Horace Silver: Señor Blues (Live at Newport)

I read in the paper the other day that the value of Silver is on the rise. The folks at Blue Note must have taken notice, and dug into their vaults for some hidden Silver artifacts.

Okay, you want to gripe that Blue Note kept a great session unreleased for a half century. But that wouldn't be fair. In point of fact, the label only waited 49 years, 6 months and 28 days before letting us hear Horace Silver's dynamic Sunday afternoon set from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

But we're lucky to get this at all. Thanks to Michael Cuscuna, who tracked down tapes (currently housed in the Columbia archives) that George Avakian had made of the entire festival that year, we can enjoy the sound of a great Silver band playing at top form. The sound quality is also outstanding -- not always a given when the Gringott's goblins dig up lost tapes from their dark, deep vaults.

Silver had enjoyed a mini-hit the previous year with "Señor Blues," and Blue Note even issued a 45-rpm single version to take advantage of the song's appeal. But the Newport audience is treated with the extended version, almost nine minutes long. Silver was a master of Latin, funk and hard-bop grooves, but he rarely did a better job of putting them all together into a single arrangement. Not only has this performance held up well after five decades, but it makes one nostalgic for the days when a memorable instrumental chart could become a jazz classic and a popular hit.

January 31, 2008 · 2 comments

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J.J. Johnson: Carolyn (In the Morning)

In this bookend piece that both starts the album Heroes and ends it with a piece appropriately titled "Carolyn (In the Evening)," the trombonist who many feel was the finest to ever play the instrument showcases his compositional and leadership skills. While Johnson's playing is more featured in pieces like "Ten-85" or the equally swinging "In Walked Wayne," it is this song that embodies his soul as a songwriter. Dedicated to his second wife, it's a delicate and poignant jazz waltz that embodies the subtle brilliance of this master musician. While J.J. plays a subdued role on this track, the song showcases the fine talents of Dan Faulk on tenor sax and Renee Rosnes on piano, all behind the brilliantly underplayed work of drummer Victor Lewis and the effective Rufus Reid on bass. This is at once an old master—Johnson was 72 when he recorded this—taking younger, promising artists under his wing in the fine tradition of Art Blakey and Miles Davis, and letting them express their artistry through a vehicle that allows for much feeling. Rosnes is particularly effective as she draws a beautifully emotional response from her cascading keyboard work. Lewis's magically effective stick and cymbal work make the song immediately identifiable and command repeat playing. This is an underrated performance from a group that created a wonderfully enduring piece of music.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jon Mayer: Rip Van Winkle

Mayer is an assured bop-based pianist who recorded with both John Coltrane and Jackie McLean in the '50s, played with Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker among others, and also kept busy with studio work and as a songwriter. Then he retreated from the scene for 13 years. Since his return, Mayer has recorded this memorable original twice, perhaps as a droll answer to the inevitable question, "Where you been?" Rufus Reid excels both in support and in his solo. This is piano trio jazz at its fresh and stimulating best. Hear Mayer just once and you will be hooked.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: At Last You're Here

Will the real Pat Metheny please stand up? Is he the avant-garde player of Song X, or the smooth jazz radio artist? Is he the synthesizer of World Music styles or the stylist of the synthesized music world? Or something else entirely?

In truth, Metheny does so many things so well, even he must have a hard time deciding which path represents his true calling. For my part, I often have a fondness for Midwest Metheny, the boy born in Lee's Summit, Missouri back in '54 who dishes out jazz Americana with that big, open country sound that no one has ever surpassed. Pat has staked out this territory as his own -- and it's almost as big as the Louisiana Purchase.

That's the side of Pat that comes across on "At Last You're Here," a grand 8-minute track from his new Day Trip CD. Pat the Pastoralist takes you on the closest thing to a day trip that you will find while plugged into your iPod. You can almost feel the breeze and smell the juniper trees. And when Metheny writes a melody this strong, he also seems to find a way of infusing his solos with a singing quality. From beginning to end, this a great performance and highly recommended.

January 31, 2008 · 1 comment

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Henry "Pucho" Brown: Georgia on My Mind

This "Georgia" is far from the usually slow renderings. First the frantic up-tempo Latin pulse, then the coarse blues shouter's voice that, besides singing with plenty of soul (as befits his name), reminds us that James Brown and Martin Luther King were from Georgia (this is undoubtedly the roaring '60s!), finally the daring arrangement based on contrasts between fiery percussion and airy strings, dreamy vibraphone and loud horns. Happy feet and soul lovers alike will find what they're looking for in this hot and strange brew that bubbles with rhythm and emotion.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Murphy: On Green Dolphin Street

Right from the start, when Murphy sings the verse solely with piano, you know it's going to be a great vocal version of this tune. Mostly thanks to the singer, whose relaxed phrasing is full of unexpected breaks and accelerations, and molds the melody with supreme freedom. His timbre also blends gorgeously with the horns because Murphy, given the range of his voice, can afford to use it as an instrument. With such a singer, the arrangement needn't fill too much space, and indeed the horns remain rather discreet—all focusing the spotlight on the one and only Mark Murphy.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary Thomas: Lush Life

Although Gary Thomas is better known for hard-driving improv than for playing classic ballads, on this track he spends more time playing the theme of this wonderful Strayhorn composition than improvising. And he does so as a master stylist, tackling the melody with a tenor timbre that doesn't sound as dark as usual. Pat Metheny supports him on acoustic guitar in a very basic and unsophisticated way, as close to the natural sound of the instrument as possible. This duet remains not only a fine version of a timeless standard, but an unexpected foray out of their usual paths by two great musicians.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Coleman: 'Round Midnight

During this set of concerts at a now-defunct Parisian club, Steve Coleman explored different types of music, among which this Monk standard that stands as a unique piece in the alto player's discography. Coleman doesn't play this song in the usual dramatic way, nor does he try to explore the harmonies in an abstract manner. The organic sound of his alto progressively drags the theme into the dense fabric of polyrhythm woven by bass and drums, in the best M-base tradition, and the melody fits perfectly in this context. Andy Milne's solo confirms this assertion: in Coleman's cyclical conception of music, standards are welcome and are bound to display a new potential. After all, isn't it what one expects from classics?

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: Willow Weep for Me

This is a rather unusual tempo for Pat Martino, but on this whole ballad record he decided to renounce his "fastest gun in the West" reputation and to open his heart. Here he chose to sit down under the willow tree and let his guitar gently weep, to stretch the melody and stress its blues implications in order to enhance its emotional qualities. And when his fingers occasionally take momentum during his solo, Goldstein's poised electric piano maintains the steady pace and the meditative spirit.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ralph Towner: Nimbus

One definition of the word nimbus is " ...an atmosphere or aura, as of mystery." Master guitarist Ralph Towner assembled an extraordinary group of talented and sympathetic musicians to weave his vision of this classic and at once quixotic composition that combines a unique use of musical instruments not usually associated with jazz to create his own aura of mystery. This style could rightfully be coined classical fusion.

The composition's introduction captures the beautifully sensitive facility that Towner's touch can create on his classical guitar, a rare use for this instrument in this setting. Towner is artisan at building unusually evocative tension with his flawless technique and his purposeful intensity. After being lured in by the unique combination of his use of 12-string finger-picked guitar as backdrop to his overdubbed guitar solo, the group follows with the sparse melody on a stirring flute/12-string duet between multi-reed artist Jan Gabarek and Towner. The combination works wonderfully. The listener is then led through another musical door where Eberhard Weber's soulfully brooding cello work creates a more intense mood over his equally powerful basslines. The artists continue to raise the musical temperature, breaking into a furious tenor solo by the formidable Gabarek, who elevates the urgency with his firebrand playing. All the while Towner, Weber and European drum sensation Jon Christensen beat the music to a froth before settling back into the now-familiar melody with flute and 12-string ending in a satisfyingly complete conclusion. This music has tinges of the best frenzied fusion of the era, with all its smoke and technical virtuosity, while maintaining a musically complex yet surprisingly genteel quality. The composition is at once appealing and evocative, and its execution is flawless. Not to be overlooked.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carol Sloane: Let's Face the Music and Dance

Sloane can indeed be called "a singer's singer," possessing a gorgeous vibrato, impeccable taste and keen interpretative ability. She takes this standard at a more languid pace than usual, which only plays to her strengths. She wants to tell a story and always wants the listener to appreciate the lyrics. At 6:48, there's generous space given for masterful solos by Charlap and Alden, two players always worth hearing.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Criss: Sonny's Dream

A fast minor waltz has Sonny wailing from the first notes of his solo, as Tapscott's tune and arrangement inspire him to an emotional high. The suave Flanagan cools it down a bit before the band reignites Criss to an even greater frenzy, which includes some uncharacteristic growls. Criss's impressive late-'60s Prestige recordings jumpstarted his career, and the unique "Sonny's Dream" was perhaps the best of them. (The CD reissue includes an alternate take of this track.) The mature Criss could hold his own with any other bop-influenced altoist of his day, and his tragic death in 1977 at age 50 was a great loss.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Turrentine: Buster Brown

“Buster Brown” is one of the more polished and unforced-sounding boogaloos in the rare groove catalog, which is not at all surprising considering its cast of characters. Idris Muhammad sits alone on his throne as the undeniable boogaloo king, Bob Cranshaw brings the fluidity of an acoustic master to the electric bass, and Shirley Scott’s sound is more controlled and less abrasive than other B-3ers. Turrentine possesses an instantly recognizable sound—smooth and round, yet earthy and soulful, making him sound more like a soul singer than any other tenor saxophonist before or since. The “Sugar Man” sings, cries, and wails his blues through his horn, and he’ll have listeners hanging on every soulful note.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: This Is It

On the longest track from Rubalcaba's Avatar CD, the band stretches out for a 12-minute exploration of Yosvany Terry's composition "This Is it." The harmonic approach is mostly modal, with the solos taking wing over the throbbing vamp of bassist Matt Brewer, who periodically jumps into fast swing time but never settles into any rhythm long enough to let the soloists get complacent. The result is an agitated, jittery performance that throws off lots of sparks.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Peace

Horace Silver was better known for his groove numbers of various types -- Latin, funk, hard bop -- than for ballads. But with "Peace," Silver contributed one of the greatest jazz ballads, a graceful short form that was closer to Miles's "Blue in Green" than to the typical Blue Note offering.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another Blue Note artist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, may likewise be better known for his groove numbers, but here shows that (like Silver) he can craft a beautiful, breathing ballad. And he chooses Silver's "Peace" for the honors. Rubalcaba does not drive the band here, but merely lingers like a gentle fog over the pace set by bassist Matt Brewer. The delicacy of his touch stands out in this setting. This is the shortest track on Rubalcaba's Avatar CD (clocking in at four minutes), but by no means a lesser one.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Warm Blue Stream

Recorded by Wally Heider during a live gig, this track is notable for several reasons. The song itself deserves more exposure and performances; this is a beautiful arrangement for the mellophonium ensemble by Niehaus; and the track highlights one of Kenton's finest singers. Turner was 25 when she joined the band, one of the few black musicians Stan featured in his long career. Turner joined Harry James' band in 1965 and then disappeared. There are many listeners who don't associate Kenton's music with such lovely and jazzy sounds. Marvin Stamm plays the muted trumpet under the vocal.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eliane Elias: Waltz for Debby

This song is inevitably included on every Bill Evans tribute recording - as familiar as "Round Midnight" when the acolyte followers of Monk gather in homage - and everyone from the Kronos String Quartet to Jean-Yves Thibaudet has dished up a version. But this is not as easy a song to play as might seem from first glance. Yes, the chord changes are not very challenging, and the tempo typically a gentle medium-tempo waltz. No one will get bruised here. But the song demands a certain childlike quality on the part of the performer. The composition was written, after all, for Evans' niece, and evokes the innocence of the nursery. Over-play this song and you kill it. Sometimes even Evans pushed it too hard.

Eliane Elias gets it just right. She starts with a vocal, drawing on Gene Lees' sweet lyrics, and sings the words with absolute fidelity to the spirit of the composition. She takes the opening chorus with just her own piano accompaniment, and when bassist Marc Johnson (a member of Evans' last trio) and drummer Joey Baron enter, they push the energy level up a notch, but not too much. The whole performance is quite graceful, and will remind you why this song became a standard in the first place.

January 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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John Pisano & Billy Bean: Cherokee

There is no good reason why Billy Bean is so little known, except that he didn't record much. So this 7½-minute duet with John Pisano is an excellent opportunity to discover his playing alongside a good – but not outstanding – partner on the same instrument. Even before Bean takes the second solo, the inventive way in which he plays basslines or comps behind Pisano already tells us something special is about to happen. He soars at 2:25 with a beautiful round sound, clear horn player-like phrasing, and a flow of melodic ideas taking him far from the formalism often attached to this set of chord progressions. Indeed, his guitar flies like the hawk over the prairie, and it's a mighty thing for our ears to behold!

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brother Jack McDuff: Moon Rappin'

An 8-track copy of “Moon Rappin’” should be stored safely in the dash of every 1970s Cadillac for emergency top-down cruising purposes. The bass-driven intro, supported by spacey guitar wahs, reverb-heavy, ringing piano chords and a smooth guitar counterpoint, establishes some untouchable funk that is both “get down” dirty and buttery slick. After the heavily textured melody meanders through a maze of unexpected harmonic twists and turns, McDuff rips over the original groove on his B-3 and then treats listeners to a rare acoustic piano solo. While the leader displays a surprisingly delicate touch, the group begins to ramble and things become a tad unfocused—perhaps a second soloist may have moved things along better. However, the flaws in execution are easily forgotten if you let yourself get lost in the groove. It’ll be well worth it.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Cherokee

This is not an easy song to sing, and indeed its most famous versions are by instrumentalists. But Dianne Reeves's voice tackles this difficult set of chords with such ease that one wonders why she doesn't have more competitors. A great vocal performance by one of the greatest stylists of our times, and an interesting arrangement too, which gives the song a funny Latin twist towards the end. Not to mention Bobby Watson's fiery alto solo, reminding us that, among instrumentalists at least, there definitely is strong competition when it comes to "Cherokee."

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard 'Groove' Holmes: Mr. Clean

Less overtly R&B than other rare grooves, the psychedelic “Mr. Clean” is more Bitches Brew than it is James Brown. The groove is urgent and pressing, and harmonically it explores a darker, more mysterious side of soul-jazz. Holmes uses a spacey echo effect during his solo, priming his B-3 and the rest of his bandmates for liftoff. There is an intense energy that rumbles throughout the track, occasionally peaking like the cresting and crashing of waves as the group navigates a precarious alien soundscape. “Mr. Clean” sounds like no other song in the Blue Note rare groove catalog, and that alone makes it an intriguing listen.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gene Harris and the Three Sounds: I'm Still Sad

“I’m Still Sad” proves that wires aren’t needed to conduct electricity—the Three Sounds have enough juice flowing from their limbs they could power the It Club’s entire lighting rig and then some. This acoustic trio doesn’t simply set a groove, they work meticulously inside it—shifting rhythms, dynamics and motives to keep things fresh. They have the chops and sympathetic ears that many soul-jazz groups lack, though their sophistication never distracts them from their game plan—funkin’ out some gospel blues. Harris works with concise blues licks, playing a game of call and response with himself. Burnett’s tight, snappy backbeat and Franklin’s lively bass lead the group towards a soul-jazz catharsis.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Love for Sale

On this live track the interaction between Dianne Reeves and her rhythm section is tremendous. They shift speed without notice, the singer goes from words to scat with an incredible ease, and she lets her pianist and drummer improvise in a way that seems to flow naturally in the course of the performance, far from some of those formally announced solos. Above all, though they are tackling a song with meaningful words, their interpretation is based on rhythm more than on meaning. Yet their incredible rhythmic drive fits the re-harmonized melody like a glove, and makes sense too.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Son of Ice Bag

Having been steady organist in the bands of both Lou Donaldson and George Benson for almost three years, Lonnie Smith had plenty of experience before cutting his first Blue Note album as leader in 1968. Add the meaty frontline of Lee Morgan and “Fathead” Newman, and you get a rare groove that is not only funky but much more daring than your average soul-jazz session. The group sounds well rehearsed, and the arrangement is tight, yet there is an openness that gives the soloists the freedom to develop their solos modally and not simply string together regurgitated blues licks. Smith and company generate some highly creative, thoughtful improvisations that will encourage close listening. This is high-quality late-'60s jazz—straight, no chaser. It just happens to also be a hard groovin’ boogaloo.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy McGriff: Back on the Track

Though he considers himself to be first and foremost a blues musician, Jimmy McGriff straddles the demarcating lines between R&B, gospel, funk and jazz more comfortably than any organist in any genre. Electric Funk sounds like the lost soundtrack to an unreleased blaxploitation film and its first cut, “Back On The Track,” would be perfect for the opening credits. The deep-pocket bassist lays down some serious funk and the mystery drummer is so nasty he’ll make DJs drool. Always deeply soulful, McGriff preaches his own gospel with short exclamatory licks to fill the space allotted him in Horace Ott’s simple yet effective “small big band” arrangement. A standout track on the funkiest record in the Blue Note stacks.

January 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Wallace Roney: The Way You Look Tonight

There is always a risk in taking an originally slow song at top speed without even playing the melody. Why use a good tune as a mere bunch of chords to ride them frantically? Wallace Roney avoids this danger by playing the melody alone with the bass as an introduction, with a beautiful sound and a phrasing that shows a tender soul. Then the group joins in for an impressive tour de force powered by Cindy Blackman's dynamic drumming. But the atmosphere of the intro somehow lingers on and keeps the whole thing within the boundaries of its original feeling.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Willow Weep for Me

Clifford Brown doesn't even have to take a chorus to be one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all times. Here, arranger Neal Hefti chose to feature him "against" two registers of strings that open up with a high riff and a lower countermelody. In this context the horn acquires a strongly dramatic quality simply by playing the melody with a phrasing and timbre all its own. And now and then a short foray out of the written line reminds us how inventive Brownie can be whenever he improvises.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: Autumn Leaves

Bireli Lagrene was 25 at the time of this recording and already a guitar hero in the fields of fusion and gipsy jazz. Here, he wants to show his ability in another arena, and actually doesn’t let foreign influences interfere with his straight-ahead chops. Still, his choice is definitely high-speed linear virtuosity on the chords of a song whose melody he doesn’t even bother to quote once. Since his partners have no problem following him on this racetrack for quick fingers, the whole thing is rather impressive. But far from the original spirit, unless that autumn breeze was a hurricane.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Reuben Wilson: Bus Ride

Reuben Wilson achieved little notoriety while recording for Blue Note (he was dropped from the label within three years) but has since become an acid-jazz legend and a favorite of DJs and rare groove fanatics. More lazy Saturday afternoon joyriding with a bellyful of soul food than rush-hour Manhattan with a fistful of coffee, “Bus Ride” is all strut and no sprint. The unison Meters-esque melody is relaxed and unhurried; the groove is soulful, inviting and warm. Melvin Sparks shows why he was the first-choice guitarist for so many soul-jazz sessions, and unknown drummer Tommy Derrick’s loose but deep-pocket groove makes one wonder why he wasn’t more in demand himself.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Weasil

An under-recognized classic, Fancy Free highlights Donald Byrd in transition between his acoustic hard-bop period and his slick, controversial 1970s albums produced by the Mizell Brothers. This was the first time Byrd used electric piano on record, and the sly, loping, dramatically behind-the-beat “Weasil” is the standout track. It features a Frank Foster tenor solo for the ages—fat-toned and confident, he speaks the blues with fierce authority. Drummer Joe Chambers adjusts his groove to each soloist, but retains a laid-back swagger and assurance that insist the track moves at his tempo. If your head isn’t bopping within two seconds after pushing play, check your pulse. This one is that deep.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrew Hill: Soul Special

With Andrew Hill, one of Blue Note’s more idiosyncratic and challenging pianists, listeners can expect surprises—but a boogaloo? There are always blues implications underneath Hill’s unique concept, and while the groove and harmony of “Soul Special” are undeniably funk based, the mix of improvisational styles sets it apart from other late-'60s rare grooves. Guitarist Jimmy Ponder’s licks come from the bottom of the soul-jazz bag, and tenorman Frank Mitchell unfurls some short, bluesy, bop-inflected phrases. With his pentatonicism, Woody Shaw is as “in-the-pocket” as ever (dig his shocking entrance). Hill’s ambiguous harmonic and rhythmic approach, however, stands out amongst all. His abstract phrasing and crunchy, dissonant clusters keep things distinctly avant-garde while still respecting the groove.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Ain't It Funky Now

This is the ultimate rare groove—true funk perfection. The undemanding harmony forces the focus onto the rhythm, which is gritty, commanding, thick and multi-layered with flawless auxiliary percussion. Check out Idris Muhammad’s slammin’ drum breaks between 0:59 and 1:11—wow!! During his funk phase, Green limited himself to blues pentatonics and a finite number of licks. He uses them brilliantly here, however, constructing the most exciting solo in his funk catalog. Bartee and Mitchell contribute sizzling improvisations that are so smart and melodic they are actually catchier and more singable than the melody itself. Infectious and powerful, this is unquestionably a “must have” recording, and it is guaranteed that one listen will not be enough.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blue Mitchell: Hi-Heel Sneakers

After Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” rocked jukeboxes nationwide in 1964, Blue Note started searching for its next big hit. More and more albums jumped off with a danceable, R&B-style track, though many can be written off as uninspired and diluted commercial compromises. Not Blue Mitchell’s high-class version of “Hi-Heel Sneakers.” This vigorous groover burns from beginning to end, driven by Taylor’s repetitive, blues bassline and Foster’s determined ride cymbal. Having perfected their trade in Horace Silver’s group, Mitchell and Cook are masters of concise, funky blues minimalism. Young Chick Corea adds some soulful statements of his own, showing flashes of the brilliance that would soon make him one of the most influential pianists of his generation.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lou Donaldson: Donkey Walk

Many jazz purists were enraged when Lou Donaldson ditched bebop for the boogaloo. One of the finest Bird-cloned altoists had chopped off his wings, jumped off the top of Bebop mountain and plummeted straight to the bottom of “sell-out” pit (please note my sarcasm).

In reality, Donaldson’s sense of melody was never more astute than on his late-'60s Blue Note albums. His playing is bluesy, economical and reserved; his intent is not to blow your mind with flurried 16th notes and upper-structure dissonance, but to lure you in with a hook and hit you in your gut. When compared to his 1950s records, this approach may seem lazy to some, but it is the remarkable ease, logic and flow of his ideas that make his soul-jazz recordings just as essential. You won’t simply be listening to Donaldson—you’ll be feeling him.

On “Donkey Walk,” each chorus begins with a four-bar break that Donaldson fills masterfully with unparalleled soulfulness and clarity. In the plethora of funky beats that Idris Muhammad has dropped over the years, I dare to say that this is one of his catchiest and grooviest. Jimmy Lewis’s Latin-tinged bassline is steady and vital and Charles Earland adds some excellent playing to the mix. Donaldson was a bold trendsetter, and this is one of his finest recordings.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Skylark

Sonny begins unaccompanied sounding like he's introducing a calypso, but then subtly moves into a slow-tempoed sweet reading of the standard. After Cables's heartfelt solo, Sonny soars at his creative best with surging, extended lines, capped by a long cadenza to die for. The highlight of Sonny's first album after his second "retirement" of six years, this superb track alone announced that he was back for keeps, although his studio recordings--as opposed to live performances--would continue to remain uneven.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Booker Ervin: A Lunar Tune

Texas tenor Ervin possessed a brawny, cavernous sound like none other, and an original, harmonically sophisticated improvisational approach. Here he's backed by one of the greatest rhythm sections in jazz history--the exceptional Byard, Davis and Dawson. "A Lunar Tune," from perhaps his best recording, is a kaleidoscopic, exhilarating trip that makes the listener bemoan the fact that Ervin died in 1970 at only 39.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Macchia: Down in the Valley

Frank Macchia likes the old songs, and I'm not talking about George Gershwin and Cole Porter. I mean the really old songs, like "Shenandoah" and "Sidewalks of New York." Half of the tracks on his new Landscapes CD are in the public domain. (Sorry ASCAP and BMI!) But Macchia dresses up these old melodies in cool jazz garb. By the time he is done with "Down in the Valley," it has been transformed into a 6/8 blues, reminiscent of "All Blues" with a dose of Getz's Focus. Macchia's orchestral writing is excellent, and he avoids the risk (ever present with songs such as "Down in the Valley") of falling into empty Copland-esque flourishes or unconscious mimicry of Western film soundtracks. Macchia's last CD Emotions garnered a Grammy nomination, and he looks to have another winner with this release.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Pieranunzi: My Funny Valentine

It will take more than a minute before Pieranunzi and his U.S. partners play the theme of this song, taken at higher than usual speed. Before that, they toy around with bits of the melody and with the harmony while building a highly romantic atmosphere. Refined piano phrasing, subtle cymbal touch and supple basslines weave a strong and delicate network around the theme before it is exposed, then diluted again during the improvisation process. Some will see here Bill Evans's influence on Pieranunzi. Others will remember that the Italian pianist had also been a companion of Chet Baker, one of the all-time greatest suitors of "Funny Valentine."

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: I Can't Get Started

The only ballad – and one of the shortest tunes – that Rollins played on this historic first live-at-the- Vanguard recording session provides a good opportunity to appreciate Elvin Jones's usually underrated brushwork, and to revel in the way the tenor adapts his powerful, heavy tone to a slow tempo. Or rather adapts it to his way of playing, for Rollins keeps accelerating and slowing down his delivery as he improvises melodic phrases, giving "I Can't Get Started" an unusually dynamic twist. When the final stop chorus arrives, with its quotation of the classic "'Round Midnight" intro, the overall feeling is that the Colossus has reshaped Vernon Duke's standard according to his own taste.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Yesterdays

Those who don't like brass with strings (and that includes many jazz buffs) should be assuaged: Clifford Brown with Strings is an exception. And "Yesterdays" is the opening piece of this beautiful record that nobody should listen to without a box of tissues within reach. Indeed, the intensity and emotional quality of Brownie's sound and phrasing on this track and on the other ballads he tackles here as sole improviser are sometimes breathtaking. And even the purists will admit that Neal Hefti – himself a trumpeter – did a great job with the small string orchestra that, along with Brown's usual rhythm section, surrounds one of the greatest geniuses of the instrument.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano: Descent Into the Maelstrom

Years before Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman released their first LPs, Lennie Tristano offers up an intense example of Free Jazz, completely atonal and full of drama. The song title refers to a 19th-century story by Edgar Allan Poe, but that is the only aspect of this track that looks backwards. The music itself anticipates the future with great acuity. But this performance was not released for a quarter of a century, so it impacts the history of the music only as a retrospective monument to Tristano's boldness and creativity. One wonders what would have happened had Tristano dared to put this out at the time. I imagine that the controversy over his "Line Up" track would have been a mere tempest in a teapot compared to the maelstrom that this performance might have unleashed.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano (with Lee Konitz): All the Things You Are

In the annals of jazz history, the Sing Song Room of the Confucius Restaurant will never be confused with Birdland or the Village Vanguard, but Lennie Tristano recorded one of his finest live dates in this unlikely setting during the summer of 1955. This excellent version of "All the Things You Are" was originally released by Atlantic on their Lennie Tristano LP in February 1956, but a larger selection of recordings from the Confucius Restaurant has occasionally been made available (currently they can be found on a poorly produced Spanish import with sound quality inferior to the old LP release). Both Konitz and Tristano were improvising at top form on this gig, which finds them thriving in a low-key setting, seemingly playing as much for their own enjoyment as for the audience. Somehow I think that if this same crew had been featured at Carnegie Hall that evening, the musical results would not have been half so fun.

Konitz would later move away from his cool jazz sound, but here he reminds us of the long lineage of cool sax playing going back to Lester Young and Frank Trumbauer. Imagine a bebop update on Prez (circa "Lady be Good") translated to alto, and you have some idea what this track sounds like. Tristano plays with great relaxation and inventiveness here, and offers up a smart linear improvisation. His lines at the turnaround at the close of his first chorus and the bridge of his second chorus are absolutely choice—demonstrating a way of accenting complex long phrases across the barlines that sounds twenty years ahead of its time. Remember this was recorded long before those types of interval choices or rhythmic dislocations were common currency. Then again, this artist always had an uncanny knack for anticipating the future history of jazz.

"All the Things You Are" was a familiar friend to the Tristano school, played at many of their gigs; but they never got stale playing it. Rather its performance was like the repetition of a ritual, finding deeper meanings with each new encounter.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Summertime

This is essentially a rearrangement of the score that Gil Evans wrote for Miles Davis's Porgy and Bess (1958). But Evans has updated it to the electric '70s, and assigned the lead to guitar to emphasize the blues tinge of Gershwin's song. Ted Dunbar's solo may not be the greatest ever taken on these familiar chords, but it's surrounded by a maze of details that widen the sound spectrum and bear Evans's mark, from the sweet jungle of cymbals and miscellaneous percussion to the daring contrast between tweeting flutes and roaring tubas.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddy Louiss and Michel Petrucciani: Summertime

Organ and piano duets are infrequent in jazz. But when it comes to musicians like Louiss and Petrucciani, the choice of the instrument is less relevant than the pleasure of the dialogue, and music flows so naturally from their fingers that it can almost be frightening. This is especially obvious on "Summertime," which has been played by almost everybody. Louiss's and Petrucciani's freshness and lack of over-sophistication return the song to its roots as a vehicle for improvisation. Moreover, in their hands these instruments make a gorgeous blend. Dialogue, pleasure, gorgeous blend … these musicians wouldn't be French, by any chance?

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Stella by Starlight

This is typically the kind of piece that people will classify as "West Coast jazz," although it was recorded in New York by a native of Philadelphia. True, Getz's tenor delivery is thoroughly relaxed, and the sound of the quintet is basically cool. But what I find most remarkable in the Getz of the early '50s is the way he can, with apparently no effort, carve a little gem of less than three minutes. Of course some will merely use it as background music. But others will listen again and again, endlessly raving at, for example, the art with which Stan casually inserts a quotation from Bizet's Carmen at the end of his solo.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Opus in Beige

Gene Roland first wrote for Kenton back in 1944, and not only contributed music for almost 30 years, but played trumpet, trombone and mellophonium with the band. Usually Roland's music is upbeat and swinging, but here he is in a more reflective mood, and the result is one of his loveliest pieces. Larsen and Perkins solo.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: The Thrill Is Gone

Married to Kenton for a few years, Ann Richards has her fans and detractors as a singer. Many listeners feel that her best work was with the maestro's band. "The Thrill Is Gone" was recorded during the same sessions that produced one of the band's finest albums, Contemporary Concepts, so the band was in a good place musically and personally. Noto has a short solo, but the focus is on Richards, who does a good job with this difficult song.

January 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: The Opener

Kenton may not have been entirely comfortable with Bill Holman's musical direction, but he bought everything that Bill wrote for the band, and recorded an entire 10" LP featuring Holman's music. "The Opener" is relatively quiet at the beginning, but the musical lines weave in and out, engaging the listeners' ear immediately. Rosolino, Mariano and Noto solo (and Kenton comps nicely behind them, thank you). The beauty of Holman's writing for Kenton is his relaxed swing feel (even though these are almost even eighth notes), with the harmonic and linear advantages of all those horns to use. Kenton must have felt the proceedings were getting out of hand, for he disbanded soon after these recordings, and for his next few recording sessions used only his own arrangements.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Invention for Guitar and Trumpet

Kenton first heard of Willis Holman when Gene Roland played Stan a recording of a 12-tone contrapuntal blues that Bill had written during his years at Westlake College of Music. After Holman joined the band on tenor sax, Kenton asked him to write a piece for Ferguson and Salvador. Holman was never happy with "Invention," but it features virtuoso playing from both participants. Holman became an important contributor to the band over the years, writing many compositions that band members often requested, arrangements for vocalists, and unique takes on standards culminating in an album called Contemporary Concepts that was one of Kenton's all-time best.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: 23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West

The title denotes the coordinates for Cuba, and Russo would later say that this was one of his better pieces. George Roberts would suggest to Nelson Riddle that a variant of the percussive bass trombone line be used as a transition in the arrangement of "I've Got You Under My Skin" for Frank Sinatra. Also interesting is Russo's use of 7/4 time after Konitz's solo, and how it flawlessly switches back to 4/4 without calling attention to itself. Rosolino also solos in this track. A short trumpet solo for Candoli was cut, although Russo later restored it for his own Chicago Jazz Ensemble—then cut it again in later performances.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Young Blood

Mulligan and Stan Kenton was an odd mix that didn't work out. Mulligan's music was light years away from Kenton's dynamic musical approach. (Kenton was always concerned that this type of music would make his band sound like Woody Herman's.) But the musicians loved Mulligan's charts and frequently requested his pieces during the last set of a gig. Candoli, Kamuca, Konitz and Childers have great solos, and the band really swings out. From his tenor sax chair, Bill Holman was listening carefully to Mulligan's linear writing and harmonic approach, and would write important pieces for Kenton soon after. Despite their differences, Kenton still played Mulligan's music as late as 1959.

January 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Easy Go

During his "Innovations" period, Kenton would drop the strings between tours and play dance gigs to recoup the money he'd lost. He also continued to record singles, which he and Capitol Records hoped would sell so that he'd get airplay. "Easy Go" is another riff-based tune which got the dancers up on the floor and gave Rogers and Fitzpatrick a chance to blow.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Body and Soul

On this very special evening at the New Morning club in Paris, Dianne Reeves was in fantastic shape, and the rendering she gave of this standard of standards is historic. The African-like wordless vocals over the piano vamp in the re-harmonized intro set the scene: it’s definitely going to be about body and about soul! So, for almost nine minutes, the singer and her band explore rhythms (Latin, funk…), textures (from the thickest to the thinnest) and registers (highs and lows that make your skin creep) in a fascinating ad lib rubato way. Pure magic!

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Body and Soul

Although this version is dedicated to Coleman Hawkins, who made "Body and Soul" into one of the ultimate tenor-sax solo vehicles for decades, it is far from the spirit of Bean's historic 1939 rendering. Anita O'Day has way too much personality to be a copycat. With arranger Russell Garcia's help, she reshapes this standard with her vocal virtuosity. After singing the two "A" parts of the song and half of its famous bridge at a slow tempo, alone with the piano, she lets the orchestra in for a joyride of crazy phrasing, where she shows above-human ease with notes and words, before ending with a couple of bars of nonchalant, loose scat singing. It may have little to do with the dramatic content of the lyrics, but it's so classy that we aren't about to quibble over relevance.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Liebman & Franco D'Andrea: Autumn Leaves

These two know their standards so well that they can choose to approach them from as many angles as they want. After Liebman tiptoes into the melody while D'Andrea comps a delicate, softly bouncing intro, this cat and mouse playing around the familiar chords carries on for more than seven minutes with no letup in inspiration. The soprano soars wildly while the piano builds rock-steady foundations in the low register, then hushes while its companion improvises in a dreamy yet earthy way. Liebman and D'Andrea know a lot about standards—and obviously about empathy and team playing, too.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet & Martial Solal: All The Things You Are

It must have seemed strange, in the late stages of a "war" between jazz traditionalists and supporters of the bop revolution, to pair a New Orleans-born veteran and an up-and-coming young virtuoso who was soon to become one of Europe's leading modern pianists. Plus a rhythm team that Martial Solal more than Sidney Bechet was familiar with, and which six months later would also support Miles Davis on the famed soundtrack of Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958; released in the USA as Elevator to the Gallows). But Bechet was such an icon in his adopted homeland of France that he could afford to do anything and was revered by every musician. Here he basically stays very close to the melody, with his huge sound and plentiful vibrato, and lets Solal toy around with the harmonies in a playful, witty way that the pianist even uses when he comps behind his unwavering elder. Not much of an encounter, indeed, but still a very interesting example of musical co-tenancy.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: All The Things You Are

It's difficult, after the magnificent 2½-minute piano solo intro, not to be conscious of the fact that "All the Things…" is built on the same type of harmonic cadenzas as many compositions of the Baroque period. Still, the audience is so mesmerized by Jarrett's contrapuntal virtuosity and fantastic phrasing that it only seems to recognize the tune when Peacock and DeJohnette join in, and then breaks into raving applause. That's the "Jarrett magic" at it's best and, though some may call it too conscious, it works so well on this track that one would have to be really picky to bargain one's pleasure. All the more since the trio part that follows shows great interaction and empathy, DeJohnette's drumming being particularly dynamic and inventive. This is obviously one of the highlights of a standard trio that hadn't yet become "standardized."

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: All The Things You Are

When "All the Things…" was penned by Kern & Hammerstein, guitars were hardly amplified, much less hooked up to any kind of pedal or electronic device. It's all the more interesting to listen to what a highly wired guitarist like Scofield can do with that timeless standard. Strangely, he first stays rather close to the theme, and the melody is so good that it lends itself beautifully to the saturated sounds of the guitar alone, soon joined by bass and drums. Then comes the deconstructing process, as the volume rises and the brushes give way to powerful sticks. But all the way through, this trio shows a sheer love of this timeless song that they explore in all its dimensions, in a most organic, never intellectual approach, up to a quote of the classic Charlie Parker intro, towards the end of these almost 8 minutes of intense improv.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz & Jimmy Giuffre: Palo Alto

A flowing though rather abstract melody penned by Lee Konitz, wrapped in the smooth yet swinging arrangement of his partner Jimmy Giuffre, this spells cool jazz at its best. Konitz's sinewy alto blows its way through his solo with supreme, relaxed creativity while the airy sound of the four other reeds weaves a supple tapestry of refined countermelodies around it. The rhythm section, led by Bill Evans, is a model of fluidity and elegance, and the whole thing casts the discreet and intense glow of a gem in its velvet setting. This collective effort by Konitz, Giuffre and their colleagues is definitely one of the major achievements of the so-called "cool school."

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Farrell: Follow Your Heart

I am cheating a bit calling this tune a standard. It is not. But damn it, this should be. Here's my case: I once heard it on a soap opera. Guitarist Bill Frisell covered it on his fine album Ghost Town. John Abercrombie also takes a skilled whack at it on the Mahavishnu tribute album Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse. That's enough justification for me. Here, a young electric John McLaughlin plays with Joe Farrell, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. (Chick Corea sits it out.) What a band and what a performance! "Follow Your Heart" is a melodious ballad with a hook, played in a relaxed mode with an unusual time signature (11/8) and enough open space for all of the players to successfully contribute. It is also one of the earliest examples of McLaughlin showing off those comping "jangly" chords he would become famous for. ("Follow Your Heart" also appears in part on McLaughlin's album Extrapolation and in full on My Goal's Beyond.)

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: My Romance

This could be a fun thing to do: play McLaughlin's beautiful acoustic rendition of "My Romance" to someone unfamiliar with John's playing. Its harp-like chords and deep rich melody notes will enchant the listener. Then play the McLaughlin Mahavishnu Orchestra's head-jarring electric "Birds of Fire" immediately. After you resuscitate the now-shocked listener, try your damnedest to convince him or her that it was the same guitarist playing both songs. You will not be able to do it!

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Afro Blue

McLaughlin's energetic version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" from After the Rain is a fully realized treatment of the tune most often associated with John Coltrane. McLaughlin, organist Joey DeFrancesco and Coltrane alumnus Elvin Jones on drums drive the tune as if it were one of those monster trucks going down a steep hill in Baja. McLaughlin mutes his chorused guitar sound a bit, which may be a detriment. But if you pay attention, his swinging line-playing evokes Coltrane's sax forays.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Manha De Carnaval

McLaughlin has been playing the Brazilian standard "Manha De Carnaval," sometimes called "Black Orpheus" because of the movie it came from, since at least 1980 when he performed it in trio with Larry Coryell and Paco De Lucia. This is a duet with Al Di Meola. John is the stronger lyrical player even though you would tend to think any Latin music would be more of Di Meola's bailiwick. The tune's sad but optimistic melody is the perfect canvas for McLaughlin to paint washes of nuance.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: No Blues

McLaughlin's organ trio group The Free Spirits released its one and only album, Tokyo Live, in 1993. It is not one of my favorite McLaughlin groups because I was never really happy with the sound of John's guitar. In person and live it was a great band because you could see John playing. But on record, his sound was too close to Joey DeFrancesco's organ to tell them apart during unison playing. With that caveat out of the way, the band, with Dennis Chambers on drums, did a killer version of "No Blues." With unison playing less of a role in this tune, McLaughlin's blues chops are front and center. They are somewhat traditional in sense of form, but his bending of the notes downward in pitch and not upward creates yet another John McLaughlin trademark sound.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Very Early

This is one of Bill Evans's most beautiful compositions. McLaughlin's admiration for Evans is well known. He played "Very Early" on his Belo Horizonte album. But he gives it a lengthier treatment on his tribute to Bill Evans, Time Remembered. Performing with a guitar quartet and a bassist, McLaughlin treats the tune as if it were a fragile piece of glass. The overuse of reverb in the recording is a little annoying, but it does not break the spell of this lush lullaby. This is McLaughlin in his most romantic, almost saccharine, bag. There is a great energy nonetheless to his improvised parts. Some people didn't like McLaughlin's heavily arranged "classical" approach to Evan's music on this and other tunes. But my wife loves the album. If my wife can love any album from an electric fusion god, there is hope for us all.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Blue in Green

Miles wrote it! No, Bill Evans wrote it! For some, the argument goes on and on. (Evans credits Miles on his album, so I will go with that.) At any rate, McLaughlin has had two passes at this piece over the years. His solo acoustic interpretation on My Goal's Beyond is marked as a favorite by many. But the superior version is to be found on Live at Royal Festival Hall. McLaughlin, using a new acoustic guitar with midi effects, not only twists the tune around crooked, he challenges the concept of the space-time continuum while he's at it.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: My Foolish Heart

Victor Young wrote the music for the 1949 movie of the same name, which critics hated. Despite the film's negative press, "My Foolish Heart" earned Young one of his 20 lifetime Oscar nominations, this time for Best Song. John McLaughlin lowered the tuning of the low E string so he could use his thumb to provide a lower-register bass to accompany his lush chords and pristine single-note runs. McLaughlin's sound is gorgeous. The melancholy ballad is the last cut on the record and is an outlier on an album full of heavy fusion. McLaughlin likes to jar you that way. I don't think he does it to show off. Rather, he wants you to cool down and relax after experiencing his all-out sonic attack.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Frevo Rasgado

Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti's popular "Frevo Rasgado" has proven to be the perfect vehicle for John McLaughlin to show his multifaceted skills for many years now. Live in performance duet with the great flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia, McLaughlin shows his arranging skills, jazz and flamenco-style chops, his stop-and-start-on-the-side-of-a-dime control, his masterly comping for another of the world's best guitarists, and his improvising genius. For extra measure, he throws in some drama by displaying pyrotechnics and show-business tricks. "Frevo," as it is often called for short, may be too international in flavor and too difficult to play to become a major part of the everyday standard jazz repertoire, but it deserves to be.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: A Love Supreme

Carlos Santana, a fellow Coltrane admirer, joined John McLaughlin on Love, Devotion, Surrender for "A Love Supreme." Wailing electric guitars and agitated calls and responses punctuate a truly transcendent version. Whether you believe in the organic nature of a divine music or not, you cannot help but be carried away to some distant place upon the chanting refrains from this performance. It is an homage played with the fervor of true believers in a message and a man.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Naima

This lovely John Coltrane piece has been interpreted innumerable times. It is very difficult to come close to the brilliance of the original. The two attempts that come closest are both provided by string players. Mandolinist David Grisman's versions from several of his albums are highly recommended. I also favor McLaughlin's first recording of the piece which appeared on Love, Devotion, Surrender. McLaughlin was joined by rock guitar superstar Carlos Santana for this recording. Carlos was a rabid fan of McLaughlin and had started to dig what John's spiritual guru, the late Sri Chinmoy, was saying in those days. Whether you believe in gurus or not, there is no doubt the two players themselves were immersed in a spiritual vortex that saw Coltrane, Chinmoy and music itself at its very center. This performance is a devotional prayer without words. McLaughlin is the stronger player and the guide, but the interplay between the two is revelatory. (McLaughlin later also covered the tune on his Coltrane tribute album After The Rain.)

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Mention Charlie Mingus's tribute to Lester Young these days and most people will associate it with Jeff Beck's electric version on his album Wired. That performance was good enough, but did not really please Charlie. He wanted it played with the jazz changes he had written. John McLaughlin played those changes. He also played the tune on a steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Fans familiar only with his jarring electric work from this period were stunned and then quickly enchanted by just how beautiful distortion-master McLaughlin could make an acoustic guitar sound. His exacting jazz chords, clean fleet-fingered runs snapped off like dry branches, and subtle harmonic nuances showed a mastery of the guitar that wasn't known at that time. McLaughlin's emotive performance of "Pork Pie" betrayed a player who, despite his growing fame in the rock world, was really carrying on a tradition.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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João Gilberto: Estaté

It's not often that a modern Italian song becomes an international success . . much less a jazz standard. So when the bossa nova founder, João Gilberto, recorded "Estaté" (eh STAH tay) in the fall of 1976, he achieved a rare feat. Although written in 1960 (and not as a bossa), "Estaté" had lived in obscurity until revived by Gilberto. Besides the indisputable beauty of the song's melody and chord changes, its message of love's hope and sorrow must have appealed to João's own sense of saudade – Brazilian longing or melancholy. On this recording – indeed, throughout Amoroso – Gilberto's gentle vocal style, accent, and understated rhythmic guitar are balanced by Claus Ogerman's lush orchestral arrangement, resulting in a moving, memorable listening experience. Bravo João!

January 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Stryker / Slagle Band: Bird Flew

A catchy tune based on "Confirmation" changes. Special guest Joe Lovano's thoughtful solo toys with the rhythm, staccato jabs mixing with overtoned shrieks. Slagle follows insinuatingly in his distinctive free-bop style. Stryker enters blues-inflected with added Wes Montgomery chording. Robust exchanges between spark-plug Hart and the frontline players leads to the theme's satisfying reprise. Stryker and Slagle's over two-decade association continues to enrich us.

January 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: River's Run

Marc Copland

The presence of Gary Peacock and Paul Motian in a piano trio reminds the greybeards among us of two such groups in which Peacock and Motian were likewise paired during 1962-63, led respectively by Bill Evans and Paul Bley. Even with half a century's hindsight, it's hard to say which was more important. The Evans template has been adopted by countless young musicians, and continues to cast a powerful spell. But, as producer Michael Cuscuna observes, Bley's less-heralded trio during this period "had a profound influence on Steve Kuhn, Keith Jarrett and the ECM sound." For his part, pianist Marc Copland inherited the best genes from both the Evans and Bley lineages. In his rich chording, Copland nods to Evans, whereas Marc's adventurism follows Bley's trailblazing. But Copland is more than the sum of his influences. This is a pianist with a probingly original mind, as shown by his glimmering composition "River's Run," full of interesting twists and turns yet flowing as incessantly onward as the jazz piano trio tradition itself—which Marc Copland continues to enrich with each new release.

January 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner featuring Michael Brecker: Flying High

This cut and for that matter this album is as much a celebration of McCoy Tyner's fine post-Coltrane work and compositional skills as it is a glimpse into what was the beginning of the zenith of the late, great Michael Brecker's playing. Pushed into a format that invariably commands comparison to his inspiration, John Coltrane, Brecker is at once reverential to the spirit of master, while at the same time clearly defining this outing with his own markedly developed style. Tyner for all his work with the master was always "… laying down a carpet for Trane" as Coltrane's preceding pianist Steve Kuhn once told me in an interview. In this fine and at times frenetic composition Tyner shows he is no stranger to taut, driving melodies that accentuate his trademark cascade of sound and allow an unleashed Brecker the space to soar to Olympian heights. Tyner has stepped up as the leader here and it shows. Despite the inevitable comparison between Coltrane and Brecker on the equally brilliant "Impressions," which is also featured on this album, it is "Flying High" that pays homage to the spirit of Coltrane, but in a language that is all Tyner and Brecker in true musical simpatico. I was privileged to have witnessed McCoy Tyner and Michael Brecker play much of this album at a date in New York City's Iridium nightclub a year or two prior to the announcement of Michael's ultimately fatal illness. His playing on this track is to me close to still having him in all his spirited glory here with us today. This is a must-have Brecker performance.

January 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Josh Nelson (featuring Sara Gazarek): Leaving Here

Josh Nelson is one of the most talented of the new generation of Los Angeles pianists. But on this track he steps into the background and casts the limelight on singer Sara Gazarek and guitarist Anthony Wilson -- guest artists who do a superb job interpreting Nelson's poignant composition "Leaving Here." I have remarked elsewhere on Gazarek's skillful jazz hermeneutics, her ability to inhabit a lyric, which she demonstrates again on this track. The words to this song are mostly a string of threadbare poetic images, but Gazarek makes them into something special. And Wilson once again shows why singers from Diana Krall to Al Jarreau seek him out as an accompanist. I am not sure the string quartet adds much to the proceedings, but they merely tiptoe around the borders of the performance without distracting from the magic of the masters at work.

January 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Matt Savage: Father's Day

Matt Savage

The problem with being a prodigy is the same as everything else about childhood: you're bound to outgrow it. And then what? Pianist Matt Savage is the latest in a long line of jazz prodigies that includes Mary Lou Williams, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Cyrus Chestnut and Eldar, although Savage's acclaim has surpassed theirs at a similar age. What distinguishes Savage even among prodigies is his disability. One of fewer than 100 so-called "prodigious savants" in the world, Matt has, thanks to various therapeutic regimens and his and his family's fortitude, heroically overcome Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a high-functioning form of autism. At age 3, Matt couldn't stand the slightest noise, much less music. By age 7, he was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, soon to be launched into such media celebrity as only People magazine and NBC's Today show can confer. (As violinist Edith Eisler has perceptively written, "Even a prodigiously talented child becomes a 'prodigy' only by being put on public display.")

By early 2008, however, with release of the 15-year-old's eighth CD, Hot Ticket: Live in Boston, a note of caution was definitely in order, for not every prodigy who dazzles as a child finds a place as an adult. There've been some spectacular burnouts, such as pianist Ervin Nyíregyházi, whom Schoenberg called "the new Liszt" but who ultimately wound up listing badly on L.A.'s Skid Row. Moreover, Matt Savage is fast approaching an age where people will stop marveling at such precocity in a developmentally disabled boy, and start comparing this engaging young man to his peers, such as Eldar. That's where it gets thorny.

As the catchy, good-natured shuffle blues "Father's Day"—a representative track from Hot Ticket—makes clear, gifted as Matt Savage is, his music comes nowhere near the hype so lavishly bestowed upon it. With occasionally erratic execution and attendant lapses in rhythmic concentration, Matt's performance is very much what you'd expect from a poised, talented 15-year-old, but by no means justifies all the "genius" accolades swirling around him with the speed of a well-oiled PR machine.

Only time will tell whether Matt Savage can withstand the perils of prodigy and attain artistic maturity. For now, we can but celebrate his remarkable spirit, and wish him all the best.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: B Minor Waltz

Back in 1977, Warner Bros. was peddling records by Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, the Sex Pistols and . . . Bill Evans. Guess which one of these artists had a great trio album kept on the shelf, forgotten until the musician's death created enough buzz to justify its release?

If you guessed Sid Vicious, you have come to the wrong website. With You Must Believe in Spring, Bill Evans delivered one of his finest late-career trio outings—even if the brothers Warner were hardly paying attention. And unlike most of the other 1970s releases from the Evans trio, this one sets a pensive mood in its opening track, "B Minor Waltz," and maintains and sustains it for the rest of the CD. This waltz is one of Evans's finer compositions, and he plays it with intense feeling, a throwback to the great Evans-LaFaro-Motian trio.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Jack the Bear

Ask most people about great bass records from the early 1940s, and they will probably tell you about Joe DiMaggio getting safely on base with his 56-game hitting streak. But jazz fans will point to a different bass record, released a few months before the Yankee Clipper started his prodigious run. From the opening notes of "Jack the Bear," you can hear that Ellington has found the greatest jazz bassist in the world.

This song was named after a Harlem bass player, known to Ellington, who also ran a tailor shop at the corner of St. Nicholas and Edgecombe. But another J. the B. is the real hero celebrated in these grooves. Jimmy Blanton was only 22 years old, but he had a swing as memorable as DiMaggio's, a huge sound, and a facility that the jazz world had never heard previously from the bulky contrabass. Everything changed with Blanton's arrival on the scene, and one could hardly imagine the later work of Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Ray Brown and so many others without the precedent of Blanton and his brilliant bass work.

The whole Ellington band reached a new level of excellence with the arrival of Blanton and tenorist Ben Webster, and even Duke gets into high gear. "Jack the Bear," with its peculiar juxtaposition of blues choruses and a 32-bar song form, is one of Duke's most ingenious compositions. Blanton, for his part, would be dead from tuberculosis two years later.

January 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Horace Silver: Enchantment

New Mexico invited trouble in 1941 by emblazoning "Land of Enchantment" on their license plates. Enchanted visitors soon dropped out of the sky, most alarmingly at Roswell in 1947. The mystery deepened in 1956 when jazz encyclopedist Leonard Feather, writing of Horace Silver's "Enchantment," referred suggestively to "devices not typical of him," yet stopped short of alleging either extraterrestrial involvement or government cover-up. All we can say at this remove is that "Enchantment," set against an insinuating beat and with Mobley's standout lyricism, is among Silver's most intriguing tunes, reminiscent of Brown & Roach's slithery "Delilah" (1954). A band of enchantment.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Lake: Montana Grass Song

Mary Redhouse, the Navajo Yoko Ono, introduces this “powwow song from the Blackfoot people of Montana.” Blackfoot tradition, however, discourages spoken introductions, prominent singing by women, instrumental accompaniment (except drums) and extrinsic influences. All of which renders Redhouse’s self-styled "eco-spiritual" 5-octave vocalizing, set against Oliver Lake’s 1960s-style Free Jazz, enough to launch Blackfoot tribal elders on the warpath. Jazz has always been eclectic, drawing from other genres as indiscriminately as vampires siphon blood. But haven’t some subcultures earned the right to be left alone? A genuinely "eco-spiritual" approach to Native American music would respect its authenticity, not jazz it up.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Zorn: New Jersey Scum Swamp

According to New Jersey's Septic Management Group, which is committed to "Protecting Our Groundwater, One Septic System at a Time," the #1 cause of system failure is sticky biomat scum buildup. If accessible, this scum could be regularly removed, dramatically extending system life. "But it's not accessible. So what's a homeowner to do? Install a Septic Tank Effluent Filter!" Alas, such scientific ingenuity earns nothing but nose-thumbing from Hudson River east-bank arts snobs John Scorn and his Naked City Stooges. How easy it is to ridicule! How much harder to cherish the Garden State, one septic tank at a time.

January 24, 2008 · 2 comments

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Scott Joplin: The Corn Huskers (from Treemonisha)

Finally revived in the 1970s, Scott Joplin’s long-lost opera Treemonisha (1911) is set in 1884 on an Arkansas plantation abandoned by whites to freedmen who nevertheless remain in bondage to ignorance. As Act I begins, Treemonisha’s charismatic 18-year-old title character—determined to emancipate her fellow Negroes from their entrenched superstitions—denounces an exploitive conjurer and welcomes hardworking cornhuskers. As newly re-orchestrated by Gunther Schuller, this track captures in less than a minute the transformative power of manual labor generally, and corn-husking in particular. Surely, had Treemonisha not been so shamefully neglected, Arkansas, not Nebraska, would now be known as the Cornhusker State.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: La Nevada

“La Nevada” is Spanish for “Snowfall,” bandleader Claude Thornhill’s theme. Yet in contrast to the airtight orchestrations Gil Evans crafted for Thornhill in the 1940s and for Miles Davis in the ‘50s, “La Nevada” is a well-ventilated head arrangement. Of course, when the head involved is Gil Evans’s, expect no run-of- the-mill run-through. Although somewhat overlong at 15½ minutes, this convivial track shines a much- needed spotlight on such deserving-of-wider-recognition standbys as Johnny Coles, Tony Studd, Budd Johnson and Ray Crawford—the last-named demonstrating how the guitar, far from getting lost in a big band, can in the right hands be salient.

January 24, 2008 · 2 comments

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Taylor Haskins: Live Free or Die

Among the 10% of U.S. state mottoes lauding liberty/freedom, the most in-your-face is New Hampshire’s. Echoing Patrick Henry's immortal pre-Revolutionary taunt “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Granite State’s post-Revolutionary "Live Free or Die" has since 1945 quickened the pulse of many New England motorists reading it on the license plate in front of them. Contrarian native son Taylor Haskins, however, tailors this rousing call to arms as a waltzing lullaby over soothing ostinato, lobbying perhaps for a new motto: "Stop Crying and Fall Asleep." (It might be better to leave that one off license plates.) If you’re shopping for lullabies, we recommend Richard Stoltzman’s express-to-slumberland “Brahms Dreams.”

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ben Allison: Little Things Run the World

We may never get around to talking about Ben Allison's bass playing . . . since it's easy to get caught up in his skills as a jazz composer and bandleader. "Little Things Run the World" is another winning chart by this impressive musician. The track starts with a relaxed, ambling groove, propelled by Sarin's clever start-and- stop beat. But before things get too comfy, Blake pushes into overdrive with an edgy sax solo. It's not easy to build this degree of intensity from a medium tempo piece -- especially one with so much open space in the arrangement. But Allison and crew show that it's not tempo but state of mind that creates the energy level. Great song, hot band . . . and, yes, don't forget those basslines!

January 23, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ben Allison: Respiration

When listing great jazz composers who are bassists, the top two spots are quickly filled: Charles Mingus and Dave Holland. Everyone else is far behind these two masters, and if this were a race, you might win the exacta but not the trifecta. But as we get into the stretch, Ben Allison is making a run for it. Like Mingus and Holland, he knows how to write songs that not only look good on the page, but also inspire the musicians in his band to play at the peak of their abilities.

"Respiration" is aptly named. The piece breathes at its own pace, building momentum with hypnotic rhythms. As with many Allison compositions, the musical lines are smartly layered and often counter one another rather than blend together. The interplay between Sarin and Cardenas during the latter's solo is quite striking. Horton has to follow this dynamic interlude, and works brilliantly with Allison to clear the landscape and open the aural space for an ethereal ECM-ish coda.

January 23, 2008 · 1 comment

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Sathima Bea Benjamin (with Duke Ellington): Solitude

This recording sat unreleased for 45 years -- and only came to light when writer David Hajdu secured a tape while researching his Billy Strayhorn biography, Lush Life. Benjamin had introduced Ellington to the music of Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim), and Duke arranged for recording sessions for both artists, with hopes that they would be issued on Frank Sinatra's Reprise label. The Dollar Brand LP came out to acclaim and helped establish that musician as a preeminent pianist, but Sinatra reportedly nixed the Benjamin tracks because he doubted their commercial prospects.

Fans may come to this performance because of the novelty of Ellington serving as a sideman, but the real draw here is Benjamin. Ellington does not solo, and even his comping is obscured by the pizzicato violin of Asmussen. But Benjamin offers a beautiful, heartfelt version of this classic ballad that brings out all of its lovelorn ambiance. No frills here, just an intense reading of a great song -- and a version that must have pleased the composer enough to entice him to join in.

January 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Etta Jones: Don't Go To Strangers

Tom Lord's usually infallible The Jazz Discography CD-ROM (version 7.0) informs us that this soulful classic was recorded in New York. From the opening piano chords, however, we know immediately: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, home of incomparable soundman Rudy Van Gelder. And of course the CD confirms it. By 1960, Etta Jones had been making records for 15 years, but as far as we know was a stranger to Van Gelder Studio. Ironic, then, that her hit from this session was titled "Don't Go To Strangers," for she and Rudy were a match made in . . . well, if not Heaven, exactly, then at least Englewood Cliffs. With Dr. Van Gelder's patented tincture of reverb enveloping her come-hither voice, Etta Jones (not to be confused with Etta James) conveys an intimacy that'll curl your toes into permanent postures of pleasure. "Don't Go To Strangers," boys and girls, but do go to Etta and Rudy for a 4-minute glimpse of Elysium—which, as we all know, is in New Jersey, not New York.

January 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans & Claus Ogerman: Symbiosis

Bill Evans was working in familiar territory on most of his 1970s recordings, playing standards and his own compositions with his trio. But many of his fans looked back with fondness at his works from the 1950s when he had been challenged by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, George Russell, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus and other great musical minds in settings not of Evans's own choosing. Symbiosis, a long orchestral composition by Claus Ogerman from 1974, is a throwback to that earlier period. Evans has his familiar friends, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell, in tow, but the music is adventurous and a radical departure from what the pianist normally played in concert. The result is one of the neglected masterpieces of the decade, and a high point in Evans's discography. Ogerman contributes one of the most interesting extended works in the jazz repertoire, and Evans plays at top form. Yet for all its virtues, Symbiosis quickly disappeared from the record stores after its initial release, and it has been years since I have seen a copy anywhere. But thanks to the world of Internet shopping and digital downloads it is now accessible again—and is a must-have for jazz fans who are not familiar with this stellar work.

January 22, 2008 · 3 comments

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Paul Desmond & Gerry Mulligan: All the Things You Are

If “All the Things You Are" is not the most played standard, it must be close. So, what is so special about this version by Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan? First, the fact that they begin by sharing the melodic line, playing long notes in turns, which gives the tune a brand new color. Then they push the originality one step farther when the alto plays the bridge while the baritone plays counterpoint over the melody. Each solo, supported by an excellent rhythm team, is a little gem, as one should expect from two improvisers like Desmond and Mulligan. But again it’s the latter’s art of counterpoint that makes this version unique among a thousand of others.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris McGregor: MRA

In the early '70s, Chris McGregor and the members of his Blue Notes – who had fled the apartheid regime of their native South Africa, where a racially mixed band was unwelcome – had settled in London. That’s where the pianist recruited some of the best local musicians to bring his sextet to the size of a big band. This track is not only typical of the African side of the Brotherhood of Breath, it’s also a great arrangement where each section enters after another in turn, and comes back again to build a gorgeous tapestry of melodic and rhythmic layers. So much so that nobody ever has the idea to even take the slightest solo. Collective work at its best!

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian: Just One of Those Things

When Paul Motian decided to reread the Broadway repertoire on a long-term basis, he was not driven by nostalgia. A musician like him, who has been considered a modernist over the last 50 years, had to have something new to say about these standards. Indeed, the sound of his trio with Frisell and Lovano was already that of a group of individuals with their own sense of phrasing and improvisation. Adding a second horn and a bass to this unusual trio could have transformed it into an almost “normal” quintet. But, with Konitz and Haden, it instead multiplied the possibilities of interaction between strong personalities who avoid clichés, and put their mark on a song that never sounded so young and fresh.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Taylor: Tramonto

Unlike many other pianists, John Taylor doesn’t rely on a regular trio, and the magical atmosphere he creates on this first recording with Johnson and Baron is all the more impressive because one knows these three musicians don’t play much together. Of course the British pianist and the American rhythm team are all top-level musicians, but an all-star group is rarely a guarantee of good music. And when one deals with a composition employing a lot of space and no real solos, like this one, the ability to listen to each other, to pay attention to small sonic details and to internalize the swing at a slow tempo are key elements. In such cases, empathy is often more important that sheer virtuosity, and here both are obviously present.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano: Out of Nowhere / 317 East 32nd Street

Lennie Tristano made only a few visits to recording studios during his long career. His fans are thus forced to search out tapes of live performances—of varying levels of audio quality, and some rather difficult to track down—in order to gain a rounded sense of this artist's musical evolution. Tristano's live recording from Toronto in 1952 is one of the essential entries in this body of work, and features the pianist with perhaps his finest band. Only guitarist Billy Bauer, who refused to make the trip to Toronto, is missing from the core SWAT team of dedicated Tristano-ites. A few weeks later Konitz would join the Stan Kenton orchestra—breaking up the unit—while Marsh would stay on until leaving for California in 1955. But at the time of the Toronto engagement, these players had almost a half-decade of shared music-making under their belts, and their experience and comfort level shine through on this track.

This is Tristano's first recording of "317 East 32nd Street"—which would become one of his most widely played pieces—and the pianist helps identify its source by opening with a clever intro stating the "Out of Nowhere" standard from which his composition derives its chord changes. When Marsh and Konitz enter with Tristano's melody line, the effect is angelic. The tension that one sometimes hears in the earlier recordings of these players is nowhere evident, and the whole performance is a magnificent example of relaxed and thoughtful improvisation.

Much has been written on Tristano's forceful personality, and his musical clique has been, with some exaggeration, compared to a cult. But the source of his influence was ultimately the strength of his musical ideas, and here they reign supreme. Few jazz artists have done a better job of presenting their own unique conception of improvisation through an ensemble. Every solo is top notch here, and with a 9-minute running time, no one is rushed or harried. This track would make a good starting point for a musician trying to get a grasp of the essence of the Tristano sound and style.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian): Seven Come Eleven

Benny Goodman shot to Swing Era superstardom leading a big band, but his small groups were just as important. First came mid-'30s Trio of clarinet, piano and drums. Soon vibes were added, expanding Trio to Quartet. By 1939, Quartet had swelled in more ways than one. Adding bass and guitar would've made a Sextet irrespective of the players involved. But in this case, the sixth man was pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian. (It should be noted that all these groups were racially integrated at a time when that was rigidly taboo. Benny Goodman was the Branch Rickey of jazz.) This track has a loosey-goosey, rehearsal feel seldom associated with stern taskmaster Goodman, but Charlie's Oklahoma City-bred relaxation was contagious, and "Seven Come Eleven" is a lucky roll of the dice. Nothing complicated here: a simple riff tune with solos by CC, Hamp and BG. But oh, brother, can you spare me a groove! Like the license plates say, Charlie Christian is OK.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Turner (with Joshua Redman): 317 East 32nd Street

As a student at Berklee, Mark Turner was looking for an alternative to the dominant post-bebop ideology, and discovering Tristano and Warne Marsh opened new doors to him. On his first Warner record, he includes – among other tunes from Coltrane, Ornette Coleman or himself – this classic penned by the blind pianist from Chicago, and invites his friend Joshua Redman to join in. It’s a good occasion to appreciate Turner’s sensitive assimilation of the linear approach that Tristano advocated, and to revel in his mastery of the whole register of his horn. Redman, on the contrary, is obviously not very versed in the Tristano aesthetics and his solo is basically related to the bop idiom. An interesting contrast between two young tenors of the nineties: one of them soon became a star, the other one’s quest is still on its way.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz: I Remember You

Motion is a unique offering in Lee Konitz’s discography. It’s his first official trio record, and he chose to do it with fellow Tristano-ite Sonny Dallas, and with a musician that few people would have imagined him playing with at the time: Elvin Jones. Konitz himself admits that he was somewhat apprehensive at the idea of Coltrane’s drummer being associated with his own rather thin alto sound. He even rehearsed at length with Dallas and Nick Stabulas as a “sparring partner” (and these side sessions are more than satisfying, as shown on the 3-record edition of Motion) before facing Jones himself. In fact, the alchemy worked fantastically between Konitz, Dallas and Jones, and Motion is definitely one of Konitz’s major achievements. It’s also the first steps toward individual freedom for a soloist who was basically considered “cool” so far. From then on, Konitz was never afraid to confront his extraordinary improvising ability with any other musician, provided he thought good music would come out of the meeting.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: St. Louis Blues (1929)

On Friday the 13th, six weeks after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Louis Armstrong was singing the blues—to be precise, the "St. Louis Blues," and to be even more precise, playing not singing. Five years earlier, Armstrong had contributed cornet obbligatos to Empress of the Blues Bessie Smith's mournful recording of W.C. Handy's anthem, but now it was Louis's turn to take the lead, and he gives us a very different reading indeed. After a short tango intro, Pops Foster's sturdy bass powers a surprisingly jaunty two-beat romp featuring Higginbotham's trilling trombone and Nicholas's keening clarinet. But above all shines Armstrong's trumpet—stunningly, transcendently, everlastingly brilliant. We don't know if Louis played the stock market, but he sure could play that damn trumpet.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ken Serio: Big Blue Cars

Relatively under-the-radar drummer Ken Serio has brought together a “kick-ass” band for this live performance at Trumpets Jazz club in Montclair, New Jersey. Trumpets patrons must've been delightfully surprised to find four such high-caliber musicians producing an energetically charged evening of musical camaraderie. In this representative cut, the band begins with a wave-like introduction by a driving Serio, matched by a furiously paced run of descending basslines from the masterful Mark Egan, evoking late-'60s surf songs -- but on high octane. Scorching guitar licks by the inventively synthesized Peter McCann yield to a tasteful response from the elder statesman of the group, guitar aficionado Vic Juris. It's a classic guitar shootout. The performance is given dramatic continuity by the ever-probing Egan, whose Jaco influence is unmistakable. In my mind he is the standout on this date. After soaring to a fusion-like frenzy, the group glides in for a gently satisfying landing. Overall, Ken Serio has captured a ton of music in the blues/fusion genre made by musicians having fun playing together. This is certainly worth a listen.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: For All We Know

Billie told arranger/conductor Ray Ellis she wanted to “sound like Sinatra” after hearing Gordon Jenkins’s scoring for strings on Only the Lonely. More than any other Holiday album, it's necessary to know Billie’s real-life history to interpret Lady in Satin properly. “We started to pick the songs, and I didn’t realize that the titles she was picking at the time were really the story of her life,” Ellis said later. Clearly Billie struggles to maintain aesthetic distance from her personal anguish – indeed, Milt Hinton’s photographs taken during the sessions show her emotionally distressed. As one half of the mind reacts to the boozy huskiness in her voice and her shaky intonation, the other half is shocked by the extent to which the singer’s real-life history has become the source of meaningfulness in her voice. This disjunction produces an uncomfortable listening experience. The singer’s history and art become a unified whole that is infinite and total, a subconscious bonding that allows Lady in Satin – and “For All We Know” in particular – to realize its full meaning. Here the creative moment is distinguished by the immediacy of her limping lyricism; stripped of artifice, it comes as close to an expression of pure feeling as words will allow.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: All or Nothing at All

Norman Granz told me that although he once had to wind up a recording session with Billie because she was too drunk to continue, the greatest problem he had with her was getting her to learn new material. He said he wanted to return her to the informal jam session feel of the 1930s Columbia sides, which he considered her best work, but did not want to revisit the same material. By now the reckless vitality of youth had given way to a more melancholy spirit, increasingly trapped within the infinite loops of alcohol and drug addiction. Her voice had frayed, her range was smaller and the tonal quality of her voice deeper, but like all great artists she makes the most of her limitations -- here focusing on the lyric content and using her harmonic ingenuity to avoid notes beyond her range. She succeeds in personalizing and stylizing an unfamiliar song in her own special way. Her accompanists provide generous support, with Edison and Webster offering obbligatos behind her vocal and Rowles and Kessel providing tasteful solos that sustain the song’s drama. During Billie's time with Verve, Granz succeeded in coaxing a series of performances from her that at their best were moving, uniquely personal and fascinating cameos of the less-is-more aesthetic.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Tain't Nobody's Business

On May 27, 1947, Billie Holiday was sentenced to a year and a day for possession of narcotic drugs, remaining in custody until March 16, 1948. The publicity associated with her bust and subsequent prison sentence brought her notoriety, and her appearances began attracting the curious and thrill seekers. It was something she bridled at, so “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” must be viewed in this context – more personal statement than enduring performance. Fans familiar with her well-publicized troubles considered it her anthem, and she frequently sang it in her stage shows. Its interest lies in how it reinforced her perceived “authenticity” while defiantly justifying her self-indulgence. Before, she'd sung from the standpoint of a woman unlucky in love; now, as an older woman, her experiences provided a new perspective from which to sing: as a woman unlucky in life. Audiences began to read her personal history into each performance as she consciously erected the legend into which she would finally step, closing the doors firmly behind her.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Good Morning Heartache (1946)

Like “That Ole Devil Called Love,” composed by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher, staff writers for a Decca publishing affiliate, “Good Morning Heartache” was especially written for Holiday at the behest of producer Milt Gabler. This time he turned to the former Mrs. Teddy Wilson, Irene Higginbotham, a close friend of Holiday, who with evocative “period” backing obliges with a performance so profound that once heard it goes on to enjoy a second life, a life within memory. The lyrics of “Heartache” again conform to her character part -- indeed, the importance of a singer finding a character part (or image) in popular music is something that would later become commonplace; Sinatra with his barstool performances, Piaf as the sparrow unbroken by life, and Garland who was. Image goes to the heart of Holiday’s appeal down the years, yet even today the way it interacts with her music remains the least understood aspect of her art.

January 21, 2008 · 1 comment

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Billie Holiday: That Ole Devil Called Love

Just as Henri-Cartier-Bresson referred to the “decisive moment” that captured the perfect photographic image, here perhaps is a “lyric moment” that defined the singer in the character role she created for herself. Once again she sings about love and her man, but love can be an obsession, and it is from this standpoint she sings. There is a wonderful film noir quality about this performance, very much of its time, yet with a depth and universality that transcends its era. The instrumental backdrop framing the singer is quite different from her free-wheeling sides for Brunswick and Vocalion (Columbia), a decision by producer Milt Gabler, who consciously put her in a pop context to avoid competing with her past triumphs. The use of strings creates a fresh, and it must be said, wholly appropriate backdrop for her voice at this point in her career. The jazz elements of her singing – swing feel, syncopation, modifying the melodic line – are less important than the symmetry between words, rhythm and the authenticity she brings to her interpretation, the latter signified by the grain in her voice. Here she seems less concerned with a “jazz” presentation of the song, concentrating instead on meaning.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé (with Marty Paich): The Carioca

Whoever doubts Mel Tormé's skill as a jazz singer should listen to the first 25 seconds of this track, where he sings first with only bass, then bass and percussion, before the orchestra enters. Perfect, relaxed time, great pitch, superb inflections, fantastic phrasing… the “velvet fog” had it all! And his association with master arranger Marty Paich was a miracle. The song is rather corny, granted. But the magic of it all is that the Tormé-Paich team makes the best of it, from the valve trombone and alto sax solos to the clave, not to mention the lush voice of Mel Tormé surrounded by his deeply empathic pals from the Marty Paich Dek-tette.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Whiteman (featuring Billie Holiday): Trav'lin Light

This one-off recording with Paul Whiteman on the West Coast is a reminder of what an experienced big band singer Billie Holiday was. She had appeared on film with Duke Ellington’s orchestra, was a member of Ralph Cooper’s big band, played a series of dates with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, appeared briefly with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, was a member of the Count Basie orchestra for almost a year, was with Artie’s Shaw’s orchestra for almost as long and had guested with Benny Goodman’s big band on radio by the time she recorded this neglected classic. The wonderfully languorous muted trombone of Skip Layton sets the mood for Holiday’s masterful vocal that follows. A good microphone picks up her voice at its peak and the way she subtly alters the melody and brings expressive weight to the lyric content is a great exposition of less-is-more. The lyrics tell a story of being unlucky in love, which was consistent with the character part that was now her nightclub persona. The tonal contrast of strings brings Holiday’s voice into sharp relief and touched an Achilles heel – the next time she recorded for a big record label she wanted strings.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: II B.S.

“II B.S.” is a slightly different – shorter and more concentrated – version of “Haitian Fight Song”, which Mingus recorded with a smaller band on The Clown in 1957. It is a great example of his sense of construction: dynamic, powerful bass intro, after which each instrument comes in, building the melody and harmony by touches with a strong, Ellington-inspired “jungle” feeling. Booker Ervin’s tenor solo is the climax of this “battle song,” which manages to be both supremely organized and bubbling with spontaneity, thanks to Mingus’s writing -- and to the backbone his bass and Perkins’s drums offer their colleagues all the way through the performance.

January 21, 2008 · 2 comments

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Jamie Saft: Ariel

Jamie Saft is mostly known as a member of John Zorn’s, Bobby Previte’s or Dave Douglas’s groups, where he plays piano as well as various keyboards. On this piano trio record he chose to tackle a part of the huge repertoire that Zorn has written in the course of his exploration of the Jewish musical heritage. It’s a good occasion to discover Saft as a great acoustic pianist with a subtle touch and fine sense of swing and improvisation, displayed here working over a mellow bouncing rhythm played by bass and drums. Saft reminds us that some modernists can deliver nice surprises when they decide to play “in the tradition.”

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: Dozen Down

On this track, one may think Pat Martino tries to revive the times when he played with horn and keyboard, as in the bands of tenorist Willis Jackson and organist Brother Jack McDuff. Indeed the tune is a perfect vehicle for thick vintage cooking, but it also has a clear flavor of the new century. Neither Lovano’s playing nor Rubalcaba’s is a bit nostalgic, and the rhythm team grooves with a great combination of tradition and modernity. In this youthful, stimulating context, the leader – and veteran of this session – is definitely up to the deserved reputation he acquired during the glorious sixties.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddie Heywood (featuring Billie Holiday): All of Me

On what was their final Columbia session together, Young was given only two brief solos on the sides selected for release. However, it was only because of the arbitrary limits of the ten-inch 78-rpm record that the magical take 3 of “All of Me” remained in Columbia’s vaults until the release of The Lester Young Story Volume 5 in 1980. It was too long – by some 30 seconds – to fit onto a ten-inch 78, and so was never released. In all probability it was a first cut and Holiday and Young are captured at their zenith, Young taking sixteen bars after Billie’s vocal, Heywood following with eight bars and Young returning for a final eight bars to lead back into Billie’s vocal.

The way both phrase had taken on a certain gravitas and beauty that neither would totally recapture. Heywood later said he was mesmerized by their performances on this number; indeed, the listener is abruptly brought back to reality at the end by the engineer’s admonition, “It’s a bit long.” “Yeah, I know,” responds Billie. “We’ll bring it up a little bit.” “It’s a half a minute long,” the disembodied voice persists. It was almost as if they knew their lives were about to follow separate trajectories and they we saying their goodbyes in the only way they know how – through music.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: A Sailboat in the Moonlight

The electricity evident in “Me, Myself and I” is hot-wired into “Sailboat” -- both recorded at the same session -- as the give-and-take of a Holiday and Young “duet” again takes center stage, reflecting creative music making at its highest as they play off one another. Listen to how Young anticipates Holiday’s phrasing before she sings “what a perfect setting,” or the way she responds to Young’s high F-sharp (a yelp of joy?) in the final middle eight with a treatise of perfect swing, sitting on top of the beat and capturing the very essence of jazz. It is truly remarkable how such spontaneity and highly attenuated musical rapport still has the capacity to enthrall and speak to us down the years as fresh and vital as the day it was recorded.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Me, Myself and I

“Me, Myself and I” is one of the great classics of the Billie Holiday-Lester Young collaborations. The song is recorded here in the key of D major, which rather appropriately is associated with vigor and clarity of expression in classical music -- a feeling sustained through both available takes made available on the Columbia/Legacy set. Over the years there has been some confusion over their identification – take 1 ends on the tonic; take 2 on the dominant, which is sorted out on this set. Part of the Holiday-Young magic is the way their collaborations often go beyond “leading voice”-“accompaniment” roles into the realms of a duet. Who can say which of the two lines predominates here? An added frisson is added by the presence of Freddie Green, then Holiday’s lover. How would history have read if she had settled for steady Freddie?

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Teddy Wilson (featuring Billie Holiday): I'll Get By

One of the high spots of recorded jazz is the Holiday-Young collaborations. Today these recordings are remembered for the brilliance of Holiday’s singing and the inspirational creativity she inspired in Young, but it is often overlooked that Young’s highly regarded work with Count Basie’s band, with whom he was then working, was based on half a dozen basic chord structures, mainly the blues and “I Got Rhythm” contrafacts. However, with Holiday he had the opportunity stretch his wings and address different chord structures in a variety of keys. Here, for example, is a 28-bar, rather than 32-bar, song form with an ABAC structure (instead of the more usual AABA form), where the B and C sections are six bars instead of the usual eight. Singer and saxophonist relish the challenge on this awkward vehicle for improvisation. Billie shines with one of her most economical vocals, essentially based on just six notes, with two forays to the bottom of her range. At one point she sings no fewer than twenty-six repeated A’s, which depend for their impact on her fantastic rhythmic placement. There was genius abroad in the air.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Teddy Wilson (featuring Billie Holiday): What a Little Moonlight Can Do

In June 1935, John Hammond approached Brunswick and secured a 12-month contract guaranteeing one session a month built around pianist Teddy Wilson. Hammond was to act as producer for the series, primarily aimed at the fast expanding coin-operated music-machine business. For their first session, Hammond pulled out all the stops to assemble a genuine all-star ensemble, even persuading Goodman to cut short rehearsals with his own big band for their first out-of-town booking in Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre. Goodman’s contribution turned out to be so inspired he helped make this one of the finest Billie Holiday-Teddy Wilson sessions. It opens with what effectively is the Goodman trio – after a 4-bar intro by Wilson, Goodman states the 32-bar theme in the chalumeau register, then launches into a genuinely hot chorus that leads into Billie’s suave vocal. Riveting stuff – indeed, Wilson would later say, “That session was never, never surpassed. It may have been equaled, but never surpassed.”

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman (featuring Billie Holiday): Riffin' the Scotch

This is Holiday's recording debut at the age of 18. Record producer John Hammond had taken Benny Goodman, Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey to see her in live performance and they quickly concurred she was the real deal. Here, with lyrics courtesy of Johnny Mercer at Holiday's behest, she was defining her approach to singing through the character part of a woman unlucky in love. The lyrics could have been about riffs, they could have been about Scotch whisky, but were none of those things. They were about jumping from one bad relationship with a man into another. As a 13-year-old feeling her way into jazz in 1928 when she first heard "West End Blues," she was hardly in a position to define her approach to jazz singing. With most of 1929 lost through her run-in with the law, she put together an original approach to jazz singing in just three years, from 1930 to 1933, when this recording was made. By any standards it was a remarkable achievement.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Victor)

The second of Ellington's three 1927 "Black and Tan Fantasy" recordings disproves the adage that the Third Time's a Charm, since this is the one enshrined in Grammy's Hall of Fame. The performance is dated by Hardwick's smarmy alto sax, a taste best left unacquired. Plumber's helpers also abound, as Miley's growling trumpet trades rude noises with Nanton's whinnying trombone. And, yes, that's Chopin's "Funeral March" at the end. Yet whether intended as highbrow art music or floorshow underpinning, "Black and Tan Fantasy" still conjures phantoms after all these years. For, as one critic marveled at the time: "Beneath all its oddity and perverseness there was a twisted beauty that grew on me and could not be shaken off." Twisted beauty? That was undoubtedly Duke's idea.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Bennett & Bill Evans: Young and Foolish

With the passing of time, this recording has taken on the luster of a classic. But when the collaboration between Bennett and Evans first took place in the mid-1970s, both artists were at a low ebb. A few years earlier, Evans and Bennett were on the roster of the preeminent Columbia label—Tony for a long period and Evans just for a couple projects—before being discarded by label execs in the youth-oriented spirit of the times. Few people paid much attention when this LP was released; it wasn't seen as a meeting of the masters, just another sign that down-and-out artists had to join together to add to their declining drawing power.

But time has a way of improving our vision. Bennett is now a lauded elder statesman of the entertainment industry and Evans a jazz legend from the past, and—as the old saying goes—they made beautiful music together. Evans had recorded "Young and Foolish" before, back in 1958, in a meditative trio performance with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones, and did more than anyone to establish this song (from the musical Plain and Fancy) as a jazz standard. Bennett sings with his heart on his sleeve, and entices Evans into one of his more emotionally sustained performances from this later period in his career. If someone asked me to pick a jazz performance that completely realized the sensibility established by the lyrics of the song, this would be one of the first tracks I would select.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano: Line Up

When this track was first released, it attracted enormous attention . . . but not for the music. Tristano had "tampered" with the tapes by recording the piano part over a separate rhythm track, manipulating the music in the process. Tristano never provided details—and got testy when questioned about his method—but it appears that he brought the bass and drums down to half speed, and recorded the piano on top of this slower version, then accelerated the playback rate of the combined performance. A certain ethereal and detached quality permeates the finished product. The piano sound possesses a strange, unnatural crispness, and the question was raised whether Tristano wasn't trying to "trick" people into thinking that he could play faster than was actually the case.

The controversy would be less pronounced today, when studio splicing, dicing and "fixing" are a high-tech art. But the sad result of this brouhaha was that it distracted attention from Tristano's brilliant performance. "Line Up" is one of the great linear improvisations in the modern jazz heritage. Students could profitably study this solo, learning from its crystalline structure, unlocking the artistry of its phrasing, the rhythmic relationship of melody to the ground beat, and the harmonic implications of Tristano's lines. The chord changes are borrowed from "All of Me," but instead of the romantic sensibility of that standard, Tristano offers a diamond-hard coolness purged of all emotional excesses. This is as pure and abstract as music can get. At any speed, "Line Up" is a masterpiece.

January 20, 2008 · 3 comments

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Lennie Tristano: I Can't Get Started (1946)

I rarely find this recording discussed in jazz circles or cited in the history books, but Gunther Schuller called special attention to it in his study The Swing Era, citing it as a landmark performance, and even comparing it to Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" and Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail." High praise, but Schuller is on the mark. If there is a jazz piano track from this period with a more advanced harmonic conception, I haven't heard it. There is hardly a bar in this recording that isn't interesting, and some parts are downright amazing. Listen to how the pianist reworks the bridge and admire the artistry. In later years, Tristano would adopt a highly linear style with more overt bebop mannerisms, but he could have constructed grand aural superstructures with just block chords, as this track makes eminently clear.

January 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Peace Piece

This is a unique entry in the Bill Evans discography: a pastoral improvisation built on a gentle two-chord vamp. "Peace Piece" is more a mood than a composition. Evans was often asked to perform this work in later years, but he usually resisted, claiming that it had been the inspiration of the moment, and not something that could be recreated.

Yet there are many ways of fitting this lovely, if peculiar, performance, into the overall flow of Evans's life and times. He would rely on a similar harmonic structure in other settings -- for example, on "Flamenco Sketches" from the seminal Kind of Blue album or in Evans's moving interpretation of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time." We can also look at this work as anticipating the trend toward fewer chord changes that Miles and Trane would champion over the next several years. One could even focus on "Peace Piece" as the birth of New Age music, where sweet, two-chord vamps would come to reign supreme.

But Evans is not interested in providing unobtrusive background music or exploring simple modal improvisation. Halfway through his performance he starts incorporating more and more dissonance into his right hand lines. Soon we are in deep polytonal waters where the Windham Hills are just a blurry dot on the horizon. This is jazz music, my friends . . . But a type of jazz that no one else was playing, circa 1958. If more people had been listening, the jazz idiom might have been influenced by this performance. As it stands, only a few thousand copies of Everybody Digs Bill Evans were sold at the time of first release. But a few months later, when Evans participated on the Kind of Blue sessions, he would find a setting that would not only display his artistry but also change the art form.

January 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: First Circle

The title track to the Pat Metheny Group’s 1984 album, First Circle, opens with a complicated clap rhythm and a melody stated via the wordless vocalizing that’s such an integral part of the Metheny Group sound, here performed by the multi-talented Pedro Aznar. After an escalating piano solo by Lyle Mays, the band takes off, building the tune into something gloriously ascendant. A standout tune on an outstanding album.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Robert Glasper: Of Dreams to Come

The great jazz soloists speak with their own distinctive cadences, and to the sensitive listener these are as identifiable as the familiar sounds of a friend on the phone. We don't need to see them to know who they are -- they announce it in every phrase. Many of my favorite solos talk to me in similar terms, so close to human speech that I can almost hear the words. Some exhort in high-flown phrases while others whisper a beguiling invitation, or take on some other distinctive attitude and voice.

Robert Glasper's tone is one of gentle insistence. He has a way of asserting himself forcefully at the keyboard, but in a way that is persuasive rather than overwhelming. He often allows his volume at the piano to drop below the level of the bass and drums -- almost as if he is speaking to himself and forcing the audience to listen closely if they hope to overhear what he has to say. But when he has brought everyone into his inner circle, he lets loose with his long twisting and turning phrases, reeling us in further. I am reminded of the rope tricks the cowboys still use in Glasper's home town of Houston to lasso the cattle. Glasper will grab you and tie you up in the same way.

"Of Dreams to Come" is a good example of Glasper's artistry. He waits until we are relaxed and comfortable with the gentle flow of the music, and then . . . phewww!  Everything lifts off to another level, and even if the journey gets bumpy and dangerous we are definitely along for the ride. This ability to shape and build an entire performance sets Glasper apart from the pack. This is a strong offering from a talented artist who will probably have more surprises for us in the future.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: All the Things You Are

Kenton admired Gerry Mulligan, but didn't like his attitude or his insistence on everything played his way. Yet for a time, Stan not only bought Mulligan's original compositions such as "Young Blood" and "Limelight," but he assigned Gerry to write arrangements for the dance book, which Mulligan later called "dog work." Mulligan used the opportunity to experiment; his setting of this classic standard is a study in counterpoint and alternate harmony. Childers solos beautifully in this live performance taped in early stereo, but the arrangement is the star. Mulligan would later adapt this setting for a recording of his own big band in 1957.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Stay On It

It says quite a bit when ensembles led by Basie and Dizzy Gillespie give equally convincing performances of a particular piece. But Tadd Dameron was a particularly gifted composer. He began his career with Harlan Leonard and his Rockets, and wrote beautiful songs and compositions for Billy Eckstine, Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan ("If You Could See Me Now" is considered a standard) and his own groups. "Stay On It" seems to have been a rehearsal or a test recording; no matrix was ever assigned, and the recording remained buried in the vaults until it was issued in France during the 1970s. Jacquet has the most solo space, but Edison makes a solid contribution as well.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie (featuring J.J. Johnson): Rambo

J.J. Johnson was a promising young trombonist/arranger when he left the Benny Carter band and joined up with the Count in May 1945. Only two recordings with Basie have solo statements by Johnson, "The King" and the track described here. "Rambo" did not remain in the book, and was not issued as a single in the United States at the time, but it has been reissued frequently over the years and has even been covered by The Manhattan Transfer. The composition itself is a good one, with a terrific written half-chorus for the saxophones, and good solos by Johnson, Jacquet and Edison.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Elegy for Alto

After disbanding his "Artistry in Rhythm" ensemble, Kenton reformed the band and called the resulting music "Progressive Jazz." Desiring to play concert tours rather than dance jobs, Stan allowed Rugolo a great deal of musical freedom, and listeners either embraced Kenton's new direction or argued that his band was pretentious, the music wasn't jazz, and it didn't swing. "Elegy for Alto" is through-composed in the then unusual time signature of 5/4. George Weidler is soloist.

January 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days and One Hour Blues

This is one of vocalist June Christy's best records with the Kenton band. Originally from Chicago, she married tenorman Cooper and went on to become a very successful club and concert artist in the 1950s (recording several excellent albums for Capitol with arrangements by Pete Rugolo). Gene Roland was the only arranger who wrote for every edition of the Kenton organization, and this recording is a good example of his craft. Mussulli solos, and Musso plays under Christy in this blues by Mel Tormé.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Opus a Dollar Three Eighty

Pete Rugolo, one of Darius Milhaud's composition students (another was Dave Brubeck) submitted this piece to Kenton while still a soldier. Stan didn't play it immediately, but he was impressed when the band finally ran it through at a rehearsal. Except for a short solo by the maestro, this is an ensemble piece that doesn't really hang together all that well, but it certainly shows Rugolo's penchant for interesting harmony. His talent would blossom when he became Kenton's chief arranger in 1946, writing music that is still fresh these many years later.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Joy Ryder

Wayne Shorter’s decision in 2000 to return to an all-acoustic format after years of playing in mostly electrified settings was certainly a turning point in the saxophonist’s career. The quartet, featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, that the saxophonist began touring with turned out to be one of his best, and the resulting music – chronicled on the Footprints-Live and the Grammy-winning Alegria and Beyond The Sound Barrier – is among his most challenging and rewarding. "Joy Ryder" is a mostly improvised selection that pairs Shorter’s acerbic, engaging soprano with the surging, dramatic statements of Danilo Perez. The band holds an underlying pulse through sections of legato and driving swing during the piece’s 11+ minutes, and the pulsing polyrhythms of Blade and the unrelenting force of Patitucci’s bass push Shorter to some of his most thrilling playing on record.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Children of the Night

"Children Of The Night" appeared frequently on set lists for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during Wayne Shorter’s tenure as artistic director in the early to mid-1960s, albeit in a form that bears little resemblance to this 1995 reworking. The album, Shorter’s first for Verve Records, is a heavily engineered session that is a milestone in his transition from almost entirely synthesized efforts in the 1980s to his subsequent work with an acoustic quartet. Bearing the mark of producer Marcus Miller in its backbeat and electric bass- heavy arrangement, the piece is extraordinary in its abstraction on the original melody, carefully crafted orchestral accompaniments and Shorter’s dubbed horn lines and emotional solo statements.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: Elegant People

Weather Report was reaching the height of its popularity in 1976 when the group released Black Market. On a series of tightly arranged originals that allowed ample room for solos over driving, often open-ended funk beats, the band defined the sound that made them one of the most influential groups of '70s. Wayne Shorter’s distinct influence shines through every aspect of "Elegant People," from the phased, haunting intro to his patient solo over a series of shifting grooves and electronic effects. The intricate arrangement is threaded together by his burnished, vibratoless tone, building incrementally with the saxophonist’s carefully calibrated statements.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter (with Milton Nascimento): Ponta de Areia

The leader of the date is Wayne Shorter, but vocalist Milton Nascimento almost steals the show with his catchy melody and sweet wordless vocal. Nascimento has an angelic falsetto, which he demonstrates to good effect on this track. But Shorter adds a surprising twist by matching the sound of his soprano sax to the timbre of Nascimento's voice. The result is five minutes of blissful music-making, a fresh take that ignores the expectations of Weather Report and Blue Note fans, and reveals instead a different side of Wayne. Folks like Pat Metheny were obviously listening. This whole mixture looks forward to Still Life (Talking) and Metheny's other Brazilian-oriented 1980s projects. But this music doesn't need later events to validate its importance. Its own merits are eminently accessible, even on a first hearing.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter (with Milton Nascimento): Miracle of the Fishes

With his 1975 release Native Dancer, Wayne Shorter fully embraced the Brazilian influence that had been present in his music from his early Blue Note days. The album highlighted not only Shorter’s skills as an arranger and composer, but also those of the astonishingly talented Milton Nascimento. On "Miracle Of The Fishes," Nascimento’s powerful vocals introduce the theme in a soaring falsetto before descending into the meaty mid-register and delivering the Portuguese vocal in a declarative tone that Shorter picks up going into his solo. Over an ethereal vocal counterpoint Shorter’s tenor is a brash foil, delivering low-register retorts and chirping high notes before switching to his more subdued soprano and leading the band out.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Aja

Wayne Shorter, along with the other founding members of Weather Report, put fusion on the map in the early 1970s. The saxophonist also recorded with a wide array of artists from the pop and rock world in the '70s and '80s. With the rock/jazz group Steely Dan, Shorter contributed a solo to the song "Aja" that garnered critical praise and introduced a new world of listeners to his artistry. Shorter’s dry tenor enters after a lilting guitar solo lending an immediate urgency to the performance. Over drummer Steve Gadd’s syncopated lines and jazz-inflected chords from Donald Fagen’s synthesizer, Shorter’s tenor soars to an enormous climax before incrementally descending back for the closing melody.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans (featuring Wayne Shorter): Time of the Barracudas

On a series of stellar albums under his own name in the 1960s, Gil Evans went one step forward in cementing his reputation -- developed through his celebrated 1950s work with Miles Davis -- as jazz’s preeminent arranger. On "Time Of The Barracudas," the all-star ensemble executes Evans’s gorgeous arrangement before turning over to Wayne Shorter, whose solo is a model of thematic development and melodic precision. Over the driving force of Elvin Jones’s ride and a relentless pedal-point line from bassist Richard Davis, Shorter’s lines snake with a probing intensity, running the range of the horn, but always zeroing in on the perfect melodic counterpoint.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Footprints

Miles Davis’ great mid-'60s quintet was at the height of their powers when they recorded Miles Smiles in the fall of 1966. The band had been together for over two years and had developed a rapport that has yet to be surpassed in the ensuing four decades. On "Footprints," Davis masterfully develops his solo from a series of riffs, gaining focus and momentum with the help of the ferociously rhythmic Tony Williams and Ron Carter’s rock-solid bass line. Shorter’s approach is remarkably similar, developing a driving statement from tiny melodic kernels. The saxophonist abstracts freely, sustaining high and honking low register notes over the furiously bubbling rhythm section before handing off to Hancock.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Tom Thumb

Blue Note albums from the '60s abound in long-form variations on the blues, and Wayne Shorter’s loping, riff-based “Tom Thumb” is an offbeat extension of that tradition. Of course, Shorter and his bandmates are never content to merely deliver a funky dance track. While the melody is relatively straightforward, the improvisations are thrilling in their interplay and creativity. The leader’s tenor is guttural and penetrating from the outset of his solo, his stuttering phrases and melodic asides toying with but never wholly obliterating the bluesy essence of his statements. Hancock is, of course, totally captivating, delivering a dense yet infectiously rhythmic statement that is a perfect sendoff for the slithering, emotive cry of James Spaulding’s alto.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Mephistopheles

Equally rich in inspired performances and brilliant arrangements, The All Seeing Eye is a standout in Wayne Shorter’s impressive '60s oeuvre. "Mephistopheles," the album’s final track, is a creative high-water mark that features Shorter’s dazzlingly dissonant writing for an augmented horn section and a series of arresting improvisations by the leader, trumpeter and sibling Alan Shorter, and drummer Joe Chambers. Built around a hypnotic ostinato that continues throughout the seven-minute track, the head is a grating sendoff for Shorter, whose creativity is never bound by the piece’s harmonic stasis. Shorter and company develop their improvisations in surprising ways, exploiting the melodic and rhythmic possibilities inherent in the song’s open structure, and never resolve the suspense that grips the piece.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Teru

The one constant in Wayne Shorter’s ever-evolving artistry is a sense of supreme restraint and deliberateness. These qualities are especially striking in his treatment of ballads. On "Teru," Shorter’s tenor rarely ascends above a whisper as he navigates the piece's harmonic twists with patient, snaking lines. The rhythm section follows Shorter in and out of an ambling tempo with Hancock and Workman supplying mostly fills and counterpoints to the leader’s line as Chambers brushes quarter notes on cymbal and snare. Hancock's and Workman’s solos are striking for their brevity, rhythmic freedom and melodic invention, and lead seamlessly into Shorter’s restatement of the melody.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Wayne Shorter): Children of the Night

Wayne Shorter’s first big career break came when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1959. He quickly became the group’s musical director, composing and arranging many of the band’s most popular titles from the era. "Children Of The Night" features Shorter’s tenor from the outset with Hubbard and Fuller contributing harmonic accompaniment. At the time, Shorter was often compared to John Coltrane, and he does seem to take a cue from Trane at the beginning of his solo, navigating the changes with dense sheets of sound. That said, Shorter’s sound and conception are fully matured and his wry, often stuttering lines reveal his own original voice.

January 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Wayne Shorter: Witch Hunt

Wayne Shorter’s incisive solo on "Witch Hunt" starts with a shout, or rather a bristling retort to Elvin Jones’ stuttering sendoff. The tenor master is at the top of his game throughout the Speak No Evil session, but nowhere are his skills more apparent and dazzling than on this brooding opener. Building on the latent tension of the melody, Shorter’s solo is a model of restraint and improvisational acumen. His clipped phrases and bluesy sustains draw fervent responses from his bandmates and inspire equally brilliant solos from Hubbard and Hancock.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fred Hersch: Misterioso

The sophisticated stylizing of Fred Hersch is used to great effect on this rhythmically syncopated Monk tune, creating musical counterpoint that seems to reinvigorate this often-played composition. Hersch’s slow and deliberate start builds to a climactic tempest of sound, while Gress and Waits build tension in tandem with him as he accentuates the note-by-note progression that embodies the melody. After creating the buildup, Hersch manages to finish the piece in a characteristically understated single-note fashion that brings it all together in true Monk style. This is an underrated trio. While Hersch’s approach is more florid than Monk’s ever was, his flawless technique and mastery of the tune's essence makes this a worthy alternative reading of the venerable classic.

January 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: Didi

Before West Coast cool jazz turned ponderous and overambitious, in the same spirit that tainted Stan Kenton’s work, the music of writers like Shorty Rogers drew heavily from the Miles Davis “cool school” band. An early sample of California cool, “Didi” hews very close to the spirit and instrumentation of Miles’ nonet. The tune is just plain fun, too, building up from rapid, alternating cascades of notes from Rogers and Art Pepper. The alto saxophonist’s light tone perfectly parallels the leader’s lyricism, even at a fast pace. Shelly Manne already demonstrates the facility that made him L.A.’s first-call drummer.

January 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: Easy Rider

Don't be scared off by the personnel listing. You might assume that a recording with three bass players, two drummers, two guitarists, as well as keyboard and - most ominous of all - a "programmer," would sound too busy. In fact, this stunning version of "Easy Rider" has a fresh, open ambiance that actually sounds under-produced. The Mississippi-born Wilson has always been a great blues singer, but here she takes one of the oldest blues in the repertoire and makes you forget that anyone else has ever recorded it. A smart, deep performance by one of the finest jazz singers of our day.

January 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jack Reilly: 'Round Midnight

In an extraordinarily brief two minutes and 43 seconds, the master pianist, composer and somehow remarkably unheralded Jack Reilly takes this classic Thelonious Monk masterpiece and weaves his own magic, creating a truly unique and refreshing take on this well-worn classic. His decidedly classical influence on the introduction to the song elevates the listener to carefully consider his phrasing on the familiar melody that follows. Reilly’s fondness for the harmonic sensitivity of Bill Evans is apparent half way through the piece and in his very tasteful Evanesque finale. His use of tension and release is masterfully employed throughout to create a harmonic feast and gives this timeless American classic a new feel while brilliantly holding true to the original tune’s deceivingly simple yet enduring appeal.

January 17, 2008 · 1 comment

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George Shearing: So Rare

“So Rare” marks the start of George Shearing’s U.S. recording career. Prior to 1947, the blind pianist wasn’t known in the U.S., despite his huge popularity in Britain. His records hadn’t been released here yet. But during a four-month stay in New York starting in November 1946, Shearing spent a good deal of time on 52nd Street with jazz impresario Leonard Feather. Shearing was quite taken by the playing of Bud Powell, who by late 1946 had already started adding lush lock chords to his bop lines (listen to Powell’s Roost recordings of January 1947). When Shearing and Feather ran into Savoy’s A&R man Teddy Reig in January 1947, Feather positioned the English pianist as a Powell disciple. Reig agreed to record Shearing on February 3, adding bop sidemen Gene Ramey and Cozy Cole to hedge his bet. When “So Rare” was released soon afterward, its chunky bop feel had a huge impact on popular taste and jazz pianists, including Oscar Peterson. Pianist Johnny Guarnieri even borrowed Shearing’s descending bop line at the tail end of “So Rare” to close out his trio arrangement for Frank Sinatra’s “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye,” recorded for Columbia in October 1947.

January 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: La Nevada

Gil Evans was always adept at the “less is more” theory. One year before this recording, he issued Great Jazz Standards, featuring a shorter first draft of “La Nevada,” then called “The Theme." For this second and masterful version, he uses less musicians but (sometimes more is more) has two drummers doubling on percussion. The structure of the piece is deceptively simple, and its construction is a wonder: suspense and contrast reign supreme, and all instruments “have their exits and their entrances” (you’ll see: the theme exposure by the trombones will soon become your favorite). Then, some of them tell their story through short, powerful solos in a décor of dense polyrhythm and sparse efficient riffs. Masterwork is a small word, after all.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: The Freedom Suite

"The Freedom Suite" is a monument that fully belongs to the history of African-American music. It is not the first trio piece by Rollins – but it's the longest – neither the first tune of his where he shows social/political concerns, but it stands as a particularly bold statement. The simple melodic structure of the suite's movements and the invention that Rollins, Pettiford and Roach display on this minimal basis make it hard to imagine anybody but these three giants reproducing this miracle. Hence the uniqueness of this master- work, which few have dared to interpret in the intervening years. But little wonder that among those few is David S. Ware, a tenor player and former protégé of the "saxophone colossus."

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: We'll Be Together Again

This entire record is dedicated to the mellow, sentimental side of Pat Martino. After having mostly asserted his ability on high-speed tempos and crooked harmonies, the Philadelphia guitarist shows that he also has a tender heart, after all. In a series of duets with Gil Goldstein, providing excellent backup on the electric piano, Martino lets his fingers – that can’t help occasionally rushing, with great effect – wander along the lush chords of a set of ballads. This is an unexpected milestone in the career of a guitarist who’s better known for his “fast trigger” reputation.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: The Visit

Pat Martino is widely recognized as one of the guitar's greatest stylists after Wes Montgomery and before the rock-influenced generation of Scofield/Metheny/Frisell/Stern. This “in between” status may explain why he is often considered a musician’s musician. But though he was a friend and admirer of Montgomery, Martino managed to carve his own individual style outside the giant’s shadow. This basic blues with its simple funky melody and infectious 6/8 rhythm is a good example of Martino’s virtuosity and creativity. His guitar seems to effortlessly produce beautifully constructed choruses one after another, until it brings the whole band (and the listener) to a climax of joyous exhilaration. Something of a perfect match between form and feeling.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Olé

At 18:13, “Olé” is the longest track that Coltrane recorded during his two years and a couple of months with Atlantic, as well as the only tune that has such a clear link with Spanish music. It is obviously not one of Coltrane’s masterworks, but it still deserves notice at least for the two above-mentioned reasons. On “Olé,” Trane seems to be more interested in exploring the global atmosphere of the Spanish mode he uses than in playing extensively. He leaves plenty of room to two roaring basses, two extra horns, McCoy and Elvin, and his own colorful soprano comes in only at the beginning and towards the end. Indeed, in spite of its weaknesses and because of this unique “Spanish” atmosphere, “Olé” shines with a light of its own among the jewels of Coltrane’s Atlantic years.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vienna Art Orchestra: Jean Harlow Meets Leonardo da Vinci

To celebrate its 30 years of existence, the most renowned European orchestra had to do something really special. And that’s exactly what founder/director/composer Mathias Rüegg did: a 3-disk project comprising “portraits” of 13 American female stars, an equal number of European male thinkers, and as many imaginary meetings between the former and the latter. Imagination, men, women, beauty, mind, and fusing the American jazz tradition and the European classical music… that’s mostly what the Vienna Art Orchestra has been about for the last three decades, after all. Of course, this track can only give a small – but significant – foretaste of the maturity this wonderful orchestra has achieved.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Wollny: Initiation

This young German pianist has been known mostly for his Berlin-based trio strangely called [em], and for accompanying tenor veteran Heinz Sauer. On his first solo record, he shows another side of his rich personality: a romantic feeling that has its roots in the melodies of Schubert and in typically German mythologies, like the Walpurgis Night (“Hexentanz” means “dance of the witches”). With that type of inspiration and the stunning mastery of the piano that Wollny displays, who knows where this most promising musician will take German jazz? He is obviously one of the leading figures in its renewal.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Carrothers: Keep Your Sunny Side Up

What is there left to do with standards when you play in such a common setting as the piano trio? “Play the oldest, less known ones and play them in a respectful yet original way.” That’s what Bill Carrothers seems to say here, letting bass and drums set the tempo before he comes in with the melody of this song from 1931. He then takes his mates on a crooked path where they definitely have fun with a tune that seems to be written for that purpose. Serious fun, indeed, since all their rhythm shifts, breaks, or tonality changes are tools designed to let music be an eternally renewed pleasure, from their own standpoint as well as from the listener’s seat.

January 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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Frank Sinatra (with the Duke Ellington Orchestra): Follow Me

Lerner & Loewe’s show tune from Camelot opens with Duke Ellington’s piano, followed by the band slinking along in strip time. Sinatra’s voice here is husky and distinctly middle-aged. Billy May wrote the charts, but Ellington’s band reportedly wasn’t big on sight-reading and members weren’t too happy about the date. So May brought in a few session readers, a move that only further diminished the date's energy level. But eventually the band found its groove. The lyrics are perfectly suited to this uneven period in Sinatra's personal life: “Time goes by, or do we? / Close your eyes and you’ll see / As we were, we can be / Weep no more, follow me.” We also get a taste of Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax and Cootie Williams on muted trumpet.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: Change Partners

Recorded six months after the Strangers In the Night LP, this bossa nova album is Sinatra’s best- produced package since his Capitol years. Gone momentarily is the cocky swagger and bachelor-pad attitude. Every track on this album is sublime, but “Change Partners” is still a cut above. Claus Ogerman’s flutes-on-strings chart is perfectly matched to the odd-man-out lyrics, and the acoustic guitar’s open-chord exhale at the end is a nice touch. Sinatra’s patient balladry here is reminiscent of his romantic Columbia period of the 1940s.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra (with Count Basie): I Believe in You

This may be the best Sinatra swinger on Reprise from the early '60s. Count Basie’s band is in peak form and perfectly suited to this hard-charger from Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Quincy Jones opens the chart with a rip-roaring fanfare, and the Basie band effortlessly sustains the breakneck pace. Sinatra’s confidence level here is in the red zone as he snarls out the lyrics: “To see the cool, clear, eyes of a seeker of wisdom of truth / Yet there’s that slam, bang, tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth.” Getting ahead at work never sounded so good.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: The Way You Look Tonight

This update of a Fred Astaire number from the 1936 film Swing Time doesn’t glide across the ballroom floor—it struts. Riddle opens the tune with jaunty reeds and sizzling muted trumpets echoing each other’s lines. Sinatra comes in tough and is cocky throughout, but there’s also a subtle tenderness between the lines. After the first run-through, the song’s pace picks up, with trombones punctuating Sinatra’s staccato lyrics— “And that laugh, wrink-le-s your nose/Touch-es my fool-ish hearttt.” The chart’s crescendo occurs on the bridge and features a hip trumpet dragging the final note. Cool touch. Sinatra returns to provide a warm wind-down and finishes remarkably in ballad tempo.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: Here's to the Losers

This is Sinatra at his underdog best, a tribute to those who can’t seem to land right-side up. Like a Coleman Hawkins solo, Sinatra’s singing is wide open. Paich’s arrangement accelerates beautifully and is a tip of the snap-brim to Nelson Riddle—from the call and response intro between reeds and trombones to the crafty use of strings, harp and even bongos. And dig the chime that follows Sinatra’s jabbing lyric: “To the girl who sighs with envy / when she hears that wedding bell.” Ding.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: How Little it Matters (How Little We Know)

First recorded by Sinatra in 1956 for Capitol, this Carolyn Leigh-Phillip Springer tune was brought back for a retooling on this album of Sinatra favorites. The purpose of this album was to bring the hits he made for Capitol onto his new Reprise label. The brassy update is pure Kennedy Administration, with Riddle shaking together an optimistic cocktail of trombones, muted trumpets and strings. Dig Riddle’s opening—with the bass clarinet playing the downbeat, followed by pizzicato strings and muted trumpets on top. Sinatra’s voice here is no longer restrained, and his sass and cool provide a glimpse of the Sinatra to come on future albums.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: Heart of Mine

This touching ballad is considered by many to be the Sinatra song that never was. Absent from even the most comprehensive discographies, the tune was recorded by Sinatra only once—for the 1962 Otto Preminger film, Advise and Consent. Sinatra deep-sixed the recording after the tune was used in the controversial movie as mood music for a scene in a gay bar. What makes this ballad so endearing is its haunting melody and Sinatra’s wide-open vulnerability, which can be compared only to a Billie Holiday vocal.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan

A Swingin’ Affair! was Sinatra third 12-inch LP for Capitol and possibly his finest for the label. Nelson Riddle’s tricked-out arrangement of this Schwartz-Dietz standard set the writing standard for the entire decade, and Sinatra’s voice is comfortable and in control. During these years, Sinatra’s approach on standards had a big influence on Miles Davis, who also liked taking mainstream tunes and transforming them. If you think Riddle’s chart sounds simple, try counting off the intro’s beats. Tough, huh? Now you know why only the best session musicians were brought in to read the charts on these Capitol dates.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: From Here to Eternity

Sinatra’s Capitol Records era began in April 1953 and lasted until March 1962. When he joined Capitol, Sinatra was considered a vocal liability and an emotional mess. But with the help of arrangers such as Nelson Riddle, Sinatra’s confidence was restored as he began to trust his instincts and call the shots. “From Here to Eternity” is Sinatra’s first session with Riddle and his strongest ballad from the period. Inspired by the film for which he won an Oscar—but not written for it—the song marked Sinatra’s “comeback” and peaked at #15 on the pop charts.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: Nevertheless (I'm in Love with You)

Most of Sinatra’s sides for Columbia are notable for their dramatic string arrangements and double-thick romantic mood. On this track, Sinatra’s voice is relaxed and at its peak during this period. Listen as he takes vocal risks that resolve beautifully. Billy Butterfield plays trumpet behind Sinatra, making this side an early example of the singer-and-wandering-horn formula that would become so successful in the 1950s. Listen to the 'outro' where Butterfield and Sinatra seem to complete each other’s musical thoughts.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye

When Sinatra left Dorsey in mid-1942, he was seeking solo stardom. After signing with Columbia Records in 1943, he remained with the label for nearly 10 years, maintaining a grueling recording schedule. This image-rich sweetheart ballad about lovers unable to part is taken at a pulse’s pace. It’s a delightful example of Sinatra’s vocal range and quiet control. Listen as he moves cat-like behind and ahead of the beat. And dig the trio’s Shearing tag at the end. For fun, compare it to the end of George Shearing’s “So Rare” of February 1947.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tommy Dorsey (featuring Frank Sinatra): How Do You Do Without Me

Virtually all of Sinatra’s 83 studio sides recoded with Tommy Dorsey for RCA from February 1940 to June 1942 are towering masterpieces. His poured-steel renditions of songs like “East of the Sun,” “Everything Happens to Me” and “Violets for Your Furs” remain the versions to beat. “How Do You Do Without Me” is a nearly forgotten tune from his Fox Trot period and features a swingy Sinatra vocal and clock-time drum and cymbal work by Buddy Rich.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: My Foolish Heart

"My Foolish Heart" is another landmark performance from the June 25, 1961 live recording at the Village Vanguard. This trio altered the rhythmic essence of modern jazz with its use of space and time. This was evident in virtually every track recorded at the Village Vanguard on this date, but the ballad performances are especially noteworthy. I am unaware of any previous piano trio attempting a ballad at such a slow tempo -- if the beats were any farther apart you might doubt that there was any strict tempo on this track.

Many otherwise stellar 1950s and 1960s jazz bands would have died trying to attempt this in live performance. But Evans, Motian and LaFaro are liberated by this slo-mo approach. This ballad breathes in a way that few jazz performances have ever achieved. If musicians such as Parker and Gillespie showed how jazz could move faster than anyone thought possible, this trio achieved the same extraordinary results at the other end of the metronome range. But, as with other Evans tracks from this period, the music itself is much more than an experiment or attempt to prove some theory about jazz performance. The sheer beauty of this version of "My Foolish Heart" transcends its origin as a sentimental soundtrack theme from a Hollywood film and transforms the piece into art song of the highest order.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Gloria's Step (take 2)

Fans who want to appreciate the artistry of Bill Evans must start with the great live Village Vanguard session from June 25, 1961. Evans never led a better band, and this ensemble never performed at a higher level than on this date. It is no exaggeration to claim that the essence of the piano trio in jazz was permanently altered by this seminal event. The idea that bass and drums should support the piano is replaced here by a different conception—one in which each instrument enters into a musical conversation with the others. The trio also adopts what Evans called the "internalized beat" in which each musician feels the rhythm, but doesn't always emphasize it in his playing. As a result the music floats over the bar lines in a way that no previous jazz ensemble had attempted.

But these are more than conceptual breakthroughs. What sets this music apart is how brilliantly these concepts are realized in practice. This music doesn't sound like anyone is out to prove anything. Its innovations are subservient to the intense emotional experience of the music itself.

One can only wonder what this trio might have accomplished had it stayed intact for several more years. But a senseless tragedy intervened. LaFaro died in a car accident on July 6—less than two weeks after these recordings were made. A great career was cut short—no bassist since Jimmy Blanton had done more to expand the expressive range of the instrument. Evans, for his part, would never completely recover from this loss, although his later ensembles always attempted to emulate (with varying degrees of success) the musical E.S.P. and interactivity of this path-breaking trio.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Archie Shepp: Mama Too Tight

Though often considered – in the '60s – as one of the most politically oriented intellectuals of the free jazz movement, Archie Shepp has always advocated and maintained a link with the popular roots of African- American music. This tune is a good example of a marching band-type song, played in a purposely relaxed and unsophisticated way, far from the shrieks and howls one might expect. In fact, Shepp’s tenor solo, towards the end of the song, is the only one that expresses anger and revolt. And indeed, it makes the band sound a bit as if it danced to keep from crying.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Lean on Me

This tune is definitely not one of the most often played, and this trio was definitely not Shelly Manne’s usual working band. Yet, with two highly compatible and inspired musicians, the master drummer has recorded a little marvel. Costa’s highly personal and percussive approach to the piano (he was also a great vibist) and Duvivier’s deep sound and utter mastery of the bass combine with Manne’s sparkling, precise drumming to make the most of this lesser known song by deconstructing and rebuilding its melody. The three virtuosos obviously have a lot of fun shifting styles and tempos at breathtaking speed, so that the listener’s ears feel like they are being carried on a fascinating sonic and rhythmic ride. Hasn’t jazz been called “the sound of surprise”?

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Giblet Gravy

At the time of this session – not his first, but certainly his best at this stage of his career – George Benson was only 25 and had just recorded a few tracks with Miles Davis. With two of the latter’s sidemen in the rhythm section of this 10-piece band, the rising guitar star from Pittsburgh carves a typically groovy and efficient tune, with the help of a skillful arranger. The relaxed swinging horn riffs are a perfect cradle for a magnificently built guitar solo that gathers momentum and speed as it develops, alternating crystal clear single lines and tightly knit chords that would become some of Benson’s trademarks.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Nine

Dianne Reeves is undoubtedly one the most gifted singers among those who attained international status in the last decade of the 20th century. One of the most authentic, too, she can sing standards with a mastery and range that led many critics to compare her with the great Sarah Vaughan. But Miss Reeves is no imitator: she always gives utterly personal renditions of the classics, maybe because she also composes, as with this song inspired from her childhood memories. It catches the magical atmosphere of children’s fantasies – listen to the way Reeves’s warm voice scats on nursery rhymes’ melodies towards the end of the song – and never fails to swing, thanks to a strongly empathic rhythm section. This Reeves original fully deserves to become a classic.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Kilimanjaro

In the early '70s, big bands were not so fashionable. During the mid-'60s, Count Basie even ventured far from his usual repertoire to cover Beatles songs! Here, with the help of new compositions by Oliver Nelson, the Count gives his band an invigorating youth potion, based on a supposedly African recipe. On this track, few of the traditional Basie orchestra ingredients are present, except for the sparse soloing by the Count himself and the lush horns and reeds. Nelson sketches an imaginary landscape with electric bass, percussion, and Hubert Laws’ dreamy flute, journeying from “Afrique” to “Japan” and including a tune by Albert Ayler. A most unusual and exotic Count Basie record, well worth checking out, even if it’s not one of his historically major ones.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian (with Joe Lovano & Bill Frisell): Yahllah

In the last 15 years, many modern groups have become frequent visitors to the Vanguard stage – none with more regularity than the Paul Motian Trio featuring Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Their free, introspective, bass-less improvisations often meander between sensitive and sweet and forceful and raucous within a single tune. The experimental approach to their improvisations makes each set totally unique (some more traditional and some more free), leading many fans back for repeat visits to the Vanguard when this trio is playing. Note Frisell’s atmospheric layering under Lovano’s extended solo throughout the middle and end of this track.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Monk's Dream

Brad Mehldau’s virtuosic version of Thelonious’s “Monk’s Dream” provides the listener with a prime example of a jazz musician improvising based on the melody of a tune until he/she finds an idea that they wish to instantly develop. Throughout this solo, Mehldau time and again dips into the “Monk’s Dream” melody and then embellishes it with improvised statements. The melodic improvisation intensifies for well over four minutes until Mehldau begins an amazing rhythmic/harmonic variation (beginning at approxi- mately 5:20 and lasting until 6:45) that still references the melody as the solo reaches its climax. It is a remarkable improvised statement that Mehldau’s Vanguard audiences have been absorbing for many years now. Also note the rare Rossy solo (in the form of trading fours with Mehldau) at the conclusion of Mehldau’s improvisation.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Boogie Stop Shuffle

After a four-minute-plus unaccompanied tenor sax introduction (so substantial that it is separated onto another track!), these four in-demand New York jazz musicians perform a powerful rendition of this Mingus classic. Kevin Hays solos early in the track on both Fender Rhodes (first) and piano (second), before Potter reenters and picks up where he left off from his introduction with his identifiably crisp rapid-fire runs and motivic development. Colley and Stewart perform superbly together, managing to simultaneously play with great energy and overall effortlessness.

This track hints at the “State of the Vanguard” in the 21st century. The players are modern, there are combinations of electric and acoustic instruments, the ideas are complex yet historical, and they are paying homage to a past master with a reach into the Mingus repertoire. Modern jazz at its best. Here’s to the next 70+ years of live jazz at the Village Vanguard!

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Boo Boo's Birthday

Nearly 30 years after Sonny Rollins’ inventive piano-less tenor recordings from the Vanguard, Joe Henderson released these piano-less tenor recordings made with the all-star rhythm section of Ron Carter and Al Foster. These three masters weave flawlessly in and out of solidified, swinging time and free, exploratory sections. This allows the musicians to explore and reinvent the tunes they are playing through interspersed combinations of trio, duet, and unaccompanied playing. Some of Henderson’s strongest playing from this period in his career can be heard on these recordings – there is a delicate balance of extreme intensity and fervor combined with the understated, “less is more” brilliance of an older, wiser Henderson. Essential tenor recordings.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Adams & Don Pullen: Big Alice

This session featuring Mingus alumni (with the obvious exception of Cameron Brown) is filled with high- energy original music from Adams and Pullen. While the arrangements are expectedly unpredictable and multidimensional, their free jazz elements are countered by a strong compositional basis in the blues and gospel music (à la their former bandleader). This Pullen-penned track opens with an exceptionally melodic unaccompanied drum solo from Richmond, followed by extended solos by Pullen and Adams over the New Orleans street-beat groove. The tune concludes with playful, quote-dominated trading between Adams and Richmond. Stimulating, bold jazz from understudied masters.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: Anthropology

Art Pepper’s post-rehabilitation career reached its pinnacle with a successful run at the Vanguard in late July 1977. Backed by a first-rate group of Cables, Mraz and Jones, Pepper performs at an impressively high level on original cool jazz compositions and bebop mainstays, as evidenced by this version of "Anthropology." While some may be bothered by occasional intonation issues at points throughout the complete session recordings, the unorthodox combination of musicians assembled here is quite sensitive to one another's personal styles, making for an absorbing listen. On this track, note the duet between Pepper (on clarinet) and Mraz on bass, later joined by Jones on brushes.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: 'Round Midnight

Due in large part to the concluding chapter of Ken Burns’s engaging yet contentious documentary Jazz, the return of Dexter Gordon to the United States (after 14 years of living in Europe) has gradually become an iconic moment in the history of modern jazz. While there has always been brilliant jazz being performed since the music’s creation nearly a century ago, the late 1970s may have been a time when many jazz fans were nostalgic for the bebop and post-bop giants who had dominated the jazz clubs in decades past. Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return set at the Vanguard satiated some of those desires with an exciting set of music backed by Woody Shaw’s working quartet. Dexter is clearly impacted by his reception and plays especially emotionally and intensely on this Monk classic.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thad Jones & Mel Lewis: Big Dipper

This track is the first tune played on the first night of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, a Monday night tradition at the Vanguard that continues to this day, nearly 42 years later. After finishing major tours with Count Basie and Stan Kenton, respectively, Jones and Lewis started the band in order to solidify a fresh, swinging New York big band. With arrangements written predominantly by Jones and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, classic swing charts were infused with modern bop elements to push the big band tradition into innovative territory. Even though Jones left the band in 1979 and Lewis passed away in 1990, the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra extends the Jones/Lewis tradition by continuing to play some of their arrangements on Monday nights at the Vanguard.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Timmons: Dat Dere

This underrated 1961 session presents Blakey/Adderley alumnus Bobby Timmons in a trio format with Albert “Tootie” Heath and a young, understated Ron Carter on bass. A Philadelphia native with a penchant for blues and gospel-influenced playing and composing, Timmons alternates hard-bop compositions (“Topsy,” “So Tired”) with standards (“Autumn Leaves,” “They Didn’t Believe Me”) on this date. The chosen track, “Dat Dere,” is one of two Timmons hard-bop classics (alongside “Moanin’”), and is performed tastefully and flawlessly, if perhaps in need of some Jazz Messenger guest appearances.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Spiritual (Take B)

There is perhaps no better combination in jazz than Elvin Jones’s ride cymbal and John Coltrane’s tenor. The minds behind these two instruments pushed each other to the musical limit throughout their tenure as members of the classic Coltrane quartet, and there is no better example of their raw energy and extreme interaction than on the Complete Vanguard sessions (November 1961). Note the beginning and end of this track for the Coltrane/Jones lockup (Coltrane on tenor at the beginning and soprano at the end), split in two by an inspired, strenuous improvisation from altoist Eric Dolphy.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Some Other Time

The summer and fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard marked one of the greatest musical runs in jazz history. In just a matter of months, Bill Evans and John Coltrane would release some of their most revered music, all captured live at 178 Seventh Avenue South. The Evans recordings are complete master classes in the art of the piano trio – all three players communicate brilliantly and seem to know exactly when to play, and more importantly, exactly when to leave space for their trio-mates. While Evans and Motian are both in fine form, it is LaFaro’s exquisite decision making on the bandstand that places these recordings on the edge of (dare I say) jazz perfection.

January 13, 2008 · 2 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Old Devil Moon

No better place to start than at the beginning. This landmark Blue Note session was the first record released from the Vanguard. Originally issued in two separate volumes comprised of the afternoon and evening sets on November 3, 1957, the complete collection has since been remastered and re-released (with additional tracks). Musically, this set the standard for the piano-less trio – Rollins is accompanied by just a bassist and drummer. This musical freedom allows Rollins to showcase his masterful rhythmic reconfiguration of the “Old Devil Moon” melody throughout his improvisation.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: Threnody

True, she blazes bebop and swings steadier than Big Ben, but when Marian McPartland enfolds her hands around a ballad she molds it into an intricately carved and exquisite sonic sculpture, especially when it's her own piece. This crystalline composition is Marian’s portrait of Mary Lou Williams, and her profound goodbye to her jazz comrade. She distinctly refers to Mary Lou in the modernistic melody and the voluptuous chords. The graceful power of Marian’s playing is translucent in this waltz of mourning. Bill and Omar intuitively create a spacious environment for three of her most intimate and potent musical moments.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Solo - In Memory of His Father

Two weeks before Bill Evans was scheduled to make a live recording at Town Hall, his father, Harry L. Evans, died suddenly in Ormond Beach, Florida. Evans considered canceling or postponing the concert, but instead went ahead with the event, but composed an extended solo work dedicated to his father to be premiered at Town Hall. The central section of this 14-minute composition later surfaced as the song "Turn Out the Stars," but Evans would never play it with more warmth or beauty than on this live performance. This pianist is well known for drawing on the inspiration of impressionist classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy, and in this setting these influences come to the fore. If you lifted out the improvisation, the rest of this piece could show up in a concert hall recital and most listeners would hardly realize that it was supposed to be jazz. No wonder the great interpreter of Ravel, Satie and Debussy, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, has added this Bill Evans composition to his repertoire. Evans was such a brilliant interpreter of popular standards and so prolific in his output, that it is hard to have many regrets about his recorded legacy; nonetheless, I am disappointed that he didn't do more extended works of this sort during the 14 remaining years of his life.

January 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kerry Politzer: Waiting

The piano is both a percussion instrument and (if you peer into its innards) a string instrument. This duality has led to two divergent paradigms for jazz pianists: they can be percussive and biting like Monk, Ellington, Moran, Nichols (to cite just a few examples), or floating and flowing like Evans, Jamal, Mehldau, Jarrett. Politzer hasn't yet made up her mind which of the two she prefers, and now she is branching off into singing as well. But whichever path this musician selects, she is likely to master it. "Waiting" shows off the floating and flowing side of her artistry and is a fully realized work, capturing a pensive, rainy-day mood and sustaining it throughout the melody and solos. Politzer's playing is very fresh, without the hand-worn licks that so many other musicians string together and call an improvisation. She deserves a chance to record for a bigger label and on a larger stage.

January 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Don Grolnick (with Michael Brecker): Pools

“Space is the breath of art.“ – Frank Lloyd Wright

An inspired harmonic architect, Grolnick designed spacious structures for Brecker to breathe freely in. Allied from the band Dreams beyond Steps Ahead, these two sensitive musicians finished each other’s sentences in playing and composing. Don’s clairvoyant precision complemented Michael’s sweeping arches and spiral runs. Also recorded on Steps Ahead (1982) and performed by a 24-piece orchestra with Mike Mainieri, “Pools” contains the crucial groove, seamless odd-meter transitions, complex chords, and modal yet soulful melodies that form the foundation of fusion – not smooth jazz, but a more concrete structure.

January 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Willem Breuker: Potsdamer Stomp

This mythical Dutch band (actually one of Europe’s first “free” orchestras) never forgot where it came from: the street parades and street theatre of carefree post-'68 Holland. That’s where the energy of the WBK originates, that’s where their horns took up their raunchy sounds, where their rhythm section built its funky honky-tonk beat. But listening to this powerful, basic, playful track, one may also easily guess that the way the WBK plays here is also the best compensation they’ve found for not being born in New Orleans a few decades earlier. And indeed, if you close your eyes, they might convince you they actually were.

January 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paolo Fresu: Angel

It starts out with Lê’s Hendrix-inspired guitar playing a noisy introduction, quickly followed by the rock- oriented rhythm of bass and drums. Then Fresu’s mellow muted trumpet launches the melody… and drags the whole band towards a more “angelic” climate, while Lê’s guitar maintains the freaky spirit of his left-handed idol. A very strange and uninhibited version of one of Hendrix’s hits, by an Italian-French quartet whose members think that the spirit – not the repertoire – is the main basis of a good jazz tune. Here is a 4:24-long masterful demonstration of their theory.

January 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joachim Kühn: Youmala

Whether you want to view it from the German + Moroccan + Spaniard, or Jew + Moslem + Christian angle, this trio and its music are about mixing genres and influences. During the last few decades, Europe has been more and more a place where jazz has opened up to ethnic music from the South and the East. And that’s exactly what Kühn, Bekkas and Lopez do: find a common ground where the North-African and Western traditions can blend without falling into the traps of commercial world music. These three musicians have deep roots and open ears. Their forays on this new path are so fruitful that they’re bound to be more than a mere fad.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hank Jones and Cheick-Tidiane Seck: Sarala

Sarala may be the strangest project that Hank Jones recorded, either as a sideman or as a leader. All the more so since this master musician, who played with almost everybody from Coleman Hawkins to Joe Lovano during the last 60 years, had never been to Africa when he met Seck and his musicians from Mali in Paris. When, after a couple of minutes, the solo piano emerges from the thick blend of African rhythms, singing, organ and electric guitar orchestrated by Seck, it sounds with the obviousness and clarity of a pure stream of water flowing through a dense tropical landscape. Jones and Seck sound like they’ve made the Mississippi and Niger rivers meet. And this musically successful meeting is also a very moving one, for obvious historical reasons.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Philip Catherine: Coffee Groove

A brisk, rhythmically challenging theme, with a twist of the songs that made the Blue Note label famous in the '60s. The Belgian guitarist starts the new millennium with an all-European quartet that fits him like a glove. On bass and drums is a tight, powerful Dutch-Belgian pair, whose support any soloist would dream of. The frontline is busy with the leader’s both rooted and innovative guitar lines, that fuse the best of jazz harmonies and rock’s energy. On the trumpet, Bert Joris has no problem, with his strong and delicate musicianship, following the path of Chet Baker and Tom Harrell, in whose bands Catherine played at length. As far as jazz is concerned, Belgium is definitely not a small country!

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Martial Solal: Zag Zig

Some have said that Solal is one of the most illustrious followers of Art Tatum, as far as sheer virtuosity is concerned. During this concert, recorded a couple of days after 09/11/2001, the great French pianist seems to be more interested in exploring various moods than in showing muscles. With the help of one of his regular bass players and an excellent drummer he’s less familiar with, Solal first creates a rubato rhythmic and harmonic climate, then the melody and a regular beat appear with a rather dark atmosphere, and finally everything becomes joyous and swift, with a light bouncing melody. A metaphor of the soothing Solal wanted to bring to an audience that had just experienced horror?

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michel Portal: The Sandpiper

French reeds wizard Michel Portal is an endless searcher and traveler. He is a respected clarinetist in the classical and contemporary music field, has been a session musician, a free jazz musician, a film music composer… and has always been eager to meet and exchange with U.S. musicians. Here he invites Tony Malaby on one of his typical compositions: a very simple, haunting, cyclic melodic pattern on which Portal’s bass clarinet solo followed by Malaby’s improvisation on the tenor sax build up a tension that climaxes with the dialogue of the two horns. This tune has some of the magic and beauty of Miles Davis's early-'70s pieces.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Florian Ross: Wollongong Sketch

German pianist-composer Florian Ross studied with Jim McNeely and George Gruntz before leading his own bands. This double apprenticeship might explain a lot about the originality of his inspiration. Indeed this song, composed during an Australian tour, has a twist of its own that cannot easily be linked to either the American or European traditions. The melody and rhythm are evocative of wide-open spaces, the mellow sound of the all-reeds horn section is rather unique outside of a big band context, and the use of the Fender Rhodes instead of acoustic piano enhances the dreamy hues of a piece that could well be used as a soundtrack to a road movie.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Never Let Me Go

Bill Evans is best remembered for his trio work, although he participated in several outstanding solo piano sessions over the years. But he never dug more deeply into a solo performance than on this version of "Never Let Me Go." At 14:28, it is more than twice as long as any other track on the Alone LP. Even by Evans's standards, this track is introverted and introspective. If I didn't know better, I would guess that someone caught the pianist making music for his own enjoyment and taped it surreptitiously. In the liner notes, Evans writes that "the hours of greatest pleasure in my life have come about as a result of the capacity of the piano to be in itself a complete expressive musical medium." Evans returns again and again to the melody, and you can sense how he seems to align his own psychological state with the flow of the song. This is a very profound performance and a timeless example of a jazz artist completely immersed in the emotional landscape of a composition.

January 10, 2008 · 1 comment

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Cyrus Chestnut: Don't Be Cruel

As a youngster, Elvis Presley soaked up the African-American music that was part of the soundscape of his hometown, Tupelo, Mississippi. But jazz players have rarely returned the favor. He may be "The King" in the eyes of masses, but for your local neighborhood bebopper, Presley is only another attendant lord, or maybe even just a great pretender to the throne. Cyrus Chestnut steps in to rectify matters with a whole CD devoted to Elvis. But he takes Mr. Presley on a roller coaster ride. Chestnut gives me a head fake at the start -- I think he is jumping into "Willow Weep for Me," but instead he moves (ever so briefly) into a finger-poppin' Elvis groove. The bass solo follows, and we are now far away from anything heard inside the walls of Graceland. When Chestnut comes back, he is more Monk-ish than a whole monastery of cenobites. They should change the name of this song to "Well You Needn't Be Cruel."

January 10, 2008 · 2 comments

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Nancy King: Stompin' at the Savoy

Bugattis are scarce in the Kia-filled parking lot of current jazz vocalists, but Nancy King is that rare marquee. She possesses the four essential elements of a genuine jazz artist: a singular voice, skills to express that voice, subterranean knowledge of the art form, and expansive innovative tendencies. The Savoy has been stomped at by Armstrong to Connick and Ella to O’Day, yet Nancy’s model comes with her brand of wit, state-of-the-art handling of melody and lyric, and aerodynamic improvising from her and four perceptive players. An invigorating spin in a vintage vehicle: 0 to swingin’ in 2.5 seconds.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nancy King: Sweeper Man

Music: the encompassing ocean. The wind: the omnipresent Miles. The vessel: one of his transcendent compositions; its sails: a carefully woven lyric. Aboard are four aural explorers, Captain King at the helm, her voice wafting over waves like whale spray, a grand nod to Miles in her flowing phrasing. Enhance this seascape with Art Lande’s atmospheric soundboarding, Gary Hobbs’s clever sweepwork, and Glen Moore channeling through his 1715 Klotz bass, and it’s clear that the magnificence of jazz lies not only in its tempestuous past, but beneath its surface where, fathoms deep, another sonorous universe waits to be discovered.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Kimbrough: It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago

Jazz fans will probably be most familiar with Frank Kimbrough from his sideman stints with Maria Schneider, Dewey Redman and others. But Kimbrough's recent Air release is the artist's first solo piano recording. Many keyboardists would use this type of setting to show off every piano trick they know, but Kimbrough opens his CD with a stark and deeply felt version of Paul Motian's composition "It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago." He takes the piece at a relaxed pace that stays mostly in rubato; even when the song falls into a waltz beat, each bar breathes and the ground rhythm floats under the piece rather than guides it. Jazz is usually a tense, busy art form, and I am delighted when I hear players who can let the music happen in such an unforced and natural manner. A lovely performance that shows off the artistry of this under-sung player.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Phase Dance

The longtime concert opener, "Phase Dance" provides a distillation of the early Pat Metheny Group sound. Metheny rolls out arpeggios with his guitar in the high-strung Nashville tuning, punctuating phrases with ringing artificial harmonics. When Pat steps out to take a solo, Lyle comps with both piano and slowly ascending notes from the Oberheim. Mays's piano solo further ratchets up the intensity as Gottlieb pushes forward on snare and cymbals, all of this supported by Egan's muscular, almost Jaco-esque bass lines. As is typical of the Metheny Group approach, a fair amount of dynamics are employed – during the first restatement of the main theme, everybody momentarily drops away leaving the piano lightly tracing the changes. . . But then it's full steam ahead to the end.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: (Go) Get It

Pat Metheny was driven toward jazz by the discovery of one of his brother Mike's Miles Davis records (Four and More). All these years later, it's still fairly obvious that Pat likes nothing better than to architect a harmonic structure and then take a run though it. Metheny is clearly inspired here by the drumming of Bill Stewart, as they trade maniacal fours near the end of "(Go) Get It." Stewart, along with Larry Grenadier, swing like men possessed as Pat winds his way through the changes with characteristic abandon. This is a terrific example of Metheny in a more traditional jazz context.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: The First Circle

Starting off with a hand-clapping sequence in 22/8, "The First Circle" is one of the Metheny Group's most idiosyncratic works. Is it jazz? World music (whatever that means)? As you listen your way through each section, from the opening hand percussion to the intricate acoustic guitar bridge to Lyle Mays's surging synthesizer (and later piano) solo, you can't help but notice the feeling of lift. As the composition roars toward its conclusion, Pat's intensely strummed acoustic guitar is pitted against Pedro Aznar's impossibly beautiful wordless vocals. The first time I heard "The First Circle," it was at my first Metheny Group concert. It left me standing there with a slack jaw. Warning: it just might happen to you, too.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: The Calling

Question: What do Pat Metheny and Lou Reed have in common? Answer: Metal Machine Music. In Reed's case, it was often said that the album was done just to annoy the record company, a contractual obligations kind of thing. Folks on the Internet used to joke that Metheny recorded "The Calling" as a kiss-off to Manfred Eicher on his way out of ECM. Let the record state the obvious: Metheny recorded one more album for ECM (First Circle) the following year. Also, I've seen Pat play this noisefest (and I mean that in a good way!) twice: once on the First Circle tour, and many years later with Roy Haynes. "The Calling" is Pat Metheny at his noise-mining best – the elegiac main theme is fired out via the guitar synth, Haden and Higgins in sympathetic support. Slowly and inevitably, that theme is destroyed in favor of sheets of sound, guitar abuse, and chaos. Ugly beauty? You bet!

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Opening

With some staccato guitar parts early on (reminiscent of his work on Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint), this edition of the Pat Metheny group launches into an extended masterwork: the nearly 70-minute-long The Way Up. What's amazing about this short introduction (a shade over five minutes) is that nearly all of the elements to follow are referred to in one way or another – very syncopated rhythms, interlocking melodies, drastic shifts in temp, texture, and volume. Most impressive are the mini-conversations that seem to occur between the instruments as phrases appear to be handed off in quick succession from the guitar to the piano to the trumpet and back. Credit newcomers Cuong Vu, Gregoire Maret, and (especially!) drummer Antonio Sanchez for rounding out the most inspiring lineup Pat has worked with to date.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Ozark

This album opens with the long (20+ minutes) title track suite that explores an emotional scale ranging from sweet and pastoral all the way to dark and edgy. Tension is built up as a long, almost church-organ chord is held at the song's end. "Ozark" then sweeps away the fog and smoke of dark emotions by allowing Lyle Mays to shine with an enormous wave of chiming piano. Metheny contributes strummed acoustic guitar and counterpoint-laden arpeggios and harmonics, but this is clearly Lyle's vehicle. It's tough to describe how positive and hopeful this tune is, but let me say this: I can't play a note on the piano, but hearing "Ozark" brings up the urge to learn - every single time.

January 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Pat Metheny: Minuano (Six Eight)

Like many songs from Metheny's 'Brazilian period,' "Minuano (Six Eight)" displays his penchant for making use of various influences within a single, multifaceted structure. A swirling introduction features wordless vocals that foreshadow the main theme brought forth in the second section. Pat then takes an extended guitar solo that seems like it's ready to burst as it leads into a restatement of the head. Just as you're ready for another repeat of that theme, an abrupt left turn is taken and a small army of percussion takes over, playing some inspiring marimba by way of Steve Reich. This makes the final return to the main melody all the more surprising. Really great stuff.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Tonight

Kenton’s ultra-slow ballad style featuring piano and trombones was one of his trademarks, resulting in one or two hit singles, but here it appears with a difference. His “New Era in Modern American Music” ensemble of the early 1960s featured four mellophoniums to provide a French-horn-type section sandwiched in between the trumpets and trombones. Richards’s setting is lyrical and rich in warm yet powerful sound. Kenton’s piano is the main solo voice, but there is a muted improvisation by Conte Candoli. The score to West Side Story was perfect for this ensemble, and the album won a Grammy Award.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Chiapas

Kenton was still on the road -- and still leading an excellent band -- when this was taped during a week-long clinic at a California college. Stan formed his own record label and continued to explore new directions in big band music along with dance gigs, where “Eager Beaver” was still requested. Enamored of the Don Ellis Orchestra’s performance of music in unusual time signatures, Kenton asked one of Ellis’s composers to write for the band. Hank Levy had played baritone saxophone with the old man in 1954, and was on the staff of Towson College in Baltimore, Maryland, when he contributed this composition. The band despised this music at first, but they finally got the hang of it, as this exciting performance shows. Dick Shearer plays the trombone solo, and there are improvisations by Davis and Gale. Levy would contribute quite a number of pieces in a similar vein until 1976. Kenton passed away in 1978.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: My Old Flame

Those familiar with Marty Paich’s Dek-Tette and his recordings with Mel Tormé and Art Pepper might be surprised at this effective concert setting of a standard song from 1934 introduced by Mae West. Yet Paich loved writing such ambitious music for Kenton. (Marty had studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Arnold Schoenberg, and earned a Masters Degree in composition.) Paich would contribute additional pieces and settings for Kenton as late as the ‘70s. Perkins and Noto solo in this recording made at the Rendezvous Ballroom.

January 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Pat Metheny: Imaginary Day

When Imaginary Day first came out, it seemed like a huge step forward for the Pat Metheny Group. Great, dynamic shifts in mood and texture are nothing new for this ensemble, and yet the addition of instruments like the fretless acoustic guitar made the composition seem otherworldly. At several points, the entire band drops away, giving Wertico (with tremendous cymbal work) and Rodby space to kick off the next segment. Lyle Mays just might be the (second!) secret weapon here – his keyboard voicings definitely add to the exotic nature of this very cinematic work.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)

This is the title track from the Cuban Fire Suite, an album that is perhaps Kenton’s masterpiece. Stan was determined to record a suite that would combine a big band jazz approach with authentic Cuban rhythms and song forms, and he commissioned Johnny Richards to compose the music. Richards, one of the most schooled composers of big band music, did a great amount of research, and assembled an excellent rhythm section with the help of Willie Rodriguez. The title track begins freely and powerfully, and then calms down at the introduction of the melody played by Larsen with a muted Noto improvising under him (a favorite Richards device). Thompson and Fontana also solo. This album was so successful that it helped launch Richards as a leader.

January 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Hav-a-Havana

From a jazz standpoint, the ensemble Kenton led that featured the music of Willis Holman is the highpoint of Stan’s career. Holman had been a student at Westlake College of Music, where he studied with Russell Garcia and Paul Villepigue. Regardless of his music’s complexity over the years, Holman’s art features linear beauty and coherence, balanced with sonic fullness without heaviness, and his early pieces betray the influence of Gerry Mulligan. The band loved Holman’s music, and it shows in the spirited performance of this Latin-based study. Holman relies on a simple motive (which never becomes a full melody), and demonstrates his early mastery by developing it into a nearly three-minute composition. Sam Noto’s wonderful solo is icing on the cake.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Farmer's Trust

I'll get right to the point: "Farmer's Trust" contains some of the prettiest and most romantic melodies that Pat Metheny has ever committed to tape. Pat's more 'open' compositions are often tagged with labels such as “pastoral” and “Midwestern.” While those terms are somewhat vague, they actually make perfect sense in the context of this wonderful ballad. Metheny plays a gorgeous melody line that sets up a short series of guitar and piano turns. All the while, Steve Rodby is at his understated best in his support role. I tell you, you can just imagine the wide-open spaces and waving grasses.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Are You Going With Me?

A guy I used to know complained once that Pat Metheny records were funny because you very often couldn't tell when the guitar was being played. Well, sure, guitar synthesizer is an odd instrument that can sound like so many other things (I once heard Pat play the blues on a television show with a donkey-bray patch!) -- so maybe it's not so obvious that a guitar is the physical source. Case in point: "Are You Going With Me?" finds Metheny and company setting up a slow & sparse vamp that's used as a launching pad for some crazy-intense guitar synth madness. When Pat plays this live, he actually leaves his feet several times during the solos. Levitation? OK, maybe not. But the music is so passionately delivered that you wouldn't be surprised if...

January 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: All About Ronnie

Chris Connor was recommended to Kenton by June Christy. Connor did not stay very long, but her stint with the band made a good send-off to a solo career that continues at this writing. Featured here on one of Joe Greene’s better efforts, Connor delivers a sultry performance against a lovely Russo setting, with Candoli contributing an excellent muted solo. This track also proves that Kenton could deliver commercial pop hits in addition to his more experimental repertoire.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Frank Speaking

By 1952, Kenton was leading an ensemble called “New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm” and continued to attract excellent soloists and composers. Russo was the chief composer/arranger, although Gerry Mulligan and Johnny Richards contributed some important music to the band during this period. Russo was known for his deep, brooding studies for the orchestra, but he could write upbeat, swinging pieces as well, as shown by this feature for Rosolino, which starts off in medium tempo and then suddenly takes off in high gear with the soloist roaring.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Down in De Dew

The jazz content in Frank Zappa' music declined after the early 1970s. His later work relied more on monologues and routines, and the instrumentals veered off into either rock or avant-garde classical bags. The inclusion of this track in the 1996 Läther set -- three CDs of unreleased material from the mid-1970s -- was an unexpected treat. The writing and soloing are fresh and exciting, and the track features a bouncy jazz-fusion groove that we missed in Zappa's late period. One of my dream bands would find Zappa playing songs of this type with an all-star jazz band, hot players who would push him outside his comfort zone -- assuming that there was a discomfort zone for this fearless artist.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Ennui

Kenton took his Innovations in Modern Music concert jazz orchestra on two tours throughout the U.S. Although there were sellout crowds at many of the venues it played, the tour lost a lot of money. Even so, it confirmed Kenton’s belief that audiences would pay to hear modernistic jazz-tinged orchestral music. Many composers were asked to contribute, including a young trombone player/leader who had studied with Lennie Tristano in his hometown of Chicago. William Russo would become a distinguished composer, teacher and writer. "Ennui," one of the earliest modal compositions for jazz orchestra (phrygian to be precise), was described by its composer as a study in a quiet and relaxed mood. Harry Betts is the soloist.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Unison Riff

Even though Kenton led a composer/arranger’s band in many ways, a number of his musicians later became major jazz personalities. Rugolo wrote both abstract compositions which established him as an important American composer, as well as riff-based, harmonically interesting pieces that inspired soloists and got the dancers’ feet going. Wetzel (muted), Kenton (with Costanzo), Pepper (who’d been a member of the band back in 1943 before being drafted), Safranski, Alvarez and Bert make the most of their solo opportunities.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Machito

The Kenton band’s music attracted the finest young instrumentalists, as the band provided an excellent forum for new music. Pete Rugolo was this era’s chief composer/arranger, his work encompassing everything from pop songs to virtually anything he wanted to write. Stan loved the Machito Orchestra, and asked Rugolo to write something to dedicate to the Cuban maestro. The band first recorded this music in February without the bongos and maracas, but it is this performance that really crackles with excitement, one of the earliest instances of Afro-Cuban big band jazz on record. Solos are by Kenton, Winding, Alvarez, and a spectacular duet of Childers and Layton.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine

The Kenton band was the staff orchestra on the Bob Hope radio program when Anita O’Day joined the band. O’Day was already a ‘name’ singer from her tenure with the Gene Krupa band, and gave the band a needed boost. This track was another big hit, which is available in two versions; take one with a straight- forward vocal, take two with O’Day much freer now that she is more familiar with the song (Kenton also plays on this take). Price was invited to make this session by O’Day, and he really kicks the band into high gear. It’s a pity he couldn’t have stayed longer.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Eager Beaver

Kenton formed his band in 1940 and played a successful 1941 summer season at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California. Radio broadcasts and transcriptions heralded a new band with new ideas – sharp, accented offbeats and a driving swing which some found plodding. Above all, this was a LOUD band. Kenton’s early recordings for Decca were disappointing, but a new firm named Capitol Records signed the group. “Eager Beaver” was featured at the band’s first session for the label, and became a huge hit. Like many of Kenton’s riff-based compositions, this tune was infectious, easily remembered, and requested by listeners for years. This edition of the band was called “Artistry in Rhythm.”

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Ian Underwood Whips It Out

The song is called "Ian Underwood Whips It Out." Or, to use the full name, "Ian Underwood Whips It Out (Live on Stage in Copenhagen)." Unfortunately the title supplies almost all the specifics we know about this hot jazz performance. Most accounts will tell you that there are 11 musicians on this track, but I find that hard to believe. Of course, the drums and sax are so dominant and the recording quality so poor, that you might have the Royal Danish Orchestra lost in the mix for all I know. But all the action is coming from Ian Underwood's horn, which is smokin' on this heady dose of energy jazz. This is one of the best 'free jazz' tracks of the era -- and it is hidden away on a rock album? Go figure!

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maria Schneider: Cerulean Skies

We have come to expect grand things from Maria Schneider, and she delivers again on "Cerulean Skies" -- a 22-minute track that shows off the full range of her aural palette. Where do we focus on this large canvas? At the splashes of ambient sound? At the big, broad strokes full of color and life? At the clash and clang of intersecting forces? I can't remember when I last heard a jazz piece with so many dramatic changes in mood and tone. Schneider starts with a sparse minimalist framework and in the course of three minutes erects one of those big, Coplandesque melodies that she seems to draw at will from her orchestra. But then she gradually brings down the energy level, and midway through the performance we find ourselves in the middle of an ethereal conversation between accordion and piano, with just the barest scent of support from the band. Then Schneider builds again, texture upon texture, drawing out all the drama in her melodic material; and finally bringing in Luciana Souza's voice, but almost as a horn line, with the purity of an instrument among other instruments. I have heard hot jazz and cool jazz, fast jazz and slow jazz, but this is majestic jazz.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Deborah Harry: Stormy Weather / Ill Wind

In the mid-1990s, Debbie Harry picked up The Jazz Passengers for two CDs, and in 2002 gave them another lift for this track on a Harold Arlen tribute album. She didn't, however, quit her day jobs, still touring (in her early 60s) as Blondie's lead singer, pursuing a solo career and continuing HIV/AIDS activism. In contrast to other rockers (e.g., Rod Stewart), whose jazz detours have been discreetly middle-of-the-road, Harry's trips with The Jazz Passengers are edgy and adventurous, demanding exceptional concentration and serious vocal technique. Purists may call this medley a melee, but we think Debbie Harry has a heart of class.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nancy Kelly: Stormy Weather

Who knew? "Stormy Weather" in Buffalo! Resisting the temptation to deconstruct and recompose a 64- year-old standard, Nancy Kelly meets it on its own terms. Admittedly, such plantation-era lines as "can’t get my poor self together" and "my man and I ain’t together"—already antiquated when introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933—pose a special challenge for a modern-day white woman. But Kelly's extra touches, such as a bluesy "gloom and misery everywhere," the quietly emphatic redundancy of "myself, my poor self," or bouncy "Baby, don't you know I can’t go on," legitimize an utterly convincing performance. Lake- effective platinum-blonde soul.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Stormy Weather

Such eminent balladeers as Lester Young, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon always looked to a song's lyrics as key to its interpretation. But Woody Shaw (formerly Dexter's sideman) is content to ignore the words and savor the tune. It's hard to fault his approach. Shaw's straight-ahead, medium-tempo "Stormy Weather" pairs his angelic open trumpet with Steve Turre's down-&-dirty plunger-muted trombone, the two complementing each other as naturally as saint and sinner, yin and yang, Ben & Gerry. (Why, Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan, of course. Who did you think we meant?) His life was beclouded by stormy weather, but—Lord willing—Woody Shaw now strolls in the sun.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Etta James: Stormy Weather

Hearing Etta James belt it, you wonder whether such grandes dames as Ethel Waters and Lena Horne could truly convey the essence of "Stormy Weather." Backed by strings and 1950s-style rock 'n' roll piano triplets, Etta cuts to the quick. From start to finish, her gutsy, rafter-rattling down-home voice grabs us, shakes us and won't let go. Like Bessie Smith, Etta doesn't so much sing as preach to us. And nobody leaves her sermons as a nonbeliever. Oh, some old-time front-parlor backsliding gents may prefer more compliant women. But, assuming such ladies still exist, where's the fun in that?

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Stormy Weather (1960)

If any jazzman's psyche epitomized "Stormy Weather," it was Charles Mingus's. Which makes this track's tranquility all the more surprising. Of course, Mingus loved to pull the rug out from under people. Here, at solemn tempo, he calmly supports longtime friend Eric Dolphy in one of the all-time great alto sax solos, and incidentally contributes a deeply lyrical bass solo himself. Yet as compellingly as he plays, Mingus's primary contribution is as bandleader. Not since Ethel Waters introduced "Stormy Weather" in 1933 had the song received such a theatrical staging. And, considering its starkness, Mingus's production is if anything more impressive.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression

Ah, not just any set of changes here, but the Carlos Santana secret chord progression. The small-minded people will point out that it is just a two-chord vamp on G minor and C7. But didn't Santana hit the top of the charts with two lousy chords on "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va"? Well, the secret's out, Carlos. Every guitarist at West L.A. Music and Sam Ash now knows the score. To reinforce the point, Zappa enlists seven people for his rhythm section -- if you can believe the personnel credits, which seem a wee bit padded to these ears -- and they pound away at G minor and C7 like it's the second coming of F major soon to arrive on a cloud in the sky. But forget about the harmonies here. The magic is concentrated in Zappa's lead guitar, which sizzles like a downed power line on wet pavement. Very edgy work with no comic relief, just straight playin'.

January 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ed Palermo: Toads of the Short Forest

The next time some sourpuss tells you that the big band is dead . . . whip out your copy of The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa. Better yet, just cold-cock the guy and keep your copy of this CD. It's too good to share with the naysayers, plastic people, brain police, San Bernardino police department, and other small-minded weasels who wouldn't appreciate a big band unless it had bubbles floating out from behind the bandstand. Ed Palermo takes this song from Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh (but without also borrowing -- alas! -- the stylish Roy Lichtenstein-esque illustration that distinguished this memorable Mothers' release) and reworks it into a smooth band chart. Bob Mintzer high-steps over the 6/8 rhythm with such grace and ease that soon you're forgetting about weasels and toads, and are ready for the TV dinner by the pool.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Who Can I Turn To

This is the simplest and least ostentatious track on Wynton Marsalis's debut LP on Columbia, and it would be easy to overlook it. But the young lion shows here how captivating he can be just stating the melody. The poise and restraint he displays on this track would be remarkable at any age, but they are especially noteworthy coming from a teenager on his first session for a major label. Marsalis's tone is rich and deep, like a well-aged Napa cabernet, and he makes every note count. This musician gained so much attention early on for his virtuosity, that it's worthwhile revisiting "Who Can I Turn To?" to help us remember how succinct and tender the young trumpeter could be.

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Sister Cheryl

Generally when the drummer contributes a composition to the date, it comes dressed in meager threads—a few chords stitched together, with only enough substance to support a percussion solo. But on Wynton Marsalis's debut date as a leader, Tony Williams offers up a great jam tune, his medium-tempo "Sister Cheryl." Wynton takes the lead solo, and tosses out short, choppy phrases that snap and pop—all with that big and beautiful 'early Marsalis' tone. This section alone would earn high marks for the track. But brother Branford offers a very smart soprano solo. He also starts with little phrases, but they get longer and more polytonal in the second eight bars, and before closing out the chorus, Branford is dancing with long loping lines. I hated to hear this solo end—if you listen closely you can hear me begging my CD player to give the saxophonist another chorus. I guess I should be content with seven-and-a-half minutes of "Sister Cheryl"; but I can't help asking: "Cheryl, are there any more at home like you?"

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Wynton Marsalis): How Deep Is the Ocean?

I still remember the intense buzz when Art Blakey brought this band to San Francisco's Keystone Korner. The jazz cognoscenti were flocking to the club, and I heard them proclaiming: "I'm going to see Wynton." Not, "I'm going to hear Art Blakey." Or: "I'm going to check out the Jazz Messengers." Marsalis may have been a sideman and only 19 years old, and he had yet to release his first CD as a leader . . . but already word of mouth was spreading like a wildfire.

Marsalis did not disappoint, as this track will make clear. Wynton himself has sometimes made dismissive comments about his early work, but I still get jazzed every time I listen to his performance of "How Deep Is the Ocean?" In an era in which most trumpeters preferred to play fast rather than clean, with intensity rather than control, Wynton showed you could have it all. His sound is gorgeous on the slow, rubato opening, but even when the tempo accelerates and he starts dishing out fast, curlicue runs, he still gets that big, burnished tone. There are a few rough moments, for example when Marsalis and pianist James Williams appear to clash in their choice of a chord, but even this miscue adds to the sense of spontaneity of this live performance.

This period in Marsalis's career was almost over before it began. He was soon going beyond Brownie and Navarro, ready to assimilate Miles and Ornette, and then launch into his own Wynton-esque bag. But even if Marsalis had retired after his stint with Blakey, he would deserve consideration as one of the finest hard-bop trumpeters on the strength of performances such as this one.

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Witherspoon: 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do<br>(aka 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do)

Famously recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, “'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do” became a signature tune for Jimmy Witherspoon (born in 1923), who recorded it dozens of times during his more than 5-decade career. Witherspoon originally hit with the song in 1947 singing for Jay McShann’s band. That version remains Witherspoon’s best-known take on the composition.

When Witherspoon was making straight-ahead Kansas City blues in sessions between 1945-1953, "Tain't Nobody's Business” was one of a string of early hits he had when he broke out as a blues shouter in the mold of Joe Turner. But by the end of the 50s, ‘Spoon’s professional music career had petered out as tastes changed.

Witherspoon was tracked down by the concert promoters of Monterey Jazz Festival, and on October 2, 1959, with his mother watching him perform for the first time, Witherspoon reinvented himself as a singer of heretofore unexplored nuance, capable of sophisticated phrasings far beyond his earlier recordings. Whether improvising words or sliding into verses, Witherspoon proved supremely able to adapt his voice to almost any musical accompaniment. A better all-star group to make this point could not have been imagined, and Webster in particular has chemistry with Witherspoon as their phrasings ring together.

This deceptively laid-back performance from that night in Monterey is a blueprint for how Witherspoon was reinterpreting his youthful shout blues with total confidence into his new adult sound. For the next decade, on more than a dozen albums on Verve and Prestige, Witherspoon would continue to deftly mix blues and standards, while working with every sort of backing imaginable, and demonstrating an ease few others would ever show.

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Charlie Parker's alto break on his Dial recording of "A Night in Tunisia" lasts only seven seconds -- but it may be the most important jazz moment of the decade. The whole bebop revolution is crammed into this break: the off-the-cuff virtuosity, the rhythmic displacements, the defiance of pop music expectations, and, above all, the declaration of bebop as a progressive artistic movement in which such radical gestures possessed their own intrinsic validity. This is shock-and-awe jazz, and it sounds just as breathtaking today as it did back in 1946. The song continues after this extraordinary moment -- indeed, the solos have just started -- but everything now is anticlimactic. Bird has just shown how far ahead he is of everyone else in the studio, including Miles Davis (age 19), who has the unenviable job of following the alto solo. A remarkable performance even by the Everest-high standards set by Parker in his earlier work.

January 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Frank Zappa: Blessed Relief

"Jazz is the music of unemployment," Zappa once quipped. But Miles Davis showed, with his 1969 Bitches Brew sessions, that the proper mixture of jazz and rock could produce a gold record. Zappa dug deeper and deeper into jazz-oriented material during the pre- and post-Bitches period, and though efforts such as The Grand Wazoo and Waka / Jawaka did not sell as well as Davis's or Hancock's fusion projects -- or even Zappa's own edgier, scatological efforts -- they have held up well with the passing years. "Blessed Relief" is a catchy jazz waltz that could almost pass for a Blue Note hard-bop chart. Sal Marquez and George Duke contribute first-rate solos, and Zappa follows with some tasty guitar lines that are very, very jazzy. If he had kept this up, Frank might have been applying for unemployment benefits. But just in the nick of time, Zappa ended his jazz period. The next year, he had his first charted single with "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," which would not be appropriate for a hard-bop recording.

January 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew

We are all familiar with revolutions in music. But the most controversial moves come when an artist seems in rebellion against his own past work. When Bob Dylan embraced the electric guitar, when Copland turned to serialism, when Michael Jackson became white, and when Miles Davis recorded Bitches Brew -- these were more than experiments, but rather earthshaking choices that incited passions, divided loyal fans, and even forced onlookers to reconsider their most basic assumptions about the musician in question.

Miles had made radical changes in style before. He went from hot to cool, from chords to modes, from Miles Ahead to Nefertiti, from nicely tailored suits to outfits from outer space. But nothing compared to Bitches Brew. Everything here was big and brash, from the album cover to the humongous rhythm section (as large as his entire nonet from Birth of the Cool). Even the song lengths grow to gargantuan proportions. The title track, "Bitches Brew," clocks in at twenty-seven minutes.

Some accused Miles of selling out, but this music defies every rule of how to make a hit. Instead of three-minute tunes with catchy melodies, Miles tosses out murky torrents of sound, waves of electric turbulence that force the listener to adapt to the demands of the Brew. Yet this LP did sell -- an extraordinary half million copies. And at the close of the 1960s, when so many great jazz recordings were being made, none of them exerted an influence as pervasive or long-lasting as this historic release. Decades have passed and we are still reeling from its impact.

January 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jean-Luc Ponty & Frank Zappa: King Kong

Hmmm, a Blue Note release with liner notes by Leonard Feather? How did Zappa get through the security at Rudy Van Gelder's studio? Not to worry: no long-haired hippie freak went anywhere near Rudy's equipment. The session took place out West where things are looser. And Zappa didn't even play on the date (although he is credited as composer and arranger, and lent some of his bandmates for the proceedings). Even more to the point, some of the music on the King Kong LP is quite jazzy. Skip the long-winded "Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra," and head straight for the title track. "King Kong" belongs in the Fusion Hall of Fame (when they open it). A churning, bubbling cauldron of 6/8 is about ready to boil over. The hopping and skipping melody is followed by an explosive George Duke solo (I actually think I hear artillery fire in the background), and then Ponty soars. This one will make you want to climb to the top of the Empire State Building and take on a half-dozen biplanes.

January 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: five-five-FIVE

When zonked-out rock-o-holics argue about the relative merits of Hendrix, Clapton, Page and the other total gods of the guitar, this is a track that the Zappa contingency will cite as evidence for their candidate. Zappa flies over an intricate pattern which juxtaposes 5/8 and 5/4 -- not something you will find in your Basic Rock Licks method book. Zappa definitely has a hot hand on "five-five-FIVE"; but I am just as impressed by the rhythm section and especially Vinnie Colaiuta's drumming. (When is Vinnie gonna come out with his Shut Up 'n Play Yer Drums recording?) But no matter which instrument you focus on, this track just might blow out the subwoofers in your auditory system.

January 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Waka / Jawaka

The happy marriage of rock and horns lasted about a decade. You can date its first stirrings from the formation of the two mega-groups Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago in 1967. And its symbolic close came with the release of Steely Dan's Aja LP in 1977 -- arriving in the bins at almost the same time that Chicago (which had once been an exciting ensemble) shifted gears to dishing out icky-sweet puff-pop like "If You Leave Me Now." Some of the lesser known masterpieces of this genre include the exciting band Chase, which lasted three years before ending in tragedy with the death of Bill Chase and three of his bandmates in a plane crash; and (of course) the great Zappa-plus-horns work on Waka / Jawaka. Listening to this stellar 11-minute track, it's hard to understand why the rock-and-horns combo ever went out of fashion. Zappa certainly thrived in this setting, both as composer and soloist. There is no schtick or schlock or other crazy sch-sch-stuff here, just a soaring instrumental workout with a big dose of Zappa's guitar. If they ever release a compilation called The Serious Side of Frank Zappa, this could serve as opening track.

January 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: The Dog Breath Variations

The whole Uncle Meat LP was stuffed full of jazz surprises, but this short track (less than two minutes in duration) is a great place to sample Zappa's sonic wizardry. Today many recordings credit "programmers" on their personnel listings, but Zappa relies mostly on acoustic instruments in generating the otherworldly soundscapes on this musical gem. Almost a decade later, Steve Reich would reveal -- in his spectacular Music for 18 Musicians -- the modernistic side of mallet instruments. But Zappa had discovered the hypnotic power of the marimba and vibraphone back in his Uncle Meat days. And don't be put off by the canine odor: "Dog Breath" is one of Zappa's most beautiful melodies. This often hard-edged artist rarely gave much thought to developing his warm-and-fuzzy, lyrical side, but he had a fondness for this theme, and relied on it in several other settings.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Be-Bop Tango

"Not too fast, because I want to get the right notes on the tape," Zappa advises his band before closing their set at the Roxy with a 17-minute version of "Be-Bop Tango." "This has to be the one. This has to be the one with all the right notes in it. [Pause] This is a hard one to play."

But this is more than a tough chart -- it is performance art of the highest order. During the course of this extended work, Zappa offers us intense energy jazz (with a flaming trombone solo by Bruce Fowler), pointillistic ambiance-jazz reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, crazy scat-singing courtesy of George Duke, even a dose of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." But wait, there's more! as they say in the infomercials. We also get audience participation, impromptu choreography, a bubble machine, and a classic Zappa monologue. (Typical line: "Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.") Finally the band wraps up with a jaunty 12-bar blues.

The record label could easily have called this "experimental jazz," and it would have sold twelve copies. But disguised as rock music, Roxy & Elsewhere becomes an instant classic. But, it is also great experimental jazz. . . . Just don't tell the Zappa-philes; they might stop listening to it.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: The Gumbo Variations

While the Beatles were working on Abbey Road, Frank Zappa was playing around with Hot Rats. This was the way fusion should have sounded . . . raising rock to a higher level of musicianship and creativity, rather than packaging watered-down jazz for the masses. "The Gumbo Variations" is a hard-grooving 17-minute jam with one of the tightest rhythm sections you have ever heard on a jazz-rock album. And the solos are topnotch -- Ian Underwood's tenor sax outing deserves your immediate attention, and Zappa scorches everything in sight with his guitar work.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Peaches en Regalia

Oh yea naysayers, who doubteth the jazz credentials of Mr. Zappa . . . please note this composition made its way into The Real Book. Not the legal version of The Real Book, but the underground, photocopy-of- a-photocopy-of-a-photocopy edition that passed from the innards of the Berklee College of Music and out to the world via ten thousand underemployed jazz musicians. Getting into this fake book was the ultimate insider credential for a jazz composer. But why they picked this song is a bit of a mystery. Not because it isn't great—vraiment, c'est magnifique—but because "Peaches en Regalia" is one of those crazy, complicated Zappa tunes that is not your typical jam session fare. This music has a unhinged, majestic quality; it could serve as the soundtrack for the coronation of a mad king. Ian Underwood is a one-man band, the great Shuggie Otis joins on bass and Zappa adds a brief but very accomplished solo. Give that man a crown!

January 03, 2008 · 3 comments

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David Linx: The Land of Joy

Linx is arguably Europe’s most gifted and innovative jazz singer, and has been so for years. In 2007, he recorded his first big band record with his fellow citizens of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, also one of the best bands on the Old Continent. Typical of Linx’s art is his sensitive rendering of this song, taken at a breakneck pace. Perfect time, non-conventional scat singing, splendid interaction between the vocalist and the orchestra, arranged with consummate art. Linx flies high above the traditional crooner + big band setting that has become fashionable again lately.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Luigi Bonafede & Pietro Tonolo: Ricercare

A bouncing, joyful 3/4 romp launched by Bonafede’s piano, followed by Tonolo’s soprano sax playing the melody, that’s how "Ricercare" [translation: "Searching"] begins. A typically Italian way to start a first duo record by two musicians who are considered masters in their own country. Of course, they know better than just playing Mediterranean clichés, and soon begin exploring the rhythmic and melodic potential of the theme with great freedom. But where, outside of Italy, can musicians transform a simple little waltz into such a jewel with the magic of their warm sound and deep feeling?

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Pieranunzi: Winter Moon

The members of this trio have known each other for many years and the Atlantic is no barrier to them. They have found a common language, and speak it with great fluency. On a lyrical repetitive motif he penned, Pieranunzi builds a melodic crescendo with a gorgeous touch and sensual voicings. He then lets Johnson’s bass take over and tell its story with a typical mellow voice and dynamic accents. All the way through, Baron maintains a subtle, tonic pulse, that ties the two soloist together and effectively serves as the cement of the triangle.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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James Moody & Nnenna Freelon: Just Squeeze Me

All-star jazz concerts often collapse into rough-and-ready jam-session theatrics. But fans love them anyway because sometimes they lead to surprises -- and not just for the audience. This onstage meeting between vocalist Nnenna Freelon and saxophonist-and-occasional-singer James Moody is a case in point. Sharing the bandstand at the 50th anniversary edition of the Monterey Jazz Festival, they engage in a singin'-and-scattin' duet on "Just Squeeze Me" that delights them just as much as it entertains the large audience. Freelon is exquisite and keeps her poise (barely) despite Moody's antics. He even tries to throw her off her game with a bit of "Moody's Mood for Love" as unexpected counterpoint. Benny Green plays the straight man to this tomfoolery, holding things together with his stately comping chords. If jazz were always this fun, they might even put it on TV someday.

January 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Heinz Sauer: Variations on Redford

These previously unreleased three minutes are the perfect conclusion to the compilation of 40 years of recordings that ACT published to celebrate Heinz Sauer’s 75th birthday. On the dark, haunting minor chords that Michael Wollny plays as an introduction, the deep, serene sound of the tenor sax soars, and takes the hymn-like song to a climax of intensity. This moment of pure beauty will undoubtedly convince the listener that it’s high time the talents of the underrated – if not unknown – sax veteran and of his brilliant young partner were rediscovered for the former, and promoted for the latter.

January 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Walter Lang & Lee Konitz: Farewell

For decades, Lee Konitz has shown a special liking for duets. In this context he has often favored pianists, many of them European. After the likes of Martial Solal or Enrico Pieranunzi, Lang – though fairly unknown outside of Germany – appears to be one of the best choices of accompanist the veteran alto player has made recently. On this track, as on most of Ashiya, Lang’s melodic talent as a composer and sparse, clear harmonic piano support create an atmosphere of vibrating melancholy. In this inspiring context, Konitz’s improvisational skills reach a rare level of understated emotion.

January 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Willow Weep for Me (live 1949)


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

Tatum's April 2, 1949 live recording at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles is a must-have CD for fans of jazz piano. He plays at top form, and seems invigorated by the move from smoky jazz clubs to the concert hall setting. "Willow Weep for Me" was one of his favorite songs -- at least a half-dozen recordings of Tatum playing it survive from the late 1940s and 1950s -- but he never delivered a better version than in this setting. Every last detail is perfect, from the rich harmonies of his classic intro, through the racecourse stride, all the way to the dramatic conclusion. Tatum owns this song, and any pianist who wants to tackle a solo version must operate in the expansive willow tree shadow of this memorable performance.

January 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giacomo Gates: Summertime

Giacomo Gates has a big baritone voice in the tradition of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Hartman, and with his rich, chocolaty tones, he could set up shop as a specialist in late-night ballads. But this is not that type of "Summertime." Instead, Gates has an endless supply of tricks at his disposal -- bits of banter, instrument imitations, vocalese, scatting, stories, sound effects; he even lets loose with a whistling solo on this track that will bring a smile to your face. He builds here on the classic Eddie Jefferson arrangement of the Gershwin standard, one of the more irreverent and spirited tributes to Porgy and Bess in the jazz pantheon. But this is not just another Jefferson Monument. Gates establishes his own distinctive voice and attitude. Ray Drummond's outstanding bass work is also worthy of note.

January 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bruce Hornsby (with Christian McBride & Jack DeJohnette): Questions and Answers

I have long suspected that Bruce Hornsby would take a trip to jazz land, probably since his Harbor Lights release. All of those huge, open piano chords just pointed to this day. With the high-octane pair of Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette at his side, Hornsby proves that this is no vanity project. Taking on this previously unrecorded Ornette composition, Hornsby drives through the typically knotty melodic twists and turns while McBride & DeJohnette swing with just the right amount of reckless abandon. The trio manages to perfectly capture that trait so often found in Coleman's music: the sense that the aural glue might not be able to hold the notes together.

January 01, 2008 · 1 comment

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Craig Yaremko: Sync

I have a friend who can't stand it when rock music gets “too jazzy.” Of course, I think he's nuts. For my ears, there's nothing more exciting than listening to a group of players attempting to run through some changes at breakneck speed. On “Sync,” Craig Yaremko and Nathan Eklund do just that. After ripping through a head that's somehow reminiscent of Sonny Stitt's “Eternal Triangle,” the sax and trumpet fly, both separately and together – all of this while the bass and drums swing furiously. When they get to trading fours near the end, I can feel myself breaking into a sweat. Too jazzy? You've got to be kidding me!

January 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Asaf Sirkis: Miniature

There is something both brilliant and otherworldly about the very idea of building a jazz trio with a church organ. It dips into the music's past (Fats Waller) while remaining somehow very modern. While Sirkis and Lodder create a foundation with very light cymbal work beneath a three-note ostinato, guitarist Outram trades bluesy (and sometimes quite angular) ideas with the organist. As the moods and speeds shift, Sirkis kicks the pace forward, employing mostly the hi-hat, brushes, and cymbals. Taken in total, “Miniature” puts a refreshing new spin on an old idea.

January 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Gestrin: With Such Unsettled Heart

Group improvisation can take many forms and, for the uninitiated, a large ensemble can produce sounds that can overwhelm. This trio slowly builds a live soundscape that is both engaging and illustrative of what improvisation is all about. A series of decaying trombone notes is echoed by the violin, and then the piano, which turns those notes into a descending melody line...which is extended by the violin...and on and on. Ideas born of the moment are handed from musician to musician. The thrill is in observing the reactions.

January 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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