Sacri Delfino: Luna de Hortaleza

In the ever-expanding jazz universe, it seems that it’s now less about where you come from than where you are going. Taking a blindfold test, you would probably never pinpoint any give-away local coloration in this Madrid trio’s playing — in fact, Sacri Delfino’s guitar work reveals as much Metheny as Montoya influences.

There’s no shortage of guitar trios nowadays, but interesting ones with fresh, listenable material are harder to come by. Delfino has written an album full of ear-friendly, emotive compositions, especially “Luna de Hortaleza,” a soulful, poignant jazz waltz seemingly inspired by a memorable night spent in a popular Madrid quarter. The playing is relaxed and confident — Delfino lets the rich, warm acoustics of his archtop do the talking, while the supporting players give him room to work. Bassist Gerardo Ramos builds a lyrical, expressive solo. This is the perfect soundtrack for a languid evening, preferably shared with a bottle of Rioja and a pair of soft, dark eyes reflecting the moonlight.

July 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Will Matthews: Count On Swingin'

In 1996 Will Matthews joined the Count Basie Orchestra, taking over the chair of the late Freddie Green, who had been Basie’s guitarist for decades. The unique role Greene played in the Basie band was more of a supportive musician, as he rarely soloed. But Matthews is an articulate soloist, sounding like a cross between George Benson and Mark Elf. His disciplined, staccato delivery comes at you full faced and unadorned, cutting through harmonic nuances to get to the flesh and bones of the changes. Scotch without the soda.

The operative word on this cut is tradition. Propelled along at a blistering pace by veteran organist Mel Rhyne, this satisfying quartet of Kansas City jazzmen make their money the old fashioned way — they swing it. In the tradition of Burrell and Montgomery, Matthews delivers a solid, straight-ahead performance on his D’Angelico. Rhyne, a seemingly immortal B3 icon, holds it all together while adding well-seasoned chops to the stew. A satisfying chorus from Blakely alumnus Bobby Watson brings the lively romp back to the head. For those who have become addicted to the guilty pleasure of a guitar/organ ensemble, this session is a welcome fix.

July 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Some Kiss

It's an impossible task to catalog and order the many sultry moments in the history of female jazz vocals. I'm thinking back to an award ceremony later in Lena Horne's career when, during her acceptance speech, Horne accompanied the phrase “when it comes” with a naughty gesture employing the awarded trophy. There was also a 10-second period when time stopped as Nora Jones described the joys of stretch jeans during a show in Boston....

Uhh...what was I talking about??

Right! Ayelet Rose Gottlieb! Employing the words of the Persian poet Rumi, Gottlieb has constructed the sensual jazz delight of 2009. Loren Stillman's sax and Avishai Cohen's trumpet set the mood with some slightly dissonant, long tones that interact in a call & response manner with Gottlieb's sensual-by-way-of-Rumi vocals. Gottlieb manages to amp up the dissonance by singing unison lines with the horns, the result of which is a kind of edgy shimmer. As the piece progresses, the complement of her band comes in to add to the celebration of sensuality. By the time we're dealing with seawater that “begs the pearl to break its shell,” the direction and final destination are quite clear. What else is clear is that you probably have not heard a jazz CD as quirky as this in a long, long time.

July 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tim Kuhl: King

In a series of edgy, architectural tonal sketches a bit reminiscent of the late sixties fusion era, drum wizard Tim Kuhl brings his Brooklyn gang together again for a follow-up to his 2007 album Ghost. There’s more of an idiosyncratic retrojazz-rock feel on this session, driven by a loose, supportive funk a bit reminiscent of Miles’s pre-Bitches Brew days. In fact, without the heavy guitar emphasis this effort could have easily been titled Birth of the Kuhl.

The title track is the standout performance, a Phrygian-heavy theme over an orbital set of changes held together with a backbeat and the persistent moan of Parker’s trombone. Guitarist Mark Nir’s electric solo offers Scofield-like phrases in a warm overdriven sustain peppered with the occasional Stern remark. Jon Irabagon’s tenor speaks softly, but carries a big stick, while Ryan Mackstaller’s guitar growls and threatens. Throughout the piece, Kuhl dots the ice and crosses the tease with a relaxed confidence.

July 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Available Jelly: Lovelock

Saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Moore's composition "Lovelock" is a small tour de force, a five-minute-twenty-nine-second non-sequential voyage through jazz history. The tune is a time machine that drops off the listener at spots along the historical continuum, from post-bop to avant to swing, with a side trip to '20s New Orleans. It's remindful of the affectionate stylistic remembrances to which Charles Mingus was prone—a nod to the past that nevertheless remains steadfastly anchored in the present. Moore's band, Available Jelly, comprising two reeds, cornet, trombone, bass and drums, is well-configured to address everything from Dixieland to free jazz. They do so with spirit and great skill, rendering Moore's compositional quirks with the right balance of precision and abandon. The soloists are superb, especially the two saxophonists, altoist Moore and tenorist Toby Delius, both of whom build an edifice of hyper-modernity (extended techniques, assiduous avoidance of tonality) on a solid foundation of jazz styles past.

July 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Donny McCaslin: Uppercut

Donny McCaslin has a steely, angular sound and urgency in his music. As a prolific sideman with such incubators of progressive music as the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Dave Douglas Quintet, he can mold his playing to the needs of demanding composers and arrangers. When he offers his own material, we hear where his musical heart lies.

On the quick tempo “Uppercut”, McCaslin takes us through a catchy repeating melody for two choruses. At the bridge, his phrasing morphs seamlessly from swinging bellowing lows to bright, jagged highs before he restates the melody once again. Colley offers a lively, dancing bass solo as Monder comps lightly behind him. This soft but spirited section contrasts perfectly with the approaching storm. As he volleys a flurry of notes, McCaslin skillfully bobs and weaves around the tune’s core. Sanchez and Simon prod him on with punctuation where needed, until McCaslin settles into a natural cadence. Crescendos of sound pour from his horn like the sweat from an exhausted boxer’s brow. Ever inventive, ever more urgent and with little pause for reflection, this torrent of energy builds to an exhilarating climax. McCaslin’s corner men Colley, Sanchez and Simon keep him firmly in the ring until he returns to the refrain to settle the score with his final exclamatory and victorious blow.

July 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacob Garchik: abstract/01

"abstract/01" is an amalgam of jazz and contemporary classical music—a four-and-a-half minute piece in which the ratio of improvised-to-composed elements is obscure to the point of being almost immaterial. Trombonist Jacob Garchik's non-tonal opening melody, while presumably composed, is rendered with a quiet yet palpable spontaneity that morphs seamlessly into improvisation. Garchik plays sustained, thoughtful phrases with a tone as smooth as milk chocolate. Similar to the overall performance itself—which blurs the line between composition and improvisation—Garchik's solo seems to combine conscious decision-making with a seat-of-the-pants impulsiveness. Drummer Dan Weiss and pianist Jacob Sacks are both sensitive interpreters of Garchik's spacious concept, often responding to the trombonist's choices in tandem. The music rises and falls in brief episodes, giving the impression of being almost wind-blown. Abstract, to be sure, and very attractive in its willfully translucent way.

July 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Vandermark Five: Outside Ticket (for John Gilmore)

Ken Vandermark dedicates "Outside Ticket" to the longtime Sun Ra tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. It's an apt choice; the tune's swinging, medium tempo, metrically shifting solo section provides the sort of deceptively simple platform over which the hard bop-schooled Gilmore could best exercise the far-flung modal style that characterized his artistic maturity—an "outside ticket," indeed. In general, Vandermark uses modality as his artistic starting point, so a piece like this is particularly relevant to the foundation of his overall style. Vandermark's solo here is an exercise in spontaneous development and emotional intensity. His rhythmic sense is ungainly, his harmonic palette static, but his imagination is sufficiently broad (within rather distinct boundaries) to obscure most shortcomings. Trombonist Jed Bishop contributes solid solo and ensemble work, while bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Tim Daisy create a dynamic, continually evolving rhythmic underpinning. As is so often the case with Vandermark's music, the hard-edged performance makes up in soul, commitment, and raw creativity what it lacks in terms of subtle gradations of expression.

July 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stacy Dillard: Three Sides (Ol' Faithful)

"Three Sides (Ol' Faithful)" has a '70s/'80s major-label vibe, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of James Hurt's Fender Rhodes piano and Craig Magnano's guitar; the Rhodes is forever fixed in that era, as is Magnano's slightly distorted, swinging/rocking post-McLaughlin sound. The rhythm section alternates an easy, New Orleans funk groove with a relaxed straight-ahead swing under tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard's sure-handed reading of the melody and subsequent quick-fingered improvisation. Dillard's a strong, aggressive player. He states his case with dead certainty, without betraying a hint of vulnerability. As soloists, Hurt and Magnano are solid post-boppers, nice players if not quite able to match Dillard's heightened level of energy and overall technical facility. Drummer Donald Edwards is the sideman who most conspicuously matches the leader in terms of invention and intensity. Through no fault of Dillard, whose extraordinary chops and vivid imagination impress, the performance is professional without being especially memorable.

July 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Milton Nascimento: Courage

"Although Nascimento speaks little English," Ralph Gleason writes in the liner notes to this release, "he sings it with assurance and with articulation." In truth, the heavy production hand of Creed Taylor is felt at every point on this project, and the decision to have Nascimento sing in English on this US debut was just one more sign of how this artist was being groomed for crossover success on the pop charts. Taylor had been a behind-the-scenes player in the bossa nova fad, and no doubt saw Nascimento as Brazil's next great musical export. So we get the slick arrangements with a very 1960s-AM-radio flavor, and a commercial orientation to every aspect of the production. Yet there is something powerful here that seems to subvert the pop sensibility, a deep and almost spiritually charged vocal from Nascimento that cuts through the glittery trappings and grabs the listener's attention. His guitar is not credited on the liner notes, but it can be heard in the background anchoring the track. This artist soon switched directions, but this recording remains essential listening for anyone who wants to understand the evolution of Nascimento's career. And, because of his against-the-grain performance, this track has aged much better than your typical late-60s crossover fare.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michel Petrucciani: Hidden Joy

Story has it that Petrucciani at the age of four saw Duke Ellington perform on TV and demanded a piano. His parents mistakenly bought him a toy one for Xmas that he promptly destroyed, at which point they wisely got him the real thing. By 13, he was sitting in with Clark Terry at a French jazz festival. Fortunately, in a life tragically shortened to just 36 years by a genetic bone disorder, Petrucciani was given the opportunity to record a CD in tribute to Ellington (and Strayhorn). While he engrossingly covers expected tunes such as "Caravan," "Take the A Train," and "Satin Doll," it is his unveiling of two undeservedly obscure Ellington compositions, "Hidden Joy" and "One Night in the Hotel," that gives this program an added distinction.

Of the two rarities, "Hidden Joy" probably most begs for further revival to this day, although it's a close decision. Petrucciani plays the wistful melody with great sensitivity and emotional connectedness. Lustrous ostinatos, trills, and arpeggios, generous left-hand supporting figures, and sweeping runs are among the devices the pianist uses during his hearty improvisation to exhaustively explore the tune's appealing harmonies. Overall, Petrucciani's approach in the end might be characterized as being aggressively romantic with a more tender subtext, qualities that so often endeared him to listeners during his lifetime, and continue to do so today.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lew Tabackin: Rites of Pan

Tabackin's Rites of Pan album has just been reissued on CD for the first time. On this early all-flute program, Tabackin proved without a doubt that he should be considered as one of the finest flutists in jazz history. Having majored in flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, by the '70's he was the kinetic main soloist on both flute and tenor in the big band he co-led with his wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi. Tabackin by then thought of the flute and tenor as his dual primary instruments, and the contrast between his styles on the two instruments is frequently breathtaking. His key influences on tenor are clearly Sonny Rollins, Don Byas, and Ben Webster, while on flute the flavor of Asian classical music as might be played on the shakuhachi is often most prominent.

The title track, "Rites of Pan," is an astonishing spontaneously improvised dialogue between Tabackin's flute and the always unflappable and infinitely flexible veteran drummer Shelly Manne. "It turned out to be a pagan kind of thing," said Tabackin after the session. Except during a briefly more lyrical and subdued middle section, Tabackin's playing is tempestuous and verging on obsessed, utilizing various tonal, tonguing, and breath control techniques to fully express himself. As is usual with Tabackin on either flute or tenor, there is structure and logic in even his most impromptu sounding flights of fancy. Trills, birdlike effects, staccato bursts, fluttering ovetones, riffs, and attractive motifs appear in a dazzling, unending stream. Manne interacts with Tabackin exclusively through vigorous, rumbling, mallet-intoned rubato patterns, only occasionally colored by gentler cymbal splashes. A unique and exceptional track well worth hearing.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Buddy Rich: Cardin Blue

Buddy Rich presided over two jazz clubs in New York City in the early '70's, Buddy's Place and then Buddy's Place II. During this temporary hiatus period for his popular Big Band, the drummer assembled an impressive small group containing several of the most promising young musicians on the scene at that time, including Sonny Fortune, Sal Nistico, Jack Wilkins, and Kenny Barron. As seen in the cover photograph of Very Live at Buddy's Place, Rich decked them all out in white suits and contrasting gold turtlenecks, a slick uniformity obviously derived from his Big Band's requirements. The album's liner copy credited the group's "wardrobe" to Pierre Cardin, and hence the title of the track in question here, "Cardin Blue," a stylish blues performance that—unlike the said suits designed by Cardin—will never go out of fashion.

A "Funky Blues" (think the 1952 Jam Session with Charlie Parker et. al.) vibe prevails, set up by Barron's bluesy piano, Jackson's throbbing electric bass, and Rich's teasing brushes. Fortune's vibrant, pungent flute solo leads off, followed by Wilkins' unassuming, lightly reverbed electric guitar improv. Nistico's brawny, testifying tenor, shades of Gene Ammons, raises the temperature a bit before an earthy Barron statement that is very deeply ensconced in a soulful, gospel-tinged groove. Jackson's electric bass has the last word, casting a spell both tonally and in the fluidity of his lines. The soothing piano trio wind-down ending caps a performance that presents the more mellow side of what could otherwise be a quite fiery and combative Rich ensemble.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Hersch: Insensatez

If a young pianist asked my advice about recording a solo album of Jobim tunes, I would strongly suggest the choice of any other composer—Scriabin, Zez Confrey, Billy Joel—in lieu of one more painful bossa nova nostalgia trip. Don't get me wrong, I am one of Mr. Jobim's most devoted fans, and he makes it into my short list of the five greatest songwriters of the 20th century. But his music has been butchered by so many cocktail pianists, wedding reception bands, and maple-syrup-in-their-veins arrangers that it is almost impossible to approach his songs with fresh ears any more. I remember living in Firenze years ago and trying to imagine what Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistry might like if you removed all the accumulated soot, tarnish and gunk. Jobim's songs are the same, but it would take a master to find the pristine beauty below the layers of noise piled atop them.

Fred Hersch is that master. Here he tackles one of the more familiar Jobim songs (often recorded under its English title "How Insensitive") and unearths the saudade below all the sludge. He brings to bear on this song his acute analytical mind, but while still retaining the emotional temperature of this melancholy reminiscence of a love affair gone bad. There is much to admire here: the harmonic movement, Mr. Hersch's touch, his phrasing. But the holistic effect (as so often is the case with Hersch) is more powerful than a mere list of ingredients can evoke. Any pianist who wants to study how an artist of depth salvages an over-played song should check out this CD, and this track in particular.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Laika Fatien: Inchworm

Fatien was born in Paris and is of Ivory Coast, Moroccan, and Spanish Sephardic ancestry and heritage, but sings in only slightly accented, clear, and totally unaffected English. She has performed with the Claude Bolling Orchestra, and is both a stage and film actress. Her inspirations range from Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae to Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln, but she doesn't sound like any of them. While she can aggressively belt out a number like "The Best is Yet to Come," or sensitively and knowingly interpret Abbey Lincoln tunes, the inherent, undiluted, and distinctive beauty of her voice is best revealed in her stark rendition of "Inchworm" on her debut CD.

The popular Frank Loesser children's song was first performed by Danny Kaye in the 1952 film "Hans Christian Andersen," and has since been recorded by jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Patricia Barber. Fatien sings the main verses unaccompanied, allowing us to relish her flawless intonation and be charmed by her candid delivery. The group joins in for her second go-around before Malek's warmhearted, lyrically fluid tenor solo both sustains and affirms the mood Fatien has established so expertly. The saxophonist continues to play soft obbligatos behind Fatien during the reprise, until the vocalist once more goes it alone, with vivid expressiveness, in closing. The only regret is that the arithmetic addition table chorus was left unsung, perhaps in overdubbed counterpoint or along with Malek's solo.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chicago Jazz Philharmonic: One Thousand Questions: One Answer

There have been many attempts to merge jazz and classical music into a coherent symphonic whole, from Paul Whiteman onward to Gunther Schuller, Lalo Schifrin, Gil Evans, and others. One of the most recent and successful efforts comes from the 55+ piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, which is led by talented Chicago trumpeter Orbert Davis, its co-founder, composer-in-residence, arranger, conductor, and artistic director. The centerpiece of the CJP's new Collective Creativity debut CD is the nine-part "Collective Creativity Suite," an eclectic venture through the worlds of 20th century classical music, post bop/freejazz, and African and Caribbean rhythms, with four notable and enthusiastic AACM members along for the ride.

"One Thousand Questions, One Answer" is perhaps the most diverse and appealing piece in the Suite. The opening orchestral prelude is a heady combination of Stravinsky and free jazz influences, as well as suggesting an extravagant, scene-setting fanfare from an old Hollywood melodrama. The succeeding main theme comes as a total and delightful surprise, a perky and whimsical staccato creation. Ari Brown's probing tenor solo is supported by just piano, bass, and drums at first, until Nicole Mitchell's piccolo and Davis's piccolo trumpet engage him contrapuntally with thematic riffs and asides. Mitchell's assured, darting solo is similarly enhanced by Davis and Brown. Davis's inventive improvisation is played with great dexterity and passion, in turn spurred on by Mitchell and Brown. The three featured soloists then unite joyfully on the theme, before the orchestra builds gradually to full participation. This memorable track comes from one of the best CDs released so far in 2009.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Carl Fontana: I Thought About You

Carl Fontana's unique post-bop personality is on full display on this track, one of the signature songs of his career. His performance of “I Thought About You” demonstrates a deeply personal and innovative approach to improvisation. His relaxed, playful trombone voice is apparent from the first presentation of the melody. He ducks out of the spotlight, however, in the second "A" of the melody, delicately improvising a countermelody behind Al Cohn's soft tenor saxophone. Fontana lets Cohn take the first solo, then comes in with his own personal approach for his choruses--always in the pocket and fully in control. He slowly works in a few impeccable double-time inflections, fitting them into the restrained tone of the solo. After a brief chorus by pianist Richard Wyands, Cohn and Fontana trade eights before sliding into a loose and interactive final presentation of the tune.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: Like Sonny

In one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime convergences, pianist Steve Kuhn got a call to play with John Coltrane for a gig at the Jazz Gallery in New York City in 1960. Kuhn had been playing with trumpeter Kenny Dorham and was well on his way to establishing himself as a player with a unique voice. The ever-searching Trane was still formulating the next stage of his musical development. The collaboration only lasted for three months but it made an indelible mark on the twenty-one year old Kuhn. Coltrane’s dedication to his music influenced the young pianist, not so much by altering his developing style, but by strengthening his resolve toward following his own path. With this tribute album, Kuhn has carefully chosen songs that demonstrate where he and Coltrane have some common ground.

On “Like Sonny”, a Coltrane composition dedicated to Sonny Rollins, Kuhn has followed his natural instincts to use a memorable melody as a vehicle for improvisation. Kuhn’s technique is burnished with classical undertones that bring an elegance and grace to his playing. Kuhn creates a sound that utilizes the full range of the keyboard, bespeaks of a mastery of touch and evokes a haunting beauty that is never self-indulgent.

Bassist and long-time collaborator David Finck has developed a truly intuitive language with Kuhn. Baron’s deft polytonal touch is reminiscent of Elvin Jones but more delicate and spidery than his predecessor. Lovano’s controlled cool delivery is appropriately more deferential to Rollins than to Coltrane and has a beautiful rich tonal quality that is very compatible with Kuhn’s own natural lyricism on this song. Together this quartet has created a worthy homage to the Kuhn-Coltrane experience.

July 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Anthony Wilson: Mezcal

Picture yourself in a dusty Mexican bar, where the tequila flows freely and the crowd is in the mood to boogie. In the corner, across the sawdust strewn floor is a trio in their own zone. A well-worn Hammond B-3 with some twirling Leslie speakers, a honey toned vintage Gibson guitar and a simple set of drums. They seem strangely out of place here, except that they have the crowd of locals on their feet, yelping and shaking their booties to the infectious beat. Did I mention the tequila was flowing freely?

Although this track was played in January somewhere in Hollywood, guitarist Anthony Wilson has captured this feeling with an understated style that is rooted in the blues and the jazz guitar/organ trio tradition. On “Mezcal”, behind the pulsating organ accompaniment of Larry Goldings and the heavy backbeat sound of session drummer Jim Keltner, Wilson shows off some facile octave phrasing. Goldings, master of the B3, makes his instrument sing with a decidedly time warped sound. Old reliable Keltner keeps the beat rock steady as the trio grooves a la Medeski, Martin & Wood. A fun south of the border diversion from a January in LA.

July 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Alice Coltrane: Ptah, the El Daoud

Alice McLeod Coltrane was essentially a bebop pianist who had even studied with Bud Powell in Paris in 1959, but she then became greatly moved and influenced by the music of John Coltrane, which she first heard on record (Africa/Brass) in 1961. She met Coltrane in 1963 at Birdland in New York while the pianist for Terry Gibbs opposite Trane's quartet, married him in 1965, andreplaced McCoy Tyner in his group in 1966. Just before his death the following year, John helped Alice land a recording contract with his label, Impulse!, and her second album, Ptah, the El Daoud, featured the delectable and perhaps only such pairing ever of the highly individual saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson.

The stirring 14-minute long title track is dedicated to the Egyptian god Ptah, "the beloved" (the El Daoud). The somber march-like theme is played by the two tenors, and is elevated by Coltrane's forceful chords, Carter's penetrating bass lines, and Riley's sharply struck drum accents. Henderson employs urgent cries, circular phrases, heated tremolos, and serpentine runs to flesh out his solo. Sanders in turn ranges from meditatively spacy to passionately intense, with dissonant raspy wails and a mindset more in keeping with very late period Trane than was Henderson's, although Sanders' phrasing is as much thematic as it is abstract. The pianist has played reverberating chordal patterns behind both tenor soloists, and her own improvisation is laden with pulsating arpeggios, possesses a rolling momentum, and is similar overall in texture to her spiritual harp and organ playing. Riley's finely sculpted, understated drum solo precedes the theme's fervent restatement.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Hazeltine & Joe Locke: Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

As the Mutual Admiration Society 2 CD climbs the jazz radio charts, new listeners will hopefully also seek out the first volume released back in 1999. Joe Locke has had fruitful associations with a number of pianists—Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Frank Kimbrough, Geoff Keezer—but none more rewarding than with David Hazeltine, who himself has maintained a gratifying long-term musical relationship with saxophonist Eric Alexander. The way Locke and Hazeltine perform "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" on their first CD together shows how locked in they are both harmonically and in their attention to detail in melodic exposition and in the forming of solos.

The melancholy (check out the lyrics) Frank Loesser ballad comes from the oddly titled, bleak 1944 film noir "Christmas Holiday," but here it's enlivened considerably by a buoyant medium tempo patterned after the 1950 Sarah Vaughan/Miles Davis version. The vibes-piano soundscape is a joy to hear as Locke and Hazeltine gracefully intermingle on the theme. Locke's compelling solo spurts along in cascading fashion from the very start, aided by Hazeltine's highly intuitive accompaniment. Locke's lines are densely packed, but he makes every note meaningful. Hazeltine's improv in contrast is more leisurely developed, very bluesy and swinging in a Wynton Kelly way, and concludes most effectively with some insistently struck two-handed chords. Essiet's bass solo in turn is endearingly lyrical. The polished voicings of the melody on Locke and Hazeltine's return are again enchanting and heartfelt, words that can also describe this track as a whole.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: Luck Be A Lady

This track would make for a great blindfold test. Guitarist Bireli Lagrene, well-known for his Gypsy Jazz and fusion projects, singing (!) a tune from the musical "Guys and Dolls" made famous by Frank Sinatra. In fact, on his excellent but unfortunately little-noticed tribute CD, Blue Eyes, Lagrene vocalizes on four of 13 standards associated with Sinatra, whose records he had fallen in love with as a youth. One of the keys to making this salute to Frank work so well was the addition of veteran pianist Maurice Vander to Lagrene's working trio at the time. Vander is an always lyrical, often romantic, technically gifted, and vivacious player who had performed in the past with Django Reinhardt, Don Byas, and Stéphane Grappelli.

The combination of Chris Minh Doky's driving bass line and Vander's elegant chords establishes the ambiance for Lagrene's singing of the lyrics to "Luck be a Lady" in only very slightly accented English. Lagrene sings faithfully to Sinatra's revered style—self-confident, a little cocky, pitch-perfect, and easefully articulate. Vander romps through his piano solo with ringing clarity, fresh voicings, and a relentless swing. Lagrene opens his boppish guitar improv with a delightful quote from Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," before moving on to full-bodied, surging lines to which he soon adds seamless scatting accompaniment, à la George Benson. His vocal reprise, augmented by André Ceccarelli's crisply precise rim patterns, gives way in the end to a tricky, well-rendered tag by Vander and Doky.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: Stella by Starlight

There was a time when Steve Kuhn was criticized as a pianist for having a weak left hand and a less than compelling rhythmic sense, but that time is long past. Today he is the complete package, as he proved once again in his reunion with Ron Carter and Al Foster at Birdland, some 20 years after the same trio's Village Vanguard gig and resulting pair of much-admired albums. One of Kuhn's strengths has always been his ability to transform a well-traveled and even overplayed standard into something uniquely different and captivatingly fresh. On the Live at Birdland CD he accomplishes this most notably with the up-tempo "Confirmation" and the ballad "Stella by Starlight."

Dedicated to his mother Stella, this "Stella by Starlight" contains an ethereal opening that certainly owes a debt to Bill Evans, as does the interpretation as a whole, but is nonetheless personalized and undiluted Kuhn. While the pianist assuredly explores the tune's harmonies with only passing references to actual snippets of the melody, Carter exhibits an always in the moment responsiveness to Kuhn's probings. The bassist's beautifully articulated solo is seasoned with sensibly placed quotes from the likes of "You Better Go Now" and "Rockin' in Rhythm," and is technically stunning and ever evolving. Kuhn's subsequent improv is distinguished by a ringing timbre, an emotionally impassioned and yet logically structured series of extended lines, and a concluding impressionistic swirl of arpeggios and trills. The ecstatic reaction by the Birdland audience says it all.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Eldridge: Melange

Shades of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Roy Eldridge's old stomping grounds. At 64 years-of-age at the time of this recording, Eldridge may have lost a little off his fastball, but his competitive juices always flowed in this kind of context, namely the 13-minute jump blues, "Melange," that gives the frontliners a chance to really stretch out and express themselves. This track comes from one of the spirited trumpeter's last sessions before he suffered a stroke in 1980 that forced him to retire. Here he's surrounded by the versatile multi-instrumentalists Budd Johnson and Norris Turney, the impeccable "guest star" Milt Jackson, and an optimal rhythm section.

The horns hit the theme's dual riffs forcefully as Eddie Locke provides an emphatic backbeat. Norman Simmons' bluesy, light-touched piano takes the first solo, succeeded by bassist Ted Sturgis's brief yet illuminating spot. Turney's alto assumes a Johnny Hodges persona, and while his tone is harder than the Rabbit's, his message is just as insinuating and succulent as would be expected from his old Ellington Orchestra confrere. Eldridge is next, muted and restrained at first but gradually building, as usual, to now open trumpet climactic wails. Johnson enters breathy and fluttering, and commences to unveil a truly magnificent blue saxophone solo, replete with upper register shrieks, deep honks, raspy flurries, and sighing riffs. Jackson's dampened sound and more laid-back attack present a pleasing contrast to Johnson's exuberance. The exciting horn vamp that follows leads us back to the robust theme.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Conrad Herwig: Hieroglyphica

For those who know Conrad Herwig through his work with the Latin Side recordings, Hieroglyphica shows the hip, hard-swinging jazz side of the virtuosic trombonist. This cat can hang in a way few trombonists can. From the very start of his quartet's epic 10-minute journey in and out of tonality and meter, he shows that he can do absolutely whatever he wants with his instrument. Whether it's the low multiphonic roars that begin the tune, the extreme upper-register rips or the interactive improvisation with the full rhythm section, Herwig demonstrates complete control.

The composition layers each member of the quartet in and out of the texture: Herwig spends the first minute all by himself before drummer Gene Jackson sneaks in with out-of-time cymbal rolls and tom hits. Bill Charlap and James Genus don't join the action until three minutes into the tune, but their timing is impeccable as it starts a long, burning run of Herwig's trombone. Charlap and Jackson follow with equally impressive solos before the quartet finally presents the melody--right before the tune draws to a dramatic, cacophonous close.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues

The music of Horace Silver always referenced and sounded different than most other jazz. His music has a tinge to it that most other music doesn't have. He mixes swing and Latin better than most and had a gift for composition that few musicians possess. Silver wrote this title track for his father, who was born in Cape Verde, a small chain of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Africa. Silver was joined by trombone master J.J. Johnson and a stellar horn section that also included Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw.

This song has a great dance feel to it, as Humphries accents the hi hat on the off beat on the quarter note. The melody is also really playful and the sound is further enhanced as Silver doubles up the melody with the horns. He opens up his solo with strong block chords in his left hand and plays some blues licks with his right hand. This is an album, which sounds completely different than most jazz that was coming out in 1965. I like the fact that Silver was always looking for the groove and he sure found it with this track.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mark Lambert: Sunshine Of Your Love

It's nice to hear an artist put a jazz spin on a rock tune not by using the harmonic structure as source material but by reinterpreting the song as if it had always been a jazz tune. There's nothing wrong with the former approach, and much great music has been made that way (Brad Mehldau immediately comes to mind), it's just that this more direct route seems a little more risky – perhaps leading to more reward?

Some would say 'No!' Venerable rock classics such as Cream's “Sunshine Of Your Love” should not be tampered with. I don't know about that. On this record, Mark Lambert was influence by his love of the Great American Songbook. Adding a rock classic to that catalog, even if put through such a re-harmonization, seems like nothing but a compliment to me.

The jazzification wraps the famous melody in some dissonant acoustic guitar, percussion, and fabulously modified chords. You might almost miss the subtle way the original harmony has been altered as you get lost in Lambert's fine singing and guitar work. The shift into heavy swing for the chorus is a nice touch too. The 'risk' of this approach paid off. In lesser hands, “Sunshine...” might have seemed too precious for its own good. With Mark Lambert, we get a fresh take on an old rock favorite.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chuck Mangione: You're The Best There Is

Chuck Mangione's "You're The Best There Is" is sublime. The playing is hot all around and, on a simple chord chart, the instruments are spaced out well in the mix. As guitarist Grant Geissman's fingers lead the way toward major seventh heaven, a round of inspired solos shows that the entire group works together well.

An organic sound is conveyed by what occurs, and the players do not have to force their playing to get the strong melody across. Actually, the tune is probably more recognizable than "Feels So Good," Mangione's most enduring hit, and, regarding the production, the cut's disco drumming does not detract from the actual jazz playing elsewhere. The percussion is mixed low enough to ensure that the track would not sit side-by-side on the radio with cuts by the likes of Chic and Donna Summer and, thus, suffer misinterpretation.

Earthenness prevails, and, even though a surefire energy stamps this tune, the fact remains that the musicians keep it relatively laid-back while still exuding a feel that is commiserate with the album title Fun and Games. The track ebbs and flows in intensity and the music lifts spirits as it plays.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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KTU: Nano

Electronic sound effects dominate KTU's "Nano," and, while it does move at nano speed, the music will only appeal to fans of music that falls in line with what is expected from the furthest end of the spectrum, as far as progressive music is concerned.

Classical music overtones can be heard in the way the subdued vocal harmonies are constructed, and, instrumentally, bells, sitar sounds, and programmed strings seem to signal an interest by the collective in Baroque music. The cut may not be as experimental as similar tracks laid down by the likes of modern composers John Cage and Philip Glass, but the tune is driving enough to sustain interest, sounding inspired the whole time while adding a depth to the rest of the group's Quiver CD. That disc is generally comprised of fusion-style musical visions and landscapes, and the recording is a great example of the reasons for the musical collaboration in the first place.

As the group is usually considered a King Crimson side project, the sonics sound not too far off from the way the group would sound without guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, and, adequately, "Nano" rockets off on its own musical terms.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Howe: Australia

Steve Howe's solo guitar recordings carry a distinct pensiveness, and his composition "Australia" falls in line. The quick-paced recording contains quite a few exquisite classical licks that sustain themselves in such a context, and chordal harmonies are interspersed with single note runs, arpeggiated sweeps, and a presentation as clear as a cloudless sky.

An enjoyable composition, Howe plays it straight-unlike what he normally does with pieces such as "The Clap." There, high falutin' country licks meet progressivity. Here, a yin-yang relationship exists between the minor keys and the normal Steve Howe style of playing, which cannot totally obscure the untraditionalness of his approach. Here, he performs the piece on steel string guitar instead of a classical nylon string and displays the joyousness that he is generally known for.

These wistful ruminations never become too dark for pleasantness, as "Australia" is a reflective piece that will remind you of smoky solo cuts by Joe Pass and/or Howard Roberts. That he can hold his own alongside those guitar masters is incredible; on the cut, Howe shows that, at least on Motif Vol. 1, He could still give his fans what they had come to expect while furthering his own innovations.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Howe: Part & Parcel

Guitarist Steve Howe returns to his bluegrass roots for a lovingly captured session of solo picking on "Part & Parcel," and Howe enthusiasts have come to expect these results.

The tune features a variety of doublestops, chordal resolves, and countrified licks that combine with jazz sensibilities and conventional music theory. The playing is not too cryptic for comprehension, and the piece is timed just barely over three minutes. It consistently entices, as Howe handles the changes alone and shows that he can cover both lead and rhythm parts simultaneously. Of course, such a comping scheme is the basis of jazz guitar, but at least Howe isn't merely playing stereotypical jazz chords or figures. It sounds as if this piece has been a part of his repertoire for years, as he slices and dices the motif and their embellishments with similar grandeur.

"Part & Parcel" may be easy to play on guitar, but its multi-dimensional approach alienates neither amateur listeners and musicians nor those more experienced. The track is quite pure, and, as far as the Steve Howe discography is concerned, it doesn't get much better than this.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & João Gilberto: Doralice

While familiar, "Doralice" still sounds fresh today. This version, recorded for the seminal jazz album Getz/Gilberto, features straight ahead guitar chords, an understated atmosphere, and warmth that sounds carefully plotted out.

The musicians create a lot of space and their contributions remain equally important to the mix. Once Stan Getz's no-frills sax solo winds down, it trades places with Gilberto's vocals, and both sing out in a similar manner. Instruments are panned hard left and right, and the track was rendered in the best light possible due to the multifaceted talents of each participant. It is a session of international repute, and you are immediately aware of its importance from the moment the cut kicks in because of the familiarity of the players with each other's skills.

Even if you do not understand a word of Spanish, you will feel as if you are able to follow the lyrics and message, and the warm, romantic sensitivity that the players convey is the reason for the track's approachability. It is a standout cut on one of the most important Latin jazz albums of all time, and it effectively symbolizes what else occurs within the grooves of the Stone Flower CD.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: K.C. Blues

"K.C. Blues" benefits from hot blowing and mind bending modality. Each player shines in their surroundings while devising the blueprint that would later be taken to its limit by the personnel featured on Kind of Blue (Miles Davis also appears on this recording).

The force by which Charlie Parker's notes explode from his horn shows why the track is considered among his best. Bird's alto cries out while cutting through the surprisingly clear mix for the era. As Parker blasts off into the jazz ionosphere, a mega-confidence is exuded that symbolizes the influence he still holds on the jazz world today.

The reason Parker's music is still resonant is apparent, and the recording imparts the fact that a complimentary assemblage of participants gives a track its best chance for success on a creative level, because, even though the music never veers away from the blues form and the chord progression and solos are more traditional in nature, it features a sound that is Bird's signature-one that is tough not to recommend The tune is brief, featuring slow, dramatic pacing and a lot of inspiration, and its quirks all fit together in a non-contradictory manner. T

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oz Noy: Damn! This Groove

Tracks like "Damn! This Groove" showcase Oz Noy's effectiveness in mixing progressive musicality with fusion-style jazz scales. Utilizing whole-tone patterns over a funk-inspired progression, the tune springs alive due to the force of the performance. The track maintains an intensity that is, in part, due to the group's tightness, and the bunch is so well rehearsed that the jam explodes.

Three minutes in, and with three minutes left to go, Noy's six-string, wah-drenched theatrics are the catalyst for a funk extrapolation that sounds like what would have been recorded had either Allan Holdsworth or Jimi Hendrix had explored the world of music inspired by the Commodores. Noy's Fender guitar is easily recognizable for its tone, and some of the riffs recall the amped forays of Jimi Hendrix into blues territory.

This is a group that sounds like the epitome of New York-style club jazz-busy, containing a complexity within the solo passages that is buffered by synchronized riffs performed by a trio that fills up the space, leaving few spaces in between. It is crisp, fiery, and meaty, and comes highly recommended by yours truly, as the "groove" described in the title is accurate, as the cut's simplicity.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun

Atypical experimentalism rules Antonio Carlos Jobim's "God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun." The hippie-minded expansiveness mirrors most of the commercial music of the period and even some of the less commercial ruminations by cult artists like Soft Machine.

While Jobim is better known as a purveyor of Bossa Nova, this track could easily be mistaken for either Jefferson Airplane's "Chushingura" (from Crown of Creation) or anything by saxophonist Rashaan Roland Kirk, for there isn't a Brazilian bone in this composition's body. Easily classified as avant-garde, the tune finds some big-band flavor in its instrumental choices that include a clarinet that sounds more indebted to John Coltrane than Benny Goodman. Ravi Shankar-like sitar swirls push the cut in the direction of Indian raga, while the tune is completely psychedelicized in a stereotypical fashion that typifies most of what was released in the jazz world immediately following Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

At best, the track expands Jobim's musical palette slightly, but it will be fairly obvious to anyone that the spiritual mantra sounds much less original than what the producers intended. This track ultimately struggles to develop an identity of its own, settling for a foray not into the land of the sun but into the finality of diminishing returns.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Jackson: Smile

Michael Jackson's version of "Smile" pays tribute to Charlie Chaplin's 1936 film Modern Times with surprising reverence. The vocalization is certainly intoned well, and, while syrupy strings and synthesizers dominate after awhile, Jackson's voice and the clear lyrics it presents are firmly positioned upfront (unlike those heard within many of his pop hits).

Describing Michael Jackson as a "jazz singer" is a stretch, but, here, he proves that he could have cut an album of standards, ala Rod Stewart, somewhere down the line. This cut is as powerful as anything on either volume of Stewart's Great American Songbook, and, fortunately, Jackson keeps the schmaltz to a bare minimum. He sounds comfortable on the track, and it does demand subsequent listens. Even after his untimely passing on June 25, 2009, recordings such as this are left behind as proof of his vocal prowess and nearly indescribable talents.

Dorian Holley, Jackson's vocal director, worked with the singer for decades and recently stated that, as far as the quality of Jackson's repertoire is concerned, "as people mine his works in years to come, they're going to discover how much is there," and he may be right.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kotikoski/Kleutgens/Coaliuta/Tavaglione: Sanctuary

A sultry theme defines "Sanctuary," a tune recorded by an amalgamation known as the Cave Men. Saxophone and guitar lead the way, with axeman Antti Kotikoski stepping out of the intertwining maze like Steve Hackett. While the slap bass and rolling drums sound like Chris Squire and Bill Bruford, respectively, there is an edge to this recording that results from each player's confidence with the recording's overall direction.

The feel recalls jazz fusion of the 1970s, with the prickly sax punching through the mix like Joe Henderson and, as the saxophone solo gets hot, Kotikoski punctuates things with a beautiful, clean-toned melody that adds a touch of fusion flavor. The tune sits somewhere between the progresssive rock heights of groups like Yes and Genesis and the jazz artistry of Mike Stern and Tony Williams as the ensemble rocks the changes like a hyperactive version of Spyro Gyra.

Featuring quite a bit of improvisation that sets the wheels in motion, much of the musical mania defies gravity, and the sound reflects the talents of musicians who obviously consider the notes and phrases they play before they actually play them.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kotikoski/Kleutgens/Colaiuta/Tavaglione: 5 For Eddie

The form of the Cave Men's "5 For Eddie" is fairly typical. However, contained within are quite a few riveting solo passages that sound performed by experienced musicians at the top of their game. The focus is the solos, and while guitarist Antti Kotikoski rocks out with wild phrasing and tones similar to Allan Holdsworth, the rest of the players conjure up the spirits of Weather Report's classic lineup. Of course, that group did not feature guitar. Here, though, the addition is no problem, as Kotikoski's hot lead fills up the spaces that Weather Report's compositions only hinted at.

The music contained on this recording is quite busy; it moves, and, yet, the spaces do add an unmistakable depth. Internationally renowned drummer Vinny Colaiuta pulls out all the stops on a recording that never fails to move forward. His fast hands and slippery feet lead the way, and the music scales the progressive heights. Tastefulness abounds, and, while the music winds up sounding very influenced by Zawinul/Shorter/Pastorius/Acuna, the level of talent demonstrated on the track is comparable to the abilities shown by those four musicians.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Serenade to a Soul Sister

I have to be honest, there's not a single Horace Silver song that I don't like. So now that my biases are out front, Silver returned in 1968 with this hard bop masterpiece, Serenade to a Soul Sister. Joined by tenor giant Stanley Turrentine, the band might not be the most recognizable names in the history of jazz but that's the way I like it. This group of musicians flies under the radar, digging deep for those blues. Judging from the way Turrentine and Tolliver solo, I would've liked to known this soul sister. Silver's comping on this song is typical, very relaxed and to the point with a heavy use of chords in the middle register. What I enjoy most about Silver is his consistency as a soloist. He's not going to play note after note like a Tyner or Hancock would, he has a nasty pocket and plays accordingly. His solo is marked by some nice upper register, singular melodic ideas that are simple but groove perfectly with the song. Hats off to one of the best!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Book's Bossa

It's kind of astonishing the amount of jazz musicians that recorded and performed Bossa nova in the late 1960s. I guess Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto did their jobs! Donald Byrd, always one who defies easy categorization, came up with a catchy little Bossa, that's almost closer to samba at times, for this album. I like how Byrd sounds on this song and he is helped greatly by the wonderful piano playing of Cedar Walton, who moves up and down the piano with ease as he comps behind Byrd. Although this song gets a little boring after a few minutes, I still like it. I think that Byrd sounds stronger on funk oriented material and straight ahead stuff but he still manages to play some nice sustained lines. Not a bad song at all and very well worth listening to several times.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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KTU: Fragile Sun

On what is essentially a recording of Robert Fripp-inspired soundscapes, "Fragile Sun" is tentative. Even though the cut is brief, the players overlay indistinct tones so that the music sounds like it could deconstruct at any point. The sounds of processed pipes, synths, and sitars all meet to quickly form the notion of what the sun would sound like if it had a sound.

The tune recalls works that could appear comfortably on a film or media soundtrack, as the music does not truly take on any set form. Yet, the mood it conveys is one of gentleness, and, while the track will not be remembered individually, it does fit neatly alongside the rest of the music on Quiver (on which the tunes are largely dissonant).

This particular composition, though, is more effective taken in the context of the entire spate of recordings contained on the CD. It is tough to tell where the line between production and technique exists on it, because the entire recording seems to emphasize production. What musicality is lost is made up for in the end, but, again, that result replaces melody with effects and, in that light, the track achieves its goal.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Andorinha

"Andorinha" sounds like most Jobim from the era, complete with a few added musical features. The electric keyboards are phased out so heavily for the first minute that it is tough to suss out exactly what is being played. However, trombonist Urbie Green appears amidst the lush density of the string section, and the electric piano, while distorted, plays some lovely romantic figures while expressing an interest in musical modernity.

The amount of gain on Jobim's keyboard sounds similar to what was used on the Herbie Hancock recording Crossings-meaning that the same industry standards sweeten this track that were prevalent throughout most music cut in 1970. The influence of albums such as Miles in the Sky and Files de Kilimanjaro dominates, and, even though this music is in no way as adventurous as what was laid down on those classic platters, the production choices prove that Jobim and his compatriots were, at least, digesting their contents.

Once the initial delay effects are spaced out somewhat, Green is allowed to chime in with his usual laid-backness. However, the track is lazily brought to a close, petering out in the second half. Given the crypticness of the initial portion, the tune falls short of its goal of bringing Bossa Nova to the moon.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Slow Drag

Here we have yet another Bossa nova song disguised by a heavy piano bass and some bluesy changes. The opening to this song definitely sounds like it was meant for the opening sequence of a bad P.I. movie. Donald Byrd sounds good on this song as well as the rest of the album and I enjoy the changes to this tune better than the others. Byrd's playing is aided by the loose nature of the song and it grooves a little harder, especially on the turnaround, which sounds like they ripped it straight from a Hancock Blue Note recording. Byrd's trumpet style is very interesting to my ears, I can't figure out sometimes what he's going for and then all of a sudden he brings me back to table with some nice note choices. I recommend this song and the entire album for anyone that wants to get their teeth wet to some of the R&B/Bossa music of Blue Note from the late 1960s. You also don't want to miss the cool Billy Higgins vocal adlib towards the end of the song. Classic!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Que Pasa?

By the time Horace Silver had recorded his 1964 masterpiece Song for my Father, his impact at fusing Brazilian elements into jazz music were undeniable. Similar to the title track, "Que Pasa?" opens up with a root to fifth bass movement but the mood of the song is much darker. Roy Brooks plays some fitting tom rolls before queuing Silver's solo, which as always, is heavy in the blues. I've noticed that almost all of Silver's songs start off with him soloing first. I think that it sets the mood a little better than always having a horn player start off the song. Being a piano player, I could be a little biased but it's nice to get the vibe of the track down then have the horns rip it up. Overall this song fits in well with the rest of the cuts on the album, making this album one in which you never have to press the skip button. You might just want to hit repeat and let the Silver band take you to the river, or the ocean, or wherever you want to go. By far, Junior Cook's solo is the strongest on the song as he rolls up and down the tenor sax with accuracy and feeling.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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JDT: Gastrophysics

This is the kind of music that I wish could be placed in the hands of people who have given up on “jazz.” I employ the double quotes because there are too many out there who think that jazz is either two guys trying to mimic exotic fowl calls, or a group of older musicians trying to relive their glory days from New Orleans.

“Gastrophysics” (the title comes from a bout with a stomach bug...good thing Domnarski can find the good in any situation) takes off with some drums that want to launch into the theme song from Hawaii Five-O. Instead, Aaron Nevezie muscles the composition forward with some seriously heavy, slightly distorted bass that is soon added to by the leader's keyboard lines. Domnarski expands the chorus with some wide open piano chords and fragments of glockenspiel. It's here when the crossover point between jazz and rock/pop music really makes itself known. Sure, a truly jazz-oriented piano solo is taken, but the band is still rockin' underneath. Great stuff for expansion of the personal listening horizon.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Elli Fordyce: Where Am I Going?

When I was little, I loved to visit my Aunt Rose and wander into her bedroom. She kept a collection of clear glass figurines that was quite stunning, even to the eyes of a third-grader. The figurines were all of musical instruments. I can't remember them all but the grand piano and the harp were my favorites. It just seemed magical that somebody had fashioned glass into these exquisite and detailed shapes.

Aunt Rose always had her AM radio on, tuned to a station that played nothing but, in her words, “old favorites.” Though I was too young to be familiar with much of that music or its themes, the vibe of “Where Am I Going” brings me back to those visits. Fordyce's band plays with a low and sultry swing as she sings of the many traps of love. Kudos to pianist Jeremy Manasia and the alto of Aaron Heick as they really dig into that groove. It's Fordyce's delivery that makes the connection here as a tiny nugget of my brain must have been impressed by Shirley Bassey's voice emanating from Aunt Rose's radio. She's singing with all of that passion, but with a little (OK, a lot) less bombast. Great stuff.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tim Collins: Twenty Something

Just as Steely Dan once started a song making one think that they were going to play Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” Tim Collins’ “Twenty Something” opening bars resemble the famous intro to Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues.” However, the melody that Collins constructed is actually more elaborate than that 1977 hit. Collins is a trained pianist, and it shows in the piano-like approach to his vibes.

The second half of this song mostly belongs to Lott, beginning with an accompanied drum solo that gives way to Jensen’s strong, advanced deliberations. Even while Jensen is blasting away, Lott’s crashing and rumbling is barely contained. After Jensen’s turn is up, the beautifully intricate chord progression from the beginning is repeated and the song eases into a soft landing. Overall, “Twenty Something” is a pretty good example of both the intricacy of Collins’ composing and his acumen on the vibes.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Lullaby for Helene

This song opens up with a striking minor chord on the guitar, sounding almost classical, as Evans plays a beautiful melody on the Fender Rhodes in honor of Helene. He then follows it with some tasty lines on the piano, showing his blues side, which was one of the best and the most subdued. I really think this record contains some of Evans most brilliant moments, showing us on each track why he was one of the strongest piano players during the 20th century.

Although this song is a little short and I would have liked to have heard some more interaction, it still definitely provides the highest level of musical satisfaction. The guitar works perfectly with everything Evans plays on this song. It sounds like Evans is on the inside of a circle and the guitar is just patiently drawing a line around his sound. Another great song from a great album.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Soiree

Even though Bill Evans' style and technique have been widely achknowledged and copied by dozens of contemporary pianists and musicians, one thing that he doesn't get as much credit for is his willingness to experiment with new things. As before with Conversations with Myself in which he overdubbed three pianos, Evans became one of the first musicians to record with the Fender Rhodes on this album dating back to early 1970. I know other musicians had recorded with the instrument but none of them added the sensibililtes and touch that Evans brings to the table.

On "Soiree," Evans introduces the melody which is enhanced further by the wonderful guitar work of Sam Brown and the subtle bass drones of Eddie Gomez. I absolutely love how Evans states the melody with the Rhodes but plays harmony with the piano. It's a match made in heaven. Another great song from an American master, Bill Evans!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Wiest: X & Y

Steve Wiest didn’t conceive “X & Y” as the lively tempo Latin song it became for the recording of it, but the change of plans worked out pretty well. You wouldn’t think that the almost rock-ish guitar of Hamilton could pair up smoothly with Wiest’s trombone, but it does. They play competing lines, unison lines and harmonize, all within the head. Wiest plays a patient, finely modulated solo, letting the groove behind him be the guide and never getting ahead of it. Hamilton come next, playing liquid lines that he makes stand out with some distinctive note bending. When he’s done, the whole band lurches into a tricky bridge before returning to the theme.

Nice playing all around, but sometimes it’s the arrangement that makes the song. It certainly does for “X & Y.”

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Radam Schwartz: Imprecise Exactitudes

t’s a song with a contradictory title, but everything about it makes sense to me. Schwartz trots out the chord progression on a soul-soaked organ with Gibbs and Ware declaring the theme slowly in the intro, as if to get that melody into the listener’s head before running through it in real time. It’s a real swinging time, too, a crisp, hard finger popping hard-bop swing that is hard not to at least sway your head to. Ware, Clackner and finally Schwartz himself, all put in scorching solos.. The leader channels his heroes Charles Earland and Jack McDuff, and just as McDuff’s band used to do, the horns weigh in with short remarks at the peaks of Schwartz’s solo. Afterwards, it’s back to that Blue Note head. “Imprecise Exactitudes” feels exactly right for when both soul and sophistication is called for.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Yan Pevzner: West South (Part 2)

One of the great and wonderful things about the Latin and especially Brazilian forms of jazz is that it’s malleable and open ended enough to inspire seemingly endless variations and extensions on it while remaining distinctly Latin. Chick Corea had built a big chunk of his career around creatively capitalizing on the festive rhythms and melodies of this jazz sub-form. A more recent case in point is “West South” by Russian-born pianist and composer Yan Pevzner. For the second part of this mini-suite, Pevzner chops up a samba into a few discreet compartments, with Moreno even applying an 11/8 metre in spots. These shifts provide the foundation for the pianist’s own jugular path, playing along the main harmony with Newsome with his right hand and the bass line with Wind with his left. Both fleet-footed and light on his feet, Pevzner steers across jagged terrain with dexterity and a great deal of confidence. His commanding solo seems like a walk in the park, by comparison.

“West South (Part 2)” is anything but that, but it is easy to appreciate.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Faith Gibson: Be A Man, Baby

Now we're talkin'! I love a sultry jazz tune as much as the next guy, but sometimes it's a joy to listen to a vocalist take a more direct and pragmatic route to pleasure. The song's protagonist is looking for a man who doesn't need to be babied. Or, in Gibson's words, “man enough to love a woman built for speed.”

She knows what she wants, and the music is equally no-nonsense. Saxophonist Gregoire Peters and guitarist Jo Gehlmann lay down a snappy unison riff as a retort to the leader's statements. Underneath all of this the rhythm section swings with grace and muscle.

Though Faith Gibson has plenty of chops, it's her attitude that drew me in. There's a sincerity in her voice that puts the ears at ease. She's the “jazz singer next door.” How this fits in with the “built for speed” thing is a topic for another review.

July 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Low Anthem: Music Box

This track comes from my favorite album of 2009 (Yes, we're only halfway through, but I swear that I'll sit through a week of smooth jazz if I change my mind). The Low Anthem are not a jazz group by any stretch of a wishful imagination but this short instrumental should open a few ears. Many of the group's songs contain elements of folk and gospel, turned out in an old-timey way that's infused with warmth.

“Music Box” begins with a simple and prayerful clarinet melody that is ghosted by ringing music box notes and distant otherworldly chords. Phrases are accented by bits of percussion that sound so far off, they might be coming from a different century. After a couple of slow turns through this theme, the music box is rewound.

The sonics here are so intimate and glowing that I almost felt compelled to write a short story about a working music box being discovered at bottom of a trunk full of civil war items. Timeless is the proper word.

July 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Facing East

“Facing East” is a jam-based song that runs through several phases, probing for that rare groove…rare in that it distinctly lacks rote-ness. Taborn’s electric piano lays down a soft bed over which Potter blurts out some opening sequences of exploratory phrases, before the group finally settles into an established rhythm. It’s here where one might first notice that Taborn is handling the bass duties on his Rhodes, a warm and unobtrusive undertow.

Exploiting the six chord sequence that emerged, Rogers takes charge with stinging, blues-rock guitar soloing. After Rogers roughs up all the smooth edges, Potter re-enters with bass clarinet in hand, playing skronky high notes in a manner that I’ve never heard the instrument being played before. Smith moves on to a funkier pulse and in a matter of seconds, Potter has switched back to tenor, playing it in a more groove-conscious manner than he did with that other horn. The proceedings eventually wind down to the same exploratory milieu as the beginning, like a plane that makes a landing to the same airport it took off from. Only these musicians flew by feel not sight, and still managed to make their destination in one piece. The ride is more fun this way.

July 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jack Teagarden (with Louis Armstrong): Stars Fell On Alabama

By 1946, when Jack Teagarden resurrected his career with Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars, “Stars Fell On Alabama” had long been entrenched in the trombonist's repertoire. It was one of many features for Teagarden during his tenure in the Armstrong group.

The tune begins with his highly decorated trombone style, skillfully implying the melody while showing off his virtuosic technique. Teagarden weaves lines together with note values that aren't quite eighths, triplets or sixteenths, creating rhythmic tension which he resolves precisely at the end of each phrase. In the next chorus, he sings the melody in his deep, relaxed baritone. Teagarden's understated vocal style is a stark contrast to his adroit trombone playing. His intonation is excellent, and his reading conveys the restrained, nostalgic joy of the song's lyrics.

Also of note on this recording is Armstrong's work as Teagarden's temporary sideman. Even though it's his gig, Armstrong keeps the audience focused on Jack for the whole song, only complimenting him with well-placed interjections. He even lets Teagarden lead the brief, energetic buildup into his last chorus of trombone melody. Armstrong's only big moment comes at the very end of the song, when he leads the charge out of Teagarden's vocal into the last chord, which Teagarden smoothly punctuates with one last arpeggio.

July 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Milton Nascimento: Ofetório

Quilombos were settlements by runaway Brazilian slaves and free-born natives of African origin. They first appeared in the first half of the sixteenth century, and the most famous group of quilombos, Palmares, lasted for almost a century as a self-sustaining political entity. Milton Nascimento celebrated the resilience and independence of these colonies in his mass Missa dos Quilombos, recorded in 1982. The combination of African-style percussion with liturgical singing is mesmerizing here—but this mixture eventually contributed to the work's prohibition by the Vatican, which had long battled against assimilation of Candomblé elements into Roman Catholic ritual. On this recording, however, Archbishop Hélder Câmara participates, and it is not hard to link Nascimento's composition with Câmara's liberation theology. The "Ofetório" is my favorite part of this vibrant work. The large chorus, which might weigh down a lesser rhythm section, makes the most of Nascimento's expansive melody. This piece is rarely heard yet, like Ellington's "Come Sunday," it is perfectly suited for a secularized and trimmed-down combo performance.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Harry Skoler: Piazzolla

Part of a sensitive, often poignant collection of ensemble and duo work featuring the all-too-often-ignored clarinet, this number could be the soundtrack for broken dreams. Without resorting to athletic displays of musical calisthenics, Harry Skoler uses his rich timbre to great effect, summoning bittersweet memories of intimate encounters from long ago. “Piazzolla” is more about the veneration than the virtuosity, as the individuals lose themselves in an evocative group improvisation.

Following Ed Saindon’s somber piano intro, the ensemble falls into a dusky tango with an intense broodiness suggesting the suppressed passion of tangoists in a clandestine embrace. Frequently the soloists seem to be carrying on a dialogue, but they never trip over each other’s phrasing, demonstrating a disciplined freedom and mutual respect.

Both the composition and the polished musicianship on this piece do sufficient justice to the legacy of Astor Piazzolla, Argentine’s innovative bandoneon player and composer. Hold your partner close for this dance.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tine Bruhn: Har Du Visor Min Vän

At first the voice deceives with its straightforward, unembellished delivery. But Tine Bruhn, a Danish-German transplant living in New York, soon reveals a vocal texture suggesting a cross between a soprano sax and a flugelhorn with a technique that utilizes uncanny space, economy and dynamics. Har Du Visor Min Vän (Swedish: “Do You Have Any Songs, My Friend”), begins with a strong but subtle intro by bassist Marco Panascia, opening into a wistful, airy 6/8 with nice interplay between Bruhn and the trio. Daniela Schächter, an award-winning young pianist from Italy with an impressive career of her own, builds a deep-in-the-pocket, satisfying solo over a delicate bass and drum framework. Bringing the tune home, Bruhn’s phrasing is nothing short of hypnotic.

Composer Bengt Ahlfors is one of the most prolific and versatile artistic forces in Scandinavia, having written 40 plays, published 7 books, and composed hundreds of songs, but he isn’t exactly a household name in the United States- and that’s a pity. This tune is a fine example of his vast talent and the perfect vehicle for Bruhn’s unique voice. “Don’t talk about music with me. Let the songs speak for you,” Ahlfors’ lyrics implore. Through Tine Bruhn’s crystal clear vocal timbre, they do.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sons Of Brazil: Bala Con Bala

As improbable as it may seem, there is a bona fide connection between these Kansas City players and the birthplace of the bossa nova and the samba. Guitarist Danny Embry used to play with Sergio Mendes; percussionist Doug Auwarter makes frequent trips to Brazil, where he performs and teaches. Those factors and the group’s obvious dedication to the unique rhythms, textures and dynamics that are hallmarks of Brazilian music should sufficiently dispel any reservation on the part of Latin music aficionados.

There is plenty of ear-pleasing solo work in this piece and an interesting opening dialogue between the piano and guitar- but the main attraction of this lively samba is the authentic feel and pulse, which should have you dancing navel-to-navel in a heartbeat. Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas, anymore.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Voyage

During this extraordinary 1987 Copenhagen concert, the man we have come to know as “The Sound” pauses to request that a particularly annoying television light be turned off the stage. As the light dims, someone makes an offstage quip about docking his fee. Getz pithily responds, “Bull____ you’ll lower my salary,” to the delight of his audience. That exchange didn’t make it onto the album, but the dazzling performance which followed fortunately did.

Kenny Barron’s harmonic minor hard bop masterpiece is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the intensity smoldering just below the surface of this legendary tenor man. At times Getz reaches into the lower octaves, pulling snarling, bearish phrases from the depths, throwing them in the air, suspending the lines in Edvard Munch-like screams; at other times he thinks, points and shoots, a musical marksman hitting his target every time. Given the near-perfection of this cut, you would think it was a studio take, but for the applause. Even now, it’s still amazing to remember that this was done live, under the intense heat of television crew lighting.

Getz’s body of work with Barron remains a paragon of pure energy and intuitivism and that synergy is evident here. The warm, deadly accurate support of Reid and Lewis help elevate this track to the status of must-have recording in any jazz lover’s library.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: I Can't Get Started

Stan Getz wasn’t exactly prolix, preferring to let his Selmer MarkVI do the talking for him. But on the occasions when he did speak, he revealed a dry, edgy wit. Paraphrasing a line from Tony Bennett’s signature tune, he tells the audience at the Montmarte Club, “I left my heart in Copenhagen,” eliciting a round of enthusiastic applause. Then he adds, “I said the same thing last night in Stockholm.” The Danes would forgive his teasing as he opened the next number with a languid, sultry intro, the bridge of “I Can’t Get Started,” setting up a hypnotic interpretation of the timeless ballad.

In this flawless performance the trio backs each note of his breathtaking solo with perfect understanding, the changes seemingly suspended in time and space as they transition seamlessly between twos and a relaxed walking swing. Then Getz demonstrates his generosity and respect by turning the rest of the number over to Kenny Barron, who delivers inspired, delicate piano effusions. The interconnectivity between Lewis, Reid and Barron comes close to telepathy, with punctuating bass and drums hanging on nearly every crystalline note, until a rubato ending gently settles the whole affair back on terra firma.

This is a prime example of why jazz should never lose its function as a live art. What you are hearing in this track is the spontaneous creation of a masterpiece by five highly evolved players. Yes, you heard right, five: one sax man, one pianist, one bassist, one drummer- and one living, breathing, appreciative audience. We must never forget the importance of this relationship.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jay Epstein: Imperial March

The lively samba’s intro ushers in the distinctive harmonic minor melody and you sense a bit of déjà vu- “where have I heard this before?” Then, images of a helmeted, heavy-breathing figure cloaked in black storms into your subconscious, as you realize the source. “Well, that’s a bit of a clench,” you may say with some justification; but these guys pull it off with finesse. A tight, free, well meshed piano trio is always gratifying to the ear and Epstein’s ensemble is all that. Bill Carrothers sounds a bit like Geoffrey Keezer gone over to the Dark Side, with well-defined phrases building the perfect amount of tension in the solo. Cox’s rhythmic support holds it together while Epstein’s independent kit work keeps the whole piece airborne without inappropriate percussive clutter. This satisfying interpretation slices through to the heart of a familiar, nay, culturally embedded theme, warping it into hyper-jazz drive with laser precision. Even Darth Vader would find its force hard to resist.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: Scrapple From The Apple

Recently reissued in a spanking fresh, restored digital recording, the inevitable summit meeting between the formidable tenor and bari sax masters has never sounded better. With a crack rhythm section hand-picked by Getz and Mulligan’s bold suggestion that they trade horns for some of the tunes, these Capitol sessions produced moments of brilliance. Though “Scrapple” didn’t make the original release due to time constraints, it was clearly one of those moments.

Happily, on Charlie Parker’s up-tempo bebop anthem Getz and Mulligan are back on their principal instruments in a lively, flowing dialogue in which they seem to complete each other’s musical sentences, two leading proponents of the West Coast cool movement speaking fluent bopish with the intensity of a 52ndbn Street cutting contest on a Saturday night.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: One and One

Sometimes it's hard to judge the music of Miles Davis after Bitches Brew. On one hand, Davis pioneered the electric sound and passed the torch on to dozens of other musicians but on the other hand, how many eight minute funk jams can be crammed onto one LP? I often take this approach when trying to dissect the music found within On the Corner. I really like the Indian influence of Badal Roy but much of the music gets stale because there's not as much exploration as there was on Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way . Explorations aside, I think Miles had simply fallen to far into drugs by this time to truly keep pushing the musical envelope like he had decades before.

I definitely like the groove on this song and particularly dig the playing of Carlos Garnett but maybe Davis should have looked in the mirror before recording On the Corner and he might have found that his formula had become redundant. I'll always vouch for Miles and his electric music and if you liked the stuff from 1969 and 1970, give this is a listen. It's still interesting regardless.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Country Son

Opening up with a slow but rewarding introduction, Miles Davis sounds like 1950s Miles Davis on this track. At first listen the tune sounds slow but then Williams, Carter and Hancock start playing a little funk groove with heavy drum rumbles and striking piano harmonies. Many of the songs off of this album point in the direction that Davis wanted to go in with his electric period but I still love to hear him swing. After two minutes into the song, the rhythm section begins to swing behind Davis, which they often did behind his playing and he accelerates swiftly. The warmness exhibited in Davis's tone is highly evident on this song and this is the reason I fell in love with his playing in the first place.

As Wayne Shorter begins his solo the band starts to open some moving into more free areas of improvisation but they return to the original funky form when Hancock plays a solid, blues inspired solo. This is a quality track from one of Davis's strongest bands. Highly recommended.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Paraphernalia

Here we go, here we go. The album Miles in the Sky was one of the last Davis albums to use an acoustic line-up. Except for the track "Stuff," on which Ron Carter plays electric bass and Herbie Hancock plays electric piano, this album is chalked full of superior swing and excellent solos. The classic quintet is joined on this song by guitar virtuoso George Benson. Unfortunately this is his lone appearance on the album but he does a nice job. Although he doesn't show why he went on to become the pop, powerhouse superstar of the late 1970s and 1980s, he still plays a nice little solo. Tony Williams also contributes a precise drum beat, accenting wonderfully behind both Davis and Shorter. Shorter's fingerprints are all over the melody and harmonic form of this song, employing dark overtones and a relatively open form, which give the soloists more room to explore the music.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Menina Moca

“Menina Moca” (Young Lady) is a warm, semi-sweet samba confection recorded during the crest of the Brazilian jazz wave. In these sessions with the late guitarist Laurindo Almeida, Stan Getz takes it back to the roots.

As heady and substantive as the solo work is on this track, virtuosity is nearly upstaged by the ensemble’s raw, earthy rhythm, one of the many delights of this collaboration. But make no mistake, Getz rises above it all with finely crafted, husky tenor lines woven over Almeida’s raw, slightly out-of –tune acoustic guitar work and the ensemble’s deceptively subtle percussion. The result is a tantalizing juxtaposition of urban sophistication and near-endemic naturalism which works far better than many of the more commercially appealing efforts released at the height of the bossa and samba craze. If your library was somehow limited to just one Brazilian jazz album from this period, you couldn’t go wrong with this unpolished, precious gem.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Maria Neckam & Mika Pohjola: Wenn es dunkel wird

It is perhaps appropriate that this stark, minimalist endeavor hovering somewhere in the musical ether among third stream, fusion and impressionism, would reside exclusively in cyberspace. Das Wörterbuch, a collaboration between Austrian expatriate singer-composer Maria Neckam and acclaimed Finnish pianist Mika Pohjola, is available only in digital download format- a growing trend which makes musical experimentation more economically feasible but is still somewhat in the awkward “early adapter” stage.

Maria Neckam has never played it safe, especially with her writing and her vocal interpretations, but with Das Wörterbuch this New York-based artist is really flying without a net. She has found the perfect improvisational partner in Pohjola, whose earlier piano-vocalist duo outings included Sophie Duner, Lina Nyberg and Jill Walsh. With fearless abandon, Neckam and Pohjola roam freely through a series of spontaneous, contemplative modal sketches, occasionally coloring completely outside the lines. Not for the uninitiated, but definitely worth a listen.

Neckam’s composition, “Wenn es dunkel wird” (roughly translated, “When it gets dark”) is compelling, taking the listener across a mind-field of introspective rumination. With a bit more structure than some of the other tracks on this release, it is a reasonable jumping-off point for those who are just sticking their big toes into the chilly waters of the avant-garde; to an open mind already swimming in its currents, the Weillian imagery of this piece opens into a dreamy, existential garden shrouded in the encroaching fog of twilight.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Absolutions

In early 1970 Morgan was on the wrong end of an altercation with a pipe-wielding assailant, taking a blow directly to the face. Painful, loosened teeth were wired together with braces, forcing Morgan to reconstruct his embouchure and rebuild his strength and endurance. Ironically, this arduous process coincided with a dramatic change in the sound of Morgan’s working group. Spearheaded by the addition of reedman/composer Bennie Maupin, Morgan’s quintet opened up, exuding a new adventurousness and exoticism in its long-form modal structures. The seasoned trumpeter explored these new compositions in marathon, often introverted improvisations, less flamboyant than in his gregarious youth. On “Absolutions,” following a cathartic, searching statement by Maupin, Morgan enters meditatively, sustaining long notes and carefully developing his ideas at a deliberate pace before erupting with more familiar explosiveness near the 7:52 mark. The rhythm section—Mabern’s grounding, full-bodied fourth chords, Roker’s polyrhythmic triplets, and supple, active bass from the composer Jymie Merritt—creates a dense and sinister soundscape that reaches a sustained, violent peak behind the leader. Morgan is potent and focused, determinedly battling his career-threatening injury. He would go on to make only a few more recordings before his life came to its tragic end, making the epic three-disc Live at the Lighthouse all the more precious.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Mr. Johnson

Though not a prolific composer, pianist Harold Mabern has written his share of outstanding tunes, and his brooding minor-key waltz “Mr. Johnson” is a tour de force that could’ve—no, should’ve—become a jazz standard. A mostly forgotten track from an ill-fated session of obscurities and uneven performances, “Mr. Johnson” finds everyone in exceptional form. After the ensemble charges through the loping melody, George Coleman wrestles his way above Mabern’s forceful, Tyner-like chords, soaring and squealing his way into Coltrane-like ecstasy. The dominating influence of Trane’s quartet is deeply infused at the core of this track.

Morgan’s solo is a special one. Beginning with a small two-note idea, he methodically elongates his motive, slowly building momentum as he inches forward and upward. At the bridge, in typical Morgan fashion, he contrasts his punchiness on the ‘A’ sections with a linear approach, melodically leading back into a continued motivic development that consumes his second chorus as well. Morgan battled occasional chop issues at this point in his career, but at this session his high-range was crystal clear and he showcased it; his high notes ring magnificently as the group nearly bursts at its seams with tension.

Eschewing his myriad licks and tricks, Morgan breaks out of his comfort zone on “Mr. Johnson”; this is true, organic, unfiltered improvisation, replete with a sense of discovery and surprise in every note.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Frank Zappa: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

Although Frank Zappa is known for his acerbic comments about jazz, it’s interesting to note that when he made his very first excursion into a legitimate recording studio, the result was a piece of bona-fide jazz. And, at only 3’51”, it’s a little gem. This is the original, instrumental version of a song that later appeared on the album We’re Only In It For The Money: here it appears as a sprightly bossa nova, a year before Stan Getz made the form popular. Zappa assembled a group of musicians who were unknown at this time, but, nevertheless, they acquit themselves well. Trumpeter Chuck Foster makes a clean, arresting statement which reveals the influences of Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham, while altoist Tony Rodriquenz is excitingly reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods. Danny Helferin’s piano style is somewhat like that of Jack Wilson, his West Coast contemporary, and Frank Zappa’s rhythm playing is perfect for the music, which fits right in with other jazz that was happening on the West Coast in the early 1960s: funky, soulful music played by people like Les McCann, Curtis Amy and the Jazz Crusaders. This track plays a significant but little-recognized part in Zappa’s oeuvre, and points the way to later jazz influences in his work.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Larry Young (with Lee Morgan): Trip Merchant

Though Lee Morgan didn’t incorporate elements of the avant-garde in his own groups until late in his career, his resourceful and multi-faceted playing earned him sideman slots on such adventurous records as Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution (1963), Andrew Hill’s Grass Roots (1968), and Mother Ship, by the iconoclastic organist Larry Young. With loose rhythm and minimal blues inflections, Morgan’s solo on Young’s “Trip Merchant” strays far from the “in-the-pocket” playing that defined his improvisations throughout his career. This just might be as “out” as he would ever get.

After a spacey, explorative solo by the leader, Morgan begins contemplatively, ruminating on the pentatonic scale over Young’s pedal bass footwork. He is swept higher and higher on the organist’s tornado-like chords, intensifying and extending his half-step motive into a cathartic, shrieking trill. A chromatic descent preludes Morgan’s examination of the open nature of Young’s sustained chords, utilizing an uncharacteristic amount of dissonance before returning to pentatonics to close out his exhausting solo. Young’s playing is stimulating and drummer Eddie Gladden’s cymbal texturing and communicable energy is notable throughout. An exciting and important solo in his vast discography, “Trip Merchant” shows Morgan developing a new dimension in his playing that would unfortunately never become fully realized.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson (with Lee Morgan): Caribbean Fire Dance

Joe Henderson added his hard-nosed tenor stylings to The Sidewinder (1963) and The Rumproller (1965) so Morgan graciously returned the favor in 1966 by joining the tenorman on his fantastic Mode for Joe. Surrounded by a who’s who of Blue Note superstars, Morgan stands out with a performance that characterizes his mid-1960s playing: daring and bold but imperfect, yet unrelenting in energy and determination.

Composer Cedar Walton’s Latin-tinged ostinato pattern and Hutcherson’s sporadic chime-like octaves give “Caribbean Fire Dance” an anxious, unresolved feeling which the soloists exploit in unique ways, creating a haunting and increasingly tense listening experience. Though Morgan sounds fatigued from the tune’s downbeat, he summons up his chops and courageously puts it all on the line in his solo. He immediately shoots into his upper register, his crackling, spreading tone sounds on the brink of bursting into flames. Exposed, audacious, and brutally raw, the first 16-bars of his improvisation are some of the most thrilling and suspenseful Morgan ever waxed. He returns from the stratosphere on the bridge, moving self-consciously up and down a whole-tone scale. Morgan toys with rhythmic ideas that recall the staccato seesawing nature of the melody during his second chorus, before a more convincing use of the whole-tone scale on his second bridge. Morgan combines all of the distinct elements of his style in this solo—his daredevil power and range, complex rhythmic and harmonic eccentricities, built on top of a bedrock of blues.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Ceora

While “The Sidewinder” may have been his biggest hit, “Ceora” is Lee Morgan’s most enduring contribution to the jazz canon. By 1965 Morgan had built a reputation as a fiery trumpeter with a style that was half flash and half funk, so the lovely, balladic “Ceora” was an unlikely centerpiece on Cornbread—a hard grooving album of heavy hitters like the title track. Whatever “Ceora” lacks in explicit passion is made up for with its transcendent beauty, which begins immediately on beat one of Hancock’s pristine intro, setting the mood with exactly sixty seconds of pure, understated bliss. With its syncopation and intervallic jumps, Morgan and Mobley’s melody is deceptively restless but Hancock’s splendid comping and Higgins’ gentle brushwork and soothing bossa groove smooth down its spiked edges. Morgan retains the edginess in his improvisation—heavily accented and articulated with grace notes and a defiant tug-of-war with the time—but his charming lyricism makes this one of his most singable solos. Essential 1960s jazz.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Trapped

When paired together in a frontline, Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan never disappointed. Shorter’s compositions consistently lured the best out of Morgan and the cookin’ 16-bar “Trapped” is no exception. Supported by the insistent but always tasteful prodding of his favorite drummer, Billy Higgins, Morgan’s solo is one of his boldest from the mid-1960s. At this point in his career he rarely exploited his high-range so heavily and the results here are staggering—an incredible exhibition of technical virtuosity, stamina, intensity and searing power.

Countless numbers of Morgan’s tracks conclude with the trumpeter trading with one or more of his bandmates, and honestly, it never ever gets old. Morgan and Shorter, at the time partnered in the Jazz Messengers, return after Mabern’s piano solo to display a communicative interplay so complementary and seamless their lines sound like they must have originated in a shared brain. It’s freakish.

Could Morgan’s overtly inspired playing on the dubiously titled “Trapped” hint at a frustration with Blue Note’s commercial aspirations in the post-“Sidewinder” era? Did the pressure to churn out another jukebox hit hold him back? These are questions for another forum. Regardless, the trumpeter’s playing here is ferocious and some of his finest on record.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andy Sheppard: Nave Nave Moe

ECM Records has long established a reputation for being a home for airy, almost new age jazz, and “Nave Nave Moe” won’t do anything to dispel that notion. That’s no criticism at all, because there is much to enjoy and appreciate in all the subtle ways Sheppard and his ensemble has framed this song.

Aarset’s sleek electronic backwash is all your hear at first, but even then it’s unobtrusive. It exists in part to put forth a distinctive chord pattern upon which Sheppard constructs relaxed and convivial melodies. Parricelli’s acoustic guitar eventually undertakes that task from Aarset, as Aarset emerges with a stark electric guitar that resembles a pedal steel guitar, giving the song a slight country flavor. In the middle of it all is Bharma. His circular Indian percussion pops with joy and the tonality of his tabla even matches the key that the song is played in. Sheppard plays gently and freely throughout this international groove, inserting notes wherever they are needed, and avoiding spots where they are not.

“Nave Nave Moe” is one of those world fusion tunes that sounds like it’s truly from many parts of the world, but thanks to exceptional group interplay, the whole exceeds the sum of all its divergent parts.

July 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: Song of Praise

For his John Coltrane tribute album Mostly Coltrane, Kuhn primarily chose songs that are optimal vehicles for group interplay, a Coltrane Quartet hallmark. The relatively little-known but deeply spiritual “Song Of Praise” exemplifies that trait. Kuhn’s highly elongated phrases cast the appropriate, meditative mood. As he solos, he conserves his power for the peak of some well-conceived crescendos, revealing the classical traits of his early training. Part of Lovano’s artistry lies not in his unique tenor voice, but his unmatched ability to adapt his voice optimally to any given setting. In contrast to, say, his highly punctuated playing on his own Folk Art album, here he puts in very liquid lines. When he improvises, Kuhn all but lays out, leaving Lovano to create while remaining tethered to the melody. Joe delivers without breaking a sweat.

However, it’s Baron who is the biggest star of this show. He propulses this song into a wide orbit with shimmering cymbals, subtle fills, well-timed rumbles and bombs. And he does this without sounding much at all like Elvin Jones, perhaps because his tonality is brighter and his touch a tad lighter. Kuhn was briefly Coltrane’s pianist at the beginning of the saxophone legend’s solo career, but the sensitive reading of “Song Of Praise” he provides to one of his old boss’s later songs proves that he’s no less aware of the character of the music that came after his early time in that band.

July 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lionel Loueke (featuring Herbie Hancock): La Poursuite du Lion

Loueke is joined by piano master Herbie Hancock on this song. The duo play back and forth between each other with Hancock dominating the sonic spectrum of the song with low bass thuds and high register melodic runs. Towards the end of the song Loueke sings his solo, which is very chromatic and sounds very interesting when Hancock initiates some call and response with him. Although I really like Loueke and Hancock better together on River: The Joni Letters and Karibu, this is still a fantastic three minutes of interaction from one of the best to have ever done it and one of the most promising talents of the future. Go out and get this disc if you liked Loueke's Blue Note debut. You will be very surprised at the subtleties heard on this album and more importantly the rich sounds heard when jazz is mixed up with West African styles. Salud!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lionel Loueke: Vivi

Coming two years before his Blue Note debut album Karibu, this album finds Loueke in much more subdued territory than his later releases. On this particular song, Loueke is joined by vocalist Gretchen Parlato, whose voice works really well for this Brazilian sounding song. Loueke's voice blends well with Parlato's voice. It would be nice to hear a whole album from just the two of them. I am not sure who is playing percussion behind Loueke but it's a nice addition, giving the track some much needed flare. Loueke plays some nice chordal shapes half way through the song before the vocals set back in.

Overall, it's not like this style of music hasn't been done but Loueke and Parlato do it complete justice with their vocals, which are perfect for the South American tinge found on this song.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Moon Ruler

On this drum and bass inspired song, E.J. Strickland holds it down for everyone involved. Marcus opens up the song with a simple melody, which is then doubled up by bassist Brad Jones. After the drum and bass theme, the band kicks back into a nice funk groove, where Brad Jones sounds a little like Paul Jackson of Headhunters fame. Lund throws on the effects during the funk part adding the last ingredient. Marcus really excels when he plays in the upper register of the tenor and this tune is a perfect example. Lund follows Strickland with yet another deep, interesting solo. His playing on the second disc of this album really does it for me. He really elevates when its his turn to solo. This track showcases some great playing from everyone involved. Pour one out for this highly slept on group of players.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Majesty

Marcus Strickland has emerged over the last eight years as one of the freshest saxophonists on the scene. Calling New York his home since coming from Miami to attend New School in the late 1990s, Strickland recorded this double disc offering Twi-Life over the course of 2005 and 2006. The first disc featured Robert Glasper on piano and Vicente Archer on bass with E.J. Strickland playing drums on both discs. This tune opens up with a happy melody aided heavily by E.J.'s great playing. I like hearing Marcus with a guitarist, I think it sounds just as good as his playing with the piano-led rhythm section on the first disc.

Lage Lund follows Marcus's solo with a nasty solo of his own. His tone is very warm and clean, making the solo that much more inviting. Without Marcus, this band sounds like a crazy Pat Metheny trio, nice all around. I highly recommend this album!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Robert Glasper: Silly Rabbit

From the first listen, I wondered how much of this song was actually composed because the performance feels very free in nature. Towards the middle portion of the song I can tell what parts were composed though. For his second album, Glasper is joined again by Archer and Reid, who performed on his Blue Note debut album Canvas. Glasper plays much more freer on this song than others from the album, employing a series of octave inspired lines that sound like something you would associate with a silly rabbit.

Glasper sounds very comfortable with Archer and Reid as his bandmates. I really enjoy the way the three of them interact and it's always a surprise when you listen to anything Glasper does because he's usually willing to take chances.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Robert Glasper: Jelly's Da Beaner

On his major label debut for Blue Note Records, the then 27 year old Robert Glasper was an up and coming star in the jazz world. Having played with Christian McBride and Cassandra Wilson, Glasper's chops and playing were already fully developed by the time he recorded this album in early 2005. Joined by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reed, the trio run laps around this light, swinging Latin song. Glasper is one of my favorite piano players out right now and there are several reasons why. First, his melodic explorations always leave me on the edge of my seat and secondly he is very good at mixing the styles of Herbie Hancock and others while combining them with his own personal style.

Damion Reid plays a nice drum solo later in the song over a solid ostinato figure played by Glasper and Archer. It remains to be seen where Glasper will be in ten years but I have a feeling he'll be exactly where he wants to be. Composing and playing jazz music with just as much passion and flavor as he brings to hip-hop and R&B. Go buy this CD if you don't already own it.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: I Remember Clifford

The heartbreaking death of Clifford Brown devastated the jazz community in 1956. Admired not only for his extraordinary trumpeting but also for his clean-living gentlemanliness, if there was ever a musician who deserved to be honored with an elegy this beautiful, it was Brownie. Benny Golson tapped 18-year-old Philadelphian trumpet sensation Lee Morgan to unveil his composition, passing the torch from the great master to one of his most gifted disciples.

No frills are necessary with Golson’s immaculate melody and the normally hurried and excitable young Morgan adheres closely to it, expressive and melancholic while recalling his mentor with a velvety sound and warm vibrato. Though his improvisation exudes a lighter, bouncier spirit, it is infused with a loving reverence, capturing both the tender and playful sides of the young trumpeter’s playing. Golson has said, “I wanted to create a melody that the public would remember and associate it with [Brown].” He did just that; with the help of Morgan, “I Remember Clifford” remains one of the most touching and enduring ballads in the annals of jazz.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes

Say what you want about Wynton Marsalis the person but Wynton Marsalis the trumpeter, especially during the 1980s, played with an assurance that I've hardly ever heard from any player since. On his 1985 album Black Codes (From the Underground), Marsalis was still playing with brother Branford and Jeff "Tain" before they left to join Sting's band and the energy level is high as ever on the title track. Opening with sharp hits from the master Kenny Kirkland, the band evokes the sounds of old with great swing. I really like how Tain brings the band back and forth between hip-hop groove and swing. The melody is also interesting on this song, it's very angular and disjointed but also pleasurable on the ear.

Wynton plays a rivoting solo, full of squeaks and wonderful nuance. The most driving part of this band was always the thunderous power of Jeff "Tain" Watts, who could make anyone sound good. This track is a strong testament to the legacy of Wynton's music. Even though he manages to drive a lot of people crazy, I think we should focus on the music and then we might have less to say about him as a person. A great track from one of the most celebrated quintets of the last forty years. Cheers!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dutch Jazz Orchestra: Easy Living Medley (Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams)

For my last choice I'm going to offer something that 99% of you will not have heard, because it seems not to have been recorded until recently. To have a new work by Gil emerge out of the ether is to be bestowed with a gift more valuable than gold. Here is one such magical gift. In the liner notes of this album, they say he was experimenting with a new band that he'd only rehearsed. The instrumentation of this work consists of 3 flutes, 5 reeds, 2 French horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, guitar, piano, bass and drums. It seems far more likely that this is actually something from the Claude Thornhill band collection that was never recorded, or for which the tapes were lost. This piece has the precise instrumentation of “The Troubadour” and several other of Gil's arrangements that Thornhill recorded in the same period (1946-1947). That offers a big clue. Never mind, though—the point is, it's gorgeous. Of course, we all know “Moon Dreams” from Birth of the Cool, but here it is in even fuller orchestration. And clearly, then, the nonet version was a paring-down of this much more orchestral version written probably around three years before Birth of the Cool. This medley exhibits every characteristic that I've talked of until now: the exquisite inner melodies, the airy tuba parts, the delicate details that dovetail into each other moving from color to color in the orchestra. Just sit back, shut your eyes, and bathe in the sheer gorgeousness of this long-lost Gil Evans treasure.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Up From the Skies

It is a must to pick one of the pieces that Gil played regularly at Sweet Basil's jazz club in Manhattan with the last band he had. This was always my favorite. It's sonic fun! Who else on the planet could find a way to voice out a Hendrix tune and make it so completely hip, and retain something of the gutsiness that Hendrix had in his sound? Only Gil. I love where the bass clarinet lies in the voicings in relationship to the melody. There's grit and ease at the same time. It's just deliciously left of center. I love the spirit of the band and how they offer variation and nuance to the tune with the synthesizers and guitar. It's so joyful. I got to see a sketch of this, and was shocked when I noticed that in harmonizing this melody Gil employed a technique very familiar to young arrangers called "drop-2." We all tend to think of this technique as formulaic and non-creative. It's the sound you'd hear in just about every sax soli in big band music. How Gil made it sound so fresh here is a mystery. Is it the character of the melody coupled with the way Gil tweaked the harmony within drop-2? I need more time to understand this myself. There's even a story (I hope I have this right!) that Gerry Mulligan used to tell, where Gil came running up to him in utter amazement and enthusiasm about his new discovery about Duke Ellington. It was the last thing Gerry expected to hear when Gil exclaimed, "He uses DROP-2!!!!!" Or was it Gerry who told Gil? I can't remember, but it was me screaming the same thing last week. "Gil used drop-2!!!!" Bask in the joy of this cut.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Zee Zee

It's hard for me to decide which song to take from Svengali. This album shook my world in about 1982, when I heard it for the first time. The whole thing has such a mystery to it. It was while listening to “Zee Zee” that I saw myself one day working with Gil. At the time, seeing that in my mind didn't register as any true reality that would come to be, but, bizarrely and by sheer coincidence, it became reality. The piece is largely about atmosphere. The musical idea is simple. All the chords are moving chromatically in parallel motion and the bass simply passes from a minor I to a minor IV chord. There are chimes moving in the same pattern. To me, it recalls the wind, but the wind in a dark, brewing storm, the kind that blows through the window, shakes the shutter and turns the air green. Perhaps you have to come from tornado country to relate to that, but that's where it takes me, and it's interesting that the last sound is the sound of wind. I just love the essence of this. And I love that it's all played out of time. Everyone just breathes and sighs the figure in tandem as Hannibal Marvin Peterson slowly builds in intensity and finally just wails over it. This piece is a total distillation of Gil to the most extreme: the type of harmony, the quirky intervals, the colors, the linearity, attention to the soloist, and, above all, the attention to evoking something that, once again, goes beyond music. How can something that is so spare compositionally and with so much free improvisation still be so completely and utterly Gil?

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: The Barbara Song

When I first heard this arrangement, I was immediately in love with it. I thought of it as a "Gil piece," not an arrangement of something. One day, it occurred to me to check out Kurt Weill's original version. And there it was, the whole long and developed melodic contour that I was familiar with. Gil had simply laid it out, but he did it in such a way that made it feel improvised and continually evolving. The character Gil created was so completely different than that of Weill's original song, that I would have never guessed Weill's song had this lyric: "No you don't just smile and pull your panties down when you have the chance of saying no." Through the melody, Gil heard profound depth, and spun his own universe out of it. If you don't know these pieces, I recommend first listening to Gil's and then purchasing the original from the original cast album on iTunes. You'll hear how Gil's lines are just Weill's original melody, but wrung out at a slow, searing tempo. But then there's so much more to it.

How does Gil manage simply to take such a melody and make it entirely his? Well, here it starts with the combination of brushes, harp and bass flute, followed soon thereafter by a double reed, creating a combination of colors that few others would have used. Then there's the atmospheric texture of the rolling bass flute, and Gil's signature feeling of time and no-time all at once. (Gil is adept at creating a feel of imprecision by using very precise notation–an effect that no one I know can match.)

Also note Gil's gestures on piano that are as personal as a fingerprint. You'll also hear that ever-present tuba. The muted horn stab at 1:32 could only be his. But my favorite part starts at 2:10. He does a run-up to a high sonority, a sonority that then slowly shifts and descends like a long, slow exhale. In this passage, you'll hear the melody on top, and inside, a wonderful, slow, descending mostly-chromatic line that, when it stops descending, continues to hold its final note for another 20 seconds until we reach another similar passage. The line writing as this passage descends is beyond spectacular. No one can make “slow” more compelling than Gil, and he does it all with lines. At 3:21 the melody is voiced in a stark way which has the odd interval of the minor-ninth, an interval that's also evident in much of Gil's piano accompaniment here. That dissonant minor-ninth is a “no-no” in many arranging classes, but Gil built a world on that interval.

When Gil introduces Wayne Shorter's tenor solo we're already over five minutes into the piece, and that in itself is unique in the world of jazz arranging. Wayne plays gracefully over the low pyramids, and gesturally behind a crying flute and bassoon as they sing in unison double-octaves. This man finds endless colors in infinite combinations. The whole piece just weeps with beauty. I give this 500 points out of 100. It breaks through the roof of any point rating, because this is music that goes way beyond music.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Stratusphunk

I remember when I first heard this album during college. It had a huge effect on me. I loved the angularity, the humor, the sheer craziness of it. For starters, it likely influenced my conception of what a great bass trombone should sound like. Listen to Tony Studd play the opening melody as he plays alone with only the drums playing brushes. Technically it's a blues, but it takes a while before you realize that. One already knows from the intro that this piece is going to go to some pretty far-reaching places when you hear that big, high brass pyramid right off the bat. And what a great sound from the slap-tongued statement of the melody at 0:37 (apparently something conceived at the recording session). The bass trombone continues for a little bit before making a perfect decrescendo that melds right into the walking bass as he passes the baton. I love that Gil staggered these entrances and exits. It makes it wonderfully organic. The pitches of the melody become clearer as a few horns enter with edgy "color." Tony Studd comes back, and the wildness ensues as the two tenor trombones play bizarrely and harmonically ungrounded notes in the middle range between the bass trombone and the melody. There's a lot of character here, but one becomes really confused as to where they are in terms of key, form or pretty much everything else. It's quirky fun, and one relishes being lost.

The sudden full-shout ensemble (1:53–2:06) starts to ground us harmonically, rhythmically and phrase-wise to a more conventional place, and releases us in a very contrasting, sudden and humorous way to a blues guitar solo by Ray Crawford. At 3:33, Gil enters on piano for the first time with his quirky and personal way of comping. He's the perfect pianist for his own music. The trombones now play a riff similar to what Gil just played, and he starts to answer them. The guitar is still going as layers are added. At 4:24, more instruments enter the ensemble, which starts to move into a wild direction harmonically. It almost sounds like we're going to head into a new solo, maybe even a new key, but then it becomes clear that Gil is just playing with us as he brings us back down again to the understated guitar solo. At 4:50, a similar ensemble passage comes in, but much bigger, more intense and dissonant, wonderfully sloppy, and with a low, especially sloppy blast on the end. Then we're off a cliff again to a trumpet solo by Johnny Coles. He's one of my favorite soloists used by Gil on his music. These contrasts are off-the-scale! Soon we shift to the entire ensemble playing the tune in a thick mess of almost indecipherable harmony while the bass trombone is back on the bottom walking with the bass! I love Gil's little tremolo behind it all. This is sumptuous, fun music.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Stratusphunk

Gil Evans and George Russell first paced together in Birth of the Cool's modernity ward—the late-1940s salon in Gil's unheated, one-room, Manhattan basement apartment behind a Chinese laundry. Even then they were forward-thinkers. No surprise that they should figure in this early masterwork of Space Age Jazz. "Stratusphunk" is a blues with a walking bass that Evans ingeniously assigns to bass trombone, gradually leading to a slap-tongued saxophone theme (where the instruments are audibly fingered and tongued but not blown) that's as spacey as the electronic music in Hollywood's sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956). And Gil didn't need a roomful of overwrought oscillators!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Once Upon A Summertime

Quiet Nights was a record that neither Miles or Gil wanted to have come out. And in a way, I understand that, as it doesn't have a cohesive whole that even comes close to matching their other collaborations. But, that being said, there are some absolutely gorgeous things on this album—and again, it's just so hard to pick one cut. But I have to say, this one I've chosen KILLS me! It begins with a fluttering harp along with the woodwinds. How about that sudden cup mute zinger chord at 0:17? It's just SO Gil. After that, the chords simply hover almost motionless when Miles comes in so gorgeously on the melody. You can hear the lyrics in every note of his playing! The harp fluttering keeps just a little motion passing through the air, as does the slowly descending line in the inner ensemble. That descent creates a powerful feeling of yearning as it presses against the slow passing of time. Everything really feels as if it's hovering in the air, keeping us almost holding our breath in waiting, not only because of the harp, hovering chords and descending line, but also because there's no bass grounding us yet. Only at 0:52, when the bass begins playing pizzicato, do we start to get more settled. How did Gil manage to foresee and coordinate all these layers that create such a deep, deep expression? Did he know what he was doing? How I wish I knew then what I know now. How many questions I would ask! Ha, and Gil probably would have run out of the room!

OK, going on: Listen to the lovely tuba and bass clarinet with the bass at 1:04—what laziness and beauty! Another absolutely magical moment is the perfectly executed harp ritard at 1:21 that sets us into an even slower waltz tempo. Oh dear, now my heart is really aching. The inner lines in the bassoon at 1:35 to 1:50 are so compelling. 1:58 is just searing! Check out to those high voicings moving in parallel motion! Wow. And how did he think to suddenly bring in such high trumpets? What a brave move! Then there's the shift he makes in the sonic universe at 2:07. This is genius! And how great they played it! Listen to the inner descent at 2:30. Now at 2:47 you'll hear the intro recalled. What was in the woodwinds on the intro is now in the French horns, also with the harp fluttering as before. If this piece doesn't doesn't send you to heaven, then I can't help you.

Looking back to 1988, I'm recalling the time when on the phone Gil asked me to come over and discuss my music. It was not long before he died. Well, we never got the chance for that. It's been one of the regrets in my life. Listening to this and all of the pieces I'm analyzing, I have to say, I'm getting getting my chance now, because just about any lesson to be learned about music of any kind—and certainly mine included—is here.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)

This is arguably the finest of Gil's and Miles' collaborations. There are countless details one could highlight, but I would like to touch on two particular points about this piece. It will be more deeply appreciated if you first take the opportunity to listen to the original guitar concerto as composed by Rodrigo. A comparison will illuminate Gil's unique gifts in writing all parts in a linear fashion. It's most notable that he manages to do this even in the bass line. The bass is never just relegated to playing roots, but rather lines—rich melodic lines. If you listen to the tuba line in the beginning, you'll catch one of these lines right from the start. And if you listen to the bottom parts throughout this work, you'll see that part of the translucence that Gil generally gets in his music is from freeing up the bottom and putting air in these low parts. Such attention to line-writing permeates every layer and can be heard throughout this piece. The amount of counterpoint exceeds the original by leaps and bounds. If you listen to both versions back to back, this will be very obvious without me pointing out a thing to you. This piece takes what Gil achieved in “The Troubador” (1947) to a whole other level. The path was certainly well laid in his work with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

Gil once expressed to me that the thing that most inspired him about Miles was his sound. This piece perfectly illustrates how beautifully he sets up Miles. Listen to the opening: lines are perpetually moving, the harp undulating in high register, and the castanets fluttering. But the moment Miles enters, sonorities suddenly freeze, motionless—all lines, all undulation, all fluttering stop. This sudden vacuum brings us to focus purely on Miles' horn. It's a stunning moment. It's long been my suspicion that the castanets were supposed to stop a couple of seconds earlier than you'll hear on your recording. And sure enough, if you listen to the out-take on the boxed set, they stop the moment Miles enters, as was most certainly intended. You'll hear many other moments in this piece that showcase Miles in a similarly stunning way.

One of my favorite places in this piece comes at 5:44. I love the low flutes with wide vibrato that play and hesitate (there's a bassoon, French horn and harp voiced in those chords too, with an almost inaudible timpani in the background giving the slightest hint of motion). It's a very rubato (without strict time) section. I love how Gil utilizes Miles’ lowest range on the instrument. It's utterly haunting. There's a wonderful shift of color to brightness when Miles goes to Harmon mute, with cup-muted trumpets and flutes voiced behind him (9:30) giving a tangy sound. When the French horns enter at 10:11, they sound so warm by contrast as they play in sonorous parallel moving triads. That kind of harmonic movement is one way Gil gets the smooth sound that we've come to associate with him. The subtle moan in their parts is so expressive (10:28). Now the cup-muted trumpets, harp and flute all take over before you hear descending lines that slow us down. Here, Gil starts to set up anticipation for the large ensemble passage that will soon become the climax of the entire piece. He leads up to it using parallel triadic French horns again, voiced with flutes and harp. There's a counterline in the bassoon, a wonderful color to be appreciated throughout this piece. The castanets are going along throughout, helping the build. At 12:46 the tambourine color enters, and we are overwhelmed by a wonderful full-ensemble orchestration of the main theme. You'll hear moments of parallel and then contrary motion. I particularly love 13:26, where you can especially catch the essence of the parallel triadic motion in all parts. Listen to the French horns inside the ensemble. That lead note reaches the very top of the instrument range in the lead French horn at 13:36, and it just soars! And the triadic 16-notes at 13:46 are just so exciting. Conducting this section and hearing it surround you in live concert is a trip. Every hair stands on end.

This is followed up by all sorts of detailed, muted, impressionistic "color" accompanying very low lines in the tuba and bass. It comes down to such spareness and fragility with just a lone tuba, harp and bass behind Miles at 15:32. I love the passing of lines from the bassoon, to the Harmon trumpet, and finally to Miles at the very end. Whew!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Bess, Oh, Where Is My Bess?

How does one pick a favorite piece from Gil's and Miles' Porgy and Bess album? Tough to do. I've chosen this piece because it so perfectly illustrates another unique aspect of Gil's writing. Sometimes when I listen to Gil, I get a spontaneous visualization of the inside of a watch: the perfection, the detail, all the little parts at work; nothing is there that doesn't contribute to the flow of movement and the perfect passing of time. Every gear attaches and locks another into motion. If you listen to this piece, you can envision a serpentine line being passed from instrument to instrument, color to color, whether it's behind Miles or in front when he's not playing. It's like a thread that never gets dropped. Let's start at the top with the French horns and alto flutes that are playing a flowing passage together. Then the horns hold while the flutes go on their own, giving way to the trombones, who take over, then the flutes pick up a line above them, and then soft brass (the trumpets are in hat mutes with French horns voiced with them). You can continue on through the piece and follow the slow-moving gears as lines pass around the orchestra. This piece also goes into a little swing section where the trombones take on Gil's signature comping role that the piano might have taken if there was piano on the record. That's a unique aspect to these Gil/Miles recordings. There's an absence of piano. It leaves all the harmonic background to the creative hand of Gil.

One further detail. Because these pieces are a suite, their connectivity is really important. Take note how the end of this arrangement suddenly introduces a very stark, open, spare sound. It contrasts all the lushness we've been hearing. That spare sound is achieved by utilizing open-fifth intervals in the ensemble. It also happens to be the same opening interval of the next movement, “Prayer.” So this ending is really more of a "transition" to “Prayer.” Much of the elegance of these collaborative recordings is how each subsequent piece begins with a feeling of inevitable arrival. Gil leaves no stone unturned.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Bess, Oh Where's My Bess

In Act III, Scene 3 of Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess (1935), Porgy returns to Catfish Row after a week in jail that, owing to his crap-shooting prowess, left him flush. Bess, however, is nowhere to be found. In despair, Porgy pleads: "Oh Bess, Oh Where's My Bess?" A theatrical set piece lasting only 1½ minutes, it transcended its stage function thanks to Gershwin's soul-stirring melodicism. Miles Davis and Gil Evans expand the song to 4½ minutes, sacrificing the original's urgency in favor of a more subdued but sweeping minidrama, accurately mirroring Porgy's anguish. It's not one of the album's crowning achievements, but this is a long way from filler.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

This arrangement is a wonderful lesson in the art of building excitement. Gil opens simply and in the low register, with Bill Barber playing the melody on tuba. The accompaniment is warmly voiced and also in a low range. I'm guessing that the trombones are in hat mutes, playing along with the French horn. They play lovely little comping hits as if they're a piano, but with the warm glow that comes from the sound of combined French horn and hat-muted trombones. It's perfectly understated behind the tuba, and Philly Joe Jones plays super light and swingin' on the snare with brushes. Philly starts to open up the volume and adds a little more intensity after the solo trombone break by Frank Rehak. After Frank's first chorus, there's more comping behind him in the lower horns that gets increasingly rhythmically creative. There's also a great little sustained unison cup mute tone that begins at about 1:31. It holds for a good eight seconds.

Now we reach a harmonization of the melody that moves the tune to a higher octave and is harmonized for the first time. This ensemble section flies along with ease, and has a lovely counterline by tuba, trombone and bass clarinet that helps the ensemble feel like it's gliding. When this counterline hits 2:07, it starts making a stepwise ascent. From it, we get a feeling of yet more building, opening up, anticipation and general excitement. The range is now getting really high. It's great, because it heralds even more excitement that's soon to come in the form of Cannonball's entrance. Gil even keeps his creative hand in this solo break, as Cannonball, right at the end of the break, has to modulate and launch us into a new key, which serves to lift us to yet another level of excitement. The rhythms and lead lines of the ensemble comping just keep developing—no shortcuts taken here. The details are simply mind-blowing. At 2:45, Harmon mutes in the trumpets add another fresh new color. This whole piece is essentially passing from dark orchestrational color to bright.

Gil's spectacular sense of rhythm, fabulous feel for bebop, and refreshing sense of harmony is clearly evident at his ensemble passage that goes from 3:01–3:10. I love how he wanders to a rather unexpected corner harmonically and just sits us uncomfortably there for a hair longer than we'd expect, before he gently glides us out. Marvelous! His next two short ensemble passages also have wonderful little lilting cross-rhythmic figures. His rhythms are full of surprises but at the same time are very catchy. On the next figure the ensemble soars to its top and dramatically holds it for a moment before we suddenly drop all the way down to a low pedal tone that lasts to the end of the piece. Over that pedal, Philly Joe and Cannonball continue playing to the finish.

All parts collectively decrescendo in what feels like a big exhale after all the excitement. Gil's written a thousand tiny details into this piece, but each of them contribute to a common goal, and, for that reason, add up to a total experience, an emotional ride. In the hands of someone without such a sense of purpose, so much detail could easily add up to a whole lot of clutter. It never happens with Gil. That's one of the many marvels of this man's writing.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis-Gil Evans: My Ship

This cut is beauty personified. There's nothing seemingly complex or unusual, but even the simple half-note pads that sustain the harmony behind Miles have Gil's telltale linearity and instrumental color. It's also probably one of his best-known arrangements.

Starting with the intro, you'll hear three layers. There's the top pattern in the cup-mute trumpets that descends. On the very bottom there's the static repetitive bass figure that's also in the tuba. And then, the third layer works in contrary motion to the top line. If you read Miles Davis' autobiography, you'll probably remember him marveling at Gil's use of contrary motion. What it means, in this instance, is that while the muted trumpets have a figure that slowly descends, you'll hear a bass clarinet slowly rising, as if coming out of a mist. When it reaches a rather high range, it drops to a little figure then that sets us up for the tune, which is stated by the low brass. This statement is partly characterized by the warm French horns placed quite high on the melody, the bass clarinet with a lovely line on the bottom, and the sweep of all the ensemble parts in motion with the melody. The ensemble here is voiced in harmony that gives beautiful lines to each player. The passage is lush with a darkly hued color to it.

I remember one day while working with Gil in about 1986, I walked in the door and found him at the piano, totally frustrated as he was trying to figure out what he wrote on this piece. He threw up his hands and said, "I don't know what I wrote!" I was baffled and asked why on earth he'd need to transcribe his own music. That's when he told me how one day he just got tired of his music and threw it out. Ouch! I was dying inside when I heard that. It also got me thinking about how it could be possible that such perfect music could ever, from his perspective, be worth trashing. I also got to witness how, given the distance of years, he seemed to again appreciate its beauty. Thankfully much of Gil's music was found, albeit long after he passed away.

I think one of the stunning moments of this cut is when Miles enters. The chords just feel like they glide, and their brightness, created by the slightly pinched sound of mutes, makes Miles' flugel a beautiful open and dark foil. That's a moment I could loop a thousand times. The double-time feel passage from 2:27–2:45 is voiced in a way that allows it to move fleetly. That's another wonderful ability Gil has. This piece ends how it begins, except this time the rising line of the bass clarinet is now absent, and that makes sense because we're winding down. This piece immediately segues into “Miles Ahead,” another piece loaded with linearity, contrary motion, parallel motion and a light sound, despite a sometimes thick ensemble playing.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: My Ship

"My Ship,” helmed by arranger Gil Evans to a port of pure bliss, is the most sublime 4½ minutes in all of music. In particular, Gil’s achingly beautiful descending glissando for trombones a little past 3 minutes into the piece is enough to melt the stoniest soul. “The sun sits high in a sapphire sky,” goes Ira Gershwin’s lyric, “when my ship comes in.” The orchestrator supreme, Gil Evans paints a sapphire sky in which Miles Davis is the sun sitting high. It’s an everlastingly shining triumph for jazz. Our ship is in.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Claude Thornhill (featuring Gil Evans): The Troubador (based on "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition")

I ask that you spend 99 cents and buy “Pictures at an Exhibition” (the orchestral version) orchestrated by Ravel, and get the part for "The Old Castle." That's what this is based on. You'll find the comparison to be very enlightening. People often assume that classical composers write more linearly than most jazz composers/orchestrators. Jazz tends to be chord conscious–many arrangers think vertically when they arrange. And when most people talk about Gil Evans music, they refer to the marvelous "voicings." I say phooey to that. The magic of Gil is so far beyond that. It's in the lines and layers, folks! There are so many layers displayed here it's just crazy.

The original begins with a bassoon line that is quite hypnotic and gives way to the melody. This bassoon line comes in again just briefly under the melody at the end of a phrase connecting us to the start of the melody again. In Gil's version, after an intro based on Promenade (the recurring main theme in between each part of “Pictures”...), he starts with a little rhythmic nudging figure in the low brass at 0:27. Then he adds the flutes in a repetitive cross-rhythmic staccato figure, creating another layer that will add to the overall feeling feeling of "play" in the otherwise staid 4/4 meter. Now enters Mussorgsky/Ravel's original bassoon line, but Gil orchestrated it as a low unison for two bass clarinets with French horn (0:37). Gil's differs in that he will greatly extend the line, weaving it into a counterline that endures and develops throughout much of the piece. All these layers are established before the melody even enters at 0:45 in a solo French horn. And they all work together without creating musical mud, because each idea or line is so firmly established in its own right that it's easy for the listener to hear clearly the full tapestry and delight in the exquisite layering and details. Listen to the beautiful woodwind line at 1:30. The high flute "swirls" (2:34) are both lovely and exotic. The way this large ensemble grows and grows, and then dramatically descends and dissipates (2:54–3:23) to tremolos (with harmonic twists and contortions unique to Gil) makes me leap up out of my chair! The colors (harmonic and timbral) are stunning. There's an interesting tuba line that creates a little shift in the overall harmony at 3:32. Listen to the subtle little shifts in harmony at 3:46–4:13 in the repeated brass riffs. 4:17–4:37 is so creative. Even though harmonically things get very tight, twisted and dark, still, all the original material is there, so it's a mud that you want to wallow in. The original doesn't grow and develop nearly to the degree that Gil's version does and there's far less counterpoint. Gil was a master of development and intricacy. I think Ravel would have flipped over this. Also, it's funny that the original uses alto sax for the melody, and Gil's arrangement, which might be considered jazz, doesn't use sax on that melody at all. Also, make note, there's no improvisation on this piece. It's just about Gil's spectacular writing. Everything Gil would develop in later years has its roots firmly planted in his Thornhill music. This is one beauty!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Claude Thornhill (featuring Gil Evans): Sorta Kinda

This recording has so many great Gil Evans arrangements that I'd easily qualify it as a must-own CD. I love this particular arrangement because it's just so swingin’ and hip (I know–very subjective words).

First of all, this is probably not the hippest song on the planet, and neither is the singing, but what Gil manages to create is extraordinary. The intro is quirky and wild, starting with the ascending sax line leading into the huge ensemble blast, then dropping off a cliff into a little piano moment. Contrast is a big part of the personality of this arrangement. It's very daring. Gil doesn't bring in the vocalist until after a full minute into the tune, and the whole piece is less than 3 minutes. He makes a very bouncy version of the melody with tight ensemble writing. After the intro, it feels very conventional, but rhythmically it swings like crazy. At the end of this first statement of melody between Gil's mid-range brass and piano, he creates a really unexpected transition and modulation. Listen to the bottom of the brass, the unison line against the quirky line in the trumpets. Also, this transition extends the form of the tune and creates an odd phrase that goes on longer than expected. The piece is full of surprises–the kind you want to experience again and again. I find it to be a hilarious moment when this wildly creative transition settles into a new key and the simple vocal entrance. As the vocal delivers the melody, Gil throws in some awesome counter-lines in the saxes and French horns, with great little brass hits–endless details that make the feel so lively! Then the band's full, concerted ensemble send-off to the tenor solo is superb line writing, creating a completely light and fluid full ensemble. Not easy to do, trust me! And the band is so swingin', too. Check out how hard the band swings and the great line in the ensemble right before the vocal returns. Man! Of course, Gil writes fantastic lines for every player so it's super-gratifying to play, and, with the inner parts so well written, it's almost impossible not to swing. Just when you think Gil's given you his last surprise, check out the last note. With a very dry delivery, he lands on an odd note (the relative minor key). How I wish I’d known this piece when I knew Gil. I'd have loved to listen to it with him. I know the exact look on his face and the laugh he'd make when he heard the last note himself. That man had some sense of humor and this is one fantastic arrangement. And to think it was recorded in 1947. Wow!

Just a side note: obviously Gil also realized how hip this arrangement was, because he would come to reuse a lot of this same ensemble passages almost 10 years later for his arrangement of “People Will Say We're In Love” with Helen Merrill on her wonderful album, arranged entirely by Gil, called Dream of You.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: The Captain

Probably the best-known jazz musicians to have performed on cello have been Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Dave Holland. However, they were all bassists first and foremost. Few full-time jazz cellists have developed name recognition anywhere approaching that of the four aforementioned, although the casual jazz fan might know of Erik Friedlander, Ernst Reijseger, Hank Roberts, and Abdul Wadud. Wadud and the more obscure David Eyges emerged in the '70's and helped pave the way for the increasing number of jazz cellists that have followed. The group Eyges led with altoist Mark Whitecage played music that brought to mind the alto-cello pairings of Eric Dolphy and Ron Carter, and Julius Hemphill and Wadud. (Eyges himself later had similar collaborations with altoists Byard Lancaster and Arthur Blythe.)

The title tune of Eyges's debut recording, The Captain, draws on influences ranging from country blues to Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Eyges and Whitecage take the theme in a relaxed unison, bringing out its funky down-home properties, while at the same time bassist Ronnie Boykins' steady ostinato adds a nearly dirge-like quality to it. Meanwhile, Jeff Williams' drums are propulsively filling in the spaces with extended patterns that almost seem to serve as a substitute for a comping piano. Cello and alto then improvise collectively, but very harmoniously as well. Eyges's arco attack alternates between rich long tones and rapidly executed tremolos, and Whitecage simultaneously relies on terse, bursting phrases that are sometimes yearning, sometimes exultant. This music holds up quite well some 32 years later.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chris Connor: Let's Face The Music and Dance

What makes the 1986 Classic one of Chris Connor's best albums was probably best summed up by the vocalist herself at the time: "I haven't changed my approach, although my voice has gotten deeper and stronger, and I don't experiment as much." Her smoky, deceptively languid tone is still evident, but her aggressive approach on the very first track, "Let's Face the Music and Dance," is anything but the reserved "cool" of her well-known sides from the '50's, such as "all About Ronnie," "Lush Life," and "Lullaby of Birdland," or even that of the warmly emotional "Laura" or "Blame it on My Youth" on Classic.

Perhaps it's partly due to Richard Rodney Bennett's killer arrangement and the zesty horns of Paquito D'Rivera and Claudio Roditi, but Connor soars on "Let's Face the Music and Dance" as she has rarely done on record, particularly on the repeat chorus, where she thrillingly sings the words "teardrops to shed" by jumping up an octave from the first to the second syllable of "teardrops," and then hitting and holding a resonating low note on "shed." Other highlights of this action-packed merely 2½ minute performance include Connor's opening captivating duet with Rufus Reid's walking bass, the piercing and sizzling miniature solo spots by D'Rivera and Roditi, and the rather jolting written horn motifs inserted here and there, most fervidly at the very end. This is a consummate work of art that draws you back for further tastings.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Carter: I'm In The Mood For Swing

With the exception of the 1976 Pablo release The King, it wasn't until Carter began recording for Music Masters in 1987 at the age of 80 that he was given the opportunity to produce any albums made up entirely of his own diverse and worthy compositions. These CDs included Central City Sketches, Songbook, and In the Mood for Swing. For the latter session, Carter unearthed an original he had not played since 1938, the swing era showpiece "I'm in the Mood for Swing."

Just a week after being named a recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Carter is in top form on this track, and so are his clearly inspired bandmates. The catchy syncopation of the theme and its bridge come into play only after the alto-guitar harmonizing of the opening rally cry riff. Carter's silky alto maintains a consistently gushing pulse for the full two choruses of his solo, during which he creates both concise phrases and more elaborate lines that are personalized by his innate logic, clarity, and lightheartedness. Alden solos lucidly in his usual multifaceted swing-to-bop style. Hanna's two-handed, technically adept improv contributes to the high quality level at play here, as does the unrestrained series of Mraz-Bellson exchanges that follow. Urbane, relaxed, and buoyant--such are the words that best describe, as always, this Carter performance.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Angola

Coming from one of Shorter's numerous releases for Blue Note Records during the 1960s, the song "Angola" is one of those tunes that many people have heard but probably don't know the name of when they hear it. The Soothsayer is a great album in terms of the melodies. They are rich in substance and are also extremely catchy. "Angola" is no exception. The song opens up with McCoy Tyner playing an augmented chord. It actually sounds quite similar to "Ju-Ju" but overall "Angola" is much more swinging given the mild nature of the chord changes. I have always been a huge fan of the Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner connection on Shorter's albums. They added a strong pocket to his songs and make for a very good listen.

Score another one for Wayne on "Angola," as he manages to create yet another wonderful sonic masterpiece for the best jazz musicians in history to play over. A++

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Armageddon

Sometimes I really don't know where to start with Wayne Shorter. His music has touched me for so long now that it's amazing I don't get tired listening to some of the same discs over and over again but I can listen to them forever. That is unless "Armageddon" comes. But this "Armageddon" is much more swinging and happier than the battle that's supposed to signify the official end to our collective existence. This song opens up with one of Shorter's catchiest introductions. The melody is clearly stated but it is also nice and sustained with wonderful unison from Lee Morgan and Wayne. I really like this band and I think they should have recorded more. One thing that separates the Shorter recordings with some of Coletrane's band is the composition. Coltrane would've sounded stronger to me if he had been recording Wayne's tunes, but hey, that's a whole other subject.

For anyone that likes Wayne and wants to inject a little Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner into their jazz diet, this is the track. Coming from his first recording for Blue Note after recording for the Vee-Jay label, Night Dreamer satisfies on every level possible.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: El Gaucho

On one of his many hard bop classics from the 1960s, Wayne Shorter teams up with frequent collaborator Herbie Hancock along with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Joe Chambers. This is a nice little Latin number with some fun changes. Melodically, Shorter sticks with the pentatonic approach that is found in many of his compositions from this time and this tune is yet another pentatonic example. The rhythm section meshes well on this song, but as usual Herbie's performance is the most commanding, with impeccable piano comping and a great solo.

It's the opinion of this writer that Shorter is the one true genius of his generation, forging ahead of the pack during the 1960s. His solo albums, work with Miles Davis and future work with Weather Report all solidify this position.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis: Deacceleration

This refreshing recording session featuring the Chicago-born Eddie Harris and the New Orleans native Ellis Marsalis took place in 1985. Having worked successfully as a duo in a New Orleans club in the mid-eighties, the two successfully duplicate the alchemy of their live performances in this studio session. The lack of a rhythm section in no way diminishes the effectiveness of this session, relying instead on Marsalis’s creative use of variations of tempo and attack in his accompaniment. On the Harris composition "Deacceleration", the two show an affinity that is palpable, playing off each other’s spontaneous ideas. Building in and out of dramatic tension in this clever composition, Marsalis sets the stage for the incendiary saxophonist, who enters in his squealing high-register attack mode. In the reprise, they build to an impressive peak, then segue into a softened refrain which moves from a lulling, reflective stillness into a poignant, fading cry. Thankfully, this gem gets a second chance for renewed appreciation.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Search For The New Land

Recorded not even two months later yet far from the carefree groove of his hit single “The Sidewinder,” Morgan travels to the outer reaches of hard-bop and flirts with a darker, modal terrain on the aptly titled “Search for the New Land.” Like two seasoned explorers at sea, Morgan and Shorter reflect nostalgically on previous journeys while their vessel rolls over swelling waves of trills and cymbals in the rubato opening section. Workman spies land on the distant horizon and valiantly sets course, introducing an ominous waltz groove. As the rhythm section picks up steam, Morgan and Shorter sing their same song with newfound exuberance over the steady bounce of their rhythm mates. Shorter cautiously ventures out first, soon finding firm footing and skittering through all registers of his tenor and Morgan follows with pensive and introspective ponderings, though still deeply rooted in the blues. Hancock’s comping is intriguing; note his “broken record” repetitiveness contrasting Morgan’s pulling back on the time (6:00-6:10) and his pulsating connection with Higgins which allows the trumpeter to experiment with polyrhythms (6:20-6:30). Green takes a swinging solo before Hancock’s dense block-chording leads the group back out to sea and on towards their next endeavor. Morgan was entering the pinnacle of his career with Search for the New Land, broadening both the scope of his compositions and the depth of his improvisations.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Morgan spent the majority of 1962 and 1963 in Philadelphia in the clutches of a heroin habit he picked up while in the Jazz Messengers. After a brief (and not totally successful) stint in rehab, he returned to Van Gelder Studio on December 21, 1963 to record The Sidewinder. A surprise hit, it peaked at number 25 on the Pop LP charts in early 1965 and snuck into the R&B Top 10, becoming Blue Note’s greatest commercial success.

The rhythm section’s bouncy groove on “The Sidewinder” is so irresistible and the melody so catchy it’s possible to neglect what is one of Morgan’s most impressive recorded solos. It’s meticulously constructed with logic and clarity, and Morgan displays a modesty that he often lacked in his ostentatious youth. His phrasing is especially noteworthy; the spaces he leaves between his concise ideas serve as timely punctuations that enhance the efficacy of each statement, creating three bluesy choruses that breathe and build organically. It’s also Morgan at his coolest and funkiest, grooving like none other.

The unexpected success of “The Sidewinder” left Blue Note determined to produce another hit single. Dozens of mid-1960s LPs kicked off with bluesy R&B-tinged tracks in an effort to place the label back on the charts. Though most of these tracks were solid, none would ever duplicate the success of Morgan’s original.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: A Night In Tunisia (featuring Lee Morgan)

In his review of this track as part of his Essential Art Blakey Dozens, my fellow Jazz.com compatriot Eric Novod asks, “Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there?” Well, I’d confidently bet my entire CD collection that there isn’t. From Blakey’s thunderous opening crash through its explosive conclusion, this version of “A Night in Tunisia” is like a roller-coaster ride through a minefield. Hold on to your hat.

Morgan was featured nightly on “A Night in Tunisia” in Diz’s big band from 1956-1958 so he was no stranger to the tune, and pushed by Blakey’s propulsive beat and Timmons’ powerful comping his performance here reaches new heights. The rumbling Mt. Blakey erupts with the ferocity of ten volcanoes as the trumpeter enters; spitting some hot fire of his own, Morgan dodges the drummer’s bombs at first before rocketing through a monstrous, mind-blowing solo. His unaccompanied cadenza is one of the great moments in jazz trumpeting with forcefully driving lines, flurried trills, and stuttering blues licks pieced together with astounding precision. Blakey, famous for vocally encouraging his bandmates from his drum stool, goads on his brilliant young trumpeter at 8:42 (“Play yo’ instrument!”) and again after a particularly nasty lick at 9:06 (“Get mad!”).

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Blue Train (featuring Lee Morgan)

Lee Morgan’s career is chock-full of essential, “Dozens”-worthy improvisations; it took weeks of eating, breathing, and sleeping Lee Morgan before I could narrow it down to the final twelve. What’s truly astonishing, however, is the number of jaw-dropping solos he waxed before his twentieth birthday! As he aged, Morgan broadened stylistically, incorporating insightful and at times brooding lyricism, chic funkiness, and cathartic cries. But at age nineteen, Morgan’s playing was more elemental—a raw and fiery approach built on power, velocity, and excitement. Young Morgan was also fueled by his cockiness, which certainly came in handy on all-star sessions like John Coltrane’s Blue Train.

In 1957 the great tenorman was saying all one could possibly say while following chord changes. His classic solo on “Blue Train” is biting, intense, and concentrated but never stuffy. Morgan’s first two choruses build rather patiently, but one gets the feeling he has an itch that needs scratching. Philly Joe’s double-time-introducing hi-hat is his remedy and the eager trumpeter wastes no time, blasting into a 16th note extravaganza squarely on beat one of his third chorus. His dizzying lines are impeccably executed and popping with accents. Energetic nearly to a fault, Morgan tears through the double-time then seamlessly releases into his fifth and final chorus with one of the baddest licks of all-time (4:48), finishing off a prodigious solo with a final chorus steeped in the blues.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tom Lellis: Tell Me a Bedtime Story

Tom Lellis has been singing professionally since he was 15, but very little of his work has been documented on record. A full decade elapsed between his debut album And in This Corner 1981, and his follow-up release Double Entendre in 1991. He has had some visibility on labels such as Concord and Inner City, but never a platform commensurate with his talents. This track, recorded in the Netherlands in 1999 is a case in point. Lellis offers a gripping vocal transformation of Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" that I've gone back and listened to again and again. Lellis's phrasing and dynamics are superb. His rhythmic sensibility is acute. He operates in the moment with full commitment to the song. And the whole orchestra, playing Willem Friede's chart under John Clayton's direction, matches him at every step. When this CD was first released in 2002 it created a bit of a stir. I hope the 2009 reissue on Adventure Music exposes some more listeners to this music.

July 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Sclavis: Aboard Ulysses’s Boat

A circular, menacing bass line; a slow, simmering, sinister groove; slippery guitar lines and sparse horn parts. Sounds a little like Miles’ “Bitches Brew,” doesn’t it? Sclavis and Metzger regulate themselves to the background, playing in harmony to carve out a curtain of chords above Lété’s pulse. This leaves the floor largely to Delpierre’s guitar, which puts forth an ominous and delectable mix of surf and Sonny Sharrock, guitar effects and all.

Coming “Aboard Ulysses’s Boat” is like taking an intrepid voyage home knowing that unknown dangers lie ahead. But that’s where the thrill of the ride comes from, too.

July 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Daniel Santiago: Old City

The first thing that grabs you about “Old City” is its highly evolved ostinato. Santiago takes six chords and constructs an imaginative theme from it, starting with Ribeiros’ intricate but insistent rhythmic pattern. Santiago’s fluid guitar contours percolate with the crispness and mellifluousness of Pat Metheny with a rare harmonic awareness Santiago shares with elite players like that. Not merely in the lead role, either: Santiago’s rhythm parts add an extra voice to lend vital character to the Conçalves’s piano, sometimes playing in unison, other times in harmony, and still other times providing trills. It isn’t so much that Santiago does these things in the first place, but rather, he exchanges these roles in all the right places.

“Old City” is a song that manages to sound pleasing to casual listening and fascinating to focused listening. It begins with Santiago’s composition skills, enhanced by his arranging abilities, and topped off by his guitar playing dexterity.

July 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Josh Berman: What Can?

More than eighty years ago Bix Beiderbecke went to Chicago and took the town by storm with his cornet. Today in the same town, Josh Berman adapts the cornet’s warm, mellow tone to a strategy not normally associated with the weapon of choice for original jazz: he searches for elusive notes instead of those plucked straight from a melody and his phrases are much more meticulous and varied.

“What Can?” pushes toward freedom and straddles the line between tonal and atonal, which naturally makes it impossible for Berman to play it too straight, anyway. Before he solos, however, Adasiewicz and then Hatwich stake out their own unique expressions, with Tanaka playing something of a mutated bossa nova beat. When Berman arrives, Tanaka shifts to more choppy rhythms, mixing it up much as Berman does on his horn.

Josh Berman’s creativity in applying an old school instrument into improvised music such as “What Can?” only goes to show that some of the best new ideas originate from old ones.

July 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Buckwheat Zydeco: The Wrong Side

When I was in fourth grade, my school music teacher asked whether any students played musical instruments. My friend John, sitting in front of me in class, raised his hand and announced that he played the accordion.

Our music teacher stared him down for a moment of silence. Then made a brief pronouncement before moving on: "The accordion," he announced, "is a dead instrument."

Teacher must not have heard much zydeco music. Fortunately for us, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr. has spent the better part of four decades keeping this tradition alive and vibrant. And though his record label has changed many times, and his music often incorporates many ingredients grown outside the great state of Louisiana, he remains one of the squeezebox masters, and a reminder of how much the accordion has to say to us now. On "The Wrong Side" he brings on board another journeyman musician of note, guitarist Sonny Landreth, and the results are rootsy and real, a strutting danceable groove that belies the can't-let-go-of-the-dirty-past lyrics. Yes, the reports of the death of the accordion are exaggerated. And watch out Maytag . . . the washboard might be making a comeback too.

July 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Adams-Dannie Richmond: More Sightings

No, this was not a Charles Mingus tribute band. Mingus Dynasty had taken on that responsibility right after Mingus's death in 1979. However, the adventurous spirit of Mingus lived on in this quintet as well, made up as it was of four Mingus alumni—Dannie Richmond (23 years), Jimmy Knepper (6), George Adams (4), and Hugh Lawson (briefly in the mid-'70's). Perhaps not quite as dynamic as the the better-known group Adams co-led with another Mingus sideman, Don Pullen, this Adams-Richmond unit also produced its fair share of provocative music.

Adams' tune "More Sightings" is played in unison by tenor and trombone, a rousing theme that alternates between smooth linear passages and jabbing machine-gun like bursts. The fiery, earthy style of Adams is on full display during his solo, as he varies his attack incessantly and yet always keeps the composition's harmonic structure in sight. Knepper responds with a gruff but nimble exploration of his own. Lawson's lively, boppish solo makes you appreciate once again this largely unheralded and forgotten pianist. Richmond then expertly delineates the components of the theme, bringing it to life percussively with nary a wasted drum stroke. This was an ensemble with a distinctive sound, comprised of players who possessed strikingly individual styles.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Teddy Edwards: Midnight Creeper

Edwards was 73 years-old at the time of this session in 1997, and his appealing style was captured vividly throughout. His playing combines a blues-based approach with a mellow assortment of phrasings derived from the vocabulary of bebop. Although Edwards never recorded prolifically as a leader, his underrated talent got him numerous gigs with bands led by, among others, Max Roach, Gerald Wilson, Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Benny Goodman, and even Tom Waits. Edwards may be best known for his 1947 recording with Dexter Gordon, "The Duel," while he was a part of the Central Avenue jazz scene in Los Angeles, the city where he resided for almost all his adult life.

Producer Houston Person wisely allowed Rudy Van Gelder to spin his magic sound-wise, and Edwards is nowhere better heard on record than during this extended nine-minute version of "Tenderly." While the CD's title, Midnight Creeper, refers to an Edwards tune by that name, it could just as easily refer to his playing on "Tenderly." The saxophonist creeps up on you and casts a spell, from his supple opening run to his lush-toned, expansive handling of the melody, which he laces with alluring and uplifting embellishments. A dramatic, melancholy mood has been established, but Edwards' solo is something else entirely, blues-drenched from the start, as his tone hardens and he soulfully both blusters and tiptoes through his thematic excursion. The equally underappreciated Richard Wyands keeps a low flame burning during his gently assertive piano solo. Edwards reappears with sensuous come-hither held notes, and proceeds on to a peak in expression and dynamics, followed by a coda that swirls and shouts exuberantly.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan-Ben Webster: Tell Me When

The Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster album is best known for its exquisite version of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," but Mulligan's endearing gem of a ballad, "Tell Me When," should not be overlooked. The fact that Mulligan and Webster are so relaxed and in sync with one another on both of these tracks (as well as the other nine selections) is largely due to their friendship and having played together in Los Angeles prior to going into the studio. As Mulligan told Phil Schaap in 1990: "Ben and I were a focused, near-functioning little band. That's why it it worked and of course it's all related to our mutual esteem and musical rapport."

Jimmy Rowles' short-lived, but dark and slightly foreboding intro does not prepare the listener for Webster's luscious, buoyant recital of the winsome "Tell Me When" theme, as Mulligan plays tenderly apt obbligatos along with him. Webster's solo is generally evocative of his main influence, Coleman Hawkins, in the effervescent contours of his lines, but Ben's creamy tone is unmistakably his own. The glorious interweaving of tenor and baritone as they renegotiate the melody is unforgettably poignant and soothing. Unlike on "Chelsea Bridge," Mulligan regrettably does not take a solo, but Webster more than makes up for the omission.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Max Roach: Effi

Roach's saxophone-trumpet front lines certainly rivaled those of Art Blakey over several decades. Max's pairings included Sonny Rollins-Clifford Brown, George Coleman-Booker Little, and Odean Pope-Cecil Bridgewater, while hornmen Hank Mobley, Stanley Turrentine, Harold Land, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, and Freddie Hubbard also performed with the drummer at various times. In the late '60's, Roach was blessed to have three "young lions" of the day in his band—Gary Bartz, Charles Tolliver, and Stanley Cowell—plus sparkplug bassist Jymie Merritt. The civil rights movement inspired much of Roach's ‘60s output, and the title track of Members, Don't Git Weary was but one example. Tolliver and Cowell would soon go on to found Strata-East Records and Collective Black Artists Inc. as part of the quest for self-determination.

Cowell is a fine composer, and "Effi" is one of his most stirring compositions, a whirling assemblage of motifs that Bartz and Tolliver either share or play separately, with Merritt and Roach providing vigorous—and in the case of Roach, sometimes thunderous—encouragement for the horns' aggressive attacks. Bartz and Tolliver also create compatibly responsive commentaries during each other's passionate, high-energy solos, and the appealing blend of their sounds is never short of outstanding. However, just as Cowell appears to be initiating a much more subdued piano solo, he and the track itself simply fade away abruptly. Thus it turns out that what we have just experienced is the storm before the calm.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nina Simone: Love Me Or Leave Me

Although Simone has received not one, but two compilations in the Verve Jazz Masters series, she was not really a jazz singer. As eclectic as they come, she sang folk, folk opera, art songs, spirituals, soul, standards, jazz, and, of course, songs of protest and social commentary that as Duke Ellington might say were--like her--"beyond category." Also, she'd usually accompany herself on piano in a restless, fluctuating style encompassing jazz, blues, and classical music. Simone's Let It All Out album is typically all over the map program-wise, but the inclusion of "Mood Indigo," "Don't Explain," "Little Girl Blue," "This Year's Kisses," and "Love Me or Leave Me" make the case for her as a jazz singer—if not a totally committed or natural one.

Simone sang "Love Me or Leave Me" on her first-ever gig in 1954 at a bar in Atlantic City, where she also adopted her stage name. Whether or not she incorporated her classical training at Juilliard into her treatment of the tune back then, she certainly does so on this 1965 recording. The singer's Bach-tinged piano intro gives way to her rather Broadway/cabaret execution of the lyrics, with a forced sounding, rushed attempt to swing. Her well-played piano solo reignites the Bach focus of her intro in a Jacques Loussier manner that only appears ready to break out into true jazz flight at its very end. Simone's vocal reprise continues her showy approach, and she now also utilizes an off-putting, exaggerated vibrato at times. An obviously prearranged, jazzy instrumental tag by the group doesn't quite save the day. Simone sang a better version of "Love Me or Leave Me" in 1957 on her first session, Little Girl Blue. One could make the argument that she was a better "jazz singer" early on than she was in later years, if you compare examples of tunes she recorded more than once in her career.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andy Sheppard: La Tristesse Du Roi

A fifteen minute jazz performance is much like a fifteen round boxing match. The participants can't lay it all out in the first round—otherwise they won't last the distance. Or, if they do, they risk leaving the audience behind, worn and exhausted. Instead, the great performers learn how to pace themselves, adjust to the flow, and wait for their right moments. Andy Sheppard and the aurally aware unit of musicians he has assembled for his outstanding Movements in Colour compact disk do just that on this track. The opening several minutes is mostly muted sound pastels that only gradually come together into a musical heartbeat. The rhythm section coheres perfectly—Eivind Aarset, the Bill Frisell of Norway, proves again that he really deserves to be better known in the US, Andersen solos with guitar-like fluidity, and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra carries the pulse with such life that no trapset is needed or missed. But Sheppard is the vital ingredient, playing with spirit yet never with abandon. Often he stays in pentatonic and diatonic territory, but his solo is a gem. He draws the listener in more deeply with each passing minute. The rest of the CD matches the promise of this opening track, and the disk is likely to make my "best of the year" list.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Blue Skies

“Blue Skies” was originally recorded for (and eventually omitted from) The Irving Berlin Song Book, and it was first issued as part of an all-star jazz compilation album created by Playboy magazine, and later appeared on a Verve compilation of assorted bits and pieces from Ella’s many sessions for the label. The recording is still not well-known, but it features one of her finest extended scat solos. Like her famous “Oh, Lady Be Good” recording 9 years earlier, the big band arrangement exists only to support Ella, and she’s never asked to interrupt her improvisation for ensemble figures. Ella opens with 4 virtuosic cadenzas, and then jumps to a medium tempo for the opening chorus. Harry Edison provides pithy commentary during the melody statement, and then Ella launches into a two-and-a-half chorus scat solo. She starts out by adapting the saxophone riff playing behind her, and as the solo continues, she repeats and develops ideas with uncanny fluency. Encouraged on by the magnificent accompanying group, Ella builds her solo in a natural and unforced manner. There are plenty of quotes (“Here Comes The Bride” near the beginning, “Rhapsody In Blue” as the solo peaks), but mostly this is Ella, joyously creating music on the spot and spreading that joy to her audience.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jo Stafford: What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry?

Jo Stafford never called herself a jazz singer, but her landmark album Jo + Jazz gives us a taste of what might have been. Surrounded by an astonishing group of musicians (the overused term “all-star” doesn’t begin to describe this band!), Stafford creates masterpiece after masterpiece. “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry” is simply a personal favorite from this album, and I could have easily have chosen any of the other tracks on this record not only as representative tracks but as some of the best Stafford ever recorded. However, “What Can I Say” is something very special. Despite being composed by a fine pair of writers, it’s far from being a jazz standard (and its clunky title might be one of the reasons why). The lyrics could lead to a slow maudlin reading, but Stafford and arranger Johnny Mandel will have none of that: the arrangement pops along at a comfortable medium tempo, and Ben Webster eases into his obbligato part like it was an old sweater. Stafford’s carefree opening chorus displays her clear diction, solid pitch and pervasive swing. After Webster’s solo chorus, Stafford returns with a wonderful re-composition of the melody that floats effortlessly over the riffing band and Webster’s ongoing commentary.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nancy Wilson: Can't Take My Eyes Off You

One of Nancy Wilson’s unsung talents is taking the most overplayed pop songs and making them into her own. Her version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a prime example. For most singers, this song and its famous arrangement seem to be inseparable, yet Wilson’s version jettisons the Frankie Valli setting and reinterprets it as a soulful Basie-styled ballad. The original melody doesn’t amount to much, as it mumbles along during the verse (You’re just too good to be true) and then explodes on the chorus (I love you baby). The lyrics are better, and Wilson focuses on reading the lyric and making major changes to the melody. And while the famous interlude from Valli’s recording is not here, the combination of Phil Wright’s ever-building arrangement and Wilson’s impassioned reading of the lyric makes the chorus seem a natural outgrowth of the verse, and not a sudden outburst. Wilson and Wright made one further change, cutting the line and let me love you, baby; let me love you. On Valli’s recording, that was the peak of the song, but it also stopped the song in its tracks. Wilson’s peak on the line before is quite effective, and she closes the song with a quiet return to the center of the verse.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Billy Eckstine: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Following the breakup of his big band, Billy Eckstine became a major soloist with fans on both sides of the color line. He was billed as “the sepia Sinatra” and was best known for romantic ballads. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” comes from an extraordinary small group date, and it shows that Eckstine never lost his bebop roots. The performance is one of Eckstine’s most harmonically daring. In the first 8 bars, he sings the song straight, but then he veers away from the melody with a bop harmonic flair at the end of the word “find.” He returns to the melody through a dramatic stepwise progression, peaking on the word "blind". The bridge starts in tempo, but halfway through, Eckstine takes more chances with the melody over a rubato rhythm section. In the final eight, Eckstine starts with a harmonic variation, moves briefly to the melody, uses another bop substitution on the word “dies”, and then concludes with another rising pattern. He holds on a note that could easily have been resolved by the rhythm section, but then he climbs another half-step to end the performance unresolved.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Mooney: Tea For Two

In September 1946, composer and critic Alec Wilder proclaimed in Downbeat that the Joe Mooney Quartet was one of the finest small groups in the history of jazz. Mooney built this intimate quartet after successfully translating the advanced harmonies of bebop to the accordion(!) A stylish, hip songwriter in his own right, Mooney loved creating humorous parodies of standard pop songs, as in this winning update of “Tea For Two”. While the opening chorus delights with lines like Do you long for oolong like I like for oolong, baby? the final chorus updates the story nearly 40 years in the future: Flash! 1983; See! Chick still on his knee .For all of its obvious values, the quartet may have been too intimate for its own good. Existing far before the days of jazz concerts, the understated style of the group couldn’t compete with the rowdy clientele of the average nightclub. Within three years, the quartet was no more.

For Mooney, it was another in a series of failures to catch the public’s attention. He had toured with his brother Dan as “The Sunshine Boys” in the early 1930s (the name was ironic since both brothers were blind). After the quartet’s demise, Joe switched his primary instrument from accordion to Hammond organ. He made recordings in 1952 (both on his own and with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra), then full LPs in 1957 and 1963-1964. Although he performed in New York nightclubs as a result of these recordings, he was never able to generate enough popularity to keep him in the Big Apple. When work dried up for him in New York, he retreated to his home in Florida where his local fans provided the loyal following that had eluded him up north.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Les Double Six: Stockholm Sweetnin' (Un Coin Merveilleux)

“Stockholm Sweetnin’” was composed by Quincy Jones for an all-star recording session featuring Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and several Swedish jazz stars. Brown’s solo was one of his finest, and when he died in June 1956, Jones transcribed the solo and orchestrated it for his big band. This version by The Double Six of Paris was based on the big band version and Jones coached the group for this recording. Mimi Perrin’s French vocalese lyrics are about two lovers preparing a romantic getaway, but the most remarkable aspect of the recording is the Double Six’s meticulous re-creation of the big band version, not only in singing all of the notes, but also in the phrasing of the original soloists and ensemble. Christiane Legrand is the first soloist, singing Art Farmer’s solo from the remake, followed by Mimi Perrin, singing the alto saxophone solo by Phil Woods. The orchestrated Clifford Brown solo appears after Art Simons’ piano solo, and while the voices don’t attempt to re-create the orchestral timbres from Jones’ big band chart, the relaxed feeling of both the combo original and the big band remake is perfectly realized.

The Double Six recorded four albums under Mimi Perrin’s leadership, including recordings with Dizzy Gillespie and Jerome Richardson. However, the Double Six’s ultimate legacy may be as the birthplace of the Swingle Singers, which included four of above singers (Legrand, Swingle, Germain and Briodin). Even with the Swingle Singers' quick rise to international success, a look at the personnel for the later Double Six albums reveals that several of the singers were recording with both groups at the same time.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Archie Shepp: Hipnosis

This writer has never been clear on the malady that caused Archie Shepp's musical decline in the 1980s. Apparently dental problems were to blame, which makes sense when one views video of him playing in recent decades, his tenor mouthpiece wobbling precariously in what has to be an unproductively loose embouchure. Whatever the problem, it seems not to have manifested itself in the '70s, when he did some of his best work. "Hipnosis" presents Shepp in the company of his excellent band of that period, with bassist Cameron Brown, pianist Dave Burrell, percussionist Bunny Foy, and drummer Beaver Harris.

The 26-minute tune features an inexorable, inexorably-shifting Latin groove over which Shepp blows freely and passionately for better than half its length. Shepp's tenor sound is electric, spewing sparks like a downed power line. Unlike his contemporary and fellow tenor-playing abstract expressionist, Albert Ayler, Shepp often molded his wildest and craziest phrases to fit a groove. He does that here to great effect. Trombonist Charles Greenlee's solo follows Shepp's. It's rather bland competence stands in sharp contrast to Shepp's brilliance. Drummer Beaver Harris, percussionist Bunny Foy, and bassist Cameron Brown keep the beat ever-changing without losing it's essence. Pianist Dave Burrell is a superb team player, managing to be endlessly creative in a wholly supporting role. This is a tenacious, gripping performance.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Anderson: Hamid's On Fire

Tell us something we don't know, Mr. Anderson. Drummer Hamid Drake's a regular Johnny Storm, The Human Torch. He can't be extinguished, and anyway, we wouldn't want to even if we could. The polyrhythmic vamp that follows his sharp-edged, free-time opening solo has more facets than the Hope Diamond. Bassist Tatsu Aoki's insistent repetitive bass line serves as an anchor for Drake's rhythmic superabundance, as the equally intense Anderson draws upon infinite reserves of energy and inventiveness. The piece morphs into a driving swing, as Drake further proves himself master of jazz's time/space continuum, and Anderson demonstrates why he's everyone's favorite neglected free jazz sax-playing elder statesman. Aoki's bass sounds suspiciously electric, so purists might look askance, but then again, purists never get too close to the flame, do they?

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Murray: I Want to Talk About You

Tenor saxophonist David Murray puts his lush, Ben Webster-ish ballad tone to good use on "I Want to Talk About You," singer/composer Billy Eckstine's re-working of Erroll Garner's "Misty." Accompanied by a top-drawer straight-ahead rhythm section (John Hicks on piano, Ray Drummond on bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums), Murray ratchets down his free jazz inclinations in favor of a melodic, relatively conservative approach. That's not to say he's simply running the changes; he makes his share of oddball melodic choices, but they're sensitively rendered and contextually sound. He walks the harmonic tightrope with focused assurance. His improvisation is finely nuanced, its twists and turns constantly surprising. John Hicks lends additional elegance, while Drummond and Peterson goad and submit in just the right proportion. A lovely performance.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jean-Paul Celea, David Liebman, Wolfgang Reisinger: My Favorite Things

The album from whence this track comes has the trio of Celea, Liebman, and Reisinger interpreting several songs written or made famous by such great saxophonists as Albert Ayler, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, and, in this case, John Coltrane. It takes guts (or gall) for Liebman—a saxophonist who's been so profoundly influenced by Trane—to record the master's "greatest hit." More than almost any other jazz musician, Coltrane made certain tunes his own ... "My Favorite Things," especially. Comparisons can be avoided only with conscious effort (although it certainly doesn't take an unusually insightful reviewer to point out either the essential differences or similarities between teacher and disciple).

Liebman subverts expectations by playing the tune on tenor instead of soprano, whilst the rhythm section renders a heavy, odd-time vamp that in terms of feel (if not composition) more resembles Coltrane's "Spiritual" (from Live at the Village Vanguard) than his original version of "My Favorite Things." Liebman is his usual technically astounding self, and he plays with characteristic passion and eloquence. Drummer Reisinger channels Elvin Jones fairly remarkably, and bassist Celea is a sturdy groove-maker. The music is well-played and inspired in its way. As much as this writer esteems Liebman, however, the group's very decision to approach such iconic material seems contrived and perhaps ego-driven. That perception gets in the way of the music—for this listener, anyway.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cecil Taylor: E.B.

Cecil back when he swung … well, not exactly, although bassist Buell Niedlinger and drummer Dennis Charles kick into a smokin' freebop groove about a quarter of the way into this track, forcing Taylor to deal with strict time. He does so in his unpredictably eccentric way, occasionally locking in with straight-eighth rhythms, but more often playing over and about the time, conjuring waves of asymmetrical, very fast, tonally obscure lines. In a Blindfold Test, he might be mistaken for Don Pullen—Taylor foreshadows the work of the younger pianist in the way he melds bop and free techniques. The swinging is framed by an out-of-time, gestural beginning and ending, making the performance something of a transition between Taylor's early, somewhat more conventionally-swinging work and his later stream-of-consciousness free-time explorations. Listening to this superb performance, one can imagine some Taylor fans wishing he'd not ultimately deserted the verities of explicit swing so completely.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Good Bait

When Harold Land left the quintet in November 1955 to tend to an ailing grandmother in California (he also missed his home life), Max and Clifford located the great Sonny Rollins, who was then living in a Chicago YMCA, re-evaluating his life, and practicing with none other than trumpeter Booker Little. They hired Rollins to play the Beehive Club (recordings of this exist also) and he joined the band permanently until the unexpected Pennsylvania Turnpike accident changed the quintet’s fate and direction. This is indeed the final recording of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet, recorded live at the Continental Restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia (a place where Roach’s relatives had to sit on the stage in order to enjoy the band), just days prior to the deaths of Brown, Richie Powell, and Powell’s young wife Nancy on June 27th while driving en route to the quintet’s next engagement in Chicago. Though it was broadcast live for WIOR radio (as announced by Bob Story), this is actually a private tape done by the owners of the restaurant, which accounts for the poor sound quality (the piano is only slightly audible) and incomplete songs.

I chose this selection (they are all top notch) because Tadd Dameron figured so prominently in Brownie’s early recording career and now on his final recording. As superb as Harold Land was, the addition of Rollins to the quintet pushed it to a new level. The front line horns fed off of each other and you can hear (and feel) the empathy the two had for one another. Rollins once stated in an interview that he and Brown both felt that on this final gig, they were acting as one, breathing and phrasing together, and were constantly inspired by the thematic ideas each created. Clifford and Sonny split up the melody to “Good Bait,” with Clifford improvising into and through the final A section. They play the standard interlude over the next two A sections and Brown starts his marvelous choruses on the bridge, beginning with a march-like feel. He plays a series of florid runs, with exceptional double-timing, bluesy riffs and a good many triplets, at times seeming like he is just barely touching on the notes, as though they were raindrops hitting a tin roof. Rollins starts his five choruses by toying with the melody notes, twisting some to suit his fancy. He also explores the triplet idea introduced earlier by Brown and lays down a few humorous quotes, testing the audience’s listening skill, or maybe just amusing himself and his band mates. Powell entrenches himself in a rhythmic block chord solo and Morrow quickly falls into a two-beat feel for the remainder of his solo in which Powell runs a gamut of quotes, including “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and the “Old Irish Washer Woman.” George Morrow’s bass solo fades in his first chorus—once again, he doesn’t get his proper due!

The quintet had a few days off following this engagement and were to reconvene in Chicago for a job at the Blue Note Club commencing on June 27th. Clifford’s wife LaRue had traveled to California to show off their new son, one of the few times she didn’t travel with her husband on the road. Roach and Powell returned to New York and on June 22nd, the band made the fabulous Saxophone Colossus album together. Brown spent a few well deserved days with family and friends in Wilmington, then, on June 26th, called his wife for her birthday and their anniversary, went to the racetrack and enjoyed a good soul food dinner prepared by his sister Geneva at his parents' home. Pleading that he didn’t want to go, he hesitantly drove his car up to Philadelphia, reportedly played the early Music City jam session, picked up Richie Powell and his wife Nancy, and started out toward Chicago on a rainy summer night. Powell’s near-sighted wife lost control of the car near Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the trio hit a bridge abutment over Route 220, careening down an embankment to their demise. Roach and Rollins were already in Chicago when they received the tragic news—Max retreated to his room with a bottle of cognac, and remembered, while Sonny simply played his saxophone all night long in his room. LaRue was now a widow and Clifford, Jr., was now an orphan. Clifford Brown’s trumpet was silenced for good, with only these fantastic recordings to speak on behalf of his greatness.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: A Night In Tunisia

This has been Brownie’s most controversial date since its release by Columbia in 1973. For close to 30 years this has been propagated as Clifford’s last session, reportedly done just hours before his death in the horrific turnpike accident. Billy Root himself, in a Cadence interview, said that the date occurred maybe a year prior to his death—because he was out on the road with Stan Kenton when the crash happened. (He was accurate—tour dates show him in Wisconsin at the time of Brown’s accident.) University of the Arts professor Don Glanden and myself tracked down Ellis Tollin, who owned the drum shop in Philadelphia where this jam session took place, and also hosted and played drums on the weekly sessions. They were called “Swing Club” jam sessions and they took place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. from roughly 1954-1956, mainly for the benefit of the city’s underage musicians and fans to hear and play with the jazz stars who were appearing at Philadelphia’s Blue Note Club. Tollin produced flyers from the session, dated for May 31, 1955, complete with photos and a description listing the tunes and proceedings. The fact that Tollin himself thought these were still the recordings of Brownie’s last night leads me to believe that Brown did indeed play at Music City on his way out of town to Chicago, but this was not the recording of it (he played there many times). Others reported hearing Clifford there that evening as well. The Columbia date is completely erroneous—they list Monday, June 25th as the 1956 session date. The sessions always took place on Tuesday evenings. Also, Clifford’s fatal crash was not on June 26th, as commonly reported, but in the very early morning hours (1 a.m.) of Wednesday, June 27th, according to the Pennsylvania State Police report. That is neither here nor there when it comes down to the music, but I believe that it is proper to set the historical record straight.

It is very appropriate that “A Night In Tunisia” was chosen for the jam. Gillespie was an early champion of Brown after Clifford sat in with Diz’s big band in 1949, in Wilmington, Delaware, and flabbergasted him. He also personally encouraged Brownie to pursue music while he was recovering from his 1950 car accident. After the traditional intro, Brown takes the melody in his inimitable style and plays a four-bar break into his solo which excites the crowd. The rhythm section re-enters a beat late, but this doesn’t faze Brown. His ensuing five choruses (over three and a half consecutive minutes!) are full of blistering high notes, cascading triplets, diminished sequences and patterns, and emphatic repeated figures. He builds climax after climax. It is a solo that makes one pause and thank the stars that it was saved on tape! Root follows with four choruses of feel-good swing, sounding bold, confident and as melodic as Clifford. Sam Dockery, a friend of Clifford’s and future Blakey Jazz Messenger, is up next on piano—unfortunately, his outing is reduced down to just one chorus on most releases. Brown returns for two more ‘fire breathing’ choruses, Tollin providing wonderful support and interplay, and plays through the head into a short cadenza. By this time, Brown’s constant forays into the upper register have taken a toll and it is a struggle for him to get some of his high notes to speak. He must have created a little melodramatic scene during the cadenza because the audience chuckles for a moment. He finally reaches his intended note amidst audience cheering.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Blues Walk

When the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet formed in the spring of 1954, Sonny Stitt was its first saxophone player. Not able to support three leaders, this group as such only lasted a few weeks, with Stitt being replaced initially by Teddy Edwards, and he by Land. Sonny left behind a wonderful blues riff tune for the quintet’s repertoire, one that he recorded under the title “Loose Walk” in 1952. Why it has been attributed to Brown is a mystery, since he would never have knowingly taken credit for another’s creative contribution. This particular arrangement, albeit simple, gets to the heart of what the Max Roach-Clifford Brown aggregation was all about—excitement, dynamics, hearty swing and coherence of improvisational thought. It offers the listener the true spirit of jazz in such a way that tugs at their emotions by organizing well-placed moments of tension and release into the overall presentation. It wasn’t to be just a ‘blowing session’ left to chance.

The arrangement is simple enough in its execution, but what the players do within that framework is the true genius. The medium-up punchy riff tune is repeated twice, and Brown has the break into the first solo. He intermixes blues-inflected passages with those that take the twists and turns of a studied bebop master. He builds tension to his fourth and fifth choruses where Land plays a background riff that adds to the tension. Relief comes on the sixth chorus, as Brown backs down again and builds toward the next climax. His seven choruses lead into Land’s eight, where a similar approach is employed, Brown riffing on the fifth and sixth choruses. Land has a wonderful ‘barking’ quality to his tone and, complements Brown’s phrases wonderfully. Powell builds his six-chorus solo to a polyrhythmic frenzy by the final chorus, then hands it to the ensemble which plays a four-bar send off to Roach’s drum solo. The sendoff happens again and Max takes another five solo drum choruses that lead smoothly into a series of trading by the horns. These interchanges are some of the most exciting in recorded jazz. Two choruses of fours lead into a chorus of twos, a chorus of ones, and a chorus of half-bar improvisations. It is a tremendously difficult task for an improviser to coordinate these short interplays into coherent, flowing lines, but these musicians do it admirably. If you compare this to the alternate take, you can hear how things can go quickly awry if the timing happens to get away from you! Clifford misses the downbeat of the melody out, but it in no way detracts from the excitement of the moment. This is recorded jazz done in a brilliant and thrilling fashion.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Stardust

The album Clifford Brown With Strings has an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ tale, if we look to his widow LaRue Brown-Watson for the storyline. EmArcy Record’s producer Bobby Shad suggested the project, recognizing Clifford’s beautiful touch with a ballad, and primed Brownie for the session. Clifford didn’t want to do it, but LaRue, who also appreciated when he performed ballads and classical works, encouraged him to do the date. According to LaRue, Clifford began urging her early on in their marriage to have a child—LaRue wouldn’t budge, expressing that she was much too young to take on the responsibility of a child. He would not relinquish his constant requests, and finally, with a little prodding from her own mother as well, agreed to the idea of carrying a child. LaRue fondly remembers that the strings date was his personal gift to her for that blessing bestowed upon him. In December 1955, Clifford Brown, Jr. (she insisted on the namesake) was born to the couple and Clifford enjoyed the company of his little boy for six months, playing for him, talking philosophy to him and teaching him all he knew about music.

Neal Hefti, who was given undue criticism for his lush, sweet and sentimental arrangements for the date, recalls that Brown only hit three ‘clams’ in the entire three-day recording session. Hefti’s string frameworks complement Brown’s glorious tone, which simply needs to be heard to be truly appreciated. No words can do it justice—if something can be perfect in this world, this would come awfully close. Brown is a bona fide singer of songs and his artistry is evident on every track of this album. The reason I chose this particular tune is for the 20-second phrase that is exactly two minutes into the cut. It is a delightful and timeless phrase that brings utter satisfaction with every repeated listening.

Though the album was panned critically at the time, the general listener gleaned its meaning. It opened up a new appreciative audience for Brown. Shad said it was a best seller at the time—one of EmArcy’s biggest money makers. With the passing of time, musicians have gotten the message as well. Wynton Marsalis informs that he learned all of the album’s solos as a young apprentice.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Sarah Vaughan: September Song

Sarah Vaughan met and heard Brownie while he was a member of Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames, and claimed to have ‘discovered’ him at the Apollo Theater. She broached the topic of recording together, Powell recalls, but the session didn’t take place until this date two years later while both were part of EmArcy’s artist roster. Brown’s widow LaRue always noted how much Clifford admired and listened to Vaughan and owned many of her records. That comes as no surprise when you hear Clifford play a ballad or interpret a melody, always eliciting a vocal approach.

Here, Vaughan gives special treatment to Kurt Weill’s show tune “September Song.” A beautiful introduction with flute, tenor saxophone and cup-muted trumpet over a bowed bass approximates a morning sunrise, setting up Vaughan’s solo melody entrance. She portrays the lyrics perfectly, displaying a quick vibrato (which can take some getting used to for a few listeners), impeccable pitch, and occasional use of her deep, rich low-register notes, all accompanied empathetically by “Vice Prez” Quinichette on the tenor saxophone far in the background. Her playfulness with the intonation, seeming to ‘get there’ at just the right time, also helps her to massage certain melody notes and bait the listener to lead them right where she so chooses. Clifford enters with a rare recorded cup-mute solo, conjuring up at once ‘Fats’ Navarro and a bluesy Charlie Parker. His phrases seem to dance through the tune, barely ever touching the ground. His melodic quotient is so high that the solo seems pre-composed and his emphatic delivery makes one feel every piercing note. Brown often slips effortlessly into double-timing and his syncopations are sometimes suspended rhythmically across strong beats and bar lines. It is a monumental solo. Mann takes eight on the flute and really does not know what do to with the tune, sounding rather lost. In his defense, I would not be envious of anyone who had to follow Clifford’s initial statement. Brown comes back for eight more, and, at the conclusion of his solo, Vaughan enters with a melismatic display so fresh that it is the highlight of the song, if not the whole album. She finishes the tune leaving the listener with a sense of great optimism.

History has called this session one of Sarah Vaughan’s finest. LaRue agrees—she was there. She remembers the moment she broke into tears when the romantic Clifford cocked his head and pointed at her as Vaughan began vocalizing “I’m Glad There Is You.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Max Roach-Clifford Brown: (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance

This is the second day of studio recording for the EmArcy label by what most would term the “classic” Brown-Roach Quintet with Harold Land, George Morrow and Richie Powell. This configuration played together for about a year and a half before Sonny Rollins replaced Land. Of the many studio recordings the band made, this cut must certainly rank as one of its finest. The 1950s period in jazz history is partially defined by the fervent choice/goal of so many jazz players to create so called ‘melodic’ improvisations—variations that can stand on their own as if pre-composed for the occasion. Brownie stands out as one of the best practitioners, and, in my humble opinion, this solo is one of the greatest to have been captured on record. If one stops to consider that Brown was just 23 years old at this time, the maturity of his rendition takes on an even greater sense of accomplishment.

The seven-minute showcase is all Brownie except for Powell’s 4-bar introduction and his 16 bars of embellished melody inserted as an interlude prior to Clifford’s dramatic ending. He sets up the tune skillfully with rolled chords that sound like quick and succinct harp glisses. Clifford enters with a rich, burnished tone that at times caresses and warms and at other times crackles and pops. His vibrato shimmers like a vocalist as he presents a sentimental, heart-tugging rendition of the melody. At one moment hesitant, the next prodding and cajoling, Brown keeps the listener’s interest piqued. One technique Brownie keeps in play here that is unique to him is his use of the consonant “n” in his repeated articulations. To achieve this, he inserts his tongue between his teeth (like saying the letter n), while connecting a series of notes to bottle up the sound and produce an effect akin to vocalizing words. His improvisation is in a double time feel from the rhythm section, with Brown often quadrupling the time to great result. Some phrases are fluid, some are ‘pecking’ in contrast, and Roach and the rest of the rhythm section support all of them wonderfully. The new creation is SO melodic that it indeed does sound like it could have been pre-written. A surviving partial alternate shows the same creativity, yet different ideas! There is a sense of classical balance to Brown's improvisation, as he spins out such long phrasing with sheer artistry—a rich combination of inspired performance and high level organizational ability. After Powell’s 16-measure melody in ballad time, Roach thunders a drum roll into a heavy swinging double-time groove on the bridge, featuring a final improvisation from Brown. Clifford wails the final melody in the upper register, exhibiting a power that could match any trumpeter’s, and concludes with a cadenza that only he could fashion. A startling piece of jazz.

The group would perform this live on numerous occasions as a feature for Brown. Down Beat called this particular recording “one of the achievements of the year.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

Less than a month after the historic February 1954 A Night At Birdland session with Art Blakey, Brownie found himself in California as the new co-leader of a hard bop quintet with master drummer Max Roach. The group went through a few personnel changes during its first months of existence, and eventually opened at the California Club in April for an extended engagement. Once in Los Angeles, Clifford met, and was immediately attracted to, a young USC psychology student named LaRue Anderson, who was writing a master’s thesis attempting to disprove jazz as an art form. She formed a bond with Max Roach and Charlie Parker in the process, and consequently met Clifford when they both thought she and he would make a good couple. Though it took LaRue awhile to give him a second look, they eventually dated, fell in love, and were married on June 26th of that year (also her birthday). Clifford asked her if she would marry his music and him! During their spring courtship, Brown introduced a new song at the California Club for the girl he recently met that had become his “Joy Spring.” I understand the original title was actually “Little Miss Meow,” and I’ll just leave that one to your imagination! Though LaRue didn’t understand his improvisational genius, she recognized his beauty and told me that he would “absorb the sound of the ocean and the feeling for a sunset,” and it would be reflected in his music.

This recording date features the first recording of two Brown originals—“Daahoud” and “Joy Spring.” Dick Bock had heard Clifford and wanted to record him for his fledgling Pacific Jazz label in the West Coast style with a band of his design. To write the arrangements, he hired tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose, who was working with Art Pepper in a group that was playing opposite the Brown-Roach Quintet at the Tiffany Club around the time of this session. He spent days and nights with Brown, discussing and finalizing all the arrangements. It is unclear whether it was planned or simply a mistake that “Joy Spring” ended up in the key of Eb here as opposed to F as when the Brown-Roach group waxed their version about three weeks later. Whatever the circumstance, Brown plays through it with characteristic ease, even though the second section places him in E-major!

Montrose’s arrangement is busy and quite classical in nature with three lower-voiced horns supporting Brown’s trumpet melody in a kind of responsorial counterpoint. While very “arranged,” the B section does swing, as do the solos. Clifford takes a break into his one-chorus statement and he is extremely melodic in approach, while both he and the rhythm section swing joyously. Though played with a slight restraint, there is very little change from the Brownie the world has come to know thus far. Manne supports with some well-articulated punches on the snare. Bob Gordon follows with a chorus and is also highly melodic, sounding somewhat like Harold Land did when paired with Brown. The melody goes out in a rhythmic variation, complete with some swells by the horns, and Clifford’s melody is voiced to jump in and out of the harmonized horn texture underneath. A quick outing, the whole presentation clocks in at just over three minutes.

Foreshadowing Brown’s own fatal car accident two years later, Bob Gordon, the other featured soloist on this selection, would perish in a similar car incident in August 1955.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Art Blakey: Blues

Upon his release from the Hampton Band in December 1953, Brownie found employment wherever he could—most notably with Charlie Parker and Art Blakey. The brilliant recordings he made in New York City in the Fall and the ones captured while in Europe were being released steadily to positive critical acclaim, and it was inevitable that before long, Brown would be snatched up as a star sideman or become a leader in his own right on the professional jazz circuit. This historic live date with Art Blakey in February 1954, came just before his emergence.

Alfred Lion asked Blakey to do a live date at Birdland for the Blue Note label and Art responded by hiring an all-star cast. With the advent of the LP, it was now becoming feasible to present live dates and extended songs and we are certainly richer for it. There were some rehearsals for the date and incidentally, when Miles Davis attended one, Clifford played so well that Davis told him that he hoped he would “break his chops!” The night was recorded (superbly by Rudy Van Gelder, I might add) in five shorter sets, so some of the tunes are repeated for alternate takes. “Blues” falls somewhere in the middle and it seems like the band just wanted to ‘get down and dirty’ in the midst of a series of pretty demanding tunes. Hence, we have a relaxed-groove, blues-drenched outing, much to the audience’s delight (you can hear a fan shout “harder, harder") and also to Blakey’s, who shouts to Lou Donaldson, “blow your horn!”

Horace Silver sets the pace with an eight-bar intro, emphasizing the triplet feel and sets up what might initially be mistaken for as “stripper” music, complete with audience jeers! Donaldson’s four choruses are very Parker-esque, as one might expect, in the “Parker’s Mood” vein—he is a true master of this idiom. Brownie’s four choruses are dripping with raw blues emotion—there is very little in his output that contains such base emotions. His emphatic and clarion statements alternate with phrases that sound almost like crying, exciting the crowd and building tension. By the third chorus, his lines carry the impact of a knife cutting repeated deep slashes as he sets up a kind of call-and-response with himself between the lower and upper registers of the horn. After some effective stop-time on chorus four, Brown ends with a fantastically executed double time passage. Silver’s four choruses (and his comping) are classic Horace ‘Messengers'; churchy, punchy, full of triplets and heavy shuffle rhythms. Russell provides a wonderfully solid feel, and it is apparent that Blakey is loving every second of this.

We are left with a slice of history that was undoubtedly both fun and cathartic for the players and audience. The beauty of it is that we can actually feel and enjoy it the same way those lucky participants did 55 years ago. And to think that LaRue once told me that she didn’t think Cliff (as she called him) could play the blues!

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Lionel Hampton: Gryce Suite, Brown Skin

Brownie met and jammed with some members of the 1953 Lionel Hampton Orchestra in Atlantic City while he was playing a show there led by pianist Tadd Dameron. The young Hampton musicians were thoroughly impressed with Brown’s electrifying playing and affable personality, and one in particular, Quincy Jones, begged Hamp to hire the trumpet star. There were several like-minded modern jazz ‘young lions’ in the band, besides Jones, to whom Brown was attracted: Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer, Benny Golson and Jimmy Cleveland, to name a few. Brownie joined the band and played some dates at the Band Box in New York City directly prior to flying to Europe with the band for a three-month tour. The tour was highly successful, and has become legendary for the incredible amount of clandestine recording that took place in Sweden and Paris by most of the young modernists. Lionel (and wife Gladys) Hampton strictly forbade any outside recording by band members (if he wasn’t involved), under threat of denying passage back to the States. However, the studios clamored to record the young stars, and, fortunately for us, the edict was ignored. “Brown Skin” is a feature for Clifford by Gigi Gryce on the chord changes to “Cherokee.” I mention the above background, because once those recordings started to come out, Hampton was less likely to feature his sideman this prominently, as he didn’t want people to hear and record his band members behind his back. This performance was prior to most of the recording dates and subsequent releases.

After a brief announcement by Hamp, the band goes into a bombastic intro, the brass shimmering and drums rolling. This quickly relaxes into a sweet ballad presentation by Brownie. The arrangement is very forward-looking and something akin to what Stan Kenton was exploring. Clifford is smooth, effortless, and lush. After a terse fermata chord, Brown sets a bright tempo with a solo break, joined by the bass, and then the full band assists as Brown glides into a chorus of “Cherokee” changes. On his second chorus, band interchanges alternate with his brilliant solo statements, his long phrases leaving the listener breathless at times. The full band takes an interlude on the tune’s A sections and Clifford re-enters on the bridge, deftly quoting “Laura” in the upper register. He solos through the last A section as the band punctuates and concludes the tune with solo trumpet over Dawson’s high-hat time to wild applause from what sounds like a vast crowd in attendance.

Though the overall sound quality is, by modern standards, quite inferior, the strength and power of this great band is readily apparent. The minor deficiencies in ensemble work are supplanted by the energy of the group as a whole and certainly by Brownie’s never-ending musical palette. He expertly modifies his phrases in slight ways in order to retain continuity of ideas, which provides cohesion to his solo. Brown and nine others were ultimately fired from the band for their secretive recordings and found themselves back in the States in early December 1953 without employment. However, Brownie would soon become widely known to the music world through those recordings and those put out by Blue Note and Prestige.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Easy Living

This was Brownie’s first date as a leader for Blue Note Records and came about after Brown’s outstanding playing on the Jay Jay Johnson Blue Note record date just a month prior. For sidemen, he chose new musical friend Gigi Gryce (with whom, by this time, he was working with in Lionel Hampton’s Band), Art Blakey (who was recommended to hire Brown earlier by none other than Charlie Parker), and Blue Note regulars Heath, Lewis and Rouse. In addition to this beautiful ballad, the session includes material by Brown himself, Gigi Gryce, Hampton trumpet mate Quincy Jones and the bebopper’s test piece “Cherokee,” which Brown had an affinity for playing. This date took place only days prior to Brown’s departure for a European tour with the great Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which was chock full of young modern jazz talent of the day. A wonderful Francis Wolff photograph from this session shows Brown and Gryce donning stickers on their chest in testament to both having been properly immunized for their impending trip overseas!

Ralph Rainger’s Easy Living, a tune often associated with songstress Billie Holiday, is relaxed and loping, and Clifford expresses the mood brilliantly. The introduction, over a bowed bass, has Gryce on a flute lead, and though it sounds much like another flute, I believe Rouse is playing the saxophone delicately and transparently underneath. Brownie enters with the melody line and presents it gracefully in a vocal style, twisting and bending notes to add color and nuance. His two A-sections of the 32-bar tune are full of rapid embellishments and additions to the melody, and he shows off his double-timing ability, which is complemented admirably by Blakey, an excellent choice for the date. During the bridge, Blakey sets up an attractive rhythmic pattern that gets picked up in a variant by Lewis. Their “chatter” surrounding Clifford’s melody is quite appealing. Brown finishes the melody with a remarkable modulation back to the B-section that falls into a double-time feel for Brownie’s melodic improvisation. Clifford takes the melody out and the introduction material recurs, providing a coda that harmonically concludes with a sound that is, to this day, quite funny to my ears!

The product as a whole is a thoughtfully arranged, highly sensitive reading of the song which leaves one with a melancholy yet wholly satisfied feeling, much like releasing a heavy sigh. As a matter of fact, in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz, which was released in 1955 (with interviews conducted by mail in 1954), Clifford listed “Easy Living” as his best solo to date on record.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: I Come From Jamaica

Following a debilitating car accident in the summer of 1950 which left Clifford incapacitated in a body cast for the better part of a year, he found steady musical employment with a Philadelphia-based rhythm & blues, novelty, “jive” band known as Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames. Powell was the brash, bawdy leader on drums and the entertaining unit enjoyed a good deal of success on the R&B circuit, touring across the country but centered primarily in the East. Touring with a working band certainly had positive implications on Clifford’s future as a musician—he met and played with musicians of all types on a constant basis. Among the many musicians who heard Brown with the group during his late 1951 to mid 1953 tenure were Dr. Billy Taylor, Benny Golson, Billy Root, Charlie Parker, Red Rodney, Tadd Dameron, Lou Donaldson and Sarah Vaughan, who ‘discovered’ Clifford at the Apollo Theater.

This recording is Brownie’s first in the professional business. The song is an ‘island’ calypso number with a bridge, and is a novelty song capitalizing on the Latin craze in music during that time period. Following a drum and conga intro, Powell sings the melody over a strong 3-2 clave pattern with the band shouting responses to him on the bridge. Lambert presents a very blues-oriented electric guitar solo on the A sections with Wells pounding out an ultra-rhythmic locked hands bridge section on the piano. Then, suddenly, Brownie emerges for a full chorus with a fiery, hard-edged trumpet solo in the Gillespie style. His use of the entire spectrum of the bebop language, biting articulations and deep emotional impact contrasts markedly with the group’s rather conservative approach and fits perfectly with the underlying clave pattern. Afterwards, Powell vamps on some nonsensical syllables and the tune fades. An auspicious beginning to Brown’s recording career. The Down Beat two-star review of October 1952 reported, “and a fair trumpet solo to round things out.”

Brownie spent nearly 18 months with the band, swaying gently back and forth to their music, occasionally doubling on piano and playing bebop-inspired trumpet that was truly anomalous to the band’s prevailing style. As an aside, this session came only a month after the mysterious death of Brown’s oldest sister Marie—Clifford was noticeably shaken over the tragedy, according to those who knew him well.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson (with Clifford Brown): Turnpike (alternate take)

June of 1953 was a very busy and prolific month for Clifford Brown. Having recently left the Blue Flames, he was working a steady summer show job with Tadd Dameron at the Club Paradise in Atlantic City. Whilst spending a great deal of time performing as a part of this revue’s band, he found opportunity to record three very important albums in his discography—his first professional jazz dates. The first was a session that he co-led with altoist Lou Donaldson for Blue Note on June 9th, promptly followed by a Prestige session with the Tadd Dameron band on June 11th. Dameron had tagged Brown as the worthy successor to ‘Fats’ Navarro a year prior, but the session he scheduled at that time didn’t materialize. The third was this session with bebop trombone great Jay Jay Johnson, tenor man Jimmy Heath and the rhythm section for the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Jimmy Heath, who hired Clifford for some of his club dates following Brown’s recovery from his 1950 car accident, remembers that on this song in particular, Johnson ended up doing multiple takes because he had developed certain ideas that he wanted to get on the record. On every take, Clifford did something fresh, creative and exciting, especially on the fast-moving cycle of fourths sequence in the tune, and the Blue Note people (namely Alfred Lion) signed him for a leader session on the spot. That session would take place a month later.

“Turnpike” is an up-tempo ‘rhythm changes’ tune which employs a 4-bar cyclic sequence during the solos on the first 4 bars of each A section. The trumpet has the lead on the introduction and melody (Heath on baritone sax), and some poor intonation and a delay in the entry of the melody might have been the reason why this didn’t end up as the master take. However, the playing is so exciting that it certainly needed to be saved. The head consists of mostly one repeated note with a few tonicizing embellishments on the A sections. Johnson improvises the bridge and my, what solid time he has! A series of two-chorus solos follows with the characteristic cycle employed on each player’s second chorus. Brownie has the first and spins out a series of shorter phrases (and a few long ones!) that are logical and balanced. He nails the cycle sequence—one of the reasons I chose the alternate was to demonstrate the mastery that the Blue Note folks recognized in Clifford. Heath is next on tenor, and plays an exciting solo, though he has a bit of an issue with the time on his initial cycle sequences. J.J. opens with a “Rhythm-a-ning” quote and performs his material with the utmost grace and ease. Lewis’s two choruses begin with a tension-building pedal point and, during the head out, a variant of the melody trades with the drums, the bass walks the bridge, and the tune winds up abruptly. This is small group jazz at its finest with Clarke and Percy Heath in outstanding form, both providing a swinging foundation.

Aside from earning Brown a Blue Note leader date, this session had a more important, farther-reaching implication. Max Roach possessed this recording and, when he was considering trumpet players for his new group in early 1954, he favored Clifford because of this album. He was enamored by Brown’s fat sound, mentioning specifically Brownie’s cup-muted work on John Lewis’s “Sketch One.” “It was like ‘Fats’ Navarro with an edge,” he recalled.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Body & Soul

A recording that features Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus in the company of Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones is worth any amount of time it might take to track it down (of course, these days, access to such rare musical encounters are seldom more than a few mouse clicks away, but you get my point). Eldridge was an elder statesman in 1960, yet he still had lots of great playing ahead of him. He opens here with a gritty, emotive improvised chorus on the ballad's meandering chord changes—his style the characteristic bridge between Armstrong and Gillespie, but timeless for all that. Eldridge ends with a double-time break (shared with Mingus), which leads to Dolphy, who doubles the double-time, staying well within the changes for the most part while parsing the beat in ingenious, unpredictable ways. Even at its most outré, Dolphy's style came out of bebop, a fact made most apparent here as he reins in his more extreme impulses. A young Tommy Flanagan plays well if without particular distinction, and Papa Jo Jones swings like only he can. The track's highlight is arguably Eldridge's return chorus at performance's end; he plays as if trying to make the point that fire and inspiration know no stylistic limits. Certainly, they're qualities both he and Dolphy shared in abundance.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Adams & Don Pullen Quartet: Dionysus

Three out the four members of the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet died in middle age: drummer Dannie Richmond in 1988 at age 52, saxophonist Adams in 1992 at 51, and pianist Pullen in 1995 at 53. As a result, the band had a regrettably short life. It was nevertheless one of the greatest jazz groups of the '70s and '80s. To a degree greater than perhaps any other band of its time, the group was able to cohere the various strands of jazz's development in creating a seamlessly modern music—state of the jazz art in all its multifaceted glory.

Drummer Richmond's tune "Dionysus" begins as a relaxed, quasi-latin vamp—almost a ballad. It gives the band ample room to stretch its collective imagination and build to ever-greater levels of intensity. On tenor, Adams carries the repetitive, quietly riff-ish melody; Pullen's increasingly dissonant accompaniment gains momentum on the bridge, and we're given a hint of the maelstrom to follow. Adams solo gets very "out" very quickly, as the rhythm section reacts in kind. Pullen follows, wasting little time on pleasantries. He digs right in—fingers, fists, forearms, and all. Richmond and Brown ground the performance while letting it breathe. The performance heats up and cools off naturally; the musicians are extraordinarily simpatico. That sense of common purpose shared by four gifted and unique musicians results in something special.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Coleman Hawkins: Hawk's Variation Parts 1 & 2

On an undetermined date sometime between June 1946 and January 1947, Coleman Hawkins recorded one of the most daring and innovative performances of his career: an unaccompanied tenor solo track titled "Picasso" , named after producer Norman Granz's favorite painter. "Picasso" is considered to be the first recorded unaccompanied performance by a jazz saxophonist, laying the groundwork for future solo efforts by Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and others. "Picasso" was the result of intense preparation by Hawkins and he is reputed to have spent roughly eight hours in the studio working out his ideas, first at the piano and then on his horn.

Hawkins was said to have been nurturing the idea of a solo piece long before "Picasso" was recorded, and "Hawk's Variation" is the little-known precursor of "Picasso." The original record of "Hawk's Variation" was recorded for the Selmer company as a promotional demo of their newest line of saxophones, most likely the Super Balanced Action series given the time frame.

Part 1 alternates between a medium swing feel and some quasi-rubato passages, and is built largely of sequential figures based on more or less standard harmonic practices of the period. The fascinating part of "Hawk's Variation" is part 2. It consists of a full chorus improvisation on the chord changes of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with no thematic statement. Hawkins was an early champion of Monk's and employed him as his pianist on some record dates in 1944. However, the most pervasive influence on Hawkins' work here is Art Tatum. Tatum was the primary inspiration for Hawkins' vertical approach to chords and his use of substitute harmonies. Hawkins plumbs the depths of the song's harmonies to the nth degree while creating lyrical melodic lines and swinging in his inimitable way.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nicole Mitchell: What If

The question “what if” implies unlimited possibilities, a lot of which Mitchell explores on this tune, such as, “what if you mix inside-outside jazz and classical with an immovable groove?” Mitchell’s flute attack is like no other, employing a tight vibrato and daring runs up to the top of the flute’s range without cracking any notes. Tinnin’s drum playing is the other standout performance, playing complex, syncopated rhythms with bamboo hotrods that slyly incorporates a strand or two of hip-hop, and practically soloing underneath the band. The entire band performs an eight-note fragment in the middle of the chorus in unison, highlighting the group interplay that’s exceptionally taut throughout.

Nicole Mitchell shows through her compositions like “What If” that she never stops asking that question, and in answering it she comes up with fresh, inspiring ideas.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Les Brown: I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm

Les Brown had been in the band business since he led his Duke Blue Devils in 1936. When the band returned to Duke University, Brown remained in New York and free-lanced as an arranger. He returned to band leading in 1938 and led a good band that had the great fortune of having Doris Day as vocalist before and after World War II. The band got better and better throughout the 1940s, and eventually became the back-up band for Bob Hope’s radio show. This instrumental version of the Berlin standard was heard on one of Hope’s shows, and the audience reaction was strong enough for Brown’s record label, Columbia Records, to ask Brown to record it. “Look in your vault,” was Brown’s reaction. Sure enough, Brown had recorded it, but it had never been released. Skip Martin’s infectious treatment is still heard all over the world, and was one of the last big band instrumental hits. Brown recorded this arrangement several times over the years, but the original is still the classic version.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Quartet Offensive: The Dirty Dollar

Neither a quartet nor offensive, this five-piece band from Baltimore thrives in the crevices that separate jazz, rock and improvised music.. As so well illuminated in the leadoff track from their debut album Carnivore, being avant-garde doesn’t mean being a burden to listen to. As a matter of fact, “The Dirty Dollar” is built around crunchy riffs and John Bonham authoritative rhythms taken from the Led Zeppelin II playbook. The distinction with these guys is that they get the horn players to rock your face, too (a bass clarinet goes well with a nicely amplified guitar, by the way). Just before the first riff gets too repetitive, the song comes to a screeching halt so that the guys can regroup, ruminate a bit and create some free jazz around more riffs.

The marriage of such dissimilar styles didn’t come about through a shotgun wedding. On “The Dirty Dollar,” the union is a blissfully kinky one.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chico Hamilton: Penthouse A

“Penthouse A” is a two-chord figure with a bridge tacked on that gets by on a natty strut alone. DeNigris alternately vamps with classic jazz chords and improvises with cool, single line notes in an amiable, understated style. That said, it’s Hamilton’s show all the way, even though he doesn’t solo or even stray to insert fills. It’s that signature rolling cymbal/rim shot combination he uses to set the mid-tempo rhythm that dominates the performance.

Hamilton (along with Shelly Manne) has been regarded the pre-eminent cool jazz drummer for nearly 60 years, and his firm grip on that distinction is asserted even today with displays such as the one he makes on “Penthouse A.”

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andy Kirk: Walkin' and Swingin'

"Walkin' and Swingin'" is an excellent example of the work of this great Kansas City-based band and its principal arranger, Mary Lou Williams. It was not uncommon during the swing era for a band to be formed under the leadership of one individual, only to be subsequently taken over and re-named by another leader. Such was the fate of The Dark Clouds of Joy, originally led by a trumpeter named Terrence Holder, who in 1929 was forced to abandon his band due to family obligations. The band was re-named The Twelve Clouds of Joy under the leadership of Andy Kirk, a self-effacing but savvy tuba and bass sax player who had joined the Holder band in 1926. The Kirk band reached its creative peak when pianist Mary Lou Williams became the de-facto musical director. Kirk's band was slightly smaller and lighter sounding than most of the increasingly brass-heavy bands of the swing era and developed its own musical identity due to Mary Lou Williams' writing. She was also one of the band's two main soloists along with the great but short-lived tenor man Dick Wilson. The tune is a 32 bar Williams original stated with a light two-beat feel that shifts to a walking bass at the bridge. The theme is followed by a full chorus sax soli with trumpet lead that is beautifully written and executed. The last eight bars of this section contains the main motif of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm' A 'Ning," which is fascinating considering Williams' well-known history as a mentor to the young Monk. Williams turns in a light-fingered stride-influenced chorus with the brilliant Dick Wilson taking the bridge. The out chorus is subtle and swinging with none of the razzle-dazzle hoopla usually employed by writers of such passages at the time.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kurt Elling: Say It (Over & Over Again)

Originally produced as a concert for the Monterey Jazz Festival, Kurt Elling’s CD “Dedicated To You” celebrates John Coltrane’s Ballads and the classic John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman. In his poem “A Poetic Jazz Memory” which he recites over “It’s Easy To Remember”, Elling notes that the Coltrane/Hartman album was made in a few hours using head arrangements. Elling’s tribute is nowhere near that casual, with fully-prepared arrangements by Laurence Hobgood, and what seems to be a very structured performance order, with medleys included in order to present all of the Hartman songs and most of the Coltrane ballads without having to do complete versions of each song. Elling takes a lot of liberties with the material, including some very surprising note choices on the verse to “Lush Life” and at times, it feels like the individual expression outweighs the memory of the original understated LPs. But in the middle of the program appears this glorious version of “Say It (Over and Over Again)” which brings back the feeling of the original album without copying the original’s style or arrangement. The opening features the ETHEL string quartet in a quiet fughetta based on the melody. Elling comes in very softly, singing the lyric with great sensitivity and tenderness. Ernie Watts enters at the bridge with a fluttery obbligato and after the first chorus, he returns for a magnificently-constructed solo which starts lyrically and builds to an impressive conclusion alluding to “Parker’s Mood” along the way (Ernie is a severely under-appreciated talent; let’s hope that this CD brings him more of the recognition he deserves). When Elling returns, he and the band take advantage of the raised intensity with a heavily-syncopated bridge, then they slowly release the tension with an extended version of the final eight bars.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jackie Allen: I've Never Been In Love Before

One of the best results of having a first-rate music college in your community is that you get a first-rate community orchestra. The ranks are filled with faculty and student musicians, giving them both valuable performing experience, and the community gets excellent music played in their hometown, usually with lower ticket prices than for the big-city orchestras. In the case of the Muncie Symphony, the musicians are from Ball State University, where Hans Sturm is professor of double bass. When Muncie's conductor Bohuslav Rattay heard Sturm's wife, jazz vocalist Jackie Allen, at a concert in Chicago, he invited her and Sturm to create a joint concert with the symphony. Starry Night was a successful fund-raiser for the orchestra and the CD displays the fine music made during the two concert nights.

While collaborations between vocalists and symphony orchestras are rather common, what makes the Allen/Muncie partnership unique are the superb arrangements which offer substantial parts for the orchestra and challenges for the vocalist. John Clayton's fine setting of "I've Never Been In Love Before" is a standout performance. The long instrumental introduction offers no clue to the song that is about to come, and when Allen enters with a slow and quiet rendition of the opening phrases, the strings surround her with weaving contrapuntal lines (perhaps to illustrate the helpless haze she's in). There's a touch of relief in the bridge as the moving lines cease. Then the rhythm section enters for an extended vamp as Allen, who had not diverged from the melody to this point, eases into a light scat. The moving lines return in a muted form for the final bars of the melody, then the tempo jumps up to medium-up for solos by pianist Michael Kochur and guitarist John Moulder. There is a sudden return to the slower tempo and the scat vamp, but then the rhythm section continues accompanying Allen for the remainder of the chorus, leaving the extended coda (which is a partial re-statement of the introduction) to the orchestra.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Luciana Souza: Tide

Since her marriage to bassist/producer Larry Klein, Luciana Souza has shifted her musical focus from jazz singer to singer/songwriter. While she has composed superb song cycles on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Pablo Neruda, those songs always seemed linked to jazz, samba or both. On her CD, Tide, some of her original songs are not in the jazz realm. However, Souza has not actually abandoned any styles and the CD shows that she has melded some styles together and maintained some of them in their original form. There are three songs in Portuguese, fueled by a taut rhythm section headed by Romero Lubambo, two pop-ish songs with Rebecca Pidgeon on backing vocals, and two original songs with lyrics adapted from poems by e.e. cummings. The second of the cummings songs, “Tide”, is a brilliant combination of Souza’s singer/songwriter, jazz and poetry modes. The poem is a free adaptation to be sure, with none of cummings’ lines kept intact, yet the poem’s theme of romantic jealousy and reconciliation remains. Souza and Klein compare the ebb and flow of relationships to the ocean’s tide, and the band creates a shifting, constantly changing mood behind the swaying melody line. Vinnie Colaiuta is especially creative throughout with tom-tom rolls and cymbals portraying the ocean water as it hits the rocks. Souza’s delivery is intense as always, and while her improvised interludes with Larry Koonse are obviously based on jazz scat singing, Souza uses sustained tones and open vowel sounds to make them into something very different.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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New York Voices: In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning

While they have not enjoyed the popular success of Manhattan Transfer, the New York Voices are highly revered amongst professional and amateur jazz singers. NYV's solo voices are not as distinctive as Manhattan Transfer's, but they achieve a marvelous vocal blend and share a rock-solid command of jazz rhythm and phrasing. The four members of NYV also have wide-ranging tastes in music and on their CD A Day Like This, they explore jazz standards, vocalese, samba, tango, original compositions and pop/rock.

Their version of "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" might be best considered as a re-construction of the song. The introduction is a slow 4-part a cappella rumination on the lyrics, leaving out the opening line of the song, and eschewing both the original harmony and melody. The rhythm section enters at lightning speed with the Voices singing a boppish variation over the top. One might be afraid of a reckless up-tempo reading of a very tender lyric, but instead Meador charges in with a burning tenor sax solo, backed up with wordless figures from the Voices. Eventually, the intensity starts to dissipate, even though the racehorse tempo is still implied. Then through a clever manipulation of syncopated figures, the tempo shifts down to medium as the Voices sing the verse to the song. And what marvelous group phrasing they use, with supremely executed phrases that sound like the sections of a top-line big band. At the end of the verse, the tempo shifts down again, and here - nearly halfway through the arrangement - we finally get to hear the original song! Singing the beautiful melody, Kim Nazarian deftly alternates between solo interpretation and leading the other Voices. After the melody chorus, Meader comes back on tenor sax for a sensuous duet with Nazarian over a repeated vamp. Then the band drops out as the opening a cappella section returns. The piano supports the Voices in the coda, and then there is a short and surprising return to the fast tempo before the track ends.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jackie Paris: I'm Through With Love

Despite the support of jazz fans, musicians and several record companies, Jackie Paris never garnered the success that his talent deserved. His legacy exists in a small handful of brilliant recordings. "I'm Through With Love," recorded on a pop label for an album of ballads, shows Paris at his most creative, using his extraordinary harmonic gifts to create a new (and sometimes daring) melodic line. Paris starts changing the melody almost immediately, moving it in harmonic directions only implied by the rhythm section. While he returns to the original melody on occasion, hardly a phrase goes by that isn't modified in Paris' rendition. Melodically, he combines theme and improvisation as an instrumentalist might in the opening chorus of a JATP-style ballad. Yet, he is also concerned with the words, as proved by his crystal-clear enunciation of the lyric. Paris balances the musical gymnastics with the mournful tone of the lyrics and makes this recording one of the classic renditions of this standard.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacqui Dankworth & New Perspectives: Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

Written for a suite of A.E. Housman settings (with each movement set by a different British jazz composer) Patrick Gowers� �Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff� is a complex setting designed to show off the extraordinary talents of vocalist Jacqui Dankworth and the ensemble New Perspectives. Jacqui, the daughter of vocalist Cleo Laine and saxophonist John Dankworth, shares the same wide vocal range as her mother and has performed in a vast range of musical settings.

The movement starts with a rhythmic cymbal pattern which in turn becomes the background for serpentine lines from the saxophones. Dankworth enters for the opening verse which admonishes the poet Terence for wolfing down his food and drink. In this short section (just over a minute of music), we hear an astonishing number of ideas, including the distinctive three-note motive for the words �stupid stuff� and the sudden change to waltz-time, both of which Gowers returns to throughout the work. The next section, which mourns a dead cow, is in a slow 3/4, subtly changing back into duple time before a dramatic unaccompanied turn for Dankworth featuring an angular vocal line that could have come from a 20th century opera. There is a brief return to the opening style with fragmented lines performed by Dankworth and the saxes, with the �stupid stuff� motive played in the background by the brasses.

Then, to lighten the mood, Dankworth invokes Terence to pipe a tune to dance to. The ensuing drinking song, again in 3/4, features wide leaps and exaggerated glissandos in the vocal lines and Dankworth sings it in a comic quasi-operatic style. After a brief return to the section with fragmented lines, guitarist Phil Lee introduces a rolling figure in 12/8 (which combines the duple and triple meters heard earlier). This final section is the most relaxed of the entire work, setting Housman�s sage advice to Terence to face life as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good . Gowers� vocal line is melodic rather than angular, and any necessary minor tension comes through short figures in the horns. And on the final line And I may friend you if I may, in the dark and cloudy day, the quiet ending grows slightly menacing with the final return of the �stupid stuff� motive in the reeds.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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