Stan Getz & Dizzy Gillespie: Lover Come Back to Me

Back in 1953 Getz and Gillespie battled it out at a very intense session, and it seemed like Dizzy was picking very fast tempos and deliberately trying to unnerve the cool school tenorist with an immersion into the boiling hot. Is it relevant that Dizzy, writing in his autobiography, griped that cool jazz was "white people's music," played by those "who never sweated on the stand"? Or is there no connection between that sentiment and the intense jousting that always took place when these two artists met in the frontline? In any event, if Dizzy tried to cut him in 1953, Getz did not bleed and fought back with some very aggressive playing of his own.

Fast forward three years, and Gillespie is ready for a rematch, and this time he brings along alto speedster Sonny Stitt to try to put even more pressure on Mr. Getz. Again the tempos are faster than normal, and Stitt sets the pace here with all of his usual double time licks. Gillespie follows, and though he is not quite as prepossessing over these changes as he would have been a decade before, he still makes a very strong statement. But Getz's playing here is the real revelation. Those who have only heard his bossa or ballad work may not know how much technique this artist had at his command, and how well he responded in pressure situations on the bandstand. I especially like Getz's overall sound on this track—his tone keeps its warmth and full body even when he increases the intensity of his attack. Give the nod here to Stan, who shows how deep his bebop roots went in this must-have performance for Getz fans.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Count Basie & His Orchestra (featuring Al Grey): Makin' Whoopee

Frank Sinatra's 1966 live album Sinatra At The Sands with Count Basie is remembered as one of his finest. Highlights from Basie's opening set (sans Frank) were issued on a Telarc CD a few years back, but this performance was issued on the original Sinatra double LP. Thad Jones’ arrangement of "Makin' Whoopee" was written to feature Al Grey, one of the most prominent soloists in the Basie band of that time. Jones’ brilliant underscoring adroitly sets off Grey’s unsurpassed ability with the plunger mute. The band gets its moment to shine too, during the hard-swinging shout chorus.

But it's Grey's wailing plunger work on the out-chorus that steals the show. He lays so far back into the groove that it's impossible to tell where he's feeling the beat; nonetheless, his unmistakable roar cuts through. His virtuosic flourishes are capped by a brief cadenza where—perhaps just to show that he could—he pops out a high F. Wow. The breathtaking finish serves as a reminder of Grey's virtuosity and his importance to the fabric of the 1960s Count Basie sound.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Albert Mangelsdorff: Ant Stepped On An Elephant's Toe

Albert Mangelsdorff's unique approach to the trombone is abundantly displayed in this trio performance. His aggressive use of advanced multiphonic techniques is featured from his rubato solo introduction through his wild and unrestrained improvisation. Mouzon follows his cues excellently, complementing Mangelsdorff's flourishes with perfectly-placed rhythmic responses. The tune relaxes into a funky groove as Pastorius takes center stage with his own solo. Mangelsdorff comes back in and blows behind him before the group transitions back into the head, this time noticably faster than the introduction. Rather than end there though, the melody unravels slowly. The track ends humorously with Mangelsdorff playing a figure across the entire range of his instrument, before a single unison note ends the song.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Kermit Ruffins: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Here's a version of a "Closer Walk" that is taken at a true walking pace, slow enough so that even grandpa can keep up with the strolling band. The connection to the New Orleans funeral parade tradition can be felt in each bar. But this isn't just a history in old time music—there are bits of modern soul and funk added into the mix. Ruffins possesses a spacious range and firm command of his horn, but he uses so much vibrato that I don't think there is any left for the rest of the band by the time he is done. The result is a track that sounds just a bit too stylized and over-the-top for my tastes, jazz for the tourists passing through town. Mary Griffin's vocal is the most authentic ingredient on this track, with a real gospel-ish delivery that is perfectly suited for the lyric.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Edmar Casteneda: Entre Cuerdas

Jazz harp is not as rare as you might think. There is an International Jazz Harp Foundation and on their website, you can read biographies of jazz harpists of the past, including Adele Girard, Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, as well as current jazz harpists like Edmar Castaneda. Casteneda plays the Colombian harp, which is slightly smaller than the classical harp, and with his spell-binding technique, the angelic harp becomes a jazz instrument of formidable expression. Castaneda uses his left hand to maintain dynamic grooves that would normally be provided by an upright bass. Concurrently, his right hand produces flourishes of sounds that range from delicate single note melody lines to chordal clumps.

On the intro to the spirited “Entre Cuerdas” (which translates to "between strings") Castaneda's harp sounds like a cross between a flamenco guitar and a Middle Eastern oud. Trombonist Marshall Gilkes uses deeply slurred tones that pose the perfect counterpoint to Castaneda’s slightly tinny, high register fingerings. Half way through the song, Castaneda slaps his bass strings which re-energizes the piece and Gilkes replies with a raucous response. The combination of sounds, along with a battery of effects from drummer/percussionist Sillman, creates an engaging interchange that could stir the soul of a dancer.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Stan Getz: I Thought About You

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz was living in Menlo Park, California—famous for start-ups and high tech, rather than jazz—just down the street from 3000 Sand Hill Road, that exclusive high-rent enclave of venture capitalists. Getz was in start-up mode too, reinventing himself from the ground up, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and associating with professors and community leaders who were a much more stabilizing influence on him than many of his jazz connections from the past.

But it was a hard place to find a rhythm section that lived up to his finicky standards. Getz was difficult to please as a bandleader, and wanted the right pulse, and no rushing, the proper dynamic range, and a rich harmonic palette underpinning his solos. Stan could co-exist briefly with West Coasters in the band, but for the important gigs he typically preferred to fly in a rhythm section from the East Coast if the money were available to do so. He was especially happy with the line-up on this project (Kenny Barron on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums) and invariably played at a very high level when they were on stage with him. Fans of this artist will never agree on which period of Getz's career produced the finest music, but it would be hard to top the tenorist of this period—sober, alert, impassioned, confident.

Yet, maddeningly, Getz hadn't been in the studio for a leader date in ages, and many fans had no idea of how well he was playing at this point. As strong as the Concord releases of the early 1980s were, Getz seemed even more commanding now. Those who heard him live wondered when he would make a record to document this period of intense music-making. We are fortunate that Dr. Herb Wong managed to reach terms with the tenorist and bring this band into the Music Annex in Menlo Park when the group was on the West Coast for performances. Take after take demonstrated Getz's brilliance and the band's chemistry, but perhaps especially so on this heartfelt ballad. Getz would sometimes make fun of this song in concert, sharing an off-color witticism based on its lyrics ("I turned a trick on a train..."); but this was standard practice for the artist, and the jokes often merely indicated some self-consciousness at how much emotion he was channeling into his playing. Perhaps his comment about the Voyage session, that this was the "first date that my head was completely clear," is an exaggeration (or perhaps not), but it is hard to argue with the results. In a career filled with outstanding ballad performances, this one ranks among the finest.

The good times would not last. A year later, Getz was diagnosed with cancer. And though he would continue to perform and record at a very high level for some time to come, this record will always remind me of a glorious period of poise and promise in the life and times of this complex, intensely creative artist.

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Fanfare Ciocărlia: Ciocărlia

"Ciocărlia" translates as "Skylark," but if you're expecting the Hoagy Carmichael standard, you've bought the wrong CD. Instead, imagine what the Dirty Dozen Brass Band would sound like if its members had grown up in northeastern Romania instead of New Orleans. This twelve piece band from the village of Zece Prăjini started out as a group of regulars who played at weddings and other festive occasions. Since then they have gone on to bigger things, most notably an appearance in the film Borat, where they performed the (traditional Romanian folk song?) "Born to be Wild." The band is heavily steeped in the Roma tradition and borrows freely from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia too, as well as adapting occasional jazz elements. Their trademark is an ensemble sound that is on the brink of veering out-of-control, coupled with a raw energy that can be felt waiting impatiently in the background even during those rare moments of brass restraint. The horn tones remind me of how string players articulate their notes and phrases, and the result is distinctive aural personality unlike any you will encounter stateside. But the hook here is the party mood, which is upbeat and unrelenting.

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Canadian Brass: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

New Orleans music is built on a sturdy foundation set by generations of brass bands, and even Louis Armstrong (who introduced this song to the world) learned his craft in that time-honored setting. But the N'Awlins variety of brass band never played quite as cleanly and precisely as the Canadian Brass. Perhaps if New Orleans had been situated in the middle of a military base, and had trained with the discipline of soldiers on the march . . well, maybe jazz would have sounded more like this track. I can't fault the execution here, and the trumpet work is flashy. Honestly, I am more likely to play Louis Armstrong's "version of this tune when I throw a barbecue, but if I ever plan to do struttin' with some caviar and expensive vodka, this rendition might just do the trick.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Woodbrain: Shake 'Em on Down

When Booker Washington ('Bukka') White had a hit with this song in 1937, it immediately inspired a host of imitations. Blues fans soon were hearing recordings, by an assortment of artists, with names such as "Break ‘Em on Down” or “Ride ‘Em on Down” or “Truck ‘Em on Down.” The craze didn't quite last until "Waltz 'Em on Down" or "Polka 'Em on Down," but if you added up all the royalties White lost by not controlling the copyrights of all the knock-offs, it must have amounted to a pretty Depression-era penny. So it is all the more unfortunate that this recording attributes the tune to Joe McMurrian (and due to some publishing mix-up on the booklet puts down White as the composer of another song on the CD).

Mistaken identities aside, White would have enjoyed this lava hot version of his most popular song. He never cared much for being a traditional blues artist, and was always looking to take his music into the future. And that is just what the high energy Portland band Woodbrain does in this track from their impressive debut on Yellow Dog Records. Woodbrain (formerly the Joe McMurrian Quartet) is one of the best electric blues bands on the scene. They play loose and tight. The energy level starts out a fever pitch and never lets up—and the band brings in just enough of a rock flavor to appeal to younger fans without losing the Delta edginess of their music. Think of Woodbrain as the North Mississippi Allstars of the Pacific Northwest. Certainly this band has enough dynamite in its sound to blow up a small bridge. With the right exposure, Woodbrain could attract a sizable audience.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Fiona Boyes: Howlin' at Your Door

An aptly named artist! If there were ever a lady blues singer/guitarist ready to mix it up with the boys, it is this amazing gal from Australia. Hard to say which is more raw: her vocals or her electric guitar work. But put them together, and Boyes will prove that the raw can also cook. So much for Claude Lévi-Strauss and his binary oppositions! Boyes brings in a number of well-known guest artists elsewhere on this CD (Pinetop Perkins, Marcia Ball, Watermelon Slim), but this track is just a pared-down trio. They really project their sound, however, despite their modest headcount, and remind me of Cream, Clapton's turbocharged electric blues-rock band from the 1960s. Boyes has been recording since the early 1990s and has picked up more than a few awards and accolades along the way, but she proves here what I've always suspected . . . that the great blues artists just get better with age.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Bird of Paradise (Take C)

[Note: Also discussed below is "All the Things You Are #220" from The Complete Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker on Mosaic, recorded with the same personnel at the Three Deuces in New York on March 31, 1948.]

These two versions of "All The Things You Are," the first recorded in the studio as "Bird of Paradise" five months before the second, are examples of how Charlie Parker approached creating in a studio environment differently than playing in live performances. It seems to me that Bird thought of the studio as a place to present his ideas to the public in the clearest possible form—analogous to sculptures, where each take was an attempt to improve upon the last. On the other hand, the gigs seem to be a dynamic laboratory for experimentation, an area for taking chances and trying out new ideas and combinations, and for unfettered communication among the musicians and between the musicians and audience members (who were usually rather vocal in their feedback). Many professional musicians take this approach. From a musician's standpoint, I much prefer listening to the live recordings, although the sound quality, of course, is far inferior. Here I look at two versions of the same form, one a studio recording taken at a slightly slower tempo (although both versions serve a ballade function), the other from a gig that featured a singer.

"Bird of Paradise" (essentially the same form as "All The Things You Are" without a statement of the composed melody) is truly a sculpture, pristine and refined. Parker had three attempts at creating this masterpiece, each take a refinement of the last. Consisting of only a one chorus statement, the form of the spontaneous composition is exact—similar to a fine jewel. However there is little chance taking, Charlie seems to be concentrating on getting it right.

Bird performs the live version of "All The Things You Are" with much more abandon, being encouraged by band mates and audience members alike. Here different kinds of devices are attempted reminiscent of the previous performances we have looked at. After the first reserved and extremely melodic opening phrase, there is a sudden outburst of a wild nature, a posture which increases as the song moves on. Melodically there are a lot more alternate paths and the rhythms are more varied; it is clear that by this point in Parker's career, these devices had been totally internalized and had become second nature. However, Bird's trademark sense of melodic and rhythmic symmetry is still evident even in his most experimental forays.

I consider this period around 1948-1949 to be Parker's most creative and stable period. His entire professional career was about 151/2 years total, very short by most standards, due to the chaotic nature of his life. Many of the experiments that he wanted to try out were left unexplored because of lack of organization and the various health problems that plagued him in the '50s. Also during 1948-1949 he had a stable band that worked consistently and which he rehearsed, with the result that the arrangements and forms of the compositions were more sophisticated. Much of the original material in his repertoire comes from this time period as well—he composed later compositions primarily either just before or during record dates. With the exception of Max Roach, the sidemen in this steady working band were not on Bird's level. Miles was still developing, beginning to hit his stride around the time he left Parker's group, and the other musicians were competent but not extraordinary. However this group was balanced in that everyone fulfilled a function.



Miles Davis once mentioned that Charlie Parker's approach was not one style, but many. I agree with this statement, and as a result I've never liked calling Bird's style Be-Bop. Charlie Parker had a complicated personality, and his approach to music reflected this complexity. From the perspective of a spontaneous composer, he was in many ways a bridge figure who came of age among accomplished veterans of a sophisticated blues-based idiom, but had the vision to look forward to an even more sophisticated abstract expression while still retaining the feeling and storytelling function of folklore. Parker's time in the physical plane was brief. However, in a short period of time he served the function of a modern griot, an avatar for the prototypical spontaneous composer. In the process, his creations turned the musical world upside down.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Funky Blues

This performance highlights the difference between Parker's form of expression on the blues in contrast to the approaches that came before him. I am indebted to saxophone master Von Freeman for initially pointing out these observations.

Obviously this recording was altered to highlight the differences between these players, as Hodges and Carter were the two major alto saxophone stylists during the era before Parker arrived on the scene. Based on the jump in tempo after Bird's statement, you can hear that the original recording was edited so that Benny Carter's statement would follow Bird's. Clearly, this was not how it was originally recorded.

The two older alto saxophonists are East Coast players; Hodges from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Carter from New York City. During that time, a player's musical style seemed to reflect the region of the country they came from; regional differences seemed more pronounced than they are today. Of course, these differences had little to do with the level of musicianship, but they did seem to show up in some of the stylistic tendencies of the players. This is not at all meant as a critique. I only wish to point out that each of these players had different approaches to the Blues idiom, and some of that was a reflection of which area of the country they came from.

Bird was a blues player by nature. In terms of emotional content Parker was not very different from other blues players from this part of the country (south Midwest). However, what Parker introduced to the music was a level of hip sophistication that generally had not been previously expressed in this musical form. Tenor saxophonist Von Freeman calls it the university blues, versus what came before. What he is referring to is the ability to preach while simultaneously being able to interject very sophisticated melodic voice-leading. This performance by Parker is a clear example, although there are many. The preaching begins right from the outset, complete with exclamations and repeated gestures for emphasis. Bird's clear and self-assured, hard-edged sound, lacking in the exaggerated vibrato of the earlier stylists, already signals a markedly different approach to the blues, one in which the inflections are more subtle than in the previous era.

This first appearance of more complex voice-leading occurs at the beginning of what's called the turnback (2:28), a pivot area in the seventh through eighth measures that progresses from the subdominant through the tonic and dominant areas, then back towards the subdominant, where Bird's spontaneous melody perfectly follows Ray Brown's bass line. The cadential target on the upbeat of the end middle of this phrase (2:30) rhymes with the target upbeat cadence at the end (2:34) via the adroit use of contour and paraphrase. The next phrase flips the cadential targets from upbeat to downbeat, while simultaneously slightly lengthening the cadences, in a motion leading to the tonic. However, immediately upon touching the tonic, Bird progresses to the subdominant. This chorus ends with a blues-tinged afterthought.

The second chorus begins with a miniature version of a classic blues form, against the background chorus of the other horns functioning as the congregation to Bird's preaching. The opening phrase is repeated three times in an I don't believe ya heard me form, with the middle phrase as the darker lunar expression (i.e., subdominant). After this bluesy statement, beginning in the fourth measure, Bird, in a whispering statement that feels like an explanation, shifts gears into a level of sophistication rarely heard in the blues of this time. In the sixth measure (3:07), Parker literally falls out of this mode of playing, through an alternate tonal path in the form of a descending semi-pentatonic figure, again melodically shadowing Brown's bass line with sophisticated rising and falling voice-leading in the crucial pivoting area of seventh and eighth measures, hitting every passing tonality while still maintaining his melodic emphasis. Moving into the tenth measure (3:19), Parker again shifts into the overdrive, ascending as a light color, squeezing out the top of the line, descending using shifting darker hues, then moving towards the subdominant before doubling back on a darker dominant path towards the tonic.

Normally, this level of detail was not expressed prior to Parker's arrival on the scene (of course there were exceptions like Art Tatum and Don Byas). The piano players at that time generally knew more about harmony than most of the horn players, but these pianists usually expressed this level of detail as chordal figures, not intricate melodic figures. In Parker's case, the sophistication is expressed in the form of extremely melodic and expressive voice-like phrases, not simply as basic patterns.

I believe that one key to Bird's melodic concept is that each individual part of every phrase is a melody in miniature, a fractal-like concept where even the smaller melodic segments are balanced melodically within themselves. This is coupled with an uncanny ability to utilize what I call connectants, small chain-like phrases or hooks (not in the sense of today's popular music) that are used to connect the melodic cells through a complicated process analogous to weaving or the peptide bonds that connect amino acids in RNA chains. Bird had a strong sense of the nature of melody, from its more primitive constituents to a more universal point of view.

Parker's innate sense of balance was incredible, as is clearly demonstrated at the end of this solo. Whereas most players today with his level of technique would feel a need to follow the harmony explicitly, Bird is able to suggest the voice-lead just with the shape of his pentatonic and diatonic line, using a well developed sense of just where to rhythmically place the tones that lead by proximity to the target pitches that express the passing tonalities. With Parker it is the melodic contour and path which rules supreme, not the tones in a particular chord. The difference is subtle.

Finally, I would like to state that I think of these slow versions of the blues as examples of secular rituals. In much West African music there is this constant interplay of 3 communing with 2, an intimate marriage of the ternary feel (called perfect meter in medieval times because it was related to the Trinity) and the duple feel (imperfect meter). The intervals of the Perfect Fifth and Perfect Fourth were called perfect for this same reason, as they were associated with the number 3, considered perfect since ancient times. This was also true in early European music. For example, the metered sections of some Notre Dame organum as well as some of the secular music of medieval times was typically governed by rhythmic modes which were all expressed in triple meter to symbolize the Trinity. So in some ways, this connects to what Dizzy called Parker's Sanctified Rhythms.

If you listen carefully to Parker's opening phrase, it is almost completely in a kind of ternary feel, and this is true of the most blues-inflected parts of his performance. Other slow blues that he performed (for example "Cosmic Rays") exhibit this same tendency.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Confirmation

The melody itself is a theory lesson. So much subtle detail is involved that it is rarely played this way by modern musicians. Parker normally soloed first when he played with Dizzy, Birks said it was because when Parker played first, he (Diz) was inspired to play at his best. What's extraordinary is not only Parker's virtuosity, but the fluidity of his ideas and how they proceed from one to the next in such a conversational manner. Again Bird only takes three choruses, but he tells an epic story in this short period of time.

There is a lot of cramming in this spontaneous composition. Cramming is a term I first heard used by Dizzy in his autobiography To Be Or Not To Bop when he talked about Parker squeezing a longer rapid phrase into a smaller time space, a phrase that was not simply double time but some other unusual rhythmic relationship to the pulse. There is plenty of it in this version of "Confirmation," and not all of it rapid. Bird had the ability to land on his feet like a cat after playing some of the most outrageous rhythmic phrases. But the key to what Yard was doing was his incredible time feel, so smooth that the phrases do not even feel odd in any way. In fact, most of the players who imitate his style have far less rhythmic variety in their playing. Obviously the impression that they get from Parker's playing is that he is playing a steady stream of notes, all of the same rhythmic value. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Again, the conversational aspect of Yard's playing is always on display, the way he is always in dialog with himself, even when there is not much in the way of dialog coming from his accompanists (as is the case in this recording).

My analysis here comes mostly from a rhetorical and affections perspective which deals with the poetics of the music. This perspective is the one most stressed in the African-American community.

Parker opens with a very strong melodic statement. I love the way Bird plays in sentences that straddle the square (every 2 or 4 beats) progression of the harmony. Bird's statements flow right through several tonal changes, his sentences mutating and reflecting the changing tonalities as they move, while still being very strong melodies, perfectly balanced. His statements make perfect intuitive melodic sense to the uninitiated listener while simultaneously providing worlds of sophisticated information for experienced musicians. The exclamation starting at the second measure of the second eight is incredibly vocal and moves into a blues-tinged statement. This second eight section ends with a very strong melodic sentence at 1:09 that terminates with a dominant-subdominant-tonic melodic progression, instead of the normal dominant-tonic motion. Parker normally has strong ending statements just before the bridges, but these terminating statements traverse an incredible variety of harmonic paths.

The feeling of the bridge is like when another person interjects with a different subject, or adds another part to the story. Of course this is what occurs harmonically as well, but I am referring here only to the character of Parker's melodic statements—it's almost as if another person is talking at this point. These statements then get resolved going into the last eight of this first chorus, as if returning to the original speaker. This first chorus concludes with a very strong closing melodic statement that sums up the previous statements, which may be the quote to some standard that I don't know. I've always heard this last phrase at 1:32 as saying, "Well..., but it's always gonna be like that."

The beginning of the second chorus responds with "but you know we've gotta keep on goin'," which is my personal interpretation of this response to the end of the first chorus. This second chorus is by far the most involved and complex part of this story, and this middle chorus feels like the meat of the story. I noticed that the most complex passages come in the second eight and the bridge of this second chorus; these sections are symmetrically right in the middle of this entire spontaneous composition! Now, either Bird planned it this way or he has a hell of an intuition in terms of form—or both. There are several advanced rhythmic devices, double-timing, rhymes (the phrase at 1:38 rhymes with the phrase at 1:41), and backpedaling phrasing from the offbeats (1:46). The double-timing phrases that begin inside the fourth measure of the second eight (1:52) still contains all the rhythmic complexity and clave-like phrasing that Parker is known for; however, the accuracy of these lightning fast statements is absolutely frightening! This hyper phrase ends in a question, both harmonically (in the form of a secondary dominant) and melodically (the rise of the melody at this point). It's answered moments later with a bluesy statement, a rising subdominant—descending whole-tone dominant phrase.

Second Chorus – second 8 of "Confirmation":



These complex double-time statements continue in the bridge and represent the height of the story. The opening melody of the bridge moves through several unusual tonal areas which I hear as:

   / / / /     /   /   /     /      /          /          /     /      / / / /
|| Cmin | Dbmin6 F7 | Bbmaj Ebmaj Bbmaj | Bbmaj |

This Cmin to Dbmin6 to F7 progression was something that Parker played often, but it's one of those esoteric dominant progressions which never caught on among the majority of musicians who were influenced by Bird. It really says something about the level of Yard's intuition that he could arrive at such a progression seemingly by feeling and ear alone, although I am by no means certain that this was the approach he used.

Second Chorus Bridge of "Confirmation":



The last eight continues the conversational style established in the first chorus, a strong melodic statement that is answered by one of those "do you know what I mean" or "understand what I'm sayin'" phrases (2:14). The last closing statement of this chorus sounds like a rhetorical question, which Yard leaves open for the interjections and constant commentary of the musicians to become part of the conversation, just as if in church.

The entire third chorus feels like a summation of what went before. The first eight begins with a question, followed at 2:27 with a bluesy partial response, completed with a typical Lydian secondary dominant expression followed by one of those "understand what I'm sayin'" phrases at 2:33. The following fragmented statement beginning at the end of the first measure of the second eight takes the form of a question-answer within a question. The smoother response at 2:28 is answered by an ending which, in contrast to the ending of the second eight of the first chorus, concludes with a statement that moves subdominant-minor subdominant (what I call negative dominant)-tonic (2:40).

The entire story seems to begin to come to a definite close with the three sentences in the bridge of this chorus, some of the most beautifully crafted phrases in this entire performance. The last eight, after an angular sentence that briefly hangs before moving to the subdominant, finishes with a bird-like flurry that has the sound of someone walking away mumbling disjunct statements, not quite correct English, but perfectly reflecting the way people normally converse. All of this is an example of Parker's very conversational style.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker (with Machito and His Orchestra): Mango Mangue

The kinds of shifts in phrasing that we looked at in "Perhaps" are even more apparent in "Mango Mangue," especially against the backdrop of the static harmonic material, a rarity in Parker's musical repertoire—in fact, rare in the music of this time period. Parker was one of the few musicians of that era who could really wail over a vamp. Most of the cats back then did not know how to blow over one static harmonic palette, with the exception of blues-based improvisations, as their entire improvisation language was constructed around playing through an environment that involved moving chord changes. That was the difference between Parker and many of the people influenced by him. Bird was primarily a melodic player who played through keys. Most of the people influenced by him played through chord changes (this is Dizzy Gillespie's way of characterizing what Bird did). Not that Bird had no knowledge of chord structure; it's just that he had an intuitive gift for melody and melodic patterns that allowed him to adapt his language to a variety of music genres.

Again to quote Mingus:

Bud and Bird to me should go down as composers, even though they worked within a structured context using other people's compositions. For instance, they did things like "All The Things You Are" and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Their solos are new classical compositions within the structured form they used. . . .

For instance, Bird called me on the phone one day and said: 'How does this sound?' and he was playing ad-libbing to the "Berceuse," or lullaby, section of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite! I imagine he had been doing it all through the record, but he just happened to call me at that time and that was the section he was playing his ad lib solo on, and it sounded beautiful. It gave me an idea about what is wrong with present-day symphonies: they don't have anything going on that captures what the symphony is itself, after written.

So Mingus considered Parker a composer, a spontaneous composer, and it is apparent from this quote that Bird had the ability to improvise on a variety of structures. We can only imagine what progress would have been made in the area of orchestra music had the great spontaneous composers been given access to the symphony orchestra with all of the colors it presents. However, Bird's melodic structures on this recording of "Mango Mangue" are not really out of the ordinary—for him at least. It is because of the timing and rhythmic sophistication of Parker and the accompanying musicians that I picked this example.

At 0:46 the bongos execute a beautiful rhythmic voice-leading passage (started by the congas), beginning with a setup on the third beat; and then, starting on the following third beat, playing 2 identical patterns that are each contained in 4-beat lengths; then again, starting on the following third beat, playing 2 identical patterns that are each contained in 3-beat lengths. This has the effect of shifting the start of the phrases from the third beat to the second beat, and leading to the first beat at the beginning of Bird's solo. Again this is a demonstration of establishing a pattern, then altering it to rhythmically to voice-lead towards specific target point in time, to either set up another event or to terminate a process.

The shifting diminished harmonies of the saxophones are beautiful, not often heard in American popular music at that time, and it is uncanny how Bird's phrases fit perfectly melodically with the shifting textures from about 1:05 to 1:19 of the song. But what really turned me on to this song is the call-and-response montuno section at 2:11 and how Bird's spontaneous rhythms mesh perfectly with the Cuban players. Passages like this made me realize how often Parker's playing contained clave-like rhythmic patterns, a clear example of African retention. Even though the clave cannot be clearly heard, by listening to the cáscara pattern in the previously referenced section at 0:46 of the song you can orientate yourself to the clave (clave on top below):

Example at 0:46 of "Mango Mangue," clave (top) and cáscara (bottom):



The phrase beginning at measure 9 in the example below (2:18 of the recording) and the phrase at measure 25 (2:32 of the recording) show how Parker's stresses hookup with the clave and cáscara at key points in the phrasing of both.

Example at 2:11 of "Mango Mangue"





Based on this musical evidence, I believe that Parker played a larger role in integrating these two musical cultures than he is usually given credit for. Bird is usually given a minor mention when historians talk about the merging of African-American and Afro-Cuban music. However, Machito and Mario Bauzá paint a different picture. Machito has said that Parker was involved with his orchestra of Cuban musicians long before Norman Granz suggested making the recordings in 1948, and even before they met Parker, Machito and Mario Bauzá knew of Bird's music, and Bird knew of their music. Machito declared with modesty, "Charlie Parker era un genio, yo no era nada comparado con él."—"Charlie Parker was a genius, I was nothing compared to him." I also read where Bauzá remarked in an interview that Parker's rhythmic improvisations fit naturally with the rhythms that the Cuban musicians were playing at that time, and that Bird was one of the only musicians from America whose rhythms fit well with theirs. By the way, in this performance Machito's rhythm section is killin'!

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillepsie: Groovin' High

Parker was on fire during this concert, in top form. The rhythm section was not the greatest, but Bird was soaring. This is not the most creative of the Parker recordings I've heard (it's certainly no slouch), but it is very refined playing on par with his famous strings version of "Just Friends." From what I read, they brought Bird on stage for this quintet concert, which was sandwiched between two sets of Dizzy's big band.

I dig this 1947 Carnegie Hall concert more than the May 15, 1953 Massey Hall concert in Toronto, where the musicians were distracted—they were running across the street between solos to check out the ongoing heavyweight championship fight in Chicago between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott (Marciano won by first round knockout)! Also, I always felt Mingus ruined the recording with the bass overdubs he did later—the bass is way too loud and playing on top of the beat.

Parker's incredible time feel is on display from the moment he takes his break. He swings hard, even more evident here because during these four measures he is playing unaccompanied. The song begins in Eb major, but just before Bird's solo the music modulates during an interlude to Db major, then, after a second interlude, back again to Eb major for Dizzy's solo. Yard's solo break contains a classic example of what I call cutting corners, where Bird takes this one path, then, beginning with his characteristic rhythmic vocal-like sigh just after the 8th beat of the break, moves briefly into a harmonic path in the area of Amin6, before falling back into the subdominant Gb major (of Db major). In this case the melody that he plays is more melodic voice-leading than harmonic, as Bird's melodic trajectory is aimed towards the high F and Ab, both pitches that have a dominant function from a melodic perspective in the key of Db major. So functionally this final phrase is a subdominant-to-dominant progression.

Parker's solo break on "Groovin' High":



For the next three choruses, Parker gives a clinic on economy, telling his story with a compact approach, getting right to the point. His musical sentences are perfectly balanced without being predictable; he was a master of intuitive form. But what I want to discuss here is the loose precision that is demonstrated, a kind of playing that is extremely relaxed and variable and yet at the same time extremely detailed. This kind of laid-back, behind-the-beat, loose accuracy seems to have been the norm with players like Art Tatum, Don Byas, Bird and Bud Powell—in Chicago we used to call it the beginner-professional sound. The expression of rhythms and modes is so precise that repeated detailed listening is like reading an advanced music theory text, only a text that reveals more on each reading, and the words are in motion on top of it! In this sense it's like the oral storytelling traditions, but here the information is encoded in musical symbolism. For this reason, I've always felt that this music really was telling stories, on many different levels.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Ornithology (Live at Birdland 1950)

I have owned several versions of this exact recording, and almost all of them are technically flawed in one way or another. My most complete version is a CD re-mastered with the help of the excellent drummer Kenny Washington, who pitch-corrected the recording. Also the complete Bud Powell solo is present in this recording, whereas on my original LP edition that I still own, Bud's solo was edited out.

These performances are some of the strongest that I have heard from these participants, but what makes this recording great for me is the fact that they are all performing and interacting together. Blakey provides a totally different kind of drum accompaniment than Max Roach. Nevertheless, Art's driving rhythms are very effective. But it is the front line of Parker, Navarro and Powell that is simply off the hook! Each soloist's performance is beyond words. These cats are truly spontaneous composers at the top of their game, their statements so precise they could have been composed on paper.

The first thing we hear is Bud's meandering intro, very loose as always, which starts harmonically as far away from his D pedal as possible, sliding from Ab major to A minor to Gmaj into Bird's opening statement of the melody. Despite the impression of rubato, Bud is actually playing in time in the intro to the song. It sounds to me like Bud was already playing when the recording was started, as the first sounds we hear are measure 3, beat 3 of an 8-measure intro. At any rate, what we hear from Bud is 51/2 measures (22 beats) before Yard enters.

A book could be written discussing just this one performance, but I'll only point out a few things here. We can learn a lot from the various versions of the spontaneous harmonies that Fats plays at the end of the melody, with the harmonization at the end of the song being different from the one at the beginning.

Fats Navarro's harmony on top staff, at the end of "Ornithology"



It seems to me that Fats' rhythmic conception and feel was the closest to Bird's among the trumpet players of this era. They are rhythmically as one going into the break of Bird's soaring solo. One of my favorite sections of this recording is the woman hollering "Go Baby" right after Parker's break, I even used to call this recording 'Go Baby!'

Fats Navarro's harmony on the top staff, going into Parker's solo on "Ornithology"



Parker's melody right after this exhortation seems to rhythmically answer the woman's voice. Bird seemed to have an intuitive grasp for the connection between musical and nonmusical expressions. Parker once mentioned the connection between music and the utterances of various animals to his band mates in the Jay McShann band on a tour through the Ozarks. His music was full of oblique coded references that could be understood by his colleagues on the bandstand and those musicians in the audience who were privy to this way of communicating. Bird also directly expressed to his last wife, Chan Parker, a desire to use music in a more overtly linguistic fashion, and he mentioned this to many musicians, such as bassist Charles Mingus (Charlie Parker, by Carl Woideck, pp 214-216).

I have an audio interview that Paul Desmond conducted with Charlie Parker, where Bird mentions how telling a story with music was for him the whole point:

CP: There's definitely stories and stories and stories that can be told in the musical idiom, you know. You wouldn't say idiom but it's so hard to describe music other than the basic way to describe it—music is basically melody, harmony, and rhythm. But, I mean, people can do much more with music than that. It can be very descriptive in all kinds of ways, you know, all walks of life. Don't you agree, Paul?

PD: Yeah, and you always do have a story to tell. It's one of the most impressive things about everything I've ever heard of yours.

CP: That's more or less the object. That's what I thought it should be.

Most people take this in a non-literal sense, but I believe that Parker and many other musicians were dead serious when they spoke of telling stories through their music, as demonstrated in the discussion of the composition "Perhaps."

In the first chorus of Ornithology its immediately clear that Bird is a master at shifting the balance of his musical sentences. One example of this is how he sets up a shift in momentum by building expectation with the regularity of the phrases at 0:42 for 4 measures; which is answered at 0:46, where Bird truncates the paraphrase to 2 measures to set up the shifting clave-like phrase at 0:49 (the middle of measure 16 in my example above). This is similar to the technique that Max utilized in the "Ko-Ko" example that I discussed previously. This concept is difficult to explain without showing it in musical form.

I hear the phrase at 0:42 in two distinct sub-sections, antecedent and consequent, in terms of their melodic curves and emphases:

0:42 sub-section 1a (set-up antecedent):



0:44, sub-section 2a ( set-up antecedent consequent):



0:46, sub-section 1b (truncated antecedent):



0:48, sub-section 2b (extended shifting consequent):



clave pattern in above phrase, from the middle of second measure of sub-section 2b (0:49):



The antecedent phrase at 0:42, sub-section 1a, runs continuously into its consequent at sub-section 2a. However, the antecedent phrase at 0:46, sub-section 1b, is interrupted, followed by the extended consequent at sub-section 2b (0:48), in which the rhythmic displacement or shift of emphasis occurs at around 0:49, from the middle of the 3rd measure of sub-section 2b. The phrases at 0:42 (sub-section 1a) and 0:46 (sub-section 1b) are symmetrical in length. The following phrase, which Parker did not play, is what I imagine the consequent at 0:48 (sub-section 2b) could be without the clave-like extension.



But there is even more at work here, and what I suspect is the intuitive reason that the last consequent was extended. The opening phrases of each antecedent are themselves clave-like, in that they contain the same kind of offsetting rhythms (i.e. groups of 3) that are present in clave patterns. These are answered by the extended version of these kinds of rhythms in the consequent of sub-section 2b, at 0:49.

It is this kind of sophisticated rhythmic symmetry in the sentence structure of Parker's music that is often overlooked when analyses of his spontaneous compositions are attempted, but many musicians of this period intuitively grasped it. The structure has an "Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba" form, where the figure at the beginning of these phrases is balanced by the same figure at the end. If you listen to this entire passage as rhythm only, disregarding the pitches, then I think it becomes easier to hear the rhythmic patterns I'm referring to. In an example of one variation of this particular symmetry, the second half of the 3rd chorus (2:01 to 2:08) contains virtually the same antecedent-consequent structure as was played at 0:42, with a response that is balanced in a different way, but that still uses the same clave-like pattern.

[2:01] of "Ornithology"



This approach to balancing rhythmic phrases and the resultant dynamic rhythmic symmetry, are reminiscent of the phrases that tap dancers and drummers use. These devices are constant occurrences in Parker's music, as demonstrated in this song, and Navarro and Powell demonstrate much of the same tendencies. Of course, all of this is occurring so rapidly that there is no such analysis as I am giving here is involved on the part of the musicians. But I do think that these kinds of balances are involved in the feel of the music, and this is what contributes to the music's effect. I believe that the initiated (the musicians who are near Parker's musical level) are the first who are affected, then they transmit the information and influence the musicians just below their level, and so on. The collective impact of these concepts (albeit necessarily in diluted form) eventually gets communicated to the public's ear.

The types of rhythms that Parker plays at 1:05 are similar to things that I've heard drummers from the African Diaspora execute. If you listen to it purely as rhythm, you can imagine a drummer playing exactly the same kind of phrase—in fact, Blakey does play parts of the phrase with Bird, and you can hear Bud stressing the same rhythmic weights, what I call pushing the beat. As with the woman's exclamation at the beginning of his solo, I believe these lightning-fast musical responses were as internalized in Bird's playing as fans' spontaneous responses at sporting events.

At the top of 3rd chorus (1:40), Bird executes one of those tricks that I think he learned from pianist Art Tatum, of turning the form around by starting it 2 beats early. This is not easy for a melodic player to do, as your spontaneous melody has to be strong enough that it suggests the displacement. You can even feel Bird stop to think about what he is about to do before he plays it.

Skipping ahead, after Fats tells his outstanding story and Bud Powell takes an absolutely killin' solo, the two choruses of trading between Parker and Navarro are absolutely hair-raising.

6:09 has one of those crazy cartoon quotes followed by ridiculous cram. Two guitarist friends reminded me that this quote is from the song "Jarabe Tapatío," known in English as the "Mexican Hat Dance." The original form of the melody is:



Fats responds with a similarly shaped answer.

At the top of the second choruses of the horns trading (6:25), Bird plays this modulating tetrachord figure which he subtly changes to match the underlying structure of the song, played in his typically laid-back manner, and the groove is killin':




The antecedent is structured as a Lydian tetrachord, in this case G A B C, with a Bb passing tone added:



However, the consequent contains a Dorian tetrachord, with a B passing tone added:



(Notice that the references to the terms Lydian and Dorian follow the Medieval terminology for these structures, which are based on the top fourth of the Medieval Lydian and Dorian modes, referred to as 'species of the fourth' in Medieval times.)

Both forms of this tetrachord are plentiful in Bird's spontaneous melodies and are among his favorite melodic structures. Even if you did not know the underlying harmonic structure of the song, you could discern the melodic structure by listening to how Bird emphasizes the second pitch from the top of the tetrachord, demonstrating which are the main tones and which are the passing tones. This again shows the importance of rhythm and stress in this music. Also in the consequent, Bird contracts the end of the phrase, again highlighting the structure of the tetrachord. Aurally this subtle change would probably be unnoticed by most listeners, which is the point, as in this case the consequent is really a subtle paraphrase of the antecedent. There is functional symmetry involved here, as technically the beginning of the two phrases contain the same pitches, but the B and Bb change function relative to the two tetrachords. In the first figure (1st measure), B natural is functionally part of the tetrachord and Bb is the passing tone, whereas in the second figure (middle of the 3rd measure) Bb is functionally part of the tetrachord and B natural is the passing tone.

At 6:41 Parker plays another strong clave-like figure, followed by a cram. Finally, I love the spontaneous harmonizing that Bird does on the out head, particularly the melodically symmetrical phase at 7:39, with the Db pickup to the next phrase (well, closer to D-flat than D-natural) being the symmetrical axis of the preceding 10 pitches:



These are just a few examples. There is so much going on in this song that I'll just have to stop talking about it! The main point for me is how much we can learn from these very advanced techniques. So much more is going on than just swinging-however, Bird does that too.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: 52nd Street Theme #275, #238, #218, #214

These various performances of Parker, recorded by saxophonist Dean Benedetti, demonstrate the combination of looseness and tightness of this particular band, which I consider Bird's most effective working band. I heard about these recordings before I knew they physically existed, and I even heard a few of them long before this box set came out, so it was a real pleasure to finally hear the entire collection. For economic reasons, Benedetti usually only recorded the solos of Parker and not the other musicians, so these recordings are quite fragmented. Furthermore the sound quality is frequently poor; these are not recordings that audiophiles will be writing home about. However, for musicians studying this music, this collection is a goldmine. I compare it to finding a new ancient tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, in terms of the musical treasures it yields.


Example A: 52nd Street Theme #275

This version of Monk's composition was usually played as a break tune, a signal that the set is coming to a close. This take is really just a fragment (similar to a find in an archeological dig), but man, it swings hard! When Parker's sax solo enters after he speaks to the audience, the band settles into a serious groove, everybody responds to Yard, and the beat lays back to the extreme, giving the impression that the band is slowing down.

Bird’s solo on "52nd Street Theme #275"



It's clear that this groove emotionally hits those who are present, as can be heard by the various exclamations. This reaction from the people is what I love about live recordings in general—at least recordings done in the presence of responsive audiences. The steady rhythm of the rising spontaneous melody that Yard plays in the opening eight measures creates tension and is perfectly offset by the snaking melody of the second eight, with its dancing, shifting, clave-like patterns that begin in the 11th measure (at 0:42):

Rhythm of the clave-like pattern at measure 11 of "52nd Street Theme #275"



Again, this demonstrates the use of rhythms that reveal elements retained from West-African concepts.


Example B: 52nd Street Theme #238

This version is also very dynamic. I love the space that Bird utilizes in this very loose version. Right from the beginning, when Parker plays the augmentation of the melody, we know that he is on top of his game. He does not even bother to complete the melody, immediately launching into a spontaneous statement. The bridge is beautiful! Obviously Parker meant to play the melody here, but stumbles a little. But he sounds like Michael Jordan here, if you follow what I mean, by adjusting in midstream and turning his misstep into a beautiful melodic statement where antecedent and consequent are both preceded by the same rhythmic misstep (mm 1 and 5 below), which transform the original stutter into part of the form of the statement. As with many of Bird's conversations, the form of the statement is irregular but makes perfect rhythmic sense in terms of balance, one of the traits that distinguishes him from most of his musical colleagues. Also the many alternate tonal paths and delayed resolutions (6th, 7th and 9th measures of bridge) add to the hipness of the statement.

Bridge: 2-beat stutter - 6-beat antecedent, 3-beat stutter - 18 beat consequent of "52nd Street Theme #238"



Starting from the second eight of the first chorus of the solo we hear the kind of smooth melodic voice-leading that Parker popularized in this music.

2nd eight, Bridge and last eight of "52nd Street Theme #238"



These types of clear and precise statements were already present in the music of some spontaneous composers, such as tenor saxophonist Don Byas. However, it was through Parker's dynamic performances that most musicians were exposed to this concept, due in large part to Bird's unique phrasing and advanced rhythmic conception. Both Byas and Yard were from the Midwest and both had that Midwest sanctified rhythm thing happening. Byas was from Muskogee, Oklahoma, and Bird developed his musical skills in Kansas City, Missouri, although he was born in Kansas City, Kansas. The Midwest produced many great musicians. For example, Oscar Pettiford, was a fantastic bass player from Okmulgee, Oklahoma, who made tremendous contributions to this music, although these contributions are rarely acknowledged in proportion to their importance. Both Muskogee and Okmulgee are in the eastern part of Oklahoma, just south of the Kansas City metropolitan area, so this area of the country was a hotbed of activity during the 20s, 30s and 40s.

The slickness of the rhythmic concept in this example is striking. There are several clave-like rhythms where Parker plays in groups of 3 pitches, which tends to produce shifting rhythmic patterns. Overall Bird had a very rhythmic conception, even in his formative years, and it was this conception that most contributed to the change in the direction of the music during that time. Consider this statement by Dizzy Gillespie:

I guess Charlie Parker and I had a meeting of the minds, because both of us inspired each other. There were so many things that Charlie Parker did well, it's hard to say exactly how he influenced me. I know he had nothing to do with my playing the trumpet, and I think I was a little more advanced, harmonically, than he was. But rhythmically he was quite advanced, with setting up the phrase and how you got from one note to the other. How you get from one note to the other really makes the difference. Charlie Parker heard rhythm and rhythmic patterns differently, and after we had started playing, together, I began to play, rhythmically, more like him. In that sense he influenced me, and all of us, because what makes the style is not what you play but how you play it. (From Giant Steps: Bebop and The Creators of Modern Jazz 1945-65)

I would like to emphasize here that Charlie Parker's rhythmic contribution amounts to more than just phrasing. Usually people write about triplets, so-called pick-up notes, etc. These perspectives reveal more about the musicologist's academic background than they do about Parker's sensibilities. Rhythm was something that was constantly stressed in the African-American communities; as Dizzy mentions, it was associated with the way and the how something was done. In my opinion, not only was Bird's phrasing important, but also his placement of entire musical sentences and how they balanced each other.


Example C: 52nd Street Theme #218

What I like about this version of "52nd Street Theme" is the form of the first chorus, which sets up the rest of the performance, and this partly illustrates what Dizzy was referring to in his quote. This is a true example of spontaneous composition and how the micro-forms can be very complex. One cannot underestimate the power of developed intuition and insight, when coupled with preparation, logic and talent—and Yard's performance is a clear example of this.

At first listening, the phrases may seem to sound very symmetrical and smooth, yet a cursory observation reveals what at first appear to be random starting and stopping points with no clear balancing points. A more detailed examination exposes a sophisticated natural symmetry. The first antecedent is approximately 3 measures long, answered by what feels like a 5-measure consequent. This division of an approximately 8-measure space into 3 and 5 measures is something that has been discussed throughout history as being related to the proportion of the Golden Mean. Much has been written about this kind of balance on the Internet and in books, so I will not go over it in detail here. However, the linguistic quality is the result of rhythm and melody, and the timing of the phrases and their contour contribute to the effectiveness of the music.

The opening phrase is cryptic in the sense that it creates a lot of motion within a compact contour. There is a lot of doubling back (what we used to call going back for more) that is reminiscent of one of former NBA basketball player's Tim Hardaway's killer crossover moves, and Yard is truly breaking ankles here. The answer in measure 3 contains its own paraphrase, with the phrase in Gbmaj being woven into its answer in Fmaj (a 5-5-4 balance in terms of 8th note pulses) before mutating into another ankle breaking phrase from which Parker eventually achieves escape velocity. The next phrase feels perfectly centered within the second 8 measures, being contained in the internal 4 measures of the 8, however in reality it is shifted forward in time by one beat.

The question-and-answer in the bridge has that same kind of Golden Mean balance, i.e., a 3-5 measure grouping to the phrases. After one of those preacher-like exclamations to begin the last 8, the final phrase has a beautiful and subtle voice-leading device where Bird plays a ghosted Eb (3rd measure after the bridge) which announces a more complex sentence. This phrase also seems to wake Max up, as he becomes much more responsive at this point.

Here Parker's melodic choices are brilliant, seamlessly alternating between diatonicism, voice-leading chromaticism that is very carefully placed, and pentatony. As for the phrasing, Bird's sentences have the quality of someone speaking with a southern accent. If you listen carefully, there is a slight drawl to the phrases, a slightly behind-the-beat drag similar to the way people talk in the south, or in the hood.

1st chorus of "52nd Street Theme #218"




Example D: 52nd Street Theme #214

This version begins in progress, near the end of the 5th measure, but who knows how long Bird had already been playing. I paid a lot of attention to this version of "52nd Street Theme," as it is very intricate with a lot of great interaction. However, I will only briefly comment on each section.

The first chorus has Parker's typical conversation-like phrases. One thing that stands out is the repeated five-note figure that occurs beginning on the 4th beat of the 4th measure of the bridge (0:13 into the performance). What is intriguing is the rhythm, where there is diminution in the amount of time between the phrases. The first phrase begins on the 4th beat of the 4th measure and ends on the 2nd beat of the 5th measure. This is repeated 2 beats later, beginning on the 4th beat of the 5th measure and ending on the 2nd beat of the 6th. Then, as the phase shifts in tonality from the secondary dominant to the dominant, Bird immediately begins the phrase again, this time starting on the 3rd beat of the 6th measure and ending on the 1st beat of the 7th measure. Passages like this always made me feel that Parker was keenly aware of not only melodic target points, but rhythmic target points also, always balancing the starting and ending points so that the phrases, even when seemingly starting in strange places, always fall exactly in balanced proportions. In other words, Bird was very attentive to melodic and rhythmic forms, but as Dizzy mentioned, the real deal is the placement of the phrases.

The second chorus begins with an aborted attempt by Parker to play a typical lick of his that comes from clarinetist Alphonse Picou's variation on the 1901 Porter Steele march "High Society," a phrase that Bird frequently quoted (for example at the start of the second chorus to his famous 1945 "Ko-Ko" performance). It is clear that when playing this phrase Parker's G# key sticks on his saxophone—the bane of all saxophone players. However, Parker quickly unsticks the key, changes directions in midstream, and continues with a flawless execution of his improvisational statement. Two clues help me draw this conclusion. First, he succeeds in playing G# nine beats later in an immediately succeeding phrase (keep in mind this tempo is blazing). Second, while watching the video of the 1952 broadcast of Bird and Diz playing "Hot House," I noticed that Bird had an ability to very rapidly fix problems with his horn, when just before the bridge during the melody he unsticks his octave key, again in mid-flight. When I was first learning this music, I saw many other musicians do this kind of thing, notably the great Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman.

The start of the second 8 also begins with an aborted quote. I'm not sure of the source of the quote (it sounds to me like it's from an etude book), but I have heard Parker play it many times, for example, in performing his blues called "Chi Chi" and in other songs—so I know it should move something like this:




However Yard stumbles a bit and it comes out like this, including the spontaneous recovery, again a demonstration of how fast his mind worked:



Max's response to the phrase in the last eight is again one of those funky dialogs. Max sets up this hip transition with the single snare hit right after Parker's repeated blues exclamation, then two snare drum hits in between Yard's phrases, followed by one of those funky ratios, this time 4 against 6, that is Max's bass drum playing the 4 against the cut time 6 of the beat, again timed to end on the measure before the top. I tend to think of this kind of playing as targeting, a technique where you calculate (using either feel, logic or both) the destination point in time where you want to resolve your rhythm, a kind of rhythmic voice-leading. I alluded to Bird doing something similar above. I also dig the spontaneous counterpoint commentary of one of the listeners during this phrase, which seems to go with what Yard and Max are doing.

The next four choruses keep up the heat, and there is a lot to learn from the various techniques. Some highlights are Bird playing in layers of phrases in 3-beat groupings (0:53), the contrasts of light-to-dark-to-light beginning with the secondary dominant in the bridge at 1:04, the extreme cramming in the bridge at 1:26, the modulating descending octatonic figures (i.e. diminished) at 1:44 (which function as cycles of dominant progressions), the diminution effect in the consequent phrase at 2:12 (somebody in the audience dug it also), the extremely melodic phrase at 2:15, and finally the funky way that Max sets up the fours between Bird and Miles—which Max continues leading into and throughout the fours. The way Max Roach shifts to the hi-hat moving into the fours, and intensifies his interactions with the horn players, also demonstrates his compositional approach to playing spontaneously.

The fours are off the hook, brilliant, beginning with Parker's ultra-melodic opening. The phrase he plays at 2:46 is unusual even by Bird's standards, as it begins in a very dark dominant tonality, progresses to a bright, dominant sound, then anticipates the move to the subdominant with the last tritone. The energy that this phrase generates is resumed at 2:52 (after Miles' statement) with a pair of brilliantly placed ascending tritone progressions, unusual in their rhythm and tonal progression. The rhythm is similar to the 4-against-3 patterns that Max has been executing, where the basic pulse of the song is seen though a different perspective (that of 3 against Bird's 4). And although the tonal implications are too difficult to fully explain here, these 8 tones—Bb-E-Bb-E progressing to B-F-B-F-functionally serve to reverse the normal tonal gravity by approaching the dominant tonality (the G7 matrix) from a 5th below instead of from the normal 5th above. There exists an entire theory based on polarity that can explain this kind of movement (see my website), but here it is enough to say that the naked expression of these tritones permits an ambiguous interpretation. The Bb-E-Bb-E tritone could be seen to be the functional equivalent of the tonal spectrum represented in part by C7, F#7, Gmin6, Dbmin6 (any or all of these dominant chords, and yes, I consider a minor 6th chord as potentially having a dominant function). Likewise the B-F-B-F tritone could be functionally seen as G7, C#7, Dmin6, Abmin6; therefore, the progression represents the fairly dark transition of tonalities in progressions of ascending 5ths, which I associate with lunar energies.

This tritone phrase is a continuation of the tritone ending of Bird's previous phrase. To my ears, Miles does not seem prepared to respond to this statement. Bird is playing in a rapid stream of consciousness manner, where each idea picks up from the last, interspersed with Miles' responses. At 2:59, Yard continues this dark-to-light sound, giving us the third consecutive statement where he appears to be tonally emerging from a dungeon, and it becomes clear that he is on a roll. Even his entrance into the bridge is a continuation of this approach, as he approaches from the dark side, 7 flats or the mode of Gb Mixolydian, and, after a snaking Gdim turn, emerges into the sunlight of F major. This gives us his 4th consecutive lunar progression. Parker ends with a phrase that is a functional reprise of the descending octatonic figures earlier in the performance; however this sentence ends with a rocking melodic progression functioning as dominant-subdominant-dominant. Obviously he was at his creative peak this night.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Perhaps (Take 1)

This composition is another example of the many linguistic rhythmic devices Parker used in his music that are not much discussed. In my opinion, the composed melody is clearly an explanation with variations. The opening phrase of the melody is an explanation of some kind, followed by but perhaps (going into measure 5), which begins the first alternate explanation. Then perhaps (into measure 7) begins a second alternate explanation. Perhaps (into measure 9) begins the final clarification, then the melody ends with the responses in measures 11 and 12—perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Therefore we can think of the melodic segments in between the perhaps as some sort of discussion and clarification of a particular situation, lending more evidence to the literal admonishment of the cats to always tell a story with your music. Obviously in this song there is an added onomatopoetic dimension to the melody that allowed me to at least recognize the perhaps musical phrase at an early stage in my career when I knew very little about the structure of music. But this more obvious example also served notice to me that these possibilities existed within this music, and just maybe there also were elements of the spontaneous compositions that exhibited these features.

This was my intuitive reaction to this song when I first heard it in my formative years as I was still learning how to play, and it is still how I understand it when I listen today. But beyond the more obvious example of this composed melody, I feel that the spontaneous part of this composition, indeed of all of Parker's compositions, are also explanations, and that they are all telling stories. And as mentioned before, they contain the same kinds of exclamations, dialog, linguistic phraseology, and common sense structure that is contained in everyday conversation, with the exception that this linguistic structure is based on the sub-culture of the African-American community of that time, what most people would call slang. This is particularly evident in the rhythm of the musical phrases. The way Max answers the melody is definitely conversational. I hear the same kinds of rhythms that I see when watching certain boxers, basketball players, dancers, and the timing of most of the various activities that go on in the hood. However, this same rhythmic sensibility can occur on various levels of sophistication, and with the music of Bird and his cohorts, it occurs on an extremely sophisticated artistic level.

This subject of musical conversation brings up the issue of African-Diapora DNA. Scholar Schwaller de Lubicz made reference to a theory that the ancient Egyptians, at some very early point in their existence, had a language whose structure and utterances consisted of pure modulated tones similar to music, as opposed to the phonetic languages of today. Given that their ancient writing contained no symbols for vowels, this idea may seem far-fetched. However, because the recorded writing of this civilization documents over two millennia, a great deal of change must have occurred within the language.

Many modern linguists believe somewhat the opposite, that the original human languages contained clicks or were predominantly click languages. These linguists use the languages of the Hadza people of Tanzania and Jul'hoan people of Botswana as evidence. However, the evidence of drum languages in the Niger-Congo region of Sub-Saharan Africa tells another story. For example, the drum languages of the Yoruba of Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Benin; the Ewe of Ghana, Togo and Benin; the Akan of Ghana; and the Dagomba of northern Ghana, still exist today. In the languages of these areas, register tone languages are common, where pitch is used to distinguish words (as opposed to contour, as in Chinese). Since many of these West-African languages are tonal, suprasegmental communication is possible through purely prosodic means (i.e. rhythm, stress and intonation). There is little doubt that emotional prosody (sounds that represent pleasure, surprise, anger, happiness, sadness, etc.) predated the modern concept of languages. If the early ancient Egyptians developed a highly structured form of suprasegmental communication, it is quite possible that de Lubicz' theory is correct. In any case, there is plenty of precedent for the exclusive use of tones as language.

Regarding the sections containing spontaneous composition, of course, many musical devices are involved, rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and formal, all on a very high level. Which is why most students of this music are absorbed in the musical parameters—there is so much there. But I propose that much of what is being accomplished musically can be seen more clearly if we take into account the perspective of the African-Diaspora, rather than have discussions primarily about harmonic structure, etc. Many of the rhythms that Parker uses are not merely related to African music in the linguistic sense that I have outlined above, nor only related to the notion of having a certain kind of swing or groove. Also many of the structural rhythmic tendencies of the Diaspora have been retained within African-American culture.

We can start by looking at the concept of clave in Parker's playing. The phrase at 0:26 of take 1 is precisely the kind of slick musical sentence that Parker was renowned for among his peers. I feel that the emphasis in the phrasing contains rhythmic figures very similar to various clave patterns. This phrase is repeated almost verbatim at 0:55 with the addition of a turn and a slight shift in the clave pattern:



(at 0:26 )



versus:



(at 0:55)



Of course, you need to listen to the recording to get a feel for the emphasis, but my point here is that there does not seem to be much discussion of this aspect of Bird's internal sense of rhythmic structure. Recognition of a sense of clave in Parker's playing is a key (pardon my pun) to beginning to investigate his complex rhythmic concepts in greater detail. It would be instructive to listen to Bird's spontaneous compositions only for their rhythmic content without regard for the pitches. Then it would be revealed that many of his phrases contain the same kinds of rhythmic structures found in the phrasing of the master drummers of West Africa, with the exception of the pitch conception. An investigation of the starting and ending points of Parker's phrases reveals a kinship to these Sub-Saharan drum masters.

Take as an example this melodic sentence at 0:38 of take 1 of "Perhaps":



There are several rhythmic shifts of emphasis here that suggest a compressing and lengthening of phrases. Starting on beat 3 of measure 2, the shift in emphasis within the phrase suggests groupings of 6-4-5-3-4 (in quarter note pulses). This concept is similar to the classic mop-mop figure; i.e. 4-3-5-4, and is one of the hallmarks of Bird's spontaneous compositions.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Celebrity

Unlike "Ko-Ko," I included this cut because of the lack of dialog between Parker and Buddy Rich (drums), who plays more of a time-keeping role here. As a result Bird's phrases stand out more against the relief of a less involved backdrop. Here we can concentrate on the question and answer qualities of Parker's playing as well as on the melodic and harmonic content. The harmonic structure of the song is based on one of the standard forms of this time period, Rhythm Changes, derived from the George and Ira Gershwin composition "I Got Rhythm."

In my opinion, the main keys to Bird's concept are the movement of the rhythm and melody, with the harmonic concept being fairly simple. Not only has this been communicated to me directly by several major spontaneous composers of that era, but one can find quotes from musicians of this period stating this idea, such as the following from bassist and composer Charles Mingus:

I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn't only just swing but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around. (Liner notes to Let My Children Hear Music )

If you have not read these liner notes by Mingus you should really check them out.

It is clear that from Mingus' perspective, it is the rhythmic and melodic concepts that are the real innovations of this music. On the one hand, Mingus refers to rhythmic and melodic innovation and sophistication, things that could keep a musician interested from the perspective of the craft of music. At other points in the article Mingus talks about the necessity that the spontaneous compositions be about something, that they tell a story about the lives, experiences and interests of the people performing the songs or of other people, and that these are principles that transcend the craft of music as a thing and move toward the core of what it is to be human. I see Bird's music as fitting squarely within this tradition, whatever name it may be called by.

I've always thought of Bird's spontaneous compositions as explanations containing various types of sentence structures. Here, after Buddy Rich's drum introduction, Parker begins "Celebrity" with a 27-beat opening statement, but within this statement is an internal dialog. The harmony and timing help to structure the statement, and gives the listener a sense of the dialog. Generally speaking, what I call dynamic melodic tonalities suggest open ended sentences which are usually (but not always) followed by a response, and in fact lead to or invite a response.

Opening (8 beats – static to dynamic)
Response (8 beats – preparation to dynamic)
Elaboration (8 beats – dynamic to static)
Closing (2 beats)

New Opening (8 beats – static to dynamic)
Response (8 beats – preparation to dynamic)
Extension (7.5 beats – dynamic to dynamic)
Semi-Closing (6.5 beats)

First 16 measure of "Celebrity"



Following up on what Mingus referred to as new melodic concepts, many times musicians use what I call Invisible Paths, meaning that they are not necessarily following the exact path of the composed or accepted harmonic structure for a particular composition, but instead following their own melodic and harmonic roads which functionally perform the same job. The musical description of that job is to form dynamic roads that lead to the same tonal and rhythmic destinations as the composed harmony. This differs slightly from the academic concept of chord substitutions, because these Invisible Paths can be entire alternate roads that are not necessarily related to the composed harmony on a point-by-point basis, and resist being explained as such, but nevertheless perform the same function of voice-leading to the cadential points within the music. These paths may be rhythmic, melodic or harmonic in nature; all that is required are the same three elements that are required with a physical path—an origin, a path structure and a destination.

Many older musicians, especially the self-taught musicians with less training in European harmonic theory, have told me that the musicians of that time were primarily thinking in terms of very simple harmonic structures, mostly the four basic triads (major, minor, diminished, augmented) along with some form of dominant seventh chords. Although the harmonic structures were simple, the different ways in which they progressed and were combined were complex, again pointing to the idea that it was the movement of the musical sounds that most concerned these musicians. This is often overlooked by academics who are used to analyzing music by relying on the tool of notation, instead of realizing that music is first and foremost sound, and sound is always in motion. It was in the areas of rhythm and melody where most of the complexity was concentrated. Many of these musicians did not learn music from the standpoint of music notation, so they had a more dynamic concept of the music closely allied with how it sounded rather than how it looked on paper. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, this website cannot allow me to use sound examples for this article, so, ironically, I will myself be forced to use notation. My choice would be to use geometric symbols and diagrams. However, I would then need to spend a large sections of this article explaining the symbols.

In analyzing these passages, we can sometimes see hybrid structures or harmonic schemes which shift in the course of a single melodic sentence. Coming out of Buddy Rich's solo, a simple version of this idea seems to be along the following path, or something similar, for 32 beats.

|| Cmin7 F7 | Bb A7 | F7 Dbmin6 | Cmin7 F7 | Fmin7 Bb7 | Ebmaj Ebmin | Bbmaj | C7 F7 ||



The bridge is even more varied, with Bird’s melodic paths creating their own internal logic, which then resolve back into the logic of the composition.

|| Ebmin6 | Amin6 Ebmin6 | Dmin | Fmin6 | Gmin6 (maj7) | Gmin6 | Cmin6 | (F7) ||



With a little thought, you will notice that these passing tonalities provide the same function as the composed harmonic structure of the song. Notice here that Yard is doing just what he stated in two different versions of the same quotation:

I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born. (c. 1939, quoted in Masters of Jazz )

I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes I could play the thing I’d been hearing. I came alive. (1955, Hear Me Talkin' to Ya )

However, Parker's version of higher intervals of a chord was not in the form of flatted 9ths, 11ths and 13ths, but in the form of simple melodic and triadic structures that reside at a higher location within the tonal gamut which I refer to as the Matrix (who really knows how Bird thought of it?). In this case, simple minor structures such as Ebmin6, Amin6 and Fmin6 are the upper intervals of Ab7, D7 and Bb7, respectively. These minor triads with an added major sixth are very important structures in music, often mistakenly called half-diminished (for example Amin6 could be called F# half-diminished today). In this instance, the function of Amin6 is that of dynamic A minor, in the same sense that the function of D7 is that of dynamic D major. By dynamic I mean energized with the potential for change. Adding a major 6th to a minor triad has a similar (but reciprocal) function to adding a minor 7th to a major triad, and that function in many cases is to energize the triad, to infuse it with a greater potential for change, due to the perceived unstable nature of the tritone interval. Pianist Thelonious Monk was a master of this technique, and demonstrated this to many of the other musicians of this time (including Dizzy and Bird). Regarding whether to use the name half-diminished or minor triad with the added 6th, this is a case where a simple change in name can obscure the melodic and harmonic function of a particular sound. Dizzy Gillespie mentions this in his autobiography when he says that for him and his colleagues, there was no such thing as half-diminished chords; what is called a half-diminished chord today, they called a minor triad with a major sixth in the bass.

Monk doesn't actually know what I showed him. But I do know some of the things he showed me. Like, the minor-sixth chord with a sixth in the bass. I first heard Monk play that. It's demonstrated in some of my music like the melody of "Woody 'n You," the introduction to "Round Midnight," and a part of the bridge to "Mantaca.".... There were lots of places where I used that progression... and the first time I heard that, Monk showed it to me, and he called it a minor-sixth chord with a sixth in the bass. Nowadays, they don't call it that. They call the sixth in the bass, the tonic, and the chord a C-minor seventh, flat five. What Monk called an E-Flat-minor sixth chord with a sixth in the bass, the guys nowadays call a C-minor seventh flat five... So they're exactly the same thing. An E-Flat-minor chord with a sixth in the bass is C, E-flat, G-flat, and B-flat. C-minor seventh flat five is the same thing, C, E-flat, G-flat, and B-flat. Some people call it a half diminished, sometimes. (from the chapter "Minton's Playhouse" in To Be or Not To Bop)

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Ko-Ko (1948 live version)

This is one of the slickest melodies that I've ever heard. And the manner in which it is played is just sophisticated slang at its highest level. The way the melody weaves back and forth is unreal, and Yard and Max keep this kind of motion going in the spontaneous part of the song.

I'm a big boxing fan, and I see a lot of similarities between boxing and music. To be more specific, I should say that I see similarities between boxing and music that are done a certain way. There was a point in round eight of the December 8, 2007, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. versus Ricky Hatton fight, starting with an uppercut at 0:44 of this video (2:19 of the round), and also beginning with the check left hook at 2:22 of the video (0:42 of the round) when Floyd was really beginning to open up on Ricky, hitting him with punches coming from different angles in an unpredictable rhythm. If you listen to this fight with headphones on you can almost hear the musicality of the rhythm of the punches. Mayweather was throwing body shots (i.e. punches) and head shots, all coming from different angles: hooks, crosses, straight shots, uppercuts, jabs, an assortment of punches in an unpredictable rhythm. But it's not only that Mayweather's rhythm that was unpredictable, It was also the groove that he got into.

In my opinion, the work of Max Roach in this performance of "Ko-Ko" is very similar to the smooth, fluent, unpredictable groove that elite fighters like Mayweather, Jr., employ. The interplay of Max's drumming with Bird's improvisation sets up a very similar feel to what I saw in Mayweather's rhythm. Near the end of "Ko-Ko," at 2:15, Max does exactly this same kind of boxer motion, accompanying the second half of Miles' interlude improvisation and continuing into Bird's improvisation, only in this case it is like a counterpoint, a conversation in slang between Yard and Max. This is a technique that is both seen and heard throughout the African Diaspora. A certain amount of trickery is involved, a slickness that is demonstrated, for example, by the cross-over dribble and other moves of athletes—for example, the 'ankle-breaking' moves of basketball player Allan Iverson. In addition to this, Max's solo just before the head out is absolutely masterful. Try listening to it at half speed if you can.

This was the first Charlie Parker recording that I ever heard, as it was the first cut on side A of an album (remember those?) that my father gave me. And I can still vividly remember my response—I had absolutely NO IDEA of what was going on in terms of structure or anything else. It all seemed so esoteric and mysterious to me, as I was previously exposed to the more explicit forms of these rhythmic devices as presented in the popular African-American music that I grew up listening to. Compared to music that I had been listening to when I was younger (before the age of 17), the detailed structures in the music of Parker and his associates were moving so much more quickly, with greater subtlety and on a much more sophisticated level than I was accustomed to. However from the beginning, while listening to this music, I did intuitively get the distinct impression of communication, that the music sounded like conversations.

In discussing "Ko-Ko," first of all the rhythm of the head is like something from the hood, but on Mars! In the form and movement there is so much hesitation, backpedaling, and stratification. The ever-present phrasing in groups of three and the way the melody shifts in uneven groups, dividing the 32 beats into an unpredictable pattern of 3-3-2-2-3-3-2-2-1-3-4-4. By backpedaling I mean the way that the rhythmic patterns seem to reverse in movement; for example the 8s are broken up as 3-3-2, then as 2-3-3. By hesitation I am referring to the way the next 8 is broken up as 2-2-1-3, as kind of stuttering movement.

The opening melody of "Ko-Ko"



Stratification is just my term for the funky nature of the melody and Max's accompaniment. With this music I always paid more attention to the melody, drums and bass; however, this song form is composed of only melody and drums, with Max's part being spontaneously composed. The way Max scrapes the brushes rhythmically across the snare, frequently pivoting in unpredictable places, adds to the elusiveness and sophistication of this performance. For example, during the head and under Miles' first interlude improvisation (starting at measure 9), Max provides an esoteric commentary, filling in a little more as Parker enters (in measure 17)—however, the beat is always implicit, never directly stated. On this rendition of "Ko-Ko," Bird's temporal sense is so strong that his playing provides the clues for the uninitiated listener to find his/her balance.

Melody of "Ko-Ko", trumpet, sax, snare & bass drum:




One rarely hears this kind of commentary from drummers, as much of today's music is explicitly stated. The way Max chooses only specific parts of the melody to use as points for his commentary is part of what makes the rhythm so mysterious. Much is hinted at, instead of directly stated. This continues in the spontaneously composed sections of this performance, as Yard plays in a way where there are very hard accents which form an interplay with Max's spacious exclamations. Punches are being mixed here, some hard, some soft, upstairs and downstairs, in ways that form a hard-hitting but unpredictable groove. I've always felt that the obvious speed and virtuosity of this music obscures its more subtle dimensions from many listeners, almost as if only the initiates of some kind of secret order are able to understand it. This kind of slickness and dialog continues throughout this performance, building in ways that ebb and flow just as in a conversation. By the way Miles plays the F in measure 28 early; based on the original 1945 studio recording with Diz and Bird playing the melody, this F should fall on the first beat of measure 29. However, Yard and Max play their parts correctly, so the still developing Miles Davis probably had trouble negotiating this rapid tempo.

Spontaneously composed music can be analyzed in a similar fashion to counterpoint, in terms of the interaction of the voices. However, it is a counterpoint that has its own rules based on a natural order and intuitive-logic—what esoteric scholar and philosopher Schwaller de Lubicz referred to as Intelligence of the Heart. Also, in my opinion, the cultural DNA of the creators of this music should be taken into account, just as you should take environment and culture into account when studying any human endeavors. Max tends to play in a way that both interjects commentary between Bird's pauses and punctuates Parker's phrases with termination figures. For a drummer to do this effectively he/she must be very familiar with the manner of speaking of the soloist in order to be able to successfully anticipate the varied expressions.

I have heard many live recordings where it is clear that Max is anticipating Parker's sentence structures and applying the appropriate punctuation. This is not unusual; close friends frequently finish each other's sentences in conversations. With musicians such as Parker and Roach everything is internalized on a reflex level. As this music is rapidly moving sound being created somewhat spontaneously, I believe that the foreground mental activity occurs primarily on the semantic level in the mind, while the internalized, agreed-upon syntactic musical formations may be dealt with by some other more automated process, such as theorized by the concept of the mirror neuron system. What is striking here is the level that the conversations are occurring on—these are very deep subjects! Most of the time, critics and academics discuss this music in terms of individual musical accomplishments, and don't focus enough attention on the interplay. I feel this music first and foremost tells a story. There is definitely a conscious attempt to express the music using a conversational logic. So what I am saying is that while syntax is important, semantics is primary. Too often what the music refers to, or may refer to is ignored.

The last half of the bridge going into the last eight before Roach's solo (at 1:32) provides one of these rhythmic voice-leading points where Max goes into his boxing thing, playing some of the funkiest stuff I've heard. Just as instructive are the vocal exclamations of the musicians and possibly some initiated members of the audience, which form additional commentary. There is so much going on in this section that you could write a book about it; an entire world of possibilities is implied, as the rhythmic relationships are far more subtle than what is happening harmonically.

2nd half of last bridge and last 8 of "Ko-Ko", Bird’s solo




This illustrates that on these faster pieces Yard tended to play with bursts of sentences punctuated with shorter internal groupings using hard accents, whereas Max played in a way that effectively demarcated Parker's phrases with longer groupings setting up shifting epitritic patterns*. Max sets these patterns up by repeated figures designed to impress upon the listener a particular rhythmic form, only to suddenly displace the rhythm from what the listener was conditioned to expect. The passage above is a perfect example of this, setting up a hypnotic dance of 2-3-3, only to shift the expected equilibrium with the response of 2-1-3-1-1, then continuing with a slight variation of the initial dance.

Even the vocal exclamations of the musicians and audience members participates in what I consider to be secular ritualized performances. All of these features that I mention are traits that I consider to be a kind of musical DNA that has been retained from Africa. This music's level of sophistication demanded the intellectual as well as emotional participation of musicians and non-musicians alike (when they could get into the music, which not all people could). The rate of change of each instrument is also instructive. Obviously the soloists are in the foreground playing the instruments that have the swifter motion. In the case of this particular group, the bass would be approximately half the speed of the soloist, with the drums having a mercurial and protean function. In terms of commentaries, the drummer would be the next slowest after the bass and piano, and would be providing the slowest commentary from a rhythmic point of view. However, elements of the drum part are closer to the speed of the soloist.

*The epitritic ratio is 4 against 3; that is, Max playing the 4 against slow 3 (i.e. a slow pulse which is every 3 measures of 1/1 time). This ratio is used a lot on the continent of Africa.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Django Reinhardt: I'll See You In My Dreams

Recorded just two months before the outbreak of a war that would change his life and career forever, Django Reinhardt’s trio version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is a brilliant summation of his late-30s solo style with intriguing notions for future developments. The solo is almost entirely in single lines, and as we listen to Django create this two-and-a-half minute masterpiece, it is like we are inside his head as he discovers and develops his ideas. The precise musical logic that had always been present in Django’s playing is found here in extremely sharp focus as he takes motive after motive and turns them every which way until each turns into a new phrase that he can manipulate. In one case, that motive is one note, and as he plays that note a couple dozen times, he subtly changes the sound by changing the way he attacks the string. If his harmonic experiments are limited to a short passage early on, he finds a new challenge in offsetting rhythms and near the end of the side, there is a marvelous sequence with quarter-note triplet figures against the steady four-beat of Ferret and Soudieux. Reinhardt would have another 14 years on the planet, but even if his career would have ended with World War II, recordings like this one would have ensured his immortality.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Tea For Two (take 2)

“Tea For Two” must have been one of Django Reinhardt’s favorite songs at this period, as he recorded it five times between 1937-1939. Three of those versions were made by the QHCF in 1939 for the same label (All 3 of the 1939 versions can be heard on the above CD.) This version stands out from the others for its beautiful relaxed tempo and for Django’s amazing solo. The cut opens with Django and Stephane in duet on the verse. Grappelli is as elegant as ever, but Django is feeling rhapsodic and as he begins his solo on the tune, he goes into a breathtaking run, astounding not only for its length, but also for its asymmetrical architecture. Maintaining his penchant for single line solos, his second eight features a brilliant development of the song’s primary motive. In the next eight, he develops one of his own lines, but then returns to examining the original tune to finish his chorus. All of this is done so artfully that the casual listener can barely tell what’s going on. Django’s accompaniment style has also made a new development: there is a wonderful moment during Grappelli’s solo where Reinhardt hits a roll at full strength, but then immediately brings the volume down. In classical music, that’s known as a forte-piano, but it is rarely used in jazz. Here, it is a perfect way to balance the QHCF’s usual rough-and-ready style with the tender reading of a timeless standard.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Honeysuckle Rose

In a way, this 1938 version of “Honeysuckle Rose” is a throwback to the earliest recordings of the QHCF. It is set in a bouncy two-beat, and Reinhardt takes the first solo, going back and forth between melody and improvisation. But closer listening shows that the group had come a long way in just over three years. First of all, Django’s style had evolved to primarily single-string solos. While his earlier recordings showed him to be a master of varying styles from single-string to chords to runs to maintain listener interest, his recordings from this period show a new confidence in the strength of his single lines. His “Honeysuckle” solo has only one little octave outburst, yet we are captivated by his solo. He is also more harmonically savvy, and the “outside” note choices he makes sound much more assured than on his Japanese Sandman solo of six months earlier. Grappelli’s rhythmic sense is more attuned than on the early sides and his playing displays elegance and fire simultaneously. The little ensemble figure Reinhardt and Grappelli play in the final chorus is simply delightful, and when Grappelli solos during the bridge, there is Django offering vocal encouragement.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Philippe Brun: Blues

One of the finest French jazz trumpeters of his day, Philippe Brun is nearly forgotten now and except for his collaborations with Django Reinhardt and Alix Combelle, few of his recordings have been reissued. Inspired by Bix Beiderbecke, Brun's lovely tone came through even when, as on "Blues", he played in a cup mute. I don't know just how the musicians decided on the unusual instrumentation for this recording, but it created a delightful and delicate sort of chamber jazz, and it was a precursor to Edmond Hall's famous Celeste Quartet session of 1941. (Was it an inspiration? Who knows if any member of Hall's pickup group ever heard this recording?) Brun takes the first solo, and although he's the featured player for the side, he never tries to impress with flashy displays of technique. Instead, he plays a simple, soulful statement that cuts right to the core. Grappelli (who was also an excellent pianist) enjoys playing around on the celeste, but Django's solo is quite serious and studied. There's no guitar effects, just a passionate single-string solo made up of perfectly-sculpted phrases, with a surprising turn to the low register as Brun returns. If Brun had a weakness, it was his sense of rhythm. He was clearly behind Grappelli and Reinhardt when it came to swinging eighth notes. But close to the end, Django picks up on Brun's shuffle rhythm and by using it--slightly adapted--in his accompaniment, is able to bring Brun a little closer to authentic swing style.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Minor Swing

"Minor Swing" may be the most popular record Django Reinhardt ever made. Tom Lord's online discography lists it as being reissued on at least 30 albums and it has also appeared on several film soundtracks. And, after all, who can resist its catchy melody and pervasive minor harmonies? Certainly not I, and it has been one of my favorite Django tracks since I first heard it nearly 25 years ago.

The calm introduction (which is actually all there is of a melody) offers little clues to what follows, but it features a rare instance of a string bass solo on a QHCF record. But when the second bass break suddenly becomes very aggressive, Django kicks off the main tune, the group lays into the minor chord sequence, and we're in for a wild ride! Django's fiery solo stays in single-string for the first two choruses, achieving its passion through dramatic bent notes. Then in the third chorus, he combines a block chord, a roll and a glissando up and down the guitar, and his instrument roars like a lion. Grappelli picks up on the growing intensity and his violin solo builds and builds with each successive chorus. Eugene Vees and Joseph Reinhardt, who hardly got notice in the QHCF, are excellent on this recording--I still marvel at how they could create such a strong backbeat without a drummer behind them!

And then there's the talking. Django had quite a reputation for shouting verbal encouragements during recording sessions. According to Benny Carter, it was Django that shouted "Go on, go on" to Coleman Hawkins on their 1937 recording of "Crazy Rhythm". (The fact that Hawkins did go on--unheard of in those days--created one of the greatest recordings of the 78 rpm era). On "Minor Swing", we can hear Django egging on Stephane as the performance builds. It's only at the very end of the record, when the entire group says "Oh, Yeah" that we realize the QHCF has played a little joke on us and has brilliantly set the whole thing up during the course of the record.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Dicky Wells: Japanese Sandman

Even before the Quintette of the Hot Club of France started recording, Django Reinhardt was a first-call player whenever American artists recorded in Paris. Owing that Django could barely read and write his own name, let alone music scores, it was amazing that he achieved such a status. But his ear was precise and he could translate what he heard to the guitar with stunning accuracy, and that is a major part of his legendary reputation.

Trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Dickie Wells were touring Paris as part of the Teddy Hill Orchestra when they recorded this session for Swing (Dizzy Gillespie was also with the band, and ironically, he was the only trumpeter from the band not invited to play at the session!) This delightful version of “Japanese Sandman” was the last song cut that day and it features remarkable solos by all three principals. Wells is up first, barely touching the melody before moving into his own invention. Yet he never loses sight of the opening motive and many of his ideas are related to that motive, either rhythmically or melodically. Coleman follows with his sunny, open tone. His first half-chorus features a set of perfectly-balanced phrases. Then the last phrase spills into the bridge and his phrasing shifts three beats off the form. Coleman keeps things that way until he ties it all up with a beautifully-played 6-bar phrase. Then Django steps up with a mostly single-string solo that features some intriguing harmonic choices in the 5th-8th bars. The rest of the solo is rather straight-forward harmonically, so it’s hard to know whether Django was fully aware of what he was doing and if he considered it a momentary mis-step (If Dizzy had been at the session, he would have known!). However, it was not an isolated incident and Django, who later expressed admiration for the harmonic innovations of Gillespie and Charlie Parker, would experiment again with advanced harmonies in the next few years—several years before bebop was born.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Charles Mingus: C Jam Blues

Jazz composers usually bring their most polished and ambitious scores when they are invited to play at Carnegie Hall. Not Charles Mingus. He organized the loosest, most free-wheeling jam on the simplest changes for his January 1974 concert, and I'm confident no one demanded their money back after the show.

When the back room cutting contests are translated to the concert hall, they usually come across as hollow and staged, lacking the spontaneity that is essential to these kinds of performances. But not on this track, which ranks among the finest recorded jam sessions in the jazz annals. Handy starts out hot, and sets the bar high for the following soloists with a 15-chorus excursion over blues changes. Hamiet Bluiett takes a few steps outside the changes, but George Adams makes the plunge with an ear-scorcher of a solo that is a panzer attack on the authority of the tonal center. You may think that there is nowhere else to go at this point, but then Rahsaan Roland Kirk steals the show by dipping into Adams' own bag and playing it better than Adams himself. And that is just the appetizer for a whirlwind solo of heroic proportions. . .

If you had any doubt that this was a real cutting contest, the blood on the reeds should dispel any doubts. Rahsaan was notorious for these kinds of in-your-face attacks. Two years before this concert, he had pulled off a similar stunt at a Radio City Music Hall event amidst a high profile cast that included Dexter Gordon and Zoot Sims. "Rahsaan could be competitive," Steve Turre has commented. "Don't mess with him at a jam session because he didn't play just one way. He could shift gears on you and take it in another direction. He could destroy people at a jam sessions if they tried to get competitive."

Faddis and McPherson try to pick up the pieces and bring some decorum back to the blues. But by the time you get to the end of this 24 minute track, all hell has broken loose. C Jam Blues is done broke and don't wanna to go back to the key of C no more. Yet I'm sure the composer, who always brought his big scores to this hall, would have been on his feet screaming and clapping along with everyone else.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: When Day Is Done

Django Reinhardt opens this version of “When Day Is Done” with a dramatic unaccompanied guitar cadenza. I suspect he was trying to emulate Louis Armstrong’s introduction to West End Blues and indeed, one can imagine young guitarists being bowled over by the recording. It impresses me as well, but the solo that follows is quite special for what isn’t there. As the introduction has plenty of contrast between chorded sections and single lines, the ensuing solo is entirely comprised of single line melody and embellishment. The filigrees are tasty, the bent notes are heart-rending, and the atmosphere is so engulfing that it’s hard not to imagine yourself floating in a canoe down the Seine as Django and his friends serenade you. The mood breaks as Django picks up the tempo and Grappelli enters. While the final choruses are well-played, this time the disconnect is too great from what came before and this part of the recording just sounds like more of the same. Time to go back and listen to the first half of the record again!

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Hot Lips

“Hot Lips” must have seemed a strange choice for the QHCF. Although the song was only 15 years old at the time, it was certainly dated as a remnant of 1920s hot-cha. After a plethora of recordings in the twenties, the song went unrecorded by jazz artists for nearly five years. Significantly, the two recordings from 1935 and 1936 were made in London, and perhaps Grappelli or Reinhardt heard one of those versions and decided to try it with the QHCF. At any rate, this is a very pleasant medium-tempo version of the song. Grappelli starts off the proceedings with a fairly straight reading of the melody over the trademark chunk, chunk-a-chunk rhythm of the guitars. Django’s solo is marked by a long section in parallel sixths. Usually, Django avoided using the same sound for several bars, but here, there is a mild amount of experimenting going on, first to see how long he could maintain interest with the same voicing, and second, to see if a slight change would break up the monotony. As he finishes an eight-bar phrase, he fills in the note between the open sixth creating a chord voicing straight out of Alvino Rey! In fact, the figure he plays involves moving the voicing between chords a half-step apart, which is an easy effect to play on a slide guitar. The effect is a little corny and Reinhart didn’t use it much, but for an old obscure song, it worked well enough.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Shine

Django Reinhardt’s solo on “Shine” was one of his finest to that point in his career. In it, he forms a direct link to Wes Montgomery by using a similar concept in building his solo. Montgomery was fond of starting a solo with single lines, taking the next chorus in octaves and finishing with block chords. Reinhardt’s concept of solo construction was actually more complex than Montgomery’s, but I suspect that Montgomery heard this recording and learned a lot from it. Here, Reinhardt plays in single lines throughout the first chorus and moves to octaves at the beginning of the second. The block chords don’t come in until the end as Reinhardt is accompanying Grappelli. Although the building blocks are similar, the overall effect is different. As Reinhardt gained more experience, he became an expert in pacing his solos so they would make sense as a musical entity. Instinctively, he seemed to know the precise moment where block chords would properly set off his single lines. His mastery of pacing keeps our ears riveted to the guitarist in solo after solo. Another highlight of the solo occurs in the 12th -14th bars as Reinhardt blurs the lines by spontaneously turning a single line into a blistering run. In the final choruses, Reinhardt and Grappelli are basically a duet with the rest of the band humming along in the background. Reinhardt had refined his accompanying style, retaining its active stance in the music, but not stealing the spotlight away from Grappelli.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: After You've Gone

After its initial recordings on Ultraphone and Decca, the QHCF moved to the HMV label. “After You’ve Gone” was recorded on their first session for the label and there seems to have been some growing pains. The balance is not as good as on the other labels, with especially weak recording of the bass. The opening chorus is by Grappelli this time around and he is immediately followed by the Louis Armstrong-inspired singing of Freddie Taylor. It seems that everyone is holding back in these opening choruses, and sure enough, as soon as Taylor is finished, the intensity goes up as Django goes into a finger-busting chorus filled with fast arpeggios and runs, and concluding with a chorded intro to Grappelli. The violinist takes charge, building the intensity with every chorus. The breaks, built into the tune at the end of each 16-bar section, seem to have little effect on Taylor, but each time Reinhardt and Grappelli hit them, they add to the growing excitement of the recording.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Stephane Grappelli & His Hot Four: St. Louis Blues

Grappelli might have been the leader on this date, but Django is the soloist for all but the last minute of this record. For anyone of that time who was not aware of the guitarist, the unaccompanied introduction might make them think that they were hearing a classical player. Yet, as Django slides into a slow-walk tempo and the opening melody of “St. Louis Blues”, there is no doubt that his heart lies in jazz. He makes effective use of bent notes in the opening chorus, and his flashy but tasteful runs add dramatic contrast. When he goes to the tango section, he adds to the drama with strong lines in parallel octaves. The tempo picks up as the band returns to the blues choruses, and Reinhardt’s final chorus is marked by block chords and one of his trademarked guitar rolls. When Grappelli enters, Reinhardt steals the spotlight back with his unique accompanying style featuring choppy block chords and rolls at the turnarounds.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Quintette du Hot Club de France: Oh, Lady Be Good

From the very first session of the QHCF, “Oh, Lady Be Good” shows the group still getting its bearings. The swing rhythms are still a little jerky, and part of the problem is Louis Vola’s two-beat bass pattern. On the occasions where he plays four beats to the bar, the rhythmic issues straighten themselves out almost instantly. After Grappelli & Reinhardt’s opening figure, the guitarist takes his first solo, paraphrasing the Gershwin melody as he goes. This was a typical setup for the early QHCF sides and Django was very adept at alternating between melody and improvisation. What is already present here is Django’s fine sense of sequencing and developing motives, as displayed in a superbly executed sequence near the end of his second chorus. However, he didn’t have a wide range of licks, and he had not yet developed a sense of solo structure. There is a hint of future developments during his second solo as he strongly chords to designate the surprise modulations. Grappelli seems a little less polished than we might expect, but he delivers two red-hot solos that raise the intensity of the performance.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · · ·


Paul Quinichette: Paul's Bunion

His style was so strongly reminiscent of Lester "Prez" Young's, that Paul Quinichette was inevitably dubbed the "Vice Pres." And certainly in a state of national disaster, Mr. Q. could step in and handle tenor solos in some secured and secluded bunker. But don't wait for a succession crisis before checking out this polished and fluid soloist, who deserves a better place in jazz history than his current situation as an acolyte to a brighter star. Here he borrows some Basie cohorts, and improvises with panache over the chord changes to "Too Marvelous for Words." He uses less chromatic color than most saxophonists of the period, but his tone is appealing and his willingness to float over the rhythm section, rather than try to drive it, provided an effective contrast to the de facto approach of the decade. And check out Basie's intro, which seemed to anticipate extreme minimalism long before Reich and Glass arrived on the scene.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Count Basie (with Lester Young): Song of the Islands

I once asked Stan Getz which Lester Young recordings he most admired, and this was the first track he mentioned. I had been deeply immersed in Prez at the time and had been captivated by this same performance, then available as part of my treasured multi-LP Columbia reissue of all Young's recordings, now sadly out of print—but fortunately this gem has been included on a Basie compilation by the label that (unlike so much great music in their archive) can still be purchased. So there is no excuse for fans not to check out this classic performance, which is sadly too seldom heard and unknown even by many jazz devotees.

World War II would break out in Europe exactly four weeks after this session, but you would never guess it from this sweet, lighthearted evocation of a much different kind of Pacific island than the ones jazz-fans-turned-soldiers would soon be "hopping" in full uniform. Lester's tone is beautiful here, and if you have only heard his Verve recordings from the 1950s you might not even recognize it as coming from the same artist. Yes, the war would scar Young too, and this type of oh-so-relaxed phrasing would also become rarer in his playing in future years. But back in 1939, no one else in jazz was improvising with this sense of tranquil nonchalance. What a revelation: that jazz could be so loose and easy. The coherence and thematic integrity of Young's solo is exceptional, with the second eight bars developing what was played in the opening eight—then the band comes in with mocking horns, almost as if they were irritated that a sax could sound so cool.

And here's the kicker: the whole solo is only sixteen bars long. But Prez, pre-eminently among jazz saxophonists, was perfectly suited for these short solos. Hey, sometimes Lady Day only gave him eight bars—so he knew how to make every measure count. How many of today's great jazz soloists could make a complete statement in just a few bars? Maybe they need to start listening to Prez. Certainly Stan Getz was paying attention.

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Four In One

In a way, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (JFJO) can be compared to NRBQ, each being an eclectic and playful jam band that draws from jazz, rock, and funk, and sports influences ranging from Thelonious Monk to Sun Ra. JFJO was formed in Tulsa, OK, in 1994, and in its new configuration adds "The Tulsa Sound" to its arsenal, as represented by artists such as Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie. At the start of 2009 the group was expanded from a trio to a quartet with the addition of Chris Combs on lap steel guitar, while bassist Matt Hayes replaced original bassist Reed Mathis. (There's never been a Jacob Fred in the group--that was just Haas's nickname in high school.) Combs' guitar helps give JFJO a refreshingly different sound, as heard for the first time on its new self-produced six-track EP, One Day in Brooklyn.

Haas plays Monk's "Four in One" theme liltingly, with subdued theremin-sounding background sighs from Combs' guitar and crisp, unvarnished rhythm support from Hayes and Raymer. Combs in a lyrical solo break takes his lap steel to the island of Hawaii, before Haas returns to moderately embellish the theme. Combs then resumes his improv, continuing to toy with the tune's melodic rather than harmonic structure, and eventually giving way again to Haas's equally thematic ruminations. Haas concludes by playing Monk's line once more in an appealingly light-touched manner. This is an unchallenging yet sonically fascinating take on "Four in One," not unlike the streamlined approach you might expect from Bill Frisell.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Judy Niemack: Beautiful Love

Niemack is a singer's singer who has never quite achieved the name recognition she deserves. Her formal training, plus private lessons with Warne Marsh, gave her a foundation from which to develop a technically flawless and adventurous style. Her warm, clear, and powerful voice, and improvisational (scatting) and composing abilities comprise elements of a complete jazz musician who just happens to use her voice as primary instrument or means of expression. Those who may remember her 1989 and 1992 recordings with Cedar Walton (Blue Bop) and Kenny Barron (Heart's Desire), respectively, will be delighted to learn that Niemack is, if anything, better than ever in the year 2009, as shown by her new (and 10th) CD, For the Sundance.

Her duet with bassist Rufus Reid on "Beautiful Love" is a stark, definitive example of what Niemack is all about. Her understated wordless intro is bolstered by Reid's sensitive and continuing commentary. The singer glides seamlessly into the standard's lyrics, her pliant voice shaping each phrase in a fresh and inventive manner. Niemack's scatted solo that follows is made that much more effective by the harmonic base she has established previously in her melodic exposition. She concludes by reexamining the lyrics even more creatively, this time breaking up the tempo and effortlessly revamping the expected phrase lengths in ways that are totally musical and invigorating, and never over the top. This is a masterfully realized duet performance, and essential listening for those already hip--or new to--Judy Niemack.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Mimi Jones: Suite Mary

A New Day is the debut CD from bassist Mimi Jones, formerly known by her real name, Miriam Sullivan. As Sullivan, she has backed a number of well-known jazz artists, including Rachel Z and Joanne Brackeen at Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festivals at the Kennedy Center. Being a female bassist who also sings, the comparisons to Esperanza Spalding are sure to come for Jones. However, Jones' simple, New Age type lyrics for most of her originals are distracting and diminish the effectiveness of these selections.

For that reason, the instrumental "Suite Mary"--dedicated to Mary Lou Williams--stands out. The track is also buttressed by a shining guest appearance by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmisure, the promising winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competition. The piece essentially consists of three sections each introduced by a separate theme, the first funky and riff-based, the second more legato and ethereal, and the third Caribbean-flavored with an allusion to "Shortnin' Bread." Akinmusire's pure, full-bodied tone accentuates these melodies, and his fresh, confident solo is regrettably short. Keyboardist Miki Hayama's exploration is soothingly voiced and thematically focused, while guitarist Marvin Sewell's guitar work ranges from pensively melodic to bluesy and wailingly forthright. A return to the second theme and a melancholy interlude are followed by an energetic, uplifting finale. This absorbing, multi-textured, well-arranged work truly shows Jones' potential more than any other on the CD.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Joe Beck and Laura Theodore: What More Can A Woman Do?

Golden Earrings was Joe Beck’s final recording, as he had succumbed to lung cancer in 2008. His absence from the jazz universe is sorely felt. Beck’s innovative approach helped to expand the sonic boundaries of jazz guitar, as evidenced in the wet, rich, and slightly percussive tone of his guitar work on stellar dates with a wide spectrum of artists — from jazz pillars like Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich to singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. In this unique, satisfying tribute to the songwriting team of Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour, he joins forces with chanteuse supérieur Laura Theodore and the result is a fine farewell, indeed.

Joe Beck was a master of the hybrid alto guitar (featured on other cuts from this album), which allowed him greater harmonic range while covering the functions of the bass. But here the Martin CF-1 also works well within the context of this guitar/vocal duo, sounding almost as rich as a fat archtop. On this track Beck’s sparing use of studio enhancement only emphasizes the lush substitutions which give his Martin an orchestral feel, actually serving to underscore the ballad’s intimacy. His lines are confident, authoritative, and well-situated between reference chords as he solos without really needing any other accompaniment. Laura Theodore’s sultry voice and relaxed phrasing fit snugly with the spontaneity of Beck’s guitar throughout the piece and do justice to Peggy Lee’s poignant, ultra cool ballad.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Laika Fatien: You Turned the Tables On Me

Fatien's versions of "Strange Fruit" (see jazz.com review), "Don't Explain," "MIsery," "Left Alone," and especially "Gloomy Sunday" (sometimes known as the "Hungarian suicide song") all pack the kind of emotional wallop that Billie Holiday could so memorably and heartbreakingly deliver. Fatien's theatrical background no doubt helps her, on this tribute CD to Lady Day, to convincingly convey feelings of resignation, rejection, anguish, and more. Fatien's crystalline voice and precise articulation allow her to, as she has said, "express the text" and avoid "all sorts of effects and vocal acrobatics devoid of emotion."

The cheerful arrangement of "You Turned the Tables On Me" is a breath of fresh air in comparison to most of the other more downbeat treatments by Faiten and her backing group. That is, if you are not paying much attention to the lyrics, for there's no happy ending or resolution here. Fatien's bouncy, floating-on-air vocal captures the attitude of a woman simply dusting herself off and bravely moving on, all the wiser for an unfortunate experience partially her own doing. "But after thinking it over and over / I got what was coming to me / Just like the sting of a bee / You turned the tables on me." A seductive waltzing rhythm underlines Fatien's world-wise admissions, while Robert Glasper's lively piano solo seems to be looking ahead optimistically. Note how he skillfully mixes resounding chords, two-hand unison voicings, and prancing single-note lines. He and Fatien make quite a musical pairing.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Pete Fountain: Muskrat Ramble

What sort of people were spending their evenings out, back in the middle of the turbulent '60s, listening to Pete Fountain's dixieland band? Judging by this recording, they were a happy-go-lucky sort you wouldn't mind having for a next door neighbor. The Stones might be looking for "Satisfaction" back in '65, but these fans were just looking for a good time. And that war off in Southeast Asia? Who in French Quarter Inn crowd would have predicted that, just a few months later, Country Joe McDonald would borrow this same Kid Ory tune for his famous antiwar chant, which became so associated with the protest movement that some people simply called it the "Vietnam Song." No protests can be heard on this track, as Fountain tosses off his slick, likable clarinet phrases and engages in some quaint old school counterpoint. Call it an anachronism. Call it out-of-date. But you could draft a busload of Berklee students, and not find one who could pull this tune off with quite as much panache as Fountain and company. And, for the record, Fountain has one of the great clarinet sounds of the modern era.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Dr. John: Right Place Wrong Time

For once, it was a case of the right place at the right time. Most of the New Orleans piano legends never had a top ten hit, and Dr. John could have gone through his entire career without an AM airplay sensation and still be assured of his iconic status. But the stars were in alignment for Mac Rebennack when he recorded this quirky, likeable tune, which became his biggest selling song. There were other stars on hand—in the studio that day, and they deserve some credit too. When will the Meters get their due? This fantastic band, New Orleans's answer to the Wrecking Crew and Funk Brothers, always delivered the goods, and could produce a hit for other parties (they did it again with "Lady Marmalade" the following year). Their own recordings are textbook studies in the proper care and nurturing of a dance groove, and ought to be enshrined in some suitable hall of funky fame. Mixing them with the great Dr. John and a clever tune was a perfect formula, producing a hit that was richly deserved by all parties.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Armstrong: Hello Dolly

A bystander at the recording session notes that Louis Armstrong shook his head in dismay when looking over the music to "Hello Dolly," an unknown song (at the time) that the trumpeter was simply performing to please long-time manager Joe Glaser. Glaser must have been repaying a favor to someone—certainly this repetitive tune with the simple-minded lyric from a Broadway show that still hadn't opened was no gift to Armstrong. Yet Louis was a consummate showman and seasoned veteran of many sessions, and delivered the tune with so much enthusiasm that one might have concluded that he was the one who had concocted the whole idea. Even the old-timey banjo, overdubbed by a producer looking to add a little more "period charm" to the song, can't detract from the charisma of New Orleans' most famous musical ambassador. A few weeks later the song was a hit, and by May a 62-year-old trumpeter had pushed the Beatles out of the top spot on the Billboard chart. This artist had never enjoyed such a big hit, and never would again. No, this is not Louis Armstrong's finest moment, and will merely distract newbies trying to understand why this artist had such a substantial impact on American music. Yet when a musician of this stature has a surprise commercial success, the only proper response for the rest of us is to cheer loudly. Louis at the top of the charts? Hey, it's so nice to have you back where you belong!

August 24, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Gretchen Parlato: Butterfly

Since taking first place in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocals Competition back in 2004, Gretchen Parlato has been making believers out of a growing group of admirers—in whose ranks you will find Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Barron, among others. The usual next step for an artist of this stature is a blowout, overproduced CD filled with famous guest artists and fluffy arrangements. Instead Parlato attempts something far riskier here, and the results are simply stunning.

This is one of the most under-produced, intimate jazz vocal recordings you will ever hear—it sounds like it was conceived in a NY apartment building with thin walls where the musicians need to play at a whisper so neighbors won't complain. But Parlato blossoms in the quiescence, delivering a pristine performance that refuses to follow the predictable path at any point. Her intonation is flawless, as it needs to be in this setting, where there is no place for a singer to hide. There's no bass, no keyboards, and only the singer's handclapping for percussion . . . but Lionel Loueke is there at every breath and phrase, matching Parlato's singing perfectly, yet also challenging her with his own unexpected twists and turns. He sometimes seems on the brink of entering some strange polytonal set of alternative changes, but Parlato dances over the turbulence like the lepidoptera commemorated in the song title.

This track, and the entire recording, are built on what the music industry always promises but rarely delivers: a singer with a breathtakingly fresh approach and a daring personal style that stands out from the crowd. This CD is in frequent rotation on my home sound system, and will probably stay there for quite some time. I'm not sure if the general public is ready for Gretchen Parlato—music like this is usually kept off the airwaves of mainstream radio stations—but in a way she reminds me of some other understated singers (Astrud Gilberto, Chet Baker, Kenny Rankin) who became surprise crossover stars. So who knows?

August 24, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Lester Young: Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

Although Lester Young will forever be associated with Kansas City jazz, he came from a Louisiana family and spent much of his childhood in New Orleans, a city he celebrates in this classic track from 1938. It is fascinating to speculate on how much hot music Young might have heard in the Crescent City, back in those days before the first jazz recordings. Some commentators have suggested that Young was inspired by Keppard, Oliver, Armstrong and a host of other jazz pioneers at this time. Yet, based on what we know of Prez's childhood and personality, it is hard to imagine him hanging out at Funky Butt Hall soaking up the sounds of early jazz. The future tenor star was put to work by his family at age five, and took on a host of menial jobs—polishing shoes, selling newspapers and distributing flyers—when he wasn't trying to run away from home (which he did "ten or twelve times" whenever his dad "would raise a belt to him," according to his brother Lee). By the early 1920s, Young had moved on as a member of the family band, but years later he would revisit his New Orleans roots as a sideman in King Oliver's ensemble of the early 1930s.

Can we detect the lingering influence of New Orleans style in Young's later sound? The clarinet, not the tenor saxophone, was the king of the reed instruments in early jazz, and here Young plays both—and in a manner which emphasizes the similarities rather than the differences between the two horns. I love Prez's clarinet work, which reminds us of his New Orleans origins, and wish more of it were available on record, but this is one of his finest tenor solos. Young's early role model, the taken-for-granted sax pioneer Frankie Trumbauer, recorded this same song a decade before Young, and it is interesting to compare their two versions. Young's less syncopated, more fluid phrasing points toward the future of jazz improvisation—but it is to his credit that this low-key revolutionary could do so on a track that also reminds us of the music's (and his own) earliest days.

August 24, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Crowbar: Existence is Punishment

New Orleans has a long tradition of iconoclastic funeral music, with its parading brass bands and strutting second lines that sometimes strike outsiders as oddly bright and jaunty. But the sludge metal movement that came out of New Orleans in the early 1990s offered a corrective to all that. The dark, gloomy sound of bands such as Crowbar, Acid Bath and Eyehategod will quickly send the second line packing never to return. In a city known for party music, sludge metal fans created the closest thing to self-flagellation to be contained on a compact disk. "Existence is Punishment" captures this raw style in all its sludginess: lugubriously slow tempos, guitars played like welding equipment, and vocals so rough that, by comparison, Dr. John sounds ready to sing Puccini at La Scala. As an extra kicker, the lyric announces that the singer has found transcendent truth—hey, that alone should justify your $.99 download fee! No wonder this song was such a favorite with Beavis and Butthead, those astute champions of unsung talent, who stepped in to tout it when Downbeat pretended Crowbar didn't even exist. If, as this band promises, "existence is suffering," it might as well start with this song.

August 24, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Use Your Brain

For those raised on today's urban music, it may be hard to believe that you could get such a soulful groove without bass or guitar or keyboards . . . or sampling or programming and those other "little helpers" that are so common these days. But welcome to New Orleans, where horns have been doin' the heavy lifting for more than a century. Here we don't even get a full dirty dozen in the band, but a majority of the ensemble shows up in the studio for "Use Your Brain," and that's all they need for a funk quorum. This project found the band members focusing on original compositions, with saxophonist Roger Lewis penning this winning chart. It's fascinating to listen to this music and trace the history back to those early New Orleans brass bands, yet also hear all the contemporary ingredients. We are only a step away from the World Saxophone Quartet here, yet hints of the 1910 Tuxedo Brass Band are also in the air.

August 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Dave Bartholomew: My Ding-a-Ling

Dave Bartholomew ranks among the most important individuals in the history of New Orleans music, but his name never became widely known among the general public, and most of his influence was exerted behind the scenes. He was a songwriter, talent scout, arranger and general man-about-town, whose greatest successes came via his partnership with Fats Domino, which resulted in some 40 hit songs. Yet Bartholomew also recorded his own material, as he demonstrates on this 1952 track. "My Ding-a-Ling" became a huge hit, but for another rock legend—Chuck Berry, in this instance, who brought it to the top of the charts in 1972. In fact, this was the only number one hit in Berry's career. Bartholomew might have grumbled that he deserved the big success, but he would only be foolin' himself. In 1972, many deejays refused to play Berry's version because of its thinly-disguised double meaning, and there are still lots of oldies stations that won't touch it even today. And Berry (unlike Bartholomew) added the explanation that he was simply singing about "silver bells upon a string"—a clarification that did little to stop the calls for censorship. So Bartholomew could hardly have had high expectations back in '52, when it was little short of a miracle that this tune was even recorded.

August 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Monterey Quartet: Treachery

Most jazz festivals these days hold few surprises—a string of working bands play the same music they perform in other venues—but the half-century old Monterey event has always been different. Important jazz works, such as Ellington's Suite Thursday or Brubeck's The Real Ambassadors, made their debut here. A musician's career could change on the basis of the right chemistry at the right moment, as happened with John Handy's 1965 performance of "Spanish Lady." And even the casual jams have turned into special events with the appearance of an unannounced guest, some inspired bit of grandstanding, or a simmering rivalry among the horns.

Monterey continues this tradition of courting the unexpected, as demonstrated by this charged performance by an all star band from the 2007 festival. Dave Holland's music has been amply recorded over the years, but how often do fans get to hear him with a piano player? He has proven, in work with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, that he matches up admirably with the 88 keys, but he has banished them from most of his leader dates. Cuban-born Gonzalo Rubalcaba handles the ebonies and ivories here, and he brings his fiery brand of pianism to the forefront on this track. Chris Potter is a flexible accompanist, able to handle the exigencies of any situation, but it is refreshing to hear him in this setting after the garage jam band ambiance of his latest release. Eric Harland is both drummer and composer on this track, and plays with a sound that is both big and crisp, qualities that sometimes seem to be mutually exclusive in the work of other percussionists. No one is playing on the home court here, but it's all for the better, as the players strive for a more collective approach than in their own individual projects. All in all, the music lives up to the rich heritage of Monterey music-making that proceeds it, and it serves as a worthy choice for the festival's entry into producing recordings of current day artists.

August 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra: It's Jam Up

The band is called the "original" Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, but there is little original about it. Papa Celestin had actually started performing at the Tuxedo Dance Hall on North Franklin Street (near Storyville) back in 1910, and the venue had closed long before the first jazz records were made. Celestin, for his part, was in his forties before he had his own chance to preserve his music on disk. A full history of this ensemble, if it could be traced with any depth, would likely serve as a primer on early New Orleans jazz. Louis Armstrong joined the Tuxedo Band back in 1921, and later described it as a "thrilling pleasure." Other band members, such as Johnny St. Cyr and Zutty Singleton, went on to play on many of the most important jazz recordings of the era.

This track sounds like a throwback to an earlier period when jazz was still in an embryonic stage. The opening statement seems better suited to a procession than a nightclub, and like Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues" from the previous year, begins by evoking a funeral march, before shifting into raw and lowdown jazz. Celestin was more focused on tone and texture than improvisational brilliance, and the open horn solo here is likely played by Richard Alexis. But Papa's personal history encompasses one of the great success stories of New Orleans jazz. He enjoyed a successful comeback during the trad jazz revival of the 1940s, and went on to play for President Eisenhower at the White House. He even shows up in a Cinerama movie. This venerable master of the New Orleans funeral procession certainly earned a grand one of his own: some 4,000 friends and admirers marched for Papa Celestin at his death in 1954.

August 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Basile Barès: Los Campanillas

"Los Campanillas" is the only unpublished piece by the black New Orleans composer Basile Barès (1845-1902) to survive in manuscript—and what an intriguing work it is. Even those few scholars who have written about Barès don't seem to comprehend the significance of this score. The habanera rhythm employed here is the same that Scott Joplin would later rely on for "Solace," Jelly Roll Morton for "The Crave," and W.C. Handy for "St. Louis Blues." Indeed, the dark and brooding second theme of this composition is strongly reminiscent of the minor key section in Handy's path-breaking song published 12 years after Barès's death. "Los Campanillas" is all the more surprising given the fact that Barès's published works steer clear of minor tonalities, and reveal a marked preference for grandiloquent and derivative waltzes in a style reminiscent of Johann Strauss. This composition, in contrast, reflects a deeper, more personal, more futuristic musical conception that leaves the listener wishing for more.

I also wish we knew more about the personal history of this composer, who was apparently born into slavery in 1845. A piece of sheet music published in New Orleans in 1860 is credited to a "Basile"—no last name. If, as is commonly assumed, the composer was Basile Barès, it is remarkable both as a work created by a slave and published while he was still a slave, but equally for the fact that the copyright is assigned to the composer. Three days before the end of the Civil War, a Mr. "Bazile" gives a concert in New Orleans. Is this our same mysterious composer? By 1867 there can be little doubt about our musical sage's whereabouts: he plays for four months at the Paris International Exposition. Photos of the pianist in France are in the archives of Xavier University (where the manuscript of "Los Campanillas" also resides).

The role of New Orleans in the development of American music is substantial, and well out of proportion to the size of its population or economy. Yet the survival of an intriguing composition such as "Los Campanillas" reminds us that behind all the famous figures from the Crescent City, other equally brilliant artists worked in comparative obscurity, yet with an equally powerful musical vision. Why didn't Barès publish this composition? Did he see it as too experimental for his audience? In any event, this work deserves to be far better known and factored into accounts of the American music history, where it is completely ignored at present.

August 22, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Fats Domino: Ain't That a Shame

Fats Domino had already started to attract national attention back in the late 1940s with his recording of "The Fat Man." But "The Fat Man" was a 98-pound-weakling compared to the buffed-up success of "Ain't That a Shame," which broke out of the segregated world of R&B and became a huge pop hit in 1955. The record was a million seller and remains a perennial favorite of those who demand that old time rock and roll. Pat Boone—the Vanilla Ice of the 1950s—had a successful cover version, borrowing his creativity from New Orleans in this instance, just as he would do again with "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally." But those who like plenty of rhythm in their rhythm-and-blues will go straight to the original source. You'll have a hard time finding a better groove on a 1950s rock-and-roll medium-tempo tune, and I'm convinced that the switch in and out of stop-time played a major role in making this tune a hit—Mr. Boone smartly appropriated this part of the arrangement along with the rest of the chart. But Fats' vocal soulful vocal is the main course here, and no imitator was capable of stealing that. No wonder this crossover hit had such long-lasting reverberations: for the next seven years, every one of this artist's releases would reach the charts.

August 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Kermit Ruffins: Bogalusa Strut

How Dixieland music has changed! When played by Kermit Ruffins it comes in a swinging 4/4 time with no more of that two-beat rhythm grandpa and grandma liked so well. The back beat can even be as wide as Canal Street nowadays, imparting a certain funkiness to the proceedings that is appealing but a bit different from what Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver played for those first fans of hot music. Solos are now more important than counterpoint. And even if no one ever actually said "Modern Dixieland = White Imitators" (okay, maybe someone did mutter that from the back row), jazz fans should be happy to find a little more diversity in the front line. Ruffins, for his part, plays with enthusiasm, and knows how to put on a show. Almost anything can happen at a Ruffins' gig—he exchanged vows with his beloved during a performance, and will even cook up a killin' barbecue to serve up along with the music. "Bogalusa Strut" captures his band in fine form, and is worth downloading even if no sauce and ribs come with the MP3 file. There is a tendency for jazz insiders to dismiss music that is so appealing on the surface level, but Ruffins knows the horn and is an engaging, cogent soloist. Dixieland could hardly find a better advocate in the new millennium.

August 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Edmond Dédé: El Pronunciatiamento: Marche espagnole (1886)

Edmond Dédé

Edmond Dédé, born in New Orleans in 1827, was one of small group of "free black" composers from the Crescent City who managed to earn a livelihood from concert hall music during the 19th century - although mostly overseas. Dédé's 1852 song Mon pauvre coeur is the oldest surviving published piece of music by a Creole of color from New Orleans. Yet at that time, the composer needed to supplement his income with work as a cigar maker. In 1857 he left for Paris, where he studied music, composed, conducted and, in 1864, married a French woman, Sylvie Leflat. Most of his career was spent in Bordeaux, where he wrote around 150 dances, 6 string quartets, and almost 100 songs - virtually all of this music forgotten after Dédé's death in 1901. He only made on trip back to New Orleans, in 1893, where he performed as a violinist and was accompanied by William J. Nickerson - who was later a teacher to Jelly Roll Morton. (Another historical connection: the 1856 Chickering piano used on this recording was once played by Louis Moreau Gottschalk.)

But even more than personal ties, Dédé's compositions also anticipate Morton - who spoke of the importance of the Spanish tinge in his pianism - and other later currents in New Orleans music. One of the key achievements of the New Orleans musicians was their ability to transform the march beat into something less rigid and military, tapping into a more liberating current hidden inside the rhythm. Hints of that same spirit can be heard in this March espagnole, which starts out with great formality, but soon spins a hypnotic web that is more dance than procession. Dédé may have left his home town behind, but the vitality and dynamism of its aural personality still reside in his work.

August 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Jordan: Let the Good Times Roll

Louis Jordan by all accounts was one of the biggest crossover musicians of the 20th century. His swing tinged rock n' roll appealed to many kids of the late 1940s and 1950s and he scored hit after hit with the help of pianist/arranger Wild Bill Davis. On "Let the Good Times Roll," we hear a slow, but swinging blues groove, which is Jordan's preferred style. Jordan sings with assurance and confidence but doesn't overdue it as he rides the music with his words perfectly. The jukebox singles recorded by Jordan during 1946-1949 were all big hits in their day and I can see why. Jordan would go on to trail blaze the path for rock n' roll musicians but his first contributions were with jazz music. I suggest you sit down, go grab something to drink and "Let the Good Times Roll," because they always do with Jordan.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Shirley & Lee: Let the Good Times Roll

So many famous artists have performed this song—the Rolling Stones, Barbara Streisand, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison—but it has New Orleans stamped on every measure, and can be traced back to the local R&B duo Shirley and Lee. They had enjoyed earlier hits; "I'm Gone" climbed to number two on the R&B chart in 1952, but this 1956 single made it all the way to the top spot and even crossed over on to the airwaves of mainstream America.

 Earl Palmer

Despite a marketing campaign which proclaimed them as "Sweethearts of the Blues," Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee were just friends. By the early 1960s they had split up, each pursuing a solo career that never matched the success of the early work as pretend lovers. (Although Shirley had one more taste of fame with her lead vocal on the disco hit "Shame, Shame, Shame.") On "Let the Good Times Roll," boy meets girl and invites her to a "roll" of vague description. Just another Spring day in New Orleans.

The vocals are convincing, but Earl Palmer's drumming is a major contributor to this song's success. He rocks and rolls as the need arises and briefly switches into stop time, but—best of all—engages in a circus-type march beat over the main theme that is both strange and effective. The history of New Orleans music is partly the tale of how the march beat was liberated, taken from the soldiers and given to the lovers and assorted party-goers. "You could always tell a New Orleans drummer the minute you heard him play his bass drum," Palmer himself once noted, "because he'd have that parade beat connotation." Here is a classic example from the height of Big Easy R&B.

Note: This song should not be confused with the Louis Jordan hit of the same name.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Joe Higham and Al Orkesta: Simple Dan(ce)

What do you get when you cross Sun Ra, Miles Davis circa Get Up With It, Gong, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Balkan folk dance beats and Arabian flourishes? You’re likely to come up with an Al Orkesta concoction. “Simple Dan(ce)” is danceable but anything except simple. Starting with a sinister rockish swirl, the song settles into Eastern European rhythms and finally, a funky fusion shuffle. It’s here where Higham’s tenor emerges to play series of connected notes that ascend and descend with the melody. That groove ends abruptly when Estievenart takes over to ruminate over free-form jazz and later on Higham joins him for exotic, Middle Eastern expressions. The Slavic tempo picks up again, but this time Pirotton is going Gilmour---David, that is---all over it. Higham and Estievenart join together again to for more gypsy gyrations until the song literally runs out of gas.

Whew! Taking such a trip around the world can be exhausting. Ah, but thrilling, too.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Little Richard: Tutti Frutti

Little Richard had entered Cosimo Matassa's recording studio on Rampart Street in New Orleans with hopes of becoming a star, but the slow blues he was performing weren't going well. Richard Penniman was setting himself up for a return ticket back to a day job and dashed dreams. But during a break, Richard sat down at the battered piano at the Dew Drop Inn and let loose with a boisterous semi-nonsense lyric he had honed at rowdy performances across the South. Producer Bumps Blackwell was dumbstruck and (according to one version of the story) enlisted the service of Dorothy Labostrie to clean up the questionable lyrics. "Good booty" was replaced with "all rooty," and a few other changes made "Tutti Frutti" suitable for America's teenagers.

They loved it, and everyone wanted a scoop of "Tutti Frutti." Even Pat Boone had a hit with his cover version, but his "Tutti Frutti" is plain vanilla when compared with Little Richard's tour-de-hoarse rendition. This definitely ranks among the most uninhibited vocals in the history of rock and roll, up there with John Lennon's throat-abrading version of "Twist and Shout" and Roger Daltrey's nightmarish scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again." The future of popular music is prefigured here, but you can also hear the echoes of the past. "Tutti Frutti" belongs to that great tradition of New Orleans pseudo-gibberish party-time songs—from "Heebie Jeebies" to "Iko Iko." It just feels so fine ricocheting off the lips: Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom! The band plays with as much energy as they can muster, and drummer Earl Palmer pulls out all the stops. But Little Richard is in the zone, and could take it full court one-on-five right to the hoop. Seriously good booty!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Wild Magnolias: Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right)

The tradition of African-Americans dressing up as Indians at Mardi Gras time is a venerable one, and supposedly reflects a gesture of gratitude to Native Americans due to their help in securing freedom for runaway slaves, a historical relationship that cemented ties between these two groups. Also blacks sometimes circumvented discrimination by passing themselves off as members of one or another tribe. The tradition continues today, and in grand ceremonial fashion—it is not uncommon for a Mardi Gras Indian costume to cost several thousand dollars. The visual effect is heightened by singing, chanting, drumming and a general spirit of revelry.

The Wild Magnolias

Enter the Wild Magnolias. My source documents are strangely silent about the so-called "peace pipe" mentioned in this song. Are the Wild Magnolias referring to some time-honored Native American tradition? A powerful medicine? A shamanistic ritual of cosmic proportions? They are sticklers for ritual purity—admonishing the listener to "smoke it right"; but how do they get around all those local anti-smoking restrictions? You can't even light up a cigar in a smoke shop these days without a squad car arriving to take you away in 'cuffs. Of course, the music presents its own puzzle. Could this really be a traditional Native American song? Did they have electric bass back then? The uninitiated might be tempted to describe this track as watered-down 1970s soul music, but that shows how little they know.

In short, your humble music critic has too many unanswered questions. But a few more puffs on this peace pipe, and perhaps things will clear up a bit. Still I wonder: am I smoking it right?

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Brian Lynch: On the Dot

Known for his associations with Latin pianist Eddie Palmieri, Brian Lynch teams up with pianist Bill Charlap for this 2003 release. Lynch is really at home on this song and shows it with his expressive and vibrant playing. His solo is a constant barrage of swinging eighth notes that requires several listens to grasp his full range and vocabulary. For Charlap's solo, the pianist works in and around a similar rhythmic delivery as Lynch, but aids his solo greatly with subtle but effective left hand chordal chomps. At the end of this tune, the band trades fours and like the other tracks off of this disc, they show that they are some of best cats in New York right now playing straight ahead stuff. Although Charlap and Lynch play other styles than bop/post-bop, their command and execution is superb on this album and the magic captured here is probably what you would get if you went and saw this quartet live in the act. All around a pleasurable listen.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Brian Lynch: Cheryl

On this great tune, Bill Charlap and Brian Lynch run a marathon around these changes. Charlap plays the best solo but Lynch is just as comfortable with his muted trumpet tone, which soars above the clouds. Joe Farnsworth lays down some solid swing and also accents the snare well. Rounded out by the bass playing of Dwayne Burno, the quartet swing in style, that New York club style that you don't seem to hear as often as you would have back in the 1990s. Overall the group does a good job of trading fours towards the end and they play straight ahead about as well as it can be played. Farnsworth finishes things off with a tasty little solo of his own. A really nice and solid track.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Tito Puente: New Arrival

Recorded live in the West Village in Manhattan, when the spot was known as the famed Village Gate (now called Le Poisson Rouge), Tito Puente assembled an all-star cast of musicians that included some of the finest Latin players on the face of planet earth. Even though I was hardly twelve years old when this concert was recorded, I wish I could go back in time and attend it. It's chalked full of Latin and jazz elements. In actuality this album personifies Latin jazz; percussive elements, swing and bop inspired solos. Claudio starts things off with a captivating solo. I know you're thinking, what else would you expect from Mr. Roditi? Following next is Paquito, who always comes dressed to impress. He blazes through these changes just about as good as Cannonball would have but D'Rivera tends to squeak less and has wonderful command of the upper register of the alto.

Being a pianist, I might be biased but Hilton Ruiz runs laps around this song with his solo. It's magical! Every note he plays is the note you're supposed to play and then he tops it off with montuno phrases before the swing section and it gives the song a rich blend of all of the aforementioned stylistic elements. Hats off to Tito, you really did it on one!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Bob James: Westchester Lady

Since being "discovered" by Quincy Jones some forty years ago and composing music for television and film, Bob James has come a long way in his career. On his 1976 album Three, James constructed a jazz-funk-fusion opus that has had a huge impact on music well beyond jazz and easy listening. Some readers might recognize the bass groove on this song as the inspiration for many well-known hip-hop breaks. Featuring a brass and wind section that included Jon Faddis, Hubert Laws and Grover Washington, "Westchester Lady" is a disco fueled number that's full of heavy string work and modulated chord changes.

The orchestral element of this song can be a little too much at times but that was just a thing that they did in the 1970s. Everything was over the top, including the recording. When you get down to the meat of this track, you have a funky bass line played by Will Lee and a moving solo by James on the Fender Rhodes. What does tend to get annoying are the string backgrounds during James's solo but he overcomes them with his solid blues work. Bob James is a musician that is all too often put in the light jazz category, especially for his later work with Fourplay, but his output from the 70s is very inspiring. Take note, many others have. Bob James has got that funk!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Tito Puente: No Pienses Asi

On this mellow jazz inspired bolero, Tito Puente shows a more sensual side with his Latin Orchestra, playing a relaxing number that features Puente playing the melody on vibes with the horns and Sonny Bravo on piano. There's not much to say about this song that can't be gathered from listening to it. It's got a nice swing section after the A section and shows Tito's affinity for jazz music. And I think that this is an important aspect to note. Tito Puente was a jazz musician regardless of what some people might say about it. His contributions to music are strong and I think "No Pienses Asi" shows his diversity along with the rest of the songs off of this album. Do yourself a favor and listen to some Tito Puente and I think you'll understand what I'm talking about. "Oye Como Va" doesn't count!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Tito Puente: Pick Yourself Up

One thing you can always count on from Tito Puente is a steady mix of solid percussion, blaring horn lines and driving rhythms. No exception here as Puente lays back for his horn section to get some love on the solo section. Mario Rivera plays a bop solo filled with lines and phrasing from the old days while Ray Gonzales plays an inspiring flugelhorn solo. The real steal showing moment on this song though is pianist Sonny Bravo. He penetrates the sound spectrum with bop fueled montuno licks that spiral in and out of octaves with his right hand. This is another good song from a great album. Go get this one if you're into Tito and his spicy blend of salsa. Oh wait, they called it mambo long before they called it salsa. It's like Tito said once, salsa's something you eat. I play mambo!

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


The Hawketts (featuring Art Neville): Mardi Gras Mambo

This classic carnival tune was originally recorded by country artist Jodie Levens in 1953, but his incongruous steel-guitar backed version fell flat. Enter the Hawketts the following year with their light R&B version, enhanced with a bit of Caribbean flavor, and a Mardi Gras classic was born. It's hard to believe that Art Neville was only sixteen when he delivered this confident vocal—he sounds like a full-grown man with many Fat Tuesdays under his belt. But though he may not have been old enough to buy alcohol, his paean to Mardi Gras has inspired lots of drinkin', partyin' and fraternizin' with the opposite sex over the years. There is no bass on this track—drummer Boudreux chalks that up to the Hawketts' inexperience: "We didn't know that a band was supposed to have a bass player." But the horns, piano and drums lock together so perfectly that you may not even notice its absence. With a little more foresight, the Chess label (which originally released this recording) might have built the Hawketts into a big national act. As it turned out, they would lose interest, and Art Neville would move on to success with the Meters, the Wild Tchoupitoulas and the Neville Brothers. Even so, this hot New Orleans band lives on in spirit via this perennial carnival favorite.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Tito Puente: Mambo Diablo

Tito Puente doesn't seem to get as much love from the jazz crowd as I would like to see. On his stellar 1985 album Mambo Diablo, Puente shows his grace as both the timbale master and as an accomplished vibraphonist. The title track features Puente playing both timbales and vibraphone and he takes a wonderfully, tasteful solo on the vibes on top of stating the main melody. The song doesn't start to live up to its namesake until the ensemble breaks out into a nice section of stacked fourth hits. Another nice feature about that section is the response of the trumpets, which hit those high notes that you only hear in Latin music. Pianist George Shearing plays some very thoughtful montuno figures as well, showing his versatility. All in all, I think that this song is a shining testament to the often underrated musical strength of Tito Puente after the mambo craze died down.

It baffles me why more jazz artists aren't using percussion in their recordings because the group interaction heard in Latin jazz is uncanny, heard no where else. This song adds to that statement with fire and fury as the percussion ensemble behind Puente and company provide an almost supernatural backdrop and cohesive rhythmic execution.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Sharkey Bonano: Royal Garden Blues

The celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini, according to legend, once invited Sharkey Bonano to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, asked him to play for the orchestra, and afterwards berated his trumpeters because they couldn't get as big and beautiful sound from their horns as the lowly jazz musician. I'm not sure if this ever happened, but Bonano certainly had a full-bodied tone, perfectly suited for New Orleans lead playing, which requires the trumpeter to cut through the layers of counterpoint, both working the melody line and swinging the band at the same time. Fans sometimes dismissed his musicianship because of his on-stage antics and skills as an entertainer. On this live recording, he is clapping and exhorting and setting the festive tone from the bandstand. But he works over "Royal Garden Blues" but good, and clarinetist Bujie Centobie gets in some hot licks too. Good enough for Toscanini; good enough for me.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Dee Alexander: This Bitter Earth

If indeed the cream rises to the top, it's inevitable that Dee Alexander, who has already won local awards recognizing her immense talent in her native city of Chicago, should soon receive similar accolades internationally. Her third CD, Wild is the Wind, is quite simply one of the very best releases by a jazz singer so far in 2009. On it, Alexander acknowledges two of her inspirations, with powerful interpretations of three tunes associated with Nina Simone, as well as "This Bitter Earth," first recorded by Dinah Washington in 1959. Washington's version came after she had entered her commercial period, and is hindered by her emotionally restrained delivery and a plodding string arrangement.

Alexander, on the other hand, lets it all out, with vocal inflections, nuances, and other devices that at times recall not only Dinah, but Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Ernestine Anderson--but at little cost to and without diminishing her own unmistakable musical personality. (Wilson, Franklin, and James also recorded the tune.) Alexander sings "This Bitter Earth" at a deliberate tempo that allows her to stretch and savor notes and syllables, and artfully utilizes space for dramatic effect. Mike Logan's piano accompaniment is strictly old school, soulful and patiently appropriate, and his solo has a Gene Harris flair and glow. Alexander's stunning command is reaffirmed when she revisits the lyrics, putting her final stamp on them with a succulent held-note falsetto. Just listen to this track and her treatment of "Wild is the Wind" and you will be forever hooked on this vital singer.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson: Carnival Time

Fifty years after it was recorded, this song still shows up on the airwaves at Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. It was such a defining hit for Al Johnson that the song became his nickname. "Everybody's having fun," the song proclaims—except for Mr. 'Carnival Time' himself. This classic New Orleans single was long a sore spot for Johnson, who was unable to secure rights to the royalty stream until 1999. Instead, he earned a living as a cab driver while others celebrated with his song playing in the background. Gaining control over his composition hardly signaled a turnaround in Johnson's life, and he lost his house in Hurricane Katrina, was forced to relocate to Houston, and only recently got a Habitat for Humanity home back in his home town (in Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis's "Musicians' Village"). What a contrast between the man and his music. This is a quintessential good time, partyin' tune with a big back beat and an extroverted vocal that is the closest thing to an invitation to a saturnalia allowed on the radio, circa 1960. The recording quality is abysmal, even by standards of the era. But it sounds a little bit better after each bottle of beer.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Bill Frisell: Disfarmer Theme

Bill Frisell has composed a rich, deep soundtrack—but without a movie to go along with it. Instead he has found unlikely inspiration in the images created by Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959), an Arkansas commercial photographer who specialized in portraits of local citizens in the community of Heber Springs during a period that spanned the Great Depression, World War II and the post-war prosperity of the Truman-Eisenhower years. Disfarmer had been born as Mike Meyers, but changed his name to assert his rejection of his immigrant parents' ties to the land. Yet, oddly enough, Frisell uses this artist's work as a springboard for his own return-to-the-roots project. Music historians are familiar with the paradox: denial of the traditional itself becomes fodder for a new tradition.

In preparation for making this record, the Baltimore-born and Dever-raised guitarist embarked upon a pilgrimage through the deep South, journeying through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and across the river into Arkansas to Heber Springs. I'm not sure how much this vision quest, or even these strangely formal photographs of everyday folks, contributed to this music, but there is no disputing the power of the results. "Disfarmer Theme" is a haunting 6/8 piece in which the interweaving layers of string instruments evoke those traditional bands at casual Southern entertainments that didn't need drums or a bulky piano to move people to their feet and on to the dance floor. Yet there is also some dark, brooding center to this music that refuses to be exposed to the photographer's flash.

This opening track sets the stage for 25 more songs on a CD that is destined to be one of the defining moments in Frisell's career. The return to primal beginnings is a dominant theme among creative musicians these days, and sometimes expresses itself in the most banal tribute bands and marketing-oriented projects; but a recording such as this one reveals the powerful almost Jungian drive behind this commercial trend. A musician, unlike a child, gets to create a personal genealogy, selected from a wide array of possible sources of influence. Frisell, for his part, may have found a sound palette from the past which also serves as a fresh beginning—an achievement all the more striking given this artist's own expansive personal legacy.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Doc Cheatham: New Orleans

In the span of his long career, Doc Cheatham played with Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood (backing Billie Holiday), Machito, Tito Puente, and Wilbur de Paris, among others. But it was a stint with Benny Goodman's quintet in the mid-'60's (at age 60), that began Cheatham's true transition from accomplished lead trumpeter to a player both more capable and more confident as a soloist. During this self-imposed woodshedding period, Cheatham also took up singing for the first time, which enabled him to better rest his chops and pace himself as he further advanced in years. By the time of his first major label recording in 1992 (its title a take-off on The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake from 1969), Cheatham had been playing and singing at his regular Sunday afternoon gigs at Sweet Basil in New York for 12 years straight, and by then was considered the undisputed elder statesman among jazz trumpeters.

The group heard here on "New Orleans" is Cheatham's New York Quartet that appeared at Sweet Basil. Cheatham's initial treatment of the theme on trumpet possesses a majestic richness of tone and expression. He then sings Hoagy's lyrics in his ingratiating conversational, gentlemanly style, even rolling an "R" at one point. His sincere sentimentality is such that one might think he had been born and raised in The Big Easy, rather than Nashville. Folds' piano solo is wistfully restrained and bordering on impressionistic, which makes the trumpet blast announcing Cheatham's own solo all the more jolting. Doc's phrasing comes out of Louis Armstrong (who he subbed for in the '20's), but he imbues it with his own personality and originality. After another brief but welcome vocal, Cheatham ends with a brash fanfare that both evokes, and does justice to, Armstrong in his youth. And all this remarkably from an 87 year-old!

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Florin Niculescu: Light

Niculescu was born in Romania into a settled gypsy family, and after extensive classical training there on violin moved to Paris in the early '90's, eventually joining the New Quintet du Hot Club de France led by Django's son Babik Reinhardt. In 2001 Niculescu became a member of Bireli Lagrene's quintet The Gipsy Project, with which he recorded and toured. Based on this specialized background, it was only natural to find Niculescu recording a tribute CD in 2008, Plays Stéphane Grappelli, the same year that Grappelli would have reached his 100th birthday. Niculescu chose not to focus on the standards Grapppelli played so frequently, but rather selected some originals that Grappelli, unfortunately, rarely revisited, such as "Light," "Opportunity," and "Hesitation."

"Light" is a waltzing, playful theme that Niculescu executes with a tone similar to Grappelli's, but with not quite as pronounced or creamy a vibrato. His solo exudes Grappelli's swinging buoyancy, and his phrasing, inflections, and grace notes adhere closely to Grappelli's style. However, Niculescu displays his own personal idiosyncrasies as well, including two country fiddle-like modulated runs that pay homage to Stuff Smith. Peter Beets' lyrical, effervescent piano solo extends the mood (as does his and bassist Daryl Hall's and drummer Bruno Ziarelli's discerning support of the violinist throughout). Niculescu provides delicate and tasty embellishments as he performs the melody a second time, and the prepared climactic figure should sound familiar to most Grappelli devotees.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Dave Douglas: Spring Ahead

Douglas recorded three "tribute" CDs in the '90's, to Booker Little (In Our Lifetime), Wayne Shorter (Stargazer), and Mary Lou Williams (Soul On Soul). If you listen to them one after another, a certain interchangeability might be discerned, given that the very same sextet plays on each and Douglas's composing and arranging styles give many tracks an unmistakable character reflecting the trumpeter's many overall influences out of both the jazz and classical worlds. From conventional harmonies to atonality, from expansive melodic sections to fluctuating, episodic passages either spacey or animated, from incisive individual solos to compelling contrapuntal engagements, Douglas leaves his personal stamp on all that he conceives and executes.

"Spring Ahead," the first track on Stargazer, would have fit nicely on any of Shorter's '60's Blue Notes. James Genus's loping but determined bass line leads to Uri Caine's ostinato pattern and then the lighthearted, oscillating theme, with its subtle shifts in tempo and dynamics. Joey Baron's sprightly stickwork accentuates the prevailing tension and release, as well as the unpredictability of direction and movement. Just as Douglas resolutely surges into his solo, Chris Speed's clarinet and Josh Roseman's trombone briefly visit for an inquisitive three-way dialogue. Douglas now enters the meat of his improv, his ripe tone undergoing a variety of tonal transformations that enrich a series of hurtling, interconnected extended runs. Caine follows in a straight-ahead bluesy vein before introducing more provocative, progressive voicings. Douglas, Speed, and Roseman resume their earlier swirling counterpoint until the theme's appealing contours are once again explored.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Sam Barsh: This Is the Song

Barsh opens this song out with a phased out Rhodes sound. The sound is for sure being played from the Nord Electro keyboard and Barsh gets a very usable and sustainable sound from it. Collins plays the melody on vibes and brings out the brightness, making this song a real listening treat. The band proceeds to bust out into a jam, with Barsh playing suspended chords and fourth chordal fragments that drive the song out of the park. I really like Barsh and I think that his output is only going to increase with each album. Don't sleep on this guy. He's got creative juices that aren't present in many musicians. He's an up and coming songwriter (check out his work with Brand New Heavies singer Honey Larochelle) and has proven his worth as a sideman with stints with bassist Avishai Cohen.

I highly recommend this release to anyone out there that's looking for a little bit of diversity in their musical diet. Barsh definitely delivers and proves it beyond a doubt with I Forgot What You Taught Me .

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Sam Barsh: Wake Up and Smile

Many of you reading this might be familiar with Chicago born Sam Barsh, who made a name for himself playing with Israeli bassist/pianist Avishai Cohen. Barsh released his debut album in 2008 for Cohen's label Sunnyside and the result is a cohesive blend of R&B, funk and jazz. It's obvious from the start that the players on this album have been well-versed in all styles of music. Barsh has picked a solid group of musicians for this recording, particularly TIm Collins who funks up the vibraphones on this live take of "Wake Up and Smile." Collins was preceded by Barsh who took a clavinet solo that reminded me of vintage Corea from the Return to Forever days. The drums are also of interest on this song. They explode, ride, explode and ride again as Collins' solo climaxes and the band comes back into the head.

Don't be fooled by the name of the album. Sam Barsh might have forgot what you taught him, but he learned enough to make up for it. This is an excellent release from a musician that I'm sure we're going to be reading about more as the future grows and as jazz music opens its door to the 21st century musician. Salud!

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Babe Stovall: Big Road Blues / Careless Love

"I ain't the best in the world," Babe Stovall modestly proclaimed at performances, "but I'll do until the best git here." For years, Stovall entertained passersby on the streets of New Orleans, and little did they know how deep ran the blues roots of this spirited showman of the pavement. Here he delivers a moving version of "Big Road Blues," a song that was handed down from guitarist to guitarist in the early decades of the twentieth century, and ismost closely associated with the legendary 1920s-era bluesman Tommy Johnson. This piece is more syncopated than your typical early blues and the guitar part is a timeless bit of Americana, worthy of its own corner in the Smithsonian. The Mississippi Sheiks later adopted the essentials of this song for their "Stop and Listen Blues"—a borrowing which led to that anomaly in the blues field: copyright litigation from Johnson's record label. Stovall's version sounds strikingly like Johnson's, and well it should—he learned this song directly from him, and even knows some additional lyrics that Johnson never recorded. This is the real stuff in the blues world, as authentic as moonshine straight from the still. Blues scholar David Evans has even studied this tune as a sort of African-American equivalent of Homeric aural-oral history, and Mr. Stovall sits in the center of it all. The tourists in the French Quarter never knew that the real historic monument in their midst was that old gentleman with the guitar in his hands.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


John Scofield (featuring Medeski, Martin and Wood): Green Tea

Riding the wave of grooves that come on just about every song off of this album, MMW and Scofield dig deep for their Bossa roots on "Green Tea." The result? A fine blend of mocha that would satisfy the cravings of anyone from the Lower East Side to Rio. John Medeski opens the song with a Wurlitzer riff as Chris Wood lays down the basic root to fifth motion that all Bossa tunes need. Scofield really lays down the madness on this song with little sprinkles of melodic magic and chordal commotion that illustrate his divine abilities as a jazz musician. Ultimately, what I draw the most from this song is Scofield's ability to switch his solo dialect so efficiently from funk to jazz without comprimising the nature of the composition.

Medeski lays down his own mellow, cool jazz influenced organ without losing a beat. We also finally get a little glimpse into the solo abilities of Billy Martin, who plays a short but satisfying solo break before the band comes back in with the head. This song is Bossa-funk at its best, go and get yourself some.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


John Scofield (featuring Medeski, Martin and Wood): Boozer

During the late 1990s, there was a pseudo revival in the jam band scene with the arrival of bands like Medeski, Martin and Wood. Jazz champ John Scofield, who had long played other styles of music other than jazz, seemed like a perfect fit for the free jazz, funk driven trio from the downtown NYC scene. Combining a strong knowledge for all things funky and swinging, the MMW-Scofield collaborations came into full swing with 1998's A Go Go. "Boozer" is one of those hybrid songs that walks the line between hip-hop, funk and rock. With a strong emphasis on the "Jimi chord (the #9)," this tune brings out the best of everyone involved. Scofield gives the listener some nice notes with his solo but John Medeski gives the song its character with his organ fills. Funky all the way to the last note, MMW should have been hired by more artists because they can do what very few people know how to do these days, keep it simple but keep it funky!

This album is highly recommended and is a must have for anyone who wants some jazz gumbo. Serve me up some more, please. Pretty please!

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Herbie Hancock: Norwegian Wood

On this absolutely, stunning and beautiful rendition of the Beatles classic "Norwegian Wood," Herbie Hancock enlisted the help of some of jazz music's best musicians. With Scofield, Holland, DeJohnette and the late Michael Brecker on board, there was no question that this album was going to be near perfect. Arranged by Bob Belden, this song opens up with Dave Holland playing the main verse melody before Brecker and Scofield come in with a doubled melody. The melody builds as it's accompanied by a miniature string and wind orchestra that helps take this song to places that the Beatles only wish they could have gone. Holland also plays the first solo, while Hancock plays some "Maiden Voyage" inspired chords underneath that accentuate the depth and validity of Holland's solo further.

There's a such a deep understanding of music going on in this re-arrangement. The back ground orchestrations behind the solos are absolutely genius and help the song become the masterpiece that it is. Scofield finishes off the solo section with an angular passage that sounds like only Scofield can sound. That tone is recognizable from any stereo on the face of planet earth! A perfect song deserves a perfect rating and this one gets it folks.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Herbie Hancock: Bubbles

I always like how musicians are able to come up with fitting titles for their songs. Herbie Hancock's "Bubbles" is a perfect example. This track is full of synthesized orchestrations with a splendid soprano saxophone solo by Bennie Maupin. Riding a modulated groove, Ragin also plays a smooth guitar solo that fits in really well with the groove. Maupin steals the show on this one though and it's nice to hear Herbie playing throughout, blending string sounds with everyone's solos. All in all, this is another strong cut from an album that, in my opinion, completed the trilogy of timeless albums for Hancock that began with Headhunters. People will say what they want about fusion in general, but most music lovers would and should have this album in their collection.

With stellar musicianship, acute knowledge of dynamics and interaction and even better songwriting, Hancock scores gold with this album and proves that he was truly ahead of his time and ahead of most musicians.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Herbie Hancock: Sun Touch

Herbie Hancock has always been one that pushed the stylistic envelope, regardless if he is playing straight ahead jazz or fusion. Following the release of his enormously popular Headhunters and Thrust albums, Man-Child builds on the heels of these two releases but features more players and heavy orchestration. The largest addition to the mix on Man-Child is Melvin "Wah-Wah Watson" Ragin, who adds nice textural flavors with his guitar work, complementing the work of Hancock as if they'd been playing for years. On "Sun Touch," one of several mellow pieces on the album, bassist Paul Jackson and Watson groove on a little ostinato figure that provides the foundation of Hancock's solo. Herbie's solo is a soothing mixture of tasteful melodic passages with synthesized string movements. The string movements add further to the mix and really make this song of the most funky and hypnotic cuts on the whole album.

Although Hancock would explore disco funk to no end towards the latter part of the 1970s, the Man-Child period finds him walking the line finely.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Professor Longhair: Longhair's Blues-Rhumba

Professor Longhair, born as Henry Roeland Byrd in 1918, influenced a host of New Orleans piano players who sold more records than he ever did. The rap against the Prof is that his music was too strange for the general public. His love songs seemed constructed to inspire celibacy (an example of his lyrics: "Lookie there / She ain't got no hair"), and his piano playing would have resulted in jail time if the keyboard could file charges for battering and physical abuse.

In fact, 'Fess's whole career looks like a joke CV of oddities and eccentricities. He started his professional music-making helping to pitch a patent medicine, then he turned to tap dancing, then guitar, then drums, and finally—almost as an afterthought—he settled on the piano. For a while he was working as Little Lovin' Henry. And when he finally got a recording contract, 'Fess decided to call his band . . . the Shuffling Hungarians?

Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy it. Here he plays a blues-rhumba, which is his own personal take on American vernacular keyboard music. It's not quite boogie, and it's not quite jazz. You could call it R&B, but it doesn't sound like what any of the other jive pianists were playing at the time. And what about that killin' B natural in the second chorus melody line? Just like so much else from New Orleans, Longhair's music makes up its own rules as it goes along. Yes, there is a band participating, but they are as unnecessary as an overcoat on a Gulf Coast summer day. The sideman were just trying to keep up with the Professor. Strange? Certainly. But make no mistake—this is classic Crescent City piano straight from the source.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


John Patitucci: Messaien’s Gumbo

In an album full of tributes of other musicians, my best guess at the target of this paean is the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, but this ain’t no chamber music. Rather, it’s a delicious bass-driven groove Patitucci so effortlessly plays on his electric bass. Blade brings to the fore the Big Easy funk sensibilities that he learned first hand as a young man, preferring to color the beat with well-placed flourishes over heavy-handedness. Lovano fashions some statements that are unhurried but memorable and staying in the pocket. When he returns after Patitucci and Blade’s fun little tête-à-tête, he’s welcomed with a “woo!” coming from presumably the leader and picks up where he left off with a tad more intensity.

It’s just an informal musical confab among three consummate pros who are letting their hair down without bringing down the level of musicianship. We as listeners are like auspicious flies on the wall.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton): Mr. Jelly Lord

Jelly Roll Morton was quick to boast of his achievements. He was a crack shot with a gun; had a winning stroke with a pull cue; he was the first to use brushes (fly-swatters in this instance) on the drums; he was the first master of ceremonies with witty sayings; and, of course, he claimed to have invented jazz. If you give half of Morton's claims some credence, he was a whole Tonight Show—host, band, and guest put together—on his own. I'd even let him do the commercials, given his skills at peddling his own stuff.

But Morton never bragged about participating in this first racially integrated jazz recording session—which left us this track, and a handful of others from a 1923 date in Richmond, Indiana. Yet this is a milestone event, much more important than anything you can do with a fly-swatter. And the music? Two different schools of thought exist about this historic collaboration. The conventional view is that Morton taught these white boys a thing or two, and loosened up their stiff conception of jazz. The opposing camp holds that the New Orleans Rhythm Kings already knew what they were doing, and that Morton was a sideman not a professor at the date.

Since Morton takes no solo here, he may seem to be playing a minor role. But his comping behind Roppolo (whose name is often misspelled as 'Rappolo") is excellent, and clearly inspires this under-appreciated clarinetist to some heartfelt playing. This interlude is followed by an inspired burst of ensemble double-time playing, where one can clearly hear Morton driving the band. These ten seconds are the most energized and cohesive part of the performance.

My verdict: This band didn't need Jelly Roll to teach them about jazz melody lines, which they understood and played lucidly, but he definitely enhanced the rhythmic flow of their work. Too bad this was just a one-time collaboration in the studio. They might have shaken up the jazz scene—and, of course, the general public in that segregated era—if they had taken their show on the road.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Wynton Marsalis: King Porter Stomp

This track—and this entire CD—deserve to be far better known. But Wynton has recorded prolifically, and by the time he delivered this end-of-the-millennium tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, the idea of "Marsalis does New Orleans" was old hat and few were paying close attention. Yet this music makes my short list of the best traditional jazz performances of the modern era.

In 1924, Jelly Roll Morton teamed up with King Oliver for a duet performance of this same song. Can any duo today surpass the "inventors" of New Orleans jazz at "King Porter Stomp"? Ah, Marsalis and Lewis do just that. Both are absolutely true to the inner meaning and spirit of Morton's classic tune, yet also are absolutely true to themselves—not an easy combination given the tendency to treat these old New Orleans songs like venerable relics from a golden age. You hear this and you can't help concluding that the golden age is right now, when an artist of this statue can take on the mantle of past masters and bring their music so vividly to life.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton: Jeepers Creepers

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton is a musician who deeply understands and has assimilated Louis Armstrong's legacy. Doc Cheatham, for his part, occasionally subbed for Louis back in the mid-1920s - more than four decades before Payton was born. Yet the duo bridge the Jazz Age and the Internet Age on this Grammy-winning recording, which was Cheatham's last studio project before his death at age 91. Payton's solo work here is outstanding, and if he outshines Cheatham, the latter still delivers a heck of a performance for a nonagenarian. Payton's unaccompanied intro is all too brief, but packs a lot of swing into a few bars. Cheatham's vocal won't make anyone forget Satchmo, but the trading trumpets interlude is a shining example of cross-generational camaraderie.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Nicholas Payton: When the Saints Go Marching In

Contrary to what you might think, Dixieland bands hate playing this tune. Back in the 1960s, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band demanded a five dollar tip before they would even consider performing it, but would only require one buck for "Clarinet Marmalade." One solution for jaded trad players is to banish it from the repertoire—send those saints marching out—but the other approach is to follow Payton's formula. Change the chords and rhythms so that it becomes an entirely new song. Nothing remains of the original progression on this recording. You won't hear any trad band try this kind of reharmonization, and along with the eight-to-the-bar long count feel of the pulse, the result is a version of "Saints" that sounds more at home in Rio than the French Quarter. Payton's trumpet work is big, brassy and beautiful, and stands in marked contrast to the work of those horn players who think that you need to run roughshod over a tune if you want to play it in real N'awlins style. But this artist is a big enough talent to reinvent the tradition and refract it through his own personal aesthetic, as he demonstrates once again on this track.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Hailey Niswanger: Oliloqui Valley

Like the other compositions on Hancock’s brilliant Empyrean Isles, “Oliloqui Valley” was conceived as a open sketch without a fully formed melody so that the participants could improvise more freely. The idea was to make up for the lack of a lower-toned, richer instrument such as tenor saxophone.

Niswanger’s higher register alto sax replaces Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet from the original and states the two-tempo theme just has Hubbard did, but with a little more cadence. Following Palma’s bouncy solo, Niswanger uses a variety of articulations to keep her own solo fresh: trills, arpeggios and other expressions, keeping loose with that shifty rhythm. More than those things, her ability to handle the song’s chord changes with such ease is the mark of mastery.

When a song stretches over seven minutes as this one does, the ideas are usually exhausted by then; instead, Hailey Niswanger seems to be just getting warmed up.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Linda Oh: Patterns

“Patterns” is a title that fits the signature composing style of Oh, and especially on this song, as her compositions revolve loosely around patterns of chords. The song drifts naturally within some broad parameters, and even Calvaire is just going with the flow. You can make out the character of the song, but view it through opaque lens.

With Akinmusire playing in lower reaches of his trumpet as Oh does the same, the mood is somber and reflective. It’s in this unlikely setting that Oh’s bass sounds dominant, not from playing heavy-handed, but with any ability to make each note hang over like a dark cloud and effectively fill space in a trio that lacks a comping instrument.

It’s in this spare, dark setting that Oh shines brightly.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


John Primer: Moanin' at Midnight

This song was such a big hit for Howlin' Wolf back in 1951 that he even recorded his own knock-off version (the oxymoronically-entitled "Morning at Midnight") a short while later. The Wolf, it seems, was signed to two record companies, and both wanted this particular number. Now John Primer contributes his own version to the tribute double-CD Chicago Blues: A Living History. But Primer is no mere imitator, rather a master of Chicago blues in his own right who puts his personal stamp on a song that is not easy to cover. Primer learned his craft under the mentoring of Muddy Waters, and here he shows off his big, deep vocals over a throbbing vamp that just gets gnarlier and gnarlier as the track progresses. This is blues of raw power, with no room for tasty fills and banter, and a good reminder why a whole generation to rockers looked to Chicago blues for their inspiration. This is a fine tribute, indeed but even better, it reminds us that the real Chicago sound is still with us, and not just on the old records.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Neville Brothers: Shake Your Tambourine

In 1981, the same year the Columbia discovered the Marsalis brothers, the folks at A&M signed another group of New Orleans siblings. The Neville Brothers were unlikely to become the next teenage sensation—Art (born in 1937) was older than Wynton and Branford put together—but that didn't stop them from attracting a younger audience with their fervent mixture of R&B, funk, reggae, rock and Louisiana swamp sounds. On this live track, the Nevilles bring a little bit of New Orleans on the road, and successfully translate their street party sound on to the big stage. The band is tight and the vocals blend with that appealing consonance that is a characteristic of vocal groups made up of siblings. And it is always better to experience this type of music in performance rather than in the sterility of the studio. New Orleans has been honored with many admirable musical ambassadors over the years, but few have done more to expose the city's distinctive sounds to more people than these talented brothers.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Billie Holiday: Fine And Mellow

“I summed up all existence in an epigram,” Oscar Wilde once bragged; Lester Young doesn’t quite capture all existence in his single 36-second blues chorus, but he certainly sums up his entire musical life in those few flawless phrases. Even today, 50 years after his death, Young’s economy is still startling: listening to the busy, swooping Ben Webster solo that precedes him leaves one quite unprepared for what Prez will do.

There is little to add to the legend of Young and Holiday’s last performance together: how they staked out positions on opposite sides of the room during rehearsal, then locked eyes during Young’s broadcast solo as the producers looked on and wept; how they were both ravaged from hard living and would be dead within less than two years. Their art was intact, and for those few minutes on national television, the two old friends and partners once again put light into each other’s lives.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Lester Young & Oscar Peterson: Stardust

Lester’s alcoholism had caught up with him by the early ‘50s, robbing him of his prowess on the saxophone. “Stardust” finds his hold on the notes wavering, his gait is stiff and heavy, and he’s audibly blowing much harder to get a sound from his reed. Indeed, there are only glimpses of the recognizable Prez, such as in the first four bars of his second chorus. Nevertheless, Young captures the wistful, dreamy romance of Hoagy Carmichael’s melody, even if it’s a little bit sadder than the nostalgia Carmichael wrote about. The accompaniment is appropriately subtle, too—Oscar Peterson unusually subtle, while Kessel, Brown and Heard spend much of the record in imperceptibility. Like Parker’s “Lover Man,” Young’s “Stardust” is a portrait of an artist at his most tortured, managing to wring fine work out of his own sudden ineptitude.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Lester Young: Crazy Over J-Z

Two months before his fortieth birthday, Young is having the time of his life at the Royal Roost—unaware, perhaps, of his impending undoing via his ever-present whiskey bottle. Still, “Crazy Over J-Z” (a reference to New York jazz radio station WJZ) ranks easily with Lester’s work in his prime. Even the heavier touch he’d exhibited just after the war is gone: The sax is merrily agile, dancing over the rhythm section’s comping and darting between horn riffs. He even toys with the new sounds of bebop: Some licks in his responses to the riffs, and one early in his second solo, sound suspiciously like phrases from Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” (Incidentally, behind Young is the early snap-crackle of drummer Roy Haynes, who would in a few months would join Parker’s quintet). The fact that it would go downhill so fast from here may amplify its effects, but either way the record catches Prez in a moment of inspiration.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Lester Young: I Want To Be Happy

Many critics and writers still insist that Lester Young’s artistry was in decline when he was dishonorably discharged from the Army in December 1945. “I Want to Be Happy” begs to differ. From the bright introductory phrase of his first solo, it’s clear that Prez still has spring in his step and joy in his phrasing. The only difference to speak of is a breathier tone and a slightly lower pitch—probably more attributable to his use of a plastic reed than to a broken spirit—and they don’t stop him from swinging harder than ever before, especially on his second (closing) solo. No doubt he’s helped along by the impeccable timing of Cole’s piano and the unswerving brilliance of Rich’s drums. Despite his revolution in the ‘30s, it was this postwar period that would be Young’s most successful, and “I Want to Be Happy” shows why.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Nat King Cole & Lester Young: Tea For Two

Prez’s Aladdin sessions often sound like they were made in somebody’s garage, but they’re invaluable, documenting his music during a long reprieve from the Count Basie Orchestra. “Tea for Two” features two future stars, 26-year-old bassist Red Callender and 24-year-old pianist Nat “King” Cole, whose jobs are primarily to set Young up and stay out of his way—though Cole gets off a glittering syncopated variation. Young’s sax sound and phrasing, distinctive as ever through the static and tape hiss, is also as adventurous as ever. His mellow tones form startling abstractions that occasionally let a faint trace of the written melody through, but are simply on a higher level than his young journeymen are prepared for: When Young breaks into stop-time during the song’s final third, Cole hardly knows what to do.

Surely it’s no coincidence that the Lester Young Effect would soon dominate the music in that city, first nourishing young L.A. players like Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and later Wardell Gray, then setting the standard for the scene’s new “cool” style. Here we find Lester delivering it to their very doorsteps.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Billie Holiday: Time On My Hands

Although he was amongst the most celebrated jazz soloists of the era, Lester Young takes no solo on “Time on My Hands.” Instead, the song reveals him to be a remarkable accompanist. The song begins as a call-and-response duet between Holiday and trumpeter Eldridge, who gives an intro and then adds embellishments at the end of each of the singer’s lines. On the bridge, however, Eldridge falls away and Young enters: not with responses, but in countermelody. The weighty sadness with which Holiday already croons suddenly takes on new depth, with Young’s saxophone gently sobbing behind her. He’s also well off-mike, so that he amplifies Lady Day’s grief and sorrow without ever competing for the spotlight. Considering the stars he is competing against for space on the record—Eldridge and Teddy Wilson, both of whom turn in sterling solos—it’s quite a selfless act. Whether he did it for the record or for Billie, we can’t say…but it’s irrelevant, since his backgrounds make both of them better.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Count Basie: Taxi War Dance

Perhaps his finest moment on record, Young is probably also (mostly) responsible for “Taxi War Dance’s” very simple head arrangement, though he only gets half the composer credit. The first of his solos is particularly ingenious: It begins sounding like a cohesive and hyper-lyrical 12-bar blues, but soon reveals itself to be “Willow Weep for Me” changes. Throughout this and his later solos (trading fours with the full band and Basie), he remains light as a feather—yet he continuously reaches outward with his phrasing and harmonies, and upward with his range until it’s genuinely hard to remember that Young isn’t an alto player. Sandwiched in is a superlative solo by trombonist Dickie Wells that nearly equals Young for lyricism; it feels like an aside, however, in what is clearly Prez’s show.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Papa Mutt Carey: Ostrich Walk

With two Papas (Papa Mutt Carey and Pops Foster) and a Baby (Dodds) on hand—each of them a New Orleans pioneer of the music—you will either get plenty of family feeling or a nasty paternity suit. Fortunately no DNA testing is required here. Carey runs the band with a light touch, and gives ample solo space and plenty of breaks to his colleagues. Clarinetist Albert Nicholas is especially impressive, both for his lovely tone and his coherent improvisation. Carey thrives on the New Orleans counterpoint, although you can also hear the influence of the Swing Era aesthetic on this track. But make no mistake: unlike other trad jazz wannabes of the era, these fellows were there at the start. Carey was working with Kid Ory long before the first jazz recordings were made, and was a participant at the first session to feature African-Americans playing jazz music. But you don't need a history book in hand to enjoy this track. And, youngsters, you could learn a thing or two about phrasing if you supplemented your daily dose of Coltrane with at least a taste of this sweet ol' music.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Count Basie: Dark Rapture

“Dark Rapture” is a taut showpiece for singer Helen Humes that ranks among the glossiest productions of the early Basie years. Not coincidentally, it’s also among the least typical: There are no riffs, no blues, the call-and-response lines are reduced to short fills, and though Basie is listed as pianist, his trademark tinkling is nowhere to be heard. There are, however, two factors that inject some character into the proceedings: Humes’ exquisite control and enthusiasm, which together allow for some remarkable vocal gymnastics—check out her reading of the final line,The thrill that fills the still of a Congo night—and eighteen smoky bars by Lester Young that add a mysterious, noir-ish dimension to an already dark and dramatic performance. (In essence, he scores the scene in which Bogart would walk into the crowded but dimly lit nightclub and spy Lauren Bacall on the dance floor; the only thing missing is the movie.) Kansas City blues it ain’t, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Teddy Wilson (with Billie Holiday): Say It With A Kiss

If there be any doubt that Prez and Lady Day were musical soulmates, one listen to their work together on “Say It With A Kiss” should settle the question. Holiday’s subtlety and velvet tone on her vocal chorus echo through Young’s eight bars; even with Harry James’ brilliant golden exclamations interpolating, the two can’t help but to be of a piece. What Young can’t replicate, however, is the sly, winking quality in Holiday’s delivery—which is only augmented by her reshaping of the melody. Instead, he plays out the tune’s fundamental sweetness on his axe, thus complementing Lady Day even as he reinforces her. Everything, in other words, that soulmates are supposed to do.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Kansas City Six: Way Down Yonder In New Orleans

Eddie Durham’s arrangement for this 1922 standard is such a perfect one for the swing era that it should be in every jazz education curriculum in the world. But the fairly simple arrangement is also a deceptive one: trumpet and clarinet play the head together over acoustic guitar, bass, and drums, but then tenor saxophone and electric guitar erupt in the solos. Doesn’t that make seven, not six? The answer, of course, is that Lester Young plays both sax and clarinet on the record, and it’s no surprise to hear that his clarinet is as distinctive as the tenor—breathy, soft, high, and endlessly lyrical. Interestingly, while Young’s originality continues to flourish in his tenor solo (who knew relaxed rhythms and slightly displaced harmonies could sound so daring?), Clayton’s relentless melodic imagination gives him quite a run for his money. Durham, here playing one of the first electric guitar solos on record, is no slouch on the harmonies, either. Nonetheless, there’s something special about hearing that one of the great instrumental masters had actually mastered two instruments.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Count Basie: Honeysuckle Rose

With Walter Page and Jo Jones standing firm behind him, Count Basie’s two stride piano choruses at the opening of “Honeysuckle Rose” tie the aggressive rhythms of Kansas City to the swinging life of Harlem. Then come the Count’s men, amping up the infectious upbeat and bringing in Midwestern riffs that sound suspiciously like “Tea for Two.” (The most danceable “Tea for Two” you’ve ever heard, that is.) Meantime, Lester Young demonstrates that his ethereal, hollow sound is as capable of charging through the swingers as it is of floating through the ballads and mid-tempos. Listening 70 years later, we can also hear how his solos rewrote the saxophone vocabulary: There are phrases in Young’s single chorus that were later borrowed and developed by Paul Gonsalves, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, all the way through Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman—and this inside less than 40 seconds of music. No wonder they called him the President.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Panama

I wouldn't want to suggest for one minute that the venerated Preservation Hall Jazz Band, put together by Sweet Emma Barrett's around the time of this recording, was a marketing-driven concept targeted at tourists and other people who know nothing about the real history of New Orleans jazz. I will merely point out that, the year before this record was made, Sweet Emma was performing at Disneyland. Hell, you know it has to be authentic if Walt and his Anaheim brain trust approved of it. Then there is the building, the famous Preservation Hall, which was 214 years old when this music was made (in Minneapolis; shhh, don't tell anyone)—an edifice that had no connection with this jazz ensemble for 211 of those years. But if those walls could only speak...they would at least demand a cut of the action.

So what if the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came after "So What." It's the spirit that counts. And occasionally a bit of that spirit rises to the fore here. William Tyers's "Panama" is much beloved by fans of ragtime and early jazz, and it is played fast and loose for the Lake Wobegon crowd on this recording, with lots of hot New Orleans counterpoint. The horns are convincing in their anachronistic stylings. The weakest point is the bandleader. I'm not sure how Sweet Emma got her nickname, but it certainly didn't come from the touch her fingers display at the keyboard—they are about as subtle as ten falling bowling pins. But the band reaches the end of the song without any noticeable casualties, and lives to swing another day. There is, of course, no truth to the rumor that Jimmy Carter tried to give this version of "Panama" back with the canal, only to have Torrijos reject the offer.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Count Basie (featuring Lester Young): Oh, Lady Be Good

A sort of dry run for the recently signed, but not-yet-recorded Count Basie Orchestra, the “Jones-Smith” session unleashed what could be called the Lester Young Effect. The tenor sax had been hard-driven and cutting in the preceding era of jazz—the world according to Coleman Hawkins—but Young, in his first time at the recording microphone, sounded light and carefully plotted without sacrificing the instrument’s muscle. In truth, Young’s is just one of many innovations heard on “Oh, Lady Be Good”: Basie’s soft-spoken minimalism and Jones’ hi-hat-intensive drumming were also new ground. Still, it’s hard to get past Lester, weaving and bobbing his way through both comps and a featured solo like a helium balloon in the breeze. Jazz would never be the same.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Shake It and Break It

The resurgence of interest in early New Orleans jazz by scholars and their attempts to recreate the early sounds of the music started some four decades before this track was recorded. By the time we get to this 1981 recording, the opening song on an album for the dominant multinational music corporation of its day, even the revivalists needed some reviving. For my part, I refuse to believe that Columbia's advocacy of this ensemble had anything to do with their success with the 1981 debut of a prominent young New Orleans trumpeter whose initials are W.M., and the label's coincidental signing of a whole roster of other artists from the Big Easy. Those folks in the big offices just love the music....

Well, this song will at least get grandpa perking up his ears, and maybe even out of his easy chair. If Percy Humphrey's vocal were any grittier, you could sand down at least two of the exterior walls of Preservation Hall with it. And brother Willie's clarinet solo is fine and fluttery, with bird-call like figures, friendly patterns, and even a few phrases that might have been improvised. Jazz purists will have little patience for the 1960s-era institution masquerading as an authentic piece of early New Orleans history, but only a sourpuss would denounce all this lighthearted fun. And it was probably better that the tourists spent their money at Preservation Hall than down at Big Daddy's Gentlemen's Club.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Heath Brothers: The Rio Dawn

The title of this CD (Endurance) pretty much sums up the state of jazz these days, especially for elder statesmen such as the Heath Brothers, who once recorded for the largest label in the land, but now have gone indie like everyone else. The band's ranks are diminished with the passing of brother Percy, who died from bone cancer in 2005, two days before his 82nd birthday. But Al "Tootie" Heath is now, as always, a fine swinging drummer, and Jimmy a very much under-rated composer and saxophonist. "The Rio Dawn" is a light bossa in B flat with rich changes. Pianist Jeb Patton has been with the band for more than a decade, and adjusts his temperament perfectly to the musical proceedings. Compared with many jazz ensembles on the scene, this one seems less about ego and more about coming together for just the sheer joy of validating and celebrating the music. Some sweet endurance indeed.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Wild Tchoupitoulas: Big Chief Got a Golden Crown

The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians - revelers, organized into tribes, who wear elaborate costumes inspired by Native American ceremonial attire - predates the arrival of jazz and blues on the local scene. But all traditions are susceptible to updating, and this one is no exception. Today women are allowed into these previously men-only groups, and the songs borrow from contemporary stylings. This track is that odd hybrid: a New Orleans reggae tune. Makes you wonder whether these Indians come from the West Indies. A catchy call-and-response is made all the tastier by the presence of a very hot back-up band. Of course, this Big Chief (George Landry) had a distinct advantage over his rivals: his nephews are the Neville Brothers. The positive critical response to this recording played an important role in spurring them to form their eponymous band.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (with Dr. John): It's All Over Now

The Rolling Stones

We all know that the Rolling Stones can "borrow" music from New Orleans. So why can't New Orleans musicians do the same in return? Here the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, joined by Dr. John, delivers a spirited rendition of "It's All Over Now," which served as the British rockers' first number one single back in '64. Of course, the Stones had picked it up from the Womack brothers, so this song has crossed the Big Pond enough times to earn frequent flyer miles and a free upgrade.

The tradition of New Orleans brass bands is a venerable one, and the Dirty Dozen are the most celebrated practitioners of the modern era. They are not afraid to update the sound, and add a full rhythm section when necessary, although everyone here except the good Doctor is playing an instrument that can be held in two hands and carried down Canal Street. Besides, who needs a stinkin' electric bass when a sousaphone is lying around? The funky march beat is a New Orleans trademark, and no one does it better than this ensemble. Dr. John is in top form, and proves that he is one of the few singers who can take a song from Mick Jagger and make it sound even grittier and more lowdown. Parade music meets dance hall funk, and everyone is a winner.

August 15, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Terence Blanchard: A New World (Created Inside The Walls Of Imagination)

As Dr. Cornel West’s social commentary from the prior, spoken voice track fades out, Scott’s second line beat and Almazan’s persistent note comes into focus. There are no chord changes in this song, but like a good vegetable soup, the meat isn’t needed if the spices are doing its job well enough. There’s a slippery, horn-led theme that’s inserted into the song twice, but that chord stays.

In between the themes, Blanchard rides the Big Easy rhythm like the old pro that he is---more like the old Orleanian that he is--blowing notes in the freewheeling style of a jazz parade, his languid pace placing him back in the very Crescent City from whence he came. Loueke’s unique wah-wah guitar intonations compete against the trumpeter, providing the friction that keeps the easygoing vibe from getting rote. And then there’s the urgency that comes from Almazan’s persistent note; symbolic, perhaps, of the challenges that must be faced in the new world as described by Dr. West.

August 15, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Henry Butler: Bourbon Street Blues

The New Orleans piano tradition is so rich that it is hard for the modern generation of keyboardists to live up to its demands, let alone earn a place alongside the legends of yesteryear. But Henry Butler has proven that he is a huge talent whose name is not out of place when mentioned in the same breath as those of the departed masters such as Professor Longhair, James Booker, or even the great Jelly Roll himself. Butler has, if anything, even greater technical command of the instrument than any of these predecessors, and there are few more enjoyable experiences in piano music today than hearing this artist attack the 88 keys. I prefer Butler unaccompanied, as on this tour de force performance of "Bourbon Street Blues." He has a deep idiomatic command of the full range of vernacular American piano styles, and you will hear bits of ragtime, stride, boogie and funk, all played with his characteristic thousand-watt touch. If his notes were any brighter, even the audience would need to wear shades. As this performance develops, Butler's piano concept becomes more noticeably rooted in the New Orleans tradition, less on-the-beat, instead bubbling and churning around the pulse, yet never loosing it. And always with oomph, or usually an oomph-and-a-half for good measure. If you think that great days of New Orleans piano ended before you were born, this is an artist you need to hear.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Al Hirt: When It's Sleepy Time Down South

Every artistic tradition of any scope has its serious practitioners and its popularizers. But with New Orleans jazz it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. A jazz purist will tell you that Louis Armstrong was the real artist, while Al Hirt was the watered-down version for the members of the public who didn't know any better. Yet the truth is somewhat more complicated. This track is truer to the jazz tradition than many recordings that Satchmo made around the same time, and if you know the trumpet you won't need a Toledo scale to figure out that Al Hirt is no lightweight. Here he takes a song associated with Armstrong, and plays it with a big New Orleans tone, confident phrasing and sure technique. Hirt didn't always pick the best material, and a soon after he made this music he would be found recording goofy "Tijuana Brass goes to New Orleans" numbers such as "Sugar Lips" and "Music to Watch Girls By." Yet put him in the right setting with the right material, as on this date, and Hirt was a worthy inheritor of his home town's rich trumpet tradition.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Paul Jackson: T-Bolt

Opening up with a dirty, dark funk beat and bass line, Paul Jackson sets the mood perfectly for this 1978 album that was finally released on CD in 2000 here in the United States. Accompanied by musicians who weren't exactly household names, the nature of the song brings out all of their bright spots and playing abilities. The song takes a little bit to kick into the main section but once it does it's nothing short of splendid. All in all, this song moves around much more than expected. The melody begins as Jackson doubles up the melody with the guitarist as Webster Lewis then doubles up the line with the synthesizer.

Lewis plays a nice solo on this song, it's very subdued and lyrical at the same time. It's not over the top but quenches the thirst just right with choice note selections and good use of tension and release. I'm glad that this album finally got to see the light outside of Japan. There are so many good albums that have never been released here in the United States but thank goodness this one made it.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


The Headhunters: If You Got It, You'll Get It

When you talk a band bringing the funk, you've got to talk about the Headhunters. Fresh off of several albums with Herbie Hancock, the backing band of Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Bennie Maupin and original Headhunters drummer Harvey Mason created an epic funk masterpiece for this 1975 Arista release. Partly produced by Herbie Hancock, "If You Got It, You'll Get It" features guitarist Blackbird McKnight and Mike Clark on vocals and they do a pretty good job of making this track work. The words aren't by any means rocket science, but neither is funk music and that's why it works so well.

The song opens up with a East Asian/African influenced string line over some nice percussion. Then Paul Jackson throws down the anchor and the funk begins. The song is highlighted by a screeching guitar solo by McKnight, which kindly walks the gray line between tonal and atonal. Overall, this song is a gem on an album that has been largely overlooked by jazz heads and more embraced by hip-hop heads for its drum breaks and sample friendly grooves. Go get this, you won't be disappointed and if you are, call me and I"ll buy it from you!

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Galactic: Crazyhorse Mongoose

No, New Orleans can't claim to have invented funk, but its contribution to the nations GDF (= Gross Domestic Funkiness) is way out of proportion to the size of its population or square mileage. Must be in the water . . . flowing down the big river, coming in from the Gulf, seeping up out of the ground. Galactic, formed in 1994, has been keeping the local funk tradition alive and updating it for a new generation. The aesthetic here is no-nonsense jam band with a thin veneer of polish to make it suitable for contemporary jazz airplay. There is a lot to enjoy here, but Stanton Moore's drumming really is the key ingredient. A different flavor of New Orleans music, but still with lots of local spice.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Branford Marsalis: Sidney in Da Haus

The Sidney of the title is Sidney Bechet, the Creole clarinet (and soprano sax) master of early New Orleans jazz. Usually Branford's brother is the Marsalis sibling who plays the role of jazz museum curator, but perhaps Wynton's presence as a sideman here inspired this historically-charged performance. You probably already know that Branford Marsalis can construct thematic improvisations like Rollins or unleash modal assaults like 'Trane, but what about his Bechet bag on soprano sax? His breaks on this track are pure New Orleans, delivered with a coy "gosh, look at me" attitude that is quite endearing, and Branford follows with four picture-perfect blues choruses. Then the trumpeter in the family steps to the forefront and offers his own forceful history lesson. Only one track on I Heard You Twice the First Time features this outstanding band. 'Tis pity. I'm sure I'm not the only jazz fan who is disappointed that Wynton and Branford don't record together more often, and this track reminds me of the sparks that fly when the orbits of these two stars coincide. Oh . . . and don't miss out the New-Orleans-counterpoint-on-steroids in the opening and closing sections.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


George Lewis: La Marseillaise

People often talk about the "Spanish tinge" in New Orleans music, but what about the "French tinge"? After all this city—named for Philippe II, Duke of Orléans—was founded by the French and remained under their control far longer than than it was a Spanish territory. George Lewis (1900-1968) rectifies matters with his rendition of "La Marseillaise," a sweet and swinging trio performance from the New Orleans revival of the mid-1940s.

Lewis was a forgotten figure, a dock worker whose musical talents were virtually unknown outside of his home town. But the attention given to his friend Bunk Johnson, the darling of the revival movement, got Lewis a sideman gig and then his own record date. Lewis was unhappy with the results of a session with a larger band, and volunteered to record again—without pay—with this clarinet-banjo-bass trio. The resulting session is one of my most cherished moments from the New Orleans revival, and provides a rare chance to hear traditional clarinet without trumpet and trombone filling up the mix.

Lawrence Marrero and Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (one of my favorite jazz names, that) are a delight to hear. Lewis, for his part, stays close to the melody here, ornamenting it and adding occasional fills. Eric Dolphy it's not, and no circular breathing is required. But this some of the most joyous music in the pantheon of jazz, rarely heard these days by fans who have little patience with New Orleans oldsters. Their loss. This is one more classic track that proves that, in this city, the least well-known names sometimes delivered the best music.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Randy Newman: Louisiana 1927

I was a teenager when Randy Newman first released this song on his "Southern" theme album Good Old Boys, and I remember traveling to the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard to hear him play the songs from this controversial new record. Newman was a fringe figure back then, and traveled without a band, accompanying himself on solo piano in small clubs; and this concept LP was not likely to expand his audience—only a brave deejay would dare spin its most high profile song "Rednecks." Things have loosened up since then, but I think it would be even harder to get airplay with this particular tune nowadays. But amid the irony and sarcasm (this composer's trademarks) were some heartfelt songs that I enjoyed even more, namely "Marie" and Louisiana 1927," profound meditations that made you think that Newman had some sympathy for these very same rednecks.

Of course, Randy Newman would have good reason to feel some sympathy with folks from Louisiana. He spent much of his childhood in New Orleans, and a dose of that city's musical personality even rubbed off on him—and can occasionally be heard in his work. Hurricane Katrina added new poignancy to this song about a Louisiana flood during the Coolidge administration, and here Newman offers a moving rendition at a benefit concert in Avery Fisher Hall. Yes, he may love L.A., but he clearly has a soft spot for that other LA too.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Huey "Piano" Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

That piano lick has been stolen more times than second base at Fenway Park, but it still sounds sweet and funky today. New Orleans native Huey "Piano" Smith parlayed it into a 1957 hit with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu." The song didn't achieve much crossover success at the time—supposedly because white deejays were reluctant to play it—but it reached the top five of the R&B chart. And the song had an even bigger impact when Johnny Rivers covered it in 1972: everybody heard it the second time around, and it earned a gold record for the singer. But you are advised to travel upstream and check out River's source. Smith's piano work is in the classic N'awlins style, with that trademark sliding and rolling sound, while the drums show no mercy in pounding out the back beat. The result is a virulently infectious rhythm . . . and the last time I looked there is still no vaccination against the boogie woogie flu.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Bamboula, Opus 2 (Danse des nègres)

A letter from 1786, written by a visiting Spanish bishop, denounces the slave dances in New Orleans, lamenting “the wicked custom of the negros, who, at the hour of Vespers, assemble in a green expanse called Place Congo to dance the bamboula and perform hideous gyrations.” But by 1849, a Paris newspaper proclaimed that “everyone in Europe knows Bamboula," thanks to Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the New Orleans pianist-composer, who has “brought a host of curious chants from the Creoles and the Negroes; he has made from them the themes of his most delicious compositions.”

Chalk up a loss for the New Orleans would-be saints . . . and a victory for the sinners in Place Congo.

Few today know the bamboula, but anyone who cares to understand the origins of American music, ought to make its acquaintance. The very first use of the word “tango” to describe a dance comes from an apparent reference to the bamboula in New Orleans—a full century before the word shows up in Argentina. If one could trace the full history of this word, this music, this dance, it would clearly encompass the roots of a wide range of American performance styles and help us understand the complex interweavings of African, Latin and European currents in the New World.

At the center of this sublime turbulence in the aural atmosphere sits New Orleans. The city’s most famous classical composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk tapped into these currents at age 18, when he composed “Bamboula, Opus 2 (Danse des nègres).” The concept of ethnomusicology didn’t exist back in 1848, nor did the discipline itself in any real sense. The fusion of different ethnic music cultures happened rarely and only in the most cautious manner. Yet here was Gottschalk, a prodigy who was partly of Haitian descent, comprehending the importance of this “wicked custom” of his native city and somehow capable of translating it into the language of concert music. More than 150 years later, this process is still underway, and—dare I say it?—still in its infancy.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Headhunters: God Made Me Funky

Okay, let's do this. Even without Herbie Hancock on this track, the Headhunters lay down the sickest funk groove. With lead vocals by funk technician Paul Jackson, this song grooves all over the place. Opening up a Mike Clark drum beat, that's been sampled for years by early hip-hop deejays and artists, this song is put into motion with low end pops and thumps of Jackson and the panned guitar riff of Blackbird McKnight. Paul Jackson really should have sang more, he has a wonderful voice, perfect for soul/funk music and it works perfectly for this song. The chorus is augmented with background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, who enlisted the help of Hancock and company in 1974 for an album of their own.

After the vocal section, the groove changes up and Bennie Maupin comes soaring through the sound spectrum with a high octane saxophone solo that pushes the song over the edge, making it even funkier. Not enough is said about the abilities of the Headhunters band. Herbie always gets the props and recognition but I think without his backing band, his sound might not have been as strong. If you don't own this album, go out and buy it. Go out and buy it now, it's so worth the money and it was reissued on CD in 2001.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Oz Noy: Schizophrenic

Oz Noy’s brand of jazz-rock is descended from the catchy, funky, hard-driving stuff Jeff Beck is known for. The “schizophrenia” is probably referring to Noy’s high-trebled toned guitar contrasting in the chorus with Luke’s thunderous counterpoint. Noy’s favorite guitar effect in this song is the occasional flickering of his guitar’s sound, like he’s got a loose wire in the amp connector. It might be gimmicky but it actually sounds, well, cool. His licks matter more, though, and while it’s hard to pin him down to a distinctive style of his own, they’re clean and zesty all the same.

The credits list is just sick, pulling in some of the most in-demand veteran rock and fusion session players for each chair. These two drummers combined have the talent of about twenty pretty good drummers, and it makes one wonder why were they both needed. That question is answered near the end of the song, when the two engage in call-and-response drum soloing. They mostly eschew the over-the-top theatrics in favor of tasty syncopations and don’t drag it out too long. Good battle, but Fig gets the nod.

Fusion is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? At least, that’s the message I’m getting from Oz Noy.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

Major label executives, producers and (quite possibly) Washington insiders envisioned a new direction for Louis Armstrong once producer Bob Thiele brought him into the studio for this session. Sounding like a hardened lobbyist with greater political aspirations, this "contemporary" version of "What a Wonderful World" swings uncharacteristically amidst Armstrong's strange reflections upon society.

Intoning as if he is sitting back in a rocking chair as an old grandpa smoking a pipe filled with tobacco, he says, "Some of you young folks been saying to me, "hey, Pops, what you mean what a wonderful world," continuing, "How 'bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful?" A quick change in tone finds him pleading with listeners, stumping for public support for a message which is the exact same as John Lennon's ("Give Peace a Chance").

My first reaction is one of disappointment, for I was unaware that this was not the original version until I heard it. As a result, my second (and final) reaction is to wonder who the "young folks" that turned to Louis Armstrong for political leadership in the late 1960s were and if they knew what brand of youthful folly they were dabbling with by doing so.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Bill Evans & Jeremy Steig: So What

When Denny Zeitlin was brought in by producer John Hammond to play piano on Jeremy Steig's 1963 debut recording, Flute Fever, as Zeitlin recalled in a recent interview (see Marc Myers' JazzWax blog), Steig "was very frank about his raw emotional approach to playing. He said to me, 'Sometimes I just like to have a tantrum out there.' " Bill Evans first met and heard Steig in 1964, and in his original liner notes for the 1969 What's New album wrote, "Jeremy's playing also has a side of intensity that occasionally might defy belief. I played flute and piccolo for fourteen years and therefore feel a justification for my high estimation of Jeremy's exceptional scope as a flutist." Evans, who had once recorded with flutist Herbie Mann (Nirvana), was well aware that Steig was taking the instrument to places untouched emotionally and technically by even Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It wasn't until 1968 that Evans and Steig played together, Steig sitting in with the Evans trio at club dates in New York, which logically led to their recorded collaboration on What's New.

Steig had already performed "So What" on his Flute Fever session with Zeitlin [see jazz.com review], and of course Evans had played it on the album that introduced the now jazz standard, Miles Davis' revered Kind of Blue. Evans and Steig essay a diverting free-form intro and play the theme together alongside Eddie Gomez's bass vamp. Steig's breathy tone and swirling, tenacious attack is encapsulated in his first brief solo, which gives way to Evans' lengthier improv. Evans' pronounced McCoy Tyner-like left-hand figures, two-handed unison exclamations, and unyielding momentum are all a far cry from the pianist's contemplative, subdued side. Steig's second solo seems to be propelled to greater and greater heights by Gomez's driving, variegated bass lines. The flutist's tonal inventiveness is boundless, including the use of overblowing, humming, and vocalized overtones. Even at his most possessed, however, Steig's phrasing retains logic and relevance. Gomez's feature prior to the theme restatement is an excellent early example of his deliberate yet elaborate modus operandi.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · · ·


James Newton: Cotton Tail

James Newton's tribute album to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, The African Flower, is memorable largely because, as did Ellington, Newton wisely used musicians with distinctly individual sounds to help make his arrangements both personalized and unique. You might say that altoist Arthur Blythe is Newton's Johnny Hodges, cornetist Olu Dara his Bubber Miley or Cootie Williams, and violinist John Blake his Ray Nance, with Sir Roland Hanna at times simulating the Maestro at the piano. On top of this, Newton's own vibrant flute and Jay Hoggard's incisive vibes add instrumental colors rarely present in the Ellington harmonic palette.

"Cotton Tail" was introduced in 1940 by the celebrated Jimmy Blanton-Ben Webster edition of Ellington's orchestra, and featured Webster's famous tenor solo and a riveting unison interlude for the saxophone section. The combination of Rick Rozie's persistent bass line and Hanna's spiky keyboard clusters precede the ensemble's theme reading, with Newton and Blythe energetically splitting the bridge. Blythe's extravagant solo is pumped by Rozie's race-walking bass, playing the Blanton role. The altoist's wide vibrato accentuates the high-pitched squeals and shrieks that pepper the many riffs and subtexts that he succeeds in assembling into a coherent whole over the composition's "I Got Rhythm" changes. Hoggard and Hanna follow in a sparkling duet that gravitates from call-and-response mode to contrapuntal engagement, with modernistic Hanna here sounding very little like Duke. Newton's flute solo is one of his best on record in a straight-ahead, no-frills context, his marvelous tone and ample technique bringing to life his inventive, lucidly streaming lines. The theme's recurrence ignites brisk fills from Blythe and Newton, and then a concluding exultant flurry from the band.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Etta James & Eddie Cleanhead Vinson: Please Send Me Someone To Love

No truth in advertising here. James and Vinson sing together on just one track on each of the two CDs drawn from a live club date in 1986. Perhaps that was for the best, because Etta is in magnificent form and Eddie, through no fault of his own, can't quite match her. In their careers, both artists proved comfortable performing R&B, blues, and jazz, and here they unite for a priceless version of Percy Mayfield's R&B classic, "Please Send Me Someone to Love." The live atmosphere is electric, as the supper club crowd is obviously psyched.

After a transfixing blues guitar intro by Shuggie Otis, James and Vinson alternate verses, and Etta's more intense style contrasts nicely with Eddie's much more laid-back delivery. James' quavers, melismas, and biting inflections seem to elicit a greater reaction from the audience than Vinson's vocals, which sound like a combination of Billy Eckstine and Arthur Prysock. Unfortunately, "Cleanhead" doesn't play his boppish alto on this track, but Red Holloway's tenor solo more than makes up for that, offering a soulfully unrestrained lesson in blues saxophone eloquence. For two nights in May of 1986, James and Vinson gave those in attendance at Marla's Memory Lane Supper Club a time to always remember, even if they only rarely shared the bandstand.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Julius Hemphill: Sixteen

After leaving the World Saxophone Quartet the year before, Julius Hemphill had a fulfilling 1991, one of his last productive years before the onset of the illness that would soon take his life. By 1993, Hemphill could no longer play following heart surgery, and he died in 1995. However, in 1991 Hemphill won two Bessie Awards for his dance compositions for both The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Promised Land and Long Tongues: A Saxophone Opera. During that year, Hemphill also recorded the first album by his all-saxophone sextet, and also resumed his rewarding musical relationship with the masterful cellist Abdul Wadud, with whom he had not recorded since two dates n the '70's.

The track "Sixteen" vividly exhibits the close interplay between Hemphill, Wadud, and drummer Joe Bonadio (the latter had performed in the orchestra of Long Tongues). The piece starts out with Hemphill playing the stair-stepping theme with ample space left for Bonadio's lusty fills. The altoist quickly enters his solo, backed by Wadud's accompaniment that shifts continuously from walking bass-like lines to plucked accents and bowed patterns. Hemphill never veers far from the blues-based foundation that prevailed in so much of his playing. He changes tempo and intensity of attack frequently, as he freely but explicitly examines the initial thematic material. Bonadio's drum improvisation is tonally nuanced and thoughtfully constructed. Wadud's catchy pizzicato vamp launches his own extended statement, which alternates between walking lines and oblique motifs, with the essence of country blues lurking not far from the surface. Hemphill returns with more blues-drenched phrases supported by Bonadio's backbeat, before evolving into less grounded microtonal exploration leading up to the reprise.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Derek Trucks Band: Elvin

Initially, Derek Trucks' "Elvin" sounds somewhat standard for the Trucks catalog. The instrumental jam begins slowly, with the entire group building up the motif until it gilides into an energetically capitulating swing. Even though this is not one of Trucks' most adventurous charts, his slide guitar punches through the mix with both clarity and inspiration, and he carefully intones his notes here in a style that sounds a bit more thoughtful than what was captured on his breakout CD Joyful Noise. Once the recording's midsection begins, the playing transmits a real allure that nearly transforms the composition into something completely fresh.

The three-chord resolution-heavy second half features one of Trucks' best recorded moments, as the entire group's playing sounds vital with the musicians feeding off of each other and Trucks surfs effortlessly atop their slippery slope. I would not personally call any of what is heard indicative of a musical passion for Elvin Jones (even though the main phrase is constructed around two beats, or, in this case, a pair of syllables that symbolize the song's title), but it sounds as if Trucks was deeply moved by something having to do with someone of that name that day, at least.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Robert Fripp: Water Music

"Water Music" is an interlude on Exposure that segues into "Here Comes the Flood," a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and guitarist Robert Fripp. Strangely, it plays out in a more positive light than Gabriel's ballad, with the Frippertronics fitting an audio announcement that describes the impending end of the world to a tee.

A sample from a TV program is utilized to drive home the "scientific viewpoint" that a new ice age will soon occur. Instrumentally, it is one of the earliest examples of the Frippertronics that would, later, lead to Fripp's invitation to the G3 festival, but you could debate the lyrical content and redundancy of the oft-heard warning of mass destruction. According to the MC (and with "scientific theory" supposedly on his side), it is now "likely" that "great changes" to the Earth's climate will occur within "forty years" of a broadcast that sounded forty years old in 1977.

"The north part of the world [will freeze over] like it used to be," he states while he emphatically claims "Calcutta" and "London" will soon flood over. It would be safe (and wise) to refute those claims today, as doomsday never happened and likely won't for many millennia, if ever. It's tough to believe that those responsible for this product truly believe in the rhetoric they're selling us.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Robert Fripp: NY3

The all-star band that backs Robert Fripp on "NY3" keeps the groove tight as Fripp is allowed the space to show off both familiar guitar tones and his now legendary Frippertronics. As expected with a rhythm section consisting of Tony Levin and Narada Michael Walden, the music moves and, even though there is a ton of action, the playing never sounds rushed.

Samples that were lifted from an old film serve as this track's "vocals," but they seem rather ineffective as it is tough to suss out what is actually being said. It is obvious that a couple involved in a domestic relationship is engaged in a verbal fight, but the content is cryptic and could be a statement by Fripp on the world around him at the time of Exposure's release (although curious listeners can check out the CD sleeve for lyrical clarification).

As he had taken up residency in the New York of 1977, the urban landscape that he called home at the time was characterized by violence. In traversing Hell's Kitchen with warpaint plastered on, Fripp could have gone into this recording with the desire to verbalize the negative effect that living in the largest American city had upon his psyche. The vision is compelling, to say the least.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Mick Taylor: Spanish/A Minor

Mick Taylor's brooding, two-part instrumental "Spanish/A Minor" sounds nothing like you would expect to hear from an ex-Rolling Stone. The music is laden with progressive elements such as Moog synthesizer, angular guitar soloing, and Gong's Pierre Moerlen on drums. Four minutes in, the tune breaks down in a style similar to the tracks from Genesis' Wind and Wuthering. Imitatively, an FX-dominant interlude recalls the midsection of that album's "Your Own Special Way," and the links to Mssrs. Banks, Rutherford, and Collins do not stop there.

Processed bird whistles sound like they belong on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and, by the time Taylor settles into the sublime "A Minor" section, you get the feeling that you are listening to an early Steve Hackett solo offering. While "Spanish" showcases Taylor's guitar, "A Minor" provides an extended coda to the previous song that allows piano and synthesizer stabs to set the mood. Of course, Taylor's axe is the frosting on the fusion cake, and he brings it all home with some lyrical chops that revisit his solo part from the Stones' "Time Waits for No One" (1974), which still stands as his best individual moment on disc.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Mick Taylor: Slow Blues

"Slow Blues" rightfully wears the badge of honor that guitarist Mick Taylor had earned while working alongside the Rolling Stones in the early 1970s, as the track features some blistering guitar leads and a bevy of instrumental technique.

Even though it is brief, the reason Taylor was hired by Mick and Keith is clear, because, as a player, he initiates a great amount of space, and, within its borders, passion rings out while patience ensures that the music is never forced. The tune is loosely performed, and the mood is as evocative as many classic blues tracks that are not laced with rock stylings.

Certainly, this sound could be classified as either blues, jazz, or rock, and the stylistic diversity provides much of its charm. Of more significance, though, is that the recording gives listeners an opportunity to hear Taylor apart from the Glimmer Twins and in his own casual setting.

The inspiration level is high, the musicians' jamming is focused, and Taylor delivers as he steps up and fronts his own show. It returns his music to the primal intensity of his earliest recordings (cut with John Mayall) while retaining the quality of a Stones side project-which is exactly what it is.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Donny Hathaway: What's Going On

Donny Hathaway's "What's Going On" injects a completely different sensibility into a tune heavy in sociopolitical significance. The once-somber message is transformed into an upbeat funk celebration that removes the focus from the lyrics, and you may forget that Marvin Gaye penned the original once you get lost in Willie Weeks' deep soul bass, which bops mightily and leads the way as the most interesting element of the recording.

While you may hear about the virtues of James Jamerson and Chuck Rainey more often, Weeks deserves mention alongside both players, as the fluidity and inventiveness of his bass is often stunning many years after it was laid down. It takes awhile to digest this fully, because the embellishments are heavily steeped in Hathaway's theory training; as the sole voice, he consciously sings many harmony lines that replace the expected melodies that Marvin Gaye mapped out. The tonality of his electric piano is crisp, jazz chords abound, and the band is in top form on the night of recording.

While this certainly isn't Kind of Blue nor even "Afro Blue," this is a track well worth your dime, your time, or, quite possibly, both.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Donny Hathaway: Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)

Good luck in finding many R&B records that sound as fresh and as vital as Donny Hathaway's Live. From it, this epic tune is characteristic of the whole reason that Hathaway's music came to prominence in the first place. From the experienced band of funk sessioneers to the absolute spontaneity, the group's sincerity remains yet to be challenged.

While few elements could have been added to stretch this jam past its already-long 13:48 running time, each player is allowed to pitch in with an individual statement via a round of solos in which Hathaway goes first. While he rocks the groove to its foundations, the "second" and "third" movements (as he calls them) consist of two guitar solos-one from Mike Howard and the other by Cornell Dupree. Howard's solo is distinctive for its basic disjointedness, while Dupree's is an exercise in six-string proficience.

Of course, this track is known for Willie Weeks' bass solo, which has inspired instrumentalists of all levels. Awesomely received by the enthusiastic Bitter End audience, it was also lifted a year later by Gerald Johnson for his own solo on Steve Miller's "Sha Ba Du Ma Ma Ma." Who knows why Johnson was unable to compose one, given his own talent, but what is assured is that he was obviously listening to (and learning from) this recording before cutting Miller's breakthrough album The Joker, which appeared on record shelves only a few months afterward.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Armstrong: This Black Cat Has 9 Lives

Talk about sloganeering. On one of the weirdest straightforward jazz recordings of all time, Louis "Pops" Armstrong interprets a cachet of lyrics that, on the surface, refer to the perceived unluckiness of black cats. According to the song, they continue to survive amidst a myriad of challenges and obstacles.

However, upon deeper inspection, a simile arises between the befallen animal and that of black Americans during the Civil RIghts era. That this somewhat dispirited recording was cut in 1970 is telling, but forced, idiosyncratic lyrics such as "falls down time and again/gets hung up and never wins/that's his history, my friend" will lead you to believe that this whole misconceived junket was not his idea.

The "hip" production style, which fuses Armstrong's growl with cheerful and frothy big-band backing, ultimately exposes how flat and ill sounding Armstrong's voice was at the time of this session, and further verification that Pops was obviously out for the pay comes to light when considering his background. Who knew that Armstrong, a poor black man born in total impoverishment in the New Orleans of 1901, even cared or knew this much about politics and race relations anyway?

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Patrick Rydman: Only the Devil

While the vocals on Patrick Rydman's "Only the Devil" charm in an indie sort of way, the music incorporates an invigorating Flamenco sketch with upfront vocals that sound influenced by contemporaries such as Harry Connick, Jr.

The image that springs to mind is that of the smooth, romantic everyman-much like Chris Isaak. Fittingly, this recording utilizes many of the same elements that comprised the recordings cut during Isaak's heyday-mainly, brassy arrangements, tons of backing vocals, and confident, swinging percussion that dons the edges. In fact, this track is effective on the very same level, as it is meant for pop consumption with its most enduring aspect being its crisp compositional sense and a professional construction that, in the right hands, could potentially find recognition.

The whole package seems to mirror legendary jazz images from years past, from the Blue Note inspired CD cover design to the retro sounding music inside (the CD itself resembles a vinyl LP and a case could be made that this music is also influenced by popular music recorded during the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles era). There is an audience for it that consists of, for the most part, high earners who carry Blackberries and frequent Starbucks.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Mimi Jones: Watch Your Step

Recorded by Mimi Jones, "Watch Your Step" may remind you of tracks cut by the Derek Trucks Band after Trucks signed with Columbia Records and relegated his jazz influences to the background.

The recording's beginning busts out with some Trucks-inspired slide guitar that seems to occupy the exact same position in the mix as Trucks generally does. The keyboards and horns function in a similar manner, meaning that the music is obviously derivative. Unfortunately, it also boasts little melody (even though the group does achieve the goal of simmering instead of boiling).

Chiming in like a female version of Trucks' vocalist Mike Mattison, Jones tries hard to sound tough but, in the end, the triple and quadruple tracking ensures virtually no roughness whatsoever. The entire package sounds like it was cut following a previewing of either Almost Free or Songlines by the Trucks band, and listeners will immediately acknowledge that a fair quotient of originality is lacking.

While it's safe to say that, given the bandleader's background, she is likely more familiar with Roberta Flack than Derek Trucks, stranger things have happened in American history.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Mimi Jones: For Granted

Mimi Jones' "For Granted" manages to entertain even though its final results are average. The first aspect of the music that stands out is the groove, which mixes live sounding drums with a rather standard rhythm and blues/funk/soul vibe. However, the band winds up sounding musically indebted to both Steely Dan and Spyro Gyra as a result of the musicians' incorporation of mu major chords into the presentation.

Of course, none of this is as fluid (or as interesting) as the music recorded by those two fusion groups, but the players do attempt to sound like Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, and Steve Gadd, and some keyboard flourishes that can be heard in the works of both Donald Fagen and Herbie Hancock exist.

Listeners will wish that Jones and company had explored the musical form more instead of relying on a single chord with few distinct changes and some recorded sounds that lack clear rendering, but, as they say, "the cut ain't half bad." She manages to emit a sultry sound while being devoted to the tune as it stands, and, in this, there is merit.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Miroslav Vitous: Variations on W. Shorter

The forward-thinking bassist from Prague recreates the spirit of the original incarnation of Weather Report, if not the actual songs of that early era of the seminal jazz-rock band. A more accurate title for this tune might be “Variations On Nefertiti,” the Wayne Shorter song famously recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1967. Quotes from the hypnotic, circular melody are interspersed throughout this performance by all musicians except Cleaver, but no one ever quite completes the circle.

As it was during WR’s 1970-72 period, this band tears down the walls separating the rhythm section and the front line, with each performer assuming equal parts in a musical democracy pioneered by that incarnation of WR. Cleaver never keeps time, instead using his kit to provide waves of percussion that melds into the tapestry of the tonal instruments. Vitous himself plays with randomized vigor, oscillating between plucked and bowed bass at multiple points throughout the track, and without causing any disruption.

The spare, murky sound produced by Vitous’ group is a far cry from what his old group later became, but what it lacked in structure and groove, it more than made up in freedom, direct communication between players and unpredictability. That holds true even when Vitous recycles an old song from his ex-bandmate that wasn’t originally conceived to be used in that way.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


James Booker: Junco Partner #2

They call them the "lost Paramount tapes." The 16 track master tapes disappeared a long time ago, and they are still hiding out somewhere. But in 1992, almost a decade after Booker's death from kidney failure—tragically left waiting for treatment at New Orleans Charity Hospital's emergency room—Daniel Moore found tapes of the mix he made made on the night of the last session. This allowed the CD release of this posthumous masterpiece.

Dr. John reportedly plays a cassette of this music for musicians in his band so they can hear how New Orleans music is supposed to be played. But, honestly, there can't be many bands in the Big Easy, or anywhere else, that operate consistently at this level. The rhythm section is hot, but Booker is clearly in command from the opening vamp. I once heard a bandleader lament about piano players who have learned all the Bill Evans chords and McCoy Tyner patterns, but don't really know how to create a groove at the keyboard. For that kind of lesson, you couldn't find a better teacher than James Booker or a sweeter pedagogy than these tapes.

August 12, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jelly Roll Morton: The Crave

"If you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes," Jelly Roll Morton famously asserted, "you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz." Here Jelly Roll demonstrates what he means at the keyboard with his sultry and simmering habanera classic "The Crave." Latin jazz was still in its infancy, but on the basis of this performance alone you could have predicted a promising future for this mode of trans-genre cross-dressing.

The composition is a gem, one of Morton's finest efforts, and I wonder why it isn't played more often. You could serve it up as a stylish encore at a classical piano recital or let it rip at a juke joint—it works either way. The hook comes with the hesitation in the breaks. Let's turn again to Morton's own words: "Without breaks and without clean break and without beautiful ideas in breaks, you don't even need to think about doing anything else; you haven't got a jazz band and you can't play jazz." Again he lives up to his own standards. And exacting standards they were. Let me remind you that Morton was the bandleader who pulled out a pistol at a session when trombonist Zue Robertson didn't play the boss's tune the way he wanted. (Let it be noted, for the record, that the next time, Zue delivered it perfectly, note-for-note.)

At a time when swing bands dominated the charts and war was looming on the horizon, many jazz fans dismissed Morton as a pathetic blowhard, a stale leftover from a bygone musical era. The parade has passed you by, old man. But make no mistake about it: these final recordings from the New Orleans master, and this track in particular, reveal one of America's greatest musicians at peak form—showing the way with his clean breaks, beautiful ideas . . . and that Spanish tinge.

August 12, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


The Meters: Fire on the Bayou

If the Motown label had moved to New Orleans at the end of the Vietnam era, this is the kind of music they might have launched on to the charts and spread to the jukeboxes of America. Dream on! . . . most people probably can't handle this much Cajun spice in their musical fare. "Fire on the Bayou" is a simple tune - almost maddeningly banal - and the words will never be featured in a poetry anthology. But this is one of hottest rhythm sections you will hear on record, and the funk comes at you gumbo thick. The rhythm guitar alone is worth the price of admission and the way it locks in with the percussion is guaranteed to get fingers snappin', toes tappin' - and if you sampled it nowadays it would certainly get rappers rappin'. This band, which sometimes backed up artists such as Dr. John, Robert Palmer and Lee Dorsey, never attracted a large mass market audience, but musicians were paying attention, and the group deserves inclusion on any list of hot New Orleans ensembles.

August 12, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Irma Thomas: Time is on My Side

Give the Rolling Stones some credit. No one saw this song as a potential hit until the British rockers put it on the charts in the Fall of 1964. A few months earlier, Irma Thomas's record label had buried her rendition of "Time is on My Side" on the B-side of the single "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is." The song had been recorded previously by Kai Winding (check out the strangeness here), but the Stones relied instead on Thomas's version with its expanded lyrics.

The New Orleans R&B diva got no satisfaction from seeing the young rockers' success - and was so upset that, for a time, she only performed it in response to determined requests from the audience. Her intense 1964 version is no less stirring for its flip-side status, and one could easily imagine it becoming a hit on its own. But even if time wasn't on her side in this instance, Thomas proved resilient: at the close of 1964 she released another single - "Times Have Changed," a song which sounded somewhat similar to the hit record of her British rivals.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Dr. John: Iko Iko

Sugar Boy and the Cane Cutters recorded this song in the early 1950s, with Professor Longhair holding down the piano chair. But Dr. John staked his own claim to ownership of "Iko Iko" at the Van Nuys session for his 1972 release Dr. John's Gumbo, where he delivered a modern-day classic of New Orleans music. The good doctor brings out all of the contradictions submerged in this style of performance. "Iko Iko" is loose and tight at the same time, on the beat and off, hot and cool - and, most important of all, has "Party" written all over it with a capital P. But before you get out on the dance floor, check out the ingredients here - in particular the drum part, which demonstrates how an old-school march beat can morph into a tasty funk groove.

You don't really need to know what "Iko Iko" means to enjoy it, but a grad student could spend a month deciphering the Creole patois and the song's various significations. The tune was originally recorded under the name "Jock-A-Mo" - which means jester. A "spy dog" is a lookout. Marraine is a godmother, etc. But even the composer claims he was just imitating phrases he had picked up from Mardi Gras Indians, and didn't really know what they meant. He thought it was some sort of victory chant. Works for me. Next time you come up on the winning side - in the office football pool, with pocket aces in a hand of Texas hold 'em, with a lottery ticket from the convenience store - try it out: Jockomo feena nay.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Allen Toussaint: Java

In 1964, Allen Toussaint was in the Army and walking through the barracks one day when he heard Al Hirt's version of "Java" on the radio. Toussaint told one of the soldiers to turn up the volume, because he had written this song. "Aww, of course you wrote it," was the skeptical response.

Hirt's record reached number four on the Billboard chart, while Toussaint had trouble even collecting royalties. At one point he found that money was going to a mysterious "Joe Friday" who was credited as co-composer. Of course, Toussaint was a mystery man of his own back then, having recorded this song for RCA under the name of "Al Tousan." But his piano style is immediately recognizable and blows his cover within the first few bars. His spirited rendition is full of the bouncing and rolling keyboard licks that are the calling card of Crescent City keyboard, and Toussaint adds to their exoticism by mixing in some open some open fifths that sound like a parody of Chinese music. I'm not sure how this all adds up to java, but the caffeine level is certainly high enough to give you a jolt.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Sam Morgan's Jazz Band: Sing On

If you judge by the locations of the recording sessions, you would be forgiven for thinking that New Orleans jazz took place mostly in Chicago. For all the splendor of its homegrown music scene, the Big Easy sent its star players packing—and they needed to leave home if they hoped to make their name in the jazz world.

How sad to see Sam Morgan's amazing jazz ensemble left behind in obscurity because it stayed in New Orleans. The ingredients here are not promising: Sam hired two of his young brothers and the trombonist brought in his cousin to play string bass. None of these artists ever became a star or even moderately well-known beyond the inside circles of New Orleans music. But take my word (or better yet, listen yourself and discover): this was one of the finest jazz bands in the world, circa 1927. The ensemble sound is perfectly balanced, and the rhythm section is more advanced than any you will hear in New York or Chicago groups from this period. Why Sidney Brown isn't revered by bass players is a mystery to me—he was laying down supple and driving 4/4 time when almost everyone else was two-stepping. This is Kansas City rhythm before Kansas City discovered it. The call-and-response among the horns is also noteworthy, and only a step away from big band jazz. Yet the jubilant spirit of the New Orleans tradition permeates every chorus.

Thanks goodness Columbia Records captured this band on wax during a field trip down south. The fact that musical riches of this caliber were hidden away back home while the world got to know Armstrong, Bechet, Morton and others tells us much about the depth of jazz talent In New Orleans in the 1920s. It begs the question: how much music of this caliber is totally lost to us because no one thought to record it?

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Johnny Dodds (with the New Orleans Wanderers): Perdido Street Blues

In the hierarchy of New Orleans jazz, the trumpet / cornet players are at the very top of the heap. They were often given nicknames like King (Joe Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard) or Pops (Armstrong) or Papa (Mutt Carey) to emphasize their role as pater familias. In contrast, the most famous New Orleans drummer was known as "Baby" and the leading trombonist was called "Kid." And the clarinetist in the band? He certainly wasn't called King - or even Earl or Squire. Every traditional jazz band worth its sassafras needed one, but they usually got no nickname at all. Little wonder so many switched to sax when they got the chance.

Which brings us to the subject of Johnny Dodds. Here the great New Orleans clarinetist, best remembered as a sideman with Armstrong and Oliver, gets to step to the forefront at a recording session and makes the most of the opportunity. He contributes two majestic choruses that rank among the finest examples of traditional jazz clarinet playing you will ever hear - and shows that he doesn't need a famous brass player in tow to validate his artistry. George Mitchell plays better on his Jelly Roll Morton sides, and Ory's solo is sleep-inducing. But Dodds alone is enough to enshrine this track in the pantheon of New Orleans classics. The ensemble playing in the final seconds is picture perfect, and Dodds shines in the coda. Okay, you can hold off on the crown, but playing like this certainly deserves at least an earldom or principality.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Eureka Brass Band: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

With the possible exception of Mardi Gras, no New Orleans tradition is more revered than the time-honored brass band funeral and parade. The longevity and flexibility of this institution are striking: in more recent days, hip-hop or funk oriented brass bands bring this ritual into the modern age (see example here), and often still include "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in the mix. Looking backward, this ritual can be traced to African and early diaspora traditions, and if Samuel Floyd is correct, the famous second line of the funeral procession is merely a "straightening out" of the old ring shout. Many outsiders still scratch their heads in puzzlement at the festive tone of these processions, but one need only recall that what some see as a burial others view as a resurrection. This is fitting music indeed for passage into that proverbial "better place."

This recording captures the Eureka Brass Band back in 1951. This ensemble had been together since 1920 and kept playing until 1975, and even after that leader Percy Humphrey (also a regular at Preservation Hall) occasionally revived the group. But even this relatively authentic recording shows the tendency for this tradition to morph and modernize. Immediately after this somber hymn, the brass band launches into Gerswhin's "Oh, Lady Be Good"—a Broadway song that wasn't even composed until four years after the Eureka Brass Band was founded.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Louis Prima: Jump, Jive, an' Wail

As a proud Sicilian-American, I have been known to enhance my jazz credentials by letting drop that my family comes from a "small island off the coast of Africa." Okay, it's a bit closer to Italy, but don't dismiss my boast out of hand. As Richard Sudhalter has noted: "The sheer quantity of Sicilian names in the ranks of New Orleans jazzmen—LaRocca, Roppolo, Veca, Almericom Giardino, Barocco, Capraro, Prima, Lala, Coltraro, Davilla, Loyocano, Manone, Gallodoro, Federico, Cordilla, Guarino, Scaglione, Pinero, Schiro, Parenti, Mangipane, Liberto, Franzella, Papalia, Mello, Palmisano, Pecora, Provenzano, Sbarbaro—attests to the role Italo-Americans played in the music's first years. It is a field ripe for further research."

Coltraro? Wasn't he the tenor player who invented circular breathing?

Of this group of pioneers, none became more famous than Louis Prima, but his success in crossing over has led many to forget his strong jazz and Crescent City roots. If he is connected in the public's mind with a city, it is probably Las Vegas, not New Orleans, where he worked the casinos and kept the partyin' festive and the slot machines spinnin'. But the boisterous, uninhibited quality of his performance of "Jump, Jive, an' Wail" would be equally at home on Basin Street or in the heat of a Mardi Gras celebration. Give credit to Sam Butera, too, who played John Gilmore to Prima's Sun Ra, aways finding the right licks for the mix.

How to describe Prima's approach? Doggerel Sicilian rhythm & blues? Jump tune meets "Funiculì, Funiculà"? Storyville with pomodoro? Honestly, it's just the one and only Louis Prima, a big talent too large to be contained by any casino . . . or even a small island off the coast of Africa.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Armstrong: Potato Head Blues

"Hello Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World" may get the airplay. "West End Blues" might receive more praise in the jazz history books. But, frankly, "Potato Head Blues" encapsulates Louis Armstrong's artistry as well as any recording he made during his half-century long career. The authority of his phrasing and the grandeur of his tone dominate the soundspace, and his stop-time chorus stands out as the most impressive solo of its time. I dare say no other horn player in the Spring of 1927 could have matched this achievement, and one merely need compare Armstrong's performance here with Oliver, Keppard and his other predecessors to see how far he pushed the art form ahead at this critical juncture. This set a new bar for the trumpet but also—and more profoundly—changed the essence of jazz ensemble playing. The collective sound of early New Orleans jazz was now replaced by an emphasis on the individual soloist. Tone and textures no longer signified as much as virtuosity and daring. Only a towering talent could have spurred this transition, one which still shapes jazz music so many decades later. Potato head? What an inadequate name for such a world-changing work, more deserving of commemoration in granite or marble.

August 10, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag (1917 version)

This band has received plenty of attention from jazz writers, but only occasionally for its music. White musicians making the first jazz record? . . . the very fact seems to invite pointed commentary. Even the name of the band comes across nowadays as an affront, and the feisty attitude of the Nick LaRocca, who made no apologies for his position of precedence, has not helped to endear him to later generations of jazz fans. Even he must have known that, under slightly different circumstances, Freddie Keppard might have beaten the ODJB to the studio. Or maybe the rumored recordings by the LA-based Black and Tan Jazz Orchestra will someday come to light, and give those mostly forgotten musicians the nod. But wouldn't that just be another scandal - a West Coast band established as the first to make a jazz record?

For better or worse, we are left with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And, yes, you should listen to the music before passing judgment on this ensemble. LaRocca was a fine cornet player, and the band plays with enthusiasm and energy here. The tempo is quite fast by the standards of New Orleans jazz (which was played with more restraint than you might think), and the sense that this band is on the brink of veering out-of-control no doubt was a major reason why the ODJB sold a million records. The novelty effects aren't as entertaining to modern ears as they were to the first listeners, and I would rather hear more cornet and fewer squeals from the tiger. Yet, say what you will, this band was hot.

Note: Click here for David Sager's review of a follow-up version of the same song made six months later by the ODJB.

August 10, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Dave Tull: The Minutes Pass Like Hours When You Sing

Make no bones about it, the only thing we musicians loathe more than Karaoke is amateur wannabe singers. With wit and swing, Dave Tull illustrates just how torturous it is to have those with un-amusing amusia and rhythmical afflictions sit in and destroy the vibe. Slicing sarcasm doesn’t prevent this trio from making the track attractive. Corey Allen is a master accompanist; his fills spell sophistication. Kevin Axt and Dave lay the groove down effortlessly, displaying their usual art for subtle dynamics. Dave is a natural singer, an instinctual musician, a brilliant writer, and hilarious. How often do we get to chuckle and dig good music at the same time? There are a couple of other cunning cuts on this CD, but don’t let Dave’s flair for humor fool you, his stratum for penning and performing beautiful, sensitive ballads runs equally as deep. I foresee lots of airplay and admiration to come for Dave Tull. He might even become our new musical mascot.

August 08, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Laurence Hobgood: New Orleans

With a cascading introduction reminiscent of tubular bells, Laurence Hobgood sets the stage for a poignant rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans”. He transitions from his gorgeous prelude to the familiar stride-like melody in an easy and reverential way. Backed by the deep resonant sounds of Charlie Haden’s bass, Hobgood plays in a sauntering, laconic style that pays homage to Carmichael but with his own quiet sensitivity. The music is played at an achingly slow tempo allowing for thoughtful interplay between Haden’s loping bass and Hobgood’s dancing piano. This music is born from the heartland and these two artists respect the tradition and champion its spare beauty with this soulful homage.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman: My One and Only Love

Marketing considerations spurred the pairing of John Coltrane with a vocalist, and the precedents here were not promising. Anyone who remembers Charlie Parker's collaborations with Earl Coleman (whose singing is similar to Hartman's), knows that progressive saxophony and baritone balladry don't always mix. But, against all odds, this pairing not only succeeded but resulted in one of Coltrane's most popular and artistically successful albums. Thousands of saxophonists have played this song, but this will always be the definitive version for most jazz fans. Hartman never sounded better, and Trane offers one of his most heartfelt performances. This is track to share with your friends who are sure that they don't like jazz.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Charlie Ventura: My One and Only Love

This is a song every tenor sax player is expected to know nowadays, but Charlie Ventura was the first tenorist to record it as an instrumental ballad back in 1953. The icky sweet orchestral support on this track has not aged well, but Ventura sounds in top form. His opening melody statement is firm and stately, and very much out of the Coleman Hawkins camp, but his solo makes me think Ventura had been spending his early autumn checking out Stan Getz. The coda, in particular, is exquisite in a Four-Brothers-ish sort of way.

This artist, who was working in a shipyard when he was discovered by Gene Krupa in 1942 and three years later won the Downbeat poll on tenor sax, has been largely forgotten by the current generation of jazz fans. But he was a skilled and versatile soloist—Ventura was one of the first Swing Era stars to embrace bop—and deserves a better fate than benign neglect. Sometime, somewhere, when a tenor saxophonist launches into this song, let it be dedicated to Mr. Ventura.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Snooks Eaglin: St. James Infirmary

The blues were never quite so blue when Snooks Eaglin sang them, and even the minor key lament "St. James Infirmary" will put a bounce in your step when this Crescent City master adds his spin to it. Eaglin was born in New Orleans (1936) and died in New Orleans (2009), and though his his range of artistic expression was dauntingly he wide—he claimed to know 2,500 songs, and his recordings cover every style from R&B to folk music—the stamp of his hometown was always present in his work. A sense of freedom and exuberance permeated his performances, both his guitar playing and his Ray Charles-ish vocals. Here he takes an antiquated song that will forever be associated with New Orleans (albeit one drawn originally from the English folk ballad "The Unfortunate Rake") and wears it like a second-hand suit that somehow becomes a bespoke garment in a hip new style. Even a slightly out-of-tune guitar can't spoil the magic. Three cheers for Snooks, but save one for Dr. Harry Oster, a seldom recognized champion of American vernacular music, who made this recording possible.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


João Gilberto: S'Wonderful

There were many reasons why this track shouldn't work. João Gilberto abandons Portuguese to sing in English. He switches from Jobim for a Gershwin song from 1927. And he buries his distinctive guitar work in the sometimes saccharine orchestral colorings of Mr. Claus Ogerman, a man who never saw a lingering major seventh chord he didn't like. The result should have been one more forgettable attempt to dilute Brazilian music for mass consumption by the chardonnay and brie set in the US. But someone forgot to tell Gilberto that he was supposed to imitate Carmen Miranda and ham it up for the Yanks. As a result, he leaves the antioxidant-enriched headgear behind, and sings this song with a delicacy and confessional honesty that are deeply touching. S'marvelous? You bet! But João, I'll tell it to you straight: your six strings are the only ones you need to bring to the next session.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Karrin Allyson: Everybody's Boppin'

To close her vocalese tribute CD, Footprints, Karrin Allyson gathered together her guest artists Nancy King and Jon Hendricks for a scat summit on the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross staple, “Everybody’s Boppin’”. The tempo is easily as fast as the LH&R version, and the collective energy fairly bursts out of the speakers. It’s Allyson’s album, but she’s also the youngest singer here and thus has the most to prove. But she is up to the task and her rhythmically taut and harmonically sure solo gets the improvisations off to a flying start. Hendricks comes in sounding like a erupting volcano. While his voice is not what it was in his glory days, he still controls it very well, landing on all the right notes and not losing the growing momentum of the performance. Nancy King’s solo features outrageous leaps from register to register, with a jaw-dropping assortment of vocal sounds. After Bruce Barth’s note-gobbling exchanges with Todd Strait, the vocalists return for an ensemble chorus and a reprise of the melody. The performance closes with rapid-fire scat exchanges, with Allyson getting in the first and last word before the final chord.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Bobby McFerrin: I Hear Music

Bobby McFerrin has been part of the American music scene for over 25 years, so it’s easy to take him for granted and, in the process, overlook his considerable accomplishments. To start, there is the whole concept of solo singing that McFerrin developed for himself. With his amazing range and the ability to make rapid-fire changes from the top to the bottom of his voice, he created the illusion of a continuous walking bass line under his falsetto improvisations. Add the frequent slapping of his hand on his chest and the illusion of the rhythm section is complete. But McFerrin did more than just creating his own one-man band. He found a large audience that was not only interested in music for its own sake, but also in making music. He encourages his audience to sing along (and comically chastises them when they don’t) and he makes the whole experience of making music a great deal of fun. The concert from which Spontaneous Inventions derives was also recorded for video. The hall is packed (and this, I remind you, is before “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”). On “I Hear Music”, McFerrin sings a line or two of the lyric before taking out the words. On earlier live recordings, McFerrin was somewhat lax on staying within the unheard harmony, but on this track, he outlines the harmony for most of the solo. When he brings the audience in, McFerrin’s goofy choice of scat syllables makes the performance lose its focus. Yet, to hear the audience sing back McFerrin’s musical ideas with considerable accuracy makes up for the temporary suspension of time and harmony.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Betty Carter: Droppin' Things

Unlike many jazz musicians who found their niche and stuck with it, Betty Carter continued to experiment with her music throughout her career. While she never abandoned standards, she included several of her own compositions in her repertoire. As the years went on, her elastic concept of rhythm became more pronounced, and her scatting became an even more important component of her style. Starting in the 1970s, she hired young apprentice musicians who were eager for their big break. While Carter was a tough boss, many of the musicians who worked with her found the experience very valuable.

“Droppin’ Things” is based on Carter’s scat tune, “Jumps”. It sounds like Carter hadn't decided whether the song should be started in duple or triple time. In fact, the recording includes a false start in 2/4 time before restarting in 3/4. The time moves back and forth between the two meters, even during the solos. To further cloud the meter, Carter sings her melody in straight quarter notes without any downbeat implied. In the second A section, bassist Tarus Mateen plays so fast, there is no clear sense of time signature. To keep all of this together, Carter has guest instrumentalists Freddie Hubbard and Craig Handy solo on the harmonies of the bridge, and she inserts segments of the melody as signposts. Carter’s own scat solo uses a single scale instead of the chord changes so that the signposts are not necessary as she improvises. Her solo, based on short ideas, morphs into a musical conversation, starting with Carey, who is eventually joined by Hubbard and Handy. The tension builds steadily for nearly two minutes, and then there is a slight repose before Carter closes the performance with the main motive of her melody.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Carmen McRae: Suddenly (aka In Walked Bud)

While she was plagued by poor health in her final years, Carmen McRae produced several fine recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Carmen Sings Monk” was one of her best recordings and it included lyricized versions of Thelonious Monk’s compositions (but not his solos). Some of the tunes were included in live and studio versions, and this live version of “In Walked Bud” featured Monk’s tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in one of his final performances. The words were originally written by Jon Hendricks on short notice for a recording session with Monk. Hendricks describes a mythic jam session with Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Monk and of course, Bud Powell. McRae’s performance begins as she scats the melody, followed by a full chorus of Hendricks’ words. Rouse takes the first solo, followed by Mraz and Willis, each of whom starts his solo with a quote, Mraz citing the song’s harmonic base (“Blue Skies”) and Willis acknowledging the Basie standard “Topsy”. McRae continues the parade of quotes with a phrase from “Louise” then goes into a short scat solo where she develops a small motive into a longer idea, then takes the end of the long idea and develops it into another phrase. When she goes back to the lyrics, she nearly stretches the song’s syncopations to their breaking point before bringing it back into sync with the band.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Slim Gaillard: Babalu (orooney)

Now we take a turn towards the surreal, guided by the unique multi-instrumentalist Slim Gaillard. Even with prior knowledge of Gaillard’s mastery of double-talk and his invented language, “Vout”, little can prepare the listener for this bizarre and very funny transformation of the Cuban classic “Babalu.” Although the song was forever associated with Desi Arnaz, Gaillard’s version starts in imitation of the Xavier Cugat recording. However, Gaillard’s imagination soon takes over and he starts inserting “orooney” and other vout phrases in with the Spanish lyrics. By the time he quotes “Jingle Bells” (!), we are in a completely different universe where all kinds of languages—real and invented—come at us from all angles.

In the 1998 notes for the Smithsonian collection,The Jazz Singers, Robert G. O’Malley wrote that Gaillard had transformed the moments of parody in the recordings of Fats Waller and Al Hibbler into an aesthetic of parody. While such an analysis seems rather high-brow, there is little doubt that Gaillard’s comedic concepts were unparalleled in jazz—or any other music, for that matter. At any rate, such theories are much less damaging than those offered during his career, including the idea that Gaillard’s vout promoted drug use. That accusation caused Gaillard to lose a lot of work and led to long nomadic periods in his life.

August 06, 2009 · 1 comment

Tags: · ·


Mel Torme & The Marty Paich Dek-tette: Lullaby Of Birdland

"Lullaby of Birdland" is an anomaly in the recordings of Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-tette. Although Mel's scat singing was prominently featured on the Reunion albums of the late 1980s, "Lullaby" was the only cut from the original set of recordings to feature a scat solo. At nearly 5 minutes, "Lullaby" was the longest track on the first Dek-tette LP, and it features Mel's scatting for most of its length. It starts with Mel and Red Mitchell in duet with Mel Lewis joining in at the bridge. As Tormé starts scatting, the saxes enter, backing the singer with a unison figure. As usual with Tormé, his improvisations are an even mix of original ideas and song quotes, but he puts the ideas together so skillfully, the listener loses track of each idea's paternity. In the next chorus, Torm� trades ideas with Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist and Bob Enevoldsen (the latter on valve trombone - for the moment). Then the saxes return (with Enevoldsen on tenor) with a tightly-arranged figure, to which Tormé offers a scatted response. The figure is repeated for the next 8 bars. The sax figure is a Paich self-quote - it was originally the introduction for his arrangement of "You.re My Thrill", written for a Shelly Manne LP a couple of years earlier. Tormé said that hearing that recording inspired him to work with Paich. As an acknowledgement of that inspiration, Paich included the figure in the "Lullaby" arrangement. After a brass-dominated bridge, we return to Tormé, Mitchell and Lewis with a short reprise of the opening chorus. Lewis drops out after 8 bars as Tormé and Mitchell fade into the distance.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Stan Getz (with João Gilberto): Desafinado

Getz's 1962 recording of this composition set the bossa nova craze in motion. But I prefer this 1964 version, hands down, with its authentic Brazilian rhythm section. Authentic? Perhaps historic is a better adjective. João Gilberto invented the bossa beat, and remains its greatest exponent even after a million other guitarists have tinkered with, adapted and outright stolen his stuff. And what could be better than having the composer on piano?

Getz, for his part, makes his contribution sound so free and easy, that it's easy to under-estimate his artistry; even he made light of his achievement—introducing this song in concert as "Dis Here Finado" (an coy allusion to the funky hard bop tunes "Dat Dere" and "Dis Here"), or joking that it was the tune that would put his children through college. But can you imagine another jazz tenorist of the era who could have played this music with such perfect sensitivity to its nuances and inner emotional life? Let 'Trane have his "Giant Steps" and Rollins his late night bridge heroics; ah, but beachfront property never loses it value, and there is a stretch of it down Copacabana and Ipanema way that Getz will always own.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Fate Marable: Frankie and Johnny

Fate Marable (1890-1947) is a magical name in the annals of New Orleans music—he was the most famous of the riverboat bandleaders who spread the sound of jazz up and down the Mississippi. Marable was also an early employer of Louis Armstrong and other New Orleans jazz pioneers, and mostly remembered by them as a stern taskmaster. Marable's fans were legion, and even Teddy Roosevelt was seen dancing to his band's performance of "Turkey in the Straw." Yet few alive today have heard Marable's music, and even fans who recognize his name may be unaware that the pianist left behind two tracks from a 1924 session.

These sides represent his complete recorded output, and Armstrong had left the band several years before. Even so, "Frankie & Johnny" gives us a taste of authentic riverboat music. This performance is lighthearted, danceable, swinging but not too hot—one can understand how this type of music captivated listeners from New Orleans all the way to St. Paul. The quote from Wagner in the intro is a reminder of the popularity of "jazzin' the classics" during this period. The opening melody statement sounds more like rag than jazz, but the stop-time trumpet solo is real New Orleans jazz. One wonders what a young Louis Armstrong would have done with this arrangement; perhaps it was even written with him in mind. In decades to come, jazz would go on the road, traveling to every corner of the globe, but this jazz proselytizer of the waterways will always be the remembered—rightly or wrongly, don't matter; the romance of the river is too potent to deny—as the one who started it out on its journey. Fate indeed!

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Sarah Vaughan: Shulie-A-Bop

Sarah Vaughan had the jazz singer's perfect combination: a flexible voice and an acute harmonic sense. Naturally, she improvised every time she went on stage, but considering the length and breadth of her recording career, there aren’t many full-fledged scat solos on record. “Shulie-A-Bop”, which may have been created at the recording session, features Sarah and her working trio on a 16-bar minor blues. Other than a quote of "I Ain't Mad At You" and the introductions of the musicians, the performance is entirely wordless. Sarah gets most of the solo space and makes the best of it, displaying her fine way of developing ideas and inserting several bop melodic sequences. Sarah’s trio was one of the finest touring groups of its day, and each member of the trio takes a 16-bar solo here, and as noted, each is introduced by Sarah. Bop pioneer Roy Haynes is the best-known member of the group, but John Malachi had been an arranger and pianist for the Billy Eckstine bop band and Joe Benjamin would gain greater fame when he joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Sarah’s unique introduction of “Roy (tap, tap, tap) Haynes” was developed for this recording, and the drummer still uses it in performances with his own groups.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Roy Eldridge & Dizzy Gillespie: Pretty-Eyed Baby

In an interview, Jon Hendricks asked Dizzy Gillespie to demonstrate the evolution of styles by singing a riff as Louis Armstrong would sing it, then as how Roy Eldridge would sing it, and finally how Dizzy would sing it. Dizzy replied with a simple rhythmic idea from Louis, an intense, agitated version for Roy and then an arhythmic flurry of fast notes for himself. Although Dizzy was joking around, he admitted that his example wasn’t too far from reality. The similarities and differences between Roy and Dizzy are better illustrated in “Pretty-Eyed Baby”, a light-hearted duet from Roy And Diz, which features both principals on trumpet and vocals. Although the recording is in mono, it’s very easy to tell the difference between the two players, as Eldridge plays a Harmon mute throughout and Dizzy plays in a cup mute. Further, each man’s scat singing style echoes their trumpet work: Roy with a pronounced rasp and powerful rhythm, Dizzy smoother with very complex rhythmic combinations. The trumpet solos that follow the scat are 8-bar exchanges (probably kept short as both trumpeters had played in their high registers for most of the date). The improvised 2-part vocal harmony on the coda doesn’t really work—I doubt they rehearsed the number before recording it—but the recording is an important historical document of two of the best trumpeters (and scat singers) in jazz history.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · · ·


Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers: Dinah

Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers enjoyed long careers in pop music, but they were all influenced by jazz in their early years. “Dinah” starts out like one of Crosby’s pop records, with Crosby singing the melody with minor variations over a small orchestra with strings. Then the tempo jumps up, there is a jazzy trumpet break, the Mills Brothers enter, and most of the orchestra is silent for the rest of the recording. John Mills sings a tuba part under the three-part harmony of his brothers (John also plays guitar for the rest of the side). Donald Mills takes a scat break to finish the chorus, then Crosby takes over with a scat solo of his own. While Crosby sings even eighth notes on top of the beat, he varies the line with sharp rhythmic emphasis. Trumpeter Frank Guarante accompanies Crosby when he goes back to the lyrics at the bridge, and then again in the first half of the next chorus, but the solo at the bridge which follows is not a trumpet, but a vocal impression by Harry Mills. The side comes to an exciting conclusion as the Mills Brothers riff like a high-powered big band behind Crosby.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Louis Armstrong: Hotter Than That

The fiery “Hotter Than That” is one of Louis Armstrong’s masterpieces. Played at a flying tempo, Armstrong soars while most of his band-mates can barely get off the ground. The opening trumpet solo is a brilliant example of developing a melodic idea, all with a dynamic sound and sophisticated swing. Lonnie Johnson, guesting with the Hot Five, was clearly a student of Armstrong’s innovations, and he accompanies Armstrong’s magnificent scat solo. Armstrong’s advanced rhythmic sense is in full display as he sings behind the beat and then intensifies the rhythm with a brilliant series of dotted quarter notes which get further and further off the beat. (Later, Armstrong ties his solo work together by alluding to those dotted quarters in his final trumpet solo!) Also of note are Armstrong’s scat syllables: he uses “rip” several times, each time with an ascending glissando (the term is now commonly used for that melodic device), and he even improvises the term “bebop” which became the name of the jazz movement in the 1940s. Louis Armstrong may not have invented scat singing, but he remains one of its greatest exponents.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Jelly Roll Morton: Scat Song

Scat singing was not born when Louis Armstrong dropped the sheet music during a recording of “Heebie Jeebies”. Although Armstrong perpetuated the myth, he well knew that scat had been around almost as long as jazz itself. Jelly Roll Morton may have been the first person to set the record straight, and in his recorded reminiscences for the Library of Congress, he credits Joe Simms, “an old comedian” from Vicksburg, Mississippi, as the first person to scat sing. Morton’s most interesting claim comes right before his charming demonstration: in its original use, scat was not used for extended solos, but merely as a unique introduction for a song. We may never know how much Simms and how much Morton there is in the 1938 re-creation heard here, but the simple syncopations, light New Orleans swing and delightful “scoodle-ee-doo” syllables give us a good idea of the origins of scat.

(The MP3 link above is not from the Anamule Dance CD, which only includes the musical demonstration. Instead, the linked recording is from Morton’s The Complete Library of Congress Recordings–also from Rounder—which includes the spoken introduction. The recording begins with the final section of the Morton composition “Anamule Dance” and segues into the discussion of scat at 2:35.)

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Rashied Ali: Theme For Captain Black

The first James Blood Ulmer record I bought came from a little record/book store in a generic strip mall (Wait, isn't that redundant?) Anyway, I had no idea what to expect. The man on the cover was playing a hollow body guitar and looked thoroughly engrossed in his task. Hey, it was in the jazz section, must be jazz, right?

Very quickly my conception of jazz began to change. That record dipped jazz in a funk steambath, the same technique used by Miles...but I didn't know that yet. Heck, I bet I hadn't even heard Kind Of Blue yet....or Coltrane! Yet despite my lack of jazz knowledge, it was obvious that this Ulmer guy had something going on. His sound was a roiling mass of barely contained energy. The funk and jazz worked with and against each other to torque up the sonic karma.

Rashied Ali knows all about torqued up music. His post-Elvin work with Coltrane is legendary. On this track it's gratifying to see Ali come full circle, revisiting material from his old Phalanx cohort, Mr. Ulmer. With horns taking the lead melodic roles (instead of the guitar), this version has more bop sensibilities than the original. My ears say the highlights are Ali's incredible, far-reaching drum solo and Lawrence Clark's busting-at-the-seams tenor solo that follows. Ali avoids (as usual) the pulse and comps his ass off underneath Clark. Beneath the squall, there's a lot of beauty — for my ears, one of the defining characteristics of free-ish jazz.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Bunk Johnson: You Are My Sunshine

Bunk Johnson should be remembered for his music, but instead he will forever be a figure of contention and controversy. When he was rediscovered in the early 1940s, his fans tried to enshrine him as the real deal, the exponent of how jazz once sounded in New Orleans before jazz got corrupted by lindy hoppers, arrangers and—heaven forbid!—the saxophone.

Johnson played along with the game, and even cheated a bit, jiggering his birth date to strengthen his case as the midwife, or at least one of the three wise men, present at the birth of jazz. In those over-heated days of jazz wars (have we outgrown them today?), fans battled like horn players in a cutting contest, and Johnson was not just praised as a musician, but held up as some sort of antidote to everything that was wrong with the jazz world. This provoked a backlash, and inspired a more progressive contingent of fans to debunk Bunk . . . and on and on the battles raged.

Given this history, it's hard to listen to Bunk's revival recordings as just good ol' hot music, but that is precisely how one should approach this track. This band may lack for polish, and the performance is rough around the edges. But the spirit is with these old men playing their hearts out in San Jacinto Hall on that hot midsummer day in 1944. They evoke a type of revelry that only a sourpuss could scorn. Let jazz warriors make war, but I would rather tap my foot to the beat—and there is plenty here to keep me tapping. You won't get any polemics from this corner, but I am ready to scrawl it on the wall: Bunk Lives!

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Stan Getz (with Chick Corea): Litha

Stan Getz's name is often linked with that of Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and other disciples of Lester Young who came of age in the period following World War II. But Getz always had a more daring temperament than these others, and greater willingness to put himself in unfamiliar settings, trusting that his musical instincts would guide him through unscathed. And, unfailingly, they did just that.

Getz's occasional collaborations with Chick Corea are a case in point. Corea was himself in the midst of a fertile period of experimentation and threw many curveballs at the tenorist, including proto-fusion and neo-Latin charts. Getz was on the heels of his own huge bossa nova success and could have easily continued in that vein indefinitely, but here he digs into Corea's intricate "Litha," which includes meter changes (6/8 to fast 4/4), modal interludes and some unconventional harmonic movement. Needless to say, nothing in Getz's formative experience with Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman or even Woody Herman prepared him for this. No matter . . . Stan positively flies over this chart as if he had written it himself.

This is exhilarating music. The rhythm section of Corea-Carter-Tate is as good as any Getz would ever employ; they challenge the leader at every step along the way, and he asserts himself in return. In short, there is not the slightest touch of saudade anywhere on this track. I wish Getz had undertaken more sessions of this sort, but I am grateful this one took place before Corea went off into fusion-land and the tenorist went through his own period of musical redefinition in the late 1960s and 1970s.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Fats Domino: The Fat Man

Those who contend that rock 'n' roll was invented in New Orleans will present this track as Exhibit 1A for the prosecution. This spirited single hit the Billboard chart on April Fools Day in 1950, and three years later "The Fat Man" had racked up enough sales to earn Mr. Domino a gold record. Certainly there weren't many songs from the Truman administration so raw or uninhibited. Perhaps that other Fats (Waller) had created piano music that sounded like an invitation to a party, but this new Fats (Domino) was opening up the doors to a downright bacchanalia.

I can't say which was more of a hook: Domino's prancin' poundin' piano or his throbbing waa waa vocal. But put them together and you open the page on a new era in American music. Over the next decade, the piano would lose its position as anchor of the rhythm section in most commercial recordings—its place usurped by the plugged-in guitar. But I can't believe for a second that six strings could ever adequately replace Domino's ten fingers. Was Fats the father of rock, that first falling domino that set everything else in motion? I might not go that far, but New Orleans is clearly the place where rock learned how to roll.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Jordan: Take The A Train

Louis Jordan, one of the original creators of R & B and a key influence on the development of rock 'n roll, is best remembered today for his irrepressible vocals on such '40's hits as "Caldonia," "Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Let the Good Times Roll," and "Five Guys Named Moe." But look past Jordan's jump band jive and you can't help but admire his alto saxophone playing, so swinging, piercing, and zestful. Let's not forget that he honed both his alto and vocal skills with Chick Webb's orchestra before breaking through on his own in the '40's with his Tympany Five. He was as much a jazz musician as an R & B or blues performer, and considered himself to be such.

Less than two years before his death in 1975, the then 65-year-old Jordan recorded this instrumental version of "Take the A Train" at a session in Paris, a track that was not released until the CD reissue in 1992. Listening to it, one wonders what Duke Ellington's orchestra might have sounded like with Jordan in the sax section and as a featured soloist (and singer!). The theme is taken at standard Ellington pace and harmony between Jordan's alto and Irv Cox's tenor, while Duke Burrell lays down some Dukish chords and phrases. Jordan enters his solo with a clarion call before suavely gliding through a series of interconnected and engagingly bluesy riffs, motifs, and exuberant shouts. His trades with drummer Archie Taylor are a little one-sided, as Taylor seems to be a better timekeeper than improviser. Burrell's fills during the horns' hearty reprise even top those of the pianist at the beginning of the piece, adding to the reverent authenticity pervading this small group treatment.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


René Marie: The Very Thought of You

René Stevens was singing professionally at age 17, but marriage and raising a family resulted in her abandoning performing for more than 20 years. Her daring decision to once again pursue a singing career led to the breakup of her marriage and the end of a secure position at a bank. After independently producing her first CD, Renaissance, under her married name René Croan, she was signed by MAXJAZZ two years later, at which point she decided to become known as René Marie, adopting her middle name as her last. Her How Can I Keep from Singing? release garnered critical acclaim for the then 44-year-old "new discovery." Today Marie is back to recording independently, while continuing to mix her originals--many focusing on issues of social relevance--with spot-on interpretations of standards.

One such standard on her breakthrough CD in 2000 was "The Very Thought of You." Marie sings it with much attention to detail, nuanced in her intonation, inflections, phrasing, and emotional message and impact, and finishing with a swooping Sarah Vaughan-ish descending melisma just before Mulgrew Miller's piano solo. Miller's accompaniment is all-embracing, and his ringingly lyrical solo possesses more than a little touch of grandeur, Marie returns with a more playful attitude, taking liberties with the melodic line that reveal a Betty Carter influence. All in all, in its subtlety, this remains one of Marie's best recorded performances of a standard tune.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Norberto Tamburrino: Out of a Blue Reflection

The Italian pianist Tamburrino considers Thelonious Monk to be one of his primary influences. On each of Tamburrino's three CDs to date he has recorded one Monk tune, and his newest release, Reflection(s) on Monk, is even dedicated to him, although only Tamburrino's solo piano interpretation of "Crepuscule with Nellie" and the quartet performance of his original, "Out of a Blue Reflection," bear any directly obvious relationship to Monk's music.

Just like a tune by Monk, the saxophonist J. D. Allen has appeared on at least one track on all of Tamburrino's CDs, and joins the pianist for his "Out of a Blue Reflection." The theme as played by Allen alludes briefly to "Straight No Chaser" before going its own sweet way, but it is straight out of Monk's bag nonetheless.. Lepore produces a playfully lucid bass solo, followed by the compelling Allen, who creates an improvisation that seems to borrow equally from John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse, while retaining a sure-footed individuality. Tamburrino then resolutely approaches Monk's angularity from his own independent direction, employing glistening arpeggios and distinctive chordal formations in a technically impressive display that builds a skyscraper on top of Monk's implied foundation. By the time Allen has finished replaying the theme, this could easily have made your list of best Monk-inspired compositions. The appeal of this track also beckons Tamburrino and Allen to unite once again in the future for an all-Monk CD. Now that would definitely be something to hear.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Dr. Billy Taylor: Just The Thought Of You

Although the now 88 year-old Billy Taylor and the late Gerry Mulligan were close friends for decades, they had only recorded together once before prior to Taylor's 1992 Dr. T session, that being on the pianist's 1957My Fair Lady Loves Jazz album. In 1992 Taylor was also the recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, and the track "Just the Thought of You" reminds us once again of his playing and composing skills, sometimes overlooked due to his prominence as a prime advocate for all things jazz. Mulligan's fervent contribution is just the icing on the cake.

Written for his daughter Kim, Taylor's ballad "Just the Thought of You" rivals in its graceful beauty the standard with a similar title, "The Very Thought of You." Taylor executes an enticing, undulating intro that leads to Mulligan's heartfelt rendering of the touching theme. Mulligan plays it with a supple, well-rounded tone, which hardens at times during his solo for added expressiveness. His circular phrases, and the extended lines that encompass them, are artfully and cogently resolved. Taylor's improv takes rhapsodic flight when he guides a fetching motif through a variety of arpeggiated modulations. Mulligan begins an equally absorbing second solo that gradually segues back to the memorable theme. Taylor / Mulligan collaborations should have come more frequently. (A 1993 meeting, Live at MCG, was released in 2007.)

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Stan Getz: Blood Count (1982 studio version)

Billy Strayhorn wrote it; Duke Ellington recorded it; but make no mistake—Stan Getz owned this song. In the 1980s, Getz performed it at almost every concert, and if the acoustics were right, he would turn off the mikes and render it un-amplified. I lost count of how many times I heard him play it, but I know that, without fail, this song left the listeners mesmerized by its poignancy.

I even performed it with Stan, and matched my piano part to what McNeely plays on this track—since Getz's approach to this song was not about improvisation. Instead, playing this composition again and again, he seemed to be seeking a quasi-ritualistic revisiting of some primal experience. On this studio version, as in concert, he never departs far from the written melody. Getz's whole attitude—not just to music, but to life—was about improvisation, yet I never once heard him take a real solo over these changes. He might briefly allow his horn to stray from Strayhorn's line, for a fill or ornamentation, but would always come back to it. I think he would have considered an extended solo on this piece some sort of sacrilege. Instead, I sensed him reaching for what Kierkegaard talks about with his metaphysical concept of Repetition, a return to the same that is the antithesis of sameness.

This had been Strayhorn's final composition, written shortly before his death from esophageal cancer. This exquisitely crafted piece is one of the composer's most multilayered efforts, its power rising from the tension between the surface elegance and the submerged anguish of the music. Getz's interpretation took on added poignancy as his own health started failing during the course of the decade. One couldn't help hearing Stan confronting his own mortality as he returned to this piece night after night.

What a testimony to the focus musicality of this artist, that he could channel so much of his own inner life into a mere melody statement—and not even a melody he had written—and communicate it to every member of the audience. If you haven't heard it, you need to. Check out either this studio version, or the later live performance in Copenhagen. Against the backdrop of a career chock full of memorable tracks, both classic and commercial, Getz delivered one here for the ages.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Luis Bonilla: Uh, Uh, Uh...

Steeped in a Latin tradition that utilizes the trombone in an explosive way, Luis Bonilla is true to the tradition and adds his own touch of funk for good measure. On “Uh, Uh , Uh...”, he plays with a easy, swinging swagger that is countered by the angular sound of Ivan Renta’s saxophone. This jagged, darting composition features the rapid fire drumming of John Riley, the staccato piano syncopations of Arturo O’ Farrill and the propulsive bass of Andy McKee. Bonilla negotiates the twists and turns with an exciting display of trombone virtuosity. When he and Renta play together, their combined sound creates the impression that 1 + 1 = 3. An energetic, spirited and (at times) free-form romp.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Freddie Keppard: Stock Yards Strut

The most famous Freddie Keppard recording session is the one he didn't make. In early 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Company tried to convince the New Orleans cornetist to record for their label—this would have been the first jazz session anywhere if Keppard had agreed. Instead he responded nothin' doin' because (according to the most famous account) he feared other players would "steal his stuff" if it were available on disk; or (if you believe another, not incompatible explanation) because of his dissatisfaction over financial terms; or, if we believe Sidney Bechet, Keppard (like Bartleby the Scrivener) refused to record simply because he preferred not to.

Less attention is paid to the music that Keppard actually recorded—albeit more than a decade later. But in "Stock Yards Strut" he plays with vigor and swing, and one can understand the claims of those who saw him as the great interregnum ruler of New Orleans cornet between the reigns of King Buddy (Bolden) and King Joe (Oliver). I wish we had more Keppard tracks at this level, and devotees of traditional sounds will forever dream of what this artist sounded like when he was in his mid-20s. Dream on, but don't dismiss this hot side, which contains some stuff eminently worth stealing.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Stan Getz: Rustic Hop

This early 1950s track by the Stan Getz Quintet not only features the agile swinging of one of the most popular tenorists of the day, but also spotlights the gritty valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer and the swinging, percussive piano of John Williams. The way Getz develops the riff he plays behind Brookmeyer into the leading phrase of his own chorus is simply brilliant.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Stan Getz (with Bob Brookmeyer): Rustic Hop

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz helped raise money for his own salary as artist-in-residence at Stanford University by giving one concert per quarter. He brought in a host of guest artists for these events, including Bob Brookmeyer, who showed up on campus to meet students, rehearse the campus jazz band (I still recall him exhorting the horns to play with more energy—repeating the advice "make BIG mistakes" as though it were some strange mantra from a new religion), and then pair up with Getz for a concert in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

For their gig, Stan and Bob played a number of charts they had recorded more than thirty years earlier. After the performance, I expressed my surprise to Brookmeyer that Stan played all the compositions, some of them quite intricate, without looking at any music. After all, Getz had recorded these charts before I was born, and the Stanford concert was a one-time event—yet Getz dug into these pieces as though they were on his set list every night. Brookmeyer shrugged his shoulders and commented "Well, that's Stan Getz."

The Brookmeyer partnership was just one of many musical relationships for Getz during the mid-1950s. The Cool Sounds album finds him in five different line-ups. But the interplay with the valve trombonist is especially effective. The chemistry between Getz and Brookmeyer is in the same league as those other ultra-cool period pairings: Mulligan & Baker, Marsh & Konitz, Sims & Cohn, heck maybe even Bogart and Bacall. Hear Getz riffing behind Brookmeyer's solo, then starting his own improvisation with a variant of the same riff before launching into a slick, thematically-cohesive workout over the changes. Getz was a master at these medium-up tempos, and knew better than any tenorist of his generation how to be hot and sweet at the same time. I can't find much rusticity in this "Rustic Hop"—which sounds to me more like a joyride in city traffic—but it does keep hopping for the duration. A stirring example of a band that could have been far more influential if it had stayed together longer.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·


Milton Nascimento: Nozani Na

Deep in the traditions of African music—both homegrown and transplanted to the Americas—is the implicit assumption that sound trumps theory. Artists as different as John Lee Hooker, King Oliver, Bob Marley and Ornette Coleman remind us there is a certain level of expression that cannot be fully captured in the mathematical models of music-making that we inherited from Pythagoras and the Greeks. This is my own personal interpretation of harmolodics, which I view as an anti-theory of sound creation, one all the more valuable for its unwillingness to be reduced to rules.

Which brings us to Milton Nascimento, who is one of the most subversive singer-songwriters of modern times. "Nozani Na" is a traditional song from the Mato Grosso, best known for its adaptation by Hector Villa-Lobos. But compare Nascimento's version with the classical composer's and get a lesson in the primacy of sound over notes, aural fluency as a deeper intuiting of music than the printed score. Accompanied solely by percussion and guitar, Nascimento and singer-ethnomusicologist Marlui Miranda (who spent 17 years researching Amazonian music) engage in a luminous duet. If you are a seeker after music that cuts through the noise, and resists reduction to the formulaic, this is a track you need to hear.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Christian McBride: Theme for Kareem

At the annual bass players convention, the meeting divides into two camps. The melodic, play-bass-like-a-big-guitar contingent gathers under the portrait of Scott LaFaro, while the swing-it-with-a-big-sound advocates collect next to the statue of Ray Brown. Okay, I'm not sure if Christian McBride was announcing his affiliation when he named his new CD Kind of Brown, but if you have doubts where he is aligned, just listen to this track. I love his sense of propulsion, a greenhouse-gas-free source of energy that I hope never runs out. He takes a song written by the late, great Freddie Hubbard and convinces you it was really meant to be a bass feature. With all due respect to soloists Wolf and Wilson, the rhythm section here is the star of the show. You could put Jack Benny on violin in front of this churning, burning threesome, and he would start placing in the Downbeat poll. Notch up two sky hook points for the Brown team.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Alex Harding & Blutopia: The Calling

The title (and lead) track on baritone saxophonist Alex Harding's The Calling is a moving—if unfortunately incomplete—prologue/introduction to some very fine music. The first of the tune's two parts is a rubato, minor-key dirge over a bowed pedal point in the bass, specifically reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Spiritual." Pianist Lucian Ban strums the piano strings and limns the modal harmonies, drummer Nasheet Waits provides portentous cymbal and tom-tom rolls, percussionist Andrew Daniels sets an independent course on congas, and Harding renders the sustained, rising-and-falling opening theme with guts and sensitivity, before setting a gritty ostinato that forms the basis of the tune's forceful, latin-tinged second half. The band leaps wastes no time in reaching a very high gain of intensity, again reminiscent of mid-period Coltrane, especially A Love Supreme. While the band's approach isn't distinctive, the strength and conviction with which they play is commendable.

Harding is one of the best young baritone saxophonists. His sound is huge, varied, and expressive; his manner spontaneous, his ideas—while certainly owing to Trane—are original enough to call his own. Overall, the music's biggest flaw is the premature and musically nonsensical fade that cuts off the band in mid-flight, leaving one with a definite sense of incompleteness. The abrupt ending sabotages (not fatally, but noticeably) an otherwise powerful performance.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Milton Nascimento: Nos Bailes da Vida

Most of this live album is weighed down by tepid orchestral arrangements. But on "Nos Bailes da Vida," Nascimento decides that a 39-piece band isn't big enough for him, and enlists the enthusiastic São Paulo audience to be his accompanists. This artist's performances have always struck me with their charismatic (in the old, sociological sense of the word) and quasi-ritualistic quality—sometimes made explicit, but usually just felt behind the surface of the music. This radiant, transcendent side of Nascimento comes to the fore on this track, and the sing-song quality of the melody adds to the effect. Imagine a soundspace that serves as meeting ground between an anthem for the African diaspora and nursery lullaby for a toddler, and you will get some idea of the territory Nascimento is staking out here. An uplifting performance!

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Dylan van der Schyff, Chris Gestrin, Ben Monder: The Distance

Chris Gestrin plays an attractive Bill-Evans-out-of-Keith-Jarrett piano on "The Distance," complemented nicely by his like-minded confreres, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. The performance bears a quiet, pastoral quality, thanks to Gestrin's gentle, romantic melodicism, Monder's clean, round tones, and van der Schyff's light, brush-laden touch—to say nothing of the tune itself, with its profoundly consonant harmonies and bossa-ish rhythmic foundation. The music has a solemn, ECM-ish vibe: pretty but not too pretty; challenging but not intimidating. Elsewhere, the musicians prove themselves well capable of creative abstraction; here, however, they indulge their more conventionally lyrical side, with some success.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


James Booker: Put Out the Light

As the story goes, 18-year-old James Booker was invited to play piano for the great concert hall virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein, who told the teenager afterward: "I could never play that." In all honesty, who - outside a small coterie of seasoned New Orleans players - would dare? The rolling, syncopated style of pianism that goes by the name of "New Orleans style" is hard to pin down. Sometimes it is reminiscent of boogie-woogie or stride, but never falls into the predictable rhythmic patterns of those idioms. The sound is less rock and more roll, an ebbing and flowing that always seems to move around the beat rather than sit on top of it. Booker is the master of this two-handed approach, and crafted one of the most persuasive keyboard styles of the late 20th century. This track also shows off his unconventional harmonic sense - when he shifts from A flat major to A minor, listeners with acute ears may feel their cochleas rebelling. But don't despair: Booker always makes it right in the end. Like Ornette Coleman and Son House, James Booker made up his own rules, and even if (like Rubinstein) you dare not imitate, you definitely need to listen.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Milton Nascimento (with Herbie Hancock & Pat Metheny): Cantaloupe Island

Milton Nascimento and Herbie Hancock have a musical relationship that dates back to the Brazilian star's first US album from 1969, while their later collaboration on "San Vincente," from the 1989 Mlitons CD resulted in a standout track in the career of both artists. Here Nascimento covers a Hancock jazz standard, the hard bop classic "Cantaloupe Island," and invites the composer and Pat Metheny to join him in the studio. Metheny is very comfortable in this setting—indeed the "even eights" sound of Nascimento's Clube da Esquina era recordings exerted a noticeable influence on Pat's own work. Hancock lays back at first, but before the second chorus arrives, he is driving the rhythm. He digs into his personal Blue-Note-meets-Brazil bag that I have heard him use in these types of situations; it is very effective. Even without a drummer, there is hardly enough room for Metheny, but he floats and flutters, and when his solo comes, he digs in with a very earthy improvisation. Nascimento needs no lyrics to express his soulfulness—this track will show how much Mr. McFerrin learned from the Brazilian master. Milton's voice is angelic and devilish at the same time. This song has inspired some hot renditions, including Hancock's simmering original and Us3's manipulation of the same. But Nascimento has added another must-hear version to the list.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Milton Nascimento: Pão e Água

The two Clube da Esquina double albums stand out as defining statements of Milton Nascimento's aesthetic vision, and remain key milestones in Brazilian post-bossa-nova popular music. Nascimento here is completely liberated from the previous efforts to package his music for crossover success. Instead he embraces a raw, under-produced sound, and the performances seem aimed at personal transcendence rather than radio airplay. As a result this music sounds very fresh and immediate a generation after it was recorded. "Pão e Água" features some of the finest rhythm section work you will hear on any popular recording from this era. Motown fans talk about the Funk Brothers, but the Clube de Esquina gang deserve the same degree of reverence. Nascimento is inspired, his vocal an invocation of higher powers. A glorious moment in Brazilian music—it's a shame this recording is still so little known outside of Brazil, and available in the US only as an expensive import.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


John Surman: Haywain

In 1992, Surman and Abercombie teamed up with Peter Erskine and Marc Johnson for Abercrombie’s exceptional November platter and the album began with the free-from group improvisation “The Cat’s Back.” Seventeen years later the two Johns combine with DeJohnette and Gress taking Erskine’s and Johnson’s place for the Surman-led Brewster’s Rooster. And once again, the saxophonist and guitarist lead an ensemble through a composition that’s conceived largely on the spot, “Haywain.”

This one begins and ends with DeJohnette, who is better than just about anyone else behind a drum kit at applying his available tools at the right moments in the right measures. He listens closely to the exchange Surman and Abercrombie are having and detects even the slightest mood changes and responds accordingly, including the point of peak intensity erupting just before the five minute mark. He does all this while simultaneously synchronizing his hi-hat to Gress’ rapid runs.

That’s not to diminish the contributions of the others; Surman, Abercrombie and Gress are playing telepathically, too. The drummer, however, pushes “Haywain” out to its substantial potential.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Particle Data Group: Anahad

Unusual configurations afford the opportunity for unprecedented, radical sounds and risk-taking. This triad of exceptionally open-minded musicians is more than up to the task and in fact clearly delight in the challenge. “Anahad” lives entirely in the moment, an improvised piece that goes in all directions at once but is held together by the psychic interplay of participants that despite the individuality of each, a group aesthetic emerges. Swell blurts and bellows; Eisenbeil chases seemingly elusive sounds all up and down the register; Bendian fills in the wide space between the two with well-placed taps of his vibes occasionally interspersed with runs that respond to Eisenbeil. The virtuosity of all three doesn’t mean performing “Anahad” was any less random or unstructured, but it does mean that they didn’t need a net for this sonic high-wire act.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Curt Ramm, Dan Moretti, Bill Cunliffe: Tired Corn

Sometimes, it’s all about attitude. “Tired Corn” has that, a cocksure strut the sets a late-night tempo. Richards and Ballou form a tight rhythm formation, as Richards sets forth a shuffling beat he decorates with cymbal clouds and Ballou’s strut is slow and sure. The other attractive contrast going on in this song is between the clear, acid tone of Ramm’s trumpet and the cozy layer of soul from Cunliffe’s Rhodes. Moretti makes his tenor sing the blues over the same electric piano, and before you know it, Cunliffe himself steps out front and making a few probing chords that peaks outside but never quite goes out the door.

Good performances all around (especially Richards’ propulsive drumming), but the main appeal lies in the tone of the proceedings. Sometimes, it’s all about attitude.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Matana Roberts: Love Call

The sweeping, epic track from The Chicago Project , “Love Call” spends the first five minutes conjuring up the ghosts of John Coltrane’s Ascension era. With Abrams and Parker filling up so much space, the band sounds twice the size of the quartet that it actually is, and Roberts’ cries and frenetic note chasing even has to fight to be heard above the din the three guys create. The second half of the song is more settled, beginning with Roberts pondering and responding to Abrams’ bass ruminations before her building intensity signals the band back to the rumble of the first part, but in a more controlled manner and this time, playing in a defined key.

Roberts’ knack for setting aside rigid solo construction and playing on feel and emotion while remaining reverent to the masters of the past puts a sprawling composition such as “Love Call” over the top.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Anat Cohen: Washington Square Park

Anat Cohen’s main instrument might be clarinet, but for the around-the-world antics of the self-penned “Washington Square Park,” she shows just as much ability on soprano sax. Beginning with a perky, Middle-Eastern rhythm marked by a single piano note played in staccato, Cohen conjures up twisting lines for herself and blazes right through them with a light touch. The song changes in mood, slowing down and speeding back up again to a funkier tempo. Cohen never stops creating from her horn, sometimes exchanging phrases with Hekselman, which only adds to the playful mood. Linder spends most of the time doubling up on Avital’s bass pulses, but unexpectedly whips out a vintage synth to solo with near the end of the song.

“Washington Square Park” is zestful, a bit exotic and peppered with little surprises. What’s there not to like?

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Anne Mette Iversen: Many Places

For the first two minutes and the last minute of this song, Iversen plays a bowed bass in low, serious tones that affirms her classically trained background. The main, middle body of this song, however, is a briskly swinging affair. When Ellis introduces the sprightly theme consisting of a descending series of a trio of notes, the leader chucks the bow and begins to really drive this song. While she doesn’t take any solos, it’s hard not to notice her sure, supple sequence of notes that are neither too woody nor too soft, but a satisfyingly rubbery middle. Grissett’s solo is chromatic, enterprising and hard swinging. He is soon trailed by Ellis leading an attractive progression of chords concocted by Iversen, and launching into a steaming articulation of notes.

Iversen’s ability to craft tight melodies and enliven them with intelligent arrangements, along with agile bass playing, makes her a triple-threat force to be reckoned with.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


The Revolutionary Ensemble: Ism Schism

The combining of European-derived classical compositional and performance techniques with what is essentially a mode of folk music (albeit one supremely sophisticated in its own right) is a big part of what's so compelling about free jazz. "Ism Schism" seems to acknowledge as much, both in title and construct. The composition itself employs triadic, nearly Mozart-ian harmony and melody as a platform for extemporization. After bowing the song-like head, bassist Sirone plays a pizzicato solo (an effective contrast, by the way), largely maintaining harmonic simplicity and making reference to the melody while engaging in all manner of energetic, free-rhythmic interplay with drummer Jerome Cooper. Violinist Leroy Jenkins joins in just over halfway through, whereupon Sirone steps a bit further outside. Jenkins is unafraid of consonance, although his drunken glissandi, bent pitches, and non-tonal embellishments are a long way from anything Wolfgang Amadeus might have envisioned possible. When melding classical and jazz, free jazz musicians frequently invoke a post-Schoenberg-ian language. The Revolutionary Ensemble's unusual adoption of a pre-Romantic influence—enhanced by the soul and grit that is their artistic birthright—makes for a happy change of pace.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: ·


Claude Williams: Cherokee

Claude Williams was the 85-year old senior member of the orchestra for the Black and Blue revue on Broadway when he was recorded live at J's jazz club in 1989. His first recordings, on both violin and guitar, came in 1929, and he won the Downbeat poll as "Best Guitarist" after playing on Count Basie's first Decca recordings, only briefly preceding Freddie Green's long reign in that chair with Basie, with whom Williams was also featured on violin. Williams worked frequently with Jay McShann in the '70's, and in 1980 began playing the violin exclusively. The taped Monday night sessions at J's showcased his distinctive Kansas City swing style on the instrument. This is jazz violin as "fiddle," more in keeping with the earthy, rawer approaches of Stuff Smith or Ray Nance than the more romantic, classically polished presentation of a Stéphane Grappelli. Williams had come a long way technically by 1989 from his earliest recorded violin solos some 60 years prior in 1929 with Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy, which were described by Gunther Schuller in his The Swing Era as either "country-ish" or "rather tortured, uncertain."

Al McKibbon's relentless thumping bass, Akira Tana's prodding drum rhythms, and Ronnie Mathews' more laid-back, sparse comping provide Williams with the cushion he needs to navigate the changes of "Cherokee" with genuine feeling and vivacity. His long, smoking solo is both fleet and authoritative, packed with dissonant inflections, breakneck breezy lines, and rapidly bowed, almost boppish, riffs and modulations. Guitarist James Chirillo plays several fresh and nimble chrouses with a twangy, appealing sound. Mathews' melodious solo is equally well-executed, and unwavering in its development. McKibbon and Tana say their piece as well before Williams sails lustily through the familiar theme once again.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Brew Moore: I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me

Milton Aubrey "Brew" Moore believed that "Anyone who doesn't play like Lester Young is wrong," and remained faithful to Prez's style throughout his short and sparsely documented career. Unlike his contemporaries Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, Moore's approach remained relatively unchanged over the years. Having said that, at his best he swung very hard and was a nimble and inventive improviser who was rightfully extolled by Jack Kerouac in his novel Desolation Angels (Chapter 97): "Brew Moore is blowing on tenor saxophone...and he plays perfect harmony to any tune they bring up—he pays little attention to anyone, he drinks his beer, he gets loaded and eye-heavy, but he never misses a beat or a note, because music is in his heart, and in music he has found that pure message to give to the world." Plagued by a drinking problem (hence his nickname "Brew"), Moore died in 1973 after falling down a stairway in Copenhagen, just days following his receipt of a large inheritance. He was only 49.

For his first album as leader in 1956, Moore fronted a group of obscure local San Francisco area musicians. On the track "I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me," his tenor surges confidently through the theme and his solo with a perfectly matched buoyant rhythmic pulse and flowing phraseology, his somewhat foggy tone recalling Zoot Sims. Moore's sidemen acquit themsleves quite well, especially John Marabuto, whose piano solo is played with both a sound and percussive attack similar to that of Eddie Costa.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


Wynton Marsalis: The Ways of Love

Marsalis's evocative writing for the score of the 1990 film Tune in Tomorrow was a further indication of his progress as a composer and arranger, which would soon be emphatically affirmed on the CDs Blue Interlude, Citi Movement, and In This House, On This Morning. This soundtrack also marked the recorded debut of the trumpeter's core septet (plus additional musicians). Based on the novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa, which was set in the early '50's in Lima, Peru, the screenplay transferred the location to Marsalis's hometown of New Orleans, a place and time that Marsalis deftly brings to life in his music.

Whereas much of the score rejoices in the multifaceted traditions of New Orleans style polyphonic jazz, from its midst emerges a winsome Marsalis ballad with lyrics by Joel Siegel, a sort of less subtle "Teach Me Tonight" involving the relatively inexperienced film character Martin (Keanu Reeves) and Julia (Barbara Hershey), the older woman that he woos. The band plays a poignant vamp preceding Marsalis' limning of the graceful, floating theme, as the horns waft gently in and out. Then Shirley Horn enters to tenderly express, with her usual masterful understatement, the essence of the lyrics. "Cradle me in your embrace / and soothe me until you hear me sigh / pleasure me in all the secret places / teach me all the ways of love." Marsalis lush writing for his augmented septet, in support of Horn's vocal, is warmly articulate and radiantly colored.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · ·


George Garzone: Have You Met Miss Jones

Garzone is of course best known as a member of the legendary Boston trio The Fringe, which he co-founded in 1972. For his 1996 CD away from that group, Four's and Two's, he was joined by Joe Lovano, whose then recently released CDs Quartets and Rush Hour were helping to further establish him as one of jazz's rising stars. As can be heard throughout Four's and Two's, and perhaps most vividly on the seemingly always inspiring standard "Have You Met Miss Jones," the lesser-known Garzone more than holds his own with Lovano, the two backed by an airtight rhythm section.

Garzone's captivating LennieTristano-like reharmonization, or countermelody, with Lovano weaving in wisps of the original melody, stunningly launches this essential track. Garzone's solo is typically complex, as he appears to be conducting a responsive dialogue with himself between intriguing constructs played alternately in the upper or lower registers of his horn. (A transcription of this terrific solo is included in the CD's notes.) Calderazzo follows with a swinging, driving pulse that animates his impressively formed and delivered runs. Like Garzone, Lovano's improvisational approach is oblique, his meaty phrasing and tonal variations plunging deep into the heart of the tune's attractive harmonies. After John Lockwood's brief Paul Chambers-sounding bass interlude, the two horns again engage in the swirling in-an-out revision of the theme.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags: · · ·