Once he made that transition as the teacher, always hiring guys like Keezer and Benny Green and Larry Fuller, and Kareem Riggins and Greg Hutchinson and George Fludas, it was great to hear Ray keep these cats on their toes---almost like Betty Carter and Art Blakey did. These guys would be sweating hard. They had that look on their face, like “I’d really better come through, or I’m gonna be flat on my ass.” This is a really good example of Ray just in the pocket with these young cats for a good 7 to 8 minutes, walking his ass off. It was beautiful to hear them pushing Ray, and Ray pushing them back, and this real hard-core swinging tension in the middle of it all.
October 29, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1990s jazz · piano trio
October 29, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: organ trio
Ike Sturm works within this niche tradition, and matches up a top drawer jazz combo with strings and choir for a full mass, from Kyrie to closing hymn, in a manner that avoids the typical pitfalls of the genre. The most common shortcoming of such works, in my experience, is that the jazz elements are so chastened by the liturgical framework that they lose their bearings. The resulting work runs the risk of undermining the potent intentionality we associate with great jazz.
Sturm proceeds with a different game plan here, however, and his jazz combo successfully maintains its own personality, while situated in the midst of strings and voices that handle the heavy metaphysical lifting. The combination is effective on the "Kyrie," the only element of the liturgy sung in Greek, especially with the soulful opening passage and the swirling coda. In these final moments, fervent jazz arises unexpectedly from the sacred mists and shows us how this dialogue is supposed to work. This is a daring and heartfelt work, and it's a shame that no label is behind it, and (as of this writing) the CD is not even available on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's website.
October 28, 2009 · 0 commentsTags:
October 26, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: ellington covers · piano
October 22, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: alto sax
After a sudden signal by the leader, the wickedly tricky theme is played faster to take the song out. “Red Hook” is undeniably avant garde, but there’s as much purpose to it if not more than there is to be found in traditional hard bop.
October 22, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · trombone jazz
But Egberto Gismonti's SertĂµes Veredas avoids the pitfalls, and emerges as a masterpiece of classical-jazz cross-fertilization. I'm not sure if this has any connection to Gismonti's subtitleâ€”a "Tribute to Miscegenation"â€”but clearly the music itself has a lineage that spans several continents. This artist has shown his versatility in past outings, and I still can't decide whether I admire Gismonti more as a guitarist or as a pianist. With both instruments, he has developed an exciting, highly personal styleâ€”furthered by his exceptional skills as a composer. His talents are equally evident in this massive work, comprising seven movements and some seventy minutes of music. It is to Gismonti's credit that he has been able to translate so much of the creativity and visceral energy of his solo and combo jazz performances into this string orchestra work, where he sits on the sidelines, not even showing up as guest soloist or conductor. The mood shifts, the textures, the counterpoint . . . indeed, the sheer confidence and scope of this piece demand respect.
Even so, it will be hard for fans to "place" this work in the context of a career that is already so broad. I sometimes wonder why Gismonti's name doesn't show up more prominently in the various polls and nominee lists when awards are distributed. Certainly his versatility, which refuses to be pinned down to a single instrument or style, contributes to this sad state of affairs. SertĂµes Veredas will not make it any easier for those who need a pigeonhole in order to appreciate an artist. Yet for those who value music for its vitality and not its kowtowing to the accepted categories, the arrival of this recording is an event to celebrate.
October 20, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: brazil · classical jazz · ecm
October 18, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: spring can really hang you up the most
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · oliver nelson covers · piano
Call-and-response is always present in Max’s approach to soloing as well as comping. Here it’s like he’s playing a melody and comping for himself—all of it happens at the same time. It’s a supreme example of theme-and-variation, where he initiates a theme, and answers himself. He continues that pattern all throughout the piece. He takes a motif, flips it around, inverts it, elongates it. Same initial phrase, but it gets longer—different dynamics and so on. Max always said that he didn’t really play melody, that he played form and structure and shape. He meant that within the course of the framework of the song, the harmony and so forth, he was creating those shapes and following the form. But he always did it so cogently, with great clarity. This is a perfect example of that quality.
What he played was individual to who he was, and how he synthesized all of his experiences. He preached that mantra, but he also followed it. He referenced numerous sources—from the Caribbean and Africa, from the church, from Western Classical, rudimental solos, and Wilcoxsen. All of that is expressed when he played, and it’s certainly evident here. You see his technical virtuosity, but you also see how he uses space. It’s as though the things he doesn't play is just as important as what he does. Regardless of what he played, he always used that call-and-response---and there’s so much call-and-response from phrase to phrase within the context of this solo in the way he builds it and creates the architecture, and also in the tones he uses to express it. Sometimes Max goes from left to right, right to left, and then he comes out from another angle. It’s almost looking in a kaleidoscope. You see the shape, then you twist it, which changes that shape. It’s coming from the last one, but it’s still related to what came before it. All his stuff is related to what comes before, and then he recapitulates to the beginning.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1960s jazz · drums
It’s all beautiful to me, but on this particular cut what strikes me is that Braxton is playing clarinet, and Max is only playing the hi-hat and also a pitch-bending floor-tom, almost reminiscent of the tympany. Max wasn’t afraid to take chances. I don’t know anybody else who had that on their set—the pitch-bending floor tom with the tympany-like pedal. This piece sounds like, I would think, cut-and-splice—they went in and hit for however long a period of time, and took what they liked. “Ok, this is kind of a song form; let’s deal with this one right here.” This one starts out like that. Max initiates a basic phrase on the hi-hat, Braxton comes in and starts responding to that, they’re still having a conversation, and then Max opens up a little bit to the cymbals, and then he goes to the floor tom and alternates between the floor tom and the hi-hat. That’s it. He doesn’t touch any other part of the set for a little over five minutes. But he creates such a wonderful setting.
In a lot of Max’s tunes, the title creates a certain image, and I wondered why they called this “Tropical Forest.” But then I realized that Braxton sounds almost reminiscent of those crying birds, like a toucan. I started seeing a rainforest setting—tropical colors, yellows and oranges.
This made about as powerful an impression on me as when I heard Roy Haynes play “Subterfuge” on Andrew Hill’s Black Fire. Roy just plays hi-hat the whole track, but still projects the force and drive as if he was playing the ride cymbal. Just that same phrase. I got the same feeling when I heard this track. Sonically, it’s almost a three-part structure, but they transmitted the feeling so effectively. That’s one I’m going to have to go back and revisit a lot.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1970s jazz
The tune starts with an arco bass thing at the beginning, he plays the melody, then a solo section. There’s no real TING, TING-TA-DING, TING-TA-DING swing going on through it. It’s referenced, it’s intimated, but it’s not really that. Max isn’t really playing the hi-hat on 2 and 4 either. There’s no regimented feel throughout the course of the piece. The rhythm they're all using is pretty advanced. Hassan is playing phrases in 5 and in 7, and they’re all playing over the bar, even on the trading. It's all right on the edge. All of them are virtuosos, but they’re taking it to the apex in terms of creativity within the framework of a trio. Even Elvin Jones, as influential as he was in terms of phrasing, generally rooted everything with a 2-and-4 thing on the hi-hat. Max abandoned that in certain situations---this, as you can clearly hear, was one of them. He told me there were certain techniques you could use to play that way and still maintain the groove—the groove isn’t abandoned, but he’s still not playing 2 and 4 on the hi-hat. It’s more of a dancing feel. I’ve heard older musicians say that to drummers and to bass players, like, “Yeah, ok, we’re walking, but I want you to dance.” So everyone in the group has more freedom in approaching the rhythm.
Max also makes some ride cymbal distinctions on this tune which reference back to Kenny Clarke. In terms of the music’s evolution, I always think of Papa Jo Jones establishing that ride cymbal pattern, and then Kenny Clarke embellishing on that with techniques like “dropping bombs,” syncopating more between the bass drum and the snare drum, and also varying the ride cymbal pattern, using the ride cymbal more in terms of accents—meaning not playing four-on-the-floor all the time. On this particular cut, as on the whole recording, Max takes these ideas to another level in the phrases he’s playing in conjunction with what Hassan and Dr. Davis are playing, in the ride cymbal pattern associated with the omission of the 2-and-4 on the hi-hat. Everybody is listening hard, too, responding and reacting to each other. It’s not like anybody is just doing their own thing. There’s a true synergy. No automatic pilot.
Max changes the texture when the bass solo occurs by switching to the brushes. That takes the flow from a more interactive quality to just straight quarter notes, and changes the dynamic of the piece—more like a movement in a symphony. They’re constructing the music in a way that goes out of the framework of the regular song. From the bass solo in the introduction, to the piano rubato, to the tune, then back to the bass solo—the form is pointing forward, elongating. It’s different than the regular 32-bar or 12-bar blues that some people associate with “jazz music.”
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1960s jazz · piano trio
It’s a powerful piece. It’s a duo between Abbey and Max, presented in three parts. Max did a lot of duo work during the course of his career, which speaks to his musical sensitivity, because in every situation, even though he plays some similar language, he presents it differently—and it always seems so fresh and creative. The other day [pianist] Connie Crothers told me they had done a recording on which, he told her, he played some things on brushes that he had never played before. So he was always in tune, always searching for something outside his usual language. We all have language that’s usual to us. I use certain words and phrases more often than others. It’s the same with music. Even a genius and virtuoso such as Max Roach always referenced certain phrases—you can hear them on “Triptych.”
“The Freedom Now Suite,” was a collaborative piece by Max and Oscar Brown, Jr., but “Triptych” is just a duo, which it seems like an extemporaneous composition in three parts. The first part is “Prayer,’ which is the cry of an oppressed people. He starts with a simple phrase. That call-and-response, that antiphony, is always present in his playing. He starts, Abbey is singing, like a prayer, and then the protest emerges from that, where she’s screaming and yelling, and Max is rumbling. There is a definite sense of anger, but there’s also, especially in Max’s playing, a sense of organization. Taking it out of the musical realm and applying it to the social: People had been killed and mistreated for hundreds of years, so there was tremendous anger and resentment, but organization was essential to achieve the goal. I received that message especially in this part, because even though Max is playing aggressively and intensely, it's intense, it's big, but there is definitely a logic—he conveys the message. Abbey as well.
The last part is in 5/4. But Max also references that “Drum Also Waltzes” motif in this section of “Triptych.”
So the image that was created with this song was powerful and pretty clear. “Triptych” is a piece of art that has three panels, usually the middle one being the larger. That definition doesn’t necessarily apply to this piece; the movements all seem almost equal in length. But I got a very clear visual image from it. Not too long after Miles passed, in late ‘91 or early ‘92, Max organized a memorial for Miles at the Cathedral of St. John’s The Divine. Judith Jameson was there, Maya Angelou, different people, and there was some dancing going on. I drove up to the church with him, and we were listening to “Bitches Brew” in the car. He went, “oh, man, I can see these evil-assed women brewing some shit.” He was hearing the music and he was relating it directly to the title. He said, “I can see them stirring up some brew to fuck up some cat.” He said it sounds like that.
This has the same effect. I got a very clear picture from “Triptych,” referencing clearly what was going on at that time in America. Max had a lot of problems getting work during this period, from making his political statements. He said a lot of times he went somewhere, and they’d say, “I love this music, but can you just not say anything about this?” He’d say, “No, I have to talk about it.” It was taking money out of his pocket—him and Abbey. I know that she suffered quite a bit as a result of their actually taking a stand and being as vocal about it as they were. Financially speaking, their careers took a hit. So Max always put his money where his mouth was. He was really dedicated. Really high integrity. Willing to sacrifice financial security to get across the message.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1960s jazz
“Onomatopoeia” is a word that describes a sound. M’Boom is an onomatopoeic expression. I’ve always thought of it as bass drum to floor tom and cymbal — MMMM-BUM. Tympany. This piece is a perfect example of seamless transition; not a lot of stops and starts. Themes and phrases overlap and others emerge—one thing happens, an undercurrent of something under it comes to the forefront, this recedes, something else comes in. Polyphony all the time, shifting dynamics, the different instruments introduced in a staggered way. The piece is in 11, it starts off with the chimes, then the vibes and marimba enter, then after that’s established, the tympany and drumset come in, which kind of solo over that hemiola that’s repeating in 11—that’s Omar and Joe on drums, I believe, and Warren on tympany. That’s the first portion of the song. Then they make a transition. They stay in 11, but instead of playing 11 quarter notes, they start playing 4 half-notes and 3 eighth-notes, and they go from the marimba and vibes to membrane. I remember playing this song, and they would always be like, ‘Membrane! Membrane!”—meaning going to the skins. If you’re playing a timbale, play the center of the timbale; if you’re playing congas, the center of the conga. No rims. That creates an interesting counter to the xylophone, which is in a different type of register. Max takes the xylophone solo.
Max always used to tell me, “Get to your shit quick” when you’re soloing. He’d go, “Yeah, you’re making some nice statements, but get to your shit quick.” In live performances it might have been different, but for this recording everyone gets their ideas out quick. Regardless how wild or expressive they may be, there’s always that very clear message, to me—not only from Max, but everybody. Warren Smith takes a solo on tympany after Max, then they transfer the phrase from the membrane to the rims—in other words, to the metal. Then he takes a solo on the membrane of a tympany. It switches up. That theme also occurs in a lot of Max’s work, whether solo or with bands—a juxtaposition of different feelings or sounds or meters against each other.
All the members of M’Boom were adept at making those types of rhythmic changes and comfortable with that variation, to the point where the transition from one to the other was seamless. The different textures create a different feeling for the listener. In certain instances, it creates a sense of power, and then when they go to the metal, it sounds a little more frenetic, more like an anticipation of the climax, which is coming next.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1970s jazz · drums · percussion
Max was connected to Duke; he’d played with him at 16, his first gig with a signature person, sitting in for Papa Greer [Sonny Greer] for a few nights while Sonny wasn’t feeling well. Here, twenty years later, Max is somewhat of a star himself, and of course, Duke influenced Mingus so much as a composer. To have them all there is special thing. A lot of times, those kind of pulled-together all-star situations don’t work, but this is one of the best dates of that kind.
The Bandwagon recorded “Wig Wise” from this session. I’d never heard it before we recorded, but when I listened, it definitely sounded like they’re at odds, and there’s a lot of aggression coming from Mingus. I dug it, though! It definitely sounds frantic and tense. But this song doesn’t have that quality, which is maybe why it’s my favorite from the album. It’s melancholy, in a way, almost softly sad.
To me, Max provides that calmness. He’s playing mallets, and the feel is subdued throughout. The whole piece sounds like a ballad-fairy-tale song. This is 1962, still the era of the Civil Rights movement, so the fact that they’re referencing something African as beautiful, and equating that with black people, was important. Nowadays it might not necessarily be as important, but then it really was. The “Fleurette Africaine” title references the times—1962 is the year Algeria got its independence from France, and the African nations generally were coming out of the colonial grip. I think the musicians were conscious of that, and were using their music to convey a kinship to those people who were struggling for their independence, because we were doing the same thing over here.
A lot of times it seems that Max is playing the opposite of what Mingus is playing. Mingus goes DING-DING, DING-DING, he’s up in there, and then Max is playing longer. When Mingus is doing the opposite, then Max is rolling. The sound of Max’s playing gives me an image of water in a shallow river bed over small rocks. It sounds like there’s small rocks under what he’s doing. Gentle, sensitive, inobtrusive playing. Very simple melody. Beautiful.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1960s jazz · piano trio
Max wrote the song. The solos by Booker Little and Clifford Jordan are straight fire! Then again, we see that juxtaposition of rhythms against each other, because he has Patato playing the congas and Carlos Eugenio playing the cowbell—Max is kind of playing in 6 but also in 3, in the way he’s swinging, and keeps that pattern almost all throughout the piece. But the way he comps, pushes Booker Little and Clifford Jordan through their solos---he sustains that ride cymbal pattern the whole time, along with the other percussion---is reminiscent of one of his solos. But everybody has a certain freedom within what they’re doing. Even the cowbell's cascara pattern is not fixed. Max’s ride cymbal pattern is, but the other shit he’s playing completely is not. It’s not like any traditional comping. It’s like collective improvisation. Then he solos over that cascara and the congas, and, as he often does, he utilizes a lot of space. He always plays something and then leaves some space, and then plays something else and leaves some space. He calls, he answers, he answers, and then he leaves some space. He always used to say that there’s always room. “Get to your shit quick, make a statement, and in making that statement, the things that you don’t play are just as important as the things you do.” That always seemed to be a theme for him, and he utilized it in every component of his career. Always some space for others.
That’s the way it seems he led his life in aligning himself with different people, like the record with Hassan Ibn Ali, where he gave him the opportunity to present his original music and placed "the legendary Hassan" on the title. That was Hassan's only recording except for one by Odean Pope that I don’t think was ever released. Or the fact that he aligned himself with Clifford Brown and said, “Let’s lead the band together.” I don’t know if he really had to do that. Also the different duo situations. Always on the cusp, but then also, in a sense, very selfless. To be as prolific as was he had to have a strong sense of self---as I know he did, because I was around him. That strong sense of self allowed him to let other people shine as well. It was never, “No, it has to be me, and you can’t do your thing.” It was “come on and do your thing.” This is a perfect example. It’s not like he has to growl over the whole thing. He leaves some space, and then he’ll talk to one of the cats, and communicate. Everybody’s listening. This is a year after We Insist, and Max was still on the same path. There’s tunes like “Man From South Africa,” in 7/4. He’s still making that commentary. He’s still on the soapbox, because it’s important and it’s still current, still developing in America.
In 1990 or 1991, I remember doing a Sacred Drums tour with Max here in America, one of my very first gigs out of town. Tito Puente was on it, and some of these Native American drummers, some koto, things like that. Max was playing with Mario Bauzá, who had a small orchestra. He was doing multiple things as well as solo stuff, playing with the small band, and this was one of the other portions of the show. Patato was in the band, too. During one of the rehearsals the piano player came up with some arrangements for Max to read, and he called over to me—I was there as a stagehand, his P.A., setting up the cymbals and stuff like that. He was just trying to put some money in my pocket and help me out. Max said, “come here, man. Play this.” So he got me down to play the show, and got me my first traveling gig—with Mario Bauzá! I had no idea then who he was. I didn’t know what I was doing with clave and so on. I remember Patato looking at me like, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” The other cats in the band were very encouraging, but Patato didn’t want to give it up. Which I understood, though, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Some years later, I did a recording with him and Michael Marcus and Rahn Burton, and he was cool—maybe I had gotten a few things together. He tuned my snare drum, tightened it in a certain way, and that snare drum still sounds great to this day. He showed me how to tune the bottom a little tighter than the top. He had that pitch. That snare drum was singing for years.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1960s jazz
The horns were so much out in front on recordings from this time, it’s almost difficult to hear what everybody else was doing! But still, you can hear so well on this tune how Max could propel a soloist—the way he builds through the course of the song, the way he accompanies the melody and then the soloist. He always pays attention to dynamics; when the piano solo comes, Max takes it down. But during Bird’s solos, he’s never playing anything corny, like when an accompanist uses exclusively the same rhythmic language as the soloist to converse. They’re congruent with each other, but they aren’t necessarily using the same language. It’s almost like they’re parallel and connected at the same time. So they’re cross-sectioning, but they’re also parallel—Max is egging Bird on and answering his phrases, like they’re speaking different languages but talking about the same thing. I find that fascinating.
Max was such a risk-taker. He had to have received a lot of criticism for playing that way, because nobody else was playing like that in 1947. He was playing with the people who were at the edge of creativity, and he himself was pushing it forward. Where he was placing his phrases was completely unconventional as far as the rhythmic language of the day. As I listen, I keep wondering, “where is the impetus for you to do that?”
On “Donna Lee,” even when the melody is being played, Max is playing a kind of counter-melody against it. Arthur Taylor used to talk about “Confirmation,” how there are hits in the course of tunes like that, that are the tune. That’s how Max is playing that in “Donna Lee.” He’s playing off of the melody, playing in the holes of that melody, almost like he’s creating an alternate melody, an accompanying rhythmic melody.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1940s jazz · bebop · donna lee
This one starts off with a little, one-bar intro on the bell of the cymbal, and then they go into five, and then come the solos—Clifford, Sonny, Richie Powell, and Max. One thing that attracts me to this take is the way Richie Powell plays coming out of Max’s solo going back into the top of the song. It’s a seamless transition, like they’re coming together from different places, right into the theme.
It’s important that they were playing in 5/4 in 1956. In American culture most music is in four. It’s just those 5 beats, but with a little lopsided feeling. Now, if we were raised in India or Iraq, we would be accustomed to feeling those rhythms—but we’re not. So the fact that they were using it in “popular music” meant something in pushing the music forward—initiating something that hadn’t been widely accepted, as happened when Dave Brubeck did did “Take Five” a few years later. So this is an important document in terms of recorded history. Once an idea is documented, it becomes a possibility. If you were a younger musician in 1956 listening to this for the first time, it may have been the first time you’d heard someone do it, or play a different time signature—and the presentation is so beautiful. Max was part of so many movements where he was ahead of his time, or pointing to the future, part of the vanguard of musicians who always did something challenging.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · emarcy · hard bop · soundtrack covers
But the first cut, which runs about 21 minutes, is called “Stream of Consciousness.” To a certain degree, it’s a spontaneously organized suite that occurs in different movements. They definitely played some construct songs; I don’t know if Abdullah Ibrahim had previously played them, but they were definitely tunes. In between the tunes, a drum solo brings about the transition. That is, in between each statement, there’s a small drum solo, then there was another idea collectively expressed. There are 5 or 6 movements. It goes from drum solo, to interlude, to a 7/4 thing, then the drums initiate a faster 7/4, then they play a couple of blues, a solo—not really any solo piano except when Abdullah Ibrahim plays a little solo at the beginning, and then Max plays some. There are some church inferences after that. You can hear some South African themes, but not as pronounced as you might expect.
It’s another example of Max’s social consciousness and awareness, and also his ability to put himself in an unconventional situation—duo with drums and piano isn’t done that much. In all honesty, the sound is terrible. The bass sounds like a big drum, like he might be using some oil heads or something. The drums themselves don’t sound that good. But the magic between Max and Abdullah is pretty special. It’s obvious that they have a kinship in what’s being played. I think it’s ultimate artistry, not to plan or discuss what’s going to happen, to feel each other out, to let it fly and be open to whatever happens.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1970s jazz
Here Max is playing within the conventions of orchestral percussion, but from the first time you hear him on the brushes it’s unmistakably him—the same phrasing, the same sound out of the instrument. Regardless of the setting, the language was so indigenous to his person, you know it’s Max regardless of the setting. There are several sections. Max initiates some time with the brushes, then they come in with a theme, then they switch up from 4/4 to 3/4, and he makes that transition, too. A different theme is initiated, and then they transition back into four. This often happens in Western Classical music, but here it’s an interesting juxtaposition of time signatures and also of genre. It’s the “jazz feeling” or whatever, because Max is playing some time countered against what the orchestra is doing with the structure. He kind of solos in the piece, but he’s also weaving in and out of it, and he is used to accentuate certain portions. It amazes me that Max was so open and flexible and willing to put himself into so many different positions throughout his career.
I have a degree in music, but the way I learned the music was kind of on the street, watching my Pops play and so forth. I’ve never studied Western classical pedagogy. Now, Max went to Manhattan School of Music and studied it, but here it sounds like he’s using the techniques that he mastered from his experiences, not from the Western pedagogy. Within the framework of this piece, the music has a certain time feel. When I played with an orchestra, it was always challenging from the downbeat, because when I see the conductor come down, I’m thinking that’s the downbeat, but it’s not. Then it’s weird. It’s the downbeat-AND, and everyone’s responding to that. Visually, it was so challenging to de-condition yourself—in jazz, it’s always the downbeat, so everyone enters there, whereas in the orchestra the AND after the downbeat is the place. So the fact that Max was able to integrate what he does within that setting so seamlessly, to play the music so impeccably, was impressive—to say the least!
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · third stream
Check out "Fred," for example, with its nice turnaround at bar eight, leading into a restatement of the A theme whichâ€”surprise!â€”is two bars longer the second time around. Then the bridge stretches out to an unconventional 18 bars, which is not comme il faut but not really asymmetrical any more, since the two A themes also added up to 18 bars. No, a 36 bar structure is not your typical song form, but it sounds fresh and free here.
Allison throws in a spacey interlude, and by the time you get to the violin solo, you may have forgotten this is a jazz track. It sounds like a soundtrack to a state of mind. The band, for its part, has left the standard virtuoso demonstrations of technique back home, and instead aims to match the mood of the music, which it does with perfection. All in all, you won't find much ostentation here, but make no mistake, Allison's group is one of the finest chamber jazz ensembles around.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · drums · miles davis covers
October 14, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · piano
October 14, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · latin jazz · red clay
Brubeck's "Strange Meadowlark" was the only tune in 4/4 time on his album Time Out and in 2001, violinist Jeremy Cohen created an arrangement for Quartet San Francisco based on the slow outer sections of Brubeck's classic recording. For their new all-Brubeck CD, Cohen rewrote and expanded the arrangement to include the middle swing section and to incorporate the improvised solos by Brubeck and Paul Desmond. The QSF is very comfortable with this material and there's a wonderful rhythmic looseness in their version. And while Desmond's and Brubeck's solos are played note-for-note, the way that the notes are played is quite different from the original recording. Desmond and Brubeck used fairly marked articulation in their solos, but violinist Cohen and violist Keith Lawrence use a lazy legato sound and slides in creating their own interpretation. Cohen takes Desmond's solo for himself, but Brubeck's solo ideas jump back and forth between violin and viola, offering a fine contrast in instrumental timbres. The final melody chorus, originally solo piano, is orchestrated for the full quartet for a superb and fulfilling ending. While the approach to this tune might not be to all tastes, it is certainly worth a listen.
October 14, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · dave brubeck covers · string quartet
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1970s jazz · go down moses
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1980s jazz · tenor sax
As it turns out, Perowsky’s camp songs were Jewish songs, and his modest, musical arrangements of some of Judaism’s most commonly sung (and agonizingly catchy) tunes are presented here, not at all as a vehicle for tongue-in-cheekness but rather a genuine attempt to adapt sung prayer into jazz melody. While the first few tracks are the most recognizable, “Shema (Shaharit)” is a deconstructed mid-record highlight. These three musicians meld perfectly here – Perowsky’s brushes-then-sticks work shows that he’s mastered the art of placing straight sixteenth notes in various spaces within a swing groove, and Caine’s and Gress’s two-as-one movements simultaneously display Caine’s rhythmically modern, classically melodic phrasing and Gress’s unrelenting harmonic aid. A personal and personable track.
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz
“War Torn Johnny,” like the rest of the recently released Krantz Lefebvre Carlock, is a bit of a departure from the abovementioned agenda in that it is a bit more of a compact electric fusion record. Their signature straight-and-swung grooves, blinding chops, and collective improvisations are still present, but the desire to present a slightly more musically (commercially?) available record is undeniable.
“Johnny” is an instrumental (there are vocals from Krantz elsewhere) that perhaps best combines the previous candidness of the Krantz experience with a slight nudge towards user-friendliness. Note the epitome of the modern Krantz sound in the “A” section, a “B” section that sounds like it's borrowed from his work in the early ‘90s, and the New Orleans-inspired breakdown groove that dominates the proceedings beginning at 01:30. A fine example of one of the most under-heralded trios of the last decade that’s sure to reach a wider audience with this new record, and deservedly so.
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · guitar
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · ecm · piano trio · send in the clowns · sweden
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · bass
October 13, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: brazil
October 11, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: big band
Respect "Elegie" you must, however, since no one has ever topped this way of one-upping the virtuoso tradition of the classical world from an outside perspective. Tatum at age thirty was a monster at the keys, and his dynamics, tone control, and clarity of execution are little short of stunning here. The performance itself may be more a game than a serious attempt to grapple with the potential of jazz, yet even games have their masters and moments of profundity. If you want to understand Tatum, you need to sample this side of his multifaceted musical persona.
October 10, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1940s jazz · solo piano
October 10, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · cole porter covers · night and day · piano · trumpet
Purists have carped about this (don't they always?), but I find it hard to understand how any jazz lover can listen to this music and not be exhilarated. I have cherished the original Tatum performance since my high school years, but now I can hear nuances and aspects of this familiar track that were lost until now. "I Know That You Know" is impressive even by Tatum's high standards. This must be one of the fastest solo piano outings in the history of jazz, and there are points where the pulse reaches a defibrillator-charged 400 beats per minute. Even the uninitiated will be awestruck by the dexterity required, but I am just as impressed by the harmonic movement in the half-time section, and the odd displacement of the left-hand accents in the opening melody statement. This is Tatum the trickster at his trickiest, and anyone who is blasĂ© about Zenph's miracle-making or the music presented here gets sent off for six months hard labor at Czerny and Hanon before they are allowed a second listen.
October 10, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: solo piano
Balliett thought that Tatum might have been parodying the beboppers in the opening passages of "Sweet Georgia Brown," yet it is just as likely that Tatum was simply showing that he knew more tricks than the new cats on the scene. Based on the amused laughter from the audience, I assume that some bop player had been playing the piano shortly before Tatum took over the keys. But even more ear-shattering is a passage at the 2:10 mark that can be only described as a taste of Free Jazz, circa 1941. Trumpeter Frankie Newton tries vainly to follow Tatum's solo, but Art doesn't make it easy. He throws out substitute harmonies from another dimension, sometimes four to a bar, and even reprises his avant-garde bag in the background. There is plenty more here worth hearingâ€”indeed, a whole alternative piano vocabulary that you won't encounter on the better known Norman Granz recordings of this artist. At more than seven minutes, "Sweet Georgia Brown" ranks as one of Tatum's longest recorded performances, but it still seems all too brief.
October 10, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1940s jazz · piano · sweet georgia brown
But Ben Webster knew how to deal with this situation. He refuses to play Tatum's game, but sets his own ground rules from the start. The pianist takes the opening melody statement, but when Webster enters he plays the melody again, and his rendition is gorgeous, full of the whispering and lingering tones that were the tenorist's calling cards. His solo is more of the same, and gets deep inside the inner meaning of the songâ€”the lyrics are a bittersweet pledge of love to an imagined ideal partner who may never appear, or might possibly be waiting around the corner. I was so moved when I first heard this recording, years ago, that I learned the words and music of the song and added it to my repertoire.
Tatum came to every session with plenty of ammunition, but Webster has effectively disarmed him. The saxophonist has established a level of emotional honesty that forces the pianist into a completely different frame of mind. Strange to say, Art Tatum comes across more introspective and subdued here than on any of the other group sessions, and reveals aspects of his own musical personality that rarely surfaced on record. His comping stays in the backgroundâ€”never a given with this artistâ€”and when it's time for his own improv, Tatum plays with a light swing that seems almost Nat-King-Cole-ish. This is not a characteristic performance by the pianist, but it is, nonetheless, one of his finest.
October 10, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · my ideal
"Stardust" is a song ("Lush Life" is another) where the verse is as beloved as the chorus. Frank Sinatra's most famous recording of the song included only the verse, and the recording reviewed here, by Jackie Allen with the Muncie Symphony Orchestra, includes two renditions of the verse, with a single performance of the chorus in the middle. Arranger Frank Proto scores each version of the verse differently. The opening features a solo French horn, soon paired with Allen. Little by little, other wind and string instruments come in, building subtly to the chorus. Proto's writing for the strings is glassy and other-worldly, reflecting the dream-like state of the lyric. Allen maintains the atmosphere with a cool reading of the lyric, and by staying close to the melody. When the verse returns, the strings predominate the scoring at first, but then they yield to the woodwinds. The horn call comes back at the halfway point, and leads the ensemble nearly to the end, tying the arrangement together. The coda is remarkably understated, but very effective.
October 09, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals · orchestra · stardust
In her duet recording with guitarist Colin Oxley, Stacey Kent brings out the loneliness of this song even more than its better-known interpreters, Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker. She starts by singing the title line alone, and Oxley comes in only when she sings the line Of course, I have which is when the narrator starts to realize the futility of that statement. Throughout the recording, she expresses great vulnerability and adds intensity only as the lyric dictates. She never deviates from the melody and her slight bits of expression--a slide here, or a sigh there--don't detract from the message of the lyric.
The recording comes from an album where Kent pays tribute to her male singing role models. But in this case, she may have made the definitive recording herself.
October 09, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 2000s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals
Ann Hampton Callaway's stunning recording brings all of the elements of this standard to life. Bill Charlap's exquisite introduction brings on Callaway, and the two work as a duo for the first 16 bars of the opening chorus. In rubato time, Charlap ripples below as Callaway soars above on the melody. Callaway's rich, velvety voice envelops the melody, and her interpretation of the lyric starts conversationally and seamlessly moves into longer phrases. When the rest of the band enters on the bridge, Andy Farber provides a lovely accompaniment on tenor sax. Charlap plays a delicate solo in single lines with fine interaction from Peter Washington on bass. When Callaway returns, she makes a few well-chosen deviations from the melody, but we never lose the sense of the original line. At the coda, Callaway and Charlap are together again, and she brings her rendition full-circle by returning to the conversational interpretation where she started.
October 09, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1990s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals · skylark
It's hard to puzzle out just how that odd 8-bar passage got into the middle of this arrangement, but here's a theory or two: First, Kral and Pomeroy were not well-known at the time, so the record company may have commissioned Cohn to write an "anonymous" arrangement that could be sung and played by just about anyone. Whether Cohn actually wrote the trumpets in the high register is questionable; the trumpet section might have decided to take it up an octave at the session. However, the high trumpets and a key part of Kral's resumé offer a clue to the second theory: that Cohn wrote this arrangement for Kral during the nine months when she sang with Maynard Ferguson's band, and Kral brought the chart to the Pomeroy session. Neither theory is air-tight (the other band parts seem to support the high trumpets during the passage, and Maynard carried only 6 brass players with his band, not the 8 heard with Pomeroy), but the shame is that the passage just doesn't work and it ruins the entire track. Irene Kral didn't record many albums (especially with big bands), so it's too bad that a momentary lapse in taste marred this otherwise exemplary recording.
October 09, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals
Hersch opens with an original introduction (not the original verse) and then he moves into the song with great tenderness, using a spare arpeggiated style in his left hand. While the left hand ideas grow in intensity as Hersch becomes more rhapsodic, they are never overwhelming, but are simply there to support the melody in the right hand. Hersch stays in a free rubato throughout the performance, but there seems to some underlying tempo as Hersch's ideas seem to ebb and flow in a rhythmic pattern. Early in his improvisation, he finds a wonderful little idea that he sequences through a number of keys before moving to another thought, which he also develops. He returns to the tune at the bridge and he emphasizes the end of that eight-bar section with held notes at either end of the piano followed by a dramatic pause, which reverts the mood back to that of the beginning.
So, how does all of this relate to the lyric? It's not easy to explain, but I get a tangible feeling that the passion found in this recording has extra-musical roots. The romantic intensity of the lyric is transformed into a spiritual feeling that breathes through every second of this music. Creative musicians live for moments like this, where all of the elements come together and the music is elevated to a higher level. Inspiration and complete mental focus are a big part of the equation, and it's nearly impossible to reach those heights by just going through the motions. Whatever Hersch's inspiration was, he created a very special musical moment on that October night at Jordan Hall. We are fortunate enough to share it.
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1990s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · solo piano · the nearness of you
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · georgia on my mind · hoagy carmichael covers · piano
One could hardly imagine Anouar Brahem showing up on a release at Verve and Concord, yet at ECM he is very much at home with a conception of jazz fusion that crosses centuries rather than genres. This absorbing track from The Astounding Eyes of Rita is a case in point. You could try to define the ingredients in familiar terms. The horn lines could, with different accompaniment, fit into a hard bop chart. The textures here would work on a soundtrack for a big budget film. The oud makes sense as one more flavor in the global village jukebox. But mix them together here, and the result is sui generis, a personal statement rather than a packaged deal from the entertainment industry. The pulse on "Stopover at Djibouti" sometimes superimposes a fast triple meter over a more deliberate duple pulse—this gives the song a chance to soar or float depending on which path it takes. At certain moments one could envision a dance arising from the sounds, but just as easily imagine them inspiring languor and a profound meditation.
In other words, this is music that doesn't jump on trends. Then again, it might just start one. And wouldn't that be something?
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: africa · ecm · tunisia
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals
Jeri Southern included the song on her first Roulette album, Southern Breeze, and she captures the humor of the lyric perfectly, assisted by a splendid arrangement by Marty Paich. Paich's ever-flexible dek-tette, in its first recording without co-founder Mel Tormé, plays in a light and subtle manner, offering only the necessary support for Southern as she off-handedly berates the song's title character. Southern's cool, understated approach keeps the humor low-key, and her superb diction makes every word crystal-clear. The slow, relaxed tempo only allows for a chorus-and-a-half (even though Roulette was a jazz label, they still marketed singles, so all of the tunes on this album range from 2 1/2 to 4 minutes each). When Southern finishes the first chorus about two minutes in, she yields to the laconic tuba of John Kitzmiller, who moseys through the melody, set off by exaggerated accents from the dek-tette at the end of each phrase. After Southern finishes the last chorus and Kitzmiller returns for the tag, Paich tries to nudge him into action with a series of sharply accented punches from the brass. No luck, though as "Lazy Bones" rolls over and goes back to sleep.
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1930s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals · piano
“Rockin’ Chair” was written by Hoagy Carmichael as a pseudo-minstrel song. Bailey’s version overcomes all of the lyric’s obstacles, so much so that we think of it as a beautifully sung ballad, and not an embarrassing reminder of past racial attitudes. Bailey uses rhythm for expressiveness and subtle slides throughout (Slides were an integral part of Bailey's early style, but she overused them and her older recordings have not aged well). While she takes chances with the melody through the entire performance, her second chorus builds on what she sang before and contributes to an exquisitely developed interpretation. Bailey was so associated with this song that recorded it for 4 different labels and was affectionately known as "The Rockin' Chair Lady."
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1930s jazz · hoagy carmichael covers · jazz vocals · rockin chair
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1930s jazz · big band · hoagy carmichael covers · trumpet
October 08, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1920s jazz · cornet · hoagy carmichael covers
In Wallace's case, it's even appropriating new territory. Eddie Harris's song "Freedom Jazz Dance" is now recast as "Baile de Libertad." In its original form, this song always struck me as a thinly disguised practice room exercise—the kind hornplayers work over to develop facility in playing interval leaps. In other words, it's a clever melody line but somewhat contrived. Yet "Freedom Jazz Dance" finds a new freedom here. The arrangement is smart, with new harmonies, changing rhythms, and a winning call-and-response vocal. Wallace contributes a fine solo, and the rhythm section gets high marks.
October 06, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: freedom jazz dance · latin jazz
October 05, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: let's get lost
Fred Wesley kicks things off with the first solo, staking his claim as the funkiest trombonist of all time. Melodically, he rarely strays from the blues scale, but he builds a powerful and exciting solo by using short, rhythmically precise phrases and juxtaposing his ideas as if having a conversation with himself. By the time Maceo gets the crowd chanting "Fred! Fred!" his dark, juicy tone is sailing expertly over the groove.
Maceo adds his two cents afterward, and the group continues for nearly 12 minutes without losing that essential rhythmic feel. Guitarist Rodney Jones leads the way, and the crowd obviously eats it up. They finally build into a massive chordal explosion, giving the crowd a chance to cheer before moving on with the rest of their uncompromisingly funky show.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1990s jazz · trombone
The arrangement uses Harrison as the spark plug to jump-start the first strain's driving two-feel. He has a solo break early in the chart which showcases his enormous, round sound and overpowering swing feeling. Later, other instruments get a chance at the breaks, but none convey the power of Harrison's trombone. Harrison gets his full solo about halfway through the tune. Here, he shows why he was considered -- alongside Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong -- to be the most sophisticated improvisers of his day. Rhythmically, his ideas fit right into the pocket, and melodically he incorporates wide leaps, expressive rips and even some chromaticism -- a difficult feat on his awkward instrument. The range he employs is also impressive; he pops out high notes as cleanly as he executes in the lower register.
Even during the cacophonous ending, Harrison's resonant sound rumbles underneath the rest of the band and supports the final hit, ending the song with the same booming exuberance with which he started it off.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1920s jazz · big bands · trombone
This version, recorded almost 20 years later, has the hallmarks of the Dixieland revival style that Ory helped launch in the late 1930s: clean ensemble interaction, exposed sections for various soloists, and a more polished feel than the original recordings. Ory's trombone style had changed little; however, what he lacks in virtuosity and innovation, he compensates with a bright, exuberant tone, impeccable rhythmic sensibility and emotive growls and effects.
Although Ory never takes a solo per se, he gets many moments to shine, often shouting and growling through the trombone during breaks and belting out counterpoint underneath each melodic strain. His triumphant arpeggio after the final chorus gives him the last word, followed only by the final hit that ends the tune.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1940s jazz · muskrat ramble · new orleans · trombone
Sims, Getz and Cohn were gone, but Bill Harris was back, Gibbs was contributing wonderful solos, and Shelly Manne was aboard now that Stan Kenton had disbanded and was making plans to be a psychologist (!). But attendance at gigs was dwindling thanks to the infant television, and the final straw was the presence of drugs in many of the player’s systems. By November, Herman disbanded, later calling this edition of his band “an albatross.”
That didn’t mean that the quality of the music suffered. Hefti’s setting is so clever that you may not realize it is in three until it is pointed out to you, and his gift for re-harmonization and transition really shows here. Herman’s romantic alto sax reminds us of the wonderful ballad playing he was capable of, and solos by Harris and Ammons are equally lovely, as is the brief saxophones soli toward the end.
Hefti was also to change direction in a few short months. Wanting to simplify his style of music, he would create memorable melodies that Count Basie would eventually make world famous.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: big band · tenderly
The track under discussion, Al Cohn’s “I Got Rhythm” variant, was originally written for the Buddy Rich Orchestra, and while that setting was very good, this one is even better. Like the previous Herman herd, this ensemble could whip up an audience to a frenzy, and then play a soft, beautiful ballad. Cohn’s new arrangement features solos by Chaloff, Swope and the leader. The out chorus really shows off how well this band played and sounded, now with one alto, three tenors (“Four Brothers” was recorded on the same day).and baritone comprising the sax section (the usual setup was 2 altos, 2 tenors and baritone).
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: big band · the goof and i
Candido Camero's congas set up a trombone groove anchored by Varsalona and Mitchell's beefy bass trombones. Johnson enters a few bars later, gliding smoothly over the others with his pure, dark tone. At the bridge, Urbie Green's screaming lead precedes Johnson's recapitulation of the melody. Johnson's solo soars over his tight, hard-swinging arrangement which builds up to his final cadenza. A bright, dissonant chord caps off the exciting finish, and Johnson leaves one last improvised flourish to remind us of his status as the top dog among the bebop trombonists.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1950s jazz · a night in tunisia · trombone
Rosolino pulls no punches from the opening solo trombone intro; however, we soon discover that he's just getting started. His presentation of the melody sits perfectly within the tempo laid down by the rhythm section. Rosolino launches into a five-minute solo, implying the melody while engaging in nonstop trombone acrobatics. He spends most of the time in the upper register of the horn, creating an exciting effect that he sustains throughout the entire solo.
But it doesn't stop there: Rosolino takes the head out after short solos by van Dyke, Schols and Engels, but instead of stopping at the end of the form, he keeps blowing for another minute, just in case anyone thought he might be getting tired. As the track fades out to Rosolino's continuous burn, we're left wondering just how long he might have kept going were it not for the recording engineer's fade-out!
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: 1970s jazz · cole porter covers · i love you · trombone
You will be glad to learn that "Wreck on the Highway" was not inspired by Slim's own experiences on the road, but comes from Roy Acuff, who had a hit with it back during World War II. (And though Acuff is credited as composer on this CD, even he borrowed it from Dorsey Dixon—who did base it on a real car crash.) Yet Acuff rarely performed "Wreck on the Highway," because he didn't think the song was suitable for establishments where the clientele drink alcohol—and, yep, that pretty much rules them all out until that Carnegie Hall end-of-career retrospective arrives on the schedule.
Watermelon Slim stays true to the spirit of the song, serving up a moving gospel-ish rendition, with a deep, gravelly lead vocal over sweet harmonies and understated accompaniment. He takes it at a slower pace than Acuff and the processional pulse amplifies the grieving tone of the somber lyrics. Slim is a master of hot electric blues, but this is roots music for the porch swing in the evening. No dancin' allowed, and please nothing stronger than grandma's lemonade.
October 04, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: