sister Annie Ross wittily punctures the pseudoscientific claptrap of psychoanalysis, which was big in 1950s America. If Freud hadn't died twenty years earlier, he would've been driven ineluctably, irretrievably mad upon hearing "Twisted." Roll over, Sigmund, and tell Alfred Adler the news: Two heads are better than one. And three heads, in the persons of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, are best of all.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Miles Davis: Jean-Pierre


    Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

The year 1981 marked the return of Miles Davis after a six-year hiatus. We Want Miles is a collection of live performances that took place just after the recording of Miles’s first post-retirement release, The Man with the Horn. These live tracks are interesting entries into the Miles discography. He is rarely soloing throughout the disc, leaving space for the other band members to take on co-leading roles. On the Miles composition “Jean-Pierre,” Marcus Miller and Al Foster are creating an effective interlocking groove throughout, but the sure highlight is one of Mike Stern’s finest guitar solos captured on record.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Russell: Concerto for Billy the Kid

Every important theorist needs a worthy practitioner. The collaboration between composer George Russell and pianist Bill Evans began in 1955, and soon struck pay dirt with Russell’s “frame to match the vigor and vitality” in Evans’s playing. "Vigor and vitality" may puzzle those who know Evans only by his later, introspective work, but “Concerto for Billy the Kid” more than justifies Russell's adjectives. The band is stellar and Art Farmer's solo is characteristically fine. But Russell's advanced modal writing focuses on Evans, who flawlessly executes a difficult passage in octaves and then delivers a long, muscular single-note solo. Dazzling stuff.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mose Allison: Parchman Farm

White Soul Jazz might seem oxymoronic, but in 1956 when singer/pianist Mose Allison cropped up in New York City from the Mississippi Delta, he brought eyesight to the blind. His wry prison work song “Parchman Farm” (“Well, I’m puttin’ that cotton in 11-foot sack / With a 12-gauge shotgun at my back”) made believers even of citified Yankees who wouldn’t know an 11-foot sack from the Jolly Green Giant’s leotard. When the Lord decreed “Go, fetch me Mose’s soul,” He weren’t kidding around.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Autumn Leaves (1959 - take two)

Four years after Roger Williams’s vertiginously arpeggiated #1 hit, Bill Evans redid “Autumn Leaves” with vertigo supplied by his sideman. This session marked the recording debut of Evans's startlingly original trio featuring Scott LaFaro, the Earl Scruggs of acoustic bass. The interplay between Evans and LaFaro is astounding, but so is the robustness of Evans's playing. Weighing in at the tail end of 1959, this came just in time to stand as the decade's finest jazz piano trio recording.

Caveat: In 1960, without explanation, Riverside simultaneously released Take 1 (5:54) on the stereo LP and a shorter, superior Take 2 (5:19) on the otherwise identical mono LP, spawning decades of confusion. As recently as 2001, for its newly remastered 20-bit A/D converter with digital K2 interface (whatever that means) CD reissue, Riverside compounded the confusion by listing Take 2's timing as 3:19 instead of 5:19, as if such matters were too trivial to get straight. Lord have mercy!

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Flamenco Sketches


       Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

After hearing Bill Evans's remarkable “Peace Piece” (1958) for solo piano, Miles Davis re-upped his ex-sideman for two sessions that yielded Kind of Blue. Refashioning Evans's Satiesque ostinato, Miles overlays a revolving series of five scales evoking what Jelly Roll Morton called "the Spanish tinge," something Davis had explored on Miles Ahead (1957) and would again a few months later on his
Sketches of Spain. With gloriously lucid solos all around (especially Coltrane's), “Flamenco Sketches” lasts 9½ minutes, but you want it to go on forever. Which is precisely how long this breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece of modern jazz will live. Forever.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bill Evans: Young and Foolish

At largo pace, with minimal flourish and maximal feeling, Bill Evans transforms a 1955 Broadway show tune into a deeply moving experience, quite unlike the florid, superficial prettiness of conventional jazz piano balladry. Evans strips the melody of unnecessary decoration, introduces delicate harmonic hues derived from Chopin, Debussy and Satie, and allows his piano to sing. This gets our vote for Most Beautiful Modern Jazz Piano Performance of All Time. As Miles Davis, who seldom had a good word to say about anyone, allowed of Evans in a cover testimonial: "He plays the piano the way it should be played.”

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Tangerine

Between 1952 and 1958, the Brubeck Quartet released 537 albums, of which 402 were recorded live. OK, so it was only 12 of 16, but that's still a lot and still 75% live—many on campus, where wildly enthusiastic audiences of (how shall we put this?) unseasoned jazz fans cheered the group's clumsy attempts to swing. By 1958, however, Joe Morello had snared the drum chair (sorry), and wild enthusiasm was now justified. On this track, recorded off-campus in Copenhagen, Desmond delivers a superlative 4½-minute solo, after which Brubeck embarks on the kind of polyrhythmic safari that left his previous drummers foundering; newcomer Morello is unfazed. Desmond returns to slyly swap paraphrases with Joe of "La Cumparsita," then carries the ball alone over a stop-time chorus. When the entire group reenters, it's so thrilling even the Danes lose their cool.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Take Five

Columbia Records balked when Brubeck proposed an entire album in odd time signatures. Even Paul Desmond considered it "a dubious idea," but complied with Dave's request to write something in 5/4. Dave unified the two fragments Paul brought in and, keeping it simple, made the experiment fun. Assisted by Guinness (the beer, not the World Records), we determined that Dave plays a steady 2-chord vamp 162 times, even behind Joe Morello's unfettered drum solo. Released as an abbreviated single in 1961, "Take Five" became the first million-selling modern jazz hit, a landmark at the intersection between jazz and pop culture.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Late in life, Lester Young was asked if any of the myriad younger musicians who copied his style had ever thanked him. "No," said the tenor sax giant, "none have." Which makes this tribute all the more poignant, for no jazzman could have been less like Lester than Charles Mingus. Pres was cool, ethereal, pithy and wistful. Mingus was fiery, earthy, caustic and withering. Yet on an album paying homage to such greats as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, Mingus also provides this gentle, loving requiem to Lester. Mingus said it for us all. Thank you, Pres.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Carlos 'Patato' Valdes: Ingrato Corazon

This Verve record features another all-star cast that presents a rich tableau of Afro-Cuban offerings. Joining the conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes is co-leader, vocalist Eugenio “Totico” Arango, tres player Arsenio Rodriguez, and the legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. These musicians celebrate the sacred and secular roots of Afro-Cuban jazz with an album full of quintessential rumba tracks. “Ingrato Corazon” is a high-energy ensemble piece with solos by Rodriguez and “Patato,” but featuring the improvisatory vocals of “Totico,” backed by the members of the band singing a refrain in the traditional call-and-response format.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Sandu

From his recording debut on March 21, 1952 to his tragic death on June 26, 1956, Clifford Brown executed some of the most remarkably crafted improvisations in jazz history. Most of these classic performances occurred when Brown formed a partnership with Roach in November, 1953 that lasted until the trumpeter’s death. The early 1955 sessions that became known as Study in Brown feature many classic Brownie/Roach performances, most notably “Cherokee” and “Jacqui.” Brown's classic composition "Sandu" features brilliant improvisational phrasing in the transitions from swung eighths to straight sixteenths throughout his solo.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: A Seeking Spirit

You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Dave Holland’s quintet play “A Seeking Spirit” in concert. The next best thing is listening to this version, a recording that is the quintessential example of modern jazz. It’s extremely potent music that builds and builds until it’s about to blow its top. How can a quintet featuring trombone and vibraphone get this funky? How can it marry so many influences? We hear the American jazz aesthetic here, and we hear the Caribbean. The tune is played mostly in 10/8, yet it feels so easy and natural. Early on, the theme is stated by Steve Nelson’s vibraphone (note that he was playing marimba at first) while the other guys solo. Later, saxophonist Chris Potter and trombonist Robin Eubanks state the melody so Nelson can solo. In between, no one is stating the melody and yet everyone is referring to it. You can only shake your head when feel-good jazz is this mature and sophisticated.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Black Hole

Dave Holland led the session, and Steve Coleman wrote the tune, but “Black Hole” is Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s showcase. The drummer claims the spotlight here, turning every measure into an opportunity to solo, no matter how subtly. The tune starts in 13/8 and then moves from one time signature to another – this would be a hallmark of Holland for years to come. Keeping up with the changes must have been no small feat, and these guys did it as though they were on automatic. All four men deserve accolades for their work on “Black Hole” – Eubanks’s searing final solo makes you want to learn to play electric guitar – but Smith lays down one of the most dazzling displays a drummer has ever put to record. A student of drumming could study these 10 minutes for months on end.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: You Don’t Know What Love Is

Cassandra Wilson’s ascension to successful musical iconoclast may trouble those who belabor the question of what is jazz, but that’s another discussion. Wilson’s evolving style works for me, and Brandon Ross’s arrangement of this Raye/DePaul standard is stark and deep. Elements of folk and blues are certainly here, but so are the chords and lyrics to one of the darkest of jazz tunes. Just hearing this evokes the spirit of Lady Day, and while Wilson has a unique sound, I do hear a little Betty Carter in this performance.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden & Hank Jones: Steal Away

As a jazz performance, this cut will have its detractors. These two giants simply play this Negro spiritual straight up. While I sense little improvisation in this reading, the reverence Haden and Jones display for this plaintive tune draws this listener in. Legend and some historical research claim the piece to have been written by Nat Turner himself, which brings even more weight to its somber tone.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marcus Roberts: I Remember You (1991)

There is something about a beautiful melody played with economy, empathy and respect that snaps me to attention more than any other sound in jazz. This Mercer/Schertzinger song saw its premiere in the Dorothy Lamour/Bob Eberly movie The Fleet’s In (1942). Roberts’s treatment borders on a playful reverence that neither showboats nor enshrines this classic. His use of space and harp-like embellishments make this sound improvised without overly altering the basic structure of the piece. It could bring a wistful tear to the eyes of some saps I know.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Something Sweet, Something Tender


Eric Dolphy, artwork by Michael Symonds

Eric Dolphy stands alone in the jazz pantheon. There I said it! While there is no shortage of iconoclasts in the music, few turn my head like Dolphy. This piece, from his last recording just months before his tragic death, is a shining example of that uniqueness. It’s more like jazz chamber music than the blues, and the choice of players and their placement really shows off his compositional genius.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Joe Lovano: New York Fascination

“New York Fascination” was written for a Jazz at Lincoln Center commission, as were two other pieces on this disc. Holland and Lovano first met in the 1970s at Sam Rivers’s Studio Rivbea, while Jones and the saxophonist became acquainted working alongside each other during Joe’s formative years in Cleveland. The palpable simpatico these players display towards each other and the compact structure of the tune make for some joyful listening.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Along Came Betty


    Art Blakey at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Golson’s composition with its simple yet haunting line swings right out of the box. This quintessential Blakey lineup finesses the head and all its subtleties, setting up Morgan’s entrance and understated trumpet solo. The composer’s tenor follows, addressing the changes with more fire than his predecessor, while the rhythm section is rock solid underneath. Timmons seems a little sedate as his solo leads us back to a final statement of the theme.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chucho Valdez: You Don’t Know What Love Is

As one of the most seminal figures in Latin jazz, pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdes has been at the forefront of Latin American music innovation for over forty years. A founding member of Irakere, Valdes is one of three in a family of Cuban pianists (along with his father, Bebo, and son, “Chuchito”). This Blue Note album features reinterpretations of Cuban and American jazz standards. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is arranged as a mambo, layered with polyrhythms and showcasing Valdes’s pianistic talent, along with an alto saxophone solo by Roman Filiu O'Reilly. Even the definition of mambo is challenged as the group settles into a funk-rock groove as the track progresses.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mongo Santamaria: Watermelon Man

“Watermelon Man” was an enormously successful hit for both Mongo Santamaria and its composer, Herbie Hancock. The trumpet player, Marty Sheller, plays the only solo in a song that features a groove-oriented melody in an arrangement favoring more Latin percussion than the Hancock original. This song anticipated the bugalu movement in Latin jazz that would take hold later in the 1960s. Bugalu (or boogaloo) incorporated elements of Cuban and Puerto Rican music, as well as American soul and R&B.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Oleo

Miles Davis first recorded "Oleo" in 1954 with its composer Sonny Rollins on tenor. Two years later, Miles was leading the era's most arresting quintet, built around a good cop/bad cop routine where, after Miles softened you up, Coltrane zeroed in for the kill. Revisiting "Oleo," Miles's improved arrangement features a distinctive Jones-Garland rhythmic figure and trumpet solos sandwiching terrific turns by Coltrane and Red. Trane's sound is as sharply honed as a Japanese kitchen knife advertised on late-night TV, slicing through rebar the way an ordinary knife slides through butter. Or, make that Oleo. Act now—supplies are limited!

October 25, 2007 · 2 comments

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Miles Davis: Deception


           Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Art Blakey and
      Bud Powell at Birdland
, photo by Marcel Fleiss

As its title hints, "Deception" (1950) is based on George Shearing's "Conception" (1949). Adding a 6-bar pedal point, Miles ingeniously extends Shearing's 44-bar structure to an equally unusual 50 bars. Gerry Mulligan's arrangement features a sea-change solo by J.J. Johnson, who modernized jazz trombone by subduing the instrument's traditional bluster while meticulously expanding its technique. Davis, though, was the linchpin of this band, validating Gil Evans's observation that Miles was ideal for Birth of the Cool because, alone among bebop's star soloists, Miles could sublimate ego and coalesce with the ensemble. "Deception" is legendary legerdemain by magicians of modern jazz.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Conception

Smack in the middle of his self-described "four-year horror show" of heroin addiction, and a year after disguising George Shearing's "Conception" (1949) as "Deception" (1950) for Birth of the Cool, Miles restored its original title but retained the six bars he'd appended to Shearing's tune. George cheerfully quipped that Miles was "a master of playing the wrong bridge." But there was something more troubling here than the bridge. The 21-year-old Rollins's unfocused solo can be ascribed to growing pains, but Davis at 25 was an established star whose uncertain, aimless solo renders this track a cautionary portrait of heroin's debilitation.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Moon Dreams


Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

Miles Davis once studied a Gil Evans chart "for days, trying to find the note I heard" when superimposed chords produced a mysterious overtone. Miles decided the note "didn’t even exist.” Here, after a passage ascends seamlessly from tuba through baritone through alto, Lee Konitz sustains a high note as the other instruments fall away. In the moment before Miles reenters, there's a faint sound that may be a squeak from Lee’s reed, a tape glitch, or perhaps a phantom Gil Evans overtone. This uncertainty contributes to the eeriness of “Moon Dreams,” among the most haunting orchestrations in jazz history.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Betty Carter: Lover Man (1993)

Betty Carter’s final 10 years brought her uncompromising style to Verve records and a wider audience. Her unorthodox treatment of this Ram Ramirez standard shows she hadn’t budged from her iconoclastic ways. She is the primary soloist over the ostinato figures the band delivers throughout. The amazing swing of this ensemble is unquestioned, but it’s a staid performance for the most part. Not a weak track, per se, but overshadowed by the ‘Fire’ of the rest of this live recording.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

This tasteful pairing should have been documented long before these 1996 sessions. Both players have staked out significant terrain as unique instrumentalists and composers. Metheny from his early days with Gary Burton through his successful group outings as a leader, and Haden’s work as part of Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking ensemble and beyond, need little introduction to most jazz fans. The addition of synclavier orchestration and some guitar overdubs make this almost a solo track were it not for Haden’s subtle supportive bass.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Inner Urge

As soon as Joe Henderson moved to New York in 1962 after a stint in the U.S. Army, he became one of the busiest men in jazz. He performed with Kenny Dorham from 1962-63, with Horace Silver from 1964-66, and was featured as a sideman on many of Blue Note’s most revered records of the 1960s, from Idle Moments to Black Fire to The Sidewinder. He is even more well-known, however, for his widespread solo efforts. The 12-minute “Inner Urge” (backed by half of Coltrane’s quartet) provides listeners with a comprehensive lesson on Henderson’s melodic (motivic) development during his improvisations.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Dance Cadaverous

After an extended run with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (alongside trumpeter Lee Morgan) from 1959 to 1964, Shorter quickly became involved in another long run as a member of the legendary Miles Davis Quintet with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. In 1964, the year of transition between these two groups, Shorter amazingly recorded three landmark solo recordings: Night Dreamer, Juju and Speak No Evil. This chromatically structured Shorter original comes from Speak No Evil, featuring an all-star cast of musicians performing a set of Shorter compositions. Note the extensive use of polyrhythm in solos by Hancock and Shorter.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana (1958)

Written by Nat Simon and Buddy Bernier, “Poinciana” ranks among the loveliest upbeat numbers in the jazz canon. Pianist Ahmad Jamal popularized it, and it is perfect for Jamal’s spare, pensive style. It appears midway through the first disc of the two-CD set “Cross Country Tour,” but it actually closed his first set at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago and surely sent the crowd floating out of the room. All three musicians give the tune plenty of bounce and plenty of space. Vernel Fournier barely taps the drums, and Israel Crosby skips down the neck of the bass like a child running home from school. Jamal, for his part, gently massages the keys, drawing prettiness out. Just when you think he’s going to conclude a thought, he doesn’t, and his reticence makes it all the lovelier.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)

Quite possibly the most famous non-Latino Latin jazz musician, vibraphonist Cal Tjader recorded a very popular remake of Dizzy Gillespie’s and Chano Pozo’s “Guarachi Guaro” (or "Guachi Guaro" as Tjader calls it). Tjader’s band featured a style of Latin jazz that was more subdued than some of his contemporaries, although on this track the stellar cast of musicians—including percussionists Johnny Rae, Armando Peraza and Willie Bobo—pay homage to the song’s composers with a very lively performance. Lonnie Hewitt’s piano vamp may remind listeners of a similar one featured in Tito Puente’s song, “Oye Como Va.” Tjader’s virtuosity is at the forefront of this track—another great, groove-oriented bugalu of the early 1960s.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Arsenio Rodriguez: Adivinalo

The contributions of Arsenio Rodriguez, the Cuban tres player and composer, to the development of Latin jazz have long been underappreciated. Rodriguez’s band featured innovative music, rooted in the Afro-Cuban tradition, without which modern Latin jazz and salsa would have been much different. This track is part of a compilation from Rodriguez’s best music. “Adivinalo” features trumpet and piano improvisations relying on chromaticism and “modern” jazz harmony. Along with Rodriguez, several other musicians who would become integral to the development of Latin jazz are on this album, including trumpeters Felix Chappotin and “Chocolate” Armenteros, and pianist Luis “Lili” Martinez. The percussion section drives this piece, which definitely captures the power of the Afro-Cuban tradition.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chico O’Farrill: Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite

Chico O’Farrill, an important Latin jazz pioneer, achieved success as a bandleader, composer and arranger. O’Farrill was also a trumpet player, and this extended composition features that instrument -- and was recorded several times, including versions with Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie as the soloist. This recording, overseen by Norman Granz for Verve Records, captures O’Farrill’s band at the pinnacle of its sound in the early 1950s. In addition to work with his own band, O’Farrill is responsible for many arrangements played by the Machito, Gillespie and Kenton bands. The “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite” is one of O’Farrill’s masterpieces.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto: Só Danço Samba

A lesser known track from a very famous album, “Só Danço Samba” features an excellent saxophone solo by Stan Getz, who was integral in popularizing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim in the United States. This is Jobim’s composition (he also plays piano on this recording), with lyrics by the Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes, sung here by the guitarist Joao Gilberto. The mood of the song is ebullient and playful, capturing the unique swing in Brazilian bossa nova. The interaction between the musicians produces a magical result on what became one of the most successful jazz albums of all time.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bill Frisell: We're Not From Around Here

Bill Frisell’s wide-ranging musical tastes have led him to produce some of the most exciting jazz recordings of the last few decades. A Jim Hall disciple who spent his early years as ECM’s house guitarist, Frisell has thrived on creating music historically rooted in jazz while incorporating instrumentation and repertoire somewhat atypical to jazz. A prime example is Nashville, his country-influenced record that won the Down Beat Critic’s Poll in 1998. This 12-bar-blues displays Frisell’s interactive/swinging approach to working with Jerry Douglas, one of the world’s foremost dobro players. Inventive music from one of jazz’s most creative thinkers.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Machito: Tanga

Written by Mario Bauza, the musician who brought Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo together, “Tanga” is a forgotten classic, which predated and anticipated the partnership of Afro-Cuban music and jazz that took place in the Gillespie and Kenton bands, among others. Joining the band as a guest soloist is the jazz tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, who improvises over a repeating pattern played by the rest of the band. This manner of improvisation continues to be the norm for Afro-Cuban music, but at the time it would have been quite challenging for an American jazz musician. Nonetheless, Phillips gives a convincing performance, fitting in comfortably with the Machito Orchestra.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Manteca (live 1948)


                Dizzy Gillespie at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Often regarded as the quintessential representation of Latin jazz, “Manteca” was innovative among contemporary compositions for the heightened level of synthesis between Afro-Cuban music and American jazz. Introduced to Afro-Cuban music by trumpeter/composer Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie sought to explore the music with his big band, adding the Cuban conguero Chano Pozo in September 1947. Until his untimely and mythic demise just over a year later, Chano Pozo made an indelible mark on both the jazz and Latin American music worlds. This track contrasts sections of more percussion-driven, rhythmically complex Afro-Cuban passages with passages that are more akin to the melodic and harmonic conventions of American jazz.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Caravan (1937)

Ellington’s early contribution to the Latin jazz canon is a collaboration with valve trombonist Juan Tizol. “Caravan” combines the Afro-Cuban practice of elaboration over a repeating vamp section, and the American jazz tradition of passages with more harmonic variety. In this case, in the middle section Ellington references the oft-employed harmonic progression from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” to contrast to the first theme, which is driven by a more rhythmic feel. Tizol continued to work as trombonist and collaborative composer in Ellington’s band for years to come, and the enormously popular “Caravan” stayed in Ellington’s repertoire for his entire career.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Luiz Bonfá: Manhã De Carnaval

Another recording whose popularity begat a resurgence of public interest in Latin American music, “Manhã De Carnaval ,” the theme song from the movie Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), helped pave the way for bossa nova to take flight with the American public. This composition, sometimes known in English as "A Day in the Life of a Fool," has become part of the jazz canon, having been recorded countless times; however, this is the track in its original form. Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá co-wrote the score for the film, which is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale from Greek mythology. The movie’s award-winning success and widespread popularity ignited the careers of the composers in America and worldwide.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Four Winds

Dave Holland said the inspiration for his album Conference of the Birds came from the birds that gathered outside his London apartment early in the morning, and you can hear it in the music. The opener, “Four Winds,” is a high-flying number that has the saxophones of Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton fluttering above the frenetic interplay of Holland’s bass and Barry Altschul’s stick work. Things move so fast it’s hard to imagine how anyone kept track of the tempo here. Conference of the Birds is Holland’s masterpiece, and it was his debut as a leader! This may be the most auspicious freshman effort in the history of jazz.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: The Peanut Vendor (alternative review)

A Cuban song that was the USA's first Latin crossover hit (1931) gets a facelift from the much-maligned Stan Kenton. Love him or loathe him, Kenton was one of jazz's great showmen, the C.B. (Cast of Thousands!) DeMille of big bands. Over a constantly repeated 2-chord vamp, trombonist Milt Bernhart and a fantastic trumpet section led by Buddy Childers make "The Peanut Vendor" the most thrilling entry in the Ofay-Cuban jazz sweepstakes. Skeptics are advised to turn up the volume and be prepared to levitate. (Not recommended while driving; may set off airbags or other passive restraint systems.) Viva vendedor!

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: The Peanut Vendor (1947)

More well known that the first popular American version recorded by Don Azpiazu’s Orchestra in 1931, this arrangement was the beginning of Kenton’s lifelong commitment to the exploration of Afro-Cuban music. Both the Azpiazu and Kenton renditions of this song, which celebrates the life of the pregonero (street vendor), were hugely popular in their respective eras. Because the Kenton band was already highly regarded, his recording reached a wider American audience. One of the most distinctive features of this track is the hypnotic repetition of the background—very common in Afro-Cuban music, but not in American jazz—over which soloists and percussionists elaborate and improvise varying patterns.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: Steps - What Was

After early recordings with trumpeter Blue Mitchell and a tour with Stan Getz, Corea recorded his first trio session in early 1968, complete with Latin-influenced original compositions and collective improvisations. “Steps-What Was,” the near 14-minute tour-de-force opening of the record, has garnered the reputation as the pinnacle of rhythmic interaction in the jazz trio setting. Corea’s cerebral approach is complemented by Haynes’ constant spreading of the rhythm and pioneering use of the flat-ride cymbal. The theme presented in the second half (“What Was”) looks forward to a later Corea classic, his much admired “Spain.” Three masters at their best.

October 24, 2007 · 2 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Driftin'

Recorded approximately one month after his 22nd birthday, Takin’ Off marks Herbie Hancock’s first album as a leader for Blue Note Records. The collection of legendary musicians performing the first complete set of original compositions from an emerging jazz mastermind creates a palpable energy throughout the session. A mid-tempo 32-bar tune, "Driftin’" features a slightly mellowed yet intensely melodic flugelhorn solo by Hubbard, and Higgins’ relaxed cross-stick groove. Hancock takes an extended two-chorus solo, where he already brilliantly balances intricate rhythmic syncopation and metric modulation with a straight-ahead blues foundation. An outstanding introduction to a world-renowned career.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Poses

Jazz musicians have traditionally turned to pop music for vehicles for instrumental improvisation. Today’s progressives, however, are no longer looking to Gershwin or Porter, but to the music of groups such as the Beatles, Bjork and Radiohead, establishing new standards for a new generation. Dave Douglas’s sparse arrangement of Rufus Wainwright’s “Poses” stands out as one of the most moving performances of recent years. His trumpet nods to Wainwright’s pleasantly lazy vocal as he glides tenderly through the melody. Douglas establishes himself as the premier trumpet melodist of his time with an emotionally stirring performance that is rarely matched in its beauty.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Delfeayo's Dilemma

On Black Codes, then 23-year-old Wynton Marsalis shakes the all-too-apparent influences of his earlier years to expand on his developing, signature style. Unlike his previous recordings, Marsalis relies less heavily on technical virtuosity and more on his darkened tone and lyrical delivery. He flexes his compositional muscles as well, with six of the seven tracks coming from his pen. The rest of the group is in superb form, with inspired solos and intense, sympathetic interaction throughout. This is an important recording in the Marsalis discography, one which showcases the trumpeter during his formative years.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson (featuring Freddie Hubbard): People Make the World Go ‘Round

Creed Taylor’s CTI label is often given the dubious distinction of spawning Smooth Jazz in the 1970s with its sometimes overbearing studio production and excessively lush orchestrations. Regardless, the label signed jazz’s brightest stars to its roster and generated some of the finest jazz-funk tracks ever recorded. CTI struck a balance between the creative and the marketable, presenting highly artistic and sophisticated jazz with sexy, slick commercial appeal. Freddie Hubbard, one of CTI’s most recorded stars, is at his bluesiest on this earthy, funky cut. The groove is infectious and listeners will find themselves inspired for repeated listenings.

October 24, 2007 · 2 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970)

Jazz purists prefer to remember Hubbard for his Art Blakey sideman days or his Blue Note performances, but his work for Creed Taylor’s CTI label has held up well with the passing years. “Red Clay” finds Hubbard testing the waters of the jazz-rock fusion style, so popular in the early 1970s. The trumpeter never enjoyed the crossover success of Herbie Hancock (who joins on electric piano here), but his fiery trumpet stylings made him a natural for the jazz-rock genre. The band is top-notch, the groove is irresistible, and Hubbard, 31 years old when he made this date, was at the peak of his powers.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Escape Velocity

Woody Shaw is one of the great overlooked trumpeters in jazz history. He bridged the gap between hard bop and the avant-garde, intently applying the harmonic inventions of John Coltrane to the trumpet. Shaw assembled one of the greatest post-bop groups in the late-1970s, and his men proved jazz had never died during this engagement at the famous Village Vanguard. Cerebral yet passionate, Shaw burns throughout this solo and inspires his band to follow suit. His intensity never wanes, and listeners will be awed by the complexity and density of his harmonic excursions.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: Look for the Silver Lining (1954)


  Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds

Chet Baker was to singing what Marilyn Monroe was to acting. His vocals had the same naturalness, limited range, vulnerability and come-hither charisma as early Marilyn. If you remember the long-running (but alas now retired) intro to Turner Classic Movies' Sunny Side of Life features on cable that carried Chet's "Look For the Silver Lining" on the soundtrack, then you already have a soft spot for this track. Admittedly, considering the heroin-gorged shambles of Baker's personal life, his singing “A heart full of joy and gladness / Will always banish sadness and strife” is a tad more irony than the market will bear. Nevertheless, his wistful optimism carries the day. Forget Chet's backstory. Relish the music.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: My Funny Valentine (1952)

Trumpeter Chet Baker was and will forever be the poster boy for West Coast cool jazz. His introverted, plaintive tone and relaxed, lyrical style was strikingly different from his fiery contemporaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. Baker’s treatment of “My Funny Valentine,” painfully romantic and hauntingly beautiful, thrust him atop the trumpet polls in 1952. His humble interpretation of the melody creates an extraordinarily intimate atmosphere, compelling listeners to hold their breath in fear of creating the slightest disturbance. One of the most captivating and magical ballad performances in all of jazz.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Moanin'

For decades, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was a breeding ground for hard-bop talent. Countless numbers of future superstars honed their skills and cut their teeth in the drummer’s powerfully swinging group. 20-year-old Lee Morgan replaced Bill Hardman in 1958 and made a startling initial impression on “Moanin,’” the opening track from his first recording with the Messengers. Undoubtedly one of the greatest trumpet solos of the modern era, Morgan’s famous, brilliantly self-assured opening exclamation solidified his status as the next great trumpet hero. With his crisp and funky licks in the ‘A’ sections contrasted by elongated, linear phrases over the bridges, Morgan’s improvisation is not only astounding in content but in its structure as well. Displaying brilliance well beyond his years, the young trumpeter’s pomposity and dazzling technique is balanced by his strong blues sensibility and fluid lyricism. This crucial hard-bop classic is absolutely essential to any jazz collection.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: What is This Thing Called Love

Clifford Brown had it all—all the range a trumpeter could wish for, a powerful and rich tone and infallible technique. He was as fiery at breakneck tempos as he was tender on ballads. Tragically, he had not yet realized his full potential when he died in a car accident at the age of 25. Brown is heard here at his peak, explosive yet under constant control. His lines unfold effortlessly and cohesively with natural momentum and his ideas are projected with unparalleled clarity. A true gem and a necessity for any jazz enthusiast.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson: Just One of Those Things

Peterson’s fleet fingers dance through a short intro leading to Armstrong’s usual laid-back vocal. The casualness of same should not distract the listener from the acute musicality of Pops’s performance. This finesse follows through his solo turn as well. Composer Cole Porter’s importance to the jazz repertoire is borne out again in this 4+ minutes of joy.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Rosa Passos: Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar

Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos teams with Ron Carter, whose longstanding affiliation with bossa nova makes for a memorable collaboration. Much of Passos's work celebrates the compositions of the great Brazilian bossa nova composers, as in this track. Paying homage to Joao Gilberto, with echoes of Shirley Horn, Passos delivers a lovely treatment of this lesser-known Jobim ballad. Galvao's inventive arrangement highlights Drewes's tastefully understated clarinet work. Carter's responsive support and Galvao's chordal accompaniment provide the perfect platform for the passionate vocal part, which is one of Vinicius de Moraes's best lyrics.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sal Mosca: Sweet Lorraine

A student of Lennie Tristano and a highly regarded teacher in his own right, Sal Mosca performs here shortly after his 65th birthday. This track from a live 1992 performance highlights Mosca's ability to reinvigorate jazz standards. Mosca's treatment of this 1928 Mitchell Paris composition features his stride playing, with interpolations of harmonic exploration. The improvisation never ventures too far from the melody, with frequent quotes that often evolve into highly inventive contrapuntal episodes. With quick unison passages and a strong sense of swing, Mosca demonstrates that his ability to execute at the piano continues to shine, undeterred by advancing age.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: So What (1964 version)

Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

In 1963, Miles Davis reinvigorated himself by forming a new quintet with younger, energetic, progressive-minded musicians. They stretched the boundaries of hard bop with harmonic and rhythmic adventures, yet maintained a ferocious sense of swing. With his new rhythm section—especially drummer Tony Williams—lighting a fire beneath him, Davis responds with fierce and blazing intensity of his own. His solo on this live version of “So What” is filled with sudden screams into the high register, snaking lines and deceptive starts and stops. Davis confronts and conquers his own limitations, and his playing is volatile and thrilling.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Surrey with the Fringe on Top


       Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

With a new contract and limitless opportunities waiting for him at Columbia Records, Miles Davis cut four albums in two marathon sessions to honor his existing contract with Prestige. While the albums may have been hastily recorded, the results were nothing less than spectacular. Davis asserts himself as the ultimate melodist on “Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” demonstrating his astonishing ability to capture the essence of any theme and make it his own. His interpretation of the melody blends seamlessly into his spacious improvisation, during which his muted trumpet speaks with warmth and elegance and an ever-present casual coolness.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grover Washington, Jr.: Just the Two of Us

You’ve undoubtedly heard this intimate boudoir ballad a trillion times on your local soft-rock station, but the single version edits out most of Washington’s performance. A shame, because during the instrumental break he turns in a muscular extended solo that sends the song in an unexpected direction before returning it to the original melody. Washington is heard again at the end, but overall this isn’t one of his more dominant performances.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grover Washington, Jr.: Let it Flow (For "Dr. J")

The late Grover Washington, Jr. loved basketball, particularly the Philadelphia 76ers, and his album Winelight features a tribute to 76ers legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving that is, by turns, graceful and driving. Opening smoothly with a sweet melody and a gentle groove, the tune soon escalates into a furious jam, Washington’s rapid-flow sax work offset by Marcus Miller’s funky bass. An elegant tribute to a great player that’s well worth checking out.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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George Benson: The Ghetto

George Benson covers Donny Hathaway on the opening track from his 2000 album Absolute Benson, which prominently featured keyboardist Joe Sample. On this Latin-inflected number, Benson scats along with his tasteful, well-chosen bluesy guitar lines, Sample’s Wurlitzer providing subtle enhancement. This tune reminds anyone who might have forgotten how articulate a guitarist Benson is, and reveals how well matched he and Sample are.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grover Washington, Jr.: Inner City Blues

Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.’s instrumental take on Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" is the title track of his debut album. Opening with a siren-accented soulful simmer, Washington and his tight ensemble steadily build the tune into a potent jam, with Washington’s sax wailing urgently over top. Soul, sensitivity, inventiveness and finesse – Washington had it all and it’s amply in evidence here.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Song for My Father

Although Horace Silver was a mainstay of the hard-bop/soul movement in the 1950s as both pianist and composer, he did not record his best-known tune until 1964. Having heard authentic bossa nova during a recent trip to Brazil, Silver incorporated the beat into a piece he dedicated to his father, who was of Portuguese descent. The song’s simple melody and minor harmony over the bossa nova rhythm create a languid, somewhat reverential mood that stands in contrast to one of tenorist Joe Henderson’s most passionate and moving solos.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch

Eric Dolphy, artwork by Michael Symonds

Although influenced initially by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy went on to develop a unique style of his own. His harsh tone, wide intervallic leaps, and freshly minted angular phrases are all on display in this free jazz recording made when he was at his peak, just months before his untimely death. His colleagues, though not all normally associated with the avant-garde, rise to the occasion and provide him with an agreeable setting.

October 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Art Blakey: Moanin'

Although pianist Bobby Timmons composed several well-known and often-played tunes in the funky/soul jazz mode, none became as popular as “Moanin’.” Its infectious backbeat accompanying a simple bluesy melody exerted an instant appeal. This Jazz Messengers version features a brilliant solo by the 20-year old trumpet prodigy Lee Morgan, as well as well-crafted and engaging improvisations by tenorist Benny Golson and Timmons himself. A classic performance.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Blues March (1958)


    Art Blakey at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

Benny Golson wrote four compositions for the album Moanin’, acclaimed as the best recording by arguably the best edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. “Blues March,” the first piece he composed for the group, became the most popular arrangement in the band’s repertoire. Much of the tune’s appeal lay in its uniqueness. It opens with a military-style drum cadence and roll-off that reappears several times and features a driving, march-like beat that eventually fades away. But superimposed over the unorthodox format are a clever Golson melody and swinging solos by Golson, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and pianist Bobby Timmons.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Eventually

Ornette Coleman’s pianoless quartet stunned the jazz world when they opened at the Five Spot in New York in 1959. Their open and free sound defied harmonic and rhythmic conventions, leaving listeners either bewildered or thrilled, but captivated regardless. Don Cherry sounds like no previous trumpeter. His stuffy tone and questionable technique are compensated by the freshness of his ideas. There is a sense of discovery in all he plays and he continually surprises, leaving the listener hanging on every note—waiting eagerly to see what he will do next. A unique soloist on a groundbreaking album.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lou Donaldson (featuring Blue Mitchell): Midnight Creeper

The partnership between trumpeter Blue Mitchell and alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson is one of the more undervalued in jazz history. The pair made a string of solid, funky soul-jazz recordings in the late 1960s, and none is finer than Midnight Creeper. Their focus was less on the pyrotechnical fireworks that dominated the previous 20 years of recorded jazz and more on bringing their music back to its roots—the blues. Mitchell plays with trademark consistency and control on the title track, patiently constructing his solo through motivic development with a laid-back sense of soulful swing.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage

At the time of this recording, Hancock, Carter and Williams served as the rhythm section for the Miles Davis Quintet. Since Coleman had just left the group the previous year, the four of them had developed a strong rapport, with Hubbard fitting in nicely. One of Hancock’s most popular compositions, “Maiden Voyage” exploits the modal concept common in jazz performances in the 1960s. Since the piece is based mostly on just two slow-moving chords and a spare melodic line, it generates a calm, placid mood overall in spite of occasionally spirited passages by the soloists, especially Hubbard.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Watermelon Man

Appearing on Herbie Hancock’s first album as a leader, the catchy “Watermelon Man,” with its strong backbeat and earthy quality, quickly became extremely popular. A Latin pop-jazz version issued a short time later by the Afro-Cuban percussionist-bandleader Mongo Santamaria became a major hit and led to numerous other recordings of the song over the years. Hancock himself released a new, electronically enhanced funk version on his 1973 album Head Hunters. Tenorist Dexter Gordon’s solo on the original track is as down-and-dirty as any he ever recorded.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Karl Denson: Elephants

Saxophonist Karl Denson and his ensemble, which includes a stellar brass section, have conjured up some irresistibly funky pachyderms in this extended jam, which closes Denson’s excellent album The Bridge. There’s really not a whole lot to say about this track, except check out the lineup, check out the tune, and let your body move.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Etcetera

One of those iconoclastic Shorter compositions that, in many ways, defines an era of jazz. The piece’s opening theme almost seems perfunctory to the exploration of the ensemble that follows. Subtlety reigns as everyone leaves a lot of space for each other, bobbing and weaving through solo sections from all but McBee. It’s somewhat baffling that these recordings from 1965 were not released until 1980.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall & Pat Metheny: All the Things You Are

Throughout his prolific career collaborating with Bill Evans, Ron Carter and Sonny Rollins, guitarist Jim Hall has influenced nearly every modern jazz guitarist through his masterfully selective harmonic note choices. The often-minimalist Hall solo might be thought of as clashing with the rapid-fire pacing of Pat Metheny, but that is what makes this collaboration such an interesting listen. When they play together (Jim panned left and Pat panned right), Hall’s influence on Metheny becomes immediately evident, and the two bounce ideas back and forth creating an interplay that is representative of Hall’s major impact on modern jazz guitar.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: I Want to Talk About You (Live at Newport, 1963)

This Coltrane performance is essential jazz listening for two reasons. First, it is the most complete performance of the classic Coltrane quartet without one of its major members – Roy Haynes is subbing for Elvin Jones on drums. Jazz fans are so used to the interaction of the classic quartet that listening to three members working with a different drummer (Trane called Haynes’s drumming “spreading” versus Elvin’s “driving”) is fascinating. Additionally, this track features a Trane cadenza that extends over three minutes and is an ideal representation of Trane’s ability to retain emotional impact while performing at a blistering rhythmic pace.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Christian: Stompin' at the Savoy (Live at Minton's)

Charlie Christian’s relatively short recording career provided an invaluable historical link in the transition from swing to bop. Recording primarily with Benny Goodman but also participating in many of the first bebop jam sessions at Minton's, Christian’s rhythmic phrasing and horn-influenced melodic lines helped introduce a new jazz vocabulary. While most recorded Christian solos are brief, “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a prime example of Christian stretching out and performing an extended solo alongside two other bop pioneers, Monk and Clarke. Take particular note of the (now common) bebop phrases that Christian introduces from 3:46 through 4:05 in his solo.

October 23, 2007 · 1 comment

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Lee Konitz: Subconscious-Lee (Live at the Half Note, 1959)


           Lee Konitz, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and
      Bud Powell at Birdland
, photo by Marcel Fleiss

After performing on the Birth of the Cool sessions, touring with Stan Kenton, and studying/performing with pianist Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz recorded this live set from the Half Note in New York City shortly before his musical hiatus in the early 1960s. The two discs are filled with first-rate Konitz and Marsh improvisations (separately and, at times, simultaneously). They are backed by the fascinating rhythm section of Evans (subbing for Tristano), Garrison and Motian. While Evans lays out for much of the Konitz/Marsh improvisation, he opens up on the double disc’s final track, “Subconscious-Lee.” Inspired jazz interaction.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Willow Weep for Me

One of the high points of Dexter Gordon’s 15-year self-imposed exile from the U.S. is this Parisian collaboration with fellow American masters Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. “Willow Weep for Me” is especially worth noting due to Gordon’s reputation for beautiful ballad playing. This solo presents his ability to improvise introspective, delicate solos while maintaining his forceful, spacious sound. Powell is in fine form here in both his accompaniment and solo roles, this marking one of his last performances before his detrimental return to New York and untimely death shortly thereafter (July 1966).

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Back at the Chicken Shack

Jimmy Smith was not the first to exploit the potential of the Hammond organ’s down-home, earthy sound. But Smith became the instrument’s most popular and influential exponent during the heyday of soul-jazz at Blue Note in the late fifties and early sixties. His classic 1960 shuffle blues “Back at the Chicken Shack” is still performed widely in the 21st century. This original version features not only Smith’s own simple, blues-infused organ phrasing, but also Kenny Burrell’s funky guitar and Stanley Turrentine’s gritty, quintessentially soulful tenor saxophone.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brian Blade: Evinrude-Fifty (Trembling)

Perhaps no jazz drummer has been more in demand throughout the last decade than Brian Blade. From Wayne Shorter to Emmylou Harris, Blade’s New Orleans upbringing (he studied with Johnny Vidacovich and Herlin Riley) has allowed him to seamlessly fit into diverse musical situations. The Fellowship’s 1999 sophomore release is first and foremost a jazz record, with outstanding performances from Blade, Cowherd, and newcomer Kurt Rosenwinkel. The addition of pedal steel and pump organ adds an appealing external influence that compliments Blade’s view of the Fellowship as an all-inclusive group that improvises around instrumental thematic material with political and social insinuations.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: You Bet

Early in his career, John Scofield performed with jazz-funk legends George Duke and Billy Cobham before joining Miles Davis in 1982. Ever since, Scofield has released many straight-ahead recordings with top bop and post-bop players. He has also maintained his jazz-funk background with recordings including artists as varied as Dennis Chambers, Larry Goldings, and Medeski, Martin and Wood. In this straight-ahead recording, Scofield shares the guitar seat with one of his leading contemporaries, Bill Frisell. This track marks one of Scofield’s finest recorded solos. It gradually builds in intensity with a multitude of complex ideas and exhilarating extended lines.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Bemsha Swing

Miles Davis’s Christmas Eve 1954 session was the one where, legend had it, Miles instructed Monk to “lay out” while the trumpeter soloed. It’s hard to believe – really, if Miles was offended by Monk’s playing, why would he hire him for the date? But that’s not the point. This may be Miles’s record, but “Bemsha Swing” is Monk’s song (well, Monk’s and Denzil Best’s). Monk comps like a yeoman while the others solo, but when it comes his turn to solo he turns in a beauty – faithful to the composition, faithful to Miles’s desires, but Monkish all the way in its off-kilter rhythmic feel and contrapuntal notes. A rare, wonderful glimpse at Monk as sideman.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (Live at Town Hall, 1945)

With their landmark first studio session still warm on the shelves, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker treated a New York audience with a thrilling performance of their new and innovative style of jazz, which would soon be known as bebop. Recently discovered, this live set presents Gillespie and Parker at the height of their powers. Gillespie delivers a marvelously articulate solo on his most celebrated composition, “A Night In Tunisia,” displaying astonishing agility and control in all registers of his trumpet. His quick-fingered, spitfire runs and harmonic eccentricities dramatically revolutionized trumpet playing, and his talent has not been surpassed since.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Zachary Breaux: Alice (Down In Parks Louisiana – August 1906 – August 1991)

It’s pretty gutsy to release a live debut album – you establish immediately that you either have it or you don’t, and Zachary Breaux had it in abundance. 1992’s Groovin’ – recorded at the famed London club Ronnie Scott’s – introduced the Texas-born guitarist’s soulful, George Benson-influenced style. “Alice (Down In Parks Louisiana – August 1906-August 1991)" is a bluesy workout spotlighting Breaux’s laid-back deftness, offset by a fiery piano solo. Breaux only released a handful of albums before dying tragically young trying to save a drowning swimmer. One can only imagine the music this gifted artist would have made had he lived.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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David Sanborn: Chicago Song

Saxophonist David Sanborn won a Grammy for this infectiously catchy opening track from his 1987 album A Change Of Heart. The tune is a good example of Sanborn’s oft-imitated R&B-inflected jazz sound, here paced by Marcus Miller’s funky bass and complemented by Hiram Bullock’s rockish guitar. After hearing this once, you won’t get the hook out of your head.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Yellowjackets: Les is Mo

One of contemporary jazz’s most accomplished and enduring groups goes soul-jazzy on this live track. Penned by keyboardist Russell Ferrante, the tune was inspired by soul-jazz legend Les McCann, and at first it tips its hat to McCann’s classic recording with Eddie Harris, “Compared To What,” but then the Yellowjackets take it somewhere else, turning in an exciting and spirited jam. The band is really cooking here and the audience is loving every note. You will too.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grover Washington, Jr.: Mister Magic

This is the title track from a classic album by one of contemporary jazz’s most beloved artists. A grooving, R&B-flavored jam, “Mister Magic” finds Washington’s soulful, slightly dusky, sax bolstered by an exceptional band that includes Bob James, Ralph MacDonald, Harvey Mason and Eric Gale, and punctuated by strings and horn punches. This tune is more than 30 years old and it still sounds as vital as it did when it first came out.

October 23, 2007 · 1 comment

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Bobby Hutcherson: Little B's Poem

On an album that exhibits both vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s avant-garde leanings and his hard-bop grounding, Hutcherson’s "Little B’s Poem" exemplifies the latter. A lilting waltz whose fragility is emphasized by its exposition on flute, its performance contains highly melodic solos by Hutcherson, one of the era’s leading vibraphonists, by Spaulding, and by a young Herbie Hancock, who, along with bassist Ron Carter, was at the time a member of the Miles Davis Quintet.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Broad Way Blues

When Ornette Coleman burst onto the national scene with his first album in 1958, his unorthodox style created great controversy—some listeners loved it, others hated it. But Coleman went on to become one of the most influential jazz musicians of the mid-20th century. His radical approach to improvising—free from harmonic, metric, and formal restrictions—helped usher in the free jazz movement of the 1960s. Recorded a decade after his debut, his own "Broad Way Blues" (aka "Broadway Blues") clearly illustrates Coleman’s passionate, blues-influenced style.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Blue Mitchell: Fungii Mama

Blue Mitchell was one of a long line of swinging but lyrical Blue Note trumpet players directly descended from Clifford Brown. "Fungii Mama," his most popular recording and a cousin to the Sonny Rollins calypso "St. Thomas," includes a Rollinsesque tenor solo by Junior Cook and a straight-ahead hard-bop chorus by a young Chick Corea.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Passion Dance

McCoy Tyner recorded his Passion Dance only a couple of years after he left John Coltrane’s quartet, and the spirit of the great saxophonist pervades the performance. The hard-driving jagged melody over a modal foundation provides a platform for intense improvisations by Tyner and tenorist Joe Henderson, whose fiery solo embellishes its basic hard-bop character with the cries, runs, trills, and honks of the free jazz of the period. The climactic duo improvisation by Tyner and Henderson on the tag is electrifying.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil

When Wayne Shorter recorded Speak No Evil, the former Jazz Messenger was, along with pianist Hancock and bassist Carter, a member of the Miles Davis Quintet and was playing an advanced form of hard bop as well as writing strikingly original compositions. Hancock was looking forward also, as his masterful manipulation of the meter in his solo attests. Like many of Shorter’s tunes, "Speak No Evil" has become a classic.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jackie McLean: Appointment in Ghana

Although later influenced by free jazz, Jackie McLean was once the quintessential hard-bop altoist. His Appointment in Ghana clearly puts his signature piercing tone and jaggedly propulsive rhythmic flow on display. The track is also noteworthy for the presence of tenorist Tina Brooks, who impresses with his negotiation of the sometimes tricky chord progressions. Bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor, playing with perfect coordination, set up an irresistible sense of swing.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Larry Young: The Moontrane

Like Jimmy Smith, Larry Young chose the Hammond B-3 organ as his instrument, but his playing owed less to the blues than Smith’s and his mid-sixties work was more rhythmically and harmonically adventurous. This advanced hard-bop session includes the trumpeter Woody Shaw, one of the many excellent Clifford Brown followers who recorded for the Blue Note label.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Breezin'

This Bobby Womack-penned tune is the title track from Benson’s 1976 breakthrough album Breezin’. Cheery, catchy, and, yes, breezy, it remains a radio staple to this day. Benson doesn’t sing or scat on this track; instead, he lets his guitar articulate the melody with a little help from some flute-like keyboard accompaniment. A delightful tune that’s sure to brighten your day.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: San Lorenzo

A series of ringing chords opens the Pat Metheny Group’s self-titled 1978 debut album and introduces the world to an outfit that would become one of jazz’s most popular and enduring bands. “San Lorenzo” evinces the accomplished playing and melody-rich compositions, rooted in jazz but incorporating myriad musical elements, that continue to define the Metheny Group sound to this day.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Caravan


     Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
                   Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Plays Duke Ellington is an album that has never sat well with critics. One suspects that’s because people were left wondering why the second-greatest composer in the history of jazz bothered to record an album of tunes by the greatest composer in the history of jazz. But that fails to do justice to the album on its own merits. Considered in that light, this is a wonderfully jarring collection of fresh treatments – and maybe the finest record of Ellington covers. On “Caravan,” the melody is there all right, and Monk doesn’t dare violate the song’s integrity, but he does find ways to add his imprimatur. “Caravan” is the final track on the disc, and it’s the perfect other bookend to his wink-and-a-nod treatment of the opener, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Bright Mississippi

One of the most fun tunes Monk wrote, “Bright Mississippi” is based on the melody and chord changes of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The eight-minute version Monk’s quartet recorded at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop is an upbeat romp. Charlie Rouse, an underrated saxophonist who lived in Monk’s shadow, casts out a terrific, weaving solo before Monk gives up his own, smartly using both space and contrast. Larry Gales musters a long bass solo that never grows tiring, and Ben Riley brings it home with a drum solo that plays off Gales’s plucking. Nightclub jazz at its finest.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Well, You Needn't (1957)

Anytime you can get tenor sax giants Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane in a room together, the result is bound to be explosive. Add Monk and his bebop classic “Well, You Needn’t” to the mix, and you’ve got some military-grade dynamite. Coltrane’s and Hawkins’ solos are separated by several minutes, but that does nothing to lessen their impact. Monk’s composition gives the musicians all the framework they need to blow the roof off the studio. And let’s not forget the pianist himself. He saves his own solo for last and throws in unexpected notes, pauses and runs. This reading of “Well, You Needn’t” is the bomb.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Crepuscule With Nellie (Carnegie Hall, 1957)

The tapes from this 1957 Voice of America recording at Carnegie Hall were discovered only in 2005, and they contain the most dynamic meeting between Monk and John Coltrane. In fact, once Blue Note put out the album later that year, it immediately ranked among Monk’s most important and most impressive works. “Crepuscule With Nellie,” a gorgeous melody for the pianist’s wife, is given a patient, expressive reading. Monk spends the first two minutes carving out the theme alone, and the rest of the band joins in for the next round. It’s Coltrane’s turn to play the melody straight while Monk adds a few flourishes around the edges. After 4½ minutes it’s over, and there’s more proof to the old adage that less is more.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Ruby, My Dear (with John Coltrane)

Choosing just one version of “Ruby, My Dear” as Monk’s finest is no easy task. This one stands out for Monk’s strong comping behind John Coltrane, who states the theme and then launches into a romantic solo that strays farther and farther from the melody before coming back around to join it. Monk plays with restraint, never giving in to the urge to splash his perverse tendencies onto Coltrane’s canvas. When he does finally solo, it is with a reverence for his own composition. This two-disc set also includes a version of “Ruby, My Dear” from a few weeks earlier that featured Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, with similarly satisfying results. Also worth hunting down: a sweet, unaccompanied version on the Columbia album “Solo Monk” and an 11-minute version that Monk’s quintet recorded at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1951 version)

One of Monk’s earliest recordings, made at a time when there were fewer expectations of the eccentric pianist. (The title Genius of Modern Music was bestowed years later, when the collections of singles were compiled into two albums.) Art Blakey introduces the piece in his own way, smacking out a series of rim shots, before Sahib Shihab and Milt Jackson converse in unison. Monk plays his solo in a straight-ahead manner – his angularity would intensify a decade later – and then Shihab and Jackson take short, impressive solos. It’s a classic piece of bop. Still, to be fair, the entirety of the two volumes of Genius of Modern Music is a must-have for any Monk fan.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (1964 live version)

Ask me, and I’ll tell you Live at the It Club is Monk’s best record. The latest two-disc version restores virtually everything recorded over two nights at the L.A. spot, and I dare anyone to find a 15-second stretch that doesn’t inspire. Naming just one highlight is an impossible task, so why not start at the beginning, with an 11-minute take of “Blue Monk,” which happens to be one of my favorite pieces to play on my own piano. Monk’s oeuvre is so small that he recorded a handful of compositions over and over, and yet he still found new things to say each time through. Here his explorations are deep and wide, and he brings out the best in his bandmates, which is the most we can ask of any leader.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie

Sort of a sequel to Thelonious Himself (1957), Alone in San Francisco was recorded in an empty hall between gigs at the Black Hawk. The trip to the West Coast elicited what may be Monk’s most beautiful work ever put to record. The album is a mix of originals and standards, and its loveliest tune is the lesser-known standard “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie,” which was a favorite of Monk’s. The melody is pretty enough, and then the pianist makes it his own with a dash of this and a sprinkling of that there. Best of all, the CD includes two takes.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Monk's Mood (1957 recording)

The final tune on Thelonious Himself is in fact not just Thelonious himself, and it’s akin to a fine dessert after a big meal. “Monk’s Mood” is a beautifully melancholy theme, and here it gets the most perfect treatment its author ever gave it. Monk plays unaccompanied for 2½ minutes before Wilbur Ware plucks a few notes and John Coltrane arrives with a tender, passionate solo. Throughout, Monk’s touch is heartbreaking, and the simpatico relationship between him and Coltrane is amazing. This ranks among the most wonderful eight minutes anyone could experience.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Mosaic

For a band known for its straight-ahead hard bop charts and solos, the album Mosaic, with its relatively complex compositions by various band members, was something of a departure. But this fine sextet edition of The Jazz Messengers, on their first studio recording, took Cedar Walton’s fast-paced title tune in stride, nailing the ensemble parts and contributing rousing, resourceful solos. The fairly lengthy track (8:12) features an extended and thoughtful Blakey drum solo.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Having been a member of both Art Blakey’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s bands at age 18, the prodigious trumpeter Lee Morgan, at first a disciple of Clifford Brown, was well into the development of a personal style at his untimely death at age 33. The Sidewinder is one of numerous recordings he made under his own name in the mid-1960s. Its hip-shaking title selection, with its funky bassline, strong backbeat, and Latinesque accents underpinning an earthy blues line, became a major hit and helped usher in the soul jazz/ boogaloo style.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Cristo Redentor

A New Perspective was unique at the time in that it featured a jazz combo in conjunction with a small gospel choir. One of Duke Pearson’s two compositions for the album (he did all five arrangements), the hymn-like “Cristo Redentor” (Christ the Redeemer) achieved a degree of popularity of its own. Its melancholy, wordless vocal melody and slow-moving, repetitive minor harmony create a somber, reverential mood. Byrd stays close to the tune in his solo, while Herbie Hancock fills in the background with blues-infused piano figures.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lou Donaldson: Blues Walk

Recorded when Lou Donaldson was still under the sway of Charlie Parker and before he embraced soul-jazz, the stark minor blues tune “Blues Walk” finds the altoist in a confident straight-ahead mode. Of particular interest are the four-bar exchanges between drummer Dave Bailey and conga player Ray Barretto, who appeared on numerous recordings for Blue Note and others during the period.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Blue Bossa

Joe Henderson was developing a personal approach at a time when many tenor saxophonists were emulating John Coltrane. At the time of his death in 2001, he was acknowledged as one of his instrument’s finest stylists. Joining Henderson on his first recording as a leader is trumpeter Kenny Dorham, who had played in Charlie Parker’s quintet, and McCoy Tyner, later to gain acclaim as John Coltrane’s pianist. Dorham’s “Blue Bossa” was composed when the bossa nova, combining elements of jazz and the Brazilian samba, was becoming popular. The tune became a widely performed classic.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Three O'Clock in the Morning

Originally a follower of Lester Young, Dexter Gordon emerged in the 1940s as a major bebop tenor saxophonist, becoming himself an influence on succeeding tenorists. Recorded shortly before Gordon began a lengthy residence in Europe, “Three O’clock in the Morning” finds him in great shape, swinging blithely and exhibiting his well-known penchant for playing slightly behind the beat and quoting short phrases from other tunes. The performance also features the excellent pianist Sonny Clark, who died prematurely a few months after the session.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Parlan: Wadin'

“Wadin’” resembles many of the instrumental blues performances on the Blue Note recordings of its day. Taken at a medium tempo, it features a simple riff-based melody that serves as a springboard for a series of earthy hard-bop solos by Parlan and the Turrentine brothers. Bassist George Tucker’s booming tone is especially effective and Stanley Turrentine’s gripping improvisation is, as usual, intensely soulful.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956 version)

“Brilliant Corners” is the most complex work in the 70-song Monk canon. It speeds up, it slows down, it shifts course abruptly – the musicians must have strained a few muscles trying to keep up with what was going on in Monk’s head. The rhythmic construction was so challenging that it took the band members 25 takes to get what they needed – and even then they never recorded it to Monk’s satisfaction. What we hear on the album is a patchwork spliced together from the various takes. It’s a gorgeously flawed work – while it may have been difficult to create, it is easy to listen to.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Ecclusiastics

Kirk’s tenure with Mingus lasted only a few months, but the relationship was sympathetic and yielded a classic recording in “Ecclusiastics.” The title, strictly speaking, lacks a definition, but it looks like a word that means “priests,” only tweaked, and that’s how the piece sounds—sacred but unhinged. Mingus leads from the piano, his vocals guiding the band through the episodic structure, from contrite confession to affirming exhortation, and finally, ecstatic wail. The climactic passages of Kirk’s triumphant solo feature him playing three horns at once, and his improvisation has a rare inevitability—you memorize it like a pop melody. Impossible to imagine it played any other way.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Rippingtons: Moonlighting

In 1986, guitarist Russ Freeman enlisted some musician friends to “moonlight” as a band called the Rippingtons and record an album called, appropriately, Moonlighting. And what a group he assembled! The players included Kenny G, David Benoit, and Dave Koz, who went on to contemporary jazz and smooth-jazz stardom -- as did the Rippingtons, whose lineup subsequently changed. Moonlighting is now widely considered a contemporary jazz classic, and one of its highlights is “She Likes To Watch.” This sprightly, Kenny G-led tune exemplifies Freeman’s talent for composing catchy melodies and remains a genre staple all these years later.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Facing West

Guitarist Pat Metheny’s epic 1992 album Secret Story draws from a kaleidoscopic array of jazz and world elements to chronicle the arc of a relationship. The compositional and emotional scope of this far-ranging work really should be appreciated as a piece, but the individual tracks stand on their own. “Facing West” opens with Metheny’s rapidly strummed guitars paced by longtime collaborator Mays’ piano before the tune is sent aloft by Metheny’s buoyant melody and agile soloing, and aloft it stays for the duration of the track. A wonderful soaring tune, perhaps not strictly speaking essential, but delightful nonetheless.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Carter: Dauwhe

John Carter’s masterwork, the five-volume Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music, traces the evolution of contemporary urban music through the history of African-Americans and the legacy of slavery. Carter names “Dauwhe,” the title track of the first volume, for an ancient African goddess of happiness; the dedication is loving, but the music rings ominous. The ensemble blends are striking—with the purr of bowed bass and tuba; and clash of cornet and flute—not to mention the eerie ambience of Peralta’s scraped waterphone, and the leader’s shrieking clarinet. Miranda and Jeffery hurtle along with a free-bop swing that suggests the influence of Ornette Coleman, Carter’s childhood friend in Fort Worth.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: St. Louis Blues

This recording brings together veterans of three of the most adventurous small groups of the 1960s. Byard had chaired the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop, Izenzon trekked with the Ornette Coleman Trio, and Jones wrote history in the John Coltrane Quartet. All three were freelancing near the end of the decade, and here they bring to bear their advanced techniques on a classic of the jazz repertoire. Byard delivers the melody in traditional fashion, plinking saloon-piano style, but as his solo develops, he trades jaunty ragtime syncopation for dizzying left-right rhythmic sweeps. The offbeat arrangement—rolling, bending tympani; shuddering bowed bass—charms its way in, then haunts the way out. An affecting and meditative reading.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Criss Cross (1951 recording)


        Thelonious Monk at Salle Pleyel (1954)
                Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Bebop pioneer Thelonious Monk’s piano playing may have been too eccentric for some listeners, but his compositions are universally admired. “Criss Cross” demonstrates Monk’s superior craftsmanship as a composer of miniature instrumental works. Although it follows the common song form of AABA, the A section comes in two thematic parts and the B section, rather than introducing an expected contrasting melody, utilizes as its basis the A themes in reverse order. And Monk’s improvisation develops the thematic material even further. As a result, the piece exhibits the continuity and cohesiveness characteristic of all well-structured compositions

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Collard Greens And Black Eyed Peas

Bud Powell has been acclaimed as the father of modern jazz piano for adapting Charlie Parker’s bebop innovations to his own instrument. On this medium up-tempo Oscar Pettiford blues (also known as “Blues in the Closet”), his improvisation, with its agile scalar passages, occasional harmonic dissonance, and inventive, Parker-like phrases, illustrates why Powell was the model for generations of jazz pianists.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Brownie Speaks

Although initially indebted to Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown quickly forged a personal style that has influenced countless trumpeters even to this day. From his first recording session for Blue Note, one co-led by Lou Donaldson, “Brownie Speaks” demonstrates Brown’s unerring technique and ear, his gift for melodic phrasing, and his surefooted sense of swing. At the time, altoist Donaldson was among the leading disciples of Charlie Parker.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Señor Blues

One of the pioneers of the hard-bop movement, pianist Horace Silver composed a number of tunes with infectious rhythms and simple, earthy melodies that eventually gained classic status. One such composition, “Señor Blues,” with its 6/8 meter and catchy Latin rhythms, was recorded shortly after Silver left the Jazz Messengers, and it became one of his most popular. Except for the substitution of drummer Louis Hayes for Art Blakey, the personnel of this quintet, which uses the classic hard-bop instrumentation, is the same as that of the Messengers at the time of Silver’s departure.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Decision

“Decision” demonstrates a bit of tenor giant Sonny Rollins’s acclaimed ability to use thematic variation in the construction of his improvisations. A defining characteristic of “Decision,” Rollins’ own 13-bar minor blues, is the quick two-note motive on which it is based. Rollins begins his solo with the motive and reiterates it and its variations throughout his resourceful improvisation. The Clifford Brown-influenced trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Wynton Kelly also contribute fine solos. Drummer Max Roach uses his brushes to mark the time with precision and taste.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Autumn Leaves

Because Somethin’ Else was recorded not long after Cannonball Adderley joined the Miles Davis Sextet, there was speculation that Davis was actually the leader on the session. Indeed, after the introduction to “Autumn Leaves,” which is based on the intro that Davis-favorite Ahmad Jamal often used, it is Davis who carries the haunting melody throughout with his signature Harmon-muted trumpet. Adderley’s contribution is his lengthy improvisation, which in itself is sufficient to recommend the track as an example of the altoist’s seemingly boundless imagination, great sensitivity, and irrepressible sense of swing.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Lewis: Homage to Charles Parker

George Lewis—the wunderkind trombonist, electronic musician and composer from Chicago—was 26 when he premiered “Homage To Charles Parker” at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music’s annual festival in 1978. It is a work of sincerity and vision, one that affirms an aesthetic credo of his hometown organization—that a connection with tradition strengthens new, original music. The meditative first section of the piece, consisting of low synthesizer tones and processed cymbal sounds, creates an immediate context for reflection on Parker’s life. The series of improvisations that follow reference Parker’s music in format—soloist with accompaniment—but forgo the conventions of his style. You sense the musicians’ love, sympathy and respect, beyond idiom.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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World Saxophone Quartet: I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart

The W.S.Q. signed with the prestigious Elektra/Nonesuch label in 1986, and shifted their repertoire somewhat, too, conceiving of albums more thematically, as the major label debut Plays Duke Ellington suggests. Lake’s arrangement of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” is a stormy abstraction, a skirl of croaked and screeching riffs with a conflicted relation to the source material. When the familiar melody finally emerges, it as though from a period of gestation. Despite the edgy playing, the production is markedly roomy and lush—this contributes to the uncanny, overcast quality but is a notable departure from the bright, punchy Black Saint recordings, which better capture the group’s interaction

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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World Saxophone Quartet: P.O. in Cairo

It’s unclear what the titular “P.O.” is here, maybe just a workaday “post office,” but perhaps a “private organization,” describing the W.S.Q. itself. Certainly the winding melodic line, with its insinuation of intrigue and clandestine activity, supports the latter reading. The mystery unfolds throughout the performance, where skittering lines suddenly lock into tight counterpoint, as if the result of covert cues. Murray’s composition is a showcase for the collective, and the recording a summation of its artful methods. The performance appeared on the group’s Black Saint debut, and its second album overall.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cecil Taylor: Lazy Afternoon

Philadelphia-born tenor saxophonist Shepp was a newcomer to the band at the time of this recording, Taylor’s first for Nat Hentoff’s Candid label. In fact, the recent Goddard College graduate hadn’t yet decided whether to remain a musician or become a playwright. Nevertheless, he performs “Lazy Afternoon” with a steady certainty, his bare lines a foil for the leader’s ornate accompaniment. Taylor plays with total authority, referencing the theme in myriad figurations, and the veteran rhythm section of Neidlinger and Charles—who had appeared on the pianist’s debut recording four years earlier—pace the long performance well. The drums enter so steadily as to sound almost martial, a beguiling effect when combined with the delicate melody.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Love for Sale

Cannonball Adderley joined Miles Davis’s band a few months before this session, and Davis played a major part in the recording, often assuming the role of leader. On “Love For Sale,” Davis merely plays the melody and leaves the improvisation to Adderley. After a florid piano introduction, a two-bar Latin interlude leads into Davis’s two-beat exposition of the tune. Davis’s statement is followed by a return of the interlude, which then sets up a driving four-four where Adderley pulls out all the stops and demonstrates why he was one of the most gifted and individualistic of the disciples of Charlie Parker.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cecil Taylor: Steps

With the exception of three tracks for Gil Evans’ Into The Hot album, Taylor’s 1966 Blue Note sessions were the pianist’s first studio recordings in over five years. During the interim, he continued to develop his band concept on club dates and in concert. “Steps” demonstrates the high-energy improvising, intricate written passages, extreme dynamic shifts, and total rhythmic fragmentation that came to define Taylor’s work. The first few minutes are a formidable thicket—tangled lines and broken phrases—that may discourage first-time listeners, but a structure reveals itself, the piece becoming an episodic sequence of recognizable events (saxophone solos, a piano/drums duo). The muddy, inaudible basses are a major drawback, though.

October 22, 2007 · 1 comment

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Cecil Taylor: Song

Cecil Taylor’s 1956 debut for the Transition label was indeed a Jazz Advance, but didn’t yet mark the arrival of his full-blown avant-garde approach. “Song,” for instance, retains some modern jazz conventions—such as a steady swing beat—that Taylor would later purge from his music. As such, it provides a welcome (or knowable) point of entry into the pianist’s wondrous sound world. Compared with contemporaneous boppers, Taylor sounds unbound, extending the form, following whims, appearing to play many “songs” within just one piece. It’s revealing his sidemen gravitated to Taylor from such diverse backgrounds: Steve Lacy had been steeped in Dixieland, Dennis Charles self-taught, and Buell Neidlinger classically trained. Taylor's enveloping art should engage as wide-ranging an audience.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anthony Braxton: Four in One

Since the mid-'70s, Braxton has periodically recorded “in the tradition,” playing standard repertoire with piano-trio accompaniment. His 1987 set of Thelonious Monk covers is a curious offshoot of that series, focusing on a composer whose work had once been considered avant-garde but was subsequently assimilated into the jazz mainstream. “Four In One” is a notorious whirligig of a tune, and Braxton charges breathlessly in. Waldron’s solo complements the leader’s perfectly—where Braxton further scrambles the melody, Waldron streamlines it, a masterful Monk interpreter getting right to the heart of the song

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Anthony Braxton: For John Cage

In the late ‘60s, Braxton aspired to create a solo language for saxophone akin to that of the piano. His controversial 1968 recordings (released on the unprecedented double album For Alto) document the effort; “For John Cage” testifies to its success. At first pass it may sound chaotic, but there is an internal logic to the self-contained system of the piece. Braxton sets a benchmark of intensity at the outset—the ferocity of attack is immediately striking—then deviates from it dramatically, generating structural tension. He manipulates basic musical elements to develop a vocabulary all his own—distorted sounds, jagged rhythmic shapes, an elastic sense of time—and the result is a triumph of creativity.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Hora Decubitus

Mingus was at the peak of his powers in 1963. First he set down his long-form masterpiece, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady. Next he recorded an album of introspective piano sketches. Then he entered the studio with a 12-piece band to explore his back catalogue, including “Hora Decubitus” (which had originally appeared on Blues and Roots as “E’s Flat and Ah’s Flat, Too”). Where the year’s earlier accomplishments were grave, this track is simply exuberant. Taken up-tempo, Mingus rechristens “E’s Flat” as a crisp swing ‘burner, with blues riffs piled on in rounds. The bass introduction, with its sliding octave leaps, is a key document of his command and technique. Dolphy’s insolent solo is priceless.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Tensions

“Moods,” “contrasts” and “changes” are a few words that have taken on elemental significance in Mingus’ song titles, or his own references to composition. “Tensions” belongs in that lexicon of fundamental concepts. This piece describes a state of agitation, maybe psychological or social, stacking up ideas to the point of distraction, almost dissolution. Riffs of varying length overlap irregularly. Then they’re restated in dissonant canon. Trilling saxophones interject freely. It’s hectic. Finally (after a long minute-plus), a single voice emerges: the bass, in a stunning solo with hyperactive attack and a vast repertoire of harmonics, slides and leaps. The bridge sounds close to snapping—literally, too.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Self-Portrait in Three Colors

We could spend a lot of time unpacking just the title of this song (originally written for Shadows, the directorial debut of maverick independent filmmaker John Cassavetes). Is Mingus referring to the Freudian subconscious? His multiracial heritage? His volatile personality? Whichever it may be, his complex identity coheres in this through-composed work, and the self-image is sublime. The piece consists of three cycles through a melody, with no soloists, only slight embellishments and shifting arrangements. The emphasis and perspective change with every chorus, as the title would suggest, but the material remains essentially the same: a perfectly achieved effect. Ervin caps it with a cathartic, tumbling tenor tag.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Los Mariachis

Inspired by street musicians in Tijuana, “Los Mariachis” employs a suite-like structure that simulates a walking tour; around every corner, the listener encounters another style, rhythm, or theme. The writing is conceptual, and the contrasts are sharp: for every exuberant and celebratory melody, there is a pensive and mournful counterpart. As the piece evolves, the soloists—Shaw, Knepper, Porter, then Triglia—draw from a growing memory bank of impressions and moods. Their nuanced improvisations aim to integrate the breezy bop and loping blues, buoyant calypso and poignant ballad; but the overall effect is stilted in comparison with Mingus’ subtler multipart miniatures, like “Open Letter To Duke.”

October 22, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charles Mingus: Celia

Celia Zaentz was the second wife of Charles Mingus and co-founder, with her husband and Max Roach, of Debut Records, a pioneering artist-run independent label. Those are the facts; now onto the impressions: this lyrical portrait has a magical economy. Within half a minute, the listener is completely transported. Evans, who would join Miles Davis’ sextet less than a year later, plays the role of conjurer. He opens the tune with an almost generic swing riff. It sounds familiar, half-remembered, triggering nostalgia. Then he interrupts himself—or deepens the reverie—with shimmering chords that extend the measure, out of time, signaling the dreamy main theme for alto, trumpet and trombone.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Eulogy for Rudy Williams

A tribute to the late saxophonist of the Savoy Sultans, drowned shortly before the session in a summer swimming accident, “Eulogy for Rudy Williams” is an atmospheric masterpiece. The structure balances looseness and control; it’s a pleasure to hear new thematic material emerge mid-performance. LaPorta and Macero’s high-register harmonies contribute a haunting clarinet-like effect, arcing in hazy backgrounds for the leader’s featured playing. Barrow’s insistent accompaniment to the bass solos prefigures the inexorable opening strain of “Pithecanthropus Erectus,” a landmark Mingus composition recorded 15 months later.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Prince Lasha: Green and Gold

Prince Lasha was a Forth Worth peer of Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Simmons a Los Angeles partisan; their collaboration documents free jazz in development on the West Coast. Pairing a loping melodic line with a jarring stop-time section, the written material dramatizes a transition between conventional structures and open forms. When the lead voices solo, though, their improvisations lack a compelling arc—the beat is relaxed and the evocative theme forgone. The dynamism of two basses highlights the performance: the mournful bowed introduction, the plucked high-register counterpoint to the walking line, the scribbled solo atop a flute-alto riff.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk

Mingus worked the devil out of this complicated TV-score remnant during his 1964 tour of Europe. There must be a dozen or so versions under Mingus’ name, and this take from a Parisian concert is one of the best. Jaki Byard’s lush piano takes the lead, while Jordan and Dolphy alternate between swagger and swoon. ‘Orange’ is one of Mingus’ most enduring multidimensional works, and the bassist clearly enjoys his extended solo feature. Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo is all over the place, free as a bird. An absolute masterwork, dulled just a bit by the live-bootleg sound quality.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Johnny Dodds: Blue Clarinet Stomp

Those of you who think early New Orleans jazzmen were ignorant hacks, please behold Charlie Alexander playing ‘Vesti La Giubba’ to usher in the legendary Johnny Dodds. This unusual drumless trio sums up all the jaunty spirit of Storyville, with rhythmic firmness provided by bassist Bill Johnson (nicely audible) and Alexander’s left hand. In hindsight, there were few early clarinetists greater than Dodds, whose brilliant tone, wide vibrato and awe-inspiring versatility are adequately captured on this 1928 gem.

October 22, 2007 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Brunswick)

A timeless classic of early big-band jazz, this was perhaps the first Ellington tune to really capture the ears of the music industry. It reveals that much of Duke’s compositional character was already in place by 1927: the layering of multiple themes, shifting of moods and tempi, and plenty of freedom for players like Miley and Hardwicke to express their own personalities. This reissue is sullied by poor-quality, scratchy masters that GRP apparently didn’t bother to clean up, but that doesn’t take much away from the enjoyable performance.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (OKeh)

The quintessential document of Duke’s "jungle music," this 1927 theme was so letter-perfect that Steely Dan paid it groveling homage nearly a half-century later. Bubber Miley’s hot, growling trumpet, the percussive drive of banjo and tuba, and swooning horns form the fabric of one of Ellington’s most memorable tunes. The roots of everything from Cab Calloway to the Art Ensemble of Chicago are audible in this primordial jazz masterpiece. Columbia’s dazzling remastering of such ancient material is a hallmark of digital sound technology; this is probably as close as possible to hearing the Washingtonians live.

October 19, 2007 · 1 comment

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New Orleans Rhythm Kings: San Antonio Shout

NORK's lineup changed many times through the 1930s, and they retained the name even after they took up the Chicago style of improvisation. This fine later group boasts one-armed trumpeter Wingy Manone up front. True to the Chicago spirit, the vibrant Manone interweaves the cheerful but spare melody between the improvised backup of Sid Arodin and the grand George Brunies. Sound quality is as good as one can expect from 1935; the bass is felt more than heard, but drum bombs hit with perfect oomph and the piano glistens.

October 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fletcher Henderson: Variety Stomp

Woefully under-sung today, visionary Fletcher Henderson set the pace for big-band arranging and sound from the 1920s onward. This chart is head and shoulders above most other jazz being made in 1927, painted in a sophisticated palette of minor-key drama. The use of dynamics and humor is a hallmark of Henderson’s style. The solos by Smith and Bailey are appropriately bubbly, and dig Kaiser Marshall’s cymbal punctuations! One of the finest bands of the 20s, bar none, and the track's sound quality is pretty decent.

October 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Monkash

This recording, which adds a string quartet to the conventional tenor-and-trio jazz combo, did not surface in stores until 2005, when producer Michael Cuscuna completed his campaign to release all of the unissued Andrew Hill sessions in the Blue Note Records archives. Like many of Hill's late-'60s compositions, “Monkash” -- named for a doctor friend -- blends groove with gravity. Garnett and Davis state the funky yet formal melody, while Waits tensely flits at the high-hat, threatening to drop a backbeat but never kicking it in. The strings surge and trill, dropping out only for Hill's solo, the centerpiece. A thoughtful, dramatic arrangement.

October 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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